The moon cast a gentle light as I silently advanced towards the plantation where my father was held. I came up to the barbed wire fence and tested its durability with a wire
cutter. This only served as an alarm to wake the guard dog, who barked at the sight of the intruder. A dim light started towards me. I hid behind a bush and replaced my presence with a rabbit which
I had trapped for such an occasion. A white man shined his lantern on the animal.
“Bad boy, Gus!” He exclaimed at the dog. He kicked it on its side. Gus retreated to his doghouse and dozed off. The man returned to his dwelling. I discovered a rabbit hole and dug myself under the fence. I tiptoed past Gus and went to the small houses near the fields. I opened the door to one of these houses and peered inside. The rancid odor of rotting feces invaded my nostrils, conquering my sense of smell. Still, I willed myself to put my whole face in the house. Many slaves slept side by side, but my father was not present. I moved to the next cabin and found my father on one of the lower racks. I shook him.
“Dad.” I whispered. My father stirred. “Dad, it’s me, Jacob.” The other slaves appeared to be on the verge of waking. Many tossed and turned in their limited sleeping space. My father opened his eyes. I shushed him and led him outside.
“I found a way out.” I told him. “It’s the same hole that I used to escape three years ago.”
“Where is it?” was his response.
“Just past the doghouse.” I gestured to the hole with my finger. I walked to it with my father following. My father went first, but his shirt got caught in the fence. He wrestled with the shirt and caused the fence to rattle. Gus started towards them. My father wiggled out of his shirt and made way for me. Gus sunk his teeth into my ankle. I screamed in agony. My father, who was ahead of me, looked back to see the slave master knock me unconscious with a club. He dragged my limp body to the slave shacks. My father watched helplessly as his old fate consumed his son. Knowing that he was too old to try rescue me in the future and that an immediate attempt would only result in his own recapture, my father sorrowfully ran to freedom.
When I awoke, I found myself on an excrement covered floor. I attempted to rise but a sharp pain in my shoulder defrayed my sanitary will. Five lines of raw flesh protruded out of my back.
“Get up, you runaway!” someone commanded from behind me. A loud snap filled the air; only the pain was greater than its volume. The man grabbed me and stood me up. My thankfulness to be off of the floor was greeted by a right hook which set me sprawling back from whence I came.
“Now get up!” the slave master shouted. With great excursion I was able to comply. Blood poured from both my back and my left eye and I staggered while trying to keep the weight off of my bad foot.
“You’re not going to try to escape again, are you?” The slave master asked. When I gave no reply, he repeated the inquisition in a sterner tone.
“No, master Hector.” was my response.
“You know what’s going happen to you if you do?” Hector picked up his rifle.
“Now go pick me some cotton.” Hector handed me a large basket.
“But master, my foot…”
“If you don’t bring me a hundred baskets full of cotton by sunset, I‘ll break the other one.” Hector stormed out of the room and returned to his dwelling. I looked at the fence. The hole had been filled. When I arrived in the fields I was greeted by his old friend.
“Glad to see that you’re up.” Alexis said.
“Thanks.” I stated.
“I was pretty surprised to see you laid out on the floor at dawn. What happened?” I put my hands on a cotton stalk.
“I was trying to get my dad out of here, but the dog got my foot when I went under the fence.”
“Where’s your dad?”
“I don’t know, hopefully heading up north.” I took my basket of cotton to the cotton gin. Master Tom made a note on a card and gave me a new basket. When I returned to the fields, nobody had time to chat, and neither did I: the slaves had lost track of the time and lost an hour of work due to oversleeping. I lost another two hours from being unconscious. We worked tediously to accomplish our goals and assisted others when our own work was done. At sundown, every slave had reached their quota of cotton. We retired to our houses. Nobody paid any heed to each other in the house, they just laid down and savored as much of their slumber as they could. When the bottom of the horizon was tinted with orange, the slaves went back to work. Hector stopped me as I was going out of the house.
“Stop, slave.” he stated. “ I have a special task for you today.”
“Yes, master.” I said.
“We’re going to drive to Washington D.C. Get in the carriage and stay low. Don’t say a word.”
