Civil War Looms: Searing The American Soul
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
Episode One: The Fugitive Slave Law
Two dark figures blend into the shadows of Squire and Dame
Matthews’ brick house. They creep slowly, careful to avoid exposing themselves
in the moonlit Massachusetts night. Their shabby clothes, pants cinched in the middle with a piece of
rope, shirts ragged and torn and jackets flapping about like black bird wings, barely hold off the
biting New England cold. Having slept on the damp earth, itself, the men’s
frizzy hair was matted and sprinkled with bits of grass and leaves. One of the
black men had a hideous scar where his right ear should have been and under his
tattered shirt, jagged and lacerated pieces of skin crisscross his back.
The fugitives slaves inch their way towards the Matthews’ chicken coop. Its been a week since their last meal and they are starving. The pair fled their Virginia plantation and made their way to Baltimore where they stowed away on a ship bound for Boston harbor.
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They’ve been in Boston for three days and intend to add theft to their other crimes. But just as they reached their goal, a large dog leaps out at the thieves filling the night with his barking and growling. The noise alerts other dogs and then the entire neighborhood is filled with a chorus of howling, yapping and barking. Fright takes the place of hunger and the black fugitives sprint from the yard with Squire Matthews’ dog, Pete, nipping at their heels.
From a side door, the Matthews’ servant comes out to see what is amiss. “Here Pete! Come here, boy!” the old Negro shouts. Pete is basically a friendly old dog and needs no additional encouragement to stop the chase. Barking several more times until he is satisfied that the intruders are gone for good, Pete returns, proudly wagging his tail. Then Pete once again takes up his vigil in front of the chicken coop. “Good doggie,” the Negro servant says, patting Pete on the head. “We’ll just let those fellows be. They’ve got enough troubles without our adding to them.”
At the same time, in that same moon-drenched night, Wesley Parks sits outside the cult house that he built for his ancestors. In front of his ancestors’ shrine, Wes has dug a pit where a fire burns. Stripped to the waist, Wes pulls a chicken from a cage, chops off its head and sprinkles the blood in a circke around the fire. He intones a mysterious chant. Wesley Parks, also known as Hwesu, is the former governor of one of Africa’s richest provinces. Twice more Wes Parks sacrifices a chicken and intones sacred chants. But when he pulls out the fourth chicken, instead of sprinkling its blood in a circle, the African uses the chicken’s blood to draw mysterious symbols on his own forehead, chest
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and stomach before draining the remainder of the chicken blood into an earthen cup and drinking it.
Reaching into a small pouch,Wes draws out some gray powder that he flings in a broad arc into the fire. A cloud of inky smoke rises out of the flames. Three translucent figures appear in the smoke. As they gain weight and mass, the figures loom over Wes Parks who flattens himself against the ground. The shadowy spirits, Wes’ father, grandfather and great-grandfather, flow down toward the prostrated Dahomean prince and envelope him in a fond embrace. Then they direct him to sit on a fallen log while they billow and flow about whispering in his ear.
After awhile Wes’ ancestors conclude their business and withdraw back into the spirit world. But with their departure, a handsome colored man with a well-trimmed mustache and beard takes their place. Unlike Wes’ thick bristly hair, the colored man’s close-cropped, slightly graying hair is wavy. It’s what black people called ‘good hair.’ Wes ancestors told him to expect the visitor.
“Good evening, Mr. Yerby.”
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After introducing Frank Yerby to his wife, Ruby, Wes Parks seats himself at the dining room table and picks up the morning edition of the Boston Globe. He also reads Garrison’s Liberator and Lowell’s Atlantic Monthly. Normally, Wes enjoys reading the newspaper, undisturbed, when taking his breakfast. This morning his son disturbs his routine. “Dad, they’re taking the fugitive slaves down to the waterfront,” Ben shouts. “I’m going to see. Are you coming?” At the AME church school, neither his classmates nor his teacher can pronounce Gbenu, the name Wes gave his son. Gbenu was Wes’ father’s name. Wes’ father was the mayor of Alladah, the provincial capital of Dahomey. Wes, himself had taken many heads in the king’s war, and he even saved the king’s life. In return, the king appointed Wes governor of the province of Alladah. Out of jealousy, Wes’brother, Gbouchi, murdered Wes’ mother, his wife and their four children. Then Gbouchi sold Wes into slavery. But that was long ago. Now Wes is a successful author, a respected landowner and businessman. He rarely thinks about his past. Nor does he mind that instead of being called Gbenu, his son is called Ben. Still excited, Ben shouts to his mother, “Mom, are you coming?”
