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.