Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hidden in Plain Sight

I used to have a Civil War Sunday feature on my blog for some four years.  After our Civil War was over, slavery (which was legal in some parts of our country and not in others) was abolished everywhere. (Sadly, "abolished" was a relative word).

One thing we learned in post-Civil War history was that freeing enslaved people does not necessarily make them free.  Both enslaved people and their owners are forever changed by the institution of slavery.  You can't undo that with the stroke of a pen or the firing of a gun.

Many times, enslaved people can be freed physically, but being freed mentally is a whole other story.

Here is an amazing story of an immigrant who died in 2011 who also spent almost her entire life as an enslaved person, told by a son of the family that enslaved her.  This is  the cover story of the June 2017 The Atlantic.

But, in other ways, this one story is not amazing at all.  This article in the Atlantic magazine has a large "rest of the story".

When the man who wrote this story had someone write an obituary for the woman his family called "Lola", he lied.  The obituary omitted the truth of her enslaved condition and the years of abuse that bent and warped her, abuse (both physical and mental), hidden in plain sight from her American neighbors.

The abuse prevented her from taking advantage of the freedom finally offered her.  She never learned to drive or use many modern devices.

But, at the same time, you feel for the man who wrote the article - for growing up in a household where he was raised by an enslaved person, witnessing the abuse she suffered and being (while young) powerless to stop it.  He was warped by the experience, too.  I do not condemn him in any way for initially not telling the truth of Lola.  No, I congratulate him, for speaking of a taboo topic.

The fact that so many are commenting online about this article means that we are being made to think about an inconvenient truth - that enslavement still takes place in our country, and you may live or work near such a person, without ever knowing it.

Maybe even right next door to you.

Here is a link to the article and to what has been written in response.  It is well worth reading, on this Sunday before our Memorial Day holiday.


  1. I have heard about the article but can't bring myself to read it. I think a lot enslavement goes on in this country but we call it other names or pretend that it is not what it is.

    1. You are absolutely right. Would we even know the signs to make us suspicious? And, if we are suspicious, then what should we do?

  2. Replies
    1. It is interesting. Just one story of many, I fear.

  3. There is an article in today's Detroit Free Press about women in Saudi Arabia who have no freedoms. They are controlled by their father, then their husband and then perhaps a son. No driving, banking, travelling.. I think there are men here in America who try to do the same thing to their wives and daughters. It is very sad.

  4. You just made me curious about it. Will head on to read. A few months back I read the book 'The Underground Railroad' and it made me wonder how people find it in them to enslave another human being.

  5. 'Many times, enslaved people can be freed physically, but being freed mentally is a whole other story.'

    So true! and so disturbing!

  6. Its a very brave article and as an Indian living in India, I found similarities in how we treat our hired help here as well! Servants are a notion that is still entertained in a big way here and one doesnt need to be too rich to afford a few. But yes they are paid and paid well with good meals and a room of their own. But the work is gruesome at times and their sleep cycle is about 4-6 hours onluy in most households!!

  7. This post intrigued me and I went over to read the whole story in The Atlantic. This is modern day slavery. It was heartbreaking. It got a bit teary to read the later part when she grew old and was treated nicely by the author's family. A part of me felt glad that she was treated with dignity in the last years of her life.


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