From somewhere in another room, Ruby replies. “No, dear, I’ll just stay here and pray for them.” Like so many in Boston’s black community, Ruby is a runaway. The new law makes Ruby afraid to leave her house. The law has sent shock waves through Boston’s black community. Already several colored families have packed their belongings and fled to Canada.
The Fugitive Slave Law requires white citizens to inform federal authorities about any fugitive slave known to them. Though sympathetic to their plight, the Boston Globe points out that the law will resolve the worsening fugitive slave problem. A short time ago, fugitive slaves passing through Boston numbered only two or three a week. At the time the new law was passed, the number of fugitive slaves passing through Boston averaged fifty each week and, according to the newspaper, without the Fugitive Slave Law, the number would have continued to rise. “With the passage of the Fugitive Slave law,” the newspaper reasons, “far fewer blacks will attempt to escape up north.”
Phoebe, considers herself colored. She has golden brown skin, lighter even than her mother who had a white granddaddy. In Boston, if you had to be born a Negro, the ultimate blessing was to be able to pass for white like Phoebe’s cousins, Louise and Elaine. Phoebe is too dark to pass for white. Phoebe hates that her father is an African who speaks with a southern drawl interlaced with unintelligible africanisms. But her ultimate embarrassment is that he is black, black as velvet, ebony black, black like the panther that stalks the African night. Phoebe can barely tolerate her mother’s color. Ruby is no darker than a white person with a sun tan. But her father is just too black.
“Dad! Can I go with Ben?” Phoebe asks. She already knows the answer. Her father denies Phoebe nothing. He’s so predictable, the teenager gloats, no challenge at all.
“Ben, look after your sister,” Wes tells his son.
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“Do I have to take Phoebe, Dad?” Ben asks. “I’m meeting Tommie and Carlos. We’re going up to Spyglass Hill.”
“If you want to go,” Wes says sternly, “look after your sister!”
“Thanks, Dad,” Phoebe says, giving her father a peck on the cheek. She smiles at how misty her father gets over her slight show of affection. Ben tries to get away from Phoebe by running out the door. Wes’ family live in a two-story brick house on the north slope of Boston Common behind Beacon Hill. Their home sits on several acres of land with both orchards and gardens.
Ruby comes into the dining room, just as Phoebe races after Ben. For all her thirty-seven years, Ruby is grace itself.
“Do you think the children should go out there by themselves?” Ruby asks.
Ruby worries. She is not as literate as her husband. She limits herself to the headlines in William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator newspaper, but she didn’t have to read the newspaper to learn about the Fugitive Slave law. Slave catchers have been arriving daily, prowling about, seizing any unfortunate black without subsistence or support.
By the time Phoebe catches up with her brother, Ben is talking to his friends. “They come for you at your house, or at your job …. ” “They even kidnap you off the street,”Tommie blurts out. Tommie, Carlos and Ben meet at their special place. Then teenagers climb Spyglass Hill to get a better view of Boston Harbor. When they get to the top, they see the pitiful blacks, manacles on their wrists and shackles on their legs, limping down to the wharf . A crowd gathers at the Boston Harbor, to watch the special federal commissioner send the first group of fugitive slaves back to Charleston. Blue uniformed f soldiers, bearing muskets with fixed bayonets gleaming in the sun. prod their prisoners down the gangplank onto the federal slave ship. The onlookers have mixed reactions. Most of the whites approve the extradition of fugitive slaves. They don’t want unruly niggers wandering about the Boston Common, stealing what they can and doing heaven knows what.
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But a number of whites, members of the anti-slavery society, stage a largely ineffective protest against the extradition.
“Does this mean that they can come into our house and take us away if they want to?“ Phoebe asks.
“I guess it does,” Tommie responds.Tommie is a year older than Carlos and Ben, but Tommie and Ben have been friends since before they knew who was older. Besides, Ben and Tommie were blood brothers, following an Indian custom, they had cut their fingers and mingled their blood.
“They beat slaves horribly,” Phoebe observes. “Have you seen Dad’s back?”
“Yes,” Ben replies. “They’d have to kill me before I’d let them beat me like that.”
