Sunday, December 27, 2009
African Diaspora Boston.
This is something I've been working on for a while. The story is worthy of some neo Homeric approach if one can invoke its inner music.
When settled, it was an oblong tombolo at the southern edge of a deceptively wide estuary. Its river narrowed quickly upstream and meandered lazily and inconclusively back to its source.
A herd of pound cake drumlins could be seen looking homeward, dipping bases in the harborage to become a string of islands, Lovells, Georges, Nut, Grape, Peddocks, Great Brewster, Little Brewster and Bumpkin.
And a few Africans were there then.
It was a religious state ruled by Puritan mullahs and mujaheddin and the formation of towns was driven by a mandate to assign and build parishes that misery would be fruitful.
Being wary of water, their principle intake was an array of alcoholic beverages from ale and porter to hard cider, imported wine, brandy and spirits.
Oddly, this made them dour and they neither danced nor fucked much. They huddled against Atlantic gusts, bore continental snows and deluges,arctic fronts and dog days and eked a living from the sea and sparse cobble infested soil.
And a few Africans were at hand to help with the heavy lifting.
A rash of villages soon bloomed on the lands frail skin to one day harden into an obstinate eczema of mill towns and suburbs, cities and golf courses,shopping malls and junk yards, six lane highways, high rise condos and jet ports and a ubiquity of abandoned gravel pits.
Burgeoning greed landed like a cow bird to build its nest on top of religions roost and began to stifle old dour eggs with hatchings of its own. A huge vile triangle cast its arcs from St. Botolph's port to West Africa of ships laden with sundry trinkets and trade goods to exchange for a dismal cargo and thence along trade winds West Indie-ward to where the Cargo was swapped for sugar and molasses and left to hoe its dolorous row by an evil alchemy of exchange, human chattel was transformed into rum made in the Bay Colony.
And Africans who didn't enter into Caribbean bondage sometimes found themselves at Bostons quays. There was always heavy lifting to be done and for a lucky few, liveried full dress appointment to sumptuous Brattle homes as Calvinist austerity was elbowed aside by Georgian ostentation.
Greed fire roared as land face consumption quickened. Three little peaks of Tramountaine were reshaped into one to be called Beacon Hill. A relative of John Hancock had the dirt dumped into the Back Bay. More soil carted from Dedham eventually filled the entire area.
The under-laid clays would one day pose colossus problems when the sky began to be scraped.
Wrath rose from greed over dry goods tariff problems until musket balls met agitators on Boston Common. An African named Crispus Attucks was a recipient of the flying shot. Was he thinking of tariffs or of a distant village forever lost?
A cascade of agitations, retaliations and engagements washed over the land until, at last, colonial severance was attained.
Africans became African Americans and some picked up a familiarity with the fifes, drums and fiddles of the master’s race. And preachers from a herd of denominations sowed seed of new mythos to flower into a canon of uniquely sung songs, which would one day be called spirituals.
The millstone of coffled bondage in plantation lands ground inexorably on albeit slowed by laxing impetus. And, in what seemed like the twilight of its days, the forlorn hope was rekindled from light of a Connecticut tinker’s invention. Obstinate cotton bolls could now yield up their treasure and the fiber soon came to be King.
Along the Merrimac, a hedge of huge mills rose at river edge. The regions barons thrived. From soil watered with misery’s plenty, the abundant King held court on high ground overlooking a valleys looming Deus Ex Mechina served by masses of wage slaves. All ranks, from pubescence to senescence contributed their labor. Men and women lived subsistence lives in perilous, toxic conditions. African Americans also participated in this transcendent experience.
Even as this transformation bloated barons, the land grew lean as the Federal boundary raced westward.
The soil was poor here having been scraped by the Wisconsin Glacier. An annual harvest of rocks made their vertical migrations to field surfaces each spring to later lace boundaries with stonewalls. The best soil followed riverbeds and basins of extinct glacial lakes.
Word came of the properties of tall grass prairies and many a weary back turned away from the stubborn soil to replant place names like Weymouth, Newton Falls, Canton, and Sharon along the Ohio Valley and Great Lake shores. Spelling drifted too as Worcester became Wooster and Reading became Redding.
The abandoned fields gave themselves over to a riot of old and new herbaceous plants before passing through momentary canopies of birch and white pine before finally getting back to a robust mélange of oaks and maples.
And, for another time, these abandoned farmsteads left lingering ghosts posing as abandoned cellar holes refuse pits, cart tracks, dooryard lilacs and decrepit raiment of remnant wolf trees that once guarded cornfields.
Dogtown, in Rockport’s uplands, slid beneath forest carpet. A flood of spruce holdfast engulfed Peeling. An early infrastructure of barge canals soon gave way to roads of rails a further time would abandon.
Bondage began to be assailed from legislative and social directions. Bloody handwriting was left on the wall in Hispaniola as Touissant L’Overteur led the enraged to destroy their tormentors and launch a nation.
Prohibitions were imposed against further overseas slave trade. An experiment attempted repatriation to a vague homeland. The struggle to reduce or expand the jurisdiction of bondage, as the King marched up the Red River Valley and recently seized Texas, grew in its intensity in the Halls of Congress.
A wheeling dealing phase brought Maine into the Union as Webster negotiated its borders with Lord Ashburton. The price was paid in Missouri. A further barrier was made at the Ohio Valley and the northern border of Maryland as the awakening behemoths of conflict took on sharper definition.
