There are some books that cause me to pull out the pen and post it notes and start underlining.
The Wake of the Wind by J. California Cooper is just such a book.
I am still studying it, making parallels in it from what I know of history and even another book I am reading for book club, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
It is in the studying that I am pausing to share an except from the voice of one of the central characters. Mor is talking to his children, twin sons and young daughter, about white men. His discourse as well as the questions of "why" by his sons are some of the same questions I have. Why, simply why do white men hate us so much? Why did they rape our women and murder our men or imprison them from the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was declared? Why have they feared us and lied on us and tried at all costs to prevent us from even dreaming? Why, even now in 2012, is this story of the quest for life, liberty, and happiness, being twarted for economic gain of a few at the expense of the many? And why, still in 2012, do poor whites still allow themselves to be manipulated by the wealthy who are pulling the puppet strings and using race, fear, and religion to control even them? It is in this why that I share this important excerpt:
pg. 223 "Lawd, Lawd, they won't leave us alone. What did we eva do to these people. Didt they work us for more'n three hundred years? Didt they rape our mamas and kill our daddies enough already? They done taken our childs who we never see again. Ain that enough for em? They don seem to care bout nobody. I can't paint my house, can't fix my fence too good, can't build a extry shed or a bigger barn. I can't love my own things in front of everybody."
Mor was speaking about even more of the lynchings of black men and women at the hands of poor, Southern whites, who were often illiterate themselves and hungry after the war. The poor whites also thought they were better and didn't work (some, like the Rufus character) simply refused to work and found innovative ways to reenslave the black men. They used the laws, religion, and the local sheriffs to reenslave black men, to orphan black children and then take those same children and make them slaves for life. They would arrest black men for standing or simply walking and then force them to work prison chain gangs if they refused to work the same plantations for a pittance. The era of lynchings was before Jim Crow, those tumultuous years after the Emancipation Proclamation. At the time that Mor made this above statement, it was only five years since "freedom" and the black family was in mortal danger. One neighbor of his was killed for simply putting a fence around his property, property he had purchased. Another older couple almost lost their land and home, a place they had lived for over 50 years, pre-Civil War, because the old master had freed the husband's father and given him a stretch of land. Their "crime?" The white neighbor had cheated the old man on seed and a horse, doubling his "debt" and then wanting to take his land. The book is full of anecdotes of the trials the freed blacks went through to simply survive. They had to disguise girls as boys so the roving white men who were used to freely raping black women would not just kidnap and take the young girls. They had to hide their prosperity earned by working land they had to secretly buy. The could not tell anyone they were literate (like Mor after his wife taught them all to read) or even that they could accurately compute (lack of education was used to control the slaves and even the poor whites).
There are some books that I read and some I ingest, this is one of those books.
Mor, on a journey with his family to a better place, had a long dialogue with his young family. He reminded the sons that
"Well. . . they say we lazy. But the African peoples worked for them for more'n three hundred year, I blive." "White women PAY" Negro women to come into their dirty houses, and clean it and feed their own white children; but they don't say THEY are lazy, they say we are."
"They say we are dumb, CAIN'T learn, like animals. But they won't let us go to school. Use to kill us if we somehow or nother learned to read. And now, if we get a schoolhouse, they will burn it down. Kill the teacher even, white or black, don't matter."
"They say we don want nothin. But if we get somethin. . . they take it away from us. Fair, unfair under the law, but they make the laws. If they can't get it and it will burn up, then they burn it up . . . or down."
"They say Negro womens are whores and tramps. They will take a Negro man's wife right in front of his face. MAKE her go. Cause it could cost her husband his job, and you know they poor. And it could cost him his life if he say something! But they say we the ones have no moral, don't do right."
"They say this white woman is the best of everything. But they tell this white woman making love is dirty. She too good for it. So they can only do it mostly with negro women they rape or force in some other way. But they don tell the white women they are rapin. They tell em the black man wants to rape. They say Negro men make bastards...Well. . . most the bastards in the world was made in slavery in the slave quarter and they are the bastards of white men. And them white men made them bastards and left em. Sometime sold em and sometimes, whey they might'a' got grown, them same thers made babies with their own daughters...You see all these light, white children in the world? Well. . . they are not from African men."
"White men don't only just hold Negro men down, they hold other white men, too. Poor white men who wants to work, like miners and some mill workers. His own color."
"It's some white folks that got good in their hearts. They was raised better. but they was white. See? and good people! That's why you got to pay them attention when they got anything to do with your life; cause you need to know what kind'a white folks you are talkin to."
"Like, white folks say the slaves loved em. That's another lie, cept for a few good masters, but who can love a master over your life? Only Master is God. But, God freed slaves by not really making white men masters over our minds. We still had our minds, Even us slaves knew what the white man was made of. He even lied about his own God. He broke every one of His laws. Slaves didn't respect him or love him. . . but for a very few whites who were fair to black and whites alike."
"The white man never forgets you was in his power one time. And he keep tryin to test you out, over and over again. He want that power back. But, you watch him, smile at him, but he don need to know all what you thinkin. Remember, he love money."
pp. 228-229, 233-234.
Usually, when I am doing book reviews, I talk about the book and the feeling without giving the story away. This book is so important, I had to pause to share these excerpts in hopes that many more will read it and understand the story, the message inside. It is definitely my number one choice for my book club for the next season.
I think there are lessons Mor and his wife Lifee are teaching us, if we have ears to hear.
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