June 3, 2020
“This horror, this nightmare abomination! Can it be in my country?”
Stowe wrote those words in 1852 to fellow writer and abolitionist Eliza Cabot Follen; they feel so present now. The needless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and far too many others show us the devastating and appalling consequences of racism and white supremacy.
Stowe’s response to the horror of slavery was powerful and inspiring. Stowe used her writing to cultivate empathy and understanding among her white readers and in doing so she galvanized a movement. Fortunately, such courage and inspiration isn’t restricted to the past. All around us, individuals are taking to the streets, petitioning their elected officials—and yes—picking up their pens to demand justice.
Still, we ask, if over 150 years ago Stowe and her generation stood up against the evil of slavery, why must protestors today face tear gas and rubber bullets to stop the devaluation and dehumanization of Black lives by the public institutions that are supposed to serve them? Why have Black Americans disproportionately borne the economic and health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic?
The answer is, of course, that that ending slavery was not the same as ending racism.
As an organization that places Stowe’s story in the service of social justice and positive change, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center recognizes that Stowe herself held racist views and saw Black Americans as lesser. We confront such facts, not to demonize Stowe or repudiate her contributions, but because we have been shown, again and again, that unseen and unacknowledged racism persists and festers. This is equally true when racism goes unnoticed in our history books, our institutions, and in ourselves.
The video that captured George Floyd’s death has forced us to see. Let our eyes and hearts remain open.