Yesterday in the beautiful LaBoiteaux Woods Nature Preserve & Center in College Hill, Ohio, I walked among the ancestors, among the trees and plants, alongside the ravine, through the tunnels, in the valley and up the hill with the Cincinnati Off-trail Urban Hikers, my mind kept returning to the historical significance of these woods and their connection to the Underground Railroad.
After I soaked my feet and picked the thorns from my clothing, I researched the history of LaBoiteaux Woods. That’s how I stumbled across Betty Ann Smiddy’s book, “A Little Piece of Paradise College Hill, Ohio,” where she recounts an 1882 letter from Harriet Wilson to Wilbur Siebert that describes the woods eloquently:
“They seemed gifted with a kind of magnetic power, which, with their grips and pass words, drew those of different localities together, making them choose the least travelled ways and the deep shadowed ravines and valleys lying on each side of our beautiful hill, soon seemed to be the popular route chosen by the wayfarers.”
As I continued to read more and more reference documents, I thought about Labor Day and the millions of African men, women and children sold into labor, beaten and killed for their labor, forced to give labor and endured unthinkable cruelty. I thought about how thousands of “good” people hunted and captured other humans to preserve the institution of slavery or, as they framed it, “uphold Law and Order.”
I started to imagine the untold stories in those woods—the memories held by the land, the trees, the soil, the ravine, the sun and the moon. What does Nature remember? How can she bear such ugly truth and continue to produce such beautiful life?
What started as a simple walk in a local park turned into so much more. It became a time to reflect, to honor, to breathe and to reckon with the ugly truths of both our past and our present labor practices. For just like the land, the trees, the soil the ravine, the sun and the moon, we—the wayfarers or travelers of this earth—must remember. We must not accept the reality of America’s “labor” system today: growing pay inequities, deteriorating emotional and physical work conditions and environments, and classist systems that impoverish millions of families with members working 40+ hours a week.
Instead, we must harness the magnetic power that we, like Nature herself, have. We must gather together with those from different locales, from around the nation and world, to transform new paths of justice and liberty into popular routes upon which all can travel in safety, joy and wonder.
Happy Labor Day!