The field trip to Austin, Texas, to lobby the lamest legislature in American history seemed wasted. It was deflating to hear from our state representatives and senators who can only warn how bad proposed legislative bills are for our community.
However, as long as 248 of the 254 counties in Texas vote 90% Republican, we are doomed. This present reign of ignorance, insolence, and intolerance will last at least a few cycles. Thanks be to God that I made it to church the following Sunday.
Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes III wrapped a parable with a slave testimony that gave us hope. It reminded me of sermons in the past.
Dr. Manuel Scott often said, “White folks made a mistake when they let the enslaved go to church.” My grandfather, Rev Z. R. Figures, used to say, “trouble don’t last always.” Dr. E. K Bailey often mused, “That the devil always outplays his hand.”
They are gone now, but their words and testimonies live in vibrance and validity. Dr. Haynes preached all three of those points in one sermon, but his insertion of a formerly enslaved woman called Biddy accentuated Bailey’s assertion that the devil is crafty but always takes it a “step too far.”
There is an informative website called “Gold Chains, the hidden history of slavery in California, which offers the best summation.
“Born enslaved in Georgia, Bridget “Biddy” Mason walked more than 2,000 miles through rugged terrain to California, where she eventually won her freedom in a landmark court case and became a celebrated philanthropist.
Mason was forced to travel West with Robert and Rebecca Smith, slaveholders who had joined the Mormon migration to Utah. The Smiths eventually took Mason and her three children to San Bernardino in California. While California was supposedly a “free state,” Smith continued to hold them captive. Mason and her children befriended free blacks who alerted the local sheriff when the Smiths made plans to take Biddy and her daughters to Texas with them. The sheriff took Mason and her family into protective custody under a writ of habeas corpus.”
OK. Did you get it so far? The enslavers made Biddy Mason and the others walk more than 2000 miles. But they messed up when they walked outside the bounds of legalized slavery. So here is the rest of the shout!
“Judge Benjamin Hayes circumvented racist testimony laws that prevented blacks from testifying against whites by interviewing Mason in his chambers. There, she said that she did not want to go back to the South with the Smiths.
As a result, in 1856, Hayes ruled that Mason, and her children were “free forever.” Mason became a doctor’s assistant and ran a midwifing business. She accumulated a fortune worth about $7.5 million in today’s dollars, making her one of the richest women in Los Angeles.
She established a homestead in what became downtown, Los Angeles. Mason used her wealth to establish a daycare center for working parents and created an account at a store where families who lost their homes in flooding could get supplies.
She also co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church, which is still going strong. Known as Grandma Mason, she died in 1891 and is honored through the Biddy Mason monument in downtown Los Angeles.”
I love beautiful endings, but Biddy’s story probably wreaked havoc on another enslaved American. Legal scholars conjecture that the testimony laws that Judge Hayes “circumvented” had a play in the “Dred Scott decision that came 13 ½ months later.
The essence of Dred Scott was that “people of African descent cannot be, nor were ever intended to be citizens under the U.S. Constitution.” It further stated that the “Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment prohibits the federal government from freeing slaves brought into federal territories.
Dred Scott is known as the worst decision ever. However, it should remind us in 2023 that the fight is only lost if we stop fighting. We know the value of the Black Church. We know that trouble don’t last always. We know that no weapon the devil forms against us can prosper.
We know all those things but learning about Bridget Biddy Mason reminds us that the devils in Austin can’t do me no harm. Thank you, Biddy!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.