Eighteen Seventy-Seven

The men in the uniform blue suits
come around not much anymore.

They stopped treading on our racism
a long time ago—before

North Carolina implemented
a systematic program to prevent most folks from voting.

I remember how they bent rail-iron around trees
outside the church as we spoke our vows.

I remember how they found
the three cows we tried to hide for ourselves in the forest.

We were crazy hungry back then.
Chicory substituted for coffee.

Nothing substituted for sugar.
I got my first blisters after our darkies

followed Sherman’s Bummers north to freedom
only to learn the Yankees did not want then free up there either.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


The title is a reference to the last year Federal government troops and actions forced laws and enforced those laws upon the post Civil War South.

My goal in this piece was to write in the voice of a white South Carolinian woman in that year, a wife on a small farmer who had survived the ravages of the war and reconstruction.

All of the states were complicit in both slavery and racism—North and South—since all white people benefited from low market prices on products produced, directly & indirectly, through slavery. I wish the country could hold a nationwide reconciliation action for racism and the fact of slavery, like the South Africans commissioned to start to heal the wounds of Apartheid. I think the US is in great need of such a coming clean—confessional.

Hearing the Virginia Governor Northam in an interview at first refer the slavery as indentured servitude before the interviewer corrected him, really pissed me off. As a people we cannot rewrite our way out of our violent, racist past and present.

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