Welcome to The RG2E, Featured Author K.P. Williams!
Take it away, K.P…
Thank you, D.D., for allowing me to guest post today on RG2E.
It is a bit strange how the idea for “Slave Auction” came into to being. It started with my father. He was a preacher, a farmer, and a strict disciplinarian. Growing up on a farm gave me much time to daydream about faraway worlds and lands that I one day wanted to visit. It also helped to make the hard, laborious workday go by faster. Even though the work was strenuous at times, it did instill in me a strong work ethic.
Now that I am writing short stories and novels, I think back to the backbreaking work I used to do on my father’s farm, and I truly embrace working into the wee hours of the night, fleshing out the ideas rambling around in my head trying to find a window into my psyche and eventually into a storyline. Some people call this “hard work.” I say if you have ever worked on a farm, then sitting up half of the night writing is child’s play for me. At least my muscles don’t ache, other than an occasional stiff neck from sitting in one position for too long.
My father also enjoyed westerns, which is where I get my love of westerns. He didn’t care much for television, except when a western was on. We children knew that any television show we wanted to watch when a western was on was out of the question. So we watched the westerns with my father.
In the late 1970′s I watched a western set during the the “Cowboy Era” (roughly 1866-1886). In this western, “Buck and the Preacher,” Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte star in the movie. Poiter portrays Buck, an ex-Union Army Cavalry sergeant who is scouting sites for the former slaves that want to settle out West. His wife Ruth (played by Ruby Dee) and a con artist known as the Preacher (played by Harry Belafonte) travel along with Buck. They are eventually attacked by bounty hunters who are on the hunt for former slaves to return them to a life of sharecropping.
This was the first western I had seen with an all-black western cast. In all of the westerns my father watched, I rarely saw any blacks. I rented the movie and watched it again in 2007. After watching “Buck and the Preacher,” I was particularly interested in the lives of blacks during the 1800′s and decided to research that time period. I had an idea for a novel about slavery, and once I had gathered information about the slave trade and the institution of slavery, I set out to write “Slave Auction.”
The main character in “Slave Auction,” originally, was a female slave. As I wrote the story, I found it difficult not to focus on the horrors of the slave auction. I couldn’t seem to move the story forward into a novel, so I decided to write a short story instead. Then as I edited the story, using the female as the main character didn’t seem to evoke the kind of emotional reaction I had envisioned for the story, so I decided to use a four-year-old slave boy as the main character. I believed that readers would empathize more with a child being exposed to the brutality of slavery than an adult. Even when I was writing the story, I had to edit out some of the brutal scenes because even I could not fathom someone doing those kinds of things to a child, even during that period in history.
“Slave Auction” pulled a lot out of me, emotionally. I had to put the story aside for weeks after writing it before I could come back to it to write the next installment, “Missus Buck.” These two stories are my favorites, though, mainly because I invested a lot of myself in these stories.
Here is an excerpt from “Slave Auction.”
Moments later Chattel No. 13 and 14 from the catalogue were called to the block. Clareene was hauled out in chains first, then her son. She waited with baited breath, hoping they would be sold as a family. They were examined by another male slaveholder as the prospective buyers stood around them, inspecting all of the stock. They walked around Horatio and his mother, staring them up and down and looking for any signs of disfigurement or lameness, just as their master had done to the many horses and cattle he had purchased over the years.
The buyers examined the inside of their mouths and inspected their teeth. One prospective buyer felt Clareene’s breasts to determine how fit she’d be to breed more children, Clareene cringing from the humiliation of it all. They observed her limbs for signs of muscular fitness and checked every crack and crevice that could conceal hidden wounds and bruises, something that could surely deter a prospective buyer. They wanted healthy slaves. Bruises, scars, or wounds would indicate a sickly or lame product, something they did not want.
Clareene was bid off first and was made to stand with the other Negros previously purchased by their new owners. Then when her oldest child, her only son, was put on the auction block, she was paralyzed with grief. The buyers had assembled around the block, prepared to bid on her child. She fought back the tears, but she could not fathom having to part forever from her child. She could not bear to see her son reduced to such a fate. Lord only knows the fate some young child slaves face once torn from their mothers’ bosoms.
Horatio had caught the attention of several bidders as he stood naked on the auction block. When the bidding began, Clareene tore away from the purchased group of Negroes and pushed her way to the front of the group of buyers, pleading with her new master to purchase her only son. With a look of remonstrance and entreaty, she clung to his ankles, beseeching him in as pitiable a voice as a sinner bargaining with the devil to reconsider and spare her child from a fate worse than death. He looked down at her, perfectly passionless and embittered by her supplication, and struck her across the back of her head with such violent force that she momentarily lost her ability to speak. Then he kicked her in the ribs, knocking her to the side, her body wincing in pain, and then with all the energy she could muster, she crept agonizingly away from him.
She exclaimed, “Oh Lawd, save muh baby,” reaching upwards toward the auction block to touch her child one last time.
But before she could touch Horatio, another gentleman with a grim businesslike demeanor who had won the bid for her child snatched Horatio down from the block and shoved him over to his group of procured and waiting chattel, shocking the child and inciting him into inconsolable tears. Clareene fell to the ground once again, sobbing incessantly. The rough man pulled her up, unconcerned with the pain he had just inflicted on her, and shoved her back over toward his group of purchased Negroes. She was unable to console herself. This was one of Horatio’s earliest recollections of the bitterness and brutality of the sale of human chattel. He was in his fourth year and was forced to part from his mother, forever.
In the moments following the auction, Horatio was led away with the other newly-bought Negroes. This moment was the loneliest he had ever felt in his life. Then, suddenly he remembered the instructions of his mother, to turn to God for strength. He closed his eyes tightly and imagined talking directly with Him, asking Him to assuage the pain he was feeling deep inside. His mother had further instructed him to tell God of all his trials and afflictions, and whatever He told him to do, he was to obey.
He asked Him, “Is dis right, Oh Gawd? Is it right fo’ me ta be taken fum muh mama?”
His mother would tell him that when he asked God for an answer, to wait, and it would be revealed to him. After a few minutes, he did not receive an answer. Then he wondered how long he must wait.
After the auction ended and the bills of sale were written, the exodus of newly purchased Negroes, bound in shackles and carrying only bundles of modest clothing provided them by their new masters, marched to the other end of the street to the awaiting steamboats to transport them to their new, unknown destinations.
Who or what inspired your love of reading or writing books? And what is your favorite genre to read and to write?
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Katrina Parker Williams
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