Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Rains: The Battle for a Heart and Soul of a Nation

This morning we had the incredible opportunity to meet with Sulayman Clark, the author of “The Rains”, a historical fiction novel about Philadelphia in the mid 19th century when the abolitionist movement and struggle for freedom through the Underground Railroad took place. Here is a little more about the historical fiction novel the Rains as well as my insights after our discussion with Sulayman Clark:

About The Rains:
Inspired by true events and the heroism of a remarkable inter-faith and multi-racial group of men and women, The Rains presents history that gives value to the present. In defiance of the law and at great personal risk, free people of color and other activists, such as Reverend Catto, William Still, and Harriet Tubman, sacrificed life and limb to help fugitive slaves escape from bondage and resettle in the northern states and Canada. The novel expresses how free persons of color (i.e., responsible and industrious citizens who “played by the rules”) collectively fought back and agitated for critically needed social change. Although they had to struggle through much political resistance and hard times, (slavery, fugitive slave act, burning down of buildings) which often times was violent and tore families apart, The Rains allows one to see that the moral foundations of our nation were established by people of all ages, races and religions who responsibly exercised the blessings of liberty and were willing to extend those same liberties to others. To me, The Rains was a living history that enabled me to learn about the abolitionist movement, Underground Railroad and many key historical figures that have been glazed over and in essence forgotten about. These moments, made America who we are today and provide a historical understanding of how what happens in the past can be used to change the future. 

Discussion with Sulayman Clark
Overjoyed and emotionally impacted by the novel The Rains, it was a delightful opportunity to talk with Sulayman Clark and get his perspective on the novel and its intended impact for readers. Based on William H Dorsey’s, scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings of several biographical profiles of “notable Negroes” who had distinguished themselves in one way or another, The Rains presents a living history not taught in schools. Slavery often times is not honestly and thoughtfully interpreted to children and even older students, leaving a negative viewpoint on the whole issue. The discussion with Sulayman Clark and reading The Rains allowed me to see slavery and the abolitionist’s movement in another light, the struggle for freedom made up of many everyday people becoming leaders for their community.

This moment in time became a time of courage, cooperation and perseverance to create hope instead of seeing slavery as a horrid depiction of the oppressed (slaves and many people of color) being controlled by the oppressor (slave owners). Figures such as William Still, the “president” of the Underground Railroad, Octavius Catto, a major activist fighting for freedom and educating people of color, Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest freedom seekers, Fanny Copin Jackson, an educational leader before Booker T Washington and so many more became involved and gave hope to their community in a time of much political resistance and slavery. They became leaders risking their lives to save other people. They fought for their rights to freedom and made sure their community was fought for as well, including those runaway slaves. The real question is: Why is this rarely ever discussed about? The very history of America has come from struggle, but yet neglects to teach others about it. The preamble of the constitution starts off by saying, “We the people.” But who are “the people”? Does it include people of color being more than just slaves? Slavery is often seen by many as a factual part of the natural order of America.
“Slavery is a fact. We are not responsible for it; the people of the south are not responsible for it. It was brought here before the Union was born A mysterious Providence has cast upon this continent two races, distinct in origin, character, and color.”
Henry M. Fuller

But it is so much more.
The history of our country is a battle between inclusion and exclusion, struggle and hope. The abolitionist and Underground Railroad historically expresses slavery as a courageous struggle that was overcome by a community actively involved with many leaders that formed along the way. These people and moments, as Clark expressed allow “history to give value to the present and its moral duty.” History should not just focus on the moments that glorify the achievements of White Males but the entire “people” of America. Students as well as ctizens, teachers, historians and “Americans” can be the change. The Rains emotionally connects people to history and then they are able to find themselves in it. It is not until you are able to do this that a belief in change occurs. As Ghandi once said, “You have to be the change you want to see in the world.” The ability to believe in change and how an individual impacts history in a positive manner is the problem I still believe exists today.


