Follow the drinking gourd

Yesterday I took Nathan and Eliza to SciWorks, our local science museum. Sciworks has a planetarium and we always enjoy watching a show if the timing works out. Yesterday the planetarium featured a show called, “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Nathan asked me what the title meant. I had absolutely no clue. I didn’t know that it was a song reference. I didn’t know that it was related to the Underground Railway. It was one of those moments when you stop and think, there are so many things I know so little about.

If you’re not familiar with the song, here is a video:

I don’t often find myself moved in the planetarium. However, I have been reading lately about Le Chambon sur Lignon, a village in France that–along with several other villages in a primarily Huegenot part of the country–hosted hundreds of Jews fleeing the holocaust. It was another underground railway.

As I watched the planetarium show the horror of American slavery came upon me in a new way, a way that recognizes the moral proximity if not equivalency of these two historical realities. Imagine, following the Tombigbee River up from the Gulf Coast of Alabama and across the Tennessee River and to the Ohio–following them as guides until eventually coming either to a (relatively safe northern state or to Canada.

What an immense and profoundly difficult journey to make, and how utterly discordant with our own national self-understanding as a place of liberty, justice, and equality.

One Reply to “Follow the drinking gourd”

  1. A few musings in response to reading this:

    My brother includes that song in a play he wrote about the Underground Railroad!

    I am thrilled that a movement has been forming in recent years (led by Christians of all stripes, if I remember that correctly) to deal with slavery today.

    A trip to the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati last year enlightened me to how widespread it is in our country today.

    I am told that during events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, people shuttle slaves in and make a lot of money off of them. That means that the people exploiting them are not just seedy looking people with mugshot-friendly faces, but men with the money and wherewithal to get themselves to a big event like the Super Bowl. I think it would be interesting to start ad campaigns toward them, in a way that let’s them know their secret will not be hidden forever and encouraging them to report instances where they suspect the person they abused is a slave (I’m trying very hard to keep this written in polite English). They’re the ones who know where they are, how to find them and who they paid money to.

    Ugh. I have to stop thinking about this right now. It is very upsetting.


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