DISTANT DRUMS: On Virginia Soil?

                                “We are done with hoeing cotton… We are done with hoeing corn… We are colored  Yankee soldiers, as sure as you are born… When Massa  hears us shouting, He will think  ‘tis Gabriel’s horn, as we are marching on…”  (Sung by black soldiers and former    slaves- in Union-blue uniforms- to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as they marched to Civil War combat in Richmond and nearby Petersburg, Virginia)


Depending on your point of view, you might think the rousing war-chant above referred to the biblical “Angel Gabriel” who blows a horn to announce the arrival of “Judgment Day.”  But, as a child of the south, with slavery lineage, I learned different.  I simply knew it was a deathly warning, announcing impending doom, for enemies of the fight for what’s humanely right, some 60 years on the heels of Gabriel Prosser’s so-called rebellion activities, not far from where I now live, in Virginia, today.

But, on hearing of the Governor (Robert F. McDonnell) of Virginia’s recent and shocking proclamation, declaring that April is once again “Confederate History Month,” in Virginia, I thought about many other images associated with growing up in the “good ole boy” south, including back home, in Kentucky.  Instinctively,  I quietly prayed, envisioning the racially flavored, knee-jerk responses that would surely follow.  Since the election of this nation’s first African-American president (President Barack Obama), in 2008, and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call, in 2009, for his own state’s potential secession, coupled with lavished praise for “Tea-Party” protesters, these seemingly now “dis-united” states of America are beginning to sound like the distant “war drums” of the past- especially those known as the Civil War period (1861-1865)'Talking Drum'

It was a period flowing six decades in the wake of Prosser’s famed plots and footsteps toward freedom. But, today, individuals and/or politicians spewing irresponsible, racially-tinged verbiage should be mindful of existing forces and collective mindsets, more powerful than the war chants of former slaves, guaranteed to prevent a return to romanticized confederated systems of yesteryear- more powerful than Prosser’s dreams; more powerful than the brilliantly crafted and potent strategies of Abolitionist Movement- and, even more powerful than the collective international muscle-flexing, during the Civil Rights Movement years.

Yet, when I heard of this governor’s divisive public announcement, my thoughts drifted back to high school history lessons concerning the Civil War and the 11 slave states, forming the so-called “Confederate States of America.”  Initially, in January 1861, South Carolina, recoiling from President Abraham Lincoln’s expressed opposition to slavery, called for a state convention which eventually voted to withdraw South Carolina from the union- via succession.  They were soon followed by what we, as teenagers, used to call the “foreign countries,” the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.  Louisiana, Florida and Texas soon closed ranks behind them.  But, “Mississippi,” to us, was simply a nasty, foul-mouth word, chock-full of racially-charged implications.  Later, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina even threatened to secede.  Kentucky and Missouri, as I recall, were initially so-called “border states,” declaring their notion of neutrality to the ugly sins of slavery, early in the war.  But, somehow, they were later added as star-lights #12 and #13 on the “stars and bars” banner of the slave-owning south.  “Geez, a similar precursor for today’s frenzied political environment?” I thought, “More ‘pea-brains’ hawking for mindless rebellion with wistful, romanticized longings for a repugnant past.”

Frankly, considering the horrific period that trailed the rebel years of the Civil War, it’s difficult to follow the current, blockheaded logic, seemingly calling for a return to this diabolical era.  “But, perhaps this is what is meant by the dimwitted Tea-Party cries for ‘taking my country back,’” my mind teased.  Surely, their supporters won’t see themselves as “rebellious.”  But, I see them as mimics of the similar pre-Civil War reasoning which rebelled against the United States, trying to protect a romanticized slave-owning way of life!  Any other explanation is foul-smelling bull-poop, pure and simple.  It’s also the same frame of mind that once considered Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and others of similar resolve, as rebellious slaves, hunted down like wild animals, rather than the ”Freedom Fighters” they were.  Of course, that’s not how history records the various rationales, back then. 

Back then, history books never accurately accounted for the feelings of the disenfranchised, the down-trodden, the ignoble, the misfortunate- or, the enslaved.  They never properly noted the fighting skills of combined forces of slave and free, African-American and Indian “Freedom fighters”, referred to as “Black Indians,” among the Seminole, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian nations.  They mostly suppress the well-documented existence of “Maroon Societies”- rebel slave communities– that carried out guerilla warfare strikes on plantations in the Virginias and Carolinas and snaking down the coastline to Northeast Brazil. And, definitely not the heroic deeds of the fierce “Black Seminoles,” simply called “Estelusti” (Black folk) by the Indians, of the American Indian Wars, in Florida.  Even footnoted references, to the black “Gullah” warriors of coastal South Carolina, are hard to find, as well as the “Black Indian” warriors in Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico and the Bahamas.  The collective will, spirit and memory of these pre- and post-civil War “Freedom Fighters” still exist today.  And, that’s not even mentioning the expanding brotherhood of veterans, including myself and others in our family, from subsequent world wars and conflicts from Korea, Viet-Nam, Panama, Dessert Storm and Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan, today.  Yes, proven peace-loving “Americans,” but always ready to heed the sound of “Gabriel’s horn,” if absolutely necessary.

But, “Gabriel’s horn” need not sound, if responsible political leaders would be more mindful of their inciting rhetoric when sounding the call for a “new revolution” and “taking their country back.” Tossing about archaic phrase like “nullification,” “interposition,” “sedition” and “states’ rights,” as well as “secession,” doesn’t help their cause, either.  More caution really ought to be exercised when blindly referring to selected segments of society as the only so-called “real or patriotic Americans.”  In my opinion, real political leadership, inclined toward bringing Americans together rather than pulling them apart, will think more responsibly before flap-jawing about with terms, dripping from their deceitful lips, they can’t fully grasp, themselves.  They should also be more mindful of what they’re ‘teaching” their own kids.  After all, that’s what “real or patriotic Americans” simply do- no matter their color, race or creed.

What Do Think?  Has the political rhetoric (so-called Conservative or Liberal) in America crossed the boundaries of reasonableness?  Can the two-party political system ever rebound and become functional, again?

Or, is it simply time for the whole melting-pot caboodle to take a “chill-pill”?

“Backstreet Djeli” (w.d.s.)

(Previously posted @ rizingcubenterprises.com on 04/08/2010)

About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at www.backstreetdjeli.com and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.