A Burning Desire for Equality

Diana Alvarez, guest writer


The day of the accident: April 12, 1865 began like any other day to me. I rose from my comfy bed and made my way to my window. I opened it allowing the beautiful spring breeze to fill my room with the scent of the flowers in our orchard garden. I inhaled deeply, feeling genuinely happy. My brother had finally arrived home from the long war that no one had ever dreamed would take longer than three months. Instead, four years later, the terrible battle came to an end; however, not without taking the lives of about 620,000 men who fought boldly for their homeland that they had pledged their allegiance to.

The Civil War officially began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.  However, the inevitable controversy within the nation began earlier. The crux of the disagreements between the North and South affiliated with one moral issue that had quickly expanded throughout the country: slavery. Obviously, the North was filled with abolitionists like my family who believed in equality-equality that was given to us by our wonderful Creator that made us in His image. Due to this fact, I couldn’t understand why so many people believed otherwise. I stood firm with my abolitionist family who strongly opposed the idea contrived by the South that slaves were property; therefore, the federal government had no right to interfere with the slaves.

The South pushed for slavery until the election of 1860 abruptly stopped their progress. With the victory of the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, the South felt like they had lost all influence over the matter. Consequently, they turned to the only option they thought appropriate: “. . . secession, a political decision that led directly to war” (Pbs.org). The war that had drained the life out of our wonderful nation. The war that had divided my home state of Virginia. The war that had forced my strong abolitionist family to migrate to the new state of West Virginia due to our beliefs in abolition. But on April 9th, the surrender of Lee’s troops to General Grant at the Appomattox courthouse allowed the nation to breathe a sigh of relief. No more war.

Returning from my thoughts, I quickly got dressed in my pastel blue gown in preparation for the big event that day. The entire Duffey family was having a gathering at Granddad’s estate to celebrate the return of our family members who had participated in the war. When Papa, Mama, my older brother Michael, my little sister Maria, and I arrived at the celebration, we were clearly the last ones to arrive, given that everyone was already gathered at the table ready to enjoy the meal. We spent the day enjoying laughter, games, and stories in the company of each other. When the day came to a close, my immediate family and I decided to take a train ride home. Little did I know that after this train ride I, Catherine Duffey, would never be the same.

The accident: The train ride began like any other. Papa and Mama had a conversation with fellow church friends while my siblings and I laughed with one other. All of a sudden we were all violently jerked from our seats. Simultaneously, we heard a painful screech that seemed to never end. I felt a huge blow to my lower back as all the commotion occurred. When the dreadful sound stopped, everyone knew that the train had crashed. Papa, who fumbled to stand, scanned everyone to make sure we were well, but then noticed me at the same instant mama did.

“Catherine, are you injured sweetheart?” Papa desperately asked.

“Oh my baby,” cried Mama.

All I heard were the wails coming from Mama as Papa’s gentle yet stern words attempted to calm her down. All I felt was excruciating pain in the lower part of my back as I laid motionless on the ground of the train. All I remember thinking during the accident that altered my life forever was the simple phrase that my parents had always told me to hold dearly to my heart: I am saved by the Lamb’s precious blood. And then, against my will, my eyes closed shut.

At the hospital: I slowly woke up to a muttered voice around me. Consciously, I made sure my eyes remained closed. I instantly knew that it was Papa’s masculine voice in a hushed whisper saying a prayer while Mama occasionally sniffled. “Lord, we ask that you give us peace in this time of trouble. Let us feel your presence. Please be with our little Catherine whom we love so dearly. In your name we pray, amen.”

“Amen,” I managed to say. I looked around the hospital room and was happy to see my loved ones present. Papa and Mama stood above me on either sides of the bed while Michael and Maria slept on chairs located in a corner of the room. Mama kissed me repeatedly and fixed my wild hair. After her, Papa kissed me gently on my forehead and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“My lower back hurts,” I replied in a soft tone. Instantly, they exchanged glances that let me know that something extreme had happened to me.

“Please tell me,” I pleaded, feeling like a child again.

