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At midday the sun blazes and bleaches the soil. Butter- flies flit through the heat; wasps sing their sharp, straight lines; birds fluff and flounce, piping in querulous joy. Nights are covered with canopies sometimes blue and sometimes black, canopies that sag low with ripe and nervous stars. The throaty boast of frogs momentarily drowns out the call and counter-call of crickets. In autumn the land is afire with color. Red and brown leaves lift and flutter dryly, becoming entangled in the stiff grass and cornstalks.

Cotton is picked and ginned; cane is crushed and its juice is simmered down into molasses; yams are grubbed out of the clay; hogs are slaughtered and cured in lingering smoke; corn is husked and ground into meal. At twilight the sky is full of wild geese winging ever southward, and bats jerk through the air.

At night the winds blow free. In winter the forests resound with the bite of steel axes eating, into tall trees as men gather wood for the leaden days of cold.

The guns of hunters snap and crack. Long days of rain come, and our swollen creeks rush to join a hundred rivers that wash across the land and make great harbors where they feed the gulf or the sea. Occasionally the rivers leap their banks and leave new thick layers of silt to enrich the earth, and then the look of the land is garish, bleak, suffused with a first-day stillness, strangeness, and awe.

But whether in spring or summer or autumn or winter, time slips past us remorselessly, and it is hard to tell of the iron that lies beneath the sur- face of out quiet, dull days.

To paint the picture of how we live on the tobacco, cane, rice, and cotton plantations is to compete with mighty artists: the movies, the radio, the newspapers, the magazines, and even the Church. They have painted one picture: charming, idyllic, romantic; but we live another: full of the fear of the Lords of the Land, bowing and grinning when we meet white faces, toiling from sun to sun, living in unpainted wooden shacks that sit casually and insecurely upon the red clay.

In the main we are different from other folk in that, when an impulse moves us, when we are caught in the throes of inspiration, when we are moved to better our lot, we do not ask ourselves: "Can we do it?

In general there are three classes of men above us : the Lords of the Land �operators of the plantations; the Bosses of the Buildings� the owners of industry; and the vast numbers of poor white workers� our immediate competitors in the daily struggle for bread. The Lords of the Land hold sway over the plantations and over us; the Bosses of the Buildings lend money and issue orders to the Lords of the Land.

The Bosses of the Build- ings feed upon the Lords of the Land, and the Lords of the Land feed upon the 5,, landless poor whites and upon us, throwing to the poor whites the scant solace of filching from us 4,, landless blacks what the poor whites themselves are cheated of in this elaborate game.

Back of this tangled process is a long history. Sundered suddenly from the only relationship with Western civilization we had been allowed to form since our cap- tivity, our personalities blighted by two hundred and fifty years of servi- tude, and eager to hold our wives and husbands and children together in family units, some of us turned back to the same Lords of the Land who had held us as slaves and begged for work, resorted to their advice; and there began for us a new kind of bondage: sharecropping.

Glad to be free, some of us drifted and gave way to every vagary of impulse that swept through us, being held in the line of life only by the necessity to work and eat. Confined for centuries to the life of the cotton field, many of us possessed no feelings of family, home, community, race, church, or progress. We could scarcely believe that we were free, and our restlessness and incessant mobility were our naive way of testing that free- dom. Just as a kitten stretches and yawns after a long sleep, so thousands of us tramped from place to place for the sheer sake of moving, looking, wondering, landless upon the land.

In many white people predicted that we black folk would perish in a competitive world; but in spite of this we left the land and kept afloat, wandering from Natchez to New Orleans, from Mobile to Montgomery, from Macon to Jacksonville, from Birmingham to Chattanooga, from Nashville to Louisville, from Memphis to Little Rock� laboring in the sawmills, in the turpentine camps, on the road jobs; working for men who did not care if we lived or died, but who did not want their business enter- prises to suffer for lack of labor.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, more than one and three-quarter millions of us abandoned the plantations upon which we had been born; more than a million of us roamed the states of the South and the remainder of us drifted north.

Our women fared easier than we men during the early days of freedom; on the whole their relationship to the world was more stable than ours. During slave days they did not always belong to us, for the Lords of the Land often took them for their pleasure. When a gang of us was sold from one plan- tation to another, our wives would sometimes be kept by the Lords of the Land and we men would have to mate with whatever slave girl we chanced upon. Because of their enforced intimacy with the Lords of the Land, many of our women, after they were too old to work, were allowed to remain in the slave cabins to tend generations of black children.

The economic and political power of the South is not held in our hands; we do not own banks, iron and steel mills, railroads, office buildings, ships, wharves, or power plants. There are some few of us who operate small grocery stores, barber shops, rooming houses, burial societies, and under- taking establishments.

