I have been disturbed by the insults cast on the people of Baltimore in recent weeks. Kicking someone when they’re down is a double insult. Although no one would doubt the problems of crime and poverty that burden the city, and although there is plenty of blame to go around presently, it is important to consider the historical trauma faced by the people of Baltimore.
Historically Baltimore was a slave city, at the intersection of slavery in the south, and the free states, namely Pennsylvania, to the north. Therefore, Baltimore became a major weigh station on the underground railroad, through which two of our most famous African-American liberators — Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass — passed. In 1836, at age 18, Douglass was sold to a shipyard owner in Baltimore, where he worked alongside slaves and white workers. According to Douglass, both were “plundered by the same plunderer,” as the shipyard owners pitted the black slaves and the white workers against each other as a way of keeping them all down. In 1838, Douglas was able to escape to freedom in New York, thus beginning his legendary career as a gifted orator, champion of freedom and liberty, counselor to Abraham Lincoln, and ambassador to Haiti. But the trauma inflicted on the people of Baltimore, from slave days up to the present, most recently with the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police officers, has left wounds that don't easily heal.
Baltimore has its problems but casting insults on a people who are already down does nothing but deepen the wounds inflicted by a history of injustice. Rather, let’s aspire to the words of Frederick Douglass, “The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”