I’ve been reading nineteenth century slave narratives, facsimiles of the original pamphlets reprinted in Six Women’s Salve Narratives. The language of the narratives is sometimes odd and often beautiful, the accounts horrific*. Last night’s account, From Darkness Cometh The Light or Struggles For Freedom by Lucy A. Delaney (né Berry), ended “Finis”. Latin, not French, but close enough to to remind me that I have been remiss when it comes to my studies. I’m going to use this non-French as the start of a little project. For the next week I’m going to keep track of every encounter I have with the French language as well as references to France and the French people (not including the news, that would be to0 easy). Nothing yet today but I am hopeful.
*Here is a cut and pasted passage from Struggles For Freedom which particularly struck me. After gaining her freedom the author marries and embarks on her new life, “Time passed happily on with us, with no event to ruffle life’s peaceful stream, until…my husband was killed in the explosion of the steamboat Edward Bates, on which he was employed….[After the accident] my husband was carried to a friend’s where he breathed his last. Telegraphs were wanting in those times, so days passed before this wretched piece of news reached me, and there being no railroads, and many delays, I reached the home of my friend only to be told that my husband was dead and buried. Intense grief was mine, and my repining worried mother greatly; she never believed in fretting about anything that could not be helped. My only consolation from her was, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord. My husband is down South and I don’t know where he is; he may be dead; he may be alive; he may be happy and comfortable; he may be kicked, abused and half starved. Your husband, honey, is in heaven; and mine – God only knows where he is!’
“In those few words, I knew her burden was heavier than mine, for I had been taught that there was hope beyond the grave, but hope was left behind when sold ‘down souf’; and so I resolved to conceal my grief, and devote myself to my mother, who had done so much and suffered so much for me.”
The author’s mother, Polly Crocket Berry, had sued for her own freedom, helped her older daughter, Nancy, escape to Canada, and eventually used the courts to free Lucy.
And while we’re on the topic of freedom, Happy Gay Marriage Day!
Today the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodgs, legalized gay marriage. The opinion** states that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
**Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion which reads, in part, “Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The fundamental liberties protected by this Clause include most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. See Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 147–149 (1968). In addition these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”
In his dissent, Justice Scalia wrote, “When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868***, every state limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. That resolves these cases…”
And here the final paragraph of Chief Justice Robert’s dissent, “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex mar- riage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the oppor- tunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.
I respectfully dissent.”
Here is some of what Justice Thomas had to say, “The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.
Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.”
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.”
It’s only fair to hear from Justice Alito as well, “[Today’s decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. E.g., ante, at 11–13. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”
You can read the Syllabus for OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES.
***In 1868 interracial marriage was illegal and women were the property of their husbands.