But none of us owns any of the basic industries that shape the course of the South, such as mining, lumber, textiles, oil, trans- portation, or electric power. So, in the early spring, when the rains have ceased and the ground is ready for plowing, we present ourselves to the Lords of the Land and ask to make a crop. We sign a contract� usually our contracts are oral� which allows us to keep one-half of the harvest after all debts are paid. If we have worked upon these plantations before, we are legally bound to plant, tend, and harvest another crop.

If we should escape to the city to avoid paying our mounting debts, white policemen track us down and ship us back to the plantation. The Lords of the Land assign us ten or fifteen acres of soil already bled of its fertility through generations of abuse. They advance us one mule, one plow, seed, tools, fertilizer, clothing, and food, the main staples of which are fat hog meat, coarsely ground corn meal, and sorghum molasses.

From now on the laws of Queen Cotton rule our lives. Contrary to popu- lar assumption, cotton is a queen , not a king. Kings are dictatorial; cotton is not only dictatorial but self-destructive, an imperious woman in the throes of constant childbirth, a woman who is driven by her greedy pas- sion to bear endless bales of cotton, though she well knows that she will die if she continues to give birth to her fleecy children!

If we black folk had only to work to feed the Lords of the Land, to supply delicacies for their tables� as did the slaves of old for their masters� our degradation upon the plantations would not have been the harshest form of human servitude the. But we had to raise cotton to clothe the world; cotton meant money, and money meant power and authority and prestige. To plant vegetables for our tables was often forbidden, for raising a garden narrowed the area to be planted in cotton.

The world demanded cotton, and the Lords of the Land ordered more acres to be planted� planted right up to our doorsteps! We who have followed the plow in this fashion have developed a secret life and language of our own. When we were first brought here from our innumerable African tribes, each of us spoke the language of his tribe.

But the Lords of the Land decreed that we must be distributed upon the plan- tations so that no two of us who spoke a common tongue would be thrown together, lest we plot rebellion.

So they shackled one slave to another slave of an alien tribe. Our eyes would look wistfully into the face of a fellow-victim of slavery, but we could say no word to him. Though we could hear, we were deaf; though we could speak, we were dumb!

We stole words from the grudging lips of the Lords of the Land, who did not want us to know too many of them or their meaning. And we charged this meager horde of stolen sounds with all the emotions and longings we had; we proceeded to build our language in inflections of voice, through tonal variety, by hurried speech, in honeyed drawls, by rolling our eyes, by flourishing our hands, by assigning to common, simple words new meanings, meanings which enabled us to speak of revolt in the actual presence of the Lords of the Land without their being aware!

Our secret language extended our understanding of what slavery meant and gave us the freedom to speak to our brothers in captivity; we polished our new words, caressed them, gave them new shape and color, a new order and tempo, until, though they were the words of the Lords of the Land, they became out words, our language. The steady impact of the plantation system upon our lives created new types of behavior and new patterns of psychological reaction, welding us together into a separate unity with common characteristics of our own.

Even wdien a white man asked us an innocent question, some unconscious part of us would listen closely, not only to the obvious words, but also to the intonations of voice that indicated what kind of answer he wanted ; and, automatically, we would determine whether an affirmative or negative reply was expected, and we would answer, not in terms of objective truth, but in terms of what the white man wished to hear.

If a white man stopped a black on a southern road and asked : "Say, there, boy! So our years pass w r ithin the web of a system we cannot beat. Years of fat meat and corn meal and sorghum molasses, years of plowing and hoeing and picking, years of sun and wind and rain� these are the years that do with us what they will, that form our past, shape our present, and loom ahead as the outline of our future. Most of the flogging and lynchings occur at harvest time, when fruit hangs heavy and ripe, when the leaves are red and gold, when nuts fall from the trees, when the earth offers its best.

The thought of harvest steals upon us with a sense of an inescapable judgment. It is time now to settle accounts with the Lords of the Land, to divide the crops and pay old debts, and we are afraid. We have never grown used to confronting the Lords of the Land when the last of the cotton is ginned and baled, for we know beforehand that we have lost yet another race with time, that we are deeper in debt.

If the Lord of the Land for whom we are working happens to be a foreigner who came to the United States to escape oppression in Europe, and who has taken to the native way of cheating us, we spit and mutter : Red, white, and blue, Your daddy was a Jew, Your mats a dirty dago , Now what the hell is you? And after we have divided the crops we are still entangled as deeply as ever in this hateful web of cotton culture. We are older; our bodies are weaker; our families are larger; our clothes are in rags; we are still in debt; and, worst of all, we face another year that holds even less hope than the one we have just endured.

We know that this is not right, and dark thoughts take possession of our minds. We know that to tread this mill is to walk in days of slow death.

