Monday, March 20, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- A Free Man
 
As the time for his departure neared, Frederick had thoughts of staying in England permanently.  His anti-slavery hosts had invited him to remain; profits from the sale of his book in Europe were already providing him a comfortable income.  Most importantly, in the British Isles he had been treated as a respectable human being.  During his tour of Ireland he had written Garrison that in Ireland, “I breathe, and lo! The chattel becomes a man.  … I employ a cab--I am seated beside white people--I reach the hotel--I enter the same door--I am shown into the same parlor--I dine at the same table--and no one is offended.  No delicate rose grows deformed in my presence” (Bontemps 116).
 
Fortunately, his British friends had already set in motion an attempt to obtain his freedom.
 
One of his hosts had been Ellen Richardson and her brother and sister-in-law, Quakers with whom Charles Remond, another black abolitionist, had stayed in 1841.
 
… Ellen Richardson, about a decade older than the twenty-eight-year-old Douglass, was the headmistress of a girls’ school.   She had long been active in the antislavery cause, and cognizant of the personal problems that ex-slaves faced.  She and her brother took Douglass to the seaside, and there, “sitting on the sand,” he may have begun to see that moving his family to Britain could not work.   … Looking out at the water, he pondered … if “it would be safe for me to come home” now that he was so notorious and so easy for the Aulds to find.  “Observing his sadness,” Ellen Richardson made up her mind to arrange to buy him his freedom.
 
 
By the time Douglass was to go back, Ellen Richardson’s campaign had worked.  Her plea for money to buy his freedom had brought a check for fifty pounds from John Bright; she knew that with this money, and the prestige of Bright’s support, her efforts would succeed. 
 
With John Bright’s check in hand, Richardson confided in her sister and her sister’s husband, a lawyer.  … Exactly how the negotiations proceeded is not clear, but we do know that Douglass wrote about the problem to William A. White, who could find those in Boston who could get things done.  The man in the American Anti-Slavery Society who got the job was Ellis Gray Loring. 
 
Loring engaged the services of a New Yorker, Walter Lowrie, who in turn arranged for a Baltimore lawyer to ask Hugh Auld, the brother available in the city, for a price—or, more probably, to suggest one to him.  … The figure agreed upon was 150 pounds sterling—roughly $1,250—and when Hugh consulted him, Thomas Auld agreed to it.  In December, the transaction was completed: Hugh passed the money to Thomas Auld, who in Talbot County on November 30, 1846, had filed a bill of sale of “Frederick Baily or Douglass as he calls himself” to Hugh Auld; Hugh, in turn, on December 12, 1846, had formally registered a deed of manumission in the Baltimore County courthouse for “Frederick Bailey, otherwise called Frederick Douglass.”  The lawyers had made sure that there could be no misunderstanding about who was being set free (McFeely 137, 143-144).
 
Purists among the American Anti-Slavery movement were horrified.  Frederick Douglass and his supporters had engaged in the business of slave trafficking.  Garrison doctrine held that “any man who had another in bondage and paid him no wages on his
 
labor was a thief.  Those who bought and sold slaves were pirates, kidnappers and thugs.  It was a righteous thing for a free man to help a slave escape.  It was no crime for a slave to attack and destroy his enslaver if he got a chance.  The purchase of the slave was the first crime.  And no one had argued these matters more effectively in America or Britain than the young runaway Frederick Douglass.  How then could he turn around and meet the villainous breed on their own grounds?  How could he let himself be a party to a legal transaction which recognized the whole wicked machinery (Bontemps 136)?
 
... Presumably he [Douglass] would have been beyond criticism—and they would have wept over his fate—if he had gone back to Covey’s fields or had been shot while struggling to escape from those dragging him there.  Douglass, who responded to the attacks with more dignity than they deserved and more patience than were to be expected, preferred to be a free antislavery worker rather than a martyr.  To his credit, William Lloyd Garrison shared his viewpoint, and helped defuse the criticism (McFeely 144-145).
 
Frederick Douglass boarded the Cambria for American March 31, 1847.  Although he had purchased a first-class ticket, he was told that there would be conditions attached to his boarding of the ship.
 
… He would have to agree to take all his meals alone.  He would have to promise not to mix with the saloon company. 
 
As always on such occasions, Douglass spoke his piece.  He argued.  He denounced.  And he made sure that spectators, including newspaper reporters, heard what he said (Bontemps 138).
 
