...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Monday, June 14, 2004
      ( 5:01 PM )

One of the pleasant surprises today (my first day of grad school) was that I can get my hands on an actual NY Times for free at school every day - they just hand them out like candy. It's been a long time since I've actually read a NY Times paper - the paper itself, so it was fun to peruse the articles and find interesting things I'd never see in my own hometown rag, The Oregonian. One treasure I found on today's NY Tims front page was a story about the uncovering of two diaries written by former slaves. Both men had written down in much personal detail the stories of their lives as slaves and their escapes. Both stories had recently been found and sent to a professor who writes a lot about the slavery and emancipation issues. It was incredible to read the stories of these two men, and how they almost went untold but for being found in someone's dresser drawer or in a box in an attic.

It reminded me of how many stories go untold and how our history is lost so often to the loudest voices, not necessarily the truest voices. In fact, so much of what our own school history books and the texts our children use today are basically lies if you look at the history from any other point of view than the dominant, white male version. Anyway, I digress. I just wanted to share a bit of the writing of these men - it reminds me that this country allowed this inhumane treatment of other human beings for so long, and now we have come full circle and are recognizing how the sting of that legacy remains with us and seems imbedded under the surface of our culture.

From Mr. John Washington:

The night before mother left me, (as I was to be kept in hand by the old Mistress for especial use) she, Mother, came up to my little room I Slept in the "white people's house" and laid down on my bed by me and begged me for her own Sake, try and be a good boy, Say my prayers every night, remember all she had tried to teach me, and always think of her.

Her tears mingled with mine amid kisses and heart felt sorrow. She tucked the Bed cloths around me, and bade me good night. Bitter pangs filled my heart and thought I would rather die on the morrow mother and sisters and brother all would leave me alone in this wide world to battle with temptations trials and hardship.

Who then could I complain to when I was persecuted? Who then would come early the cold Winter morning and call me up and help me do my hard tasks?

Whose hand (patting) me upon the head would Sooth my early trials.

Then and there my hatred was kindled Secretly again my oppressors, and I promised myself if ever I got an opporteunity I would run away from these devlish Slave holders.

From Mr. Wallace Turnage:

Well the overseer began to weigh the cotton, and when he got around to them that didn't have cotton enough he told them to stand back until he got through weighing cotton and he would see what was the reason they could not pick more cotton. So when he got around to me he told me to stand back with the rest of them and he would see why I couldn't pick more cotton. Well when he got through weighing cotton, he took his cowhide and made one of the women lay down, and pulled her clothes over her head and made the other woman hold her and her clothes over her head. He give that woman about two hundred lashes and I thought that was enough except he was going to kill her. I could see the skin fly near about every lick he struck her. Then he made the woman that held the one he had whiped lay down and made the one he had whiped hold her clothes over her head. Then I thought if that was the kind of whipings he gave them I would not stay and take mine. So I saw my chance while he was whiping to make my escape, so I left. . . . I could hear him calling me, but I would not come back. So I was then in the woods with the wild animals and only about fifteen years of age. I suffered very much for some thing to eat.

History means something and teaches us the future - if we actually know the true history. I hope stories like this keep making the front page.

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