When alone, we stand and look out over the green, rolling fields and wonder why it is that living here is so hard. Everything seems to whisper of the possibility of happiness, of satisfying experiences; but somehow happiness and satisfaction never come into our lives. The land upon which we live holds a promise, but the promise fades with the pass- ing seasons. And we know that if we protest we will be called "bad niggers.

In the midst of general hysteria they will seize one of us� it does not matter who, the innocent or guilty� and, as a token, a naked and bleeding body will be dragged through the dusty streets.

The mobs will make certain that our token-death is known ' throughout the quarters where we black folk live.

Our bodies will be swung by ropes from the limbs of trees, will be shot at and mutilated. And we cannot fight back; we have no arms; we cannot vote; and the law is white. The Ku Kiux Klan attacks us in a thousand ways, driving our boys and girls off the jobs in the cities and keeping us who live on the land from protesting or asking too many questions.

For them life is a continuous victory; for us it is simply trouble in the land. Fear is with us always, and in those areas where we black men equal or outnumber the whites fear is at its highest.

Two streams of life flow through the South, a black stream and a white stream, and from day to day we live in the atmosphere of a war that never ends. Even when the sprawling fields are drenched in peaceful sunshine, it is war. When we grub at the clay with our hoes, it is war. When we sleep, it is war. When we are awake, it is war. When one of us is born, he enters one of the warring regiments of the South.

When there are days of peace, it is a peace born of a victory over us; and when there is open violence, it is when we are trying to push back the encroachments of the Lords of the Land. Sometimes, fleetingly, like a rainbow that comes and vanishes in its com- ing, the wan faces of the poor whites make us think that perhaps we can join our hands with them and lift the weight of the Lords of the Land off our backs.

But, before new meanings can bridge the chasm that has been long created between us, the poor whites are warned by the Lords of the Land that they must cast their destiny with their own color, that to make common cause with us is to threaten the foundations of civilization. Fear breeds in our hearts until each poor white face begins to look like the face of an enemy soldier. We learn that almost all white men feel it is their duty to see that we do not go beyond the prescribed boundaries.

And so both of us, the poor black and the poor white, are kept poor, and only the Lords of the Land grow rich. When we black folk are alone together, we point to the poor whites and croon with vindictiveness : I don't like liver I don't like hash I'd rather he a nigger Than poor white trash. Our minds fight against it, but external reality freezes us into stances of mutual resistance. And the irony of it is that both of us, the poor white and the poor black, are spoken of by the Lords of the Land as "our men.

And we blacks and whites ride down the years as the plantation system gnaws at the foundations of our characters. The plan- tation warps us so that some say we black and white upon the land cannot learn to live as other men do. But we know otherwise; we can learn. To ask questions, to protest, to insist, to contend for a secure institu- tional and political base upon which to stand and fulfill ourselves is equivalent to a new and intensified declaration of war.

Sometimes a few of us escape the sharecropping system and become home-owners. But in spite of this, how eagerly have we taken to the culture of this new land when opportunity was open to us!

Knowing no culture but this, what can we do but live in terms of what we see before our eyes each day? From the simple physiological reactions of slave days, from casual relations and sporadic hope, we learn to live the way of life of the Western world Behind our pushing is the force of life itself, as strong in black men as in white, as emergent in us as in those who contrive to keep us down.

We hear men talk vaguely of a government in far-away Washington, a government that stands above the people and desires the welfare of all. We do not know this government; but the men it hires to execute its laws are the Lords of the Land whom we have known all our lives.

We hear that the government wants to help us, but we are too far down at the bottom of the ditch for the fingers of the government to reach us, and there are too many men� the Lords of the Land and the poor whites� with their shoulders pressing tightly together in racial solidarity, forming a wall between us and the government. More to keep faith alive in our hearts than from any conviction that our lot will be bettered, we cling to our hope that the government would help us if it could.

But for three hundred years we have been forced to accept the word of men instead of written con- tracts, for three hundred years we have been forced to rely upon the whimsical kindness of others rather than upon legal agreements; and all this has grown into hallowed tradition, congealed into reflex habit, hardened into a daily ritual, backed by rope and fagot. The Lords of the Land receive your mail and when you go to the Big House to ask for your check, they look at you and say: "Boy, get back in the field and keep working.

Well take care of your check. Well feed you until it is used up. Our days are walled with cotton; we move casually among the whites and they move casually among us; our speech is drawled out with slow smiles; there are no loud arguments; no voices are raised in contention; no shouts of passion betray the desire of one to convince the other. It is impossible to debate or maneuver for advantage without colliding; then blood is spilt.

Trapped by the plantation system, we beg bread of the Lords of the Land and they give it to us ; they need us to work for them. Although our association partakes of an odd sort of father-child relationship, it is devoid of that affinity of blood that restrains the impulse to cruelty, empty of that sense of intimate understanding born of a long proximity of human lives.

