Friday, July 25, 2008

Three Old Black Men

Three old black men, sitting by their fire on the shores of the Mississippi.
The year is 1865,a few months after the end of what some called the Civil War.
They don't need the fire to keep warm its still hot at early evening in the far south.They are glad for the fire to keep the mosquito's away and to cook the last of the nutria they had caught the day before.
John,32 being born near the spot where they were now eating did not feel at ease.Knowing they could be be looking for him made him aware of every sound from the woods.John had talked to a white woman in the city,she thought it was inappropriate and it might have been so.He did not have the sense of knowing his place,so they often told him on the farm.
He could out run just about anybody,but the dogs they used are to fast,and show no mercy.
Isa was older he thought he was maybe 45,but he didn't really know or care much.Surviving was the only thing,and he did it quite well.He also was aware of sounds from the woods,unconsciously perhaps,but very aware.His crimes were escaping,aiding and guiding others north.His health was now poor and he could no longer run so well.Infections did not heal with no medicines.
Martin was so old now he was amazed he was still alive.His friends thought he might be 70,a very old age for a black man in 1865.
His quick wits were what kept him around so long.Martin knew things,he knew enough about life to keep him from capture for many years.He had been caught twice,whipped,beaten and left in the cotton fields for dead.
He had been married in the slave tradition,had about 15 children with several women,10 of them sons.All would be raised on the plantation,7 survived into their 30's.3 had died in infancy,4 had been sold off.
He loved all his kids and missed them greatly.The times when they were young was the best.They needed to start picking the cotton at age 5,he taught them how to survive,how to become invisible to the masters.It was important never to be seen,never to be noticed,never cause trouble.
The three had come together in New Orleans,it was possible to find work on the docks for 10 cents a day,more money then any had ever had.The nights had to be spent away from the city,they were hunted then.Days they were mostly left alone,they were needed at the docks and the slavers learned a bribe from the dock owners was sometime more profitable then a reward for a run-away.
Plans were never made for any future,what plans could they make?There was only survival for the day.
Isa always liked to sing,they could if they were quiet.The others joined in old hymns they had learned by some older grandmother who had some understanding that music brought some peace,a small escape in the daily life.
Isa would sing to himself if no one joined but tonight was peaceful,not to hot and the others felt somewhat safe tonight.
Martin had an understanding of the Gospel,but never figured out what it did for others who had that peace.
John understood and had a deep reverence for God and was afraid of some of the old spirit witches,left over and kept secret from African days.Masters seldom knew of these witches and were congratulating themselves for teaching the ignorant about Christ's love.
All three had heard about the proclamation of freedom.They thought the masters had not heard,or didn't care about any ol Linkun.
Lincoln was dead now anyway,how could laws be enforced when he was gone.They knew little of President Johnson,but he had not talked to them anyway.
Of the three Isa had leaned his letters and could add a little,he had some kinder masters wives who had insisted the slaves be taught something.They could improve their lot in life by learning something.They could perhaps become foreman in the fields.They could learn to count bales,count people working in the close by areas and help keep track of who was working and who was slacking.
Isa had heard about the cities in the north where a man was treated as a man.Where freedom was understood to be for all.He understood little about the realities of the cities but wanted nothing more to leave the south.
He told his two companions of his plans to go up north,he told them a man could make a dollar a day for his labor.He told them women were waiting for them,it was like picking cotton,east pickens.He told them of the snow,the cold winters he had heard about.This was unimaginable to them and they did not really believe much of what he said.
He must have been convincing because the 2 looked up with fascination,this man knew something about a life far away from here.As he spoke they asked about life there,could they really live there? Could anyone go in the cities?
more to come

Part 2
Gradually over the next few days the danger from the slave catchers became more scary to the 3.
The bribes the slavers were to the point of not being worth the trouble to the dock foreman.
It was time to move,to leave the south quickly.
Another danger they became aware of was the Confederate soldiers returning home.Some took trains, a few stole horses and many just walked back.
These soldiers were in a desperate position,they had no compassion if they came across blacks or it was worse if they were runaways.
The soldiers released from Camp Douglass in Chicago were angry,frustrated,hungry and in no mood for any compassion.Over 6,000 of their brothers were buried there,in a mass grave.Later these soldiers were dug up and re-buried further south in another mass grave.Chicago was developing its lake front and needed the room,so they simply moved the bodies.
The mound can be seen at Oakwood Cemetery on the south side of the city.The Confederate grave site was basically unmarked for about 25 years until the 1890's when a group of former Confederates who lived in the Chicago area raised money to build a monument.
Isa had known a few abolitionists in his short time as a runaway.On his masters farm he had overheard conversations.The visits of the abolitionists to his masters plantations were rare but he knew who they were and what they wanted.
Most were there doing business with Master Thompson and need his cotton.They would also mention they wanted him to get away from the slave trade soon.
When Isa told his friends they need to make plans to go north they were ready to go as soon as they could.They had no life in the deep south.
Where to go,how to get there,or anywhere was the questions now.Little sleep for the next days as they packed what they could.Pooling their meager change they had about 3 dollars.
They could buy food along the way,steal what they could and hope they would not be caught.
Isa thought of cousins he had helped send to Springfield,Illinois.That might be the place to go.They could not just move,they knew little of the north.Little of the reality of the trip could be taken into consideration.Nothing could prepare them for traveling so far.Perhaps it was a thousand miles,perhaps ten thousand.They were no maps,no compasses for them to help them find the way.
Isa would be the leader,even with his crippled body,he was the only hope.Martin and John would have to trust him.
Only Isa had a vague idea where north was.He had been as far as Alexandria in Louisiana picking up other slaves with his master.
He had seen cities with thousands of people and he thought they could move through the cities with animinoty,The countryside was what worried him more.
The three began their journey on a very hot day in the middle of August.They had no idea what date it was,nor even the month.No education was a curse on the blacks in this time.
They only knew it was hot,and time to move on.
more to come

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