Two Negro brothers dressed in tattered burlap tunics and barefoot cowered behind the plantation’s smoke house. They clung to one another as the Overseer slammed his whip against Aunt Lucy’s bare back. Blood squirted from the gashes, her screams pierced the air. Between each lash, the old woman sang praises to the Lord.
“Redeemin’ love, aboundin’ grace,
Christ gave His life fer me!
Once dead, I live, He took my place.
A slave, but now I’m free!”
Jupiter and Eli crept beneath the smoke house, ran behind the slave quarters, and dropped beside a row of sugarcane. If the Overseer discovered that the teens had left the mandatory attendance to the punishment, he would whip them, too.
“How kin Aunt Lucy sing praises to the Lord when she’s bein’ skinned alive?” asked Eli.
“You knows, she says Massa owns her body but not her soul—she is ‘free in Christ.’”
“I sho’ would like to be free in body. If freedom comes we can live in a big house, wear nice clothes, and eat good food like Massa.”
“Yeah,” said Marcus. “I dreams ‘bout being free, too.”
The boys sneaked back and mingled with the crowd. Aunt Lucy sat on the ground. She moaned as a young Negress applied hog grease to her wounds. Old Massa stood on a tree stump, pointed to Lucy with his whip, and shouted at his fearful slaves.
“Let this be a lesson to y’all. I won’t tolerate idleness. Now git back in the fields and git to work—now!”
Two men helped Aunt Lucy to her feet. As she wobbled toward the fields, she sang.
“Love sought me in my sinful state,
He bid me ‘come today.’
I entered through the narrow gate,
He leads me all the way.”
Three days later Aunt Lucy approached Jupiter and Eli in the sugarcane fields.
“Would you boys like to be free?”
“Aunt Lucy, we ’septed Jesus, we’s free jes like you.” Jupiter said.
“Thanks be to God but do you want to quit bein’ a slave?”
“Why sho’, said Eli. But how we gonna leave without Massa knowin’?"
Aunt Lucy bent down to cut more stalks. “I have ‘quainted myself with friends who will carry us up North to freedom. They call it the Underground Railroad. If you boys are int’ested, meet me in the back woods at midnight.”
Lucy tossed the canes onto the wagon. She sang.
“Sorrow, sadness, d’spair and pain,
Dese in my life have come.
Here’to for God’s grace will s’stain,
And Love will guide me home.”
The Overseer rode by, cracked his whip at Lucy, and bellowed. “Get busy old woman. I’m a fixin’ to whup you agin, if you don’t pull yer weight.”
* * * * *
A full moon hung low in the Louisiana sky when Jupiter and Eli sneaked outside their shack. Two white men named Tom and John, Aunt Lucy, and ten other slaves met them in the woods.
Throughout the night, the freedom seekers trod through snake infested woods, fields, and marshes. They stopped several times to allow Aunt Lucy to rest. A bright, July sun peeked over the trees when they arrived at their destination.
John instructed the others to stay put while he made contact with the owner. As he approached the cabin, a middle-aged white women cracked open the door and spoke to him. He signaled to the exhausted travelers to stay put and went inside.
“I hopes there’s no trouble.” Aunt Lucy said.
Two men exited the cabin and disappeared in the woods.
An hour later, John signaled for everyone to come inside. He explained that the men were on their way to the next county and stopped to fill their water bags.
Their friendly host served everyone a bowl of grits with fatback, warm cornbread, and cold buttermilk. They slept during the day and traveled at night.
* * * * *
One week later, the weary group crossed into Indiana. Everyone whooped and hollered.
“Freedom has come to us all. Praise the Lord.” Aunt Lucy shouted, raising her hands to the sky. In unison came the reply, “Yes, praise the Lord.”
Upon entering a church, Aunt Lucy sang as the others followed with raised hands.
“God promises to stand with us,
His Holy Word we trust.
Our Defender Guard He will be,
‘Till we return to dust.
The wise shall ever shine as stars,
Though endless ages be.
Saints full of gratitude and praise,
To our Savior God Almighty.”
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