Each of the teenagers try to decide how they should behave in this new world fashioned by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, a world where a white person anywere in the United States had the right to put any black person in restraints and sell him into slavery. “They’ll never put me into slavery,” Ben vows,“even if I must go to Canada, even if I have to kill a white man.”
“As long as I behave like the white folks,” Phoebe says, “they’ll never make me a slave. Slavery is for those black niggers.”
But Phoebe Parks is wrong. Like most blacks, Phoebe doesn’t understand that to whites, it is not about skin color; it’s about white supremacy.
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Daily Boston witnesses the implementation of the Fugitive Slave Law as a cavalcade of men, women and children, manacled and shackled, are led from the city jail into the federal courts and from the courts into the custody of the slave catchers. Heart-rending wails and cries of mothers losing their children and wives losing their husbands continually resound around Boston Harbor. Without a white person to stand up for them in court, the accused fugitives cannot receive due process. Coloreds and Negroes, whether or not they are free, whether or not they have manumission papers, have no legal standing in federal court. They cannot testify on their own behalf, nor on behalf of anyone accused of being a fugitive slave. Not all of the unfortunates being shipped south have black faces and kinky hair. To the horror of many New Englanders, some of the captives look white.
Wes Parks’ family was far better off than most of Boston’s free blacks. Boston’s white folks are proud of Wes and take credit for his success. Dwight Ingraham arranged to have Wes’African folktales published as a book for a remarkable sum. Wes supplemented his literary income with a metalworking shop that he owns and operates. In his native Dahomey, he belonged to the metal-working clan and was skilled in turning gold and silver into intricately crafted jewelry. He also could forge the heavier metals, iron and brass, into wheels, gears and machinery parts which he sold at a third of what others charged. Wes Parks had a solid reputation with the Beacon Hill crowd. The Boston Brahmins even invited Wes to their Saturday Club meetings so fascinated were they with how the former African slave became so adept at Yankee capitalism.
Late one afternoon, Ruby brings a young black man into Wes’ study. “Mr. Parks,” the visitor says respectfully, “the Vigilance Society will be meeting tonight and begs to know if you will join them?”
The Boston Brahmins already told Wes that they expected his help in their anti-slavery efforts. “Please inform the committee that I will be present at the meeting tonight,” Wes tells the young man.
In 1850, a significant number of blacks in Boston were ‘passing’ as white. Some of those ‘passing’ like Joe Collins and his twin sister Ellen were even fugitive slaves. Joe and Ellen Collins were the ‘yard’ children of Baron Collins, owner of Collinswood plantation. Joe and Ellen Collins escaped Mississippi with Wes and Ruby. When Ellen arrived in Boston, she and Dwight Ingraham, Wes’ publisher, were married. They and their two children, Dwight Jr and Elaine, settled down into a comfortable existence as a respectable, white New England family.
Abigale Collins, the white daughter of another Mississippi planter, Wilkes Thomas joined the fugitive slaves in their flight from Mississippi. As much as Dwight Ingraham loved Ellen, Abigale Collins loved Joe even more. Abby was young and foolish when she abandoned everything, her family, her inheritance and her southern way of life to run off with a fugitive slave, even if he was an octoroon capable of passing for white. But after years of marriage and living in Boston, not a day passed that Abby didn’t regret her decision. Abby was too much a southerner to tolerate the cold New England weather and too much a woman to tolerate her husband’s habit of chasing every woman who caught his fancy. Abby now thought of herself as a white woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a “nigger.” After these many years, Abby couldn’t even remember why she had fallen so desparately in love with him.
“I thought the slave catchers had got you for sure, honey lamb,” Abby remarks to Joe across the breakfast table. She enjoyed needling him about his one great sensitivity.
“Oh, you mean last night,” Joe replies without looking up from his paper. “I stayed at the shop. We had a couple of orders that had to get out first thing this morning and you know how darkies are. If you don’t stay on them every minute, nothing gets done.” Wes taught Joe how to tailor men’s clothes and lent Joe the money to open up a tailor shop. But Joe’s southern upbringing did little to instill in him either the desire or the perseverance to become a successful yankee tradesman. His tailor shop was only marginally successful. Joe hired a journeyman tailor as well as an apprentice. So, even though his taylor shop had numerous customers, most of the profits were paid out in wages.
