Unidentified Female Student, Former Slave
(Talladega College, circa 1885)
You might have heard a story like this one well
but I'm telling this one to you now.
I was five when the soldiers came.
Master worked me twenty years longer.
How could I know? One day he left me alone
and an unwatched pot started to boil. By the time
he came back home I was cleaned of him and singing,
There's a man going round taking names.
Ready, set, and I was gone, walking. Could I see
beyond his yard? Did I have a thought to read or write
or count past God's creation? A barefooted
girl!-and you remember, you woman who will take
your pen to write my life. This is what the truth was like:
Master's clouds followed me to the steps of this school.
Dear reader, when you think on this years after I have died
and I am dust, think on a great and awful morning
when I learned my freedom. Think that the skin on my
back was cared when I dared step out into the world,
when my Master stood trembling and weeping
on his front porch and he cursed me beyond knowing.
From OUTLANDISH BLUES (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)