I Came as a Stranger: The Underground Railroad
Slavery still exists in many parts of the world. It is incomprehensible that the civilized world of North America prior to 1865 considered human bondage a necessity for survival and a measurement of personal success. The author, Bryan Prince, is the great-great-great-grandchild of escaped slaves. He tells a story of incredible courage and determination under the shadow of immeasurable cruelty to tens of thousands of slaves who sought to find and make a life as free people.
All men and women are created equal. It is written in most religious texts. It is written in the charter of rights and freedoms. Yet not all men and women are treated equal. They certainly weren't treated equally in the early history of North America. People of different color, mostly from Africa, were captured, kidnapped or tricked to board human cargo ships bound for the New World. Since the early 1500s, historians believe that as many as 15 million Africans boarded ships bound for bondage in the New World. Of these 15 million, perhaps only 10 million survived. The inhuman conditions aboard the ships, where Africans were herded below the decks like cattle, resulted in many deaths before the ships arrived at their destination. Those who survived the voyage were handcuffed and chained together like cattle, and paraded before pompous landowners looking to purchase their manual labourers. Some of the slave owners were considerate; but most treated their slaves with horrendous cruelty. Slaves remained slaves for the rest of their lives unless they were successful in their attempts to escape. Slaves had families who became slaves as soon as they were born. Slave children were often sold, weaned from their parents like young animals are weaned from their mothers, never to see their families again. It was a cruel existence.
The Underground Railway was a network of safe homes and safe routes to help escapees flee captivity. Many of these escaped slaves made their way to Canada and started new lives in many parts of this country. It wasn't easy to start a new life in a new country. Although in Canada they were free, they were still different. There were still bounty hunters who hunted down escapees and forced them back to their owners in the south.
Without money and unable to read and write, these new arrivals had a difficult task carving out new lives. Unaccepted in some of the larger communities, these ex-slaves created their own communities. They built homes, schools, and churches and they became teachers, business owners, and writers. Through hard work, they etched out a place in Canadian society.
I enjoyed reading the stories in Prince's book. It made me realize how lucky we are today in North America. Prince presents a powerful history of a very cruel part of our past. He demonstrates the courage of a marginalized and brutalized group of people and how they succeeded to overcome all hardships to make a notable contribution to Canadian society.