“Oh,” Abby exclaims, “I thought my little Joey’s disappearance was because of the clothes off of some female. Possibly you should go into the dressmaking business, my love.”
Joe Collins’ southern manners, handsome good looks and nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude contrasted with the stiff, strait-laced disposition of most Boston men. Abigail Collin’s octoroon husband was irresistible to the women.
“Well, my dear,” Joe replied, “you know that most of my clients are women ordering clothes for their husbands.You don’t want me to turn away customers, do you?”
Before she can answer Lucinda, the Collins’ black serving maid interrupts. “What shall I bring you for breakfast, ma’am?”
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“Just coffee, thank you, Lucinda,” Abby replies. Turning to her husband, she continues, “Well, honey pie, you’d better be careful. Now that they’ve passed that Fugitive Slave Law, a slave catcher could come, snatch you up and take you back to Mississippi any ole time.”
“No one’s taking me anywhere,” Joe replies testily. He didn’t like the way Abby taunted him. What did she want from him anyway? he asks himself. Hadn’t he given her a good home and comforts far above what she could have expected? When they arrived in Boston, he’d been penniless. Now he was prosperous and in some quarters, even respected. Joe Collins expected his wife to behave like a good southern woman and overlook his wandering eye. What Joe failed to realize was that Abby was not a “good southern woman.” Good southern women didn’t run off with black slaves. Neither was Abby a rich white planter’s wife with a regiment of slaves. She gave it all up for him. Joe had used Abby, like he used all women, to get what he wanted, which was usually another woman.
Abigail Collins hated Boston. The city was cold and damp, even in the summer. Even when the Boston weather warmed up, it was still different from the Mississippi warmth that Abby loved. Boston’s streets were narrow and winding. They were dark even during the day. The atmosphere reminded Abby of Edgar Allen Poe who signed his first book, “A. Bostonian.” Abby hated their house; it was small and cramped, unlike the
manor she’d grown up in. It creaked and groaned at night and Joe was never there to
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comfort her. Abby and Joe had a daughter. Louise was a beautiful teen with flowing hair and mysterious eyes that enchanted everyone who saw her. But though she loved Louise as much as she once loved Joe, her beautiful daughter did little to distract Abby from her miserable life. And even though her love for Joe had turned to hate, Abby could never leave him and return to Mississippi. No matter what, Abigale Collins’ family would never accept her ‘half-breed’ daughter, Louise, as a part of their family.
Out in the hallway, the big brass knocker attached to the front door sounded its dull, ominous thud. Within seconds, Ellen Collins Ingraham sweeps into Abby’s dining room greeting Abby with the sincere affection. “Have you heard yet?” she asks Joe.
“Heard what?” Joe retains little affection for his twin sister; she reminds him of his days on Collinswood plantation.
“About the Fugitive Slave Law,” Ellen almost shrieks. “No one is safe.“
“Yes, I’ve heard,” Joe says. He feels Abby’s gloating eyes staring at him. “But I don’t see what it has to do with me.” Joe maintains his arrogant, supercilious air. “I am sure that our father, the honorable Barton Collins, has not sent slave catchers after his own bastards, even if he is still alive, which I doubt.”
“But what about our children?” Ellen wails.“Aren’t you concerned about what’s could happen to them?”
“You wouldn’t have had to worry about your children,” Abby pipes in using the superior air that Ellen just hates, “if you hadn’t put Dwight Jr. and Elaine in that colored school.”
“It is not as if we had a choice,” Ellen replies with an air of resignation. Her oldest child, Elaine, was as beautiful or possibly even more beautiful than Louise. Elaine had delicate skin and her auburn hair was soft and luxurious. But her brother could not pass for white.
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Though Dwight Jr. was fair, possibly even fairer than his sister, his hair was frizzy and his lips were full and unmistakably Negroid. But for all of that, Elaine adored her brother and would not have attend a white school without him. Charles Sumner had made several attempts to get the Boston public schools to accept Negro children, but without success. Dwight and Ellen sent their children to the colored school attended by Ben and Phoebe Parks, the Abiel Smith School of Boston. Louise Collins, on the other hand, attended Boston’s public school along with the other white children.
“Well, you’re just going to have to stick it out, like everybody else,” Joe says. “Now, if the two of you will excuse me, I think I’ll take a nap, before I go back to my little sweatshop.”
“Oh, Abby,” Ellen wails after Joe leaves,“what are we to do?”
