Me and Jack were hangin’ out near the slave market on Saturday – a few hours before we were supposed to be at the church for punishment duty. I picked up a pamphlet that talked ‘bout the Fugitive Slave Act passed by the United States Congress in the summer of 1850 which had caused so much stir and aggravation among the Northern abolitionists, many of whom refused to live by the law and who tried to convince anyone else who would listen to disobey it. It was one of the seeds sown in fertile soil that brought the Civil War a decade later.
A man with a chipped front tooth and a long white mustache, curled upwards on each end, said, “Here sonny, learn about what’s really going on in the world.” So I took it and began reading. On the front was a picture of a black man with whip in his hand and several white women a’pickin’ cotton in the fields like they was field hands. I showed Jack and he said not to believe everythin’ I read, that it was "pure bull".
I kept a’readin’ to Jack: The abolitionists insisted on helpin’ and a’keepin, the runways free while deprivin’ the owners or their “rightful property,” I read aloud. “The law was the law and darn abolitionists were makin’ trouble refusing to return them to their owners if they escaped which federal law required,” said the pamphlet. I didn’t know what to make of it but Jack had some strong opinions on the matter and I guess I believed the same thing once I heard him sayin’ it.
I told Jack, “The abolitionists - they say it is simply wrong to return a black man or his family back to slavery after escapin’ from the cotton and sugar plantations when they finally made it up to a free state.” I told him what else I just read and told him many northern newspaper editors said people should disobey the law because it was against the constitution.
"But Master believes they’re wrong and they’re thieves," I said. "What do you think, Jack?”
“Well son, that good-for-nothin’ horse’s ass Whittemore is a dumb-ass ox. I don’t believe anythin’he says and I don’t think anyone else does neither, not after the stupid-ass trial he had goin’ on yesterday. You don’t have to go to his stupid-ass class and listen to that poor-excuse-for-a-teacher too long a’fore you know he’s rotten to the core. He’s a’gettinn’ the kids all messed up and you saw how he was manipulatin’ everythin’ at the trial and now they won’t believe anythin’ he says anymore. But they are just now seein’ his true colors. I saw them many moons ago kiddie.”
“But do you think master is right ‘bout the darkies?”
“Of course he’s not right son! What are you stupid? Master’s not right ‘bout anythin’. You’ve been havin’ so many of Whittemore’s lessons son your brain’s goin’ soft! Hey, they say down here in the south that the blacks aren’t real people but they all know it’s a lie. Course they’re real people. Just look at some of the freed slaves in Charleston – some a’runnin businesses and others makin’ a good livin’ making carriages or buildin’ houses. How are they different son? It’s just skin color and the fact that white people try to keep ‘em stupid. Some are as smart or smarter in my opinion than many white people. The reason that the darkies act stupid is cuz they can’t legally read or write cuz the white folk won’t let ‘em. They won't let 'em because that'd give 'em too much power and they have to keep'em weak and ignorant if they're goin' make good slaves. They can whip ‘em to death for that, don’t ya know that? You see, that horse’s ass doesn’t tell you that in his puny little school house. That’s why they is stupid soundin’ sometimes. But you just talk to one of the ones that did learn some readin’ and writin’ and they're very educated and talk just like you and me. You know something sonny, I been thinkin’ a while now ‘bout goin’ back to school and lettin’ Master believe I’m a’goin to try hard for him, let him think I’m on his side – my idea is just beginnin’ to shine. But it ain’t that shiny yet. But what happened yesterday when all the kids stood on their benches even as Master threatened to punish them – well, it convinced me that I can turn them all against him if I come up with the right plan. I’ll need your help son.”
“Ah, no thanks. I’ll sit this one out,” I said.
“You can’t sit this one out moron! You don’t sit nothing out ‘less I say so and I say you don’t sit it out! That’s final. Now stop givin’ me lip or I’ll have to find a trash barrel for you.”
“Ya right. That’d be the day,” I said.
We decided to head on over the river to check on things as Jack said he thought somebody was using our tree house cuz he went by yesterday alone and heard noises. When he went up the rope ladder, there was a apple core on the little table we built and some spilled tobacco on the floor.
“I think it’s Mike,” Jack said, “cuz he was afraid to show his face when I said, “who is it? Come out here!” He’s such a coward. Let’s go now and see if it’s Mike or some other dimwit.” So that’s what we did.