Written during the time I was taking photographs in the ’30s and early ’40s (surely in the ’30s), this seems now (1979) to have a mild historical interest: what curious premonitions of the Civil Rights demonstrations to come lie in the dreams and exhortations and the dramatic performances of “Cindy”? The key word, as I read this now, is “Justice.” It’s clear that I saw the sources of my article as more or less “quaint” and that I accepted without much question the anecdotes repeated by white people—I didn’t track things down as I should have tried to. A photograph of the apron is included in One Time, One Place. The Ellen of the article is the subject of some snapshots taken in Grenada—she’s the woman in the ruffled cap with the apron she’s filling with plums (I think plums).
This was never printed, but I’m sure I must have submitted it here and there in early days and must have sent it to Russell & Volkening to send around too—but maybe they didn’t think it would do and returned it to me.1
When I was visiting on a plantation near Grenada, Mississippi, several years ago, I came across the aged remnants of a religious band which once had all the Delta in turmoil. These very gracious, very flourishing old colored people, a husband and wife named John and Ellen Goodall, still hold themselves members of Cindy’s Band, and it will not die out until they die.
They had once been slaves on this plantation, and now work a farm on it. They live in an ancient patched house of two rooms and a porch, with an outside kitchen. “We done wore out three kitchens heah, an’ ’bout to weah out de house,” said John, who had a gay laugh. Ellen was the serious one. She very slowly and very carefully peeled an apple the whole time we were there, and never broke the strip of peel, perhaps for reasons of magic. They showed us first of all through a sort of outside pantry—shelves filled with quart jars of preserved fruits and vegetables, with many long strings of dried peppers hanging like stalactites from the walls and the low ceiling. John and Ellen had a well, a vegetable garden, a smoke-house, a pasture with two black mules, and many worked fields around. Big buckets stood around under the peach trees, in case something might drop in. We could hear cow bells far away. [End Page 19]
John and Ellen still talk about the yellow fever more than anything else, how it came in slave days and carried off most of their number as well as their white master and his friends. They are proud of their survival; I think that is why they talk about how bad it was. They are still working for the same white family. They don’t know how old they are—somewhere around a hundred, or maybe ninety.
The outside of their cabin is decorated—there is no other word for it. Barrel-sized ferns and big medallion cacti—“hen-and-chickens”—in pans and buckets and tubs, and old-fashioned flowers springing in the ground below and from old coffee pots hanging by their handles from the roof make a kind of elaborate and leafy frame around the house. There was a border of watermelons along the porch that day, and an old hen with a little undulation of baby chickens constantly underfoot.
Inside their house there is not a vacant space big enough for a pigeon to roost—a contingency that did not seem too remote, the way they were flying around the window. Both rooms are stuffed with accumulations of over half a century—calendars, religious tokens, Valentines, seashells, mail-order catalogue illustrations, Christmas tree decorations, dried watermelon seeds, hand-bills, tin signs, birthday almanacs, pop-corn strings, broken crockery, paper toys, little colored pebbles, bottles, pieces of mirror—everything they have ever acquired or found. These objects lie on tables, on the floor, and on chairs; they hang from nails in the...