“What does Dwight say?” Abby asks.
“Oh, he just thinks I’m being silly,” Ellen replies. Watching her sister, sitting there wearing the frightened look of a fugitive slave, continually wringing her hands, Abby knows that Ellen was not being silly. She knows what Mississippi white folks do to runaway slaves and their children. Abby recalls the terrible beating Joe received when the whites caught her and Joe together. Only the fact that Joe was Baron Collins’ son, kept him from being lynched. Abby understood Ellen’s fear, but there was little she could say or do.
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Several minutes of uncomfortable silence passes before Ellen rises and announces, “I guess I’ll go talk to Wes and Ruby.” Ellen feels closer to Wes than her twin brother. Wes and Ruby were more like her real family than Joe and Abby. Though Ellen looks white, in her soul she is really black and Wes and Ruby love Ellen as if she were one of their children.
When Dwight Jr and Elaine both got sick at the same time during a bitter winter and needed constant attention, Wes and Ruby helped her nurse the children, night and day, for a week. Dwight had no relatives living in Boston. When he broke his leg and needed help, Wes helped Dwight get from his house to his office everyday. One of Dwight’s friends saw Dwight Jr. and asked, “And who is the father of this one?” Ellen became so distraught that she left her home and stayed with Wes and Ruby for over a month. It was her own hypocrisy that depressed Ellen most; passing for white to Ellen was the highest form of hypocrisy. Through it all, Wes and Ruby supported Ellen and helped her face her demons.
Ellen bursts into Wes tiny study. He looks up from his cluttered desk. When anyone in his family, including Ellen, crowds into his small study, Wes gets irritated. There is barely enough room for his growing library and things either get broken or torn or one of his books goes missing. Wes’ study is his haven; its where he goes to retreat and read. But Ellen doesn’t care. “Wes, how are we going to deal with this situation?”
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“Hi Ellen,” Wes says. “Meet Frank Yerby.” The man sitting with Wes, though dressed in strange clothes and wearing framed spectacles unlike any she had seen before, seemed vaguely familiar to Ellen.
“Have we met before, Mr.Yerby?” she asks.
“Our paths have crossed in the past,” Yerby answers.
“Then I am happy to renew our aquaintance, Mr Yerby,” Ellen smiles.
“Please,” Yerby responds, “call me Frank.”
“Very well, Frank,” Ellen replies with a smile. She feels better already. Turning to Wes, she says. “I need your advice. What shall I do?”
“What the heck are you talking about?” Wes asks. He looks over at Frank, as if to say, “It’s always like this around here.”
“What am I talking about?” Ellen explodes. “I am talking about the same thing everyone is talking about. I am talking about the slave catchers who are seizing coloreds and taking them down south!”
“Ah, yes,” Wes nods. “The Fugitive Slave Law, but you don ’t have anything to fear.”
“Maybe not me, but what about Elaine and Dwight, Jr.,” Ellen wails. “They both attend the Abiel Smith School and Dwight, Jr. doesn’t look white.”
At first, Wes had been unconcerned about the Fugitive Slave Law. Even though he was as black as ebony and he himself was also a fugitive slave, his own personal wealth and status with the Beacon Hill crowd made him believe he and his family were safe. But as more and more blacks are loaded onto the federal slave ship, some of whom he knew, Wes couldn’t just ignore it. His wide circle of white friends and customers, notwithstanding, the Fugitive Slave law had deprived him and his family of all their civil rights. Their freedom was only guaranteed by white folks’ goodwill and could be withdrawn at anytime!
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“Wes, I think Ellen’s right to be afraid.” Yerby offers. “For obvious reasons, Ellen, her children and all who look like them are going to be special targets of the slave catchers.
“Obvious reasons?” Ellen repeats. “What would those obvious reasons be, Mr.Yerby?”
“The most obvious reason is that you are beautiful,” Yerby says, his face frozen in deadpan seriousness.
“Mr. Yerby!” Ellen exclaims, “I’m a married woman. Your remarks are highly inappropriate and most unwelcome, sir.”
“I meant no offense,” Yerby replies without changing expression. “However, it remains as I have said. Your physical beauty, the physical attractiveness of octoroons like you and even darker-skinned mulattos made you vulnerable even when you had legal rights. Now with the law saying that you have no rights that a white man must respect, you could be kidnapped off the street and sold before anyone knows you’re missing.”
