Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Our National Legacy

Haunted

Haunted by a slave market photo taken
On our way to summer Bible camp
To be indoctrinated directly and
Indirectly by the ‘good’ news of
White Christianity posing as the answer
To every question we might have
Including how slaves are to behave
And not behave toward their masters
And mistresses and white folk

Deep south heat rises from the ashes
Of lynchings, cross burnings and beatings
No water of baptism or gorgeous lake
Could ever quench the flaming seed planted
Fertilized and watered daily in us
We were God’s children
We were special
We were white
We were privileged
We were better
We belonged

Sit up straight little children
Hold very still and look into the camera
Not every child gets to visit a cleaned-up
Slave market in cleaned-up Sunday go to
Meeting clothes and live to tell about it
In this enlightened age of freedom
And justice for all

Was this the first slave market in the USA? It claimed to be. But does it really matter? Here it is, kept alive in the middle of this small Georgia town. A daily reminder to all inhabitants of who they are and are not.

The photo was taken in 1958 on a bus trip from Savannah, Georgia, to a summer Bible camp we attended regularly. I’m in the very back, tall, with glasses. Sister #2 is standing directly in front of me. Sister #3 (Diane) is sitting on the front row, second from the right. My father made this a regular stop on the way to camp, and loved taking photos of us on the market steps.

This was one small cog in the machinery that kept us in line. Good little white girls and boys obediently lining up for a photo op. Relieved to have our superior status, even though we knew something wasn’t right and that we’d done nothing to earn white skin.

Our nation is coming apart at the seams. High time? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Can we get through this and emerge stronger, wiser and more compassionate? I wish I knew.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, 1958, in Louisville, Georgia

A Georgia Song, by Maya Angelou

In tribute to Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., and all African-American poets and dreamers who see into us and into our history with razor-sharp eyes, ears and tongues.

As a transplanted (from California) citizen of Savannah, Georgia, I grew up surrounded by two stories–the white story splashed boldly across the city of Savannah and its outlying communities, and the black story inextricably woven into the warp and woof of everyday life. Visible yet invisible. Maya Angelou’s poem is haunting for its accuracy, its longing for something better, and its painful memories. I’ve included a few explanatory notes at the end.

A Georgia Song

We swallow the odors of Southern cities,
Fat back boiled to submission,
Tender evening poignancies of
Magnolia and the great green
Smell of fresh sweat.
In Southern fields,
The sound of distant
Feet running, or dancing,
And the liquid notes of
Sorrow songs,
Waltzes, screams and
French quadrilles float over
The loam of Georgia.

Sing me to sleep, Savannah.

Clocks run down in Tara’s halls and dusty
Flags droop their unbearable
Sadness.

Remember our days, Susannah.

Oh, the blood-red clay,
Wet still with ancient
Wrongs, and Abenaa
Singing her Creole airs to Macon.
We long, dazed, for winter evenings
And a whitened moon,
And the snap of controllable fires.

Cry for our souls, Augusta.

We need a wind to strike
Sharply, as the thought of love
Betrayed can stop the heart
An absence of tactile
Romance, no lips offering
Succulence, nor eyes
Rolling disconnected from
A Sambo face.

Dare us new dreams, Columbus.

A cool new moon, a
Winter’s night, calm blood,
Sluggish, moving only
Out of habit, we need
Peace.

Oh Atlanta, oh deep, and
Once lost city,

Chant for us a new song. A song
Of Southern peace.

Poem found in Maya Angelou: Poetry for Young People, Sterling Children’s Books, New York, published 2013

Cities in Georgia named in this poem: Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Columbus and Atlanta

Fatback is a Southern delicacy – fat from a side of pork, often fried like chips; here, the reference is to harsh treatment of slaves.

“Tara’s halls” refers to the home of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.

Abenaa – a girl born on Tuesday (in the Fanti language)

Creole – of mixed African and European ancestry

Sambo – stereotypic nickname for an African American boy

The painting at the top depicts the beginning of Sherman’s March through Georgia in the 1850s — from Atlanta to Savannah, with the goal of total submission of the South, along with the so-called end of slavery. The uncounted tragedies of this war include the attempt of our country to root out anyone standing in the way of our ‘pre-ordained greatness.’ Hence, on the other side of this Uncivil War, lurked attempts of some to drive out or destroy American Indians who stood in the way of railroads and the gold rush.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou and other poets challenge us to rise above our past. To become truly great as human beings, unafraid to look up, greet each other, and join the human race.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 January 2018
Artwork found at allpurposegurulcom; painter and title not identified

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