“Whut did Cudjo say so dat dis woman know he want to marry her? I tellee you dat. I tellee you de truth how it was.
“One day Cudjo say to her, ‘I likee you to be my wife. I ain’ got nobody.’
“She say, ‘Whut you want wid me?’
“‘I wantee marry you.’
“‘You think if I be yo’ wife you kin take keer me?’
“‘Yeah, I kin work for you. I ain’ goin’ to beat you.’
“I didn’t say no more. We got married one month after we ’gree ’tween ourselves. We didn’t had no wedding. Whether it was March or Christmas day, I doan remember now.
“Derefo’, you know, we live together and we do all we kin to make happiness ’tween ourselves.
“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, after me and my wife ’gree ’tween ourselves, we seekee religion and got converted. Den in de church dey tell us dat ain’ right. We got to marry by license. In de Afficky soil, you unnerstand me, we ain’ got no license. De man and de woman dey ’gree ’tween deyselves, den dey married and live together. We doan know nothin’ ’bout dey have license over here in dis place. So den we gittee married by de license, but I doan love my wife no mo’ wid de license than I love her befo’ de license. She a good woman and I love her all de time.
“Me and my wife we have de six chillun together. Five boys and one girl. Oh, Lor’! Oh, Lor’! We so happy. Poor Cudjo! All de folks done left him now! I so lonely. We been married ten months when we have our first baby. We call him Yah-jimmy, just de same lak we was in de Afficky soil. For Americky we call him Aleck.
“In de Afficky we gottee one name, but in dis place dey tell us we needee two names. One for de son, you unnerstand me, and den one for de father. Derefo’ I put de name of my father O-lo-loo-ay to my name. But it too long for de people to call it. It too crooked lak Kossula. So dey call me Cudjo Lewis.
“So you unnerstand me, we give our chillun two names. One name because we not furgit our home; den another name for de Americky soil so it won’t be too crooked to call.
“De nexy child we name him Ah-no-no-toe, den we call him Jimmy. De nexy one name Poe-lee-Dah-oo. He a boy, too. Den we have Ah-tenny-Ah and we call him David. De las’ boy we callee him my name, Cudjo, but his Afficky name, it Fish-ee-ton. Den my wife have one li’l girl and we call her Ee-bew-o-see, den we call her Seely after her mama.
“All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.
“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time. Me and dey mama doan lak to hear our chillun call savage. It hurtee dey feelings. Derefo’ dey fight. Dey fight hard. When dey whip de other boys, dey folks come to our house and tellee us, ‘Yo’ boys mighty bad, Cudjo. We ’fraid they goin’ kill somebody.’
“Cudjo meetee de people at de gate and tellee dem, ‘You see de rattlesnake in de woods?’ Dey say, ‘Yeah.’ I say ‘If you bother wid him, he bite you. If you know de snake killee you, why you bother wid him? Same way wid my boys, you unnerstand me. If you leavee my boys alone, dey not bother nobody!’
“But dey keep on. All de time, ‘Aleck dis, Jimmy dat, Poe-lee dis an’ t’other. David a bad boy. Cudjo fightee my son.’ Nobody never say whut dey do to de Afficky savages. Dey say he ain’ no Christian. Dey tell whut de savages do to dem, just lakee we ain’ gottee no feelings to git hurtee.
“We Afficans try raise our chillun right. When dey say we ign’nant we go together and build de school house. Den de county send us a teacher. We Afficky men doan wait lak de other colored people till de white folks gittee ready to build us a school. We build one for ourself den astee de county to send us de teacher.
“Oh, Lor’! I love my chillun so much! I try so hard be good to our chillun. My baby, Seely, de only girl I got, she tookee sick in de bed. Oh, Lor’! I do anything to save her. We gittee de doctor. We gittee all de medicine he tellee us tuh git. Oh, Lor’. I pray, I tell de Lor’ I do anything to save my baby life. She ain’ but fifteen year old. But she die. Oh, Lor’! Look on de gravestone and see whut it say. August de 5th, 1893. She born 1878. She doan have no time to live befo’ she die. Her mama take it so hard. I try tellee her not to cry, but I cry too.
“Dat de first time in de Americky soil dat death find where my door is. But we from cross de water know dat he come in de ship wid us. Derefo’ when we buildee our church, we buy de ground to bury ourselves. It on de hill facin’ de church door.