  1. Meeting with Dr. Clark and having the amazing opportunity to discuss The Rains with him along with other personal experience and beliefs that he holds was an experience that truly reiterates the notion that the fight for educational equality will always be a battle. The Rains is an extremely emotional historical fiction books that brings forth the true struggles and journeys of many individuals that fought for the equalities and liberties of those enslaved and escaping enslavement. However, the aspect of the conversation with Dr. Clark that caught my attention was the part where he addressed that notion that because his book is not a distinct piece of non-fiction that it is not supported by many schools and educators to be placed into curriculums. This caught my attention because for me this is one of the most powerful and educational historical books that I have ever read because the emotion of the novel brings the reader in to the actual lives of the individuals involved. Yes, some of the content of the book is a work of fiction, however, because the manner the book was written in made me more invested in the people who were part of this fight for equality; it made me interested in learning more about them and their personal lives, it inspired me that there is a notion of hope, and it enabled me to share a some emotional connection with a community of people I would never before been able to connect with. However, seeing the resistance to this book and speaking with Dr. Clark I’ve realized that blaming the victim is something in history and the present day that has hindered the victim, that has empowered the victim, but it has also created a negative condemning mindset that has affected an entire group of people; past and present. As responsible citizens it is our responsibility to address the devastating mindset and inequity that it has created; “we must leverage this information to achieve better results. We simply cannot return to the ‘ostrich approach’ and stick our heads in the sand while grave problems threaten our civic society, and out economic prosperity. We must consider structural reforms that go well beyond current efforts, as today’s students require a better education than ever before to be successful.” (2008) We cannot continue to view the transgressions held against the victims as being innate problems that they have created for themselves, this is the time that as educators we must face the fact that history has created this inequity in education and the only way to grow and strengthen our nation is to fight these inequities and address the real situations that are present in our educational systems. As Harriet Tubman said education is freedom. If we do not address the past, history will continue to repeat itself and the uneducated will continue to live in the enslavement of a society that supports inequity.

    * A Nation Accountable (2008)

  2. Meeting the author of The Rains, Sulayman Clark was a highlight of the trip. Because his book got me so emotionally involved, history became real and applicable to me personally. In our discussion with him, I could not help to think that he is a modern day member of the Underground Railroad. He has chosen the vehicle of historical fiction to shed light on slavery and the truth that we do not always hear about in the classroom.

    In your post you quote Henry Fuller, “Slavery is a fact. We are not responsible for it; the people of the south are not responsible for it. It was brought here before the Union was born A mysterious Providence has cast upon this continent two races, distinct in origin, character, and color.” I am not sure as to what the context is of this quote, but after reading it a few times, I have to disagree with it. I may be looking at it from a more modern day lens. In my opinion, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we are a part of slavery. We are participants and in some sense responsible for what we choose to do or not to do. For example, by being aware that slavery still exist and not doing anything about it, we are just as guilty as those who condone slavery. By not being responsible, we are perpetuating the cycle.

    Now taking a look at it from an educational standpoint. In the Rist (2000) article he writes, “The sobering reality is that when it comes to other color and class, U.S. schools tend to conform much more to the contours of American society than they transform it. And this appears to be a lesson that we are not wanting to learn” (p.4) and “It appears that the public school system not only mirrors the configurations of the larger society, but also significantly contributes to maintaining them. Thus the system of public education in reality perpetuates what it is ideologically committed to eradicate—class barriers which result in inequity on the social and economic life of the citizenry” (p.44). We need to find ways that we as educators can put our money where our mouth is. We need to stop talking about ways in which we can break the mold and end the cycle, and put in to action what will be most beneficial for our students. As educators it is our duty to take responsibility for what is going on within both our educational and larger community.