When the Cambria docked in Boston, Frederick Douglass, ignoring his luggage, “lept” onto the wharf, and scarcely nodding as he ran through a crowd of admirers, he raced for the train to Lynn [where his family now lived].  “In twenty-five minutes, I reached Lynn, the train passing my door from which I saw my family five minutes before getting home.”  Having waited impatiently for the train to finally stop, he rushed out of the station: “When within fifty yards of our house, I was met by my two bright-eyed boys, Lewis and Frederic, running and dancing with joy to meet me.  Taking one in my arms and the other by the hand, I hastened to my house” (McFeely 145).
 
Frederick Douglass had returned to his native land, to his family, and to his home, at last a free man.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review
"The Town"
by Conrad Richter
 
What distinguishes a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from well-written novels that do not win prestigious awards?  I would assert a deeper exploration into the psyche and behavior of the human species.  I would also suggest an undertaking of far greater depth and scope than the attention-gaining, quick-moving, character-conflict- resolution-end of story kind of novel.   I believe “The Town” meets these conditions.
 
I appreciated these three themes. 
 
The accomplishments that one generation achieves and the people who achieve them are too frequently discounted by people of succeeding generations tempted to believe, because their lives have been made easier, that they are more enlightened, superior.
 
Every child born of the same parents is different from his/her siblings, but all, usually, adopt the broad values inculcated during their upbringing. But there can be outliers that parents may never direct.
 
Great harm can be done to innocent children by cruel attitudes and acts of adults who adhere to rigid moral codes.
 
Intertwined in the revelation of these themes are two important characters: Chancey Wheeler, the youngest of Sayward and Portius Wheeler’s ten surviving children, and Rosa Tench, Portius’s illegitimate daughter.
 
Chancey Wheeler is the outlier of the Wheeler children.  Unlike his siblings, he is born with a delicate constitution.  He is sickly, physically weak, and seemingly handicapped by a weak heart.  During his first several years of life he is frequently carried to places in and close to the family house rather than be expected to walk.  Deprived of normal activity, he spends most of his time inert.  Much of that time he fantasizes. 
 
He resents his siblings’ robustness.  In his late teens he acknowledges the reasons for his dislike of them.  They were so sufficient to themselves, he thought.  That was it.  Nothing stopped them.  Any one of his people could go it alone, ask for no quarter, do without your help.  … If only there had been another in the family puny, lazy and cowardly like he!  Just the thought of having such a brother or sister, perhaps one even worse than he was, lifted him up, made him feel better.  But his mother wouldn’t admit he was puny or cowardly or anything else that wasn’t good.  He was strong as anybody else, she claimed.  … But nobody could make that much out of him, Chancey told himself, for none understood him save Rosa. 
 
He believes his mother resents him.  He convinces himself that Sayward and Portius are not his parents and he longs for the day when his real parents will take him away.  He tells fantastic stories – for instance, he rode in to town once on the back of a red cow – and insists that they are true.  As he matures, he resists doing menial work. In his middle teens he meets Rosa Tench and finds her to be an unthreatening, accepting soul.  Eventually, he leaves the home and start a career as a newspaper editor.  He is harshly critical of Sayward’s generation and of his oldest brother, Resolve, who has become governor of the state.  He steadfastly believes that his mother is cruel to him by insisting that he not be soft and lazy.  Eventually, Sayward blames herself for his shortcomings.  Where she made the mistake was letting a little sickness coddle him.  Had she brought him up rough and tumble like his brothers and sisters, he’d know how to call back worse names than he got, and then the others would be glad to leave him alone. 
 
He rejects everything Sayward values -- especially the virtue of hard work -- which he believes are old-fashioned, out-of-date.  In his late teens he and Sayward have this conversation.
 
This spring he tried every excuse to get out of working in the lot and garden.  When she held him to it, he cried out it was a disgrace.  She was thunderstruck though she tried not to show it.
 
“Why is honest work a disgrace?” she wanted to know.
 
“It’s all right for those who have to,” he told her.  “But you’re the richest woman in Americus and I’m your son and yet we have to go out and work like hired men in the field.”
 
It came to her mind to say, I thought you said you weren’t my son, but never would she cast that up to him.
 
“Work’s the best thing we can do, Chancey,” she said.
 
Caught up with fanciful notions of an enlightened society – justification to excuse his aversion to work -- he responds this way.
 
… progress will do away with all toil and labor in time.  … There’ll be no rich people and no poor people, just brothers and sisters.  And everybody will have security and happiness.”
 
Sayward answers.
 
“Making a body happy by taking away what made him unhappy will never keep him happy long.  The more you give him, the more he’ll want and the weaker he’ll get for not having to scratch for hisself.”
 
Chancey is an unsympathetic character throughout the novel.
 
