Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Sam

For Big Sam Haynes, my Great-Great-Great Granddaddy

I got an email the other day from Miss Carol Haynes, a new found cousin. She wrote, “The Nickells were the family who owned us when we were slaves, and while most of us got free Big Sam is still in chains.”

Big Sam was a good nigger man according to the chapter called “The Darkies,” in the Nickell family history. Legend has it that Big Sam was the best team driving man in Greenbrier County.
One day he turned a team of horses around in a narrow alleyway and a white man offered to pay top dollar to buy that good nigger.

And I wonder.

I wonder if Big Sam looked at that white man and thought, “it would be so easy to kill him to turn loose this team and run him over, pound his white skin into the dirty stone of this street, turn the horses in circle after circle until his pale pink skin is dark, but not like mine. His skin will be bruised, dirty, the color of shit ground into snow. It would never be, could never be the deep shades of ebony, onyx, sun kissed carbon that is my holy African inheritance.”

I wonder if he thought those things, while he Sambo-ed, and through gritted teeth, words digging double hands into the flesh of his tongue as he said, “thank you, suh.”

Miss Carol’s email continued said she’d spoken with a Nickell descendant that said, “Big Sam was such a good nig…negro man that my sister keeps a picture of him on her wall.”

And I wonder.

I wonder if Big Sam’s ghost looks out of that photo, his spirit raging at 150 years of hanging, swinging by an invisible noose, watching television and screaming at the Jena Six, that professor at Columbia, that pick up truck in Alabama, at all the nooses visible and invisible hanging around the necks of his people his children his familial diaspora. Does he call on Yemaya and Oshun, Legba and Ogun, does he demand that Jesus climb down from his cross and take up his Father’s old testament solutions, fire, salt, boils, locusts, the bellies of whales. Does his spirit refuse to kneel before the throne of God because his knees were bent for too damn long. Does he stand outside of Heaven’s gates refusing to come in until his picture comes down?"

And I wonder.

If he has found the peace that passes my understanding, if he can laugh and cry at the circumstances of his life, if he can turn the other cheek, if he can tell me how to calm the fire raging deep within me in places dark, wet, primal that I never knew existed until the day I learned the name of our former slave masters, until I had a target for my sometimes inarticulate pen, the why behind my need to sing spirituals not of escaping but taking back the spirit beaten, hung, swung, raped, worked, and sold out of my grandparents, why at 30 the internet knows more than I know about my own family.

And I wonder.

If Big Sam is waiting for me like he waited for Loma, Juanita, and Druesilla. Did he meet them just the other side of the setting sun and welcome them home? Did he watch as they shed skins that once imprisoned them? Did he hold them as they shouted, hollered, tore at their own throats to release their pain and joy, their fear and confusion, did he walk them along that dark, uneven path towards understanding, catch them as they stumbled, stopped them as they contemplated running back over the horizon to the bondage of the familiar, the safety found in constant aching.

And I wonder.

How to rescue Big Sam. How to set free my great-great-great Grandfather. How to tear down the wall….strung up with strange fruit….blood fruit….my blood…my history.

And I wonder.

If it is really Big Sam that needs freeing…

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