“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.”