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By Another Name

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  • By Another Name

    August 1, 1876

    Dear Essie,
    It is
    in hopes of dispelling
    any thoughts of
    abandonment or disloyalty,
    that I now set forth
    the circumstances that have
    separated us
    these many months.

    As you know,
    it was my desire
    to join you forthwith,
    to witness the arrival
    of our child,
    the first generation
    to enter this life,
    as the possession
    of no man.
    But alas,
    the evils of our former condition,
    persist even now,
    if only
    in more clandestine nature.

    As I set about the journey
    to your waiting arms,
    the banner of Christ
    upon my bearing,
    mindful to avoid
    both the speech and manner
    of either ruffian or bandit,
    I was accosted by a man
    of that fairer race,
    now reluctant
    to relinquish their dominion
    over our people.

    He inquired as to
    whence I go.
    Startled by his inquisition,
    determined to foreclose this engagement
    at the earliest convenience,
    I informed him of
    your condition,
    my eagerness to attend you.

    However, my answers
    only served to
    further the interrogation,
    as he demanded to know
    my vocation,
    what person
    kept me in his employ.

    Uneasy about his temperament
    and eager to continue my journey,
    I informed him as to my occupation.
    He then, quite tersely responded,
    that he knew no such person,
    and indicated
    that he was unconvinced
    of the veracity of my claim.
    At this point,
    I insisted that,
    perhaps he had not made
    Master Pruitt's acquaintance,
    since Master
    was of Washington County,
    many miles yonder.

    Then without, warning,
    he informed me,
    that I was to be arrested,
    upon the charge that I was,
    in fact, a trifling negro,
    whom he had discovered
    in a vagrant condition,
    wandering about
    the state of Alabama.

    Of course,
    I protested
    his conclusion was incorrect,
    and furthermore,
    even if true,
    provided no grounds for my detainment.

    Then, to my horror,
    he drew his rifle,
    and struck me,
    upon the sudden appearance
    of 2 cohorts,
    of similar stature,
    proceeded to bind me,
    insisting that I was
    to be brought before a magistrate
    to answer the charges.

    Astounded by this assault,
    and the absurdity of any claims
    as to its legality,
    being certain that
    I had committed no crime,
    remained optimistic about
    the probability of my release.

    The next morning,
    the magistrate informed me
    that it was, in fact, illegal
    for a negro to be found
    wandering the streets
    without employment,
    and that vagrants
    were subject to
    forced labour,
    for a period of 5 years.

    Well, my dear,
    you can only imagine
    my shock
    at learning of such a provision,
    confident in my vocation,
    I proceeded to inform his honour,
    that I did in fact,
    work a plot of land
    leased to me
    by one,
    Master Pruitt of Washington County,
    at which point,
    his honour demanded
    that I present witnesses
    to testify to those facts.

    I pleaded with his honour,
    that having been unfamiliar
    with this law,
    and a stranger in this county,
    I had no witnesses to present.
    At which point, his honour,
    declared a guilty verdict,
    and sentenced me to
    1 year labour, in
    The Pratt Coal Mine,
    where I have remained, ever since.

    My dear,
    it is impossible
    to adequately convey
    the deplorable conditions
    which befall me,
    on these few lines.

    We number nearly 200,
    and all but 3 are negroes.
    I am housed in a shack
    barely fit for a small beast,
    which purports to shelter,
    myself and 4 other men.

    We arise before the sun,
    and only emerge from
    these dark caverns,
    by the light of the moon.

    The air is dense with dust,
    and I have taken to
    covering my mouth with
    whatever sliver of cloth
    I can conjure,
    in hopes of offering my lungs
    a modicum of relief,
    and to limit those fits of
    exasperated coughs,
    which have so racked my body.

    The overseer,
    a man for whom
    human kindness
    is held in abject contempt,
    perceives any brief respite,
    as tantamount to sloth,
    and answers it
    with the most violent expression.
    I have seen
    many a man
    within a slender grip of life,
    and a few,
    several strokes beyond it.

