Once romanticized in the South the Underground Railroad is now back in Virginia. The goal is not to save African-Americans from plantations, but instead to save them from Jerry Falwell Jr’s Liberty University. This post is a brief history of the Underground Railroad and current efforts to help African-Americans escape Liberty University.
“After the men were all sold they then sold the women and children. They ordered the first woman to lay down her child and mount the auction block; she refused to give up her little one and clung to it as long as she could , while the cruel lash was applied to her back for disobedience. She pleaded for mercy in the name of God. But the child was torn from the arms of her mother amid the most heart-rendering shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand, and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants on the other. Finally the poor child was torn from the mother while she was sacrificed to the highest bidder. In this way he sale was carried on from beginning to end.”
Henry Bibb in 1849 describing the sale of slave child.
“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.“
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”
Exodus 5:1 NIV
Haunting image of slavery
In the 1860 The Commonwealth of Virginia had 550,000 slaves, which amounted to one third of its population. In some eastern counties in Virginia slaves were a majority. Slave life was brutal and hard. There was long hours, and housing and life was often substandard. Diet was poor and health challenges existed. Slaves were considered property and females were raped by the plantation owner or staff. On average slaves lived four years less than whites did. Slaves resisted and the most common way was slowing down and not working as hard. Or misplacing equipment belonging to the plantation. One key event in Virginia slave history is Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831. Whites lived in fear of a revolt and that finally happened when Nat Turner led an uprising in Southampton County starting on August 21, 1831. The revolt lasted for 48 hours. About 60 slaves were involved and 55 to 60 whites were killed. The event so terrified whites in Virginia afterward that they believed slavery was a necessity to keep blacks in check. Many whites after Turner’s rebellion embraced slavery and viewed it as justified. After the rebellion 200 slaves were killed in Virginia and neighboring states with a number being beheaded.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia and other parts of the South there was another form of resistance to slavery. And that was called the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad began in the South in the 1790’s. It is very much romanticized as a way of resistance. The Underground Railroad’s goal was to get African-American men and smuggle them over the Canadian border where they were they were out of reach of the South. Abolitionist white and free blacks worked together. The Underground Railroad also contributed to intersectional strain between the North and South. Quakers raised money for slaves in the south. And many abolitionists became “conductors” who helped blacks attain freedom. Depending on where you were at in Virginia could determine your escape to the North. In the Portsmith area slaves were smuggled out in freight ships to the North. In other areas outside Richmond, SW Virginia or near Northern Virginia slaves went north were they swam for freedom across the Potomac. Early on some former slaves would settle in New York, Massachusetts, or elsewhere, but with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 a number saw Canada to be their pathway to freedom. Some states like Vermont and Wisconsin sought to nullify the controversial salve law. How effective was the Underground Railroad? Governor Quitman of Mississippi declared that between 1810 and 1850 the South lost over 100,000 slaves valued at $30 million through the Underground Railroad. If you want to read more about the Underground Railroad you may do so at this academic history page.
The Underground Railroad is Active Again. This Time its Stated Goal is to Bring African-Americans out of Liberty University
The Underground Railroad was thought to be a period in the past. However, recent events at Liberty University and behavior by Jerry Falwell Jr have brought the Underground Railroad back to life. On June 8, 2020 the Liberty Underground Railroad commenced. Liberty’s former Director of Diversity Retention, LeeQuan McLaurin resigned and started the effort to help African-American staff escape Jerry Falwell Jr. In the Chronicle of Higher Education you can read more about it. There is a paywall but if you can access the article you can do so in, “A Diversity Director Quit Liberty University. Then He Started ‘LUnderground Railroad’ for Employees.”
LUnderground Railroad is actually a Go Fund Me page designed to help financially support African-Americans who want to leave Liberty University. As of June 17, 2020 the fund is coming along with $17,075 raised out of $30,000. This bog would like to challenge people to contribute to this fund to help people escape Liberty. The statement that LeeQuan McLaurin has written is long but let me highlight a few sections. This is how it opens ip:
Help staff and faculty at LU suffering from racial trauma and unable to leave due to financial restraints.
No one should be subject to racial and workplace trauma (https://bit.ly/RacialTrauma ) in order to earn a living. Liberty University, while for many is a beacon for believers, for others, it may be just a source of stable income within the Lynchburg area. Lynchburg is a city that is well known for its struggle with poverty. Economic issues include a lack of affordable housing, lack of significant economic growth, and a poverty rate that is nearly 7 percentage points higher than other Virginia cities (with the poverty rate of Black people being nearly double that of white people in the city) (https://bit.ly/LYHPoverty ).
LeeQuan then goes on and talks about the culture of fear at Liberty and how hard it is to be a black man in a white evangelical culture that is oppressive.
