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georgia wanted me dead or alive (1934) Editors’ Note: In 1934, West was working in Atlanta on behalf of a defense committee for Angelo Herndon, a Communist activist imprisoned for leading a hunger protest. A warrant for West’s arrest was sought that summer under the same 1866 anti-insurrection laws applied to Herndon. West fled Atlanta in the back of a car, hidden under sacks. Upon arriving in New York City, West recounted his experience in an article published on June 26, 1934, in the New Masses, a prominent political and literary journal of the American Left in the 1930s. Thy star-crowned hills and valley sweet, Georgia land, my Georgia land! The little school house at the foot of Burnt Mountain rang with the music of ourvoices.Thirtymountaineerchildrenproudlyliftedourstatesongupthrough thecracksintheroof.Echoesresoundedfromthesidesof BurntMountain.They mingled with the dark thicket of Devil’s Hollow. A farmer across the valley on the mountain stopped his mule.The song floated up through the fodder blades. Two of his grand-kids were in that school! He smiled. The last verse climbed up from the valley. OldKimMulkey22 cluckedtohismule.Theplowtorethroughcrabgrassroots, hungonasourwoodstump.Hejerkeditloose,plungeditintothedarkloamsoil. Old Kim had a feeling of satisfaction. He was the most respected citizen in the Burnt Mountain neighborhood. For years he had been justice of the peace. He “rived” the boards from white-oak trees to cover the single room school house at the mouth of Devil’s Hollow. He had never gone to school. Reading and writing had been learned by candle light around an open fireplace in the evenings.But he wantedbetterthingsforhisgrandchildren.Theymustbegood,educatedcitizens! Kim Mulkey was my grandfather. A one-room log cabin stood on the ridge above Devil’s Hollow. Down below Turkey Creek sang and split its sides against the rocky banks. The Hollow was dark and foreboding. Children dreaded to pass there after dark. Up in the 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 30 selected prose 31 new ground field, above the cabin, corn stalks bent to the winds. Southern breezes softly whispered as they crept through their blades. Crickets chirped. Katydids chattered like a bunch of old women at a quilting. Jim West23 held his plow handles sidewise to keep it up in the next row.Roots jerked at the plow point. The mule was contrary. It was an all-day grind—“Gee, haw. Giddap.” The mule was interested in a bunch of grass. Below the plowman a young woman dug at the crab grass and sour-wood sprouts. From early morning till noon she toiled. An hour off to cook a meal of corn bread, sow belly, and turnip greens. Then back to the corn rows again . . . till dusk spread a sleepy spell over the hills and valleys. She was Jim’s wife. These two were my parents. These are my earliest memories. My folks had always lived in the southern mountains.WewereScotch-IrishwithalittleCherokeeIndianblood.Dadfought the rocky hillsides for a living. Mother just faithfully followed his plow, digging crab grass and sprouts from the corn rows.My job was to “tend the baby.” Down by the creek under a huge weeping willow we played and fought—quarreled, made up, and loved. (Today that baby sister is a grown woman, and a Communist organizer in the Deep South.I never see her any more.) Later there were six other kids added to our family.The living got harder.But mountain families are always large. Life is bitter. In the school house my grandfather built we kids sang patriotic songs and learned about the wonders of Georgia. There were the mountains, foothills, piedmont, and plains. There were cotton, corn, vegetables, turpentine, and timber; the rich deposits of minerals, the coast line, and fishing. The varieties of climate were unsurpassed.We saw the rolling hills, the creek and valley.The grand summit of old Burnt Mountain stood like an eternal sentinel watching our lives—the suffering and hates, the joys and sorrows of Georgia mountaineers ! I remember how I thrilled with pride! Georgia! Surely there was no other place like Georgia! Thy star-crowned hills and valleys sweet, Georgia land, my Georgia land! Later I grew up and left the hills to seek an education. Mountaineers often try to better themselves by getting educated. But it is a hard grind. I worked as a telephone lineman. I worked in steel mills, came to Philadelphia to spend six months in a radio factory, dug ditches, plowed fields, shoveled coal, and dozens of other...


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