This week’s #WOW555 prompt was write from the perspective of a character who is not free while others are celebrating their independence and, at the same time, they somehow become reunited with someone unexpected. Especially given the recent discussion on the Confederate Flag issue, my thoughts were drawn to the Confederacy. Let’s be honest: I grew up in the north. While not seeking to absolve the north of racism, because we had plenty of it, when I moved to the south and saw Confederate flags (before the internet mind you) they were usually on bumper stickers that said, “The South’s gonna do it again!” or some other such language. All I could think of was, “What? The South is gonna fight a losing war for a horrible idea again?” (To those who would argue the concept of “state’s rights” for this issue, let me refer you to this link.) The setting of the story is some southern plantation in March 1861 after the Constitution of the Confederacy was adopted.
That being said, I had a very difficult time with this story for many reasons; not the least of which was my use of language that I abhor. It was used because of an attempt to be as authentic as possible for the setting of the story.
“Oh Clyde, more wine. My guests’ glasses are almost empty and I’d like to make a special toast,” my master said.
I nodded demurely and quickly refilled the glasses. Years of self-preservation had taught me to avoid revealing my emotions, so the anger didn’t show. “Yes Marse Johnson,” I said.
He looked at me and sniffed contemptuously. “Gentlemen! This day will live in history. Today with the adoption of the Constitution, you will be able to tell your grandchildren that you were here at the birth of the Confederacy. To freedom!” He raised his glass and drank deeply. They all applauded.
I kept my feelings in check. Anything else could have brought me a severe whipping – or worse. James, who had held my job previously, got whipped because he didn’t look happy enough when he was serving Marse Johnson dinner one night. The next night, I had the job. I made sure that Marse Johnson thought I was happy.
I had missed some of what Marse Johnson had been saying. “…now take Clyde here…” he said.
“Yassir?” I asked.
Marse Johnson looked me, disgusted at first and then he laughed. “See what I mean? These niggers can’t understand how to get along in day to day living. If we freed them like the Yankees want they’d be in a sorry state without us. Ain’t that right, boy?” He stared at me, waiting for an answer.
“Yassir,” I said, glad that my skin hid the shame I was feeling. “Thank you for taking such good care of me, sir,” I added. I hoped they wouldn’t note my sarcasm.
Marse Johnson didn’t think I was capable of sarcasm. He smiled smugly. “That’s a good boy. I’ll take care of you, boy.” He looked at the others. “The cheapest way to get more niggers is to let them breed among themselves.” He turned back to me. “Clyde, I’ve bought you a wife.” He motioned towards the door as a frightened black girl less than half my age was shoved through.
I recognized her. I fought my emotions. Marse Johnson went over to her and pulled her head up roughly so that she had to look at me. “I’m gonna call you Tonya. Look at your new husband, Tonya. I want you to have lots of babies for me.” He laughed.
Her eyes widened as she recognized me. My look warned her to be quiet. She was so young that she hadn’t developed any defenses yet.
“Well, Clyde, what do you say? Shall we show your new bride off to my friends?”
I knew what he had in mind. “Sir, she’s new. I would hate for her to embarrass you. Please allow me to train,” I almost slipped, “uh… her so that you may present her properly.”
Marse Johnson smiled. “Good sense for a nigger, Clyde. Go ahead. My friends and I will talk so we don’t need you right now. Take your bride to your room and start the training.”
“Yassir,” I said, trying to avoid trembling. I walked away holding Tonya by the elbow. As soon as we were out of earshot I whispered to her, “Never tell anyone that I’m your father. I’ll figure something out!”
Of course, I don’t know of anything like this actually happening. That being said, the horrendous way families were broken up in the slave trade, I can imagine this being possible. I can even imagine that something like this could have happened without anyone recognizing it.