A Reading List for Black History Month

Harriet Tubman Monument in Bristol Pennsylvania

This past Monday night I had the pleasure of meeting lovely residents at the Montgomery County retirement community,  Foulkeways at Gwynedd.  I had been invited to present OUT FROM SLAVERY, my lecture about the African’s diaspora that began with their capture in the Motherland and their eventual Flight to Freedom.

Many Americans often dismiss slavery as insignificant, often moaning ,”Stop living in the past! …. Move on!” The era of slavery that brought us the Civil War is an event of  importance equal to the Indian Wars or the Lewis & Clark Expedition or the Building of the Railroads or others. This was my eighteenth presentation when at every conclusion, I leave a list of recommended books–non-fiction and fiction–that tell stories of the brave people in the abolitionist or anti-slavery movements and how thousands of slaves succeeded in escaping the inhumanity of their oppressors.

To lovers of history–I offer this selection which is the tip of the iceberg featuring hundreds of other books about this era of our Nation.

BEFORE FREEDOM Edited by Belinda Hurmence. Narratives of African American former slaves interviewed in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project.

THE BONDWOMAN’S NARRATIVE by Hannah Craft. This manuscript was discovered by Dr. Henry Gates, Jr. and purported to be the life of a former slave.

BOUND FOR CANAAN by Fergus M. Bordewich. Bordewich weaves the life of Josiah Henson in the struggle of the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1800s to the 1870s.

GATEWAY TO FREEDOM by Eric Foner. A detailed history of the abolitionist and anti-slavery movement in New York.

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler. A work of fiction by this African-American author whose published work is in the science fiction genre. This is about an African-American women living in the early 1970s transported back and forth to a plantation in the ante bellum South.

LANGHORN AND MARY by Priscilla Stone Sharp. Sharp’s research into the Stone family’s history brings the discovery of her white ancestor who married a free Black man. Taking place in Bucks County during the 1840s, Sharp weaves true events of anti-slavery and abolitionist Bucks County.

SLAVES IN THE FAMILY by Edward Ball. Ball traces his family’s legacy which begins with his ancestor’s arrival in South Carolina in the 1600s.

THE LIFE OF JOSIAH HENSON by Josiah Henson. Henson was born in slavery and eventually fled to freedom in Canada, often returning as a conductor to rescue slaves. Some of his life is written in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

THE U.S. COLORED TROOPS AT ANDERSONVILLE PRISON by Bob O’Connor. O’Connor has done meticulous research into the colored men who served in the Civil War and are buried in the Andersonville cemetery.

SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME by Lawrence Hill. A fictional account of a former slave approaching her 60th year who recalls her life from the time she was abducted from Africa to her journey to Freedom.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead. A fictional account of a young female slave who flees her plantation.  Whitehead creates his underground as a real train buried beneath the earth.

Curiosity always opens that door marked “Knowledge”.




The Power of Voting

As Pennsylvania Primary Day approaches, this seems the perfect time to share a true story about how over a hundred years ago William King, a Presbyterian minister instilled the power of voting to freed slaves living in Canada. The story I share is one depicted in my Underground Railroad presentations–Out From Slavery.

Reverend William King

Rev. William King  1812- 1895

William King was a recent graduate from Scotland’s University of Glasgow when  in 1833, he along with his six siblings and parents sailed to America. The following year the Kings settled in Delta, Ohio.

In 1835 King accepted a teaching position in the south to children of slave owners where he met Mary Phare, the daughter of a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner. On their marriage four slaves accompanied Mary into their household. King witnessed first hand slavery’s  inhumane treatment, converting him into an  outspoken advocate against the system.

After the deaths of Mary and their two children, King returned to Scotland, completing his studies to become a Presbyterian minister. The church assigned him to Canada and after his arrival there in 1846 he learned of his father-in-law’s death that included the inheritance of 15 slaves. Traveling back to Louisiana he retrieved the slaves, granting them their freedom before journeying north to his family’s farm in Ohio. By that time the farm was a station on the Underground Railroad remaining that way until the end of the Civil War. From there King and the 15 freed slaves struck out for Canada. He was determined to establish a colony that would be safe for these freed slaves and other fugitive slaves that were now pouring over the border.

With the support of the Presbyterian Church Reverend King’s dream began to happen. Initially known as the Elgin Association–named after Governor General Lord Elgin–through an Act of the British Parliament the Elgin Settlement was formed in 1850. Located in the Canadian town of Buxton, Ontario this was just one community of a few that became havens for fugitive slaves crossing into Canada.

One of the Elgin Settlement’s founders was a Member of the British House of Commons–Thomas Powell Buxton–an abolitionist who supported the settlement and whose name was given to this community that included whites and free Blacks. These newest Canadian citizens became farmers, shop owners and created a self-sufficient community that thrives today with descendants of the original fugitive slaves.

Fergus M. Bordewich’s Underground Railroad book, Bound for Canaan includes a section about the Elgin Settlement. Bordewich describes how in 1857, when a racist Parliamentarian, Edwin Larwill, in his bid for re-election was determined to remove the freed Blacks from Canada, Reverend King “… organized the registration of hundreds of new Black voters.” As citizens in Canada, it was the former slaves first time to vote. They overwhelmingly succeeded in replacing Larwill with an abolitionist candidate.

When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion  —  Ethiopian proverb

School children of the Elgin Settlement c. 1900s

School children of the Elgin Settlement c. 1900s

Beginning in the 1700s Blacks fled slavery in search of Freedom. The Jim Crow laws supposedly banished with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The discrimination against people of color is like abnormal DNA embedded in the memory of each consecutive generation of racists. Jim  Crow laws are gone but have been replaced with either Voter Photo IDs, manipulated voting districts, closed polling sites or reduced opportunities to cast a ballot of choice.

On Tuesday April  26 thousands of first-time registered voters in Pennsylvania and a few other states will march to the polls. Joining them are disgruntled registered voters who’ve been staying away instead of exercising their rightful privilege. These dillydallying voters explained their absence with the excuse: “My vote won’t make a difference.” Among these procrastinated registered voters are 60 to 80 percent who rarely showed up for their local or regional elections. Now they’re back, energized by a contentious presidential campaign yet failing to grasp how their past absences from voting has created the frenzy currently raging throughout America.

Voting Matters. Always did, always will. Every time.