Through the kindness of other we can live this life. During the time of the reconstruction after slavery many families survived on the kindness of others. In fact the Underground Railroad was the trust and reliance on others to escape.
The level of faith it must have took to place yourself in the hands of others to have freedom. I can only imagine after spending most of your life enslaved to a white slave owner that you in turn must trust whites and blacks for your escape to freedom. It took many months to escape to freedom. The journey could last up until a year or longer. The journey to freedom required a desire to be free at the risk o losing your life to get it. It took trust….
After the civil war in 1862 the reconstruction period that really didn’t last long, Jim Crow laws kicked in over a decade later. The need for reliance of the help of others was still part of the frame needed to walk out freedom in American. However that trust was broken through the cruelty still in the blueprint of America. From lynching to sharecropping the spirit of bondage and usury dominated the mindset of the majority in American. The long history that blacks have in America of not trusting in America comes from the deeper rooted historical problems of lacking integrity on its promise. Black have seen that broken trust through out America’s system which founded the country. She enslaved many and therefore can not be trusted for long.
Sharecropping required a whole new level of trust that the days of old were gone for Black. That was the farther thing from the truth. Sharecropping became the new plantation. Families for generations were bound by the land with broken promises, stealing, deception, and abuse. This is not to say all sharecropping farms were corrupt , some were sincere in their attempt to provoke work and fair labor. However the consistent history of sharecropping across the board was an extension of the slave’s life with a modern twist.
Many families were cheated of their pay, robbed of land, and made to work off debt that was exaggerated by land owners. The black family survived another attempt by the framework of America in oppressing therm. I recently traveled across the country and saw the remnants of plantations , farms, slave shacks, row houses, and barns from the old day of sharecropping. While crossing Arkansas and Mississippi I was amazed at the still frozen row houses and shacks that sat ghostly on land barren from cotton. I could gaze far back into the debt of the field from the highway and see grand house that still try to stand with small shack gather around them I thought about the sharecropper that once worked that land. I could hear the Negro Spirituals burst through the windows as we pass cotton fields that strained to still grow. Large machines sat in the fields gathering dust and mud from the winter rains. I explained to my daughter the brutal cuts that sharecroppers got from picking cotton trying to avoid the thorns on the stem.
The land seemed so full of song, pains, tears, and poverty all at the same time. The trust of another human being to stand by their promises could be heard in the winds the whistle pass our truck. Trusting them to give them the right to live , dream, and have equality. We pass hidden paths, swamps, and rivers that led north on route 40. We attempted to take a shortcut to Mississippi on back road and ended up in a deserted swamp area near the Hills Plantation. The haunting silence and broker road left us in fear of our lives. I felt as though a runway slaves ran aside our truck warning us to turn around because the area was paved with pain and destruction. We finally made it back on out to the main highway passing the plantations and cotton fields once again. We later researched that area and found the name of the plantation. In fact it was known to be a haunted area. All I knew was something just felt wrong on the back road. We lost time I can’t explain also. I can only imagine sharecropping in those back fields near the swamps and the hideous crimes and abuse that ran through the streams.
Trust is part of who we are as human. The reliance of others to carry out their promises to do right by us is a part of our expectation in this life. As we pass though Oklahoma we crossed over 10 different Indian Nations marked by signs on the highway until we left the state. We saw many casino throughout the regions. Whatever promise were made to Native America was not totally fulfilled. Through their need to gain back what was stolen the created avenues of revenue to help their communities.
Unknown by many, African-American inventor Elijah “the Real” McCoy was born in Canada, the son of escaped slaves. As a young man he moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan after the Civil War and became employed as a railroad engineer where in 1872 he invented his most famous invention a drip cup for oil bearings while machinery was in motion. It became known as the “McCoy System”. His other inventions included the lawn sprinkler and the ironing table. During his life time McCoy received 57 patents for devices which improved versions of his automatic lubrication process. The high quality of McCoy’s inventions gained such notoriety that the phrase “the Real McCoy” was coined to distinguish “the Father of Lubrication’s” inventions from cheap imitations. McCoy died in 1929 after a year in the Eloise Infirmary in Eloise, Michigan, after suffering from senile demtia caused by hypertension. He was buried in Detroit. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6807620
And so it was with black sharecroppers. They invents, created, and explored every way possible to end the bondage of the, land advance their families. From relocation North, education, and saving money to purchase land… they excelled. Trust is part of who we are but so it the need to rise above oppression and reach for freedom. It is in our human make up to pull at chains that bind us. It is in our human nature to try to break the hindrance to freedom. Our reliance on each other is not greater that our need to trust in God. It is through that simple faith the cotton fields of old are empty. It is through that simple faith that we continue to escape even the hints of resistance to our desire for freedom. It is in our need to trust even the unknown to excel.
After driving across the country for five long days crossing the South I realize those who were before me had a journey that last a lifetime. My journey lasted five days compared their struggles for equality. The ability to trust even when trust is broken is an opportunity to excel. From the back roads of Birmingham to the plantation on steep hills of South Carolinas I drove through the fields of the pass with a better understanding of my own future. To tell their story…. To tell my story in the arts.
Photography By Jasmine McGee 2011