Rosa Tench is the consequence of Portius’s marital infidelity with the town’s school mistress, Miss Bartram, who marries a local laborer, Jake Tench, prior to Rosa’s birth.  These events occur in Conrad Richter novel, “The Fields.”  Neither Rosa nor Chancey know of their blood relationship.  Mrs. Tench, following Rosa’s birth, becomes an isolate, never leaves her house, is slovenly, lives only to identify with characters in novels.  Rosa is an entirely different child than are her brothers, who are ordinary and rather crude.
 
We meet Rosa initially in a fascinating scene fairly early in the novel.
 
Portius, suffering a high fever, is being nursed back to health.  Rosa’s father, in a drunken state, wanting to prick Portius’s conscience, sends Rosa to the Wheeler house with a batch of flowers.  Sayward answers a gentle knock on the front door.
 
Her slender legs looked like they never belonged in that coarse gray calico dress she had on, and her white face had the singular shape of one of her blossoms.  Washed and rightly dressed and combed, she would be oddly beautiful, Sayward thought. Now the little girl just stood there, not saying a word.
 
Sayward gets Rosa to identify herself.
 
The sound of the name gave Sayward a turn.  For a minute she just stood looking.  So this was the child conceived in sin by the pretty school mistress who, they said, looked like a hag now, and would not set foot out of her house since the babe was born, nor would she wash or comb!  Why, the girl was no bigger than Chancey, though she must be a year or two older.  And now Sayward knew, with the feel of knife in her side, who the girl looked like.
 
Did the girl know it, too?  Her face quivered.
 
“I brought some flowers for Mr. Wheeler,” she said, very low, holding out her handful.
 
“I’m sure he’ll be much obliged to you,” Sayward told her, sober as could be, taking them from her, steeling herself, hardening her hand toward the soft clinging feel of those fingers,  Now how much did the child know, she wondered.  “Did you bring those your own self or did somebody tell you to?” she asked.
 
“My father told me.”  The girl’s eyes were like the most ethereal of wide slaty gray liquid curtains that threatened to be torn down.
 
Sayward recognizes Jake Tench’s intent.
 
just the trick Jake would play on some highly respectable bigwig …, send a bastard child to him with flowers when he was sick, but Jake would have to be might tipsy to play it on his own foster child and Portius.  Why, he had threatened death on any who told Rosa that she was not his own, or so she heard.
 
Sayward has to leave to tend Portius.  She instructs Rosa to sit just inside the front door to wait.  When Sayward returns, Rosa is gone.  Her daughters Huldah and Libby were at the door.
 
“Where is she?” she asked them.
 
“Do you know who that was?” Huldah leered at her.
 
“Of course I know.  What did you do to her?’
 
“We didn’t do anything,” Libby said.  “We just looked at her, that’s all.”  But her face said, “We sent her home a flying.”
 
“I can imagine how you looked at her,” Sayward said sternly.
 
This scene foreshadows Sayward’s difficulty accepting Rosa’s existence and the Wheeler children’s and Porticus’s rejection of Rosa throughout the novel.  It also foreshadows Rosa’s victimization by her mother, Jake Tench, and others in the community.
 
By accident Chancey and Rosa meet in town.  They discover that each feels estranged from their families.  Rosa takes Chancey for walks in the woods to enjoy the beautiful isolation of nature that she craves.  Chancey sees in her a sanctuary from his feelings of inadequacy and the resentment he feels toward his mother and siblings.  They grow older, continue to meet; their meetings become know to their families; they are forbidden by them to meet.  Portius has the sheriff warn Rosa and Chancey of the consequences of their continued meetings. After a subsequent meeting, Rosa’s mother says awful things to her.
 
“Don’t all right me, Miss Rosa!  If you don’t want to tell your own mother, I can’t make you.  But don’t tell her either, when the law brings your sin out in court.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Never did I dream I would have a daughter such as you!”
 
Their meetings are not sexual, as the public and family members suspect.  Each provides the other emotional release.  Unlike Chancey, Rosa is a sympathetic, almost beloved character.  We respond to her anguish when she looks through the windows of the Wheeler mansion and marvels at the advantages the Wheeler children have compared to what she must endure.
 
Wasn’t it the saddest thing in this world that you always had to be yourself, that you couldn’t be somebody else, that never, never, never could you be the person you most wanted to be?
 
I was furious at the outcome of her conflict.
 
