Recently while vacationing at a South Carolina beach with extended family for a week, five family members including myself took a break from the ocean, sand, and sun and drove 15 minutes away to tour Hobcaw Barony.
I’ve passed Hobcaw Barony a dozen times over the years on our annual family beach vacation but had never taken notice. This year with my desire to understand our current race relations and how we got to where we are and what we can do about it all, I was highly interested in a visit to Hobcaw where a slave village still remains on one part of the 16,000 acre property. This would be one more step in my racial education.
While most people probably go to Hobcaw Barony to tour the large home of Bernard Baruch that housed well-known guests like Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt…
I was mainly there to see the slave village.
The slave cabin that was intact was 15 feet x 16 feet and slept 5-6 people. There was no running water, no electricity, and no glass on the windows. The small dwelling place was divided into two rooms. As I took in this small home, I tried to imagine my family of six living there. I know my current three-bedroom home is “small” by today’s standards for my “large” family. But, all of us crammed into that little structure?! No way. Can’t imagine. But, back in the 1840s when this building first existed, that is exactly who lived there…families just like mine…only darker in skin and with zero freedom to ever choose to relocate to a bigger home.
Wealthy white New Yorker, Bernard Baruch, bought the huge tract of land back in 1905 to be a place for his winter home. This acquisition included land where 100 or so descendants of slaves still lived on the property. While the tour guide shared acts of kindness Bernard Baruch showed to the African Americans living on his property, he also pointed out that the playhouse Bernard’s daughters played in was bigger than the slave cabin and had electricity and running water.
This rich man who gave each of his three children a million-dollar inheritance when they turned 21 did improve the lives of the African Americans on his property by adding glass windows to their homes, making the new houses slightly bigger than that original slave cabin which brought them up to par with housing for laborers of the time period, building a one-room school house for the blacks, sending a doctor frequently to the village, and helping some of them with tuition for college.
But, the stark contrast between his large second home and these small homes gave me an uneasy feeling. Do I believe we should all have the same amount of wealth? Do I believe all of our homes should be equal in value? Do I believe those who have worked hard shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the fruit of their labor? No. No. And no again. Yet…the incredible economic disparity simply because of skin color couldn’t escape my contemplation.
Unfortunately, years after Bernard lived at Hobcaw, I still see the economic disparity today as a whole between whites and African Americans. Yes, some African Americans are rich. Yes, some whites are dirt poor. But, as a whole…at least in certain parts of the United States that I see here in the south…predominantly black neighborhoods equal poor neighborhoods. Not only is there a stark socioeconomic difference still between the races as a whole but these poorer communities are also associated with crime, drugs, fatherless-homes, sexual promiscuity, and bad schools.
But what bothers me most about this whole situation is the white world I have lived in and am living in seems to be so disengaged. So unaware. Our churches send mission teams to third world countries but are we burdened about our own hometowns? The poor and needy are within our reach. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure some have compassion. I’m sure some are engaged deeply. And, I’m not anti-mission trips. But, my observations these last few months are very unsettling to me. I know I wasn’t seeing the need within my reach till recently. Now that I have seen the need, I struggle to know what to do. What should my next step be? For now, I am educating myself a lot and engaging in a number of conversations I would never have had previously.
After my tour of Hobcaw Barony, I purchased a book in its gift store about the African American woman, Minnie Kennedy, who was born and reared at Hobcaw. She eventually moved on to become a great educator in New York. Her short biography was an encouragement. I learned about a woman who went from that small, humble slave village to one of the most amazing cities in our world.
I intellectually know that the economic situation can change for people today just like it did for Minnie. But, Minnie benefited from the help of a person who had more than she did. Her ability to get a leg up in the world was a lot of hard work on her end (personal responsibility) but also the money of a person with privilege (the school-house, her college tuition, and her parent’s jobs all came from the Baruchs).
Today the people with privilege are still in general the white population. The people in poverty are often still the descendants of slaves.
I want to see things change. I want to see whites pursue African Americans. I want to see those sovereignly born into the privilege of having wealth, education, and a relatively stable home help their fellow humans who are sovereignly born into poverty, crime, and drug-filled neighborhoods. I want to see professing Christians love African Americans and make it evident that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, white nor black. I want to see America changed. It must change. We must stop being passive to our neighbors’ poverty and hardships. I am preaching to myself as much as to you! My own lack of empathy to this point humbles me. So what to do?
One conversation at a time. One post at a time. One day at a time. Change is possible.
While this post is urging whites to wake up from their passivity, I know that African Americans are not perfect either. None of us are. However, being white myself and knowing the white culture, I will speak to what I know. Whites, we are as a whole greatly lacking in our love for people with darker skin tones. I will let those who know the black culture much better than I do speak to the African Americans on changes they can make. I will say that I have had my few black friends that have read my initial blog post about race all 100% say thank you for addressing the issue of race. Whites, doesn’t that tell you that we actually have a problem???
Change starts with individuals. You. Me. Let’s go make our world a better place today by intentionally loving someone in our sphere of influence who has a different skin tone than we have. Hold the door open. Smile. Think the best. Give the benefit of the doubt. Seek to understand. Listen to their story.
And, most importantly, as John Piper urges in his book, Bloodlines, don’t give up. I am once again speaking to myself. People need to know the love of Jesus and that love is shown in very practical ways like reaching out and feeding the hungry, loving the oppressed, and caring for those less fortunate than yourself.
“He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” Proverbs 14:21