“We Christian people now, so we put our baby in de coffin and dey take her in de church, and everybody come look down in her face. Dey sing, ‘Shall We Meet Beyond De River.’ I been a member of de church a long time now, and I know de words of de song wid my mouth, but my heart it doan know dat. Derefo’ I sing inside me, ‘O todo ah wah n-law yah-lee, owrran k-nee ra ra k-nee ro ro.’
“We bury her dere in de family lot. She lookee so lonesome out dere by herself—she such a li’l girl, you unnerstand me, dat I hurry and build de fence ’round de grave so she have pertection.
“Nine year we hurtee inside ’bout our baby. Den we git hurtee again. Somebody call hisself a deputy sheriff kill de baby boy now. (Over)1
“He say he de law, but he doan come ’rest him. If my boy done something wrong, it his place come ’rest him lak a man. If he mad wid my Cudjo ’bout something den he oughter come fight him face to face lak a man. He doan come ’rest him lak no sheriff and he doan come fight him lak no man. He have words wid my boy, but he skeered face him. Derefo’, you unnerstand me, he hidee hisself in de butcher wagon and when it gittee to my boy’s store, Cudjo walk straight to talk business. Dis man, he hidin’ hisself in de back of de wagon, an’ shootee my boy. Oh, Lor’! He shootee my boy in de throat. He got no right shootee my boy. He make out he skeered my boy goin’ shoot him and shootee my boy down in de store. Oh, Lor’! De people run come tellee me my boy hurtee. We tookee him home and lay him in de bed. De big hole in de neck. He try so hard to ketchee breath. Oh, Lor’! It hurtee me see my baby boy lak dat. It hurtee his mama so her breast swell up so. It make me cry ’cause it hurt Seely so much. She keep standin’ at de foot of de bed, you unnerstand me, an’ lookee all de time in his face. She keep telling him all de time, ‘Cudjo, Cudjo, Cudjo, baby, put whip to yo’ horse!’
“He hurtee so hard, but he answer her de best he kin, you unnerstand me. He tellee her, ‘Mama, thass whut I been doin’!’
“Two days and two nights my boy lay in de bed wid de noise in de throat. His mama never leave him. She lookee at his face and tellee him, ‘Put whip to yo’ horse, baby.’
“He pray all he could. His mama pray. I pray so hard, but he die. I so sad I wish I could die in place of my Cudjo. Maybe, I doan pray right, you unnerstand me, ’cause he die while I was prayin’ dat de Lor’ spare my boy life.
“De man dat killee my boy, he de paster of Hay Chapel in Plateau today. I try forgive him. But Cudjo think that now he got religion, he ought to come and let me know his heart done change and beg Cudjo pardon for killin’ my son.
“It only nine year since my girl die. Look lak I still hear de bell toll for her, when it toll again for my Fish-ee-ton. My po’ Affican boy dat doan never see Afficky soil.”
Kossula Learns About Law
Dey doan do nothin’ to de man whut killee my son. He a deputy sheriff. I doan do nothin’. I a Christian man den. I a sick man, too. I done git hurtee by de train, you unnerstand me.
“Cudjo tell you how he git hurtee. I tellee you jes lak it were. Cudjo doan fuhgit it. It in March, you unnerstand me, and I makee de garden. It de 12th day of March, 1902.
“It a woman call me, you unnerstand me, to plow de field for her. She say, ‘Cudjo, I like to git you plow de garden so I kin plant de sweet potatoes. I pay you.’ I ’gree to dat.
“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, I gittee up early de nexy mornin’ and go plow de garden for her so den when I git through wid hers, I kin plant my garden. I doan finish her garden ’cause my wife she callee me and scold me. She tell me, ‘Cudjo, why you go workee hard lak dat befo’ you eatee your breakfast? Dat ain’ right. You goin’ be sick. I gottee your breakfast ready long time. You come eat.’
“I go home wid Seely and eatee de breakfast. Den I think it goin’ rain so I ’cide I plant my beans. Derefo’, you unnerstand me, I tell my wife come to de field wid me and helpee me plant de beans.’
“She say, ‘Cudjo, why you want me in de field? I cain plant no beans.’
“I tell her come on and drop de beans while I hill dem up. She come wid me and I show her how. After while she say, ‘Cudjo, you doan need me drop no beans. You cain work ’thout no woman ’round you. You bringee me here for company.’
“I say, ‘Thass right.’
“We ain’ got ’nough beans. So I went to de market and astee de man for early beans, but he ain’ got none. Derefo’, you unnerstand me, I gittee my wife some meat and come home. Den I feedee my horse, an’ my wife she cookin’. So den I curried de horse and it sprinkle rain. I stopee and study. I doan know if I go gittee mo’ beans in de Mobile or if I wait. I ’cide to go fetch de beans. Derefo’ I astee my wife to give me money.
