“The Truth: The Only Key That Can Set Free”
During the 1800s the devastations of slavery were in full effect and a little over a hundred years old. The story of slaves was often a sad one of turmoil and pain. The brutality, treatment, and dishonesty provided hardships slaves all over the United States. Henry Box Brown, in particular, experienced these tribulations while on his way to freedom. As a child in reflects back to when he was a child in his narrative. He reminisces on his thoughts of religion and how these thoughts came about. He recalls, “I really believed my old master was god, and his son, my young master, was Jesus Christ.” (18) The fact that Henry’s slave-owners allowed him to believe this is absurd. White slave holders enjoyed being put on a pedestal and feared by their slaves. They did anything in their power to obtain and keep this fear in the heart of slaves. From beatings to lynching, it was easy for one to be frightened by the wrath of their slave-master. When it came down to it this undying fear slaves had in regards to their masters made since. When someone has that much power, slaves believed they did, to basically have life in the palm of their hands and at the snap of a finger could kill without second thought is beyond dreadful and an excruciating thought. The fact that slaves believed every single thing that came out of their white owners’ mouths is not hard to believe at considering these circumstances. They were brought to America with nothing and all the knew was how to work the fields and unfortunately follow all of their masters’ orders, in following his orders one could stay alive. To one not knowing who God really was, this sure does sound like him.
Though many slaves educated themselves and formed their own thoughts on religion and in particular Christianity, there were still a vast majority of slaves who only knew about religion from what was to them by their slave-owners. Those teachings consisted of one thing only, the slave-holding shoving the thought in the mind of the slave that they were God and if they disobeyed their lives would be taken by “God”. This crooked way of brainwashing slaves did them much damage. Confusion amongst slaves was prominent. This is seen when Henry Box Brown asks a slave woman who Jesus Christ was and her reply was, “He is the bad man.” (16) This statement should make one wonder why wasn’t the truth being told? Clearly, if slaves knew the truth about things that they were not meant to know the truth about they would be dangerous. They would figure out how strong they actually were and in turn rebel. In doing this the roles would be reversed and slaves would put a great amount of fear in the whites and white slave-masters. This is what slave-owners could not have happen. This is why they did things to weaken black slaves such as ripping their heritage from them and not revealing truths about religion that everyone should have the right to know. On top of this notion, Christianity was forced down the throats of slaves by whites. It was not Henry Brown’s fault for not knowing what was not available to him. John Ernest, a writer on the life of Brown, states “What the Negro needs is what belongs to him—what has been ruthlessly torn from him—and what is by consent of a despotic democracy and a Christless religion withholden from him […].” (3) Slaves were ripped of everything they owned, their rights and their families. They deserved to have their own form of worship and to know the real God, not the one that was thrust upon them.
Later, as time progressed Henry Box Brown, as well as other slave, began to ask questions and instead of asking slave-owners what was the meaning of Christianity they asked other slaves that had the privilege of getting educated. When Brown became of age and outwitted his slave-owner and planned his escape, he began to know the “real” God. He even credits God for his escaping to freedom, “[...] Brown credits his escape to divine inspiration.” (Ernest 2) This shows that slaves began to gain their own beliefs and were becoming more intelligent which was a threat to the white society who so badly wanted to deny this. Singleton notes that there was a clear difference in status which contributed to the archeology of slavery.(129) This status difference automatically put whites above slaves who were not keen to the new world to which they were brought. When slaves began to form their own beliefs, they posed a problem because this status that was formed automatically was being challenged. They were afraid of the black mind. Mathew Guterl sums it up best when he stated, “The white world is vaguely and disquietingly aware that Negroes are awake and different.” (307) It is safe to say that what is meant to be will be and God did not allow anyone to stand is way of delivering slaves, especially not whites.
In culmination, though the truth was not handed to him or others, Henry Box Brown did what he had to do in order to survive. It meant everything to him to learn about God and form his own faith. For someone to yank this from him is absolutely absurd and inhumane. Little do whites know, while doing their best to strip black slaves of their humanities they were losing their own. They were careless and unjust. If it weren’t for those as brave as Brown, a religion that blacks could understand and call their own could have taken years longer than it did to come by. McBride, astonished by the strength and bravery of slaves such as Henry, believes that testimonies and slave stories were somewhat passports to freedom and to the future. (39) Brown’s story to freedom, not only literally, but figuratively is more than inspirational. Without a doubt, by learning all that he could about religion, he was freed from the white man’s tight grip along with others. Wrong doings always come to light. As hard as they tried white slave-owners could not keep slaves in the dark about religion any longer. Slowly tables were turning as more Frederick Douglass’ and Henry Browns gained freedom and became abolitionists, empowering and teaching slaves as much as they could and revealing the truths that were being kept and hidden from them. Because Brown did not settle for what his slave-masters told him about God he was able to be successful in getting free from his bondage. He now knew the truth which was the key that set him free.
Brown, Henry Box. Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown Written by Himself. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Ernest, John. “Outside the Box: Henry Box Brown and the Politics of Antislavery Agency.” Arizona Quarterly 63.4 (2007): 1-24. Print.
Guterl, Matthew. “The New Race Consciousness: Race, Nation, and Empire in American Culture, 1910-1925.” Journal of World History 10.2 (1999): 307-352. Print.
McBride, Dwight. Impossible Witness: truth, abolitionism, and slave testimony. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.
Singleton, Theresa. “The Archaeology of Slavery in North America.” Annual Reviews 24 (1995): 119-140. Print.