When I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I was shocked to learn that Uncle Tom was no Uncle Tom. He was not weak or servile. He was not a wimp. He didn’t cooperate with his owners for selfish reasons or for personal advantage.
Uncle Tom was strong and he stood his ground. He frequently sacrificed his personal needs for the benefit of other slaves. He absolutely refused to disobey his conscience no matter what it cost him. He was so deeply principled that he refused to tell what he knew about two runaways even when he knew it meant he would be beaten to death.
Most of all, Uncle Tom was a Christian. He prayed, preached, and lived the Gospel. He was a true saint. Uncle Tom reminded me of Martin Luther King, Jr. He refused to cooperate with evil and he refused to do violence to others. He gave his life rather than compromise his faith or his principles. He was a martyr for Christ.
The two men who murdered Tom were the real Uncle Toms. The slaves Quimbo and Sambo were slave owner, Simon Legree’s overseers. They ruled, tortured, drove, and abused the other slaves for Simon Legree’s approval and favors like alcohol and sex.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a novel that was written in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a deeply Christian white woman who grieved over the horrors of slavery. She said: “There is more done with pens than with swords.” She wrote it to change the attitudes of people about slavery and she succeeded. Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold two million copies in two years and greatly increased the anti-slavery feelings in America. Abraham Lincoln called her “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”
The Weekly Call, a black owned newspaper, wrote in 1896: “This book did more than any other agency to arouse the spirit of the people of the north against the system of slavery. If the merits of the book are to be determined by the nobleness of its aim and the purity of its purpose, and the extent to which they are accomplished, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the greatest production in American literature.”
As I read about Uncle Tom and the other characters I was moved to tears at their pain and suffering and at the coldness and cruelty of their owners. Uncle Tom had three owners. His first owner got into financial trouble and sold Tom away from his wife and children. His second owner died suddenly and Tom and all the other slaves were sold. His third owner tormented and tortured Tom and eventually had him killed. Stowe shows that the system of slavery was so evil that even kind owners caused tremendous pain and suffering. It is hard to believe that such a cruelty and evil was embraced and practiced by Americans for two hundred and fifty years.
In her last chapter, Harriet Beecher Stowe asks: “Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American nation has brought upon them?” Unfortunately that reparation never came and blatant racism and cruelty continued until the 1960s.
Today, race is still an issue. What are we to do? Harriet Beecher Stowe said this: “There is one thing that every individual can do–they can feel right. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. Are your feelings in harmony with the feelings of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?”
Christ wants us all to be one–to love one another. Yet how can we love those we do not know as friends? How can I love people and not care about the things that concern them?
We can’t fix the past. But we can care about what has led us to today. We can repent. We can forgive. We can understand. We can feel and we can heal. We can build a future. We can discover God’s treasure in our brothers and sisters of a different race. I wrote a handbook to help us do that: Off the RACE Track–From Color-Blind to Color-Kind.