Monday, September 16, 2013

Historic Value of 275 Thames Street, London, Ontario, Canada

Historic Value of 275 Thames Street, London, Ontario, Canada

The Fugitive Slave Chapel of London, Ontario was built about 1848 presumably by fugitive slaves and perhaps other citizens of African descent. Little is known about how this building came into being but London land records show that trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church purchased the land at 275 Thames Street on October 14, 1847. One would speculate that the building would have been erected shortly after that date, but some sources put the date of construction as late as 1852.

You may wonder at the lack of documentation for a building of such historical value, but, at the time, these few fugitives from our southern neighbour were insignificant and even unwanted, so their activities were largely ignored. Fleeing from slavery meant that they had endured hard labour with no wages paid, so it is not surprising that they had very little when they arrived in London. What they did have was an ability to work and a desire to succeed, so, despite odds against them, they worked, bargained and prospered. With only the finances that labour could bring them, they naturally congregated in an area of London were real estate was cheap. The smelly hollow at Thames Street was such a place during the middle of the nineteenth century. The coming of the railroad in 1853 soon changed all of that. Real estate values escalated and the black community of London were soon known to hold greater value in real estate than their white counterparts.

When they arrived in Canada all these fugitives wanted was an equal opportunity to work and earn a living. Some well intentioned people took it on their selves to raise money for those they regarded as unable to succeed on their own. Others who were not so well intentioned used the situation of the fugitives to solicit money which seldom got to the intended destination. Either way this was not wanted by the black community. Many narratives of fugitive slaves who came to Canada stated that they felt handouts would make people lazy and they preferred to work for what they could earn. Equal opportunity is the most they asked for, and that they did not get. The prejudice in Canada was often worse than they faced in slavery, but in Canada they were free and had protection of the law. This was enough to enable them to work hard and prosper under adverse conditions.

For more than 200 years the African American was told he was not human and could expect no human rights. He was brainwashed into thinking he had no capability to survive on his own and needed a master to look after his affairs. Many were so convinced of their inferior abilities that they made no attempt to escape slavery, but the ones who did manage to break the bonds of slavery proved that the common beliefs were utterly false. Not only did they succeed but they succeeded despite adverse conditions. They came together in small communities and helped each other to overcome obstacles. In slavery they had learned of the God of Christianity and many carried that belief with them when they came to Canada. White Christians would usually make them feel unwelcome, so they established their own churches. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born in the south when Black Christians suffered segregation in the Methodist churches of that area. In 1856 it was considered to be unsafe for black ministers to travel to the USA for conferences and so the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada split from their parent organization to form the British Methodist Episcopal Church. Canada then was a British Colony and the Church wanted to honour the country that gave them freedom when they named their new organization.

Sometimes we tend to distance ourselves from human suffering when it happens to another group, but I take this very personally. Although I am not black, I am human, and slavery was a crime against humanity. Although the black population suffered more, slavery damaged all human society. Ancient forms of slavery were sanctioned in the Christian Bible but this more recent form was condemned back as far as the time of Moses. In ancient times one who owed money might sell himself into slavery or when enemies were captured during a time of war they would often be forced into slavery. Beginning in 1441 the first African Slaves were stolen from their homeland. The slave trade would continue to grow through the following centuries and would not end until the USA civil war ended it in 1885. In Exodus 21:16 we read, “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” It is clear from this verse that man stealing has always been abhorred and even one in possession of a stolen man was to receive the most severe punishment. When the Christian Churches twisted the meaning of the Bible to justify this form of slavery they not only condemned and innocent population to slavery, they also condemned themselves to spiritual death. When someone is devoid of human spirit it is increasingly easy to do wrong and it gets more and more difficult to do what is right.

Today we hear of terrible crimes perpetrated against the most innocent of our citizens. Young girls are brutally raped. Little children are kidnapped, used for sex and then murdered in an attempt to cover the original crime. The laws of the land keep these events down to a few cases, but imagine what would happen of these things were legal. What if, instead of condemning the child rapist, you protected his activity by law and made it illegal for the family of the child to interfere with his right. Now imagine this is your little daughter or son that is being raped by one who the law says you must respect as your master. This is just one example, if there is any other crime that repulses you more, imagine that one. I am not saying that these things were common place, but when we realize that such things still happen despite the law we can only assume they happened more often when the perpetrator had no fear of punishment. If the neighbours found out they would see him as a sick man but they would look the other way since he would have the right to do whatever he wanted with his property.