An ongoing series of probes to fathom the lands true capacities further propelled migrations to places where bondage held little utility. A high febrile greed pitch sent a cascade of aspirants around the perilous tip of Cape Horn in Clippers built and launched along Chelsea Creek and emptied towns with its momentum.
King Cotton was hard pressed to compete with the power of Emperors Gold and Silver.
Interwoven with the bondage jurisdiction quarrel was another between Atlantic Coast financial interests and the increasingly productive commodities interests of the expanding Interior. Each was somewhat at cross-purposes with the other over the nature of the Federal Governments contribution to the growing demands for capitol improvements to infrastructure.
A further disagreement was over the advantages of specie versus bank notes. The national currency was in transition. The fall of Nicholas Biddle provided a demonstration of the Interiors growing clout and a partial repudiation of Hamilton.
The shaping forces of these disagreements came to roost on three contrary sets of shoulders from which minds rose to forge arguments. The South sent a pragmatic advocate of States Rights, befuddled somewhat by lurking paranoia over emerging disparities of wealth between regions.
The West contributed a shifty disingenuous champion of muddled compromise and New England launched a stern dour moralist with vast practical skills, who reflected a returning glimmer of Calvinist bygones reborn with new moral concerns as a midwife.
These three hemmed and hawed through several decades of variable Presidencies and a Supreme Court inclined to favor bondage as Dredd Scott would discover, to his dismay.
The conflicts dynamic centered on antagonism between North and South with West as coy fence sitter waiting to be wooed by whatever suitor threw the biggest bouquet.
Both sides had their propagandists. Douglass earned authority to hasten the end of bondage. Tubman set up safe houses along the Mystic in Medford, near Tufts. Sympathetic locals helped as the Underground Railroad extended its trunks and feeders North. Stowe captured minds with her wrenching evocation circulated by the day's entertainment media. Preachers thundered from their pulpits and fanatics on both sides made gaunt preparations to escalate.
Fosters’ sentimental plantation propaganda songs described pastoral bucollias idyllic simplicity as the slaves’ happy lot and the nations first flirtation with what Dr. Braxton calls “Black Exotica” began with minstrelsy.
What started as self-serving theater grew into a national entertainment trend. It was an early variety package with skits and musical numbers. The performers were usually white and played black roles using burnt cork smears as makeup. The kora of the Sahel became the banjo and joined motley of other instruments in the reviews. Occasionally, a freed African American would find employment in one of these reviews but bowing to convention, would perform with face as fully smeared as everyone else.
And, in the expansive West, African Americans began to find work playing saloon pianos or strumming guitars with the other cowboys. Enduring, persistent voices embroidered the ether with haunted song from The Sea Islands to the Continental Divide.
Austere resurgence of spirituality in Boston stoked fury around the demand to abolish. Transcendentalists steeped in Eastern arcana and resolute moralists on Beacon Hill joined the choir’s clamor for an end.
Transfigured words begot stabbing, shooting, lynching and pillage as rages rose from disputed ground. Transformed words begot a beating on the Senate Floor. Douglas thundered mightily on behalf of Expedience while Lincoln urged a thoughtful examination of the Long Haul.
Rage prevailed and in the Virginia Uplands, a small rebellion expired only to unleash colossal hellhounds to stalk, hunt and devour six hundred thousand or more.
African Americans stood in the maelstroms heart to flee, march, starve or serve ‘til the storms abating brought a new jurisdiction amid the blooming of dooryard lilacs. Uncle Billy gathered a substantial flock as his bummers ate their way through Georgia.
Both Sherman and General Sam happily crafted decisions on the spot to anticipate attenuation of malice. The Emancipator wanted thoughtful reconstructive winds to waft away any lingering hate reek.
But the Radicals would not have it be so. With freedom came African Americans first experience of being market fodder as swarms of hustlers hovered over the wrecked Southland seeking means fair or foul to turn a tidy profit from stunning opportunities. Scalawags from within and carpetbaggers from without were drawn to the easy pickings.
Odd bits of unintended good occasionally surfaced to be met with Ku Klux backlash. The Radicals eventually doddered away until the aftermath of the uncomfortably close Tilden-Hayes election brought reconciliation cemented firmly by the adhesive of class interests.
Both regions regarded the phenomenal growth of the West with increasing anxiety. The Dixiecrat was born and the connived alliance allowed decades of sturdy hegemony. For African Americans it marked a watershed reversal as Jim Crow came to roost on the shoulders of armed white men draped in white sheets.
Two steps back and a painful infant’s cakewalk traversed ninety years and lingers yet. Fed troops left the Southland. Home rule had a robust rebirth and the connivance cured and hardened.
The centuries ongoing flow of giveaways reached a boisterous grabbing flood crest as mineral rights, water rights, grazing rights, timber rights, rights of way bloated the greedy. Rights of wrongs or civil rights would have to wait their decade’s turn. At last, the screws turned a notch too tight.
Populist rumbling in the Plains drove Anarchist and Marxist frenzy to market in Eastern and Great Lakes cities. Sorely squeezed Labor was beyond desperate. Sit-downs, walkouts and riots met billy clubs and bullets of armed company thugs. The National Guard was thrown in on occasion to ensure allegiance to greed. Presidents fell, bombs exploded, innocents were condemned, and writers turned to grotesquerie of disparity and callowness billowing for stunning thematic material. Riis tackled the social conditions. Dreiser got a great run of novels. Veblen examined ‘leisure’. Bryan attracted droves of agitated farmers to the sound of the Cross of Gold. The frontier closed and exploitations focus shifted full gear from land to people.