“I understand, master.” Washington D.C. was two miles from the plantation. Traffic was heavy and only increased as Hector and I neared our destination. Hector stopped his horse and tied the reins to a post. A crowd had developed in a circle around a podium at which President Abraham Lincoln was expected to give a speech. Hector took a loaded revolver and a sheathed knife from the carriage and concealed them in his pockets. He also got a camera, which he gave to me. We advanced through the throng of spectators. Stealthfully, Hector transferred the knife into my pocket. He pointed to the media readying themselves to take pictures of the President when he came outside of the White House.
“You see those guys with the cameras?” Hector asked.
“Yes, master.” I replied.
“Don’t call me master out here, call me sir.”
“Go next to them and act like you’re one of them. When the tall man with the beard shows up, take out the knife and kill him from behind.”
“No, sir! I will not do such a thing!” Hector flashed his revolver to me.
“I’m going to tell you again. Go kill the tall man with the beard or I’ll kill you and your friend Alexis.”
“But what did this man do to deserve death?”
“I’ll give you till the count of five to get moving.”
“What about my face? Isn’t it going to look strange to the people with the cameras?”
“It usually does anyway. If they ask, say that you got into a printing press accident.” Ruefully I joined the photographers. The doors opened and the announcer went to the platform.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” he said ecstatically. President Lincoln proceeded through the doors. When he passed by me he heard the whistle of sharp metal cutting through the air, followed by the white flash of the glistening knife. Then, an aphonic darkness fell upon him. The secret service pounced upon both the fallen leader and the culprit. Hector made his way out of the crowd.
“Mr. Jacob.” Chief Justice Klux proclaimed. “You are being charged with first degree assault and murder of a government official. How do you plea?”
“Not guilty by reason of personal safety.” I responded.
“Explain.” I described the day in which I killed Lincoln, citing that my master had forced me to do the crime.
“Is this the man in question?” Chief Justice Klux asked. Hector strode down the aisle to the witness stand.
“Yes, your Honor.” Hector took the oath and entered the box. Since I feared misrepresentation, I acted as my own lawyer.
“Mr. Hector,” he began, “did you instruct me to kill President Lincoln?”
“No, I did nothing of the sort.” he calmly stated. He turned to the Chief Justice. “Isn’t it sad how low a piece of black trash will go to save his own behind?”
“Indeed, it is.” he answered. “The court is now in recess and will await the verdict of the jury.” The gable came down upon the wooden stopper. I was too flabbergasted to pose another question. Discrimination had corrupted even the highest court in the United States. The jury deliberated for less than a minute.
“I will now read the verdict.” Klux announced. “’We, the jury, unanimously find the defendant guilty of both charges.’” A cheer enveloped the predominantly southern court.
“Order in the court!” Klux barked, striking the gable down with authority. “I sentence you to death by electrocution.” The gable struck a final time. “Next case.” The bailiff forced me out of my chair. He dressed me in prison garb and locked me in a cell. My execution date was scheduled for twenty years after the incident had occurred.
When President Johnson took office, however, he vowed to do as Lincoln would have done. In 1864 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed most southern slaves and caused the rest of the country to follow suit. When the verdict of Plessey vs. Fergusson reached my ears, I vouched for a re-trial, stating that my trial was not equal to that of white defendants’ trials. Chief Justice Owens, who replaced Chief Justice Klux, ruled in favor of a retrial. When Hector was called to the stand he no longer had the luxury of claiming that a black person’s word was less than a white person’s word. After being soundly grilled, Hector was convicted of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Consequently, my verdict was not guilty. I was paid $340,000 recompense for seventeen years served in prison and was freed. The verdict was controversial in the South, however, the argument being that I could have slit Hector’s throat before he drew the revolver. Though Lincoln gathered much hated in the south, the citizens did not support his assassination.
I decided to move back to the south. Picking cotton was the only thing that I was adept at and I knew that the $340,000, though a rather large sum of money, wouldn’t last forever. I hired a small group of workers to help cultivate my land, but nobody from the south wished to purchase my products. Dismissing this as temporal sentiment, I sold to the north and was able to make a profit. I realized that the contempt would not be brief when three years later a starving beggar wouldn’t accept food or money from me and chose to die on the street, still crying out for food. During my fifth year in business, when I added wheat and barley to my crops, I noticed a little girl periodically roaming through the fields. She wore a torn dress, patched up with many pieces of spare cloth. Her muddy cheeks an forehead concealed a long scab from the fence. I bought some leather and made her a coat. I waited for her in the barley and nearly frightened her to death.
