I was on vacation with my wife this past week, one of the benefits of having a ‘real’ job.
One that pays on time, correctly. One that has vacation time to earn. We took a 4-day trip down to the Gulf last year for our 5th Anniversary and went back down there again this year for the 6th Anniversary.
I go down to Florida via Ga 85 to 185, take some connector road I can never remember and get on Alabama 431 to go to Panama City (ugh) and turn left, to go to Mexico Beach, a tiny wide spot in the road, situated on a perfect beach.
My wife is Chinese but her family has lived in Viet Nam for generations.
Aside from marrying me, she is a very bright person: though she just has a high school education “on the surface” she knows a lot of things and I find myself recurrently enlightened as to what she does and does not know.
She seems to know a lot about Chinese medicine. And she comes with a variety of ideas I find peculiar: I am also forbidden to whistle in the house at night “because it will draw snakes to the house”. I am NOT to even look at an owl. Foreigners and their quirky ideas, eh?
Enroute to or fro the place I like to go now – Mexico Beach -, one must drive through south Alabama and miles and miles and miles of cotton fields. On our first trip through there last year, she was intrigued by the cotton plant and asked a number of question.
This time on the way through and on the way back several fields had been harvested and there were these huge blocks of compressed, harvested cotton, large white rectangles each just a bit smaller than a semi trailer.
On the way back we were driving through the cotton area and she asked about how the cotton was harvested – it was clear there are machines doing this work and I, personally, had never seen one of these massive blocks of cotton – it could only be a machine that produced something like that.
I explained to her that cotton was one of the major crops in American history and that it has doubtlessly been grown in America for 3-400 years at the very least.
Then she asked: How did they harvest cotton before machine.
I looked at her momentarily: “Slaves”, I replied.
“Slaves”? she asked. She knew what the word “meant” but the reality had not set in.
“Black people”, I said.
“Black people were owned – much like dogs or farm animals – and they were forced to harvest the cotton by hand.”
There are times when one is talking to another person and one will say something that gets into the others’ mind, changing things they think and feel as you watch.
Most often the energy in the room, or in this case, the car, can be felt. I usually sense it as a great ‘dropping down’ and it is accompanied by a moment of silence as the person wraps their head around their new insight.
Seeing that the horror of it all was sinking in, I continued on about how slaves would be chained by the feet to keep them on the plantations, how families would be split up, again, like selling livestock. I explained that much of the South used slaves to do the work while the North was already more mechanized and that while the “War between the States’ was ostensibly fought to “free the slaves’ it was just as much an effort by the north to destroy what industrial muscle the South had.
She didn’t really say much, she just looked stunned and was pretty quiet. It was an upsetting thing for her.
It reminded me of when I first made the connection – I think I was in 4th grade and we had been talking about the slave ships. I saw the linked pic and sort of freaked out quietly.
I had heard about slaves before and “thought” such a thing was wrong, but it didn’t ‘really’ sink in until one day in 4th grade and I saw the pic linked above. The absolutely hellish experience these people were forced into freaked me out. It may have been a moment in which my current preference for helping people out of hellish experiences may have been given some impetus.
We had been driving down the road, listening to one of the ‘classic rock’ stations on Sirius. I generally hate classic rock stations, but Sirius’s is really pretty good.
I explained to her that out of the horror of the slave experience came the Blues and Gospel music; that rock music owes it’s entire existence to the blues.
I then returned to the issue of harvesting cotton and told her about the cotton gin and about Eli Whitney and the issue of ‘interchangeable parts’ and how a ‘slave’ helped usher in the Industrial revolution.
This was a big revelation for her.
She is currently studying to get her GED and when she gets to US History I imagine we are going to have a lot to talk about. A lot of American history deals with slavery so I cannot wait to see what she has to say.