A Visit to Slave Haven

By September 5, 2014 Memphis No Comments


Last week I took a tour of a home used in the Underground Railroad in downtown Memphis. A German immigrant named, Jacob Burkle built “Slave Haven” in 1856. I took the tour with 4 white friends and 4 black friends. As we listened and walked side by side in the steps of abolitionists and fugitive slaves, we were all profoundly moved. My black friends ached for the pain of their ancestors and the continued effects that slavery and racial prejudice still wound them with today. I ached with them as I was given a clear and tangible picture of this horror. I was also convicted by my lack of conviction, and the disparity between the black and white races that still exists today.

Growing up in white, middle class suburbia, I haven’t been privy to see racism played out in my daily routine. There were not any black people in my graduating class, nor any in my college sorority. Until I turned 25, I only had 1 black friend. I also didn’t know my slave owning ancestors and so I didn’t feel responsible for their mistreatment of their black slaves, but as oral tradition and family legacies go, I incorporated their prejudices and attitudes without even knowing it. My black friends also incorporated the pain and legacy of their ancestors. Both races have carried the pain and sin of slavery into our current lives.

The heat and anger in Ferguson, Mo. has reignited the issue of racial disparity in our country, and as with any awakening, there is a call to respond.

Because I am convicted, I am called to change. I believe that change begins with learning. I still live in a beautiful home in white suburbia, and it is very easy to shut the door and stay comfortable and obtuse while I teach and love on my white suburban children and their white suburban friends…. But there is so much I would be missing.

I have been incredibly blessed by serving in the Orange Mound community (which btw, was one of the neighborhoods I was told to avoid growing up). I have also been blessed by my brokenness. As my eyes have been opened to the generational sin that I am a part of, I have watched God remove the blinders from my eyes and allow me the privilege to repent. Turning a blind eye does not make the problem go away… no matter where you live.

I also know that for healing to happen, I must change the pattern of ignorance in my home. Luke 17:1-3 says:

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves!

It is tempting to close my eyes or ignore the problem, because the problem of prejudice and racial disparity in our country, and more specifically our city seems too big, but the sorrow that awaits is much bigger if I ignore it. This side of heaven, there will be such sorrow if there is not purposeful reconciliation and an effort to understand, and the generational sin will continue to swell.

The sorrow that awaits me if I ignore it and don’t change it in my own household is a punishment that I would never choose. I must repent, need to change and still have so much to learn.

To wrap this up, I want to exhort you to be a purposeful learner and be encouraged. Please, if you have the opportunity, go visit “Slave Haven”; you will learn and you will be moved. I also got an “educating” from Jon Stewart. This clip is raw and laced with dubbed out profanity, but his insight is rich and entertaining. Watch it.

Finally, please, be encouraged. We are all aliens living in a strange and fallen world, and we will always be challenged and tempted by sin. Jesus knows this and he told his disciples (and you):

“In Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)

“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17 (NKJV)

Footnote: The immediate generation preceding mine ( aka Mom and Dad) are on a much steeper learning curve than I am. Their blindness was worse and they have aggressively answered the call to action and repentance. In the last few years, I have watched them pour their hearts and resources into under resourced communities in Memphis, and as a result, I have seen blessings abound. To God be the Glory…. Always!

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