Zion African Methodist Episcoal Church, Rochester, USA

Which inheritance?

In the first post, I introduced the reasons why British people in general (which includes me in particular) cannot be passive in the face of racism and the systemic effects of racism. For me, the fact that a distant relative was directly involved in the slave trade and went as far as claiming compensation for the slaves he “lost” when liberation was forced upon him by a change in the law, means confrontation is unavoidable. Because this compensation scheme was paid for by all our taxes until 2015 means none of us can avoid this.

Digging deeper into my family tree – especially of those that that migrated to North America in the 18th century – reveals two counterpoints. Specifically, during civil war America, there is evidence of allyship and later of abolitionism.

While Abraham Anthony was a slaver, this was said of another distant relative (Colonel Daniel Anthony):

“Col. Anthony…refused to allow his troops to be used for chasing and catching runaway slaves. In no instance did a colored man or woman fleeing from slavery ever fail to find protection within his lines, and in no single instance was any such person ever delivered up to be returned to bondage, although demands were repeatedly made for them by their former masters, who came with the authority of “General Orders” from the department commander, and armed with special and positive orders from the brigade commander. He declared that his soldiers were not there as slave-catchers, nor as police to guard the property of the country’s enemies, and while he remained in command not a man of his regiment ever engaged in such pursuits. For this refusal to surrender colored refugees and guard rebel property. Col. Anthony was arrested by order of Gen. Mitchell, upon the charge of insubordination.”

Neither can we forget my beloved’s namesake, the abolitionist and social reformer Susan B Anthony who collaborated on the Underground Railway with Harriett Tubman. Much has been written about Susan B Anthony, but I was moved by this vignette. In 1907, a year after her death, a stained-glass window was installed at the African Methodist Episcopal church in Rochester, USA. The window featured her portrait and the words “Failure is Impossible”.

Of course, as Christians, we believe our ultimate inheritance is in Christ, but I can’t help but think that the contrasting choices of my most distant relatives present a lesson to us today. And it is easy to choose which examples are most Christ-like. The more difficult question is how to follow His and their examples. As someone said, and has subsequently been shared online: “If you’ve ever wondered how you would’ve responded to the Civil Rights Movement, you’re doing it right now.”

What is clear is that we cannot blindly follow the culture of the day. And we cannot be passive or silent in the face of unjust cultural norms, lest we end up like Abraham. Rather we must stand like Daniel, we must speak and act like Susan. We cannot deny the horrific history and we must look forward to and work towards a better future.

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