Being a part of Bibliophile’s Workshop’s many different blog tours,“ will give you the opportunity to read various novels, spanning many genres and writing styles, along with helping share new, promising titles with readers all across the internet.
James’ Journey Blog Tour Monday, April 20,2015- Ends Saturday April 25, 2015
Information About the Book:
Day #2, April 2015- Revealing the Truth About the Famed ‘Underground Railroad’
Our many notions of the famed Underground Railroad seem illusory, as if the railroad has taken on the substance of myth. In modern parlance, we often see myth as something factually false, but historians know without a doubt that an Underground Railroad existed, a secret network of different safe-houses trailing from the deep recesses of the South, all the way in the Canada. About 20,000 slaves total were thought to have escaped from the South via this secret network to a quasi safe haven of sorts during its twenty year peak, during the two or so decades prior to the start of the Civil War. Although US Census records beg to differ and put the number squarely at a more sensible estimate of 6,000 or so individuals. Nonetheless, the number of people that put their social reputations on the line to selflessly save the lives of many slaves, living under the oppression of truly malicious slaveowners, is truly commendable in its own right.
Helen Lundstrom Erwin’s sensitively-written story James’ Journey is as much a story about the Underground Railroad’s surreptitious existence in the South, as much as its a chronicle of one man’s own moral transformation from being a supporter of slavery in the South to someone that eventually becomes a stalwart abolitionist. The book does a great job conveying just how precarious being an abolitionist household, as well as offering your house as a safe-house, was within areas of the south.
As illustrated in the novel, many of the escaped slaves had to apprehensively travel through brush and thick forests, where there were no visible light of any kind, sometimes no real buildings/structures of any sort to serve as a sign of civilization. You can just imagine how frightening that would have been for slaves, who have had to live grueling lives of infinite threats of violence and abuse, sometimes without any moment of respite during a hard day of endless toil out in the tobacco fields. In James’ Journey, we see glimpses into the various hardships that some slaves lived with, especially those unfortunate to be living on some plantations with truly cruel, heartless master. Since the novel portrays a spectrum of different personalities, as good literature often does, it does strongly portray a small minority of slave masters being a bit more benevolent, in relative contrast to the more violent ones.
Returning to the illustration of the journey from the south to the north via “the underground railroad,” the slaves, under the cloak of darkness many times, traveled with a very tenuous grasp of directions. Some directions were symbols, or commonly referred to in more modern parlance as “simulacrum,” a word that effectively means a symbol pointing to a deeper reality. The drinking gourd, whose bowl points towards the “North Star,” was a literal constellation in the sky, but it also pointed to a deeper, encompassing hope that nestled its way into the hearts of these very scared slaves. This Big Dipper was pointing to a Promised Land. The archetypal image of “the promised land,” is derived from the infamous Biblical myth of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt (a life of former slavery), to Israel, a promised land. It was a very important text for both escaped slaves and abolitionist, for it carried a deeper truth, much like the Big Dipper, offering abiding hope that everything will go well.
Sadly, things didn’t always go quite well. Due to the morally regressive Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the amended version, slave-catchers had legal immunity in free states, and could capture any slaves, even those who were deemed free by legal standards. It’s terrible for us to ponder the stress of these ‘escaped’ slaves, the monstrous inhumanity paid to them by the legal strictures of our country at one time, that made it impossible to even feel safe in the supposed ‘Free States.” Slave Catchers could still try to capture them, even when in the North. This was one thing that worked as a strong impetus to get some slaves and their families to escape into Canada and beyond, where there were no worries anymore about the risk of being caught.
For abolitionists, many were impassioned by their religious devotion to, as much as slaves escaping from the South, to help vanquish the evil that was slavery, by helping the less fortunate escape from a state of oppression. Tomorrow, I will discussing more extensively on how the issue of slavery caused the sharp political division in Christianity that began even earlier than the 20th century. Many Quakers, for example, had mostly saw slavery as a repugnant evil, and condemned it in the late eighteenth century. They are one very progressive Christian group that has always outpaced other Christian groups in terms of ethical progressiveness. And I’ll be speaking more about them later, but this group and many other more ‘enlightened’ Christian groups,” tended to see their supposed seditious behavior of going against the law, and working to help free the slaves, as a necessary sacrifice in the name of their belief in God, all in the pursuit of doing good/following the core creed of what they discerned to be Jesus’ true message. As such, the Quakers were a very strong group effort for good, in the name of the abolitionist cause. William Wells Brown, a freed slave himself, even wrote that he never knew of a Quaker that would betray a fugitive slave.
This is more important for tomorrow, but it does pertain to the main thrust of this article too, since the more active style of religious practice by Quakers, and other more Enlightened, socially-conscientious Christian groups really allowed for more ardent commitment to the Underground Railroad. While we live in a time that wishes to bemoan religious faith today (for very good reasons often, as fundamentalists are active in tarnishing ‘religion”, we have to look past the very large number of mainline churches at that time that did a lot of damage, in the name of their “God,” and see that emotionally strong, spiritually-empowered type of faith is what compelled many of the abolitionists to put their livelihoods on the line to help with maintaining the operations of the “Underground Railroad.” And this strong spirituality emboldened the slaves themselves to see them as being “equal” in the eyes of their God, and this led them to endure the dispiriting,sometimes frightful hazards of the journey away from the South, and a metaphorical exodus towards the Promised Land.
***Tomorrow, I will be discussing the moral dangers of legalism, and how rigid, “literalistic,” greedy forms of mainstream, organized religion in the 19th century worked as a very strong hindrance, at times, against the
Just as the Quakers and many other more enlightened, spiritually-attentive Christians held steadfast to their belief in the Golden Rule, and the Jesus of the ‘Sermon of the Mount,’ a very different persuasion of Christianity evolved and took effect, which caused a deep rift and division amongst Christianity in America. Today’s Conservative Christians and Liberal Christians can actually be traced back to the differences between abolitionist and more Pro-Slavery Issues. Religion become very much enmeshed into the political climate of America at the time, just as much as it is today.
All of this somewhat abstruse stuff is very essential to understanding the backbone of Helen’s fantastic historical fiction novel, James’ Journey. Look for an interview with her this Friday, as well as my review of her novel this Thursday!