Like many kids of my generation, I had a high school education that included Kurt Vonnegut, Voltaire and William Golding, but passed over true classics like Harriet Beecher Stowe's stirring 1851 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. So I, like many others, grew up with the idea that an "Uncle Tom" was a black man who abjectly kowtowed to his white oppressors. What a surprise, when I finally read that history-changing novel, to learn that Stowe's Uncle Tom was exactly the opposite: a soft-spoken pillar of virtue who held fast to his simple moral convictions even to the point of martyrdom. His steadfast witness to what he knew was right and true changed the hearts of all who came in contact with him on his epic journey to the Deep South.
The pejorative twist on his name commenced in post Civil War politics; cinema further distorted Uncle Tom into a stereotype that no longer resembles Stowe's glorious hero.
But a century and a half later, one cannot but wonder what the literary Uncle Tom would make of an African-American U.S. president kowtowing to an abortion industry that takes the lives of 1.2 million American children a year, a full, disproportionate third of them black. It seems to me that President Obama's campaign rhetoric and his recent speech at Notre Dame delivered a more brutal blow to African Americans than any dispensed by Tom's wicked master Simon Legree.
Stowe's novel brings the reader into a world of slaves and slavers on the eve of abolition. The horrors suffered by black men, women and children, deemed "critters" instead of human beings, to be worked to death and replaced like machinery, seem impossibly distant and foreign to a modern-day reader. Yet a little over a century ago, our great nation condoned and abetted this treatment of human beings. Now we -- or some of us, anyway -- cringe with shame.
In his speech at Our Lady's university, Obama recognized the hard-won successes of the civil rights movement, which began with abolitionists and triumphed in the 1960s, emphasizing the role of former Notre Dame president Father Ted Hesburgh.
Obama, more than most, benefitted from the uncompromising and unbending principles of civil rights activists (considered by many to be "fanatics") determined to change the status quo and to end an age where blacks were considered second-class citizens. Yet he now turns a blind eye to the new class of the voiceless oppressed, the unborn. In all the gruesome tales Stowe recounts of masters' cruelty to slaves, nothing exceeds the horror of piercing an innocent child's head with scissors as it exits the womb. And yet this real-life horror story is not only tolerated, but promoted by Obama and his principal collaborators, in particular Kathleen Sebelius, his bizarre choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Where is the Martin Luther King of the unborn? Where is the Rosa Parks? The Frederick Douglas? Unborn children have even less of a voice than the downtrodden, barely literate slaves of Stowe's novel. It has fallen to the heirs of the abolitionists and of the civil rights activists to speak for the voiceless unborn. Yet in his unctuous Notre Dame address, Obama chose to uphold the iniquitous status quo, rather than join those prophetic voices.
Recall his words, "I do not suggest the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away...the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." Substitute the word "abortion" with "slavery" and think what would have happened had Abraham Lincoln taken this line.
As an African-American woman -- from Chicago, no less -- I wanted to be delighted by the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. But his disregard of both unborn human lives as well as of those who would try to protect them renders him more similar to enablers of slavery than to the noble men and women in Stowe's story. This paradoxical behavior darkens what should have been one the greatest moments in history.
From 1700 to 1865 -- the year the 13th Amendment was ratified -- approximately 7 million black slaves were kept on American soil. Abortion kills 400,000 black children a year in America. Do the math: that's more than 15 million African-American children killed since 1973, when Roe v Wade overturned state legislation and imposed abortion as a "constitutional right." Jeremy Corsi in his Rebuilding America offers some chilling statistics. While blacks only comprise some 13 percent of the population, about 1,450 African American children are aborted a day. Which means three out of every five black women will have an abortion.
Hasn't Margaret Sanger's 1939 creation, Planned Parenthood, intentionally opened its family planning clinics in and around predominantly black neighborhoods? Yes, and the de facto result of this policy has been to encourage black women to abort their children. Sanger herself used the term "race hygiene" for what I see as her clearly eugenic ideology of culling the black population and others deemed "unfit," and that legacy is evident in today's staggering statistics.