Due to a strong culture of fear that exists within the university, many employees are afraid to speak out and share their experiences (https://bit.ly/FearCulture ). Even more are afraid to leave due to fear that they would be unable to financially support their families. Several employees have attempted to file reports, but since the university often refuses to acknowledge the existence of very real things such as systemic racism, they have either been ignored or faced retaliatory consequences.
As I explained when I turned in my letter of resignation, no one at LU understands what it is like to be a Black man working at a conservative evangelical predominantly white institution, and to then be faced with constant instances of racism (big and small alike), as you’re also fighting to change campus culture, while simultaneously hearing of yet another one of our brothers or sisters who have been murdered, and will not see justice, AND on top of all of that to deal with our own institutional issues only to have my hands completely tied. *breathe, I know that was a lot*
Since announcing my resignation, so many colleagues, peers, students, alumni, and strangers have reached out to me. Most of these interactions have been pretty positive. However, the ones that haven’t been, have made the biggest impact on me. Several Black colleagues have shared that they wished they could leave as well, but they have families and/or financial responsibilities that force them to remain at LU. A few with tears in their eyes. Hurting. They know that they just have to swallow this hurt and pain, while also grieving with the rest of their community because their livelihoods rely on it. Some have already left, and have shared they have no idea how they are going to pay their rent come July, let alone other basic life necessities. Let’s not even talk about how the reputation of the university has hindered their prospects with future employers.
LeeQuan continues and then talks about setting up a fund to help African-Americans escape and how they must have experienced racial trauma.
This isn’t right. Since I left, so many people have chosen to graciously donate their hard-earned dollars (in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession, mind you) to me. This overwhelming display of the good to be found in humanity has confirmed for me that God is in the midst of this. He is tired of his children being oppressed. Furthermore, He is tired of people using His name to accomplish this.
This fund is being set up for all the LU employees that would like to leave, but are afraid of how it will affect them financially. Those conflicted with their identity as BIPOC, but also need to make a living through a tough economic situation. Not a penny of this money will go to me. God has already been more than gracious to me. It will be divided amongst the BIPOC employees who have already left, or need to leave, but are unable to leave due to financial issues. The goal is to assist at least 15 former LU employees (although there are many more) with $2,000 each ($30,000) which can help many through at least a month of basic expenses–a month where they can focus their efforts on searching for a workplace that will provide a safe, supportive environment where they can thrive as BIPOC, and leave behind a toxic, unhealthy workplace that never did. Any amount that you give will be greatly appreciated.
To be eligible for the emergency relief funds, employees must have experienced racial trauma at the hands of the university and resigned from their positions due to it. Those wishing to apply for the funds should email firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be posting updates about employees able to be helped and served by these funds.
You can read the entire statement and donate at, “LUnderground Railroad.”
Some Thoughts and if African-American Staff From Liberty Need a “Way Station” in Northern Virginia I Volunteer My Apartment
Jerry Falwell Jr “apologized” for his tweet that triggered much of this, but I plan to write about that in another post. For me I have long been baffled as to why anyone would want to attend Liberty University. I wrote about that in, “Why Would Anyone Want to Attend Liberty University?” This blog can almost picture this description. Jerry Falwell Jr walking around campus treating it like his own personal plantation. He’s carrying a whip and threatening to use it. (Or he’s active on Twitter) He probably does not know the Civil War ended. He is after all pushing for secession. Is the reason why Falwell likes the current presidential administration so that he can come out of the closet and be as racially insensitive as possible? He can say what he wants, tweet what he wants and then get away with it? Here is another question as people start to leave Liberty. Does Jerry Falwell Jr know that the Fugitive Slave Act is no longer on the books? Just asking as Jerry often lives in his own reality.
This Underground Railroad to help African-American’s leave Liberty University is needed and necessary. Leaving a cult or an authoritarian organization is hard. I remain baffled by how many people defend Jerry Falwell Jr and Liberty. I have heard good things about him or Liberty in church years ago and I can’t imagine what information people are processing. This kind of news follows Liberty around and has done so for a long time. I saw the garbage coming out of it several years ago and wondered when would people get upset? It looks like that moment has arrived. For those like LeeQuan who stood up and called this out, this blog has the deepest respect. I live in the D.C. suburbs and when I went to church I had to deal with churches that were influenced by Liberty. Being an evangelical in Virginia in the shadow to Liberty is also toxic. But when I see some of the racial stuff coming out from Jerry Falwell Jr that crosses a line and is wrong. This blog supports LUnderground Railroad. Furthermore in the efforts to escape Liberty if former staff need to crash at a Way Station/Depot in the Northern Virginia suburbs, my place is yours. This blog is happy to assist and help people break free from Liberty. LeeQuan godspeed in your endeavor and may you be successful.