• Elizabeth Keckley: Acquainted with Grief

    Posted on August 24th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part II: Elizabeth Keckley: All Silver in Heaven

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this stirring book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt

     

    All Silver in Heaven: Acquainted with Grief

     

    Like her Savior, Elizabeth Keckley was a woman of sorrow acquainted with grief, and thus able to bring sustaining and healing spiritual care to Mrs. Lincoln. Though enslaved, her first few years were at least spent in the love of her intact family. However, soon her father was sold to another slaver and the golden dream faded all too soon.

     

    As Elizabeth poignantly recalls it:

     

    “The announcement fell upon the little circle in that rude log cabin like a thunderbolt. I can remember the scene as if it were but yesterday;—how my father cried out against the cruel separation; his last kiss; his wild straining of my mother to his bosom; the solemn prayer to Heaven; the tears and sobs—the fearful anguish of broken hearts. The last kiss, the last goodbye; and he, my father, was gone, gone forever.[1]

     

    Elizabeth’s earthly despair was all-encompasing; her longing for heaven all-embracing.

     

    “The shadow eclipsed the sunshine, and love brought despair. The parting was eternal. The cloud had no silver lining, but I trust that it will be all silver in heaven.”[1]

     

    As was typically the case in slavery, Elizabeth’s family was not given permission to grieve or the opportunity to hope.

     

    “Deep as was the distress of my mother in parting with my father, her sorrow did not screen her from insult. My old mistress said to her: ‘Stop your nonsense; there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part.”[1]

     

    To these unfeeling words, Elizabeth’s mother made no reply. “She turned away in stoical silence, with a curl of that loathing scorn upon her lips which swelled in her heart. My father and my mother never met again in this world.”[1]

     

    When she was fourteen, Elizabeth went to live with her master’s oldest son, a Presbyterian minister, married to “a helpless wife, a girl that he had married in the humble walks of life. She was morbidly sensitive. . .”[1] At eighteen, a Mr. Bingham, a village schoolmaster and member of her master’s church, said he would whip her naked. She refused. He subdued her. Tied her. Stripped her dress. Whipped her.

     

    “I could not sleep, for I was suffering mental as well as bodily torture. My spirit rebelled against the unjustness that had been inflicted upon me, and though I tried to smother my anger and to forgive those who had been so cruel to me, it was impossible.”[1]

             

    He again tried to conquer her, striking her with savage blows. “As I stood bleeding before him, nearly exhausted with his efforts, he burst into tears, and declared that it would be a sin to beat me any more. My suffering at last subdued his hard heart; he asked my forgiveness, and afterwards was an altered man.”[1]

     

    In her future ministry in the White House, Elizabeth would need her indomitable spirit in the face of unspeakable suffering.

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part three . . .

     

    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu