Come closer. This is not a story to go down easy, and the backwash
still got hold of us today. The history of a family. The history
of a country. From bondage to the joy of freedom, and
almost ten hopeful years drinking up the promise of Reconstruction, and
then back into the darkness, so fearsome don't nobody want to talk
about the scary time. Don't nobody want to remember even now,
decades removed, now things better some. Why stir up all that old mess
from way back in 1873? I don't hold with that point of view. I was
there, watching, like all the women done, up close some of the time but
mostways from a distance. They all dead and buried now. I outlast each
one, using up my time on earth and some of theirs too. One hundred
last birthday, trapped in this wasted body. All I do now is remember and
pray the story don't get lost forever. It woulda suit Lucy fine, everybody
forgetting. Lucy and me, that the only thing we usta argue about, when
we was both clear-minded and had more juice to work up, but those
talks never last too long. She just shut her mouth and shut her mind,
refusing the truth. I still got heat around the subject, but where to put it
now? Lucy gone last year. She turn one hundred five before she left this
earth. Was two of us held on for such a long time, me and Lucy. Outlasting
our men-our husbands, our sons, even some grandsons. We all
had it hard, but the men, they had it worse, 'specially those what come
up on life from the front. Women is the long-livers at the base of the
Tademy family tree.
They don't teach 1873 at the colored school. Wasn't for my husband, wouldn't be no colored school for Colfax, Louisiana. That the kind of man Sam Tademy was. Could carry a vision in his head and stick to it no matter what the discouragement. Some men good providers, got a way with the soil or a trade. Some men been given a singing voice take you to glory, or magic in they bodies to move in dance and make you feel alive. Some men so pretty you gaze on them with hunger, or so smooth they get hold of words and make you believe any nonsense come out they mouth. Some got the gift to make you laugh out loud, and others preach strong and spread the word of God. My man, Sam, he quiet after his own way, look after his family, not afraid of the tug of the plow. He done some preaching, and some teaching, but always thinking about the rest of the colored. Not wanting to get too far ahead without pulling forward everyone else willing to work hard at the same time. Education mean everything to that man. Once he set his head on a colored school in Colfax, wasn't nothing could crush the notion. He mortgage his own sons to the plan, and it come to pass.
We been writ out the history of this town. They got a metal marker down to the courthouse tell a crazy twisting of what really happen Easter Sunday sixty year ago. The ones with the upper hand make a story fit how they want, and tell it so loud people tricked to thinking it real, but writing down don't make it so. The littlest colored child in Colfax, Louisiana, know better than to speak the truth of that time out loud, but the real stories somehow carry forward, generation to generation. Those of us what was there catch a retold whisper, and just the mention got the power to stir up those old troubles in our minds again like they fresh, and the remembering lay a clamp over our hearts. But we need to remember. Truth matters. What our colored men try to do for the rest of us in Colfax matter. They daren't be forgot. We women keep the wheel spinning, birthing the babies and holding together a decent home to raise them in. We take care of them what too young or too old to take care of theyself, while our menfolks does battle how they got to in a world want to see them broke down and tame.
Was a time we thought we was free and moving up. When forty acres and a mule seem not only possible but due. First we was slave, then we was free, and the white call it Reconstruction. We had colored politicians. Yes, we did. It was our men vote them in, before the voting right get snatched away. We losing that sense of history, and it seem wrong to me. Young ones today, they don't carry memory of our colored men voting. Like those ten years of fiery promise burn down and only leave a small gray pile of ash under the fireplace grate, and don't nobody remember the flame. Not like the locals made it easy, but we had our rights then, by law. We was gonna change the South, be a part of the rebuilding after the War Between the States. We owned ourself and was finding our voice to speak up. Some on both sides of the color line talked about us going too fast. No matter how hard times got then, when wasn't food enough for the table and the debt growed too fast to pay off at the general store, or a homegrown pack of the White League terrorize us or string up one of our men to keep us in our place, still our hearts and heads swole up with the possibilities of Reconstruction. Our men was citizens. We had the prospect of owning a piece of land for ourself. Ten years. Don't seem so long when you reach over one hundred years in your own life, but more hope and dreams in those ten years than the slave years come before or the terror years after. Back then hope was a personal friend, close to hand. Seem anything could happen. Seem we was on a road to be a real part of America at last.
Copyright © 2007 by Lalita Tademy
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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