We plow, plant, chop, and pick the cotton, working always toward a dark, mercurial goal. We hear that silk is becoming popular, that jute is taking the place of cotton in many lands, that factories are making clothing out of rayon, that scientists have invented a substance called nylon.

All these are blows to the reign of Queen Cotton, and when she dies we do not know how many of us will die with her. Adding to our confusion is the gradual appearance of machin es that can pick more cotton in one day than any ten of us. How can we win this race with death when our thin blood is set against the potency of gasoline, when our weak flesh is pitted against the strength of steel, when our loose muscles must vie with the power of tractors?

Our lives are walled with cotton We chop cotton We pick cotton. Through the years rumor filters down to us of cotton being grown in Egypt, Russia, Japan, India, in lands whose names we cannot pronounce. We black folk are needed no longer to grow cotton to clothe the world. Moreover, we cannot imagine that there will be so many factories erected in the South� since there are thousands already manufacturing more goods than can be bought� that those of us who cannot earn our bread by grow- ing cotton will get jobs in them.

Our future on the plantation is a worry. When our cotton returns to us� after having been spun and woven and dyed and wrapped in cello- phane� its cost is beyond our reach. The Bosses of the Buildings, owners of the factories that turn out the mass of commodities we yearn to buy, have decided that no cheap foreign articles can come freely into the country to undersell the products made by "their own workers.

The Lords of the Land, as the cotton market shrinks and prices fall, grow poor and become riding bosses, and the riding bosses grow poor and become tenant farmers, and the tenant farmers grow poor and become sharecroppers, and the share- croppers grow poor and become day laborers, migrants upon the land whose home is where the next crop is.

As plantation after plantation fails, the Bosses of the Buildings acquire control and send trac- tors upon the land, and still more of us are compelled to search for "an- other place. Everything fits flush, each corner fitting tight into another corner.

If you act at all, it is either to flee or to kill; you are either a victim or a rebel. Days come and days go, but our lives upon the land remain without hope. We do not care if the barns rot down; they do not belong to us, anyway. No maxtet what improvement we may make upon the plantation, it would give us no claim upon the crop.

In cold weather we bum everything in sight to keep us warm; we strip boards from our shades and palings from the straggling fences. During long winter days we sit in cabins that have no windowpanes; the floors and roofs are made of thin planks of pine. Out in the backyard, over a hole dug in the clay, stands a horizontal slab of oak with an oval opening in it; when it rains, a slow stink drifts over the wet fields. To supplement our scanty rations, we take our buckets and roam the hillsides for berries, nuts, or wild greens; sometimes we fish in the creeks; at other times our black women tramp the fields looking for bits of fire- wood, piling their aprons high, coming back to our cabins slowly, like laden donkeys.

If our shacks catch fire, there is nothing much we can do but to snatch our children and run to a safe place and watch the flames eat the dry timbers. There is no fire wagon and there is but little water.

JFire, like other things, has its way with us. Lord, we know that this is a hard system! Even while we are hating the Lords of the Land, we know that if they paid us a just w T age for all the work we do in raising a bale of cotton, the fleecy strands would be worth more than their weight in gold!

Cotton is a drug, and for three hundred years we have taken it to kill the pain of hunger; but it does not ease our suffering. Most people take morphine out of choice; w r e take cotton because we must. For years longer than we remember, cotton has been our com- panion; we travel down the plantation road with debt holding our left hand, with credit holding our right, and ahead of us looms the grave, the final and simple end.

We move slowly through sun and rain, and our eyes grow dull and our skin sags. For hours w r e sit on our porches and stare out over the dusty land, wondering why we are so tired.

In the fall the medicine men come and set up their tents, light gas flares, and amuse us with crude jokes. Yet we live on and our families grow large. Some people wag their heads in amusement when they see our long lines of ragged children, but we love them.

If our families are large, we have a chance to make a bigger crop, for there are more hands to tend the land. But large families eat more, and, although our children lighten the burden of toil, we finish the year as we were before, hungry and in debt.

Like black buttercups, our children spring up on the red soil of the plantations. When a new one arrives, neighbors from miles around come and look at it, speculating upon which parent it resembles. A child is a glad thing in the bleak stretches of the cotton coun- try, and our gold is in the hearts of the people we love, in the veins that carry our blood, upon those faces where we catch furtive glimpses of the shape of our humble souls.

Our way of life is simple and our unit of living is formed by the willing- ness of two or more of us to organize ourselves voluntarily to make a crop, to pool our labor power to wrest subsistence from the stubborn soil.

We live just as man lived when he first struggled against this earth. After having been pulverized by slavery and purged of our cultural heritage, we have been kept so far from the sentiments and ideals of the Lords of the Land that we do not feel their way of life deeply enough to act upon their assumptions and motives. So, living by folk tradition, possessing but a few rights which others respect, we are unable to establish our family groups upon a basis of property ownership.