I valued also other aspects of this novel.  For instance, the story, covering many years, mirrors real life.  Tragedies occur, challenges must be met, characters age, children are born, “progress” happens.  At the end of the novel the town is nothing like what the land had been when Sayward, a child, was brought into the deep forest by her father and mother at the beginning of the novel “The Trees.”  All three of Conrad Richter’s three novels about the Lucketts and Wheelers have an authentic feel about them that causes their readers to believe such a place existed.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- To England and Ireland
 
Frederick’s voyage to England during the summer of 1845 mirrored what he had endured and fought against the past three years.  Traveling with white abolitionist James Buffum, he was segregated from white passengers on the steamship Cambia and forced to accept steerage accommodations.  Buffum had tried unsuccessfully to purchase a first-class ticket for Douglass and, having failed, had accepted steerage conditions as well.
 
After he had recovered from seasickness, Frederick began to fight back.  He sent several messages to the ship captain to protest his segregation.  Eventually he was permitted to come on the promenade deck when he was accompanied by Buffum.  Later he was seen walking with four Massachusetts musicians, the Hutchinsons, whom Frederick had specifically invited to accompany him to England.  These young men had already endeared themselves with many of the passengers and particularly the captain.  Soon they were passing out copies of Frederick’s book to many of the American and European passengers.
 
A group of planters from Charleston, South Carolina, resented the concessions granted Frederick, and, after having read his book, they resolved to make an issue of his presence in their midst.  The Hutchinsons appealed to the captain to allow Frederick to speak to the passengers on the forward deck.  They had seen how, before, he had pacified hostile or divided audiences; they were certain he could resolve the increasingly ugly situation.  The announcement of Frederick’s address infuriated the slaveholders, and when he appeared in front of them, with complete self-assurance, contemptuous of their sneers, they were at the point of breaking.  When he began speaking, they did, shouting, “Kill the nigger!  Throw him overboard!”
 
Douglass, seeing the intent of the slaveholders, fled to his steerage quarters.  He was saved by the timely arrival of the captain, who had been summoned from his bed by one of the Hutchinsons.  The captain threatened to put the slaveholders “in irons”; it was enough to defuse their resentment.  To the Hutchinsons, with whom he now sang “God Save the Queen,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “America,” he confessed, “I was once the owner of two hundred slaves, but the government of Great Britain liberated them, and I am glad of it” (Bontemps 108).
 
Douglass returned to the promenade deck.  His continued presence there was not challenged the remainder of the voyage.  The captain joined him and his musician friends on deck after dinner the evening of August 26, and they saw lights in the distance, the southern tip of Ireland.
 
Frederick remained in England for more than a year.  He spoke before many gatherings in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and was immensely popular.  He supported whole-heartedly the social causes that his British sponsors espoused, particularly temperance.  He was especially disturbed by the suffering of the beggars of Dublin, a consequence in part, he decided, of the consumption of alcohol.
 
He had gone out alone to explore the streets of Dublin and almost immediately they were around him, obstructing his direction.
 
“Will your honor please to give me a penny to buy some bread?”
“May the Lord bless you, give the poor old woman a little sixpence.”
 
All were in rags, dreadful rags.  Some who were without feet dragged themselves on the ground.  Some had lost hands and arms and held up their stumps for Douglass to see.  Others were so deformed their feet lapped around and laid against their backs.  Among them were women shamefully exposed by their tatters.  Some of these carried pale, emaciated infants whose sunken eyes horrified the former Maryland slave.  All were barefooted, of course.
 
 
“Oh, my poor child, it must starve!  For God’s sake give me a penny.  More power to you!  I know your honor will leave the poor creature something.  Ah, do!  Ah, do!  I will pray for you as long as I live.”
 
Frederick Douglass began emptying his pockets (Bontemps 111)
 
On his way through Ireland, Douglass saw what his antislavery hosts seemed blind to.  Reports of famine--the grim result of the first of the rotted potato crops--were in the newspapers.  Thin-armed children and their defeated mothers huddled at doorstops, as fathers tried, often unsuccessfully, to earn passage out of the ports of Wexford, Waterford, and Cork.  The antislavery people stepped around these Irish poor as they made their way into Douglass’s lectures about mistreated Africans in America.  [British] Abolitionists were generous in their concern for those who had been wronged, but in the late 1840s, a curious deafness to suffering at home accompanied their sympathetic response to what was endured across the Atlantic.
 
… In one of his finest letters, he [Douglass] wrote to William Lloyd Garrison of a mud-walled, windowless hut with “a board on a box for a table, rags on straw for a bed, and a picture of the crucifixion on the wall” and of the “green scum” covering the pit, near the door, full of “garbage & filth.  … I see much here to remind me of my former condition and I confess I should be ashamed to lift my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over.”
 
