It's the ragged source of memory, a tarpaper-shingled bungalow whose floors tilt toward the porch, whose back yard ends abruptly in a weedy ravine. Nothing special: a chain of three bedrooms and a long side porch turned parlor where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked every evening over the news, a long sunny kitchen where Annie, his wife, measured cornmeal, dreaming through the window across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill where she had borne their spirited, high-yellow brood. In the middle bedroom's hard, high antique double bed, the ghost of Aunt Jane, the laundress who bought the house in 1872, though I call with all my voices, does not appear. Nor does Pomp's ghost, with whom one of my cousins believes she once had a long and intimate unspoken midnight talk. He told her, though they'd never met, that he loved her; promised her raw widowhood would heal without leaving a scar. The conveniences in an enclosed corner of the slant-floored back side porch were the first indoor plumbing in town. Aunt Jane put them in, incurring the wrath of the woman who lived in the big house next door. Aunt Jane left the house to Annie, whose mother she had known as a slave on the plantation, so Annie and Pomp could move their children into town, down off Shelby Hill. My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters watched their faces change slowly in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door into teachers' faces, golden with respect. Here Geneva, the randy sister, damned their colleges, daubing her quicksilver breasts with gifts of perfume. As much as love, as much as a visit to the grave of a known ancestor, the homeplace moves me not to silence but the righteous, praise Jesus song: Oh, catfish and turnip greens, hot-water cornbread and grits. Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles; generations lost to be found, to be found.
Rev. Christopher Rush, 1835
The white folks were restless again last night. All we could do was keep the faith, and wait. My first parishioners started arriving at sunset, having heard rumors, and reluctant to stay at home. Our shadows danced in the sanctuary’s candle-flames as audible whiffs of pandemonium drifted to us, like smoke from distant fires. With most of the village in, I locked the doors. I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray. Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free for ALL Americans. Equality must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top, and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep. Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope. … Hundreds of voices raised. Could that be drums?! That was a firehouse bell … That was a scream! Near dawn. The children and some mothers sleep; roosters crow morning, a couple of yard-dogs yap, the songbirds choir. The violence has stopped. I step out into every day new light. My little flock has weathered a wild night. But someone somewhere is less fortunate. Tim Seaman comes out, nods, and finds a tree. Would every now held such tranquility.
There were many anti-abolition riots in New York City in 1834–45. White mobs attacked targets associated with abolitionists and African Americans. People were beaten. More than seven churches were damaged, many of them belonging to African American congregations.