“She put three dollars on de mantelpiece. I astee her, ‘Seely, why you give me so muchee money? I doan need no three dollars.’
“She say, ‘Spend whut you need and bringee de rest back. I know you ain’ goin’ wastee de money.’
“Den I hitch up de horse and go in de Mobile to gittee de beans. Soon as I git de beans I turn back to go home.
“When I reachee de Government Street and Common, it de L and N railroad track dere, you unnerstand me. When I ’proach de track another rig goin’ very slow in de middle of de road. So I make de passee de rig and jes’ when I passee it an’ git out on de track, de train rushee down on me. Oh, Lor’! I holler to dem to stop ’cause I dere on de track, but dey doan stop. It a switch engine, you unnerstand me. It rushee on and hittee de buggy an’ knock me and hurtee my left side. Oh, Lor.’ De horse gittee skeered and run away. My boy David find him nexy day and fetch him home.
“Somebody see de train hit me and hear me holler for dem to stop, dey come pickee me up and keer me to de doctor office. He givee me de morphine. A white lady on Government Street see me all hurtee and she see dat I took keer of. When I go home she send me a basket and visit me. She say de railroad ain’ got no right smash up de buggy and hurtee me. I in de bed fourteen days. Dey broke three ribs. Dey ain’ rung no bell. Dey ain’ blow no whistle. She say she goin’ see de company. Derefo’ she go in de office of de L and N. De man in dere tellee her, ‘We ain’ goin’ to do nothin’. It was daytime. Can’t he see?’
“When I git able to git ’round de lady tellee me git me a lawyer and he makee de company pay me for hurtee me and ’stroy de buggy.
“Derefo’, I go in de office of lawyer Clarke. He a big lawyer. Cudjo tell him, ‘I ain’ able to hire you. I want you to go to de company. I give you half.’
“De lawyer sue de company. De nexy year (1903) in January, dey send for me to ’pear in court. De judge say, ‘De first case dis mornin’ is Cudjo Lewis against de L an’ N for $5,000.’
“I lookee hard. I say to myself, ‘Who tell him dat? I didn’t tell him I want $5,000.’
“De railroad lawyer say, ‘We ain’ goin’ to give him nothin’.’
“Well, lawyer Clarke talk too. He say I all hurtee. I never be able to work no mo’. Dey pull off my short and lookee at de left side and de doctor say, ‘No, Cudjo cain work no mo’.’ Den lawyer Clarke say de railroad ought take keer me—done cripply me so bad.
“De railroad lawyer say dey not goin’ give me nothin’. Dey say it broad daylight, ain’ dis Cudjo got no eyes to see de great big train?
“Lawyer Clarke say, ‘De train got a bell but dey din’t ring it. Dey got a whistle, but dey din’t blow it. De railroad track it layin’ right cross de road. How kin de city of Mobile lettee de company makee de street dangerous and doan makee dem pay when people git hurtee on dey track? He talk a long time, den we all go out de courthouse to eatee de dinner.
“I tired, so I think I go home. I go gittee some flesh in de market to take home to Seely. David he stay in de court. He know de market I lak and derefo’ he run ketchee me in de market ’fore I go home and tell me, ‘Papa, de judge give you $650 from de company. De lawyer say you come tomorrow and gittee yo’ money.’
“I doan go nexy day, but I send David. De lawyer say dat too soon. Come back nexy week. Well, I send and I send, but Cudjo doan gittee no money. In de 1904 de yellow fever come in de Mobile and lawyer Clarke take his wife and chillun and gittee on de train to run in de New York ’way from de fever, but he never gittee in de North. He die on de way. Cudjo never know whut come of de money. It always a hidden mystery how come I not killed when de train it standing over me. I thank God I alive today.
“De people see I ain’ able to work no mo’, so dey make me de sexton of de church.”
Cudjo’s friends down the bay caught us a marvelous mess of blue crabs. We left these people late in the afternoon with many lingering exchanges of good wishes. On the way home we saw some excellent late melons in front of a store and bought two of them. I left one melon on his porch and took the other with me.
At the gate he called after me, “You come tomorrow and eatee de crab wid me. I lak you come keep me comp’ny!”
So the next day about noon, I was sitting on his steps, between the rain-barrels eating crabs. When the crabs were gone we talked.
“Let Cudjo tellee you ’bout our boy, David. He such a good boy. Cudjo doan fuhgit dat day. It Easter Saturday. He come home, you unnerstand me, and find me sweepin’ de church. I been de sexton long time den. So he astee me, ‘Papa, where mama?’