Ellen considers Yerby’s point. “That’s one reason,” she says calmly, “are there others?”
“Yes,”Yerby replies.“Southern brutality towards blacks is based upon their absolute belief in the racial superiority of whites. The presence of octoroons who look white, but legally can be treated like any dark-skinned, kinky-headed African…” Yerby stops abruptly and then looking at Wes, says, “No offense intended.”
“None taken,” Wes replies.
“Well as I was saying, certain white folks, especially those whites who actually believe in the Bible, cringe at the idea that the brutalities codified into law aimed at those who look white, could also affect those who are white.”
“I still don’t see how that is an obvious reason,” Ellen persists
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“Some whites might not want you around,”Yerby explains.“They might not want to be reminded of their own, ah, indiscretions ….”
“Also, some of us might help colored people from the inside,” Ellen says, thinking out loud.
“Little chance for that,”Yerby scoffs.“Secret societies run this land. Nobody gets anywhere in America without being initiated.”
“Which brings us back to the question I asked in the first place,” Ellen says impatiently.
“I’m going to a meeting of the Boston Vigilance Committee tonight,” Wes announces. “Why don’t you and Dwight join us?”
“A Vigilance Committee meeting,” Ellen says faintly.
“ I know that Elaine and Dwight Jr. must have told you about it.” Wes says.
Ellen was shaken by Wes’ invitation. Boston’s octoroons, passing for white, and even those who were not consciously passing, rarely, if ever, socialize or appear with Negroes in public. As much as Ellen loved Wes and Ruby and even though their children all attend the Abiel Smith School, Ellen could never be seen with Wes, Ruby or their children, in public. Ellen abided by the rules against social integration to save her husband from embarrassment, at least that is what she believed. In reality, Dwight Ingraham would never be embarrassed by anything his wife ever did, so much did he love her. Whenever Dwight Ingraham looked into other men’s faces as they looked at his sultry, seductive wife, he became even more convinced that he was the luckiest man alive. But Ellen was a white woman, now. She never wanted to go back to being a “nigger, ” either in Mississippi or in Boston.
“Well, I don ’t know if tonight would be convenient,”Ellen stammers, embarrassed by her own reactions to Wes’ invitation.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Wes says, “but some of the most important white people in Boston will be there, including William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner.” Wes reaches over and pats her hand. “Don ’t worry, it’ll be all right.”
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“I think Wes is right,” Yerby adds. “If you are fearful, the best thing you can do is become active and known. That way you increase your own personal security.”
Ruby barges into the overcrowded study. “Besides, it’s time you began to learn to act like a free citizen, instead of a scared housewife!”
Ellen hesitates before she replies. “If Dwight decides it’s all right, we’ll meet you in front of the hall.”
When Ellen returns home, she mentions the Boston Vigilance Committee meeting to Dwight. Her husband cannot restrain his enthusiasm.“Of course, we should go,” Dwight
replies with that special smile that tells Ellen what a good person he is. “But I don’t think Elaine and Dwight Jr. need come.”
“Oh, no,” Ellen agrees.“They should stay home.” Then she asks, “Do you think they’ll be all right?”
“Of course, they will, my dear,” Dwight assures his wife. “We’ll not be gone long.”
Ellen and Dwight await Wes and Ruby outside Boston’s packed African Meeting House. Ellen was surprised at the number of whites in attendance. But Dwight whispered in her ear. “I’m not surprised. How could it have been otherwise?”
“What do you mean?” Ellen asks.
“The whites around here still remember David Walker’s Appeal To the Coloured Citizens of the World.”
“David Wallker’s Appeal?”
“David Walker was a black sailor who wrote that the wretchedness of black people was a consequence of the religion of Jesus Christ.”
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“I don ’t see why the accusation of a Negro would makes any difference to the white people of Boston,” Ellen scoffs. “White people’s religion is Christianity. Some white people hold slaves; others don’t. It’s just a matter of which whites run the society. It has nothing to do with religion.”
Ellen had a way of simplifying things that drove her husband crazy. “Walker said that the practice of Christianity is really practicing orgainzed deception and hypocrisy,” Dwight explains . “He says that Christians, in reality, practice the exact opposite of their stated beliefs in order to deceive and gain control over people and land.”
“I still don’t see what difference it makes what some black man says,” Ellen replies. “Besides which, I’m certain they killed him, didn’t they?”
