Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Short Story: America, a New Home

As a college English student I get the opportunity sometimes to do creative writing for projects. This was the case in my American Minority Literature class this semester. I wrote four short stories for this project. I have finished the class but I wanted to share my work with all of you! Each week I will be posting one of the stories. I loved this project because it helped me put myself in the shoes of people who had such different lives from my own.


These four short stories, “America, A New Home”, “The Only Home I Ever Knew”, “A Voice for Women”, and “Life in the South”, follow African American women through the course of history as they struggle to find their identity in the time period they are living in. Although works of fiction, these short stories are each based on real women and are inspired by their writings and their lives.                
Reading these women’s stories and rewriting them to express how I learned and saw their lives to be helped me gain a greater understanding of the African American minority. Slavery is a horrible part of American history, and although I can only learn about it now, trying to put myself in the mind of a character who is living it out helped me as a writer to see what these women really had to go through.  To come from one culture and be placed against your will into another is an experience filled with emotions and complexities. Learning about how these people coped with their situations tells you a lot about their strength. [1]
                One thing I learned in doing this project is how important education was to these women, as well as equality, not just for skin color but for just simply being a woman. Education became an unexpected theme throughout each story, simply because it became so important to each of these women. It helped them define who they were as well as enabled them to become voices for the abolition of slavery movement and civil rights.[2] Their education gave them a sense that no matter what society was telling them, they were just as equal in their mind to any other. African American women especially have been rising to better jobs in the workplace according to studies.[3] This fact shows us that you can rise above what others say you deserve.

America, a New Home
I was glad to be taken off the boat, even if it was in shackles. The fresh air was strengthening me with every breath, making it easier to accept my fate.  I was taken along with the others to a holding cell, full of grime and the smells I had so eagerly wanted to escape.  We were told to wash ourselves and were given a meager meal. Crusty bread and water didn’t seem like much, but compared to what we had on the ship, it seemed like a feast. 
I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that I was not in my home country anymore. This land looked different. Different trees, different colors. I had no idea what these white men wanted with us, but if the rumors were true, I knew my life would be forever changed. [4]
After a cold night in the cells, we were taken one by one to stand on the stage. I was nervous, but I knew if I didn’t do as they asked I would be hurt. I had seen others countless times defy these white men- only to end up beaten—or dead. The sun’s rays made me squint, but I was glad for it. I didn’t want to have to see what was happening. Below the stage there was a crowd of white men, all with hands raised and shouting words I didn’t understand. Would I ever learn these strange words? Were the rumors true that I would end up being a slave of one of these men? I shuddered as I was placed next to the heavy set man yelling from the stage. He took his hand and grabbed my chin, turning my head as if to show me off. He was telling me something, but I didn’t know what he wanted. He forced his hand in my mouth and kept it open, tapping my teeth. The urge to bite him was hard to resist.
Finally the yelling stopped, if only for a bit, and I was rushed off the stage.  Before I knew it, I was greeted by a white man and was told to follow him, or so it seemed. He had a cart with a horse and we rode in it. I couldn’t stop looking around. I had never seen a village like this before!  Buildings that reached into the sky-how did come to be? Women walked around in big puffy dresses, the men all dressed up as well. I thought they looked silly, their clothes so unpractical. The sounds were amazing. The horse’s feet on the ground, which was not made of dirt, the people walking by talking to one another, the smells were different as well.
“I am much obliged you will be coming to my home. My wife is in need of some help. I think you will enjoy Boston. It is a great city. I have big plans for you. We must decide on a name for you, teach you English and how to care for a home.”  I nodded since I knew he was speaking to me, but I had no idea what he was saying.
It didn’t take long for me to learn the white man’s language. I was given the name Anna and after about a year and a half I could speak it as well as they did, which my master seemed proud of. I took to writing as well, though the Mrs. didn’t seem to want me too. Her husband, my master, was busy running his tailor shop. He made the suits for all the fine men and women of Boston. I could tell his wife was proud of him- and loved his attention. They had three children and another slave that helped with their care. My main tasks were to care for the house, make the meals and help serve them to the family. [5]
I didn’t mind the work, it wasn’t hard, but I wondered how these people lived their lives. I tried not to think of my life back in Africa where Mr. Wheatley told me I was from. At night I wondered what had happened to my family and if I would ever have a family of my own now. The other slave woman named Mary was from another tribe in Africa, but at night we would sometimes talk about how our lives had changed. She was older and had left a husband and a child behind. She had no idea where they were now. I couldn’t image her pain, especially having to raise the Wheatley children.
As the years prattled on, I wondered what was to become of me. I was in my 20’s now, ready to start a family. I wanted to ask Mr. Wheatley, but Mary said that wouldn’t be wise. The Wheatley’s were older, and Mary said if we waited they might set us free. The thought of freedom sent chills through me. I loved the Wheatley’s in my own way, but I found myself dreaming of what life would be like to cook for my own family and clean my own house. 
In 1782, Mr. Wheatley died in his sleep. His children were grown and his wife, who had always resented me, had me sold. This was something I hadn’t expected as Mr. Wheatley had always expressed his desire for Mary and me to be free upon his death. I was scared I was going to have to go to the platform again, to be shown off like livestock. Thankfully, this was not the case, as Mrs. Wheatley had arranged for me to be sold to a man, her cousin, who had a plantation in the south.  [6]
After a week I arrived at my new home, a plantation in the heart of Georgia. The city of Boston was now just a distant memory. Mrs. Wheatley had used the money she got from selling me to help pay off her husband’s debts, otherwise I would not have been sold. Nothing could have prepared me for the way of life in Georgia. I was put to work as a house slave, since I had the skills and good grammar. My new masters, Mr. and Mrs. Harper, seemed very impressed with my skills.
I didn’t sleep in the house like I did in Boston. Here they had small cabins set off from the main house for the slaves to sleep in. It was here I was placed in the cabin with four others. After a while one of the slave hands, a field worker, took a liking to me. We were not allowed to be legally married but were told we could have a slave marriage. I wanted children, but I knew if we had them what kind of life they would have. They would grow up with the Harper’s as masters, serving their son. Surely there had to be something better. Perhaps, my children’s grandchildren would be free and get to clean their own homes and cook meals for their own families. I could only hope.

[1] It was very important for Africans being brought to the Americas to hold onto their heritage and traditions. (Gomez 112)
[2] Women played a vital role in the abolition movement in both America and Britain. (Boulukos 507)
[3] In the study done by Akee, Randall and Yuksel, their surveys showed an increase in African American women’s roles in the workplace. (Akee 419)
[4] Story based on the life of Phillis Wheatly, who was kidnapped in Senegal as a child and brought to America in 1761 (Wheatley 39-43)
[5] Phillis was able to learn English in just 16 months after coming to America. She also learned to read and write and published poems at age 14 in 1770. (Wheatley 39-43)
[6] Phillis actually was granted her freedom by 1778, married, wrote over 87 poems but died in poverty in 1784. (Wheatley 39-43)