Is there an alternative to war?
The Alternative explores another possibility.
The Alternative is now available at
Ask for "THE ALTERNATIVE" by George Mcneish at your favourite book store. If they don't have it, they should. Also available on Amazon.ca
I have recieved these emails: (quoted in part)
I want to congratulate you on your novel- The Alternative. I could not put it down when I started reading it. Congratulations, I thought it was marvelous, and the story came alive, and made the history of the Civil War more understandable for me, as it made me realize how the majority of Southerners thought as well as others.
I'm recommending it to my friends, and club members. Has the library got copies?
Note that the London Public Library has one copy. (george)
February is Black History Month.
Just finished a book,set in the 1840's about the ugly truth of the horrendous injustice that black slaves endure. The main characters,with a Romeo & Juliette like romance, turn around this ugly history to provide a purely fictional but beautiful heartwarming ending. The book is "The Alternative " by Canadian author George McNeish
It was a real pleasure meeting you today at the Kiwanis meeting.
When I got home I glanced in your book just to get a feel for it, and was immediately engrossed in the plot and the characters!
I love the topic and the personalities of the characters.
It's very, very interesting. I can't put it down!!
If you are looking for an intriguing, uplifting "read", please consider George McNeish's Alternative! Its ingenious plot is in search of discovering how respect for human nobility can transform slavery into a more productive economy. With its cast of lively, convincible and loveable characters, this book ranks among the most inviting books I've ever read. Through its pages Bobby, his wife Ruthie with her repentant father (Mr. Lancer), Samson with his spirited wife Krissy lead us through a credible account of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, ever conjuring up unpredictable scenes in which the well-laid scheme of abolishing slavery evolves. Their's is not a sudden "coup" that overthrows an entrenched status quo with glee and ephemeral congratulations, but a slow, measured transmutation of deeply ingrained beliefs that some human-appearing creations were definitively more like animals than themselves!! It is sobering to vicariously experience the cruelty perpetrated on humans in the name of religion and superiority. At the same time it's an inspiring "ride" through most the dialogue, imbued as it is with principles of humanity's higher nature clearly being implemented into daily life interactions and innumerable negotiations. A reader comes away with a sense of hope and vision that a saner, more harmonious world is not only possible but inevitable!!
In "Walking Together on a Path of Service" (Ruhi 7), the Institute exhorts us to to develop participants' "capacity for artistic expression through, music poetry, painting, drama or any of the various types of crafts ... as an essential element enhancing the spiritual development of participants." The Alternative embodies the term "a well written book" in 'Abdu'l-Baha's words below:
"It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony and perfection. For instance: a beautiful house, a well designed garden, a symmetrical line, a graceful action, a well written book, pleasing garments - in fact, all things that have in themselves grace or beauty are pleasing to the heart and spirit ..."With gratitude and encouragement to George for a this commendable achievement!! Terry
Well i finished the book the day before the birthday party and i did not like the last page i guess it should say that if the Plantation owners had followed this plan it could have averted the war and it says there was no war. I thought the book was well written even after reading the background of where George got his information it was hard to remember this was fiction it was so real. I cannot remember names but have read about the two mixed race women from Bronx who were born i think South Carolina and seen them on tv and what they said about how they grew up in a home with their black mother and the white father lived in his big house with his white house what she described was very similar to what George talked about in this book. Very interesting highly recommend it.
Being an only child on a large cotton plantation, Bobby Johnson naturally made friends with his father's slaves. He recognized talents and abilities in his friends that the society around him denied. As Bobby grew up, his anti-slavery views developed and grew. Being the only heir he would inherit the plantation, but he knew he could not be a slave owner. Bobby did not know how he could run a plantation without slaves, but he strongly felt this was God's will, so God would make a way.
Samson was one of the Johnson slaves and Bobby's best friend. Knowing Bobby's dilemma Samson not only found a way that Bobby could operate slave free, but he expanded his idea to give freedom to all slaves. His method hinged on the idea of a cooperative society were all worked together towards a common good.
After the slaves were freed on the Johnson plantation, Samson and Bobby continued to work towards expanding their new methods to other plantations. Bobby felt that great disaster, possibly a civil war, would afflict the USA if this new system was not spread fast enough. They raced against time to establish a new way of thinking among slaves and slave owners who knew nothing but the slavery system.
Two Hundred years of slavery had altered the consciousness of the people to the extent that injustice, cruelty and torture seemed to be the norm. False beliefs were firmly established and it took much effort and persistence to change a way of thinking and prevent a war.
Here is the Introduction
In 1861 the USA would go to war. This would be the most devastating war they ever engaged in. In fact it would take until 1970 and the Vietnam war before the number of American casualties in all other wars the USA fought in exceeded the number of losses in this war. In 1861 the USA would meet its worst enemy. It would go to war with itself.
