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Voyage Into History

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Robert Smalls (1839-1915), a man of uncommon courage who, with one bold move, altered his destiny and changed American history. Born a slave in Beaufort, SC, Smalls was greatly favored by his white owner, John McKee, who may also have been his father. Concerned that the carefree youth was being shielded from the realities of the slave world, his mother Lydia, a house servant, made certain he saw field hands toiling in the cotton fields.  Smalls was so horrified and outraged that his mother averted trouble by convincing McKee to send the twelve-year-old to work in Charleston. Hired as a lamplighter in the bustling port city, Smalls was fascinated by the waterfront and quickly developed a love for the sea. As an...

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The Black Swan

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Elizabeth Greenfield (1819-1876), a Mississippi slave whose golden voice was her ticket to freedom. Born on a Natchez, Mississippi, plantation, Elizabeth was taken as an infant to Philadelphia by her owner, Holliday Greenfield. After joining the Society of Friends (Quakers), Mrs. Greenfield freed and adopted her charge. As Elizabeth grew up and showed a natural flair for singing, she astonished Mrs. Greenfield with the power and range of her voice and her self-taught skills on the guitar. Recognizing a remarkable talent, Mrs. Greenfield sought formal training, but could find no Philadelphia voice coach willing to jeopardize his professional reputation with a student of color, even at three times the going rate of...

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The Heart of Darkness

As we enter the final year of the Civil War sesquicentennial, debate continues over whether or not slavery was the primary cause of the conflict. Was the North fighting to free the slaves or to preserve the Union? Would the South really go to war over slavery with only 1.5% of the population owning slaves or was it fighting for state’s rights? An equally important question is why educated, deeply religious men and women allowed this heinous institution to thrive on our shores, justified it from the pulpit and crippled half a fledgling nation. There’s no shortage of material on the subject, but since its history is often skewed by revisionists, an unvarnished look is in order. Nearly as old as mankind, slavery flourished in almost every ancient civilization. It...

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