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  • On Mcintyre's Land
  • Camille F. Forbes (bio)

The day seemed like most others on McIntyre's Winsome, Georgia, plantation, but it wasn't. Though, like always, I woke before dawn at the call of the bell, pulled a thin shift over my body, and dragged my hand across my face to push away sleep, a quakiness moved about my insides. The night before, Uncle Morris, the person I loved and trusted most in the world, had sent me creeping through the quarters to carry a message to a chosen few. Uncle Morris, the one who calmed me after overseer Saunders cut down my mam. The one who helped me plant my feet into the ground again, so that here I was, seen only fifteen harvests, yet was strong like a man. The one who'd been so long on McIntyre's that I figured he'd live out the rest of his years there.

"The time is nigh, Calli-girl," he'd said. The ground shifted under my feet.

Why did I think we risked both our hides when he taught me to spell? What did I figure when he made me watch the whitefolks close, reading faces? The only slave on McIntyre's who got leave to work off the plantation, who saw the world beyond, Uncle Morris was much more than an elder. I knew that now.

I hadn't known that I was so settled with things on McIntyre's till Uncle Morris said, "The war was in the distance, but it won't stay that way long." I hadn't known that I'd found some way to live with the devil that I knew till he told me we-all had to be ready to move. And I didn't know how scared I was till he warned me, "Calli-girl, you may be young yet, but you likely gon' be called for more than you know."

For the first time since Mam died seven harvests before, I felt a shakiness inside me that threatened to shatter me into pieces. Even now, as I gulped down food and hurried to take my place out in the fields, fear churned my stomach.

I'd carried his message to a handful of the others, and went to sleep with a burden, for he brooked no questions. Now I found the light of day gave me no more of an escape. I turned to my row, and struggled to push all else to the corners of my mind.


As always, when the sun rose, and throughout the morning, the lead men got our spirits up for the work with song. Though we each had our part to do, the words tied us to one another. This day, when my belly filled with fretting, I needed song. Wes called out, [End Page 58]

"Watch the sun, see how she run,never let her catch you with your work undone.Howdy, my brethren, howdy you do—"

"Since I been in the land," we called back.

"I do mighty well and I thank the Lord, too—Since I been in the land."

On it went, back and forth.

With the song's lively tune, to whitefolks it seemed to dance and play. For us, though, the song guided and warned. It kept us apace with the lead men, who were the fastest and strongest. It warned of the trouble that came with slowing down. It spoke of our joined fates, for better or worse.

That was true now more than ever. The lead men, part of the inner circle that got word, were telling us all to pay heed, and minded us all in word and action. Something in me warmed to that thought.

Nobody talked as we worked, for the whitefolks had no patience for that. They more than tolerated the singing, though. As long as they saw our hands moving down the line, filling bag or basket and following the lead men at the rhythm they set, the whitefolks were more than satisfied. Even the weakest of us tried to keep up with the lead men.

I couldn't make out overseer Saunders real well that day...