A few months ago, watching the media mogul (-ette, if you’re still stuck with misogyny) and business woman, Oprah Winfrey share seminal moments of her life at the 2014 student-led interview of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, something easily slipped by in an anecdote she recounted. Something that has now been dredged up by a totally unrelated event, maybe even more magnificent that Ms. Winfrey’s delightful experience.
A man named Jordon Anderson, a former slave in Big Spring, Tennessee in the United States, who’d been liberated in 1864 by the Union Army that camped out on his owner, Colonel Henry Anderson‘s farm. Sometime after Jordon Anderson became a freeman and had settled elsewhere in Ohio, his old master wrote him a letter, pleading that he returned to the farm in Tennessee because he was now on the brink of a total bankruptcy precipitated by the complete state of disrepair to which his plantation had fallen. The letter even promised that Jordan would be paid as a freeman if he agreed to return; seeing as Colonel Henry was such a repentant and gracious fellow.
This is where Oprah Winfrey’s anecdote comes in. She’d shared her story as a young twenty-something TV star on the rise – black, young, and often the only one – at a TV outlet in Baltimore. Two events had precipitated her decision to leave the station despite a huge pay. The second one is the most interesting. An older African American at the same station who’d just been promoted and was drunk on power had dared to harass her.
Oprah, knowing already that she was not going to be long at the Station and knowing also that the times she lived in would have allowed a complaint of that nature ruin her career, chose not to make a fuss. Instead, she went the way of Arya Stark – shipped him to her memory, to be dealt with later. And the time came, as she’d hoped.
Watch her recount the story below:
For Jordon too, it was an easy situation, he was either going to accept the offer or spit on it. But as you probably already guessed, that’s not how the story goes. Jordon was a man of foresight – by light years too. He was a millennial before the word was invented. So he sent back the following in response: a beautifully sarcastic letter wrapped in glaring contentment for his new circumstances:
Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865 To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jordon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance. I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again. As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on thatscore, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded totest your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire. In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve - and die, if it come to that - than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits. Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when youwere shooting at me. From your old servant, Jordon Anderson
“Love it! Love it!”
Now, at a time when instant gratification pays better and speaking up and immediately too – Thanks, Mr. Cosby – is the most recommended approach to dealing with injustices of any form, would the Oprah/Jordon approach be something for people to consider?
Creative mind. Enthusiast. Learner. Multipotentialite. And here, an assistant editor.