American slavery draws images to our minds of blacks whipped under the sweltering sun, heated abolitionist debates, train cars filled with fugitives traveling under a full moon, and the bloody the civil war. Honest Abe tips his top hat at us and says, “Thank God that institution of pure evil has ended.” We remember it as one of America’s greatest evils.
And yet, there’s a chapter of the story we often miss. I’ve found that chapter in a book entitled Slave Religion: the Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South, by Albert J. Raboteau. All the following quotes are from that book.
You see, the plantation was a breeding ground for heroes of the faith and a flavor of Christianity more pure, passionate, and lovely than anything else that existed in America at the time. Slavery is the story of oppression, but it’s also the story of those who overcame that oppression by the blood. Here’s an example, Praying Jacob:
Praying Jacob was a slave in the state of Maryland. His master was very cruel to his slaves. Jacob’s rule was to pray three times a day, at just such an hour of the day; no matter what his work was or where he might be, he would stop and go and pray. His master has been to him and pointed his gun at him, and told him if he did not cease praying he would blow out his brains. Jacob would finish his prayer and then tell his master to shoot in welcome—your loss will be my gain—I have two masters, one on earth and one in heaven—master Jesus in heaven, and master Saunders on earth. I have a soul and a body; the body belongs to you, master Saunders, and the soul to Jesus. Jesus says men ought always to pray, but you will not pray, neither do you want to have me pray…. Sometimes Mr. S. would be in the field about half drunk, raging like a madman, whipping the other slaves; and when Jacob’s hour would come for prayer, he would … kneel down and pray, but Sanders could not strike the man of God.
In a sense, Praying Jacob was freer than his master. Sometimes, we think that we can only be free if our circumstances allow it. When things go bad at work, we complain and fret and take on a victim mentality: “Poor me! My boss screwed me over!” This book reminded me of God’s power to keep us from living in that victimization.
Controlled by their masters, (more…)