AN EARLY STRUGGLE AGAINST SLAVERY
FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH
HONOR WILLIAM PARKER AND THE ANTI-SLAVERY FIGHTERS AT THE ‘BATTLE OF CHRISTIANA’, 1851
One of the most heinous acts passed by Congress before the American Civil War was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Its provisions allowed slaveholders to repossess their ‘property’ anywhere in the United States of the times. More importantly, the authority of the American government could be called upon by individual slaveholders to insure that any found slaves were repatriated through the use of federal marshals to capture them and federal commissioners to determine their status, slave or free. Every black liberation fighter and supporter of black liberation struggles should cringe every time they look at the United States Constitution, its original infamous 3/5 clause and its benign attitude toward chattel slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act merely rubbed everyone’s face constantly and publicly in those dirty little facts until the Civil War.
The Fugitive Slave Act did not, however, go unopposed. Abolitionists in the North rallied against it and in many ‘high’ abolitionist areas like Boston, Massachusetts and Rochester, New York the act became unenforceable. The role of William Parker, farmer, itinerant preacher and fugitive slave, and leader of the ‘Battle of Christiana’ in southern Pennsylvania in 1851 is probably the most dramatic act of resistance to that law. When the slaveholders came north of the Mason-Dixon line to try to reclaim their slave ‘property’ abetted by local hooligans and the federal government they got far more than they had bargained for. What they got was a Parker-organized, mainly black, armed self-defense organization to protect themselves and any fugitive slaves that came their way. Such self-defense tactics would do black liberation fighters proud today.
As every black liberation fighter and every other kind of liberation fighter since that time knows even small victories will produce ‘blowback’ by the government and its hangers-on. Parker and his cohorts faced just such a situation. As a result of their resistance Parker had to flee to Canada. Moreover, Millard Fillmore, another one of those forgotten accidental presidents, called out troops to stop these anti-slavery actions and place those arrested on trial. Needless to say these were in the nature of show trials in an attempt to ‘chill’ free speech and actions. However, enflamed Northern anti-slavery sentiment insured that there were no convictions. The moral of the story is this- federal Fugitive Slave Act or not the slaveholders stopped pursuing their fugitive slaves when armed self-defense organizations and others who made it too ‘hot’ for them to pursue such actions. We can use some of that same thinking today as we face the outrageous legislation of our own times. HONOR WILLIAM PARKER! REMEMBER THE ‘BATTLE OF CHRISTIANA’.