For the most part our delicate families are held together by love, sympathy, pity, and the goading knowl- edge that we must work together to make a crop. That is why we black folk laugh and sing when we are alone together. There is nothing� no ownership or lust for power� that stands between us and our kin.

And we reckon kin not as others do, but down to the ninth and tenth cousin. And for a reason we cannot explain we are mighty proud when we meet a man, woman, or child who, in talking to us, reveals that the blood of our brood has somehow entered his veins.

Because our eyes are not blinded by the hunger for possessions, we are a tolerant folk. A black mother who stands in the sagging door of her gingerbread shack may weep as she sees her children straying off into the unknown world, but no matter what they may do, no matter what happens to them, no matter what crimes they may commit, no matter what the world may think of them, that mother always welcomes them back with an irreducibly human feeling that stands above the claims of law or property.

Our scale of values differs from that of the world from which we have been excluded; our shame is not its shame, and our love is not its love.

Our black children are born to us in our one-room shacks, before crackling log fires, with rusty scissors boiling in tin pans, with black plantation mid- wives hovering near, with pine-knot flames casting shadows upon the wooden walls, with the sound of kettles of water singing over the fires in the hearths. As our children grow up they help us day by day, fetching pails of water from the springs, gathering wood for cooking, sweeping the floors, minding the younger children, stirring the clothes boiling in black pots over the fires in the backyards, and making butter in the churns.

Sometimes there is a weather-worn, pine-built schoolhouse for our chil- dren, but even if the school were open for the full term our children would not have the time to go.

We cannot let them leave the fields when cotton is waiting to be picked. When the time comes to break the sod, the sod must be broken; when the time comes to plant the seeds, the seeds must be planted; and when the time comes to loosen the red clay from about the bright green stalks of the cotton plants, that, too, must be done even if it is September and school is open. Hunger is the punishment if we violate the laws of Queen Cotton. The seasons of the year form the mold that shapes our lives, and who can change the seasons?

Deep down we distrust the schools that the Lords of the Land build for us and we do not really feel that they are ours. In many states they edit the textbooks that our children study, for the most part deleting all refer- ences to government, voting, citizenship, and civil rights. Many of them say that French, Latin, and Spanish are languages not for us, and they become angry when they think that we desire to learn more than they want us to. They say that "all the geography a nigger needs to know is how to get from his shack to the plow.

They have arranged the order of life in the South so that a different set of ideals is inculcated in the opposing black and white groups. Yet, in a vague, sentimental sort of way we love books inordinately, even though we do not know how to read them, for we know that books are the gateway to a forbidden world. Any black man who can read a book is a hero to us. And we are joyful when we hear a black man speak like a book.

The people who say how the world is to be run, who have fires in winter, who wear warm clothes, who get enough to eat, are the people who make books speak to them. Sometimes of a night we tell our children to get out the old big family Bible and read to us, and we listen wonder- ingly until, tired from a long day in the fields, we fall asleep. The Lords of the Land have shown us how preciously they regard books by the manner in which they cheat us in erecting schools for our children. They tax black and white equally throughout the state, and then they divide the money for education unequally, keeping most of it for their own schools, generally taking five dollars for themselves for every dollar they give us.

In many counties there is no school at all, and where there is one, it is old, with a leaky roof; our children sit on wooden planks made into crude benches without backs. Sometimes seventy children, ranging in age from six to twenty, crowd into the one room which comprises the entire school structure; they are taught by one teacher whose wage is lower and whose conditions of work are immeasurably poorer than those of white teachers.

Many of our schools are open for only six months a year, and allow our children to progress only to the sixth grade. Some of those who are lucky enough to graduate go back as teachers to instruct their brothers and sisters.

Many of our children grow to feel that they would rather remain upon the plantations to work than attend school, for they can observe so few tangible results in the lives of those who do attend. The schoolhouse is usually far away; at times our children must travel distances varying from one to six miles. Busses are furnished for many white children, but rarely for ours. The distances we walk are so legendary that often the measure of a black man's desire to obtain an education is gauged by the number of miles he declares he walked to school when a child.

Sunday is always a glad day. We call all our children to us and comb the hair of the boys and plait the hair of the girls; then we rub their heads with hog fat to make their hair shine. Then we rub the hog fat upon their faces to take that dull, ashy look away from skins made dry and rough from the weather of the fields.

In clean clothes ironed stiff with starch made from flour, we hitch up the mule to the wagon, pile in our Bibles and baskets of food� hog meat and greens �and we are off to church. The preacher tells of days long ago and of a people whose sufferings were like ours. He preaches of the Hebrew children and the fiery furnace, of Daniel, of Moses, of Solomon, and of Christ. What we have not dared feel in the presence of the Lords of the Land, we now feel in church.