Thanks to President Obama, taxpayer money will fund more of these clinics than ever, and the further reduction of African American numbers.
What would Uncle Tom, who ministered to the lowliest, hopeless slaves on Legree's plantation, make of Obama's participation in the extinction of so many babies in the name of "choice"?
Abortion practitioners target -- "serve,'' they would say -- poor, single mothers, many of them black women. Often told by those who pretend to know what is best for them that they can't handle a child, that they can't manage the expense or complications or aren't mature enough, these women are left with little "choice" but to abort. Stowe's slave mothers were willing to go to any lengths to keep their children, but abortion robs their modern descendants of the chance to show how much they have to offer.
As a single parent who had her first child in economic hardship, ignoring constant unsolicited advice from everyone but my family to abort my child, I found resources in myself I never knew were there. I find no comfort in Obama's words about support for single mothers, since his practical actions have only been to unabashedly aid and abet abortion and its promoters, both on U.S. soil and now abroad.
And so we come to the question of religion. Why was President Obama at Notre Dame to begin with? Certainly not out of respect for the teaching of the Catholic Church nor for any attachment to the Virgin Mary, after whom the University was named. He came to receive an honorary law degree, a travesty if there ever was one, since his promised use of the law stands in direct opposition to the bedrock moral principle of the Catholic Church – protection of innocent human life. He made use of this pulpit to administer more of the potent, faux-conciliatory opiate that convinces Catholics that abortion can best be fought by raising the standard of living of those who abort -- which is like defending husbands' legal right to beat their wives, while offering incentives to treat them gently.
Obama's interest in Notre Dame was to keep the 55 percent of Catholics who voted for him duly sedated. "Divide and conquer" reads the old Roman adage, and Obama certainly did. He cleverly backed up his pro-choice arguments by quoting the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's "seamless garment" project (that Catholics should adopt a consistently pro-life ethic, and not limit themselves to opposing abortion), which many have manipulated to bury abortion among many other issues, as if killing hundreds of thousands of innocent children were somehow morally equivalent to welfare reform and immigration law.
That must have had Cardinal Bernardin turning over in his grave; he rebutted that interpretation in a front-page interview in the June 12, 1988 National Catholic Register: "I don't see how you can subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who feels that abortion is a 'basic right' of the individual." He went on to say, "I know that some people on the left, if I may use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don't hold anybody's feet to the fire just on abortion. That's a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it."
Harriet Beecher Stowe's book is permeated with Christianity (which may explain why it makes few reading lists in American high schools today), and the role many Christians played in overturning slavery. All of Stowe's heroes are Christians, and her impassioned plea at the end of the book clearly shows her conviction that only a strong moral stance bolstered by unshakeable faith can defeat the entrenched evil of slavery. In his unsophisticated moral world, Uncle Tom never spoke of compromising his beliefs for the sake of "common ground." Thank God, Abraham Lincoln eventually came to that view, or emancipation might never have happened. His immortal words, "If slavery isn't wrong, nothing is," are reborn in the core pro-life tenet that "If abortion isn't wrong, nothing is."
At one point in the story, Tom's master, in an attempt to break down his convictions, assures him, "Why, Tom you must know I know the most." Yet in his clairvoyant simplicity Tom responds, "O, Mas'r, haven't you read how He hides from the wise and prudent and reveals unto babes?"
Tom's Christian voice is so feared by Simon Legree that he tries desperately to silence it on his plantation. Today's proponents of abortion dread that same voice. To obscure the profound continuity between the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement, they have suppressed references to the religious motivations that were so crucial in those struggles. Rev. Martin Luther King has conveniently become "Dr. King." President Obama's crowd-pleasing speech, while applauded by those who attended Notre Dame's graduation, didn't make the grade. Bring back the simple, uncompromising witness to the dignity of human life offered by Stowe's Uncle Tom. Despite his lower pay-grade, he still knew the difference between right and wrong.
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