I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and
millions of them—
Out of millions of bundles of wool and flannel tiny black
fingers have reached restlessly and hungrily for life.
Reached out for the black nipples at the black breasts of
And they've held balls and bats and gloves and marbles
and jack-knives and sling-shots and spinning tops in
the thrill of sport and play…
They've held pens and rulers and maps and tablets and
books in palms spotted and smeared with ink,
And they've held dice and cards and half-pint flasks and
cue sticks and cigars and cigarettes in the pride of
—RICHARD WRIGHT, "I HAVE SEEN BLACK HANDS"
"They Will Pull Against You the Load Downward"
The Freedpeople's Failure and Booker Washington's Rescue
THE GREAT war ended and freedom came to the South and to the Burroughs place. After Virginia had seen Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, and Virginia masters and Virginia slaves had received word of the happenings eastward from Hale's Ford at Appomattox Courthouse, after night had fallen on the Confederacy, then there was a jubilee. Booker, "clinging wonderingly to my mothers skirts," heard "her shout hallelujah because we were free."1 It was, Washington recalled, "a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation." In the days preceding, the people there had taken up the chorus of what had heretofore been slave songs—songs of work and songs of sorrow sung in the lonely voices of people seeking solace now and deliverance in "the next world." Now those songs, no longer merely a balm in Gilead, were reprised by the entire company in full voice "to let it be known that the 'freedom' in their songs meant freedom of the body in this world." Now the people threw off