  3. Lindsay:
    Meeting with Dr. Clark was such a great chance to get insight to such and inspirational and emotional historical fiction. What truly surprised me was how invested and motivated I was to read The Rains from cover to cover. In all honesty growing up as a privileged Caucasian female, the idea of slavery always haunted me, as I felt responsible for the suffering of the black since I myself am white. I remember dreading the subject in school and in many ways that self-imposed shame turned me off to history as a whole. When in Philadelphia our docent Joe said something that will stick with me forever. He said, “Slavery is not talked about any more these days.” He continued to mention how white people do not want to feel guilty for it, and black people do not want to continue to feel the shame of being powerless. In our discussing with Dr. Clark, he reiterated this idea that some schools do not want to have the book in their classroom because some people just do not want to focus on slavery in that way. This angered me as I thought that the story of the Rains told the best version of the story of the absolutist movement. Growing up I had many role models and in all honesty it was expected that my role model be white, however after reading The Rains, I was so inspired about no matter what color the character had, their life story and aspirations echo what I want to do with my life. Why this was so important was that I felt deprived of history at a young age. I was only given the opportunity to discover the pain of slavery and the struggle of the abolitionist movement. I recall reading documents and taking tests on specific figures of history but in now way did I access this material and make it relevant to my life. And the result was that I gave up on history and never pursued it later in life. Although it is a rough metaphor, I believe that this relevant to how W.E.B. Debois spoke in response to Booker T. Washington’s speech “Cast Down Your Buckets.” Debois valued that Washington supported education of blacks however Debois said, “This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally take an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life…It has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission.” This was a major part of history as the idea of WHAT education a person of color should be able to access, not just the opportunity of being in a class. Vocational education was not the answer. It would only create a larger gap between white and blacks as blacks were starting from scratch. In the article titled, Urban Education and the “Truly Disadvantaged”, shares how education is much more than just a diploma but it is necessary for any success in life. It reads, “if employers tend to favor those with higher education, increasing the number of jobs held by better educated employees, educational requirements will rise and the consequences for those without a diploma will be the same whether more education is connected to the performance on the job or not” (p 300). No matter is a job requires education or not, it is a form of power and allows a person to succeed. Personally by fully understanding slavery and the absolutist movement will not just allow me to connect better with the history of my country, but how we overcame this part of our dark past may allow me to create a brighter future.

  4. Lindsay, I thought our talk with Dr. Clark was a great close to our trip through Cincinnati and Philadelphia. I can honestly say that I am not one that is drawn into our nation’s history, but I really did feel that The Rains opened my eyes to the abolitionist movement and brought me closer to the history of the United States. I felt invested in learning more about William Still, the Catto's, Ellen and William Craft, and so forth. This book really allowed me to tie together what we learned and observed at the Freedom Center and with our tours throughout Philadelphia.

    What really intrigued me during our talk with Dr. Clark was the fact that schools are hesitant to bring in a work of fiction into their curriculum. After reading the book and becoming emotionally invested in every character’s story, I think that it is a tragedy that schools have no taken the time to see how a book like The Rains, could really impact a young student into wanting to learn about slavery and the abolitionist movement. As I was growing up in school, slavery was something that was just lectured to us or it was read about in a textbook. I personally did not feel that connection to our history because it was something that was seen as a horrible part of our country’s past. Like Dr. Clark mentioned, we often are afraid to learn about slavery, but a book like The Rains gives such supplementary education to the standards that allows for a student to become emotionally invested, like I was while reading the book.

    This idea of schools not wanting to incorporate fiction into their curriculum made me look back at George Counts article “Dare the School Build a New Social Order?”. Counts states, “We are convinced that education is one unfailing remedy for every ill to which man is subject, whether it be vice, crime, war, poverty, riches, injustice, racketeering, political corruption, race hatred, class conflict, or just plain original sin” (p.1). We as educators need to step out of that box and look towards a new direction to succeed in closing the achievement gap with our students. Steering away from the traditional methods of teaching is needed simply because we need to find new ways to really involve our students in the learning process. A Nation Accountable suggests that, “we must leverage this information to achieve better results. We simply cannot return to the ‘ostrich approach’ and stick our heads in the sand while grave problems threaten our civic society, and out economic prosperity. We must consider structural reforms that go well beyond current efforts, as today’s students require a better education than ever before to be successful” (2008). As a society we need to look back at the history of education and overcome our struggles by moving forward, instead of regressing backwards into the same mistakes we have already been through. We need to move past the constant criticism of No Child Left Behind and look to cure the struggle of education equity and what we can do next as a nation to improve that achievement gap.

    *George Counts, “Dare the School Build a New Social Order?”
    *A Nation Accountable (2008)