More common would be the breeding practices. Slaves were treated as livestock and as in livestock they had no rights to select a mate for themselves. The master would decide which slaves would produce the best offspring. When one mate was sold off another would be forced on the one remaining. Unlike livestock the master himself could also act as stud and do his own breeding. Anyone born of a slave woman was considered a slave and this master would sell off one of his own offspring as quickly as he would any other slave. Now imagine it was your mother, your sister or your daughter being forced into a sexual relation and used for breeding slaves for her master. She had no rights to her offspring. They were the property of her master who could do anything he wanted with them.

I have painted this brief picture of the nature of slavery to show what the fugitives coming to London, Ontario were running from. Next we can look at how they got to Canada.

The journey from the South was made at great peril to the slaves. When one became a fugitive one was hunted down like a wild animal. Many masters wanted to teach their slaves that running was worse than staying and so they would not care if a runaway was returned dead or alive. Slave catchers preferred the dead or alive posters as they could collect the reward without needing to return a living person who would be constantly trying to escape. Even when returned alive it was not uncommon to whip the slave to death as a lesson to others on what happens to a runaway. Before a slave would run he had to accept that death was better for him than to stay in slavery.

Having never been paid for his labour, the fugitive had no money to pay for his journey north. He had to avoid public detection so he stayed clear of roads and any place where people may be found. Not knowing who he could trust he was forced to steal food and walk for many months. Even when a friend who could help was close by, he was often unaware. Sometimes, out of desperation he would be forced to approach a stranger. Sometimes he was rewarded with help, other times he was sent back to slavery or killed on the spot. Through the aid of the Quakers and the Underground Railway many fugitives were rescued with the rescuers sharing in the risk. It was illegal to help a runaway slave and anyone caught in this would be subject to huge fines and/or prison time. Yet many would take the risk because they followed a higher law and that law said oppression was wrong, even oppression that was sanctioned by the government. The underground rail-road provided depots were fugitives would be hidden while they had a chance to rest and eat. They were then given instructions on how to find the next depot and sometimes were even provided with transportation. If a fugitive slave could make his way to one of the terminals of the underground rail-road his chances of reaching Canada were greatly increased. Many of the Fugitives coming to Canada were helped by this organization run mainly by Quakers.

Whether or not a fugitive found the underground rail-road his dangers were not past. Besides the danger from humans the fugitive was harassed by natural elements. He was at risk of being torn apart by wild animals. Heat, cold, rain or snow may overcome him. He may be forced of hide in swamps, contend with insects, snakes, leaches and worse without any protection whatsoever. With only stars to lead him he would often become lost in a blizzard and find that he had been going in the wrong direction when the sun arose on an unexpected horizon. Needless to say, many didn't make it, but death to them was better than the life they had known.

Now imagine the terrible life you had as a slave. Top that with a perilous three month journey on foot while suffering from starvation and anything nature could throw at you. When you meet the first person you have seen since you started from the South you know not if he was a friend or enemy, by divine providence found you in favour and that person helped you get quickly to Canada. In Canada you found slave catchers were still searching for you in the border communities. You found there was a place called London that was further inland and afforded more protection against capture, so again you set out on foot being thankful for the small amount of help you have received. You now had the protection of the law and could find work along the way to pay for your food. Finally you arrive in London Ontario and someone directs you to a little chapel on Thames Street. You go in and kneel down to pray as you thank God that you made it. Many troubles lie ahead of you. You do not know where you will sleep, what you will eat or where you can find a job, but the kind people at the Chapel had previously gone through what you have and they understood your needs. Together you give a prayer of thanks and pray for continued guidance.

This is the significance of this little unassuming building that now needs a new home. This building symbolizes the overcoming of evil. This is a place where free men could pray. It is a reminder of a time we do not want to repeat. It is a symbol for continued justice and for continuing to fight for the rights of the oppressed. The North American Continent was wounded by slavery for more than two hundred years. A century and a half has elapsed since slavery was finally abolished but the wounds are still healing. The symptoms of slavery are being treated but the route cause still needs to be discovered or the disease of slavery will simply take on new forms. This is our present day challenge so that we can forever rid the world of oppression.

