If one man fights for something that directly impacts another human being, shouldn’t that other person also have the right to fight for what he believes?
Before you answer, imagine that present day was actually 200 years ago and you were a slave.
Should the premise of right or wrong be altered because of the timing of certain aspects in society or should right and wrong be determined by…well, if an act is actually right or wrong?
Complicated enough for you?
I don’t think so, but that is easy for me to say in the year 2014 as a free woman who can make my own decisions and essentially do whatever I want to do in life. Perhaps if it was around 200 or so years ago, my opinion may be a bit different.
I ask these questions because of a recent controversial unveiling in South Carolina.
A couple weeks ago, a group of activists unveiled a statue of Denmark Vesey. Vesey was a slave in Charleston who won a city lottery in 1799. With a portion of his $1,500 earnings, Vesey purchased his freedom, however, when he tried to purchase his wife and children from various slave owners. They refused to sell them.
Tired and frustrated with the state of affairs, namely, slavery; Vesey began planning a revolt of sorts in 1822. The plan was for slaves to kill their white masters while they slept and escape enslavement by fleeing to Haiti where 20 years earlier, slaves successfully overthrew French colonists. The planned day of attack would be July 14, 1822. However, that day never came because Vesey and his supporters were betrayed by a few slaves who had grown scared and ultimately informed their masters of the plan.
Vesey and other organizers were sent to trial and found guilty. All 35 were sentenced to hanging.
Fast forward to present day Charleston where a group of antislavery activists publicly revealed a statue of Vesey.
Supporters say Vesey was a “proto-civil rights leader” who championed equality while others feel he was a troublemaker who promoted death. Supporters believe the statue, which took more than 20 years to complete, is an excellent way to honor a man who lost his life trying to free the enslaved. On the other hand, modern-day opponents feel honoring Vesey promotes and glorifies violence.
So what do you think? Should Vesey be heralded as a champion of rights or an extremist?
My thoughts? To suggest the latter is a bit unfair because I’m sure if we could ask him at the time, Vesey would say slavery was extreme.
By all accounts, Vesey was aggressive and violent with his thinking, but consider what he endured. Many of us today complain if we can’t get cell phone service in certain areas to communicate with friends and family. Well, Vesey couldn’t communicate with his family either. As a matter of fact, he was never allowed to even see his wife and children again.
Before we pass judgment on Vesey and his actions, it would be wise for us to first put ourselves in his shoes. To be enslaved takes a tremendous amount of restraint – particularly when you did nothing wrong, as were 400,000 Blacks who were forced into servitude. It took a lot for slaves to simply accept their fate, day in and day out – without ever seeing the promise of something better in the near future. I don’t know about you, but I would probably go crazy and be somewhat of a radical myself.
What other option was there at the time? South Carolina banned the freeing of slaves two years before Vesey began planning his revolt. For him, there were no other options.
We are fortunate to have had the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who practiced nonviolence. However, King’s era was completely different than that of Vesey’s. With no options, Vesey, sought violence as a means to an end. It’s not something I promote now, nor is it something I would have been against then.
So as Black History Month comes to a close, I hope two things occur: you honor the past through education of our history and that you become motivated to do things now that will ensure equality and fairness for all people in the future.
You can email comments to Shannon Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.