Used to be the thinkin in Red River Parish that there wadn't nothin lower than a sharecropper. There was, though, and I was it. There was a crack I fell through and others with me, 'cept I didn't know it at the time. See, there was croppers, and there was the children of croppers. Most a' them was croppers, too. But some of em, 'specially them that never learned how to read or figger, stayed on the land, workin for nothin but a place to live and food to eat, just like slaves. Oh, there was an understandin - that we still owed the Man. I knew he still kept books at his store and penciled down everthing I took out the door on credit. There just wadn't no way to pay it off, 'cause the Man didn't weigh the cotton [that I picked to pay off the debts] no more. I knew I owed him and he knew I owed him, and that's the way it stayed.
In 2010, the Southwest Ohio GiveCamp worked with End Slavery Cincinnati. I took this organization as seriously as the other non-profits that the GiveCamp wanted to help, that is, how could the GiveCamp strengthen the effort of the End Slavery Cincinnati. I didn't necessarily take the time to take a deep dive into the cause itself. Friday I stumbled on this account in Same Kind of Different than Me and I wondered if this is the kind of slavery that continues to exist today.
Here was the damnable thing about it: Before Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, white folks wanted their plantations to run self-sufficient so they made sure their slaves was trained up to do plenty a' jobs. That's how come there was blacksmiths and carpenters, shoemakers and barbers, and slaves that could weave and sew and build wagons and paint signs and such. By the time I come along, though, that wadn't true no more. All them kinda jobs was white jobs in the South, and the only kinda jobs for colored folks was workin the land.
But after a while, even that started to dry up. Around the time I was three or four, white planters started buyin up tractors, which meant they didn't need so many colored hands to make their crops no more. That's when they started forcin em off their land. Whole families with little children. Daddies and mamas that didn't know no other life, didn't know nothin but how to make a crop for somebody else, forced off, sometimes at the point of a shotgun. No money. No place to live. No job. No way to get one.
And here's the part that broke my heart.
It got to be the 1960s. All them years I worked for them plantations, the Man didn't tell me there was colored schools I coulda gone to, or that I coulda learned a trade. He didn't tell me I coulda joined the army and worked my way up, earned some money of my own and some respect. I didn't know about World War II, the war in Korea, or the one in Vietnam. And I didn't know colored folks had been risin up all around Louisiana for years, demandin better treatment.
I didn't know I was different.
That might be hard for you to believe. But you go on down to Louisiana right now, and take a drive on down the back roads in Red River Parish, and you might be able to see how a colored man that couldn't read and didn't have no radio, no car, no telephone, and not even 'lectricity might fall through a crack in time and get stuck, like a clock that done wound down and quit.