Da first rays o’morning slid in through slits and holes in da log hut. No tossing and turning on da wood planks wife and me share with our littlins round us. I member soft beds we use ta sleep on back in Africa. I tryta bring ta remembrance all I can bout home, but it be getting fuzzy. Been here near fifteen years, I reckon.
Time ta git up. Massa be meaner than all git out if we be late. Missus pack dinner fer us and we eat breakfast on da run. Middleuns watch liluns. Bigguns work in da field with us. It be a hard life but da chill’un, they don’t know nothin else. Soons they big nuff to reach dem tall cotton stalks, deys earning their keeps.
“Jessa, Solomon, ya kids – time ta git up.”
Wish ta God I could give my chill’un a better life but things is what dey is. One day, God willin, we be free like da white folks. Til then, whites rule and we work. Sooner the chill’un learn that, the better it be for them.
I still cringe thinkin bout da fust time lil Jessa feel da whip on her back. Hadda hold da missus and we watch. I didnt wanna, but Jessa feel my hand on her backside, too. We both cried but she gotta member who be boss and I gotta help her do that memberin.
Me n Missus walk to da field whislt I whistle and da chill’un run on ahead. By time day’s done, we be pushin da wee ones along b’for dey drop right wheres dey be. Some nights, we all jest lay right der on da ground. Life be hard, but we praise God anyhows.
Sunup ta sundown n most times long after, we be workin in dem cotton fields. Bend down and pull da cotton from da bolls and throw em in da basket. Our hands be scarred from the stickers. Blood run down our arms and nuttin we can do bout it. No stoppin til we’s told we’s can stop. Missus try not ta cry but she hurt so bad and the chill’un complain.
Deys one thing bein a slave is hard ta take. I be less’in a man. Black man ain’t no man. He be white man’s slave.
I have dreams. Don’t tell massa but I knows how to read n write. I can even talk like a white man but if it slips out, I git whipped. My people see me as der preacher. We sing n pray whilst we work. Makes da time go faster and we ferget our troubles.
I got dreams for my chill’un, too. After we leave da fields and weigh in our pick, we goes and do chores, den late thru da night, I’s teach ‘em to read. When’s we be free, they’s gonna be ready for dat freedom. And we will be free. I heerd it from God Hisself.
He say, “James, keep yer chin up, fer freedom will be yer reward. Jest hold on. Hold on.”
So’s that what I do. I hold onta dat Word.
Full moon makes fer longer day than normal. We bend n pull clear through da light and most da night.
“Lordy, when dat freedom gonna come?” I cry outs to Him.
But jest when I think I cain’t take no mo, God heap on me His strength and hope. Tonight be a night like dat: full ‘er hope and I feel like a whole man. I pick up my chill’un right offen der feet an carry em home. Massa seed me and telled me ta drop down those chill’un. He thinks I treats em too good. Massa whip me hard then he work me nuther two hours dis night so I be memberin my place.
Da Good Book say we all haf freedom in Christ. Wish da massa’d read da Book. Maybe he be memberin his place den.
Jessa come out and sits wit me wilst I work. I be proud a my Jessa. Da hand a God on her for shore. She talk bout her hopes n dreams. When she done too tired ta talk, she close her eyes and I sing to my fustborn.
“Swing low, sweet chariot. Comin fer to carry me home…”
I lean gainst da hoe n think ta maself, "From dawn ta latenight, a slave ain’t never done workin. Seem ta me, white mans twenty-four hour be shorter den black mans."
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