“Well, yes they did,” Dwight admits. “But a lot of Bostonians were really unnerved by what David Walker said.”
“Why should they care what some black fugitive slave says,” Ellen reiterates.
“The Christians were concerned that the coloreds who could read, would believe David Walker,” Dwight confides to his wife. “I’ll bet you believed that the prohibition against teaching slaves to read originated in the south.”
Ellen looks up at her husband. “Well didn’t it?”
“No, it didn’t,” Dwight smiles. “All the pastors here in Boston met and decided teaching colored childred to read was not a good idea. They were afraid the coloreds would read David Walker’s Appeal. But look, here are Wes and Ruby. Who is that strange fellow with them?”
“Oh that’s Frank Yerby. He’s Wes and Ruby’s house guest.”
“It’s like I’ve met him before,” Dwight murmers.
“I thought the same thing when I met him,” Ellen agrees.
The two couples nod to each other cordially, but do not speak. They enter the African Meeting House, together, but inside they observe Boston’s strict rules of segregation, the whites in the middle section, the blacks on either side and in the balcony.
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William Lloyd Garrison, the chairman of the Massachusetts Abolitionist Society and other speakers involved with the abolitionist movement, sit on a raised platform. At the podium, Frederick Douglass addresses the gathering: “We gather here to express our concern about the hundreds of black slaves fleeing the terror of southern slavery,” Douglass declares. “Daily many of our good-hearted white friends provide shelter, food and clothing for runaway slaves. They provide transportation and guides to their next ‘station’ to freedom. This is what the good white people of the north are doing to assist their less fortunate brethern.” A spontaneous cheer rises up first from the colored section, followed by a dignified applause from the white section. Douglass continues. “The white people supply money to the runaways to get them out of Boston.” Frederick Douglass looks directly at the whites. He has their attention. “I ask you, my friends, are you not expanding the Underground Railroad routes to get as many colored out of the United States and into Canada as possible? Are you not here in this African Meeting House to learn how to send Negroes as far away from Boston as possible?”
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There was a somewhat subdued shuffling among the coloreds, and an uncomfortable murmur in the white section. Frederick Douglass’ words hurt. The whites had come to hear what good Christians they were and how much the coloreds appreciated their efforts. It had been over twenty years since another black man had accused God’s “elect” of hypocrisy. A number of whites rise to their feet and, shaking their heads, walk out.
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William Lloyd Garrison steps up to the rostrum and elbows Frederick Douglass to the side. “Please, ladies and gentlemen,” Garrison pleads, “do not let the sentiments of this former slave cause you distress. He can hardly be expected to understand the differences between our need for an orderly society, where the separation of the races is in everyone’s benefit and the institution of slavery.” Garrison’ remarks mollify some of the whites. Garrison continues. “You understand the great cause for which we fight. If, at times, we must suffer the victim’s ingratitude, it is understandable, considering the ignorance of the black race. Yet, we should not be discouraged as we lower our hand to assist the unfortunates that civilization has passed over.” Garrison speech dissapates much of the hostility incurred by Frederick Douglass because those he offended have already left. Garrison introduces his next speaker, Paschal Beverly Randolph, a swarthy, olive complexion mulatto.
P.B. Randolph is Garrison’s secret weapon. A member of both the Liberty as well as Free
Soil Parties, the mulatto is the grand master of the Rosicrusian Society. However,
Randolph’s major attraction is his hypnotic control over women. P.B. Randolf is a 19th century version of a ‘rock star.’ Before Garrison introduced P.B. Randolph, Ellen had
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been thinking, What a terrible bore, this is. Why did I let Wes talk me into coming here? But as soon as Ellen saw P.B. Randolph, she became mesmerized, hanging on his every word and devouring him with her eyes. Ellen could not help herself. He was so tall and handsome. She never knew that a black man could stir her to such emotions. After awhile she heard nothing Randolph said, so loud was the beating of her heart. And in that moment, Ellen made the fateful decision that would have disatrous consequences on
many that she knew and loved. Ellen Collins decided that she was destined to make love to Paschal Beverly Randolph.
