In the narrative, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, William Craft describes his and his wife’s miraculous escape from slavery to freedom. Throughout the narrative, Craft mentions common beliefs and practices of white Christians towards slavery in the 1800s and exemplifies how these individuals use their religion to support their decisions regarding slavery. Craft’s use of irony to demonstrate how white Christians manipulate and twist the words from religious texts, such as the Bible, to justify the mistreatment and ownership of their slaves. Christians in positions of power had the ability to initiate legislature and dominate all aspects of politics during this period. Although white Christians used religious texts to support their lifestyle, many slaves ironically turned to Christianity for hope and comfort regarding their situations. Craft’s narrative highlights the cultural differences in religion between white Christians and slaves.
One of Craft’s first perceptions of a “white Christian” developed from observing the actions of his former owner, who “thought nothing of selling my poor old father, and dear aged mother, at separate times, to different persons, to be dragged off never to behold each other again,”(9) despite his reputation of “being a very humane and Christian man.” After he plunged “the poisonous dagger of separation” into the hearts of his parents, Craft could not fathom how such a devoted Christian could be capable of such an evil action. In addition, Ellen strikes up a conversation with woman on a train about her son, a Christian minister. The woman states that her son advised her to move to New York and bring her slaves along to live with her, and Ellen questions why the son did not advise her to emancipate the slaves so they may move up north and be free. The woman quickly retaliates, claiming her son knows best and states “the niggers will make me lose all my religion!” (66) Craft exposes the irony behind the slaveholders referring to themselves as “true Christians,” yet continue to act in ways that contrast Christian ideals.
On pages 94-95, Craft names several Reverends that came forward to express their opinions on the passing of the Fugitive Slave Bill. Rev. Dr. Spencer published a sermon titled “Religious Duty of Obedience to the Laws,” Rev. W. M. Rogers preached “if ordered to take human life, in the name of God to take it,” and Rev. Bishop Hopkins stated “every Christian is authorised by the Divine Law to own slaves, provided they were not treated with unnecessary cruelty.” When Reverends, highly regarded members of the Christian clergy, make these sort of statements, those who look up to the Reverends will inherit and implement these beliefs into their daily lives. These men used their positions of power to create and support legislature that favored their lifestyles, rather than being concerned with the well-being of African-Americans.
Although Craft never elaborates on the role of religion in his life, many African Americans, especially slaves, turned to Christianity as a way to cope with the cruelty and injustice so apparent in their lives. While many white Christians use the principles and words of the Bible to promote and defend slavery, the victims of slavery are using the same principles and words to persevere through this horrendous time. The variation among the ways the two races interpret the same text demonstrates the cultural differences surrounding religion and values during this period.
The irony of a “white Christian” treating other with such brutality and inhumanity is apparent not only in Craft’s narrative, but throughout American history. Craft finds their behavior incomprensible and validates the role of these individual’s understanding of the Bible in composing legislature and everyday treatment of slaves.