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Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

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VIII

Freedom

A
fter dey free us, you unnerstand me, we so glad, we makee de drum and beat it lak in de Affica soil. My countrymen come from Cap'n Burns Meaher Plantation where we is in de Magazine Point, so we be together.

“We glad we free, but den, you unnerstand me, we cain stay wid de folks what own us no mo'. Derefo' where we goin' live, we doan know. Some de folks from cross de water dey done marry and got de wife and chillun, you unnerstand me. Cudjo not marry yet. In de Affica soil when de man gottee de wife, he build de house so dey live together and derefo' de chillun come. So we want buildee de houses for ourselves, but we ain' got no lan'. Where we goin' buildee our houses?

“We meet together and we talk. We say we from cross de water so we go back where we come from. So we say we work in slavery five year and de six months for nothin', now we work for money and gittee in de ship and go back to our country. We think Cap'n Meaher and Cap'n Foster
dey ought take us back home. But we think we save money and buy de ticket ourselves. So we tell de women, ‘Now we all want go back home. Somebody tell us it take lot of money to keer us back in de Affica soil. Derefo' we got to work hard and save de money. You must help too. You see fine clothes, you must not wish for dem.' De women tell us dey do all dey kin to get back in dey country, and dey tellee us, ‘You see fine clothes, don't you wish for dem neither.'

“We work hard and try save our money. But it too much money we need. So we think we stay here.

“We see we ain' got no ruler. Nobody to be de father to de rest. We ain' got no king neither no chief lak in de Affica. We doan try get no king 'cause nobody among us ain' born no king. Dey tell us nobody doan have no king in 'Merica soil. Derefo' we make Gumpa de head. He a nobleman back in Dahomey. We ain' mad wid him 'cause de king of Dahomey 'stroy our king and sell us to de white man. He didn't do nothin' 'ginst us.

“Derefore we join ourselves together to live. But we say, ‘We ain' in de Affica soil no mo' we ain' gottee no lan'.' Derefo' we talk together so we say, ‘Dey bring us 'way from our soil and workee us hard de five year and six months. We go to Cap'n Tim and Cap'n Jim and dey give us de lan', so we makee houses for ourself.'

“Dey say, ‘Cudjo, you always talkee good, so you go tell de white men and tellee dem whut de Affican say.'

“All de Afficans we workee hard, we gittee work in de saw mill and de powder mill. Some us work for de railroad. De women work too so dey kin help us. Dey doan
work for de white folks. Dey raisee de garden and put de basket on de head and go in de Mobile and sell de vegetable, we makee de basket and de women sellee dem too.

“Derefo', you unnerstand me, it one day not long after dey tell me to speakee for lan' so we buildee our houses, Cudjo cuttin' timber for de mill. It a place where de school-house at now. Cap'n Tim Meaher come sit on de tree Cudjo just choppee down. I say, now is de time for Cudjo to speakee for his people. We want lan' so much I almost cry and derefo' I stoppee work and lookee and lookee at Cap'n Tim. He set on de tree choppin splinters wid his pocket knife. When he doan hear de axe on de tree no mo' he look up and see Cudjo standin' dere. Derefo' he astee me, ‘Cudjo, what make you so sad?'

“I tell him, ‘Cap'n Tim, I grieve for my home.'

“He say, ‘But you got a good home, Cudjo.'

“Cudjo say, ‘Cap'n Tim, how big is de Mobile?'

“‘I doan know, Cudjo, I've never been to de four corners.'

“‘Well, if you give Cudjo all de Mobile, dat railroad, and all de banks, Cudjo doan want it 'cause it ain' home. Cap'n Tim, you brought us from our country where we had lan'. You made us slave. Now dey make us free but we ain' got no country and we ain' got no lan'! Why doan you give us piece dis land so we kin buildee ourself a home?'

“Cap'n jump on his feet and say, ‘Fool do you think I goin' give you property on top of property? I tookee good keer my slaves in slavery and derefo' I doan owe dem nothin? You doan belong to me now, why must I give you my lan'?'

“Cudjo tell Gumpa call de people together and he tell dem whut Cap'n Tim say. Dey say, ‘Well we buy ourself a piece of lan'.'

“We workee hard and save, and eat molassee and bread and buy de land from de Meaher. Dey doan take off one five cent from de price for us. But we pay it all and take de lan'.