The physical conditions he had observed were in fact far worse than any he had experienced, but in this moving letter to Garrison he demonstrated how real for him was the chain that linked all suffering people.  He never was so rude as to call on his Irish hosts to look after the misery of their own island, and he had no plan with which to attack the starvation there.  He had pity, but no cure for the desperate needs of the beggars he saw on the streets.  In lieu of explanation, he resorted to the familiar dodge of blaming drunkenness (McFeely 126).
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Author
 
Frederick was back home in Massachusetts at the beginning of the new year, 1844.  After a period of rest and reacquaintance with his wife and family he was once again active, touring Massachusetts as one of the Society’s premier abolitionist speakers.  The defense of slavery implied in the questions asked by members of the audiences was less strong than what he had recently encountered.  At no location was he threatened physically.  However, he was experiencing something new and it unsettled him.
 
At these recent conventions people without personal prejudice had taken to buttonholding him after meetings and whispering, Did he really expect shrewd New Englanders to believe that he had been a slave, brutalized in the manner he described: The masquerade was too transparent.  … He might convince people in the West that only five years ago he had been in the debased condition of which he spoke so eloquently, but not citizens of the Bay State.  They were attracted to him as a person and as a speaker, but if he offered himself as an example of the product of the slave system, he was actually helping the South.
 
They had also noticed, they pointed out, that he was never very clear about the place from which he had escaped, how he got away, who had been his owner, and the like.  This vagueness, coupled with the fact that he was in his own person a contradiction of much that he said, left even open-minded people with questions (Bontemps 93-94).
 
Now he understood completely why his white abolitionist friends had advised him not to be too “learned.”  Their fears were now being realized.  He was believed by many New Englanders to be an impostor.  He would not “put the plantation in his speech”; his pride would never permit that!  He would not put aside his intellectual gifts and eloquence.  They were a part of him as much as the experiences he recounted to illustrate the evils of slavery.  He would not be false to himself to appear genuine to his listeners.  Eventually, the solution to his problem occurred to him.
 
It was a daring thing to attempt.  Perhaps it was even reckless …. To answer those people who had begun to doubt his story, to silence the whispering that threatened to destroy his value as an abolitionist agent, he would throw caution away, he would put the full account in writing.  … He would write a book.  In his book he would tell the whole world just whose slave he had been, how he had squirmed and plotted in his chains, where and when he had escaped.  The only detail he would withhold would be the manner of his getaway.  … He would reveal everything and take his chances as a fugitive in Massachusetts.  But to disclose the maneuver by which he gave his owners the slip would be to close that particular gate to other slaves.  That he would not do (Bontemps 93-94).
 
The book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was published by the “Anti-Slavery Office” in Boston in June 1845 and was priced at fifty cents.  By fall, 4,500 copies had been sold in the United States.  Three European editions were subsequently published and in five years 30,000 copies had been sold to readers in Europe and America.
 
While he was writing his book, Frederick was tantalized with the thought of visiting England.  This coincided with what William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were considering.  Douglass’s
 
word was too good to waste on Pendleton, Indiana, or even on Massachusetts; there was an international audience that should hear him.  … the immediate goal of the British was to get their American cousins to end slavery in North America.
 
Ties between abolitionists on opposite sides of the Atlantic had long been close, and the value of enabling people to see and hear a victim of the evil they were fighting was widely recognized.  Douglass was far from the first former slave or black man to appear on British platforms, but in 1845 he was the one that ardent antislavery people most wanted to have a look at and to hear (McFeely 177-118).
 
And, of course, his journey would place him beyond the grasp of slave catchers, who would now certainly know of his existence and location in Massachusetts.  With his book he had, in effect, challenged “the slave power to return him to bondage.  Could he depend on Massachusetts to shield him” (Bontemps 104)?  Neither he nor the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society could be certain of the answer.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- The Pendleton Riot
 
In Pendleton [Indiana], the three men--one black, two white—were house guests of a local physician.  During the evening of September 14, 1843, they “learned that a mob had threatened to come down from … a miserable, run-drinking place [Andersonville], about six miles distant,” to drive the race-mixing abolitionists away.  Warned but not deterred, the three went the next morning to the Baptist church.  “Frederick spoke,” reported [William] White [a Harvard graduate of about Douglass’s age] in a letter to the Liberator, “and there was no interruption, though I observed a great number of men, such as do not usually attend our meetings”  The Baptists noticed them too; when the three speakers returned for the afternoon meeting, they were told they could not use the building because the church authorities feared it would be pulled down.
 
