I was talking earlier today with Kenyatta about the new Arcade Fire album, and how I couldn't relate to much of it, literally. Instead it made sense to me metaphorically. I only have a vague sense of the kind of angst that some people feel about growing up in the suburbs. When I was a kid, the suburbs were where black people escaped to, not from. The notion that anyone would want to escape from, say, Columbia, Maryland, was mind-boggling to me.
One important thing that's come to me from looking at the past in that way, is that 1860-1865 has to be the most mystical era in American history. Things were constantly changing—slaves getting free, then being re-enslaved, free people enslaved, white Northerners headed down South and seeing, with their own eyes, the horror that built Southern society.
Camp of the 1st U.S. Colored Troops,Wilson's landing, Charles City Co.,May 10th 1864.Mr. Editor:You are aware that Wilson's Landing is on the James river, a few miles above Jamestown, the very spot where the first sons of Africa were landed, in the year 1620, if my memory serves me right, and from that day up to the breaking out of the rebellion, was looked upon as an inferior race by all civilized nations.But behold what has been revealed in the past three or four years; why the colored men have ascended upon a platform of equality, and the slave can now apply the lash to the tender flesh of his master, for this day I am now an eye witness of the fact. The country being principally inhabited by wealthy farmers, there are a great many men in the regiment who are refugees from this place.While out on a foraging expedition we captured Mr. Clayton, a noted reb in this part of the country, and from his appearance, one of the F.F.V's; on the day before we captured several colored women that belonged to Mr. C., who had given them a most unmerciful whipping previous to their departure.On the arrival of Mr. C. in camp, the commanding officer determined to let the women have their revenge, and ordered Mr. C. to be tied to a tree in front of headquarters, and William Harris, a soldier in our regiment, and a member of Co. E, who was acquainted with the gentleman, and who used to belong to him, was called upon to undress him, and introduce him to the ladies I mentioned before. Mr. Harris played his part conspicuously, bringing the blood from his loins at every stroke, and not forgetting to remind the gentleman of days gone by.After giving him some fifteen or twenty well-directed strokes, the ladies, one after another, came up and gave him a like number, to remind him that they were no longer his, but safely housed in Abraham's bosom, and under the protection of the Star Spangled Banner, and guarded by their own patriotic, though once down-trodden race.Oh, that I had the tongue to express my feelings while standing upon the banks of the James river, on the soil of Virginia, the mother state of slavery, as a witness of such a sudden reverse! The day is clear, the fields of grain are beautiful and the birds are singing sweet melodious songs, while poor Mr. C. is crying to his servants for mercy. Let all who sympathize for the South take this narrative for a mirror.Yours Truly,G.W.H.