The Trail of Tears is a horrible stain on our country, but the story of the events and decisions that led to it is not straightforward. World has republished the introduction to Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation by John Sedgwick, a history of what the Cherokee did before, during, and after the war, distinguishing themselves above all other Native American tribes.
At first, virtually all the Cherokee sided with the Confederacy, identifying with the Southern plantation owners, and proud of the black slaves they themselves had bought to pick their cotton. And, complicit with the state of Georgia, the Union had been responsible for the land theft that had cost them their ancestral territory and packed them west in the forced migration known as the Trail of Tears three decades before.
But why did the Cherokee not stay united against a common enemy? How could they have divided against themselves? To answer this, we need go back three decades to the terrible winter of 1838 and the issue that would never go away. Removal—the cruel shorthand for the Trail of Tears—was to the Cherokee Nation what slavery was to America, an issue so profound as to be bottomless and unending.
Mary Turner’s story died when she died. Mary Turner’s protest died when she died. Mary Turner’s pre-born baby died when she died. Mary Turner’s name died when she died.
You don’t recognize her name. You don’t recognize her story. And if you were there on May 19th, 1918, you wouldn’t recognize her body either.
Mary Turner was a mother of three. She was a wife to Hayes Turner. She was a woman of colour—and that’s why she was killed in Lowndes County, Georgia.
Samuel Sey tells the horrific story of Mary’s lynching, which took place 100 years ago last May. “Mary Turner is just one of 4,743 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1968—and you don’t know their names. You don’t know their stories. You don’t know their faces—except one: Emmett Till.”
He offers a simple reason to explain and apply this reality to today.
This is a moving article on how Christians, particular Reformed believers and Presbyterians, have sat beside the biblical lawyer in justifying themselves by asking who is actually our neighbors, by which we meant who did we not have to love in accord with the second commandment.
tl;dr – Mainstream conservative Calvinism neither caused American chattel slavery, nor cured it, but it capitulated to it, was complicit in it, and cooperated with it. Nineteenth century confessional Calvinism, especially in the South, codified, confirmed, corroborated and was coopted by American pro-slavery ideology, and then perpetuated that ideology in segregation after slavery was gone. While all along, the theological cure for slavery (and its underlying racism) sat quietly ignored in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: the imago Dei, neighbor love (along with, esp., the WLC expositions of the 6th and 10th commandments), the communion of the saints, and especially justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 2, as deployed by John Newton and William Wilberforce in their arguments against the slave trade and slavery)!
Defending the Faith; Denying the Image – 19th Century American Confessional Calvinism in Faithfulness and Failure
I have learned April is Confederate history or heritage month. I didn’t grow up with any conflict over this part of the history of the Southern states. The culture and even language of the South was formed in part by our close association to that “peculiar institution African slavery,” as Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens put it, but both can still be separated from our current lives. Also I was encouraged, though I don’t remember exactly how and when, to see the war between the states as a conflict over states’ rights.
The war was over states’ rights, but the fundamental right the Confederate states fought for was the right to build their economy on slavery. So any Confederate history month should look at the whole picture, not some lost cause of glamorized Southern noblemen whose Christian ideals made our country great.
In 2016, Jemar Tisby made a month of posts for April to spotlight some points of history that may be overlooked by those celebrating the Confederacy. One of them linked to Alexander Stephens’s speech in Savannah on March 21, 1861. I will quote from it a bit more than he did.
Stephens said Jefferson was right when he said the institution of slavery was the “rock upon which the old Union would split,” but he was wrong on how he viewed that rock. “The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with,” but believed it would pass away over time. To confront it directly was too costly, so our founding fathers hoped it would be washed away though the natural course of civilization over the next few decades.
Continue reading Confederacy “founded upon exactly the opposite idea”
On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .
Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”
British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”
Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.
“When I taught English classes at a university in the Midwest,” Sarah Domet writes, “I often turned to William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! as a representative sample of a ‘Southern’ book. . . . At the heart of the novel stands a character who both transcends and is forever bound by his roots.”
Interestingly, I have never taught Absalom! Absalom! in any Southern classroom. Perhaps this is due to my fear of being outed as an outsider myself, my fear of being seen as the dreaded Yankee stereotype who instructs Southerners on the ways of the world. Yet, as I was recently re-reading this great Southern novel, something struck me: My desires to belong to a new region—my anxieties of place, too—are all very Southern, at least in a literary sense. In my fear of not being Southern enough I was playing out the very themes of Southern fiction. Time and time again Southern writers confront the conflicting notions of what it means to live in the South, be of the South, find a home in a place with a complicated history. Time and time again Southern writers have reminded me that misfits and outsiders alike all have a shot at redemption. It is Flannery O’Connor herself who famously notes, “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”