LatinaLista — In light of what has happened this week in the state of Oklahoma and the town of Farmers Branch, Texas where legal grounds have been created to help drive undocumented immigrants out of town/state, it seems talk show pundits and right-wing cable tv hosts are filling the airwaves touting the passages of these anti-immigration measures and warning those who are still helping the undocumented as doing nothing more than “subverting the law” and should be jailed as well.
All this mean-spirited rhetoric made me think about what it must have been like for the slaves of the late 1800s. In the past, readers have criticized any comparison between those times and now, but these times beg to be compared to the days when slaves were not seen as equal citizens, if citizens at all, of this country.
So, I did a little research and found that what is happening to the undocumented today, also happened to the slaves of yesterday.
An 1851 poster cautioning slaves to not talk to Boston police because they had been authorized to act as slave catchers.
Police were authorized to act as slave catchers back then. Today, police officers are screening and detaining undocumented immigrants.
In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Only John P. Hale, Charles Sumner, Salmon Chase and Benjamin Wade voted against the measure. The law stated that in future any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership. A suspected black slave could not ask for a jury trial nor testify on his or her behalf.
Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Those officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee and this encouraged some officers to kidnap free Negroes and sell them to slave-owners. Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier led the fight against the law. Even moderate anti-slavery leaders such as Arthur Tappan declared he was now willing to disobey the law and as result helped fund the Underground Railroad.
At the rate this train has traveled out of the station, it won’t be long before a 21st Century version of the Underground Railroad is created.
Last week’s announcement from churches of different faiths that they have formed a network of “sanctuary” places are providing the stops along the new Underground Railroad that is bound to be created if what has started continues.
The Underground Railroad of the past still serves as a symbol of an ugly part of our history.
Why are we so anxious to repeat it?