Our hearts and bodies, reciprocally acting upon each other, swing out into the meaning of the story thje preacher is unfolding. Our eyes become absorbed in a vision. As the sermon progresses, the preacher's voice increases in emotional intensity, and we, in tune and sympathy with his sweeping story, sway in our seats until we have lost all notion of time and have begun to float on a tide of passion.

The preacher begins to punctuate his words with sharp rhythms, and we are lifted far beyond the boundaries of our daily lives, upward and outward, until, drunk with our enchanted vision, our senses lifted to the burning skies, we do not know who we are, what we are, or where we are. We go home pleasantly tired and sleep easily, for we know that we hold somewhere within our hearts a possibility of inexhaustible happiness; we know that if we could but get our feet planted firmly upon this earth, we could laugh and live and build.

We take this feeling with us each day and it drains the gall out of our years, sucks the sting from the rush of time, purges the pain from our memory of the past, and banishes the fear of lone- liness and death. When the soil grows poorer, we cling to this feeling; when clanking tractors uproot and hurl us from the land, we cling to it; when our eyes behold a black body swinging from a tree in the wind, we cling to it.

Some say that, because we possess this faculty of keeping alive this spark of happiness under adversity, we are children. No, it is the courage and faith in simple living that enable us to maintain this reservoir of human feeling, for we know that there will come a day when we shall pour out our hearts over this land. Neither are we ashamed to go of a Saturday night to the crossroad dancehall and slow drag, ball the jack, and Charleston to an old guitar and piano.

Dressed in starched jeans, an old silk shirt, a big straw hat, we swing the girls over the plank floor, clapping our hands, stomping our feet, and singing: Shake it to i Shake it U Shake it to t, You love i It is what makes our boys and girls, when they are ten or twelve years of age, roam the woods, bareheaded and barefoot, singing and whistling and shouting in wild, hilarious chorus a string of ditties that make the leaves of the trees shiver in naked and raucous laughter.

I love you once I love you twice 1 love you next to Jesus Christ. And it is this same capacity for joy that makes us hymn: I'm a stranger Don't drive me away Vm a stranger Don't drive me away If you drive me away You may need me some day I'm a stranger Don't drive me away. As our children grow older, they leave us to fulfill the sense of happiness that sleeps in their hearts. We despair to see them go, but we tell them that we want them to escape the deadening life of the plantation.

Our hearts are divided : we want them to have a new life, yet we are afraid if they challenge the Lords of the Land, for we know that terror will assail them. As our children learn what is happening on other plantations and up north, the casual ties of our folk families begin to dissolve. Thera are times. We sit on our front porches, fanning the flies away, and watch the men with axes come through the Southland, as they have already gone through the Northland and the Westland, and whack down the pine, oak, ash, elm, and hickory trees, leaving the land denuded as far as the eye can see.

And then rain comes in leaden sheets to slant and scour at the earth until it washes away rich layers of top soil, until it leaves the land defenseless, until all vegetation is gone and nothing remains to absorb the moisture and hinder the violent spreading floods of early spring. Cotton crops have sapped the soil of its fertility; twenty or thirty years of good cotton farming are enough to drain the land and leave it a hard, yellow mat, a mockery to the sky and a curse to us.

On top of this there come, with a tread as of doom, more and more of the thundering tractors and cotton-picking machines that more and more render our labor useless. Year by year these machines grow from one odd and curious object to be gaped at to thousands that become, so deadly in their impersonal labor that we grow to hate them. They do our work better and faster than we can, driving us from plantation to plantation.

Black and white alike now go to the pea, celery, orange, grapefruit, cabbage, and lemon crops. Sometimes we walk and sometimes the bosses of the farm factories send their trucks for us. We go from the red land to the brown land, from the brown land to the black land, working our way eastward until we reach the blue Adamic. In spring we chop cotton in Mississippi and pick beans in Florida; in summer we labor in the peach orchards of Georgia and tramp on to the tobacco crop in North Carolina; then we trek to New Jersey to dig potatoes.

We sleep in woods, in bams, in wooden barracks, on sidewalks, and sometimes in jail. Our dog-trot, dog-run, shot- gun, and gingerbread shacks fill with ghosts and tumble down from rot.

The bosses send their trucks for us We sleep. Yet we go. Our drifting is the expression of our hope to improve our lives. Season after season the farm factories pass before our eyes, and at the end of the long journey we kte filled with nostalgic melancholy, a blurred picture of many places seen and suffered in, a restlessness which we cannot appease.

In , out of the unknown, comes the news that a war is in progress to hold back the Germans, who are determined to wrest markets and lands away from other countries. We hear that the government has decided to keep alien labor out of the country, and a call is made to us to come north and help turn the wheels of industry. At the thought of leaving our homes again, we cry: "What a life it is we live! Our roots are nowhere! We have no home even upon this soil which formed our blood and bones!

