In the summer of 2005, I directed a silent siege at the Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT. The memorial honors a brave African, Sengbe Pieh, later known as Joseph Cinquie who led a revolt on the slave ship La Amistad. The kidnapped slaves murdered many aboard and forced the remaining crew to take them back to Africa. Instead they ended up in America, where they were put on trial and later miraculously won their freedom in a landmark case before the Supreme Court. That case, “The United States vs. Amistad,” was the first civil rights trial held before the Supreme Court and a great victory for the abolitionist movement.
The memorial, located in front of the city’s courthouse, stands upon the former site of the jail where the Africans were held awaiting trial in 1839. A friend suggested I take our Bound4life Connecticut team there to siege and I thought the idea was brilliant. In the eyes of those passing by it was a strange sight. A line of young people with lips taped shut, standing in front of a gleaming black statue of the slave and later abolitionist, Cinque. As we prayed an older black women approached me with a serious expression on her face and a question in her heart. “What are you doing?” she asked me. With my usual zealous passion I declared that we were praying against an evil greater than slavery, the tragic injustice of abortion. Quite offended by my answer she uttered critical words and marched off. I wasn’t deterred by her reaction, but rather saddened by the lies that have kept her and others in the black community in great deception.
Every February we celebrate Black History Month. In school plays, book reports, and TV documentaries we remember the ones who have gone before us. Brave souls like Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Olaudah Equiana. Some names we know well, and countless ones we will never know this side of heaven. Like the saints of old, though they have passed on their voices still speak. The lashes they endured, children they lost and wounds they suffered fill the stories we continue to tell. If they had a collective cry echoing in their souls, it was for one thing; freedom. Whether through the changing of laws or by their own death, they were looking for the promise of liberation.
Thousands of slaves believed in the Lord God Jehovah. Though their earthly masters demanded obedience, their hearts revered a higher power. They openly declared their strength came not from themselves, but from a merciful Redeemer above. One whom they hoped would deliver them in a great exodus like the Israelites leaving Egypt. A sobering thought occurred to me as I considered this. I serve the same God Harriet Tubman worshipped. When I die I will join the great cloud of witnesses above. I might meet Isabella Baumfree one day. Her 13 kids were taken from her and sold across the nation. I may hear her story of God changing her name to Sojourner Truth, one who would travel up and down being a sign to the people and sharing truth with them.
I could talk with Josiah Henson who was once beaten so badly he couldn’t lift his hands above his head. In spite of his injury he escaped slavery, later walking thousands of miles to set others free. He never saw his father again after his master whipped him and cut off his ear for trying to protect Josiah’s mother when he was a child. Yet hardships didn’t derail Josiah from being the first fugitive slave to gain an audience with Queen Victoria and later becoming a Methodist minister.
They were abolitionists and so am I. Their stories have been told for hundreds of years, and I am in the process of living mine. I will not be ashamed when I talk with them one day. For the God that led them to do courageous exploits for the cause of justice, is leading me to do the same. There is a young generation of black abolitionists that have not yet taken up the torch for life. Don’t resist it, I plead with you. If our ancestors shed their blood to fight for freedom, how can we do any less? Abortion is the greatest evil that has ever plagued the black race. What does it matter if we are free of chains, but are being killed off as a people? America will be a bloody nation, soiled with guilt until this ends. Don’t just remember the works of our black brothers and sisters of old. Don’t applaud their stand if you won’t take yours. Follow in their footsteps and blaze a new path for freedom. The saints are watching from above and they are cheering us on.