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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Melody (08/24/06)

TITLE: Can't Stop Singin'
By Karri Compton


The hundred lashes were over. Josiah hung by his bound wrists from the low tree branch, knees buckling from the pain. Chains surrounded the wizened slave’s ankles.

The boss man cut through the ropes, sending the naked and bleeding negro to the ground with a thud. “That’ll teach ya to not waste time with your fool singing.” He then turned and left without another word.

A dozen of Josiah’s fellow slaves gathered around with a towel and clothes after the master was out of sight. They began to sing a hushed tune that washed over Josiah:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh--
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

“Today I dun knowed a little how you felt, Lawd,” Josiah whispered. He saw the other slaves stare, probably wondering how he could manage the whip that had torn his back just minutes ago. He wondered himself.

Adelaide, the new young convert, apologized over and over. “Josiah, I’m so sorry. It’s my fault.”

But he would have none of it. “Naw, sistuh. When one of us comes to de Lawd, well then, we gots to sing. That’s how it’s always been, an’ I ain’t stoppin’ now. Cain’t nothin’ or nobody take away the Lawd’s song in our hearts. You in dah kingdom now, and that there’s somethin’ to sing about.” Josiah gave her as big a grin as he could muster, white teeth shining in the waning afternoon sun.

The next day brought blazing heat to the cotton fields. Josiah took a quick glance at young Adelaide, who picked close by. Josiah remembered the day she had come to the plantation. She had been separated from the rest of her family to come here. Such a strong and fiery personality. But she had softened and come to accept not only her fate at the plantation, but Christ as well.

“Thank ya, Lawd, fo another soul,” Josiah now prayed, as he drug his large burlap sack behind him. He winced from the fresh lacerations but continued picking the fluffy white cotton. A song spontaneously rose from Josiah’s lips that soon spread among the workers:

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home
I ain't got long to stay here

Adelaide’s voice broke Josiah out of his reverie. “Why you singin’ again so soon, Josiah? You gonna get yoself in trouble.”

“I’s old, won’t be livin’ much longer. I’d rather be whipped an’ killed, knowin’ I’s pleasin’ my Jesus.” Sweat ran down his face, wetting his dirty shirt. “Jesus is sho nuff worth it. He knows duh pain, he was done whipped and hung. Gave us heaven, bless him. Boss man controls what we wears, when we eats, how long we sleeps. But like I tole ya’, he cain’t never take Jesus. So I figure I got to sing ‘bout it. Won’t be stoppin’ any time soon.”

Without warning, the boss man appeared, an angry scowl pasted on his round face. The group’s song dwindled to nothing in a quick second. “Don’t you learn your lessons? Now, who started this singin’ again? Nobody speaks up, and you’ll all get the whip. Talk!”

An eery silence hung in the field.

“I did, suh,” Adelaide called out. She stood, looked over at Josiah and nodded.

He nodded back, a melody filling his heart as he closed his eyes in silent prayer.

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This article has been read 789 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Cassie Memmer08/31/06
I really liked this. I enjoyed the dialect. The ending is very sweet though I can't believe Josiah would allow Adelaide to take the blame and punishment for him. Very well written and a great slice of America's unfortunate past. Good job!
Lynda Schultz 09/02/06
Beautiful! I loved the negro spirituals - they grew out of a difficult time in history, perhaps that is why they are blessed with such feeling and longing for heaven. Good job.
Marilyn Schnepp 09/03/06
I miss those old time spirtuals! They came from the very heart and soul; but it's also great to know that era is over. Great story - told well.
Debra Elliott09/04/06
Jan Ackerson 09/05/06
Good story, and so far the first that I've read that chose this approach. High marks for creativity.
Joanne Sher 09/06/06
Exceptional! You did an amazing job with the dialect, and the story is poignant and wonderful and terrifying.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/07/06
Well done! Sorry I didn't see it sooner. congratulations!