"We's more than slaves chil'," said Mammy, mixing up a batch of cornbread.
"But Mammy, th' white's...they never gonna see us as bein' anythin' more than slaves," griped Mammy's grandson, Samuel. "We's jus' property, and you knows it!"
"Sh, chil’ you got t’ keep your belly achin’ down,” she warned. “Th’ Missus is in th’ other room… Y'r right Samuel, we’s property. Th’ property of th’ Almighty," she remarked, shaking a wooden spoon in his face. "We mus' never forget who we is.”
"Don'chu oh...Mammy...me, chil'. You sit down at this table and we's gonna have ourselves a talk."
Mammy fished in her apron's pocket and retrieved a shiny red apple, handing it to her grandson. He wiped it on his sleeve and bit in enthusiastically, juice dribbling down the side of his mouth.
"Years ago, long b'fore you's born, our people lived in a place far 'cross th' ocean...Sierra Leone. Th' whites knew it as th' Rice Coast. Our people was called th’ Temne. Only black folk lived there and they worked hard growin' rice. Some times after dark th’ whole village would gather ‘round a large fire…oh the carryings-on. We’d have ourselfs a hoe-down. Life was good then...almos' free."
"What do y' mean, almos' free?"
"Now chil' you jus' hold on, and I'll git there," she scolded. "I c’n tell you this, our people weren't slaves like they is today, and that’s th’ truth."
Mammy pushed away from the table and peered into the sitting room. Seeing her Missus napping, she thumped back down into her chair.
"One day things changed. White plug-uglies arrived with guns and such. They captured th’ Temne and marched 'em all back t’ a ship. Our people didn' know what was happenin', but they sure were skeered.”
Mammy's voice caught with emotion. She closed her eyes and wiped away the tears that leaked out.
"They throw'd 'em in th' hold of that ship and made 'em lay on shelves stacked six high. There wasn' even room t’ sit up. People laid there f’r weeks on en', being fed food not fit f’r hogs. They couldn' even move t’ relieve theirselfs. Chil' you can't begin t' imagine th’ smell. Many of our people got sick and died and th' slave traders left th' bodies t’ rot with th' livin'.”
"As soon as they ported in South Carolina, they was sold at auction and went to workin' in rice fields like back home...'cept it weren't f’r there fam'lies any longer. Our people went from one slavery t’ another 'un."
"But, Mammy," Samuel interrupted, "I thought our people started out free."
"They was chil’, in a sense."
"What d’ y’ mean Mammy?" Samuel asked leaning forward.
"Our people prayed t’ spirits of their ancestors. They believed in a god, but not th' true one. Our people weren' slaves t' white people but t' their own foolish superstitions. Samuel, I'm more free today, than I was in Sierra Leone," she said, grinning widely.
Samuel's eyes grew large. "By the horn spoons, Mammy! You was in that ship?"
Mammy nodded. "I was knee-high t’ a milk stool when I got t’ America. I ended up on this plantation and I's been here ever since. We's blessed, Grady. Not ev'ry Massa's God fearin' like ours’n. He even tells us 'bout Jesus and that's how I learnt we really wasn' free back home. If I's never free ag'in in this life, I'll be free in th’ next."
Mammy stood, stepped to the stove and stirred a simmering pot of stew. Grady followed and leaned into his Mammy's side.
"So Mammy, even though I's a slave, I's really free?"
"You know Jesus, chil'?"
"Then you's free!"
"What’s it been, Mammy, ten years maybe ‘leven? You’s right. I was free all those years wit’ Jesus. But, I's free here...now...to. God used that Mr. Lincoln t’ set all we slaves free. I wish y’ could see me. I c'n walk the streets of Richmond without fear of bein' sold. I's even got a job at th' shipyards. Oh,” he grinned, “I found me a wife a year back. You's gonna have a great-grand chil' soon. I'll make sure he comes t’ meet y'."
Samuel smiled as songbirds chattered in the Oak above. This is a perfect spot, Mammy, he thought. Grady stooped and placed two red roses at a wooden head stone. The crudely carved letters told the story:
Delilah "Mammy" Baker
Free at Last
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