At the Crossroads of Liberty and Commerce

Posted May 30th, 2011 by

The Amite County Courthouse in Liberty, Mississippi contains something I’ve not seen before: slave records. Reading accounts from the early 1800’s of the sale or transfer of ownership of black people among white people is profoundly startling. Knowing that some of these transactions involved people related to my writing partner Sharon Morgan compounds the impact significantly.

We’ve also examined “colored” records (marriages, etc) that were kept separate from those of white people — much as everything else was kept separate; at least on the surface. The effort to maintain the appearance of separation in records, cemeteries, accommodations, and so on, did not prevent co-mingling when it came to making babies (a difficult subject that I’m certain we’ll deal with more fully in the future). Sharon, as with the vast majority of black people whose families date back to the days of slavery in the United States, is descended from both black and white people.

Wherever we go on this journey, I’m struck by the hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, and virtual insanity that resided in the minds of white people that embraced, supported, and benefited from, the system of slavery.

I first read official slave records in a town named Liberty. Seriously? Liberty?

Our nation’s founding documents proclaim that all men are created equal. Of course that was a lie. The men who engaged in the enslavement of others were focused on personal gain, not liberty.

It was my turn to drive when we left Liberty. We passed a crossroad on the narrow, two-lane highway that would take us to Natchez and the antebellum home where we would spend the night;  a magnificent home built from the profits of slavery. I was initially reluctant to visit such homes or any plantations on this trip. I’m glad now that Sharon insisted that we do. (She wrote about our experiences at Linden House in her post Syllabub and Sweet Tea.)

A quarter mile past the crossroad, I stopped the car, turned around, and returned to gaze at the most ironic signpost I believe I’ve ever come across. Robert Johnson made no deal with the devil at the crossroads near Liberty. White men did. I can’t stop thinking about the bullet holes in the stop sign.

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