Part of the reason that I enjoy working at a university is the interesting people I meet, and the ways they challenge me. While helping the Southwestern History department with their yearly conference, I met Clarence Glover, CEO of Sankofa Education Services, who brought plantation life to me.
(Don’t mind the pictures. I know they stink, but it’s just a camera phone in a hallway with strange lighting, and I’m not a photographer.)
He showed up with that large bag you see in the picture. It’s so long it can’t fit in the picture and it weighs 200 pounds when filled with cotton. I asked if I could take a picture of it and he did me one better – he told me to pose with it while he took my picture. (Then he told me to take it off because I had put it on wrong. Yep. Did I mention that I’m a certified AVIT consultant?)
Then he pulled some cotton out of his pocket. Not cotton balls like you find in the store, but cotton that he had picked off of cotton plants. (He picks cotton and keeps it with him.) He then showed us how he could quickly spin the blob of cotton into a strong strand. It was hypnotic to watch his hands dextrously manipulating the cotton. He told us that he did this by moving his hands to a certain rhythm – a rhythm that was a part of the way his people worked and influenced the way they sang.
Then I picked up the old chains he had with him. They were convicting. It’s one thing to give a man a difficult job and tell him to earn his living that way, but it’s another thing to make him wear these heavy, demeaning chains. How could people do this to each other? I shook my head and wondered what kind of monster would chain up is fellow man while he worked.
But, then, something even more horrid occurred to me: I was giving myself way too much credit. In the old days, most people went along with slavery. Respectable men and women from the past that we study and admire were not opposed to tying people up and forcing them to work. Would I have protested slavery? Or would I have gone along with it? Unfortunately, almost no one protested slavery for most of man’s history, so I’m sure I would have been no different. That pains me.
Is there anything that I should be protesting that I’m not? Am I overlooking anything like slavery in my life? I hope not. But how would I know?