When we talk about the mysticism of the Civil War, I think this photo really captures it. The descriptions of slaves reaching out to touch Lincoln as he's driven through Richmond, or Sherman as comes through countryside, put me in the mind of Sam Cooke's "Touch The Hem Of His Garment."
Oh There was a woman in the Bible daysShe had been sick Sick so very longBut she heard about Jesus was passing bySo she joined the gathering throng AAnd while she was pushing her way throughSomeone asked her what are you trying to doShe said if I could just touch the hem of His garmentI know I'll be made whole
I mentioned in comments that I have virtually no direct relationship with religion. When I was a kid, many of the Conscious folks who'd rejected the Christianity of their youth embraced something else--Islam, Vodun, Santeria etc. We really didn't have anything--we didn't even do Kwanzaa.
Still, I think this desire to be transformed, to have the hurt of your life healed, and to--as Sam says--to be made whole again is deeply human, and has incredible resonance among those of us who are down. As Cynic hints at, in my house, the person who granted that transformation was Malcolm X. He took away that sense that the curl of your hair, or the tint of your skin, branded you less than. Malcolm looked clean and straight to us, and the sense that he had himself been cleaned, gave us the feeling that by touching him, we could be cleaned. In the doc, Make It Plain, Sonia Sanchez talks about reaching to touch him after hearing him speak.
When you look at this boy, what you see is someone who has been healed--the rags he wears are like wounds--someone who has been "made whole again." Circling back to Lincoln, you see that, to the enslaved, much of this debate about what Lincoln thought and when he thought it is academic. Lincoln is a work of art to them, and they are interpreting him, giving him meaning, in the moment.
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