Author: Freddi Williams Evans
Illustrator: Erin Bennett Banks
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Audience: Grades 2-4 (grades 4-5 in my opinion)
Summary: Before the war between the states slaves were generally forbidden to gather because owners feared that they might plot rebellion. At work in the cotton fields the message would be whispered, “Meetin’ tonight” and passed along the rows of slaves who would then gather for prayer and worship that night in secret. Hush Harbor is the account of such a meeting when slaves meet to pray for Mama Aku who is sick. Simmy, a boy assigned the job of look-out, narrates the event. Slaves at work in the field anticipate the secret meeting and begin to hum and sing, “Steal Away, Steal Away to Jesus.” Hush Harbor is a place deep in the woods where the slaves pray and worship in the way they want to, not as their white owners want them to. Simmy, perched in a tree while the people sing and pray, hears hounds baying and knows trouble is near. The paterollers and their dogs are out seeking a runaway slave but they are very near the meeting. The slaves encounter the runaway and guide him to a safe hiding place, then return quietly and quickly to their cabins..
Literary elements at work in the story: This isn’t quite a story; it’s more of a slice of life told by a boy of perhaps eight or nine. And it’s not quite told in dialect but consonants are dropped and words are omitted. The event is fully supported by strong, rather primitive art work that brings the night, the forest, the secret place and the worshipers to life. The author gives a brief history of religion among African-Americans in antebellum days at the conclusion of the book. The subject, the illustrations, and the text make this book appropriate for older children.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Race dominates the story. The cultural differences in white and African-American worship are significant.
Theological Conversation Partners: Two facts stand out in this narrative: slavery was a cruel and oppressive evil and faith in Jesus, once adopted and adapted by slaves, was a source of joy and comfort to them. Jesus’ statement about worship (John 4:23-4) will inform any discussion of worship, in this case the Pentecostal aspects of the slave’s worship compared with the more liturgical worship of the white churches. The courage it took to worship God as they chose is a reminder of the courage it still takes today around the world to worship. And scripture abounds with the promises of comfort and strength for those who follow Jesus: John 14:27, 16:23; Philippians 4:13; Psalm 23, 145:18,19. Jesus’ admonition to “pray in secret” (Math. 6:5) doesn’t fit this situation but a profitable discussion of his meaning and the slave practice could arise. African slaves first heard the gospel through white people and slave owners, yet the truth of the gospel transcended this beginning. What part did black churches and the gospel play in emancipation and in the Civil Rights movement?
Faith Talk Questions:
- How did the slaves feel about going to a secret meeting? Do you or most of the people you know feel that way about going to worship?
- What part did music play in the lives of the slaves? Did you recognize any of the songs?
- What facts tell you how hard the life of a slave was?
- Why did the slaves have to meet in secret? What was the penalty if they were caught?
- How was the worship of the slaves different from the worship in the white churches? Is there one right way to worship God? What did Jesus say about true worship?
- African-American’s first heard the gospel through white people and slave owners. Why did they accept it? How did it affect their lives?
- What part did black churches play in the Civil Rights movement?
This review was written by regular contributor and Union Presbyterian Seminary graduate Virginia Thomas.
Hush Harbor by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.