“You injured your spinal cord in the train wreck darling,” Mama muttered with her hands to her mouth but not able to continue speaking.

“What your mother is trying to say honey,” Papa continued,” is that you now have paraplegia.” In that moment my world ceased. How would I live the rest of my life as a paraplegic? How would I be able to help my family in the abolition movement if I couldn’t walk? Could I still help the cause?  I quickly snapped out of my thoughts and tried to be strong for my parents. While holding back the tears I muttered, “It’s going to be all right.” My parents stared at me in awe and grabbed my hands letting me know that it was okay to cry. Instantly, I let go of all of my pain through an ocean of tears as I felt their arms wrap around me. After a few seconds, I noticed more arms join our warm hug and knew that my family was present to support me. It was at that moment that I realized that all of the love and support that I needed to accomplish anything in life, no matter the obstacles -including paraplegia- were right there in the people I loved the most.

            My journey with paraplegia begins: Still at the hospital on April 14, 1865, I stared at the newspaper headlines in amazement. I was shocked to see that the leader of our nation was no longer alive. After all his hard work of attempting to unify our nation, he was assassinated by a ” . . . Confederate sympathizer. . .” who nursed a “. . . pathological hatred for Lincoln and the North” (O’Reilly). This news brought me much sorrow, but it gave me even more determination to achieve my goal.

President Lincoln was a determined man whose goal was to unify the country and he planned to do everything in his power to achieve that unity no matter the obstacles he would have to face. My goal was to bring people to the realization that everyone was created equal and that the social system of slavery was morally wrong. If the citizens of this country would learn that principle, we would live in harmony with one another. Unlike Lincoln’s obstacles, which were the Confederates and the system of slavery, my obstacle was paraplegia. However, like Lincoln, I had determined in my heart that I would strive to achieve my goal no matter the obstacles until the day I breathed my last.

May 20: After being in the comfort of my own room for quite sometime, I began to ponder on my life. With guidance from my Heavenly Father, I had made a big decision on what I intended to do. Due to the fact that I could no longer attend the abolitionist meetings to draw people to our movement, I decided to reach the minds of my fellow Americans through writing. Like the great William Lloyd Garrison, who had become the author of a popular abolition newspaper, I intended to inspire people to understand the injustice of slavery, so that with one state of mind we would be in accord. I hoped to make a difference with whatever the Lord allowed me to do for Him.

June 16: With constant writing in my room and nonstop prayer, I finally began to see results. About two weeks after I began to write, Papa contacted one of his publisher friends and asked him to give me a column in his newspaper for my work. After reading several of my articles, Papa’s friend gladly agreed to include them. Every week Mama would bring the newspaper up to my room and my parents, along with my siblings would read my column while enjoying Mama’s fresh baked cookies.

September 17: Another result occurred one day when Mama came rushing in my room with a letter written to me from a young girl named Sophia. As I read the letter my eyes began to fill with tears. “You are making a difference sweetheart,” Mama said when she saw that I had finished reading. This girl described her appreciation for me because of how I opened her eyes to the injustice of slavery with my articles. Right then I realized that with God’s help I could overcome the restraints of paraplegia by making a difference through my writing.

Victory is reached: My family was all gathered in the family room when Papa gave us the splendid news. “The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 13, 1865,” (Iowa) that abolished slavery in America. I was filled with joy to know that all the hard work put into the abolition movement had finally paid off. Our nation could now begin to rebuild once again into the free and unified land that our founding fathers destined it to be.


Works Cited

Iowa General Assembly. Gilderlehrman.org. The Gilder Lehrman Institue of American History,  2009-2016. Web. March 30, 2016.

O’Reilly, Bill. Killing Lincoln: the shocking assassination that changed America forever. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011. Print.

Pbs.org. History Detectives Special Investigations, 2003-2014. Web. March 30, 2016.


Langtree, Ian. “What is paraplegia.” Disabled World Towards Tomorrow. 2010. Web. March 28, 2016.

Powell, John. The 19th Century. Salem: Salem Press, 2007. Print.

“The Civil War In West Virginia.” West Virginia Archives and History.2015. Web. March 28,2016.