The Slaves Who Were Counted As Angels

Long ago in a world not very far away there lived a people half-enslaved and half-free. Their bodies were enslaved but their hearts and spirits were completely free. This was over one and a half centuries ago.

Some of the slave masters and slave catchers were quite confused by this — believing the whole time that they were completely shackled by iron chains and other things to hold them in place.

Or, they also believed that because by law they were only three-fifths human, that the rest of them belonged to some nether race of inanimate beings that could never be fully human — except when working in the fields or on the plantation.

But every so often something unexplainable happened. The enslaved people seemed to disappear, or by some unacknowledged miracle, did some feat of near legerdemain or superhuman power the master did not see but would never accept if he did.

Some of these slaves were found a long ways from their plantation or home-place — often doing something like working as a blacksmith, or teaching school, or building homes or even running a newspaper.

Some were reported to have run away so fast that the dogs that pursued them lay down and died of exhaustion; or some were said to have crossed rivers so deep and fast that no horse or rider could ever wade across.

Or, some were reported to have vanished when chased into a canyon or against a mountainside, by suddenly leaping from hilltop to hilltop and then soon disappeared.

These stories occurred so frequently that the slave catchers soon decided that any more reports of these magnificent feats would leave them looking as if they had made up plain lies to explain their own mistakes or had simply lost their natural senses in the heat of a hot summer’s day.

Soon all the slave catchers resolved to simply say they had not really been chasing an ordinary slave in the first place — that whoever they had been told to catch was no ordinary human but an angel who had been mistakenly (and temporarily) held captive upon that particular plantation. How else could they keep their jobs?

They could never say that this race of enslaved people were imbued with so a great spirit to be free that neither chains, nor dogs, nor the slave catchers themselves, could stop them with all of their numbers and determination.

So, it began that each time they failed to catch a slave, they told the old plantation master, this was no real slave that had escaped.

Instead, the plantation was now simply missing an unidentified angel who had come down for just a little while to see what had become of those entrusted to his care.

The plantation owners heard this story and then would turn to look upon his remaining slaves as if trying to see who might be the next to disappear.

And each time the master did, the slaves simply smiled and bowed their heads in silent prayers.

-Albert Turner Goins