FoundlingReview

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A white man stopped by today. Said the government hired him to talk
to us ex-slaves about those times way back when. With so many out of
work in this Depression we got now, a job's a job, I reckon. Sat on
my porch and wanted me to tell him about those terrible days, get it
recollected down on paper while there's still time, he said. Like I
would tell some white man the truth about slavery. Could've been Jim
Crow hisself sitting there for all I know.

No, I didn't say much about the pattyrollers chasing runaways around
the countryside with dogs, or overseers with whips and chains, or the
way mothers out in the fields keep they heads down and pray not to be
separated from they children when speculators come round buying us up
by the wagon load.

No, but I did tell him a little bit. How, after my mama'd been sold
off, Master Jim's daddy gave me to him when he was only three and I
was but five. My job from then on was to watch after him and be his
companion, except of course I didn't go to school with him. They
didn't want none of us to learn to read and write, but Master Jim
took me out in the woods on Sundays after church and taught me
anyway. Then he gave me a little Bible to read, but it got away from
me a long time ago.

Later, when the war for emancipation came, his company voted him
captain, though he was still just a boy. I went with him and cooked
and kept his camp and tended the wounded.

After about a year, the Johnny Rebs got so wore down, I knew the
South was done for. Finally, one sunny day over in Louisiana, I
looked down the valley and saw more Yankees coming than I ever knew
existed. I heard the drums and then the Yankee bugles sounded and
they come screaming and running straight toward our rifle pits a half
mile down the hill from me. Guns fired all along the line and our
cavalry swept in from the side but they got swallowed up. The Yankees
just kept coming until men was killing each other in the pits.

By late afternoon, bodies were laid out all over the field, and two
soldiers brought Master Jim up the hill out of the smoke and haze,
shot through both lungs. There wasn't nothing I could do but hold his
head up and try to keep him comfortable while he wheezed and moaned.
It was a mercy when he finally stopped breathing. I prayed for the
South to lose but, Lord, not for Master Jim's terrible death.

That day marked the end of the Southerners. They had no real army
afterwards, just small bands of men trying to keep alive, and soon as
I could, I headed home to my so-called freedom.

Right after the war the Ku Klux started up and things was real bad
for a long while, what with the lynchings and the fiery crosses and
all. Still bad today, truth be told, all these many years later. But
I knew no white man wanted to hear me complain about my troubles
today, so I didn't say nothing about that. Not a word.



Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country with his wife and two yellow Labs. He writes mostly short pieces and
has been published here and there. He edits Camroc Press Review at www.camrocpressreview.com


 


I've done several oral histories of World War II veterans and almost always there's some initial distrust to overcome. Yet, the slave narratives I've read that were collected in the 1930s rarely mention anything like that happening. It's one of the dynamics I wanted to convey in this story.

 





  


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