From James C. Schaap
The image I won't soon forget from Haiti's National Museum is a elaborately rigged ball and chain from the nation's horrific dark ages, the days of slavery, an immense, jerry-rigged iron contraption some human being created for another human being to wear, hard as that is to believe. It's a frame of iron you had to step into to get over your shoulders, a piece of atrocity so unthinkable that even imagining it hung on the shoulders of a human being is nearly impossible. The museum guide wouldn't let me snap a picture. I wish I could have because I can't describe it really, just as I can't describe so much of Haiti.
When you see shackles like that, when you stand there beside them, in front of them, when they loom over you, it's easier to understand John Brown's murderous passion, easier to understand why radical abolitionists were so hated by so many Americans, easier to understand the blood in "Bloody Kansas," easier to understand Huck Finn's perfectly innocent declaration that he'd go to hell rather than haul Jim back into slavery.
My people immigrated to this country and stayed in Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa because, in the late 1840s, they'd have no part of slavery. But then no one is innocent; the Dutch were famously successful slave traders when, for a century or more, they owned the high seas. Slavery was an institution, as much a part of the way we lived as church attendance. And it's not over. Somewhere, even as I write, someone works is a slave.
But a million shackles are gone or left in museum displays, where, thank goodness, we can stand and stare and wonder, shake our heads at what once was.