The Burden of Freedom

The Burden of Freedom

  Howard Thurman was an African American minister who lived through the majority of the 19th century. He lived through segregation, world wars, and the great depression holding strongly to the divinity of all people regardless of race, gender or religion.
  Here’s him sharing a little of his own life experience speaking out against the segregation of his time.

  “When I was a boy I earned money in the fall of the year by raking leaves in the yard of a white family. I did this in the afternoon, after school. In this family there was a little girl about six or seven years old. She delighted in following me around the yard as I worked. One of her insistences was to scatter the piles of leaves in order to find a particular shape to show me. Each time it meant that I had to do my raking all over again. Despite my urging she refused to stop what she was doing. Finally I told her that I would report her to her father when he came home. This was a real threat to her because she stood in great fear of her father. She stopped, looked at me in anger, took a straight pin out of her pinafore, ran up to me and stuck me with the pin on the back of my hand. I pulled back my hand and exclaimed, “Ouch! Have you lost your mind?” Whereupon she said in utter astonishment, “That did not hurt you—you can’t feel.”
   In other words, I was not human, nor was I even a creature capable of feeling pain. Manifestly this is an extreme position, but it indicates the social and psychological climate in which it would be possible for a little girl to grow up in a Christian family with such a spontaneous attitude toward other human beings. Segregation guarantees such inhumaneness and throws wide the door for a complete range of socially irresponsible behavior.”

  Thurman would be an instrumental part of the founding of what was known as the first interracial and intercultural church in San Francisco. A book he wrote entitled “Jesus and the Disinherited” about how the teachings of Jesus were a guide for the oppressed was something that Martin Luther King carried with him during the Montgomery bus boycott.

  I think that story about him getting stuck with that pin is a great story about freedom. It is a moment when Thurman realized his calling in life–ultimately an empowering moment. The majority of my compassion in the story isn’t for the young Thurman, but the little girl. By being taught such a false doctrine about other human beings she had been abused and discriminated against by her teachers, her culture, and her religion.
  Thurman may have been hurt and insulted, but clearly that prick set him free. “Forgive them Father for they not what they do.” Clearly that’s easier to see and do when it’s a little girl. That’s part of what I think makes this story powerful, because the “perpetrator” is so innocent. It is each of our duties to enlighten ourselves of the dignity of everyone around us.
  Have you ever been treated like you are not human? By someone who did not know dignity?
  Have you ever held the needle and pricked someone’s hand, forgetting that they are a human being? Forgetting that you yourself are a human being? Maybe it was an ill word, a betrayal of trust, a thoughtless act?

  Freedom is not forgetting whatever has happened and moving on. Freedom is the responsibility of never holding that pin again and speaking up wherever we see it prick.
  That’s the dichotomy of freedom. It involves the burden of knowing better, yet, out of that burden comes emancipation from the worst kind of ignorance.

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