Matthew Gaines was a slave who had escaped and been captured twice. After the second time, he was sent to Fredericksburg, Texas, to work. His desire for freedom was borne of the education he gained in his first home. Gaines was in Fredericksburg on June 19, 1865, when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was finally brought to Texas. He became a leader among the newly freed slaves and became a State Senator in Texas who fought to maintain the rights of the freedmen. He supported the work that led to the first public education system in Texas. Speaking out on behalf of oppressed people, though, doesn’t win many powerful friends and he was forced from the Senate on trumped up charges. Throughout the rest of his life, though, he continued to speak out to maintain the cause of freedom.
Freedom. It means something. Moses wasn’t a slave – he was a high muckity-muck in Egypt who had been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. Still, he looked out for his fellow Israelites. He was forced to flee Egypt because he had killed an Egyptian overlord while protecting an Israelite slave. He was living happily with his bride and child when God disrupted his plans. God gave him an impossible task. “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10) Moses argued with God, citing his weaknesses, failing to realize that God had enabled him. Aaron, his brother was summoned by God to assist Moses. God gave Moses more than he could handle so that he would have to depend on God to deal with it.
During the time that most African-Americans were slaves, the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt was a favorite. It was a symbol of their own struggles for freedom. Moses had to deal with his own inadequacies, an oppressive government, and slaves who weren’t so sure about gaining freedom. He ultimately prevailed because of God’s persistence and help. In America, many of those who escaped slavery did so because of their focus on God and on education. These people became leaders in the fight against slavery or the post war fight to maintain the rights of free people. One of the main weapons in the fight to maintain those rights and to keep people from falling back into the grips of more oppression was education. As you read lists of leaders in Black History a common thread occurs: they were either involved in education as educators or they availed themselves of newly found educational opportunities. Another common thread was their faith in Jesus Christ: Matthew Gaines was a preacher as well.
One of the problems the Israelites had was that they kept wandering back towards slavery. They remembered having enough food, probably like we remember the “good old days” which weren’t so good. They sought the gods of Egypt when they didn’t think God was answering them. Moses, and other leaders, had to overcome those attitudes. We have created a de facto slavery today where people of all colors have lost the desire to gain an education and to succeed. Often, those who seek success are attacked. I remember that while teaching, one of the worst insults was to call another kid a “schoolboy.” Even more than what we see in the public schools, we see that kids have little or no knowledge of God. In today’s world, teaching about Jesus and calling out for kids to get an education is truly revolutionary. It requires involvement in our churches and in our schools. You can make a difference. Will you?
Oh Lord, there are so many people living in slavery today. They live in slavery to their sin. Use me to help them know Your mercy and grace. They live in slavery to ignorance. Use me to help others realize the need to educate all people and help them to think. You, Lord, are truth. Help us to reveal truth in all we do.