Underground Railroad – This Masterful Disguise Revealed A Truer Self.
It is Halloween! And we have at last arrived at our final day celebrating history’s successful disguises. We have shared quite a list of people famous for being someone else because being themselves wasn’t cutting it. J/k
Every Halloween we watch as disguised kids and adults spirit about the dark roads of America. They’ll briefly pause at homes with hearts kind enough to give them treats and candy. Then they may move on to another and another until they find their own home, the place with all the treats. This reminded me of something.
The Underground Railroad.
WARNING: Brief descriptions of a sensitive time during our nation is described below. Our audience is wide, between. 5-98 (if Betty White is an SDA fan) we wanted to make sure that these topics were done in a matter that respected emotional needs of empathetic children who may be particularly touched by this period. We encourage you to learn more about this time or speak with an SDA staff who can discuss these sensitive issues. I will write two equal signs “==“ which signals to please join us then for the rest of the inspiring story of the Underground Railroad.
We take as givens “Democracy and Freedom”. The ability to learn, to grow, to wonder, to explore. This was not the case before America was found. And even then, and still to this day, America struggles on what freedom means.
America generated and founded new ideals but imported some bad old ones. For awhile, the southern economy depended on free labor, that meant housing African Americans on plantations so that they could work for plantation owners without pay—this system is called “slavery.” Conditions were extremely hard on them physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The system horrifies us now. It also horrified many then too. In fact, it inspired the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad worked to free slaves one by one. It took intelligence, cunning, bravery, and a good heart. Despite serious danger to themselves, slavery inspired people to do the right thing even if it is the hard thing.
Welcome back, if you are just joining us. Why is the Underground Railroad story inspiring? It is the story of how the pure goodness of one can free another from the bondages of slavery, bring them to salvation, only by becoming their story with them. 100,000 persons were freed this way. Each time more difficult than the last and each time the exhausting goodness inside found the infinite reserves of perseverance to overcome any adversity. And THAT is this is that story.
Let’s talk terms first. The phrase “Underground Railroad” itself is a disguise. It was neither underground. Nor a railroad. Rather, It was a zigzagging series of routes, false trails, cunning, trickery, to free African Americans so they can live like other Americans living in the mid 1800s, believing in phrenology, using words like “Lally-cooler” and “shoddyocracy” and fearing “spontaneous combustion,” cause they know someone’s who that happened to.
Let’s meet another term: “Conductors.” These are professionals, similar to sherpas who knew the routes and the secret codes. They would join African Americans on the plantations, re-becoming slaves themselves. After sometime, the conductor and the new “passenger” would flee at night.
It took the moon, secret codes, churches, and running feet, but person by person, house by house, heart by heart, African Americans vanished like a ghost only to be see by the angels who guided them to a promised land of freedom.
The “conductors” and “passengers” would travel at night and arrive at “depots” or “stations,” homes and churches that put their own lives in dangers by housing fugitives. There was a higher law to obey, a celestial commandment as bright as a blue moon–the Bible emphasized equality, as a commandment requiring the respect of everyone, regardless of skin color. Passengers and conductors would stow away below floor boards during inspections because this noble truth bled a deep truth from their hearts. Since the heavens guided the passengers, the members of the railroad crew rested during the day. At night they were “tricked and treated” with food and entertainment.
Once rest and renewed, the conductor sent encrypted messages to the next stops. Assuming someone would intercept these messages, the conductors wrote in a manner that seemed vague and puzzling enough so that the intercepting reader would think, “well, we will have them right where we want them.” Of course, all that was anticipated. The conductor and the passenger would arrive safely at a different destination, leaving the poor outwitted fools with plenty of time to throw their hats down and jump on them. Utterly masterful cunning that tickles and delights.
The Underground Railroad was immensely successful. 100,000 people escaped using the “Underground Railroad.” It was so popular in fact that Frederik Douglas tried to keep everyone, lest plantation owners catch on! He writes, “by their open declarations, has been made most emphatically the upperground railroad.”
I reserved this “history’s successful disguises” because this is a story of how mighty justice is, and how reliably hope can prevail. You see, the conductors knew who they were saving. Not by name or clothing, that had long been lost. There was no disguise to fool them. They knew them by heart. That’s how the Underground Railroad moved mountains. Suffering does not discriminated but it sure leaves a crippling name name tag on your face, and especially in the way you look in someone’s eye.
And so tonight as you go from home to home and you receive candies for you or for your own “passengers”, just take a second to look into the eyes of each homeowner. Think of who they are beneath their disguises. Think of the ways in which this person may feel “I am not enough. I am not who I want to be.” Think of the disguises they’ve had to put on to be their best self. Think about who else they’ve had to be in order to be just close to who they already are.
We can move mountains that way.