“I tell him, ‘She in de house.’
“Derefo’ he go in de house, you unnerstand me, and astee his mama what she goin’ have for dinner. She tellee him she got de baked fish. He say, ‘Oh I so glad we got baked fish. Gimme my dinner quick.’ His mama astee him, ‘When did you ever see me give you anything to eat befo’ your Pa?’ He say, ‘Never.’ She say, ‘You takee yo’ bath den maybe dat time yo’ Pa here to eatee his dinner.’
De boy runnee back out to me and tell me make haste so he git something to eat. He hongry. I choppee de wood so he take de ax and choppee de wood hisself. I say, ‘Go on, son, I ain’ weak yet. I kin chop dis wood!’ He say, ‘No, I doan want you chop wood and I right here and strong.’ Derefo’ he choppee de wood and keer it in de house where his ma kin reachee it.
“Den we eat our dinner and David washee hisself and his mama put out de clean clothes for him to put on. He got on de unnershirt, but he ain’ got on de top shirt. He ain’ got no button on de unnershirt so me and his ma see de flesh. So I say, ‘Son, fasten yo’ clothes so yo’ mama doan see de skin.’ He lookee at hisself den he astee me, ‘Who first saw me naked? My ma.’ Den he laugh and put on de rest of de clothes. He say, ‘Papa, mama, I go in de Mobile and gittee de laundry. Den I have clean shirts.’
“I astee him, ‘How long befo’ you come from town?’ He say, ‘Not long. Maybe I ketchee de same car back.’
“So he go leave de house.
“After while we hear somebody dey come laughing and talking. Seely say, ‘David got a friend wid him.’ I lookee to see who David got wid him, but it ain’ David.
“Two men come tell me, ‘Uncle Cudjo, yo’ boy dead in Plateau.’
“I say, ‘My boy not in Plateau. He in de Mobile.’ Dey say, ‘No, de train kill yo’ boy in Plateau.’
“I tell dem, ‘How kin de train kill my David in Plateau when he not dere? He gone in de Mobile to git his laundry. He be back after while.’
“Seely say, ‘Go see, Cudjo. Maybe it not our boy. Go see who git killed.’
“Den I astee de men, ‘Where dat man git killed you tellee me about?’
“Dey say, ‘On de railroad track in Plateau.’
“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, I go follow de people. Then I gittee to de place wid de big crowd stand ’round lookee.
“I go through de crowd and lookee. I see de body of a man by de telegraph pole. It ain’ got no head. Somebody tell me, ‘Thass yo’ boy, Uncle Cudjo.’ I say, ‘No, it not my David.’ He lay dere by de cross ties. One woman she face me and astee, ‘Cudjo, which son of yours is dis?’ and she pointee at de body. I tell her, ‘Dis none of my son. My boy go in town and y’all tell me my boy dead.’
One Afficky man come and say, ‘Cudjo, dass yo’ boy.’
“I astee him, ‘Is it? If dat my boy, where his head?’ He show me de head. It on de other side de track. Den he lead me home.
“Somebody astee me, ‘Cudjo, yo’ boy dead. Must I toll de bell for you? You de sexton. You toll de bell for everybody else, you want me toll it for David?’
“I astee him, ‘Why you want to toll de bell for David? He ain’ dead.’
“De Afficky man told de people pick up de body and keer it home. So dey took de window shutter and lay de body on it and fetch it to Cudjo’s gate. De gate, it too small, so dey lift it over de gate and place it on de porch. I so worried. I wishee so bad my David come back from town so de people stop sayin’ dat my son on de shutter.
“When dey place de shutter on de porch, my wife she scream and fall out. De Afficky man say again, ‘Cudjo, thass yo’ boy.’ I say, ‘If thass my son, tell me where de head.’ Dey brung it in a box and I lookee down in David face. Den I say to de crowd, ‘Git off my porch! Git out my yard!’ Dey went. Den I fell down and open de shirt and pushee my hand in de bosom and feel de marks. And I know it my son. I tell dem toll de bell.
“My wife lookee at my face and she scream and scream and fell on de floor and cain raise herself up. I runnee out de place and fell on my face in de pine grove. Oh, Lor’! I stay dere. I hurtee so. It hurtee me so to hear Seely cry. Those who had come cross de water come to me. They say, ‘Uncle Cudjo, come home. Yo’ wife want you.’ I say, ‘Tell Seely doan holler no mo’. I cain stand it.’
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes