“Five years after the abolition of slavery… a Methodist minister in the remote mountain town of Waynesville, North Carolina, carried out an act of reparation apparently unprecedented in U.S. history. Asa Fitzgerald signed an extraordinary land deed in August 1870, conveying most of his remaining property to nine ‘colored persons’ he and his wife’s relations had formerly enslaved. He transferred the land explicitly as restitution for the many years of unpaid labor ‘performed by them and their ancestors while in slavery’….
“For eight years Fitzgerald and his family lived with this remarkable arrangement in apparent peace. The Fitzgerald patriarch died in 1878 with little remaining property aside from his house, a small plot of land, and his library. It did not take long for his wife and children to take legal action undoing his novel transaction….”
— From “A Personal Act of Reparation” by Kirk Savage in Lapham’s Quarterly (Dec. 15, 2019)
“The mystic Herman Husband had perhaps the furthest-reaching vision of American democracy. Having grown up a pampered and willful child on his parents’ Maryland plantation, he [later became] an abolitionist and apostle of nonviolent protest. By the 1760s he was living in the western wilds of North Carolina, a full-time activist against the creditor class and the corruption of government.
“Because Husband was both land-rich and a democratic idealist, he served as a bridge between the truly poor and the landowning class that could vote. His neighbors elected him to the North Carolina assembly in the provincial capital of New Bern, where he spoke so uncompromisingly against the corruption of the assembly that he was repeatedly jailed. Soon he was a leader of the North Carolina Regulation, an uprising that took over court towns, roughed up officials and tore down buildings. Husband tried to moderate the violence, but by the time the royal governor sent in troops, he was a marked man; he fled on horseback right before the Battle of Alamance…. In the grip of biblically inspired visions, Husband began developing and writing down his plans for a unified American nation founded on egalitarian principles.
“The national plan that Herman Husband devised does not resemble the U.S. Constitution written in 1787. It resembles the New Deal of the 1930s, the Great Society of the 1960s, and measures yet to be achieved even now….”
— From “Our Chief Danger: The story of the democratic movements that the framers of the U.S. Constitution feared and sought to suppress” by William Hogeland in Lapham’s Quarterly (Fall 2020)