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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington
Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Just to reset.  The starting point of this phase of my writing began as revelation:

“Knowledge is Biblical.  Education is not.” (Me).  The direct result of my current continuing Sermonic Discourse concerning the text: “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.“ (Books of The Prophets. Hosea).  Seeing the numerous Biblical uses for ‘knowledge’; seeing none for ‘education’.

Already, on this course, “seeing Education as, first… Legislation”.  Working through this definition of knowledge:  “But when knowledge comes, the whole world is turned upside down.  The meaning of things begins to emerge.  And more importantly, the relations between things are seen for the first time.  Questions are asked and answers are sought.  A strong restlessness comes over the spirit and the enormity of error moves over the horizon like a vast shadow.  Struggle emerges as the way of life.  An appetite is awakened that can never be satisfied.” (Howard Thurman)

When I followed the link to Vanderbilt University’s OLLI offering of “The Underground Railroad and the Struggle Over Slavery” my interest was peaked. Among the WHO that I found there is the Professor Richard Blackett who gives me reason to reference the point that ties Luke and Acts to the same writer: “Theophilos” one who loves God.  To exchange ‘Theos’ for ‘Istoria’philos, Dr. Blackett is indeed that one who loves history and is capable of awakening the insatiable —a small reflection of his quest for knowledge.  My education of the Underground Railroad fell far too short from day one.   What a fine time, Black History Month 2023, to exchange my education for knowledge of the Underground Railroad. 

To begin in this small space with the name William Still, a name that I had never heard to know.  Positioned as a Clerk for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, he is known as The Father of The Underground Railroad.  When the Society formed the General Vigilance Committee in 1852 (in response to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act), he served The Committee first as Secretary, then as Chairman.  He recovered his records from hiding and published “The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts”. 

Then there is William Craft and Ellen Craft, a fugitive slave couple who escaped by Train from Macon to Philadelphia.  Ellen, her master’s daughter, traveled as white with her husband as her attending slave.  They published their story in “Running a Thousand Miles For Freedom”.  These two books I purchased as the start to a bibliography of this course.  Then, there is Henry “Box” Brown who facilitated his escape from slavery by shipping himself from Richmond to the Philadelphia Vigilance Office.  After a 27 hr trip, William Still was there to open his Box.  His Fugitive Slave escape is published as an autobiography: “Narrative of The Life of Henry Box Brown.”

Never to underestimate the work of Hariett Tubman.  But to exchange the education of “slaves running through the woods, hiding behind trees” and climbing trees to keeps the dogs off —for the knowledge of “a very sophisticated system of well planned escapes” that ultimately impacted the very heart of the nation when President Millard Fillmore sent U.S. Troops to march the streets of Boston to engage the entire judicial system in the capturing of Fugitive Slaves.

One ‘homework assignment’ was to study four ‘Runaway Slave Reward newspaper ads’.  I was drawn to the ones from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson; raising my interest further into the number of U.S. Presidents who held slaves.  I raised the question in class stating I found that 14 Presidents held slaves.  Dr. Blackett responded saying “how many Presidents were from the North?”  It was easier for the class to count the 3 northern presidents than the Presidents elected from Slave Holding States!  And he added, “all of the Secretary of States were Southerners…”

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