After Randolph completes his talk, Garrison introduces other speakers representing every aspect of abolitionist thought. All agree that the Fugitive Slave Law is terrible and needs to be resisted. In concluding the meeting, Garrison summarizes by saying that more routes, more stations, more conductors and, most importantly, more money is needed to support the cause. “Underground Railroad’s efforts to conduct runaway slaves into Canada,” Garrison says speaking directly to the whites remaining, “is important to those who hope to restore peace and tranquility to our land. Let no one think that giving into the evil of slavery will prevent the great disaster that looms over us all.”
And then Garrison addresses the colored section. “We need you prosperous coloreds in the Boston area to become more active participants in this great cause. You must repay those who have treated you so well.”
Wes Parks can feel Garrison’s eyes focusing upon him. The abolitionists have already approached him. They want colored ‘stops’ and ‘stations’. Wes has volunteered to establish an Underground Railroad Station on his property which means shouldering the financial burden for the station and providing transportation to the next station or stop. “I am pleased to announce that several members of the colored community have already committed themselves to this nobel cause,” Garrison announces. The white Bostonians stand and applaud.
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When the meeting adjourns, a number of groups caucus together. Wes Parks and Frederick Douglass closet themselves and engage in earnest conversation, careful to keep what they say beyond earshot of Garrison or any of his informants. Dwight Ingraham seeks out Charles Sumner. Sumner is the Free Soil candidate for Massachusetts’ United States Senate seat. Ingraham wants quotes from Sumner about the Free Soil Party’s stand on abolition for an article he is writung for the Atlantic Monthly. Ingraham and Sumner also discuss the Fugitive Slave Law impact on Sumner’s senate bid. While their husbands are occupied, Ellen and Ruby join the women gathered about the handsome Paschal Beverly Randolph.
“Dr. Randolph,” asks an elder Boston matron, with pinced cheeks and a haughty expression, “please tell us what type of medicine you practice.”
“Madam, I practice medicine where the complaint involves the affections,” Randolph replies. The colored man makes his living off of women, “My patients are those who have resolved to cure their loveless, unhappy lives.” His words electrify the prim and proper Boston matrons. All their lives they have believed that sexual pleasure was sinful. A chaste religious woman could not enjoy intimacy in marriage. “I treat patients who are afflicted by passions that have long been unsatisfied,” the handsome colored man continues. Randolph’s bold, self confidence affects every woman in his presence. “I have found that where the nerves and the mind are in disarrangement with their sexual system,” Randolph explains, “there is a need for the kind of intervention that only I can provide.”
“Dr. Randolph, how does your indulgence in free love assist the furtherance of spiritual enlightenment?” another stern-faced Boston matron asks.
“Without love, there is no spiritualism,” Randolph replies. “Without love, there is only materialism. The world exists only because of the love that finds its truest and highest
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expression in humanity. And to understand spiritualism is to practice acts of love at the spiritual level.”
“But how can we practice pure, spiritual love?” another matron asks.
“For some, the only way to learn how to love at the highest level is to practice love at the human level and try to raise it up,” Randolph replies.
Some of the women are scandalized by what they consider public vulgarity. They leave in a huff. Others including Ellen, however, find Randolph’s words not only exhilarating but liberating. All of her life, Ellen has known only Dwight. She has never thought about sex in any other terms than as the process by which she would have children. Since neither Ellen nor Dwight want more children, they have a minimal need for sexual intimacy. Randolph stirs a different sensation in Ellen, a sizzle racing through her body, like molten lava pulsing through her veins. Ellen js on fire. And she needs P.B. Randolph to quench the flame.
“Dr. Randolph,” Ellen blurts out, “where is your practice located?”
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My dear, Randolph thinks to himself, seeing Ellen’s glowing face, you have really given these Boston hens something to cluck about. Randolph knows that, in the eyes of these Boston matrons, Ellen’s innocent question has damaged not only her reputation, but Dwight’s reputation as well. Ellen doesn’t care. That very evening, one Brahmin matron whispered loudly enough for Ellen to hear, “You’d think she’d have the decency to sit in the colored section!”
Another female Brahmin replied “Her sitting with the better class is what egged Douglass to say those vile things.”
P.B. Randolph is nothing if not gallant. He comes to Ellen’s aid. “I am so happy that Mr. Garrison asked one of you to remind me to announce that my practice is in upstate New York, though I am considering coming to Boston a couple of days a month.” A murmur arises from the group of women. “Thank you for the warm reception to your fair city. I hope to see all of you again, soon. Now, I will say goodnight, ladies.”