A recent visit to Charleston, SC offered an opportunity to gain a fresh insight into our nation’s history, particularly in regards to slavery. In some ways it was a reminder of how far we’ve come but it was also a reminder of how far we still need to go in attempt to achieve freedom, equality and justice for all people.
Our walking tour of the town, our visit to a historic house owned by a wealthy shipping merchant, and our experience at the Old Slave Mart Museum were all very educational but our visit to the McLeod Plantation was the most profound. Our tour guide offered an honest, compassionate glimpse into the stories of all of the people, black and white, that lived on the plantation before and after the Civil War.
We walked down “Transition Row” at the McLeod Plantation and saw the 6 houses remaining from 26 that were once located on the property to house up to 74 slaves. “Transition Row” remained home for free African Americans following the war and up as recently as the mid 1990’s. We learned of the Freedman’s Bureau that was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 in an attempt to dispense relief to both white and black refugees in the South, to provide medical care and education, and to redistribute “abandoned” lands to former slaves. This attempt was extremely difficult to enact due to a number of factors including terror organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan who stymied the work. We were reminded of a host of regulations that were put into place over the years to keep African Americans “in their place”. Most of the land that was distributed by the Freedman’s Bureau was eventually restored to the original owners, and many freed slaves had no choice but to continue to serve as tenants working for the landlords.
Most chilling was a conversation that we had with our tour guide after the formal tour had ended, where she shared that Dylan Roof chose McLeod Plantation as one of the spots where he posed for pictures in the weeks leading up to the Charleston Church massacre that took place last year. These pictures offer an insight into Roof’s troubled mind that was greatly affected by pro-Nazi and pro-Confederate propaganda.
Once again our country is mourning in the wake of another mass shooting driven by a troubled mind that has likely been affected by hate-filled propaganda. This time the killer targeted the gay community at a nightclub in Orlando. Time will tell as the investigations unfold as to whether the Charleston or Orlando shooters were actually aided by hate groups that they were influenced by, but one thing is abundantly clear, hate-propaganda will never lead to peace.
Gun violence is out of control and we do not do enough to identify and help the mentally ill. We must work to create a society that teaches tolerance, acceptance, love and forgiveness. We need to advocate for true freedom, equality and justice for ALL people. We need to make sure that voices that advocate for peace and justice are not drowned out by voices that cause further division and stir up violence. It begins with each of us as individuals and our churches cannot sit by quietly. Acts of senseless violence are increasing. Our churches need to become leaders in addressing these issues. Our United Methodist Book of Resolutions offers some helpful tips on how we can respond: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/gun-violence. What are we waiting for?
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