When the abolitionists tried to conduct their meeting from the steps outside the church, about thirty of the uninvited guests began to heckle.  A local man reasoned with them and achieved sufficient quiet for Bradburn to be heard.  His speech went on until a rainstorm abruptly did the hecklers’ job for them.  In the evening, the citizens of the town, opposed to slavery or simply embarrassed, met and passed a resolution that the men should be allowed to speak.  “The next morning being pleasant,” White continued, “we held our meeting in the woods, where seats and stands had been arranged.”  At the start of the meeting, White spotted only seven of their challengers among the hundred men and thirty women who had gathered.  The scene was very like that of a camp meeting.  The proceedings were opened with a song.  Then Bradburn rose to speak, and as he rolled into his attack on slavery, White and Douglass noticed that “the mob continued to collect, but were quiet.”  The men were menacing, their faces fixed in sneers.  White fixed his eyes on one man about his age who stood barefoot, a pair of homespun pants slung from his hips and a shirt slouched across his body so loosely that it bared his shoulders.  The nakedness of this insolence fascinated and terrified the well-bred eastern gentleman.  After several minutes, at a signal, the men got up and walked out.
 
“In a few moments we heard a shout, and saw the mob coming through the woods, thirty or more in number, two by two, armed with stones and eggs,” and led by a man in a coonskin cap.  The audience rose for a hasty exit, but White pleaded with them to sit down again.  A few of the men and all of the women did.  The cry from under the coonskin cap was “Surround them,” and the thirty circled the audience, some stationing themselves at the foot of the speakers’ stand.  Stones were thrown at the speakers, but did no real damage.  Old eggs were hurled and splattered on the speakers’ faces; the three endured the drip and stink in stoical silence.  The audience too was quiet, and the stymied hecklers were at a loss as to what to do next.  The peacemaker of the day before tried again, but as he spoke, one man called out to the speakers, asking why they didn’t go down south with their message.  Bradburn replied: his challenger, James Jackson, offered a rebuttal; and White invited him up onto the platform to continue the debate.  Jackson rose to the bait and made, said the Harvard man, “a most ridiculous spectacle, interlarding his speech with copious oaths, and ending off by saying he could not talk, but he could fight—that he had too much good blood in his veins to let us go on.”  On this point, another man jumped up onto the platform, saying that he saw that nothing would be done unless he did it, and seized hold of the table, overturned it, and began to pull the stand to pieces.  His buddies now all joined in the wrenching of timbers, pushing protesting members of the audience out of the way.
 
Douglass was sandwiched between two antislavery people concerned for his safety, but thinking White was in danger, he ran into the midst of the pulling and prying and grabbed a piece of lumber to use as a club.  In doing so, he violated not only the Garrisonian insistence on nonviolence, but also white America’s stern law that black men were not to raise weapons except against other black men.  There were screams: “kill the nigger, kill the damn nigger.”  Furious men pursued Douglass, who ran for his life.  White, not injured (and with his hat still on his head), followed in pursuit.  The swing of one club broke Douglass’s right hand.  Running up, White was able to grab and slow another piece of lumber as it was swung with lethal force; it could have killed the downed black man.  A stone hit White on the head; deflected by his hat, it nevertheless opened a gash that bled profusely.
 
Douglass never forgot those moments with William White.  In what may be the most affectionate latter he ever wrote, he recalled it all (three years later) for his friend: “I shall never forget how like two very brothers we were ready to dare, do, and even die for each other.  Tragic, awfully so, yet I laugh when I think how comic I must have looked when running before the mob, darkening the air with mud from my feet.  How I looked running you can best describe but how you looked bleeding I shall always remember.  … Dear William, from that hour … have you been loved by Frederic Douglass.”
 
With White on the ground, his head gashed and his mouth bleeding from a blow that knocked out teeth, and Douglass lying nearby cradling his painful hand, the attackers got on their horses and rode off.  Members of the antislavery audience helped Neal Hardy, “a kind-hearted member of the Society of Friends,” ease the men into his wagon.  Hardy took them home and with his wife got their wounds bandaged.  (The fracture was not properly set; his right hand bothered Douglass for the rest of his life.)  Two days later, they were on the platform in Noblesville, Indiana (McFeely 108-112).
 
Meanwhile the ringleader of the riot at Pendleton was arrested.  He pleaded guilty and was jailed in Indianapolis.  His cronies from Andersonville did not abandon him there, however.  Three hundred of them, mounted and armed with rifles, galloped into the city and demanded his release.  Governor Whitcomb promptly pardoned the man.
 
From that point onward the series of conventions seemed to run together in Douglass’s consciousness.  He spoke many more times in Indiana before leaving, and it is possible to follow the general direction of the return sweep through Ohio and western Pennsylvania in the antislavery press, but to Douglass the audiences began to look much alike.  Tumult and threats began to form a kind of pattern.  At the same time experience was adding to his own devices for dealing with hecklers and quieting bullies.  When tension became great, he introduced humor and convulsed the crowd with laughter.  When he had angered them with old testament denunciation till the lid seemed ready to blow, he cunningly struck a note of soft pathos.
 
