Labor Faithfully

“Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living.” So wrote Jourdon Anderson in an August 1865 letter to Colonel Anderson, the man who once claimed ownership of him as a slave, after that man invited him to work again in his household. That letter is the first part of today’s reading (CUA Primer, pages 30–33). One thing that I did not understand, until recently, about race-based chattel slavery in the United States before the Civil War was that it was such a personal evil. I must have mistakenly assumed that it was an impersonal institution because it treated a person as something less than a person. I must have had images of one slave master watching over many enslaved workers in a field. However, slavery in antebellum America was not only an abusive institution, as the field image suggests, but it also involved abusive one-on-one relationships. What really dramatized one of those relationships for me was the movie Twelve Years a Slave. After this kind of relationship, Jourdan Anderson found freedom in 1864 after Union troops camped on the plantation where he worked  and after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation (the second part of today’s reading). What are some ways that Jourdon Anderson demonstrates his dignity as a person in this letter? What do you think the role of government is in recognizing and protecting people’s dignity?

If you are interested in learning more about Jourdan Anderson and his letter, you can follow this link to a video about them by Today I Found Out and this link to a story about them from the Associated Press. For a fascinating account of one woman’s life of slavery in modern-day America, see The Atlantic‘s June 2017 article “My Family’s Slave.”

Photo: “Cotton Harvest” by Kimberly Vardeman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    It sucks that our American history was so active in a very cruel practice as slavery. I can’t be totally confident in talking about American ideals because even though our Constitution talks about freedom of this and freedom of that, we stripped people of their freedom of this and freedom of that. We are hypocrites.

    And when I read Jourdon’s letter and the Emancipation Proclamation, I can’t help but feel intense anger. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t an act to protect African American dignity! No, it was a war strategy on the side of the Union! They needed more soldiers and they wanted rebellion on the Confederacy side! How could anyone back then possibly say they were on the sides of the slaves when NO ONE WAS! Jourdon’s letter; it literally brought tears to me eyes because they were not treated any better than factory farm animals and sex toys. They were objectified and disrespected on all human levels. And to make their so-called “freedom,” a war strategy? And to actually ask for wages and safety from their “masters” before they move? That sucks. That REALLY sucks. It’s dehumanizing to even write a kind of letter asking for such things. But, even with all of that, it shows how strong Jourden and all African American slaves were. It shows that they knew their rights, they deserved what they deserved, and they were courageous enough to stand up for themselves. With both of these readings, I side with the slaves. I wished others back then could say the same.

Leave a Reply