It is hard to believe twelve years have gone by since the Lord first led me to write Uncle Tom's Cabin Revisited and after reading it again, to find it still packs a sobering and challenging punch for black males especially that cannot believe non-violent submission to persecutors in the victorious image of Christ is valued by God above retaliation; that it is strength on display rather than weakness. When I was writing this article, I was still developing all of the instruction that would become my book, The Strong Man Of God: Back To Basics first released in 2011.1 Subsequently, my definition of what a strong man of God is in this article is general. The more specific definition now is: He is a man that lives to please God and do His will. Don't forget to read Uncle Tom's Cabin or get the film version I reference in the article if needed to get the most out of this article.
Rev. Robert Kelley, February 16, 2014
In the Winter of 2002 the Lord led me to rent a recent film version of the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and first published in 1852. The 1987 film featured acclaimed actors Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad and Avery Brooks in the role of “Uncle Tom.” Brooks’ powerful portrayal of a humble yet amazingly strong Christian slave in pre-civil war America caught me totally by surprise. I was so surprised in fact, I rented the earliest film version of the book I could find to see if “Uncle Tom” was similarly portrayed in it.
It was obvious the makers of the 1927 silent film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin played to the prejudice of their white audience by causing the title character to more resemble the popular happy, head scratching black Sambo than a man of strength. Still, the Christian underpinnings of his steadfastness under trial peeked through. Now, deeply curious as to which “Uncle Tom” was that of the original 600 plus page book, I checked it out from the library and began reading it intensely.
I first paid attention to the phrase, “Uncle Tom” as a teenager in the late 1960’s. In those days, the last thing anyone would have called me was an “Uncle Tom.” In anger and mouthy youthfulness, I was the one calling any one of my black elders “Uncle Tom” that didn’t seem to be in step with the revolutionary rhetoric of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and others of the times. I understood that I was calling them puppets of “the white man” and sell outs to their race (among other negative things) by so labeling them.
Since becoming a Christian in 1977 and called of God to teach and preach His uncompromising Word in 1979, I have been labeled an “Uncle Tom” on several occasions and not just by youth. I have earned this label by declaring “the whole counsel of God” from the Bible which at many points differs from culturally popular black politics and thinking about God. It seems to be black with a biblical view on things is to be like those whites who share the same view and thus, an “Uncle Tom.”
While most of the white and black Christian men who know me could readily testify that I am far from being an “Uncle Tom” after the classic negative definition, my prayer is that God will help me to become more like the character in the book from which the phrase is derived! As I joyfully discovered in seeing Avery Brooks’ interpretation and reading the book’s depiction of “Uncle Tom,” he epitomizes the strong man in the image of Christ I believe the Lord wants all men who believe in Him to become. No doubt this is the reason Satan has worked to mis-represent the character’s persona and cause the phrase “Uncle Tom” to become something despised.
I must pause at this juncture and define what a strong man is. He is a man who has been converted and follows Jesus Christ as Lord of his life. There are four major attributes that characterize a strong man’s life in the image of Christ. First, strong men accept the roles God assigns. Every strong man is a disciple of Christ and son of God; most become husbands and fathers while the rest are called to lifelong singleness and celibacy. Second, strong men obey God to the death. Third, they rely on God for everything. Lastly, strong men trust God for vindication.
Historically, there have been and are now weak black males who are troubled, fearful or driven by selfish motives that fit the profile of what Satan has perverted the phrase “Uncle Tom” to mean. However, my contention is this black male is not the same one presented by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book. The satanic scandal to say otherwise, has distorted an insightful work of literature and denied at least my generation, the benefit of having a strong man of God properly held up as a heroic figure and male role model to emulate.
Someone will say, “The book and characters are fictional.” Yes, but that did not stop Satan from targeting it! If the avowed enemy of God thought enough of this literary classic to work to destroy the good especially the main character “Uncle Tom” might inspire, then it is worth our serious consideration regardless of the fact it is a work of fiction. Besides, the author states many of her characters including “Uncle Tom,” were “sketches drawn from life.”2 “Uncle Tom,” she notes, “had more than one development, to her personal knowledge.”3
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Both her father and brother and eventually her husband, Calvin Stowe, were all preachers. “She grew up with a strong sense of wanting to improve humanity.”4 She attended and later taught at the Hartford Female Seminary. Upon her family’s move to Cincinnati, Ohio, she continued to teach in a school established by her sister. During this period she began to write short stories. She married Mr. Stowe in 1836.
Advocates for the abolition of American slavery were called “abolitionists.” The future author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was surrounded by their efforts great and small to press the cause in the Cincinnati area. Mrs. Stowe also “witnessed firsthand the misery of slaves living just across the Ohio River in Kentucky.”5 Perhaps this--combined with her Christian motivated desire to improve humanity--influenced her concern for the black slaves she observed. It was however, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that inspired her to begin to write passionately about their plight.6
After the Stowe family moved to Brunswick, Maine, Mrs. Stowe began writing a novel to reveal slavery’s evils. Her efforts were first serialized in an abolitionist paper, the National Era between June 5, 1851 and April 1, 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin the book was published March 20, 1852.7 With the publication of her book (which became an international sensation), Mrs. Stowe had joined a growing number of white Christian voices that sought to affect the conscience of pre-civil war America--the church included--on the issue of slavery.
Though at times, Mrs. Stowe speaks about the black race in a condescending tone born of race/class advantage in her writing, she clearly has great love and respect for the major individual black characters that comprise her book. The book’s main character “Uncle Tom,” is introduced as “a large, broad-chested, powerfully-made man, of a fully glossy black, and a face whose African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindness and benevolence.”8 He was honest and his master’s best hand. He was also a Christian.
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