… He did retain however some of the questions that were thrown at him most frequently.  Always someone wanted to know, often in a whining voice, if it was not true that slaves were better off in slavery.  Were they not content and happy?  An equal number of people in these western towns wondered if Negroes could take care of themselves, if given their freedom.  Others asked if the masters were not generally kind.  Wouldn’t most slaves choose to remain in slavery if given the choice?  Were not Negroes too lazy to work except in bondage?  On the other hand, wasn’t there danger that slaves, if emancipated, would all rush North and take work away from white men?  Shouldn’t they be returned to Africa?
 
 
… The voice droned on, a muttering debate between the slavery advocate and his conscience.  “They can’t be improved, the Negroes, they need masters to care for them.  They made no progress in Africa.  They are not like white people.  They are an inferior race.  And you—you are meddling with what does not concern you.  Mind your own business.  You abolitionists are only making the condition of the Negro worse by your infernal agitation.  You have pushed the relations between the races back fifty years.  You will never in God’s world put an end to slavery.  And there’s another thing—if God wanted slavery abolished, he would have done it long ago.  The Bible sanctions slavery.  The Savior said nothing against it” (Bontemps 87-88).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Editing
 
This past December I finished the first draft – 35 chapters – of my Roanoke historical novel manuscript and began the lengthy task of editing.  Here is some of what I want to say about editing.
 
Editing encompasses everything from placing commas correctly to word, phrase, and sentence selection.  Narrating dialogue is much easier for me to do than narrating character thoughts and emotions.
 
Initially, I edit five chapters, go back to the first chapter, and edit the five chapters again.  Then I edit the next five chapters, go back, and edit a second time.  Ideally, the double editing makes the writing much better.  That is not always the result.  Sometimes the revisions are not much better than the original.
 
I do my first writing without much regard for articulate expression.  It is enough for me to get the story into words on a sloppy disc.  Thereafter, I work mostly on expression until I feel satisfied with the result.
 
After the double read-through, I edit the entire manuscript without going back.  I always find original flaws overlooked or flaws added in the previous editing.  I liken this to weeding a large, overgrown planting area.  The tallest weeds have to go first.  Afterward, I am able to see the smaller weeds.  I want them to be entirely gone after the second read-through.  They never are.  Something always needs to be improved.
 
After I have edited the manuscript three times, I have my wife do a read-through.  She is a voracious reader.  I trust her judgment.  It is difficult judging your own work.  It helps considerably to have another pair of eyes assess it.  Those eyes must, however, belong to somebody who recognizes good writing.  After my wife’s involvement, I make necessary changes and read through the manuscript again.
 
I am currently double-editing chapters 21 to 25.  A year has passed since I wrote those chapters.  I had forgotten several scenes.  Reading them was like reading another writer’s work.  Most pleased me.  Here is one such forgotten scene (edited one).
 
Inside, darkness.  She could see along the walls, mostly because she was familiar with what was kept there, wooden utensils, Machk’s bows, cutting and sharpening tools, planting and weeding poles, mortar and pestle, scraping stones, baskets containing seeds for cattapeak planting -- dark shapes recognized by a once friend now considered a personal enemy.
It had been the injury to Machk that had begun her and Nana’s estrangement. It was, unmistakably, Samoset’s death that had closed all communication between them. Until now.
Nana, lying on her raised bed in the most distant corner of the back room, was watching her.
“Nana! Get up!”
Lying on her right side, she did not stir.
“Be useful! Keep the fire burning while Wapun pries upon oysters, while your brother fishes to add to the pot!”
Nana rose to a sitting position.
“You smell! How long since you bathed? Machk and Wapun have to sleep here, also!”
“What business is it of yours? I do not want you here.” Her tone was more factual than emotional.
“Our men are trained from boyhood to accept torture and flaming death without self-pity or complaint!” Alsoomse’s demeanor was harsh. “We are taught to accept what is not fair and to continue to perform our duties as though the gods favor us. Get up! Be a Roanoke woman! Samoset is not worth grieving!”
Anger flashed in Nana’s dark eyes.
“Yes, Samoset! He is not worthy of your grief, or whatever it is that makes you such a lifeless coward!  Get up! Get up if no more than to hit me, you ugly, manless imitation of a woman!”
Nana stood. “You!” She pointed. “With your deformed face!” She jabbed her forefinger. “You brought that on yourself! Machk could have been killed! Get out of this house!”
“No! Not unless you take your stinking body now to the creek!”
Nana stepped close.
“You do not have the courage to hit me!”
Nana swung.
Alsoomse caught and held high Nana’s right fist. “I am still here. Try again!”
“I hate you!”
“Of course you do!”
Nana yanked her right hand loose.
Alsoomse slapped her friend’s face.
Eyes large, Nana looked at her.
“That is for allowing Samoset to use you!” Alsoomse slapped her with her left hand. “That is for abandoning your friends, who did not abandon you!”
Nana swung. Alsoomse allowed Nana’s right hand to strike her deformed cheek. Despite herself, she winced. Pain coursed through the roots of her teeth.
Nana’s left hand covered reflexively her nose and mouth.
“Get it out! Get it all out,” Alsoomse exclaimed, ‘but go this time for the other cheek!”
Staring at her, Nana burst into tears.
 