It seemed unbelievable that a democratic country could cause so much affliction to its own people. I began to uncover the reasons for this war. They all centered around one fact. The US laws allowed a horrendous crime to be perpetrated against people of African descent. These people had been stolen from their homelands and forced, as prisoners of war, to emigrate to a distant land where they could get no help. They were treated as livestock and refused any human rights. As property, their owners held the rights to do with them as they pleased. Property has no rights.
John Brown saw the plight of these wronged ones and went to war for them. He was executed for his role in fighting against injustice. He handed a prophetic note to a guard the day of his execution. He had written, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that, without very much bloodshed, it might be done." Thirteen months later the Civil War began.
Could this war have been averted? I began to toy with that idea. What if one ordinary person would have done things differently? I invented Bobby Johnson as that very ordinary person. What follows is pure fiction. The opposition that Bobby met was far greater than I anticipated and I began to doubt if he could, even in fiction, prevent a war. However, with the help of a fictionalized God, he accomplished great things. Although truth is stranger than fiction I wrote The Alternative to be a fiction that was more believable than the truth. I brought out the reasons for Bobby's desperation and revealed a very evil side of slavery. The events portrayed never happened but similar situations may have occurred. Many may argue that these evil atrocities occurred very infrequently, but the fact that the law allowed them to happen suggested to me that they likely happened more often than we would like to believe. For those who argue that such events were very rare I ask, "how often does a little girl need to be raped before it matters?" 40,000 would only represent about one percent of the slave population. Are we okay with that many rapes, murders, child abuses or other horrendous crimes? Bobby saw firsthand these appalling situations and could not live in a society that allowed them to continue unpunished.
Although they considered their human chattels as livestock, slave owners took advantage of the fact that slaves could be bred by themselves. I bring this behavior home when Ruthie, the daughter of such a slave owner not only realizes that she is a half sister of some of her father's slaves, but that her father had a preference for young girls. The anguish this 14 year old faces when she realizes her best friend was impregnated by her father is one of the most emotional parts of the book. Yet how many young girls had to face these facts in real live. Ruthie became my most complex character.
The story took many surprising turns as I was writing it. At times I did not know what my characters would do next. I started out with a vague idea that I was writing an alternative to the civil war. My characters took on a life of their own as I set the challenge before them. It is they, and not I, that worked through the difficulties and solved the problems. I was completely unaware of how challenging this task would be.
Inspiration from History
My greatest inspiration was Fredrick Douglass. It was not enough for me to read his words or what others had written about him. I had to transport myself back in time so I could sit at his feet and listen to his stories. Although Fredrick Douglass was born a slave, I feel he was one of the most brilliant people in history. What he accomplished from such humble beginnings is unbelievable. Much of my observation of the time period I wrote about came from his perspective.
Much of the methodology used by my characters came from Booker T. Washington who was born a slave and was freed after the Civil War. This brilliant man went from being a slave to founding a university so impressive that the President of the United States paid a visit to it.
I also relied on the perspective given by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Fredrick Douglass had met the author and read the book, so it was a must read for me.
Finally I give credit to Solomon Northup for his description of slavery in Louisiana. I chose a locale close to were 12 years a Slave was played out due to the knowledge I gained from his book. I borrowed his description of how slave labour was used on a cotton plantation. His report of the 1845 destruction of the cotton crop gave me an opportunity to use actual history as a turning point for my story. He and some characters from his book make cameo appearances in The Alternative.
In the my epilogue I end it with these words;
I fully admit that the preceding has been pure fiction. I don't blame anyone if they find it unbelievable, but consider this, is it not more believable than thinking that a nation could cause more destruction and loss of life to its own people than any outside force has ever done? The history of the USA is filled with wars, yet no war took more American lives than the civil war. It took until the 1970's before US casualties in all other wars exceeded the lives lost in this most devastating war.
The horrible destruction of this war was not its only drawback. Reconstruction took more than one hundred years and still prejudice lingers between the white race and the race they formerly enslaved. The bitterness of losing a war and being forced into a value system that they did not agree with meant that the former slave owners did all in their power to assure the ones they had held as chattels could not prosper. There is times when injustice must be stopped no matter the cost. The horrendous system of North American slavery was very evil and the cost of stopping it was very high.
Through changing laws, we prevent outward acts of slavery from being manifested, but until the heart changes, the spirit of slavery will remain. Slavery was a legal way for one group of people to exploit another and exploitation of others is not yet against the law. Indeed those inflicted with the disease of greed will continue to find ways around the laws so that they may exploit and take advantage of those less fortunate. Not until they realize that these practices are not only hurting their victims but are holding back all of society, including themselves, will they have a change of heart. Once one experiences the joy of cooperation and helping others succeed, he will never again resort to greed.
