I took part today in the dedication of a historical monument in the city of Lorain, Ohio. The bas relief sculpture shown above was unveiled at the Black River Landing festival site near the shores of Lake Erie. Lorain was the 100th station of the Underground Railroad which assisted runaway slaves with safe passage to British Canada and freedom.
At the ceremonies, I portrayed William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist newspaperman; a rather feisty writer and (I imagine) impassioned speaker. Other actors portrayed Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, while a living descendant of ship Captain Aaron Root shared his great-great grandfather’s role in illegally transporting people of color to freedom across Lake Erie.
The sculpture shows a slave family on the run, father looking ahead with determination, the son holding his mother’s hand. It’s the woman’s face that haunts me; she looks out at me as I passively stand by. Her hollow eyes scan my face as if to decipher whether I am friend or foe. These people are going forward regardless. They are filled with courage and conviction–risking all to have a better life for themselves and their son.
I enjoyed a conversation with the sculptor who created the monument, and I was impressed with his study of history and his dedication to creating an authentic representation. But most of all, I was awed by the men and women of old–black and white–who took enormous risks to right society’s wrongs. They risked their property, their family and community relationships, and even their lives to stand up against the enslavement of people.
With our modern perspective, it’s hard to imagine anyone (much less Christians) justifying slavery. Yet people live in bondage and repression in many places in the world and we do nothing. Even in our own nation of freedom, some live in the shadows as second class citizens as we debate their worth to our society.
You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. –Galatians 3:26-29
I take heart in the brave example of our forebears who took enormous chances to claim God-given freedom for those who had none.