William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

William Wells Brown

The Library of America volume devoted to the writings of William Wells Brown begins with his 1847 Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. I’ve read twenty-eight of its forty-five pages thus far. And while it has revealed no general detail about slavery that I haven’t already encountered, the simple, stark clarity of Brown’s writing, coupled with his frank honesty in terms of his personal regrets and easily forgiven moral failings, to which he was driven by threat of unspeakable cruelties, render his account so painful that, again and again, I have shuddered to a pause in my reading as I contemplate the horrible institution of slavery, and the state of mind of its perpetrators and defenders, who could and did use the lash at one moment, only to read piously from the Bible the next among an assemblage of family and friends. This would be hard enough to endure if it led to an enlightened ending; that its spirit is still alive and active today in a land that was founded on such suffering and thrived by it North as well as South, explains the only partly hidden figurative and literal iron cuffs and chains the present population still wears. That we have such power at our disposal to learn, and such a wealth of factual knowledge to learn by, and choose media-dispensed opinion, hate, and cheap entertainment instead, shows just how weak the moral and intellectual fabric of this society is. It is not a question of being perfect; even a silent, humble examination and sincere private acknowledgment of one’s own views could have a profoundly positive effect on us all.

December 3, 2020

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Categories: New Poems & Pieces

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