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Historic Value of 275 Thames Street, London, Ontario, Canada
The Fugitive Slave Chapel of London, Ontario was built about 1848 presumably by fugitive slaves and perhaps other citizens of African descent. Little is known about how this building came into being but London land records show that trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church purchased the land at 275 Thames Street on October 14, 1847. One would speculate that the building would have been erected shortly after that date, but some sources put the date of construction as late as 1852.
You may wonder at the lack of documentation for a building of such historical value, but, at the time, these few fugitives from our southern neighbour were insignificant and even unwanted, so their activities were largely ignored. Fleeing from slavery meant that they had endured hard labour with no wages paid, so it is not surprising that they had very little when they arrived in London. What they did have was an ability to work and a desire to succeed, so, despite odds against them, they worked, bargained and prospered. With only the finances that labour could bring them, they naturally congregated in an area of London were real estate was cheap. The smelly hollow at Thames Street was such a place during the middle of the nineteenth century. The coming of the railroad in 1853 soon changed all of that. Real estate values escalated and the black community of London were soon known to hold greater value in real estate than their white counterparts.
When they arrived in Canada all these fugitives wanted was an equal opportunity to work and earn a living. Some well intentioned people took it on their selves to raise money for those they regarded as unable to succeed on their own. Others who were not so well intentioned used the situation of the fugitives to solicit money which seldom got to the intended destination. Either way this was not wanted by the black community. Many narratives of fugitive slaves who came to Canada stated that they felt handouts would make people lazy and they preferred to work for what they could earn. Equal opportunity is the most they asked for, and that they did not get. The prejudice in Canada was often worse than they faced in slavery, but in Canada they were free and had protection of the law. This was enough to enable them to work hard and prosper under adverse conditions.
For more than 200 years the African American was told he was not human and could expect no human rights. He was brainwashed into thinking he had no capability to survive on his own and needed a master to look after his affairs. Many were so convinced of their inferior abilities that they made no attempt to escape slavery, but the ones who did manage to break the bonds of slavery proved that the common beliefs were utterly false. Not only did they succeed but they succeeded despite adverse conditions. They came together in small communities and helped each other to overcome obstacles. In slavery they had learned of the God of Christianity and many carried that belief with them when they came to Canada. White Christians would usually make them feel unwelcome, so they established their own churches. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born in the south when Black Christians suffered segregation in the Methodist churches of that area. In 1856 it was considered to be unsafe for black ministers to travel to the USA for conferences and so the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada split from their parent organization to form the British Methodist Episcopal Church. Canada then was a British Colony and the Church wanted to honour the country that gave them freedom when they named their new organization.
Sometimes we tend to distance ourselves from human suffering when it happens to another group, but I take this very personally. Although I am not black, I am human, and slavery was a crime against humanity. Although the black population suffered more, slavery damaged all human society. Ancient forms of slavery were sanctioned in the Christian Bible but this more recent form was condemned back as far as the time of Moses. In ancient times one who owed money might sell himself into slavery or when enemies were captured during a time of war they would often be forced into slavery. Beginning in 1441 the first African Slaves were stolen from their homeland. The slave trade would continue to grow through the following centuries and would not end until the USA civil war ended it in 1865. In Exodus 21:16 we read, "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." It is clear from this verse that man stealing has always been abhorred and even one in possession of a stolen man was to receive the most severe punishment. When the Christian Churches twisted the meaning of the Bible to justify this form of slavery they not only condemned an innocent population to slavery, they also condemned themselves to spiritual death. When someone is devoid of human spirit it is increasingly easy to do wrong and it gets more and more difficult to do what is right.
Today we hear of terrible crimes perpetrated against the most innocent of our citizens. Young girls are brutally raped. Little children are kidnapped, used for sex and then murdered in an attempt to cover the original crime. The laws of the land keep these events down to a few cases, but imagine what would happen of these things were legal. What if, instead of condemning the child rapist, you protected his activity by law and made it illegal for the family of the child to interfere with his right. Now imagine this is your little daughter or son that is being raped by one who the law says you must respect as your master. This is just one example, if there is any other crime that repulses you more, imagine that one. I am not saying that these things were common place, but when we realize that such things still happen despite the law we can only assume they happened more often when the perpetrator had no fear of punishment. If the neighbours found out they would see him as a sick man but they would look the other way since he would have the right to do whatever he wanted with his property.