We have a symbol of freedom in London, Ontario. It is currently at 275 Thames Street. There are a lot of people who want to move it to 432 Grey Street where it can be restored and preserved. $65,000 is needed just to get the building moved. And additional amount estimated at $500,000 is needed to restore and add additional facilities needed to realize its full potential. A contribution to this cause is a contribution to world peace and the end of oppression of all kinds. Plans are under way to have a plaque displaying the names of major contributors made that will be displayed at this historical site.

You can contribute via internet at Cheques can be sent to the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project, c/o Beth Emanuel BME Church, 430 Grey St, London, Ontario, N6B 1H3.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Past Knowledge is Proven False

Past Knowledge is Proven False

There was no superior race

In the future much that is announced and accepted as true now will be rejected and disproved. And so it will continue ad infinitum.

                (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 45)


How do we know what is true. It has been proven that all criterion we use as humans is faulty. We perceive the mirage to be real. We transmit invisible signals into the air and develop technology to detect them and interpret them. We then see images of people on the TV set in our living room. They look real but they are not there.

We investigate to see what will happen when certain elements are put together and then speculate as to why the reaction happened. We develop rules and theories to explain why things happen and they are continually changed and modified as new information becomes available. When it comes explaining why something happens we are at a loss. Low frequency radio waves are more effected by gravity than high frequency waves. Why? We don’t know. Through observation and tests  we just find more information on how things react but we are no closer to discovering the root cause.

For many years certain races of men felt that they were superior to others. They based that knowledge on erroneous information. They amassed superior weapons and forced their beliefs on others. When it came to waging war these ones excelled. If the criterion for superiority is in the ability to kill humans and destroy cities these ones where the best. If you didn’t agree that they were superior they would kill you and destroy your civilization. If you resisted they would declare you to be bloodthirsty savages who needed to be destroyed and would murder your warriors along with innocent children and women. They would lie to you and cheat you to get what they wanted. Since they were the superior race, human rights applied to themselves and themselves only. All others were regarded little better than animals.

So they rode into Africa and shot up the black population, stealing men women and children to be used as slaves. They refused to educate the Africans, gave them barely enough food to keep them alive and worked them long and hard hours every day. Many Blacks began to recognize their perceived inferiority but not all. No matter how the whites tried they could not keep the black man in submission.

They rode into America and shot up the red man, stealing his land. When these aboriginal ones tried to protect what was rightfully theirs they were called savages and attempts were made to wipe them out. They tried to assimilate the ones that refused to die and teach them the better ways of the superior race. This created more problems than the killing and pillaging.

It is like a gang of schoolyard bullies rode onto the world stage. There seemed to be no stopping them. None could be found to stand up to them. But there is one thing they didn’t count on.


Sir, the Americans may tell of their ability, and I have no doubt they have it, to keep back the invader’s hosts, to repulse the strongest force that its enemies may send against this country. It may boast, and rightly boast of its capacity to build its ramparts so high that no foe can hope to scale them—to render  them so impregnable as to defy the assaults of the world. But, sir, there is one thing it cannot resist, come from what quarter it may. It cannot resist TRUTH. You cannot build your forts so strong, nor your ramparts so high, nor arm yourselves so powerfully, as to be able to withstand the overwhelming MORAL SENTIMENT against Slavery now flowing into this land. For example: Prejudice against Color is continually becoming weaker in this land; and why? Because the whole European Continent denounces this sentiment as unworthy a lodgment in the breast of an enlightened community. And the American abroad dares not now, even in a public conveyance, to lift his voice in defence of this disgusting prejudice.

Douglass, Frederick.  Abolition Fanaticism in New York -- The Frederick Douglass Collection:


The bully’s enemy is the Truth. He will fight against it, deny it, twist it and do anything with it except believe it. He will blame others for the wrong he is doing but will not recognize that he himself is the worst offender.

The bully reigns terror in his neighbourhood, but then his mother comes out and drags him into the house by his ear, humiliating him in front of his victims. And yet the bully does not understand. The only law he knows is the law of brute force. Intelligence and reasoning are beyond his capabilities. Yet he proclaims himself the most intelligent and will beat you to a pulp if you do not agree. He reasons with gun and sword to get his own way, but, oh no, here comes mom again. He is gone for now but he will be back to reign terror another day.