The Lords of the Land pause now and speak kind words to us; they want us to remain upon the plantations. They tell us that they are our best friends; we smile and say nothing. As we abandon the land, odd things happen to us. If one of us should run afoul of the law at harvest time, the Lords of the Land will speak a good word to the sheriff for "his niggers. Then we labor upon the plantation to pay the debt! But as long as we merely drift from plantation to plantation, the Lords of the Land do not really care.

They tell us that we will live in brick buildings, that we will vote, that we will be able to send our children to school for nine months of the year, that if we get into trouble we will not be lynched, and that we will not have to grin, doff our hats, bend our kpees, slap our thighs, dance, and laugh when we see a white face. We listen, and it sounds like religion. Is it really true?

Is there not a trick somewhere? We have grown to distrust all white men. Yet they say : "Listen, we need you to work. We cannot help but believe now. We cannot work the cotton fields for thinking of it; our minds are paralyzed with the hope and dread of it. Not to go means lingering here to live out this slow death ; to go means facing the unknown.

But, strangely, life has already prepared us for moving and drifting. Have we not already roamed the South? Yes, we will go and see. But we do not move. We are scared. Who will go first? Then, suddenly, a friend leaves and we whisper to him to write and tell us if the dream is true. We wait. Word comes. It is true! We go. It is like this : suddenly, while we are chopping at the clods of clay with a heavy hoe, the riding boss gallops up and says : "Huriy up there, nigger!

If we have no money, we borrow it; if we cannot borrow it, we beg it. If the Bosses of the Buildings do not furnish us with a train, we walk until we reach a railroad and then we swing onto a freight.

There develops such a shortage of labor in the South that the Lords of the Land order us rounded up and threatened with jail sentences unless we consent to go to the fields and gather the waiting crops. Finally they persuade men of our own race to talk to us. Our boys come back to Dixie in uniform and walk the streets with quick steps and proud shoulders.

They cannot help it; they have been in battle, have seen, men of all nations and races die. They have seen what men are made of, and now they act differendy. But the Lords of the Land cannot understand them. They take them and lynch them while they are still wearing the uniform of the United States Army.

Our blade boys do not die for liberty in Flanders. They die in Texas and Georgia. Atlanta is our Marne. Brownsville, Texas, is our Chateau-Thierry. It is a lesson we will never forget; it is written into the pages of our blood, info the ledgers of our bleeding bodies, into columns of judgment figures and balance statements in the lobes of our brains.

Our eyes are open, our ears listening for words to point the way. From to , more than 2,, of us left the land. Good God Almighty! Great Day in the Morning! Our time has come! We are leaving! We are angry no more; we are leaving! We are bitter no more; we are leaving! We are leaving our homes, pulling up stakes to move on. We look up at the high southern sky and remember all the sunshine and the rain and we feel a sense of loss, but we are leaving.

We look out at the wide green fields which our eyes saw when we first came into the world and we feel full of regret, but we are leaving. We scan the kind black faces we have looked upon since we first saw the light of day, and, though pain is in our hearts, we are leaving.

We take one last furtive look over our to the Big House high upon a hill beyond the railroad tracks � where the Lord of the Land lives, and we feel glad, for we are leaving For a long time now we have heard tell that all over the world men are leaving the land for the streets of the city, so we are leaving too.

As we leave we see thousands of the poor whites also packing up to move to the city, leaving the land that will not give life to her sons and daughters, black or white. When a man lives upon the land and is cold and hungry and hears word of the great factories going up in the cities, he begins to hope and dream of a new life, and he leaves.

In there were 1,, of us black men and women in the cities of the nation, both north and south. In there were 2,, of us. In there were 3,, of us in the cities of the nation and we were still going, still leaving the land. In Philadelphia our influx increased the number of black people by one-third in a few years. In Chicago our endless trek inflated the Black Belt popu- lation by more than , from to And our tide continued to roll from the farm to the factory, from the country to the city.

Perhaps never in history has a more utterly unprepared folk wanted to go to the city ; we were barely born as a folk when we headed for the tall and sprawling centers of steel and stone. We, who were landless upon the land; we, who had barely managed to live in family groups; we, who needed the ritual and guidance of institutions to hold our atomized lives together in lines of purpose; we, who had known only relationships to people and not relationships to things; we who had never belonged to any organizations except the church and burial societies; we, who had had our personalities blasted with two hundred years of slavery and had been turned loose to shift for ourselves� we were such a folk as this when we moved into a world that was destined to test all we were, that threw us into the scales of competition to weigh our mettle.

And how were we to know that, the moment we landless millions of the land� we men who were struggling to be born � set our awkward feet upon the pavements of the city, life would begin to exact of us a heavy toll in death? We, who had barely managed to live in family groups We, who needed the ritual and guidance of institutions We, who had never belonged to any organizations except the church and burial societies We, who had had our personalities blasted with two hundred years of slavery We did not know what would happen, what was in store for us.

