We've all heard these stories, but for some reason when someone sent it too me, I found myself sobbing reading it and thought I should share it!(Sorry about the length, but please read it!)
The cold mud got between my toes, as I was digging little holes with my feet. Mama, though, did not wiggle 'round like I did. She just stood still, and when somebody behind nudged her, she leaned forward and then settled back slow, without even looking behind.
Negroes were all bunched up because the hogs took up so much room. When the hogs moved this way and that, the Negroes had to move, too. A big push came and I almost fell down. I caught myself, but had to step in some hog dirt to do it. I did not become angry with anyone -- 'twas a hard time, with everybody so scared. And the hog, he knew no better, so there was no need to forgive him. I scraped off one foot on top of the next and gave the others more room by standing closer to Mama.
Master Rudolph came over from the barn and the crowd. I was afraid of him, even with the stick fence between the two of us, and hid behind Mama's skirt. He pointed at me. "Put some 'round the pickaninny's mouth," he told Mama. She reached through the fence and stuck her fingers in the little pot of chicken fat he held in his hand. She smeared it 'round my lips. Her cold hand gave me a shake, but I held my neck stiff so she would not push my head 'round. But this was not enough for Master Rudolph, who made Mama rub my chin with it, too. Well, I stretched my tongue out as far as it would go to lick that grease up.
When my appearance at last pleased him, he turned to Mama. "Now ye. All over," he said. She reached out again, dipped, and started rubbing part of her arm, but not with the desired haste. His face reddened with anger and he began uttering profanities like a drunken soldier, telling her that she be dusty like the summer road and that if she did not address it properly, he would.
Mama understood his meaning. She, with apparent disinterest, removed her dress, leaving herself clad only in Nature's garments. The traders and the gentlemen 'round the fence who were looking us over stared at her, while the Negroes turned their eyes away. She took more grease and spread it over her shoulders, face, arms, legs, belly. The grease made her skin dark and shiny and beautiful, like water in moonlight. I helped in places beyond her reach, my fingers sliding along the grooves and lumps on her back.
Master Rudolph opened the gate for us as Mama put her dress on. She took me by the hand and led me out of the hog pen. As she did so, I tried to reach my foot out to some smartweed to wipe off the dirt.
"I want no trouble from ye," Master Rudolph told Mama.
"Yes, Marsa," Mama said, pulling me closer to her.
We were inspected outside the barn, in the good light. Men that had just stuck their fingers in horse mouths reached in and felt for our teeth. Then they alternately pulled up and pushed down Mama's dress both to inspect her organs of generation and to tug at her teats. When they beheld the whip marks on her back, they frowned and shook their heads at each other to express the greatest dissatisfaction. Evidence of a whipping, you see, troubled them deeply. They told Master Rudolph, in the harshest tone, "This Negro is trouble."
"Just seasoned well, just seasoned well. 'Tis the way she came to me. I never whips my slaves," he lied. I had seen him whipping Mama and remembered it well. Too diminutive in stature, I had been unable to induce him to cease, despite my pelting him with small stones throughout.
The inspecting was done and they moved us along. I became frightened, but when we entered the barn my fear left me because I saw that all manner of games were going on -- and the Negroes were playing them all. The boys were tumbling and jumping, while the young men were foot racing out the other door and back. Numerous spectators in high spirits, warmed by liberal quantities of hot cider, were judging and commenting on the Negroes' abilities. Mama and I were allowed to stand on a crate together for a better view.
I saw a Negro with a fiddle playing the song "My Gen'rous Heart Disdains, the Slave of Love To Be." I do not know if I was more amazed by his attire, as he wore shoes -- or by his unbroken smile, for, with the exception of the children, he was the only Negro I had seen smile that day. His fiddle strings seemed connected to the people's hearts. Sometimes he made the men puff up their chests like roosters and other times he made the women dab their handkerchiefs to their eyes. A foot race commenced, and he began a jumpy tune that made me feel as if I, too, was running. I started to dance, a little bit from the music and a little bit from the cold, but Mama pinched me so hard I nearly cried. I kept still.
When the race ended, the fiddle Negro changed his tune and played softly, like wind blowing through the high tobacco, to inform the crowd that 'twas time to listen to the auctioneer. And they all turned in the same direction, just as the fiddle Negro had instructed, only to behold the auctioneer trying to climb up on his barrel, damning its maker for changing its height and damning his wife for sewing his breeches too small. The fiddle Negro smiled and smiled and the crowd hooted with laughter.
After receiving some assistance, the auctioneer gestured to Mama and me. "Here we have a Negress and her mulatto," he said, wheezing from his recent effort. "Both are very diligent and industrious. The Negress, an excellent breeder, has already produced three children for her owner. Observe the healthy sheen of her skin. A quality woman! And this child, as is plain to see, has been well fed, eating chicken every day of her life. Yet if she never tasted it again, she would issue nary a complaint -- there's a docile one! The pair are being sold simply because their current master owns too many ... "
A rascal in the back yelled out "debts," and this induced everyone to more laughter. I smiled as well, and turned my head from Master Rudolph's crimson face to conceal it. In doing so, I observed that Mama showed no delight in his humiliation. Chastened by this example, I became somber in imitation of her.
The auctioneer raised his voice and continued. "The mulatto, she shall be ripe in a few short years," he said. "Here is an investment for the man who thinks beyond next year's harvest, the man who lets his fields lay fallow to reap the bounty of the future. A fine return to be had for the wise man! What shall we have for the pair? Fifty dollars?"
"Fifty," someone answered.
"Fifty dollars!" cried the auctioneer.
"Fifty-five!" called another.
The bidding continued thus, up and up until it reached seventy-five dollars -- apparently the limit of our worth -- and would go no higher. The auctioneer said we got horse qualities and we going at mule prices. Don't nobody want to pay more?
'Twas then an otherwise silent man spoke. Now, this man's attire attested to his wealth. He wore a blue velvet coat trimmed with golden lace, a red embroidered waistcoat of fine satin, and a hat from which sprouted a fabulous plume, one plucked no doubt from a bird in a distant land. "The mulatto for thirty," he called out, his feather waving with the lifting up of his head.
Mama let out such a wail then that even the fiddle Negro stopped playing, for a moment. She pulled my head close to her and began to weep. "Thirty for the mulatto!" repeated the auctioneer.
"Thirty-five!" somebody else shouted.
"Fifty," answered the rich man, while examining his pocket watch.
Mama just bawled. "This my last child," she cried. "Let me keep her, I work hard, I be good. Please, Marsa." Master Rudolph hit her foot with his fist and told her he was going to take her out back and whip her for two days if she did not shut her mouth.
"This my baby! Don't take my baby 'way!"
"Eighty dollars!" boomed the rich man, and this rendered the other bidders mute, for their purses could not compete with his. The auctioneer, after several pointless efforts at extracting a higher sum, announced the sale complete and told me that I belonged to "Mister Manning" now. Mama, however, refused to release me from her grasp. It took two men to pull me from her, and they had to push her off the crate to do it. Her shrieks rose high above the fiddle Negro's music, which he played fast and loud.
Well, no one wanted to buy Mama after such an exhibition, so the auctioneer said 'twas time to move on to the next Negro. Master Rudolph fetched a bullwhip off the wall as some men carried her out back. She just cried and cried. Believing that I had been the cause of her trouble and wishing to spare her a whipping, I yelled out, "Don't cry, Mama! I be good! I be good! Don't cry!"
Well, I cannot say for sure that she heard me, for I neither saw nor heard of her again.
The Lord is on my side;I will not fear:what can man do unto me?
To know me is to love me!