“We make Gumpa (African Peter) de head and Jaybee and Keebie de judges. Den we make laws how to behave ourselves. When anybody do wrong we make him 'pear befo' de judges and dey tellee him he got to stop doin' lak dat 'cause it doan look nice. We doan want nobody to steal, neither gittee drunk neither hurtee nobody. When we see a man drunk we say, ‘Dere go de slave whut beat his master.' Dat mean he buy de whiskey. It belong to him and he oughter rule it, but it done got control of him. Now dass right, ain' it? When we speak to a man whut do wrong de nexy time he do dat, we whip him.

“Derefo' we buildee de houses on de lan' we buy after we 'vide it up. Cudjo take one acre and de half for his part. We doan pay nobody build our houses. We all go together and buildee de house for one 'nother. So den we gittee houses. Cudjo doan buildee no house at first 'cause he ain' got no wife.

“We call our village Affican Town. We say dat 'cause we want to go back in de Affica soil and we see we cain go. Derefo' we makee de Affica where dey fetch us. Gumpa say, ‘My folks sell me and yo folks (Americans) buy me.' We here and we got to stay.

“Free George come help us all de time. De colored
folks whut born here, dey pick at us all de time and call us ig'nant savage. But Free George de best friend de Afficans got. He tell us we ought gittee de religion and join de church. But we doan want be mixee wid de other folks what laught at us so we say we got plenty land and derefo' we kin build our own church. Derefo' we go together and buildee de Old Landmark Baptis' Church. It de first one round here.”

Cudjo dismissed me by saying abruptly, “When you come tomorrow I like you take me down de bay so we gittee some crab.”

IX

Marriage

H
e had on his battered hat when I drove up the next day. His rude walking stick was leaning against the door jamb. He picked it up and came on out to the car at once and we drove off. Without the least prompting he began to talk about his marriage.

“Abila, she a woman, you unnerstand me, from cross de water. Dey call her Seely in Americky soil. I want dis woman to be my wife. She ain' married, you unnerstand me, and I ain' gottee no wife yet. All de folks from my country dey got family.

“Whut did Cudjo say so dat dis woman know he want to marry her? I tellee you dat. I tellee you de truth how it was.

“One day Cudjo say to her, ‘I likee you to be my wife. I ain' got nobody.'

“She say, ‘Whut you want wid me?'

“‘I wantee marry you.'

“‘You think if I be yo' wife you kin take keer me?'

“‘Yeah, I kin work for you. I ain' goin' to beat you.'

“I didn't say no more. We got married one month after we 'gree 'tween ourselves. We didn't had no wedding. Whether it was March or Christmas day, I doan remember now.

“Derefo', you know, we live together and we do all we kin to make happiness 'tween ourselves.

“Derefo', you unnerstand me, after me and my wife 'gree 'tween ourselves, we seekee religion and got converted. Den in de church dey tell us dat ain' right. We got to marry by license. In de Afficky soil, you unnerstand me, we ain' got no license. De man and de woman dey 'gree 'tween deyselves, den dey married and live together. We doan know nothin' 'bout dey have license over here in dis place. So den we gittee married by de license, but I doan love my wife no mo' wid de license than I love her befo' de license. She a good woman and I love her all de time.

“Me and my wife we have de six chillun together. Five boys and one girl. Oh, Lor'! Oh, Lor'! We so happy. Poor Cudjo! All de folks done left him now! I
so
lonely. We been married ten months when we have our first baby. We call him Yah-jimmy, just de same lak we was in de Afficky soil. For Americky we call him Aleck.

“In de Afficky we gottee one name, but in dis place dey tell us we needee two names. One for de son, you unnerstand me, and den one for de father. Derefo' I put de name of my father O-lo-loo-ay to my name. But it too long for de people to call it. It too crooked lak Kossula. So dey call me Cudjo Lewis.

“So you unnerstand me, we give our chillun two names. One name because we not furgit our home; den another name for de Americky soil so it won't be too crooked to call.

“De nexy child we name him Ah-no-no-toe, den we call him Jimmy. De nexy one name Poe-lee-Dah-oo. He a boy, too. Den we have Ah-tenny-Ah and we call him David. De las' boy we callee him my name, Cudjo, but his Afficky name, it Fish-ee-ton. Den my wife have one li'l girl and we call her Ee-bew-o-see, den we call her Seely after her mama.

“All de time de chillun growin' de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig'nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.

“Derefo', you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time. Me and dey mama doan lak to hear our chillun call savage. It hurtee dey feelings. Derefo' dey fight. Dey fight hard. When dey whip de other boys, dey folks come to our house and tellee us, ‘Yo' boys mighty bad, Cudjo. We 'fraid they goin' kill somebody.'

