A wise word on living up to full potential, right where we are today, in order to move forward to a better place; ideally, it could be mental, physical, spiritual, or financial simultaneously, but attaining one will lead to others.
The children were crying, wrapped in chains and manacles, covered in scars from when they’d first resisted.
They didn’t resist now. They couldn’t if they wanted to; they were hungry and tired from their long journey.
The slavers let them sleep, but didn’t feed them for a few nights, though they kept them in drugged water. In days they were gaunt, bedraggled, and dejected.
After five days, they gave them scraps, and watched them pummel, kick, and bite each other for an extra piece, laughing and betting.
After ten days, when they began nearing the city, they fattened the kids who survived the fighting up with full meals to make a decent presentation at auction, and peace reigned in the camp once more, for a time.
A day’s ride out from the city gates, the slavers woke to find their sentries dead, and the children gone. A dark figure in a broad brimmed hat stood among them as they approached him in a circle, their leader stepping forward, his own knife drawn, to confront the silent intruder, who had his head down inside the hood that hid his face.
“You have until a minute ago to bring those brats back, or tell me where they are.”
The figure, his eyes hidden by the brim, gave an enigmatic smile, and then he lifted his eyes, and looked at the slaver.
The slaver’s skin sloughed off his body in a red, wet heap, and his flesh and bones sagged like sludge, collapsing in red, gory mound, spreading out in a pool of meat and guts and bone.
He heard the sound of men crying out, vomiting, shouting, cursing, praying, and finally, running.
In less than a minute the camp stood abandoned.
The figure turned to go, when the curtain on the leader’s tent parted, and a dark-haired young girl of some twelve or fourteen summers emerged. She looked at the pile of flesh that had only last night claimed her maidenhead, and left her crying and bruised, then she looked at the figure.
“Who are you, mister?”
“My name,” he said, as he removed his hat and bowed to her, “is Cane. Come with me, and I’ll take you to the others.”
Having nowhere to go now, she put out the last of the campfire, and walked toward him, stopping to spit on the red, stinking rubble of her rapist, gave her hand to Cane, and the two of them left the camp without looking back.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
“They did not take slaves from Africa; they took people from Africa, and made them slaves.”
For years, they brought them out like Christmas decorations, only it was February: Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the ever-ubiquitous Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong.
No one but my father ever spoke of those with more militant stances, more edgy, prickly points of view: Eldridge Cleaver (Iceberg Slim) Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale (founders of the Black Panthers) Malcolm X before his renouncing of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad, and Imiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).
I did not know of the brilliant, biting edge of James Baldwin, the struggles of Josephine Baker, the strength and vulnerability of the tragic, plaintive-voiced Billie Holiday, the towering courage of Paul Robeson and the fiery Vernon Jordan.
These figures made people ‘afraid’ and ‘uncomfortable.’
We learned that 6 million Jews died and saw films on the horrors of the Holocaust, but as black children we were not taught about the 9 million Africans who died on the journey across the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing lane called the Middle Passage, where slaves still chained together were tossed overboard, either deliberately to lighten cargo, or jumped willingly in order to die free, or just because they didn’t survive, but neither did we learn about Nat Turner (except that he led a rebellion and died, as if that was all there was to know) or the legal victory of the black men of the HMS Amistad.
And over the years, we learned the stories of our annual decorations. We saw films on the Civil Rights movement taking place in the south, having no idea those attitudes existed in the north, and given no awareness through our history textbooks that it was a global truth, if not universal:
Dark skin is evil.
It didn’t matter what form of evil, because all sorts of stories were concocted based generally around these two principals: Black was unclean, White was pure. Black was inferior, White was superior.
Yet, I was taught in science class that in the spectrum, black is the absence of color, and white contained them all. Why were we being persecuted for something we were not?
When I sang, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, until fourth grade I did not know my fathers died differently, I believed that Pilgrims and Indians lived in harmony. When I sang America the Beautiful, I did not know that its Natives had been stripped of their dignity, slaughtered like sheep, ravaged like Sabine virgins, and tossed aside as rubble.
I didn’t even know that as low as they were, they still owned Black men and women.
I was taught that the Quakers helped slaves escape to Canada to freedom. I have learned, only recently, that it was not so. There were slaves in Canada, too, and some who were free, were sold back.
Long buried in the archives of old libraries lay the story of my people, the mixing of my own ancestry, not just here in America, but across the world, doomed to die dusty deaths in the recessed shadows of long abandoned archives, unless one truly took the time to unearth them.
And then the Internet came, and grew, and evolved, and the archives were dredged and lovingly sorted, restored, and made available. And I learned that far more Black people achieved great things in the face of impossible odds and incredible oppression: denied admission, having no transportation, being ripped off, gutting of project financing, threats of death, and they kept going and became pilots and doctors, nurses and teachers, judges and lawmen, cowboys and business owners, so many, many names bubbling out of the soil after so much blood soaked in…
Their vision was clear and focused, their drive to succeed unstoppable, unshakable, and unswerving.
And all, all, having one common thread: ancestors brought here not to live, but to work, as commodities, not people, as beasts, and not men.
And they survived.
And I do indeed live here now, a free man in America, because of their sacrifice and vision, not limited to twenty-eight days in a government building. The storehouse is mine to visit, whenever I choose:
These are just a few of the storerooms available online these days, rich with information. If you would gain some perspective, I invite you to celebrate with us, and not just for the month.
There are no ‘colored only’ signs on these doors….
They have to be invited in
After they ring the bell
I did, but didn’t know she’d make
my life a living hell
And ever when they lie with you
They lie to you as well
I thought the difference would be plain
But no, I couldn’t tell.
She left a desiccated heart
Inside a broken shell
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
They Have to be Invited In
All rights reserved
The volume at work had picked up, and I neglected my blog…But I’m back now, and here to stay….
“Wait here,” Alfred said. “I have something to do way over there. I’ll be back for you.”
Do you promise?
“Yes, of course. I started out with you, so why would I leave you?”
He laughed, took its hand, and kissed it lightly on the tip of its nose.
“Yes, it does, to other blogs. It won’t happen to you.”
Very well, Alfred. I’ll wait here for you.
And Alfred left it, looking plaintively but hopefully at him as he turned to wave goodbye; it gave him a brave, if tremulous smile, and waved half-heartedly, wanting to believe…
And way led on to way, as the poem says.
The blog tried on its own to be good, to be relevant, to be vital and important, to be witty and charming, but without a fresh infusion, its health waned, and the visitors who came to see it didn’t stay long, and soon…
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The holiday season was difficult without her. Her absence was keenly felt by all of us, but we honored her memory, and made it through.
The following story is for my cousin, Saadia, who passed away suddenly back in July. When we were kids, she had a library of children’s stories from around the world; for whatever reason, the Spanish tales were her favorite, though we’re not a Spanish family. I think she just liked the language, and the rhythm of the writing, but mostly, she liked hearing me read them.
We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, so this is, in a way, a tribute tale for her, from my own imagination; my candle, if you will. I think she would’ve liked it.
I hope you do too.
Maria sat on the steps of her home, her sweater folded into a cushion, her left leg curled beneath her. The setting sun lit her face and hair with a soft glow.
Autumn colors filled her eyes, and a bittersweet sadness twinged in her heart…
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