Among every race there are those who abide by higher moral standards and who long for peace in the world. They are likely as numerous as the bullies but the unthinking majority is easily swayed. Yes they can see that slavery is wrong, but it is the way things are done. How can I manage my business if I don’t have slave labour to do my work. It is so much easier to have someone else do the work while I reap the benefits, so I won’t rock the boat. I’ll pay my dues to the bullies so long as they leave me alone. I can look the other way when my brother is abused.

But tyranny feeds and festers and grows to be a pain that cannot be ignored forever. Finally the mass of humanity is swayed toward reason and a huge battle is fought with the bullies. Eventually they are subdued and slavery is brought to an end, or is it. At least on paper the law looks good and it is now illegal to own a slave. Yet major companies will rent their slave labour. Still they get rich off the labour of the oppressed. And the prejudice that the bullies taught is not so easily unlearned. Although the physical condition may be improving it takes much longer to recover from psychological abuse.

People tend to believe what they are told, especially during the formative ages of childhood. A misinformed public continues to misinform the next generation and it takes many generations to undo prejudice beliefs. Such beliefs lie hidden and many times the prejudice person is not aware they hold prejudice beliefs. “My beliefs are well founded. They go back for generations and this was good enough for my ancestors, so it is good enough for me.”

Then comes a rebellious child who asks, “Why?  Why is it so that we have held these values for so long. Let’s see if we can find a better way.” This child has a hard time. He must fight tradition. He goes against the values of his family. And, oh no, look who he has brought home. “Surely they are not going to marry?”

The Nineteenth century was a time of rebellion. A rebellious generation grew up to question the status quo. During 1848 there were uprisings in almost every country in Europe and the USA fought its most formidable enemy, itself, from 1861 to 1865.

Now, during the beginning of the twenty-first century we are still feeling the effects of that rebellion. The rebellious child is starting to grow up and realise there are things he cannot change. Now we face the greatest danger, the danger of slipping back to our old standards. Yes, laws have been written that won’t likely be repealed, but there are ways around that.  “I can no longer hold a piece of paper that says I own another human being but I can exert my influence over others and force them to do things that go against their moral standards. If I have money I can hold it out in front of my employees and get them to do things they never thought they would do just as easily as teaching a dog a new trick by promising a doggie treat.” We still have the oppressed and the oppressors. The danger is in falling back into the thinking that this is okay.

The greatest reward for working is the knowledge that one has worked to the best of his ability and has done a job he can be proud of. Oppression takes that award away and no amount of money can replace it. Many fugitive slaves stated that they worked harder when they became free than they ever did as a slave. Just the fact that they were earning a living for themselves outweighed any incentive a whip could bring. For the slave it was enough that you valued him enough as a person to pay him a wage. Now things are getting more complicated. The money incentive is being used more like a whip and many employers have adopted policies that cause their employees to feel undervalued and that their work does not really matter.

It is my feeling that everyone deserves a job. That job should not be just for the purpose of earning a living, but it should be the job that the person wants to do and he should feel rewarded in doing it to the point that he would want to continue even if he wasn’t paid. That way, even those who have inherited enough money that they don’t have to work would have a job that they felt was contributing something to society. Yes, people need to be remunerated so they can earn a descent living, but they also need the comfort of knowing that everyone has the same opportunity so they don’t have to live in fear of their earnings being stolen from them. There is enough wealth and enough work to go around if it is distributed fairly. If we can get people off of the welfare system maybe families would not have to hold down two or more jobs to pay the bills. Perhaps one parent could concentrate on the most important job on earth, that is the raising, educating and nurturing of our own children.

The trend since the industrial resolution is to mold and shape the person to fit the job. I believe things would work better if the opposite approach was taken. Let’s see if we can develop a new strategy were we start with the individual and develop the job to fit him. Now even the handicapped can work. Yes granny, who has trouble getting out of bed, can have something to do that makes her feel that she is a valuable citizen and not a burden on society. You may be surprised how much energy this could instill into an old soul. We can do this while maintaining and building family values. I child may be surprised how much more interesting are the stories told by his grandparents than the computer games he has been playing. “But mom, it is story time. I don’t want to play on the computer.”

