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In the heart of man there are conflicting imperatives. Two such are the will to survive and
the will to dignity. Both of these, as well as all others, bounce around in the soul,
colliding and confronting one another and the common delimiters of life; fear, anger,
greed and so forth. The result of all this ephemeral bumping and grinding is identified by
different, imprecise terms. Character, reason, judgment, artistic talent and courage are
some of these terms. The perceived presence or absence of the results identified by these
terms can define a man or woman in the eyes of the world and of themselves. These
terms are so powerful they can, if allowed, define endless generations of a family, indeed,
of a people.
The peculiar relationship between persons of European descent and those of African
descent in and around Simpleton is a remarkable example of the power of terms. Terms,
after all, are only tags assigned by one or more persons to others. These tags always serve
some purpose of the persons assigning them. Still, they are nothing, except when they are
In the relationship between Black and White in Simpleton, Mississippi the terms proved
uniquely powerful. Not merely because they remained a constant power for centuries.
Not merely because one powerful group sought to impose its will on a less powerful
group using little more than physical intimidation and terms. Not merely because both
groups bought into the terms the Whites set as definitions for both themselves and the
To one degree or other such things were not historically unique. No, the real astonishing
element of the Black/White relationship as seen in and around Simpleton is that both
groups, from the very beginning, knew it was all a lie. From the very beginning, every
individual of either race knew there was no difference between White and Black that was
not superficial and based on power, sheer physical power. Even with four hundred years
of imposed differences, no substantial modification occurred which made either race
discernable from the other. At least, nothing discernable which could not be accounted for
by differences in formative environments.
How did it happen? Thoughtful Simpletonians of every era asked themselves this
question, and did so frequently. Whites asked it with an air of detached bemusement.
Blacks asked it with a desperate urgency. Even the difference between the manner of
asking was only a product of environment. Had they been truly different, the Blacks
would have asked a different question and the Whites would not have been moved to ask
any question at all.
At sixteen Nasty Boy had been on the edge of being too old for harvest by the slave
gathering tribes of the west coast of Africa. These tribes did not like to harvest grown
men. Grown men were too hard to manage. The White traders who bought the gatherers\u2019
human merchandise would not pay well for the unmalleble males if these males were too
strong. They wouldn\u2019t pay at all for fully grown men who were too weak to be
unmallable. As the buyers in the new world wanted strong males, the white traders solved
the dilemma in the same way herders had always done. The traders bought the young,
healthy, near grown males. The Buyers and brokers in the new world would grow them
out while the \u201cspirit\u201d was beaten out of them.
Of course, grown women and healthy children of all ages were harvested from the
interior forests of the continent. These were harvested whenever the foraging parties
encountered them. Grown males were usually slaughtered. It was, therefore, something of
a blessing, if not for Nasty Boy or the succeeding twelve to fifteen generations
immediately following him, then to those of his descendants alive today, that the
gatherers erred on the side of greed and judged Nasty Boy healthy but not quite of age.
He resisted vigorously and effectively but was subdued at the beginning of the encounter.
Had luck broken differently, Nasty Boy might not have been struck from his blind side
and rendered unconscious early on. He might have fought on making enough of a
nuisance of himself to justify his immediate demise.
He was not murdered. He was herded along with the rest of his flock to a crude holding pen in a crude port village. There he was held only for as long as it took to conclude the negotiations between the gathering tribe and the pink skinned devils who came in the big boats.
Though the time in the holding pen was short, the occupants used the time efficiently
circulating and embellishing the rumors relating to their future. The competing concepts
varied from the hopeful to the depressing to the terrifying. Some thought they would
serve as slaves to kings far away. Many of the young women, truth be told, thought there
might be some benefit in this and were hopeful if not eager.
Most thought they were to be shipped away and it would be long in the future, if ever,
before they saw their homes again. The fear of never seeing loved ones again, never
walking the familiar ways or doing the familiar things saddened those who felt those
fears. Others feared they were to be eaten or worse by the pink devils. These became
more terrified as they refined these images of horror.
The herd soon began to separate themselves into several categories. There were the very
fortunate, the fortunate and the unfortunate. The very fortunate died while still in the
holding pens. The fortunate died in the big boats they were stuffed into for the trip to a
land across the big water. The unfortunate survived the trip to a new world and new life.
attention. He and all his companions experienced pretty much the same maltreatment.
Some of the young women whose looks suited the taste of the pink devils were brought
up on deck from time to time. The fresh air was beneficial but most of those so chosen
did not finish the trip. Some of the chosen just died, some liberated themselves with a
leap into the sea and some were killed by their captors. Adjudged guilty of some
transgression or lack of gratitude.
Nasty Boy wanted to die. He begged whatever Deity he thought might be listening for the
release that comes with death. The Deities were not listening, not to Nasty Boy. They
were, perhaps too busy answering the beseechings of Nasty Boy\u2019s companions.
No day went by without the passing of someone. Sometimes the bodies were removed. Most of the time they were left to rot were they lay. The pink devils believed there was a therapeutic value, a calming effect to be gained. One is given a unique perspective when chained to a disintegrating corpse. An arresting odor and compelling vision fill the brain, making thought of anything else difficult. For this reason, the there was a certain wisdom in the pink devils\u2019 logic.
The view of Mobile Bay has, from the earliest, been a dramatic and powerful one. Men on board, strong men, have, after a long ocean voyage, been known to weep at the sight of the vast bay opening up as the vessel rounds the tip of Dauphin Island, slips under the guns guarding the entrance and penetrates the mouth of the harbor.
The visual beauty one encounters is heightened by the peaceful security which settles on
a man leaving the insecurity and danger of the wider sea and entering the warm, calm
waters of the Bay.
Likewise, men forced to lay up in the roads waiting for the tide to change before a ship
could approach the dock, would suffer from being close to Mobile and the comforts of
shore. Close enough to see and, sometimes, to hear the life of the port, unable to join that
life. This too was a type of suffering. Not, of course, on a par with the suffering the
sailors had inflicted upon the human cargo below. Still, one feels his own suffering and
feeling it makes it real.
For Nasty Boy there was no sense of impending release or arrival. He knew, though was
hardly conscious of, the ships stationary status as it lay in the roads. Perhaps he might
have sensed a heightening of expectation from the pink devils. He did not understand
much of the language the devils spoke. Only one or two one-word commands. Even so
the time in the hold of the ship came, finally, to an end. Nasty Boy had arrived with his
prayer for death unanswered.
The herd was taken on the deck and moved rapidly off the ship to another holding pen.
None of the herd sensed any anticipation. The unrelenting horror of the trip had left each
member of the herd without the capacity to hope or look with anticipation to the future.
Now bringing you back...
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