Monday, January 14, 2008
(With apologies to Richard Pryor's character, Mudbone)
Once upon a time on the Clinton Plantation, there was a young slave named Oh.
That's right, Oh.
White folks back in the day called Black folks what they wanted to and they decided to call this one "Oh" because he was so smart. When people on the Clinton Plantation asked him questions, his answers surprised Massa and Missus Clinton so much, they would just say, "Oh!".
People would ask Oh all types of questions about the world, the plantation, cotton and 'gators and he'd always give such wonderful answers so much so that questions started coming from the slaves like, "was he really Black enough". Now, keep in mind that on most plantations there wuz always slaves who had white daddies and on occasion, while Massa was lookin' the other way, a slave might even have a white mama. Yes they did.
But that ain't what this story is 'bout. Let's get back to what happened to Oh. He taught himself to count and read --- somethin' slaves just wasn't spozed to do. He preached on Sunday down at the slave quarters and the Black folks just loved how he told them about the visions God had given him, just like Prophet Nat Turner. Oh was smart all right, and white folks loved to hear him make speeches and Black folks loved to hear him tell them about the world beyond the Clinton Plantation.
One day, after the harvest was in and the cotton was chopped, Oh called a secret meeting down in the slave cabins and told his friends and family that he thought it was time for them all to run away from the Clinton Plantation. Just get up and get and don't look back. The slaves looked shocked and many of them just said, "Oh!" real loud. One of the old slaves, Rastus, (who some say came from the Johnson Plantation in South Carolina) got up in the back and said that he'd been servin' Massa and Missus Clinton for 16 years and he wasn't 'bout to run away. Massa Clinton was gettin' old Rastus said, but Missus would take his place when De Lawd called Massa home.
Many of the slaves mumbled their approval of what Rastus said, but the younger slaves and many of them who learned to read from Oh, said there were better places than the Clinton Plantation and that running away was important so that they could decide what they wanted to do rather than being told what to do. Even if they were caught and killed, it was better to be dead and free rather than alive and enslaved by the Clintons. Some of the old slaves said Massa and Missus acted like they was Black anyways because they would eat in the slave quarters during their birthdays and Massa Clinton could play the banjo better than some of them!
Never mind that the Clintons had told them that if they were caught stealing a hog they would be sold...
Never mind that the Clintons had ignored the slaughter of hundreds of slaves on a nearby plantation when the Massa went away to visit New York...
The old slaves loved the Clintons a lot and just couldn't imagine life without them since they had treated them so well. They felt that other white folks might be mad at them if they were caught runnin' away and so would the Clintons.
They might not get any more Christmas hams, Saturday night socials or chances to buckdance at very rapid speed. They remembered how the slaves Jesse and Al had tried to run and they almost got away but were brought back to the plantation and watched carefully.
The vote was taken. Oh's followers won and decided to run before next harvest depending on weather, when the Clintons would leave and how bad the world was around them. But for sho they wuz gonna to run. Oh's plans weren't perfect, but he had the future in his eyes and had always been able to pull people together during harvest plantin' season and teachin' them how to read and write.
The next mornin', Rastus and a group of others went to the Big House's back door and told the Clintons that Oh was plannin' to run. The Clintons were shocked. They knew Oh was smart but they had always kept him in his place and were disappointed that this smart young slave was organizing others to escape from the Plantation. They were afraid however, to punish him because they feared that the other slaves would see through their hypocrisy of being "benevolent slave owners." Instead, they decided to start a whispering campaign against him. Why not talk about his "lack of experience" in leading Blackfolks to the Promise Land? Why not talk about their skills at running a plantation and how kind they had been to their slaves?
Hmmmm...it might work...
(to be continued...)