My study of the nineteenth century has enlightened me in many ways. It was a troubled time and a time of rebellion and change. The status quo was questioned and challenged. We see many effects of those changes in today’s society, but now they have become normal and we have grown apathetic. We cannot afford to forget the progress that has been made and we need to maintain the fight for sustainable progress.  If we don’t continue to advance we will fall back. The nineteenth century contains a history we do not want to repeat. Let us learn from past mistakes so we don’t have to repeat them.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Frederick Douglass

Sir, the Americans may tell of their ability, and I have no doubt they have it, to keep back the invader's hosts, to repulse the strongest force that its enemies may send against this country. It may boast, and rightly boast of its capacity to build its ramparts so high that no foe can hope to scale them—to render them so impregnable as to defy the assaults of the world. But, sir, there is one thing it cannot resist, come from what quarter it may. It cannot resist TRUTH. You cannot build your forts so strong, nor your ramparts so high, nor arm yourselves so powerfully, as to be able to withstand the overwhelming MORAL SENTIMENT against Slavery now flowing into this land. For example: Prejudice against Color is continually becoming weaker in this land; and why? Because the whole European Continent denounces this sentiment as unworthy a lodgment in the breast of an enlightened community. And the American abroad dares not now, even in a public conveyance, to lift his voice in defense of this disgusting prejudice.


(Douglass, Frederick (2011-03-30). Abolition Fanaticism in New York Speech of a Runaway Slave from Baltimore, at an Abolition Meeting in New York, Held May 11, 1847 (Kindle Locations 85-92).  . Kindle Edition.)

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  (John 8: 31, 32)


Ignorance breeds slavery. Knowledge set you free. Ignorance believes in many falsehoods. Knowledge is knowing what is TRUE.

Frederick Douglass knew at a very young age that education was the way to get out of slavery. The Slave holders saw this knowledge as a devil. Douglass was known as a good worker, but education had put the devil in him according to those who would own his soul. It was education, knowledge of the truth, that made Douglass aware that he was a man and therefore could not be owned by another man. He would give of his body and work for those who held a paper saying he was their chattel, but his soul he would not give. His body suffered many whippings and he was afflicted to the point of death, and it was accepting death that made him free. The fear of death had made him a slave. Now, knowing truth, he no longer feared death, so he could no longer be whipped into submission.

So education led Frederick Douglass to know the TRUTH and that TRUTH set him free. Divine providence was on his side. He knew it and lived a life that no fiction writer could have made up. Almost starved and whipped to death as a slave, Frederick Douglass went on to be an advisor to presidents of the United States. He became friend and helper of the oppressed and led the slave masters as well as the slaves out of the system of slavery. It was that system that was his enemy. He told his former owner that the slave master was as much a victim of the system as was the slave. Douglass and Auld were both victims. One was made to bear the lash, the other was made to wield the lash.

The Slave was denied education. It was feared that if he should learn the truth he would no longer be content being a slave. The slave master denied truth. Although he had access to education he refused to see any way except the way of slavery. He attempted to justify an unjust system and truth would not let him do that. Being thus blinded he made himself a victim of the slavery system.

The brilliant mind of Frederick Douglass could see the danger of slavery. Frederick Douglass was for the people and against slavery. He pleaded with the slave holders, not only for his sake and the sake of those like him, but for the very soul of the slave holder himself. In his letter to Thomas Auld, his old master he expressed a wish to have Auld as a guest in his house so he could show him by example how one person should treat another person.

Frederick Douglass showed us by example that it is better to attack a problem than to attack a person. He abhorred the practice of slavery and would do anything to rid the world of its evil influence but his goal was not revenge, but to free both slave holder and slave from the fetters of slavery.

As Douglass entered the field of politics he was far advanced from the time he lived, even far advanced of the present time. We still see politicians attacking each other to the extent that the public has lost confidence in the system. Newspapers know that conflict sells and they give priority to the dirty deeds. Douglass could disagree with the position a politician would take while still considering him a friend. We do not have to agree on everything, but we can discuss our differences in a friendly manner. If the presidents that Douglass was advising could have seen the wisdom of this approach we could have had a very different kind of politics today. Imagine politicians praising one another’s attributes while encouraging each other to do better. We could have solved every difficulty in the world by now and eliminated any excuse for war. This will be the way of the future. The survival of the world depends upon it.

I praise Frederick Douglass, not as a prophet, but as a man put on earth to do a job. God placed him in time and place where he could do the most good. Being an ordinary man, his abilities are not above our own, and we can all do similar works. We have but to take up TRUTH as a cause and treat it as our best friend. When we come across evil and falsehood, we need to shine the light of Truth on it. A light appears brightest we it shines in the darkest recesses. Frederick Douglass was a shining light during one of the darkest times in our history.