Branded # 5: Shadows, Ghosts


Usually, when I post about “Community/Interconnectedness” (my # 1 topic, apparently), I write from a place of deep, deep gratitude. And, yes, how grateful I was on Sunday to attend this “The Somerville I Didn’t Know” lecture in the presence of some dear friends. Fifty or so people, many of whom I know, gathered on a hot summer afternoon in the un-air-conditioned Somerville Museum to look squarely at slavery. Its evil. To take in that slavery was “the engine” that powered all* Industrial Revolution industry.  And slavery’s pervasiveness—even in Somerville.

But to acknowledge that yes, this pernicious institution was right here in the ‘ville is, sadly, to also acknowledge its shadow. Evil doesn’t fade away, does it. It’s like an offshore oil spill: the dark, gooey crap just keeps washing ashore and sticking to our feet.

An odd experience I’m not sure I can adequately explain: On Sunday, I realized in a new way that, “Ohmygod, slavery’s shadow still haunts us” when historian Alice Mack mentioned Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War hero**—who’d briefly been stationed in Somerville—as a Quaker! (Apparently the cotton gin had been invented on his plantation.) That a noted historian didn’t note the disconnect between Greene’s religious faith and being a celebrated general and brilliant war strategist made me feel as though my sect, like slavery, had become ghostlike. (But, obviously, still haunts us.)

It’s not a stretch for me to connect the dots between slavery’s long shadow here in MA and, say, our punitive CORI laws, which make getting a job or finding a place to live so incredibly hard for ex-offenders.

And while I know in my heart that the Bay State’s Quakers’ peace witness also endures, just not feelin’ it at the moment.


*All. That sprawling, nineteenth-century Somerville factory pictured above was known as The Bleachery—where cotton was bleached.

** Coincidentally, Greene and another infamous Quaker, Charles Lynch, fought together at Guilford Courthouse. In fact, the word “lynch” derives from this battle’s backstory: When Lynch, a judge in western VA, discovered that Tories had stolen supplies for the upcoming battle, he exceeded his backwoods authority and punished the perps. Thus: Lynch’s Law.

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  1. Being honest about our history is a matter of basic integrity and justice. I’m wondering if it’s also corrective of a tendency by some to idol worship. To what extent does our faith rest on our experience of the living, breathing Divine among us? To the extent that it does, we will not be seized by despair or wracked by guilt when some of the idols get smashed. So, read Friend Patricia’s musings with the wild One in your heart, breathing in your ear… Thank you, Patricia!

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