Caroline Muniz ‘23
Dr. Richard Bell held a lecture on Thursday, December 5 that gave new insight on what we know about slavery and the underground railroad. His is an Associate Prorofessor of History at the University of Maryland, and an author to the novel, Stolen: Five Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyessey Home. This non-fiction novel tells the true storie of a five young boys who suffered in a horrendous system that forced the innocent into a lifetime of terror in the slave trade. In his presentation he discusses the discoveries he made about slavery in the 19th century and what we have not been taught about it.
Bell specifically focused on the story of 10 year old Cornelius Sinclair, one of the five boys he wrote about in his novel. He began his presentation with the story of how he became a boy in the slave trade. One day he was free and the next he was not. He told the story of him being physically abused and taken from his family and changing his life forever.
In 1808, the United States no longer allowed the transatlantic trade of slaves. What was a hige turning point for American history began a system of internal slave trading. Slave traders tried their best to satisfy the needs of their customers after this ban by, “bringing them thousands of American born slaves each year from slave states.” This still was not enough because the settlers wanted even more.
While Harriet Tubman fought hard with other African Americans to secretly bring as many slaves to the north in the Underground railroad, there was a system working in the opposite direction as well. Northerner African Americans were forcefully taken from their families and became slaves. Bell explained that, “the volume of traffic of both these railroads was roughly the same” and that the two systems worked continuously with each other in a way.
Bell mentioned that families who had children stolen from their homes and brought to the South for slavery would often put something in the newspaper for them hoping someone would know of their whereabouts. However, these became so common they were not nearly as effective as they should have been. In addition, the freedom of the African American people in the North was “achingly fragile” due to this issue. African American people in the North had to live knowing that any of them were still at risk of becoming slaves.
The lecture was concluded with the idea that, “then as now, families belong together.” Bell made connections between what happened in the 19th century to what is prevalent in our country today. Today, families are being torn apart due to immigration laws. Children are ripped away from their parents in the same forceful way that Cornelius Sinclair was.
Bells research and stories were all captivating and interesting, and these changed the audience’s perspective on what they thought they knew. Learning about the details of the stories of these young boys made the history of slavery much more substaintial and real.