We went innocently, longing and hoping for a life that the Lords of the Land would not let us live. Our hearts were high as we moved northward to the cities. What emotions, fears, what a complex of sensations we felt when, looking out of a train window at the revolving fields, we first glimpsed the sliding waters of the gleaming Ohio!

What memories that river evoked in us, memories black and gloomy, yet tinged with the bright border of a wild and desperate hope! The Ohio is more than a river. It is a symbol, a line that runs through our hearts, dividing hope from despair, just as once it bisected the nation, dividing freedom from slavery. How many desperate scenes have been enacted upon its banks! How many grim dramas have been played out upon its bosom!

How many slave hunters and Abolitionists have clashed here with fire in their eyes and deep convictions in their hearts! This river has seen men whose beliefs were so strong that the rights of property meant nothing, men whose feelings were so mighty that the laws of the land meant nothing, men whose passions were so fiery that only human life and human dignity mattered. The train and the auto move north, ever north, and from to , 1,, of us were moving from the South to the North and we kept leaving.

Night and day, in rain and in sun, in winter and in summer, we leave the land. Already, as we sit and look broodingly out over the turning fields, we notice with attention and hope that the dense southern swamps give way to broad, cultivated wheat farms. The spick-and-span farmhouses done in red and green and white crowd out the casual, unpainted ginger- bread shacks.

Silos take the place of straggling piles of hay. Macadam highways now wind over the horizon instead of dirt roads. The cheeks of the farm people are full and ruddy, not sunken and withered like soda crackers.

The slow southern drawl, which in legend is so sweet and hos- pitable but which in fact has brought down on our black bodies suffering untold, is superseded by clipped Yankee phrases, phrases spoken with such rapidity and neutrality that we, with our slow ears, have difficulty in under- standing.

And the foreigners� Poles, Germans, Swedes, and Italians� we never dreamed that there were so many in the world! Yes, coming north for a Negro sharecropper involves more strangeness than going to another country. It is the beginning of living on a new and terrifying plane of consciousness. We see white men and women get on the train, dressed in expensive new clothes. We look at them guardedly and wonder will they bother us. Will they ask us to stand up while they sit down?

Will they tell us to go to the back of the coach? Even though we have been told that we need not be afraid, we have lived so long in fear of all white faces that we cannot help but sit and wait. We look around the train and we do not see the old familiar signs: For Colored and For White.

The train speeds north and we cannot sleep. Our heads sink in a doze, and then we sit bolt-upright, prodded by the thought that we must watch these strange surroundings. But nothing happens; these white men seem impersonal and their very neutrality reassures us� for a while. Almost against our deeper judgment, we try to force ourselves to relax, for these brisk men give no sign of what they feel. They are indifferent. O sweet and welcome indifference!

The miles click behind us. We feel freer than we have ever felt before, but we are still a little scared. The land tilled by the blacks is beautiful and full of varied colors, smells and sounds, be it in Spring, Summer or Winter, when the whole landscape with its changing and joyful prospects should have aroused the feeling of joy and wonder.

But for the blacks its a hard cruel life with its dull endless days. Among the idyllic surroundings given a hype by the media, the life led by the blacks are far from being charming, idyllic and romantic; they live under constant fear of the lords of the Land, bowing and grinning in submission, drudging all the day long and having most insecure wooden shacks for their living quarters. The blacks are not free to obey the dictates of their impulse or inspiration.

In general there are three classes of men above the blacks; the Lords of the Land-operators of the plantations; the Bosses of the buildings-the owners of industry; and the vast number of white workers-their immediate competitors. The Lords of the Land controls the plantations and black workers and they in turn are lent money and obey the orders of the Bosses of the Buildings. When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the so called emancipated blacks were stranded and bewildered, as two hundred and fifty years of slavery under whites, being the only relationship with the Western civilization, was all on a sudden snapped.

Ironically, they had to turn to the same Lords of the Land, who held them as slaves, and beg for work, take their advice and enter into a new kind of bondage-Share Cropping. The effect of the emancipation was varied in its manifestations. Some of the blacks drifted and gave way to whatever impulse that suggested itself, as long as they could work and eat. Many had no feelings left for family, home, community, race, church, or progress because of their life being confined within the narrow bounds of cotton fields for centuries together.

In many white people predicted that blacks cannot survive in a competitive world, but in spite of that they found employment in the sawmills, the turpentine camps, the road jobs, though under in human conditions. During the first decade of the twentieth century more than three- quarter millions left the plantations, more than a million roamed the states of South and the remainder drifted North.

The men were usually separated from their family when they were sold and were forced to mate with whatever slave girls came their way. Blacks have little say in economic and political matters as banks and big industries are owned by the whites.

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