The Vision of the Radicals

I’ve been looking over the books I got at the David Ruggles Symposium in Florence Saturday and I feel like an eight-year-old trick-or-treater dumping my bag of candy out on my bed.

This blog is generally about books I find at flea markets and rummage sales, but as Archie Goodwin once observed, “There are times when a principle should take a nap.”

Some books are well worth buying hot off the press, especially if they are seminal works in a field that is really taking off, an area of history in which we are learning more and more all the time, the history of the Underground Railroad.

Some scholars argue that this appellation is not really an accurate description of a much more disorganized process of people helping people on what you might call an ad-hoc basis, and I agree, but for the moment I think this is the best designation to use because it is so widely recognized.

As I first learned from the work of John Hope Franklin, the study of escapes from slavery is kind of like taking a few pieces from a thousand different stories that we get from fragmentary documentary evidence, and trying to arrive at a kind of composite picture that will give us a greater understanding of this era in American history.

So here’s my reading list for the next few months:

David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist by Graham Russell Hodges

The Fugitives Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts by Kathryn Grover

Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson

The Communitarian Moment: The Radical Challenge of the Northampton Association by Christopher Clark

And that’s just a start. Like many other scholars and history buffs, I’m also looking forward to a volume entitled Redefining Democracy: African Americans and the Movement to Abolish Slavery by Manisha Sinha.

And I think the scholarly works are just the beginning. I also met Linda McInerny and Paula Kimper, who are working on an opera about Sojourner Truth that I predict you’re going to be hearing about.

There are so many stories that should be told about this remarkable circle of friends who gave our country a vision of what they hoped the future would bring: equality of men and women of all races and creeds.

That sounds like something very basic, but it did not exist at that time, and most people were opposed to it, some very violently. But in the end it was the vision of the radicals that shaped the future.

Thanks goodness it was the radicals who were devoted to justice, because there were plenty of the other kind.