Moving from the projects to a small town was drastic. I had to morph into country mouse while city mouse was still very alive within me. The only way I could make this happen was through one constant: school. It had become my sanctuary and not only because of the free breakfast and lunch! It was the place I could be a kid like everyone else. In my elementary years, it was about rest and approval. In my junior high years, the approval intensified to achievement. While I have had to die to that unhealthy need in my adult life, it formed relationships with teachers and created mentors that I appreciate still today. Aside from that, it made me eager to learn.
Growing up without diversity bothered me. Fully aware that my mother looked different than everyone else and not being able to forget my experiences from the inner city, American history became personal for me. This was magnified by the excellent teaching of my 8th grade history teacher, Dan Wells. From that class, I learned many Americans realized slavery was not just a system of labor and began to debate whether or not it was morally right. In fact, the issue of slavery would be a political undercurrent decades before the Civil War and not completely settled for many years after. But, the part of history that stuck with me that year and forevermore was the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. The Constitution mandated that slaves who fled to free states must be returned to their owners. In short, the Fugitive Slave Act kidnapped free blacks and pressured Northern citizens to serve as slave catchers. Citizens taking the law into their own hands.
Another effect of the Fugitive Act was the strong antislavery reaction. Those who could say slavery was wrong from a distance were now faced with the decision of participating. What would they do? Would the use their rights as citizens to petition the national government for overstepping the limits of the constitution? Would they present theological arguments? Would they use whatever voice they had to change the injustice?
The Fugitive Slave Act provoked one woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, to draw attention to slavery by writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.