“Cudjo meetee de people at de gate and tellee dem, ‘You see de rattlesnake in de woods?' Dey say, ‘Yeah.' I say ‘If you bother wid him, he bite you. If you know de snake killee you, why you bother wid him? Same way wid my boys, you unnerstand me. If you leavee my boys alone, dey not bother nobody!'

“But dey keep on. All de time, ‘Aleck dis, Jimmy dat, Poe-lee dis an' t'other. David a bad boy. Cudjo fightee my son.' Nobody never say whut dey do to de Afficky savages.
Dey say he ain' no Christian. Dey tell whut de savages do to dem, just lakee we ain' gottee no feelings to git hurtee.

“We Afficans try raise our chillun right. When dey say we ign'nant we go together and build de school house. Den de county send us a teacher. We Afficky men doan wait lak de other colored people till de white folks gittee ready to build us a school. We build one for ourself den astee de county to send us de teacher.

“Oh, Lor'! I love my chillun so much! I try so hard be good to our chillun. My baby, Seely, de only girl I got, she tookee sick in de bed. Oh, Lor'! I do anything to save her. We gittee de doctor. We gittee all de medicine he tellee us tuh git. Oh, Lor'. I pray, I tell de Lor' I do anything to save my baby life. She ain' but fifteen year old. But she die. Oh, Lor'! Look on de gravestone and see whut it say. August de 5th, 1893. She born 1878. She doan have no time to live befo' she die. Her mama take it so hard. I try tellee her not to cry, but I cry too.

“Dat de first time in de Americky soil dat death find where my door is. But we from cross de water know dat he come in de ship wid us. Derefo' when we buildee our church, we buy de ground to bury ourselves. It on de hill facin' de church door.

“We Christian people now, so we put our baby in de coffin and dey take her in de church, and everybody come look down in her face. Dey sing, ‘Shall We Meet Beyond De River.' I been a member of de church a long time now, and I know de words of de song wid my mouth, but my heart it doan know dat. Derefo' I sing inside me, ‘
O todo ah wah n-law yah-lee, owrran k-nee ra ra k-nee ro ro.
'

“We bury her dere in de family lot. She lookee so lonesome out dere by herself—she such a li'l girl, you unnerstand me, dat I hurry and build de fence 'round de grave so she have pertection.

“Nine year we hurtee inside 'bout our baby. Den we git hurtee again. Somebody call hisself a deputy sheriff kill de baby boy now. (Over)
1

“He say he de law, but he doan come 'rest him. If my boy done something wrong, it his place come 'rest him lak a man. If he mad wid my Cudjo 'bout something den he oughter come fight him face to face lak a man. He doan come 'rest him lak no sheriff and he doan come fight him lak no man. He have words wid my boy, but he skeered face him. Derefo', you unnerstand me, he hidee hisself in de butcher wagon and when it gittee to my boy's store, Cudjo walk straight to talk business. Dis man, he hidin' hisself in de back of de wagon, an' shootee my boy. Oh, Lor'! He shootee my boy in de throat. He got no right shootee my boy. He make out he skeered my boy goin' shoot him and shootee my boy down in de store. Oh, Lor'! De people run come tellee me my boy hurtee. We tookee him home and lay him in de bed. De big hole in de neck. He try so hard to ketchee breath. Oh, Lor'! It hurtee me see my baby boy lak dat. It hurtee his mama so her breast swell up so. It make me cry 'cause it hurt Seely so much. She keep standin' at de foot of de bed, you unnerstand me, an' lookee all de time in his face. She keep telling him all de time, ‘Cudjo, Cudjo, Cudjo, baby, put whip to yo' horse!'

“He hurtee so hard, but he answer her de best he kin,
you unnerstand me. He tellee her, ‘Mama, thass whut I been doin'!'

“Two days and two nights my boy lay in de bed wid de noise in de throat. His mama never leave him. She lookee at his face and tellee him, ‘Put whip to yo' horse, baby.'

“He pray all he could. His mama pray. I pray
so
hard, but he die. I so sad I wish I could die in place of my Cudjo. Maybe, I doan pray right, you unnerstand me, 'cause he die while I was prayin' dat de Lor' spare my boy life.

“De man dat killee my boy, he de paster of Hay Chapel in Plateau today. I try forgive him. But Cudjo think that now he got religion, he ought to come and let me know his heart done change and beg Cudjo pardon for killin' my son.

“It only nine year since my girl die. Look lak I still hear de bell toll for her, when it toll again for my Fish-ee-ton. My po' Affican boy dat doan never see Afficky soil.”

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