    The meagre scraps
    affording us sustenance,
    are inadequate for one man,
    let alone five,
    and hunger and despair
    are our constant companion.

    Death surrounds me,
    and I have quickly
    learned to discern
    the arrival of that dark companion,
    in the bearing of those soon
    to depart this life.

    it is not the frailty of the flesh
    wish portends their demise,
    for we are cobbled together, daily
    by that inarticulable determination
    which has preserved our lineage,
    but rather,
    the vacuous feature
    of hopelessness
    reflected in the wandering glare.
    I have often managed to
    predict the passing of a soul,
    within an hour of his expiration.
    A most vile expertise.

    I have determined to
    harden my constitution
    against desiring death
    as a means of
    finally attaining
    that liberation,
    though pledged
    with much celebration,
    a decade ago,
    has yet to be granted.

    I write you this letter,
    all too aware
    that it may never reach you,
    since I am
    as dependent upon Providence
    for its arrival,
    as, I am
    at her mercy
    for my survival,
    every day.

    the only certainty
    in this life
    is death,
    and the judgment to come.

    Do not cease to pray for me,
    as I have persisted in my prayers
    for you.

    May the Good Lord,
    keep you.

    With Love,

    Although The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, states, in part,

    "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted"

    Many of the southern states adopted a policy of increased criminalization of African-Americans, in efforts to secure cheap labour. Essentially, Slavery by Another Name, also the title of a book by Douglas A. Blackmon.

    These draconian laws, which criminalized common behaviour such as: loud talking and spitting; and, most notoriously, vagrancy, facilitated the convict leasing system.

    Beginning in 1874, this system allowed states to lease out prisoners, often convicted on trumped-up charges, to corporations, who would work them mercilessly for the period of their incarceration.

    90% of prisoners leased were black.
    30% of prisoners, died while in custody. Many were worked to death, others were beaten to death.

    The preceding poem, is a fictitious letter, from an actual victim, Ezekiel Archey, who was enslaved in The Pratt Mine, in Jefferson County, Alabama.

    Several such letters, by Archey and other victims, have since been archived.

    Last edited by DWAYNE; 11-08-2016, 07:42 AM.

  • #2
    Thank you for sharing, Dwayne. Very sad, and yet it seems that nothing is changing in US. Currently, there are more private prisons than state owned, and they "lease" the prisoners to corporations, essentially as slaves.

    It is enough to do a simple search online to read how corrupted the laws are:

    There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

    The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.

    What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?
    “The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

    No matter how much condemned, the slavery is thriving in the "land of the free".

    For any of us on a spiritual path, such situations are the greatest forgiveness opportunities. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do".

    Thank you for sharing!


    • #3
      Man abusing fellow man - such a very sad story. The section on death - how death of the spirit/hope precedes actual demise - is particularly compelling. Though you speak of actual, physical slavery, I could see an even wider appeal in this - even pertaining to spiritual bondage. Deep and moving as always Dwayne.


      • #4
        Wow., DWAYNE. I learn more from your poems than just what great poetry should be.


        • #5
          A powerful and most disturbing account of one man's hell on earth. Justice shackled by the law itself, the white laws of ignorance, hate and the wickedness of racism. For a human being to be yoked, abused in such a way, incomprehensible and gut-wrenching. Your art and style must be commended and greatly admired. "Tis a masterclass in literature, in form, command and expression. Your compassion and contempt seeps from every word, line and paragraph as the reader is drawn into the same. Indited in solemnness personified. Regards, Tony.


          • #6
            Very moving Dwayne! Thanks for sharing!


            • #7
              Compelling and powerful -engages the reader- thank you


              • #8
                This has honed what I know of the long stain of your country, Dwayne. A clear, precise voice from hell, which is always on earth.


                • #9
                  Dwayne, this is a monumental write, so artfully expressing the crumbling of one man's steadfast belief in justice in a country full of underdeveloped predators who call themselves humans. This piece stands very tall among your other towering masterpieces!