“Hi.” I said. The girl stood as petrified as a deer in spotlights. “Don’t be scared.” I pleaded. “ Here, I had this made for you.” I gave her the coat. I noticed some familiarities in her physical features, but couldn’t pinpoint the source of the feeling. “I’m Jacob. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Alexis Two.” she cautiously stated.
“Why is there a number in your name?”
“My mommy was named Alexis.”
“I knew someone named Alexis when I was a slave. Do you know your mother’s maiden name?”
“Her last name before she got married.”
“Oh, it was Jones.” The name matched perfectly with my friend’s name.
“How is she?”
“She’s dead.” My heart sunk. “She died a few months ago from an infection.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Who’s your daddy?”
“His name is Tom, but he’s very sick. That’s why I come here to get food from your field.”
“Well, next time use the front door: it’ll save you the trouble of getting past the gate.” I took a bushel of wheat in one hand and a bushel of barley in the other.
“Can you show me where he is?” I asked.
“Sure.” Alexis Two replied. She led me out of the front door and around the left corner. In the back of a dark alley was a sickly figure.
“Alexis?” he asked feebly through his incessant coughing. “Is that you?”
“Yes, father.” she said.
“Who’s that with you?”
“His name is Jacob. He’s the guy who owns the field that I got your food from.”
“Good afternoon.” I greeted. I set down the grains and stuck out my hand but I regathered my senses and retracted it. “Pleased to meet you.” A stray ray of sunshine shined across the alley, revealing Tom’s face. I staggered, realizing that the man was my former slave master.
“Alexis mentioned you.” Tom told me. “She said that you two were good friends and that you just disappeared one day. She said that you killed Abraham Lincoln.”
“I did,” I answered, “but it was to save both of our lives. Hector said that he would kill Alexis and me if I didn’t do it, so I took a knife and stabbed him.”
“Why didn’t you slice his neck?” I paused.
“It never really came to my mind.” I started. “He gave me to the count of five to agree to it and the pressure must have blocked out the thought.
“Why should I believe you?”
“Because I never lie about these things. If you would have asked Alexis about it, she would have agreed.” Tears formed in his eyes as time’s healing scab was torn away.
“Don‘t you tell me about my Alexis!” he yelled with an astonishing volume for someone in his health, “I pleaded with Hector to lighten her workload. When he refused, I hid her in my basement and fed her with the money from the plantation. You have no idea how tough it was for me to keep her a secret from Hector. He eventually found out and fired me, leaving Alexis and me without food nor shelter. You couldn‘t know the hardships that we faced as I had to break her out of the plantation, only to encounter a cold world who didn‘t care an ounce about her wellbeing. Now, you have the audacity to tell me how she would have thought?! How dare you! Go, slave, and take your food with you!”
“Please, Tom.” I appealed. “Take the food. If you only had to worry about taking care of yourself, I would understand; but think of your daughter. If she’s out trying to get you food, what will she eat?” Tom had no answer.
“I believe him, Daddy.” Alexis Two said abruptly. Tom sat outgunned by the combined forces of his wife’s friend and his own kin.
“Fine.” he said. “We’ll take it.”
“Thank you Daddy!” Alexis Two exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around him.
“Can I offer you a place to stay?” I asked.
“Yes,” Tom answered, “I think we’d like that.” I hailed down a carriage and paid the driver his fare. When the we arrived at my house, I immediately made a house call. Dr. Bellows examined Tom.
“It appears that I’ve gotten here just in the nick of time.” he commented. “Tom seems to be in the preliminary stages of pneumonia. If he went any longer without treatment he would have gone into a coma and likely have died.” He loaded Tom into his carriage and rode to the hospital. Five days later, Tom returned.
Tom decided to send Alexis Two to school so that she could learn how to fend for herself in the outside world. She spread my story to her classmates, who in turn informed their parents. Soon, the hatred that I endured was transformed into joy and admiration.
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