Friday, February 8, 2008

The Hands of a Slave

I love this old picture. It shows the hands of a slave. The photograph was taken in 1941, so the man must have been a young boy when he was a slave in the 1860's, and hence must have spent most of his life as a free man. His hands tell a story though . . . life did not get much easier with the end of slavery.
Lincoln prosecuted the war primarily for the purpose of preserving the Union. As the war progressed, he came to understand the cruelty of the institution of slavery, and became convicted that slavery must be ended. He even spoke of his belief that the untold horror of the Civil War was God's punishment on a Nation that had tolerated slavery. I think it is important to realize that slavery was not a Sin of the South, but a Sin of the Nation. Many in the North were willing to look the other way, and tolerate slavery because it enabled cheap cotton and other agricultural products, which they were all to eager to consume.
Unfortunately, things did not get much better with the end of slavery. No one thought through the next steps of how to assimilate slaves into society. Most were uneducated, and lacked the simple life skills that exist in a free society. The slaves were turned loose, and left to figure out how to make a way for themselves in a free society, even though they were ill equipped to do so. Slavery was replaced by other systems, such as sharecropping which were almost as oppressive.
One hopes that the man pictured above was able to find some joy in life, and some hope that things would be better for his children.

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