More common would be the breeding practices. Slaves were treated as livestock and as in livestock they had no rights to select a mate for themselves. The master would decide which slaves would produce the best offspring. When one mate was sold off another would be forced on the one remaining. Unlike livestock the master himself could also act as stud and do his own breeding. Anyone born of a slave woman was considered a slave and this master would sell off one of his own offspring as quickly as he would any other slave. Now imagine it was your mother, your sister or your daughter being forced into a sexual relation and used for breeding slaves for her master. She had no rights to her offspring. They were the property of her master who could do anything he wanted with them.
I have painted this brief picture of the nature of slavery to show what the fugitives coming to London, Ontario were running from. Next we can look at how they got to Canada.
The journey from the South was made at great peril to the slaves. When one became a fugitive one was hunted down like a wild animal. Many masters wanted to teach their slaves that running was worse than staying and so they would not care if a runaway was returned dead or alive. Slave catchers preferred the dead or alive posters as they could collect the reward without needing to return a living person who would be constantly trying to escape. Even when returned alive it was not uncommon to whip the slave to death as a lesson to others on what happens to a runaway. Before a slave would run he had to accept that death was better for him than to stay in slavery.
Having never been paid for his labour, the fugitive had no money to pay for his journey north. He had to avoid public detection so he stayed clear of roads and any place where people may be found. Not knowing who he could trust he was forced to steal food and walk for many months. Even when a friend who could help was close by, he was often unaware. Sometimes, out of desperation he would be forced to approach a stranger. Sometimes he was rewarded with help, other times he was sent back to slavery or killed on the spot. Through the aid of the Quakers and the Underground Railway many fugitives were rescued with the rescuers sharing in the risk. It was illegal to help a runaway slave and anyone caught in this would be subject to huge fines and/or prison time. Yet many would take the risk because they followed a higher law and that law said oppression was wrong, even oppression that was sanctioned by the government. The underground rail-road provided depots were fugitives would be hidden while they had a chance to rest and eat. They were then given instructions on how to find the next depot and sometimes were even provided with transportation. If a fugitive slave could make his way to one of the terminals of the underground rail-road his chances of reaching Canada were greatly increased. Many of the Fugitives coming to Canada were helped by this organization run mainly by Quakers.
Whether or not a fugitive found the underground rail-road his dangers were not past. Besides the danger from humans the fugitive was harassed by natural elements. He was at risk of being torn apart by wild animals. Heat, cold, rain or snow may overcome him. He may be forced of hide in swamps, contend with insects, snakes, leaches and worse without any protection whatsoever. With only stars to lead him he would often become lost in a blizzard and find that he had been going in the wrong direction when the sun arose on an unexpected horizon. Needless to say, many didn't make it, but death to them was better than the life they had known.
Now imagine the terrible life you had as a slave. Top that with a perilous three month journey on foot while suffering from starvation and anything nature could throw at you. When you met the first person you have seen since you started from the South you knew not if he would be a friend or an enemy, but divine providence found you in favour and that person helped you get quickly to Canada. In Canada you found slave catchers were still searching for you in the border communities. You found there was a place called London that was further inland and afforded more protection against capture, so again you set out on foot being thankful for the small amount of help you have received. You now had the protection of the law and could find work along the way to pay for your food. Finally you arrive in London Ontario and someone directs you to a little chapel on Thames Street. You go in and kneel down to pray as you thank God that you made it. Many troubles lie ahead of you. You do not know where you will sleep, what you will eat or where you can find a job, but the kind people at the Chapel had previously gone through what you had and they understood your needs. Together you give a prayer of thanks and pray for continued guidance.
This is the significance of this little unassuming building that now needs a new home. This building symbolizes the overcoming of evil. This is a place where free men could pray. It is a reminder of a time we do not want to repeat. It is a symbol for continued justice and for continuing to fight for the rights of the oppressed. The North American Continent was wounded by slavery for more than two hundred years. A century and a half has elapsed since slavery was finally abolished but the wounds are still healing. The symptoms of slavery are being treated but the root cause still needs to be discovered or the disease of slavery will simply take on new forms. This is our present day challenge so that we can forever rid the world of oppression.
We have a symbol of freedom in London, Ontario. It is currently at 275 Thames Street. There are a lot of people who want to move it to 432 Grey Street where it can be restored and preserved. $65,000 is needed just to get the building moved. And additional amount estimated at $900,000 is needed to restore and add additional facilities needed to realize its full potential. A contribution to this cause is a contribution to world peace and the end of oppression of all kinds. Plans are under way to have a plaque displaying the names of major contributors made that will be displayed at this historical site.
You can contribute via internet at http://www.fscpp.ca/donate.html. Cheques can be sent to the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project, c/o Beth Emanuel BME Church, 430 Grey St, London, Ontario, N6B 1H3.