Justice

Jefferson, Selma, and the Ordinance of 1784

As we remember MLK’s march for voting rights fifty years ago, it’s interesting to go back further in our history, we can wonder how the story of race in the US might have been very different, and how a march in Selma, Alabama might not have even been necessary if one man from New Jersey hadn’t been sick over 230 years ago.

I had never heard of the Ordinance of 1784, but I learned a little about it as I was recently reading Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012).  (If you enjoy presidential history, you’ll love it. It’s a great read.)

Jefferson is a bit of a conundrum when it comes to the issue of race and slavery. He most famously wrote that “all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence, and yet he owned hundreds of slaves. He argued for the abolition of slavery, but only freed a few of his own. He was almost certainly in a long-term relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and probably fathered several of her children.

In 1784, the new US government was trying to determine how to govern the territories generally to the west of the Thirteen Colonies, as the expectation that they would eventually become states and join the union. Jefferson drafted the ordinance, he was kind of the “go to guy” for this sort of thing.

The fifth article of the ordinance essentially said that after 1800, none of the newly formed states that were formed from these territories would have slavery or involuntary servitude (Meacham, 173).

As the congress debated the fifth article, they voted to remove it by a margin of only one vote.  Unfortunately for Jefferson and other proponents of this fifth article, a member of the New Jersey delegation, who apparently would have voted to keep it in the Ordinance, was sick in bed.

Future states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, home of Selma, would not have been slave states after 1800 if this fifth article had passed.  It didn’t, and they became slave states.

Jefferson wrote, “Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment” (Meacham, 173).  Two years later, he was expressed a similar sentiment, but slightly more positively, “The voice of a single individual would have prevented this abominable crime; heaven will not always be silent; the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail” (from Wikipedia).

Obviously, even if slavery were not allowed in these post-Thirteen Colonies Southern states, racism would likely have still continued unabated.  Since the Selma March for equal voting rights was still necessary a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  But it’s hard not to imagine that things could have been very different, but for the absence of one person’s effort as Jefferson so eloquently put it.

This story convicts me to not be like that guy from New Jersey in 1784, but like those marchers in 1965, and like even the confusing Thomas Jefferson, to do something to advance racial equality.  We haven’t fully overcome yet, but we are slowly making progress.

Noah’s Trip to Haiti (Part 2)

Noah on ground with kidsMy son Noah spent 9 days in Haiti last month with friends from our church, working at an orphanage. I posted the first half of his letter yesterday to donors (click here for post).  Here is the 2nd half of his letter.  

I wished we had gone back to the disabled orphanage, but we had other things planned.  We spent most of our days visiting another larger orphanage in the mountains. The team would drive up in the morning, spend the day, and then return to the compound for dinner. I became very close to many of the kids there. Evens would borrow my sunglasses and watch every morning, and make sure I got them back at the end of every day. Lele and Bebe were brothers, but I probably spent more time with Lele. Lele and Kenn loved to be carried and they loved to make me carry both of them at the same time and walk around staggering with their weight. Cynthia loved to play tag and get into tickle fights. Roberto and Robinson were tricksters. When I first met them, they kept saying they were the other person. I also enjoyed a game of “basketball” with Robinson by seeing who could throw a ball highest against a wall. Eveloude liked to be given high speed piggyback rides. I found out late in the week that she had been a restavec, or a slave girl, and escaped to the orphanage not long before our arrival. She was not yet a Christian and at twelve years old, she could not read. By the end of the week she said “Jesus loves you” in English.

One of my favorite ways to connect to the kids was to push them on the swings. I developed an elaborate routine. I would raise a child up, and ruthlessly blow on the back of their necks until they were giggling uncontrollably, and then release them pushing them as needed. Next I would stand in front of them in the path of the swing, and run out of the way right before their feet hit me. The kids loved it. Too much even, and I would need to maintain up to six swing at a time. Looking back on it, I realized my dad played with me in the same way. When I was very young he would push me down a hill in a stroller and screaming “out of control baby stroller,” or when I was a little older he would swing me upside-down and yelling “pendulum research.” I had been given an opportunity to be a father to the fatherless. I could only show love for a few of the seventy kids there, and I was only there for a week, but I like to think I showed some kids that they were loved, by us and by God.

Thank you again, – Noah

Noah w Eveloude

Noah’s Trip to Haiti (Part 1)

Noah and kids 1Our son Noah (17) spent 9 days in Haiti last month with a group from our church helping at an orphanage (Our older son, Nathan, went there 2 years ago.)  Some of these children became orphans after the 2010 earthquake (see my blog on Aftershock).  Here is the first half of the letter he sent to people who supported him.  I hope you are as moved as I was.

I wanted thank you so much for your prayer and support for my trip to Haiti. God protected us, and my team enjoyed safety and health. It was an amazing experience that changed my life and reached out to the lives of 68 orphaned children. Without you, this would not have been possible.  Thank you.

As soon as we arrived, I was hit by two things: heat and poverty. People crowded us at the airport asking to help us carry our bags, looking for whatever work they could find. After a ride in a Haitian style bus called a Tap-tap on roads with crazy driving, we arrived at the compound. We arrived before dinner and had time to unpack, unwind, and talk to the missionary who ran the orphanages, Greg Barshaw.

The next day we visited the disabled orphanage. The kids were very interested in my watch; they crowded around and wanted to push the buttons. They were content with the simple things, just standing there pushing a button, hearing a beep, and seeing a number change. I wish I could be as happy as these children over a little thing like that. After playing with the kids for a few minutes, Greg told us to gather around one orphan in a wheel chair. He looked barely responsive, and had a large cast around one leg. Greg said his name was Daniel, and he suffered from cerebral palsy. But as if being a poor orphaned child with a disability wasn’t enough, Daniel broke his femur when a therapist was trying to stretch it out. They operated on him without pain medicine and set the bone. I looked at Daniel and thought of the all the pain and loss, and wondered how it could be worth it. How could it be worth it to pull through all that pain to live in a wheel chair, unable to speak, unable to control your own body? Most of the group moved on to entertain other kids, but I stayed with Daniel and wrestled with this question.

One of our leaders, Andrew, began to hold his hand. After a little while, Daniel smiled. He was happy. In his horrible condition, he was happy, holding Andrew’s hand. In that moment, I knew why God put me in Haiti.