Review: Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay by Marcus Rediker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On one level, this graphic novel has struck a spark in me to find out even more about its subject, Benjamin Lay, an 18th-century abolitionist Quaker.  Born in England and raised in the Quaker religion, Lay challenges the hypocrisy of Quaker leadership who at the time still profited and made use of slaves.  Throughout his life, he is chased out of Quaker communities and ends up in Pennsylvania.  Continually dismissed for his ideas (and likely discrimination for his kyphosis--extreme-forward curving of the back), he challenges Quakers to align their beliefs with their actions.  While he does not see the fruit of his labor, his lifetime of work and humble living (literally living in a cave on a vegetarian diet) inspires younger Quakers and has a lingering effect in many Quakers abandoning and rejecting the supposed necessity of slavery in the 1800s.  The sketching linework coupled with some (black and white) watercoloring more often enhances the story, with the sketch work communicating action and emotion while the sections of watercolor capture dialogue and story progression.  It's a powerful tale that will linger with readers because at the center of the story is the fact that people knew racialized slavery was inhuman and wrong and people at the time said it, but it still took generations for that change to happen.  In the contemporary world, where folks seem to think we cannot hold the past to high standards (under the idea that they didn't know better), Lay's tale reminds us that they most certainly did know better but chose to do wrong instead.  If the book has a drawback, it is that it can at times not provide enough clarity and detail. There are moments when gaps in years happen and it's unclear how Lay's story progresses in these gaps, so it can feel like we're only getting a part of the story.  Still, that part of the story is enough to fuel interest in learning much more.  

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