 
I chose randomly a scene from an earlier chapter to illustrate the kinds of changes I make during my double read-through.  I have divided the scene into five parts, the end of each part marked with asterisks. The first section within each part is my original writing, the second section is the result of my first read-through, and the third section is the result of my second read-through.
 
 
According to Osacan, Nana had explained, Nootau had fallen in love with a Choanoac girl. Odina had looked across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated on a mat beside Sokanon. She is jealous, Alsoomse had concluded, as jealous as me. Sokanon had found her man! At Croatoan. She had found a face full of pain.
 
According to Osacan, Nana had explained, Nootau had fallen in love with a Choanoac girl. Odina had looked across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated on a mat beside Sokanon. She is jealous, Alsoomse had thought, as jealous as me. Sokanon had found her man! At Croatoan. She had found a face full of pain.
 
“Osacan said Nootau fell in love with a Choanoac girl,” Nana had explained in Sooleawa’s longhouse. Odina had looked then across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated beside Sokanon. Odina is envious, Alsoomse had recognized, jealous as I am, that Sokanon found her man! Where I found a face full of pain!
 
***
 
She would have to be fair-minded. Careful. She had lost – she hoped temporarily -- one best friend. Her other best friend, Odina, seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Sokanon’s good fortune and her misfortune were not her cousin’s fault. Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved. She wanted to speak her feelings, her thoughts!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked. “Not … yet” was all she had been able to answer.
 
She would have to be fair-minded. And careful. She had lost – temporarily, she hoped -- a best friend, Nana. Odina seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Sokanon’s good fortune and her misfortune were not her cousin’s fault. Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved. She wanted desperately to speak what she thought and felt!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked. “Not … yet” was all she had been able to answer.
 
She had also recognized that she needed to be fair-minded. And careful. Nana now disliked her. Odina seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Her particular misfortune had been nobody’s fault but her own. How despicable that she should begrudge Sokanon’s good fortune! Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved! She wanted desperately to speak what she thought and felt!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked.
“Not … yet” had been all she had been able to answer.
 
***
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s house. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward her own daughter. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior at certain stages of a mother/daughter relationship was normal. This evening Sooleawa was joyous.
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward Sokanon. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior was normal at certain stages of every mother/daughter relationship. This evening Sooleawa had been joyous.
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward Sokanon. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior was normal at certain stages of every mother/daughter relationship. This evening Sooleawa had been joyous.
 
***
 
As for her own return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to see her.
Alsoomse thought perhaps because she could not talk nobody wished to ask her questions. Without being conscious of it they had been excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury and its reason. No doubt Sokanon wanted to avoid doing so, also. Talk, therefore, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to remain at Roanoke.”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
As for her own return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to have her.
Perhaps because she could not talk, nobody wanted to ask her questions. Consequently, they were excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury. Sokanon wound not have wanted to speak about it, also. Talk, therefore, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to remain at Roanoke. ”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
As for her return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to see her.
Perhaps because she could not talk, nobody wanted to ask her questions. Therefore, they were excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury. Sokanon would not have wanted to speak about either injury. Talk, not surprisingly, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to stay? ”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
***
 
Alsoomse’s moroseness was sundered by Tihkoosue’s sudden entrance. Seeing her, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, extended tentatively his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant space beside her.
 
Noise came suddenly from outside. Tihkoosue burst into the room. Seeing Alsoomse, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, tentatively extended his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant space beside her.
 
Noise came suddenly from outside. Tihkoosue burst into the room. Seeing Alsoomse, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, tentatively extended his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant mat beside her.
 
***
 
I am not pleased with some of my changes.  I hope my single read-through beginning probably next month will produce better results.