Resilience Under the Southern Sun

I’m Martha, age sixty-two, and still as spry as the Southern summer sun is hot. As I lean over my little wooden porch, the sun gracing my weathered face, I hear the news from the young boy, Samuel, racing up my path, his breath coming out in short, eager bursts.

“Miss Martha! Miss Martha!” he yells. “They’re leaving! The troops, they’re packing up and leaving!”

I squint at him, my heart pounding rapidly against my ribs.

I’ve seen this day coming. For years now, the presence of the Union troops has been dwindling like the embers of a dying fire. The promise of Reconstruction, that shining hope that once rose with the dawn after the Civil War, has been growing dim. I’ve felt it in the whispered slurs that echo in the wind and the bitterness that pollutes the air.

The boy’s eager, wide eyes stare at me, waiting for a reaction, but I just nod. A slight, numb movement. “Thank you, Samuel,” I say, my voice steadier than I feel.

He tips his head and dashes off, spreading the news to the rest of our small, tight-knit black community nestled in the heart of Mississippi.

I watch him go, my mind racing. For years, those soldiers had stood as a thin blue line between us and those who yearned for the bad old days, when they could wield their whips without fear of reprisal, when black folk like us were nothing but chattel. Now, that line is fading, that protection evaporating like morning dew under the sun’s harsh scrutiny.

I stand, my old joints creaking, and enter the small, humble home my husband and I built. I look at the pictures of our grandchildren, free-born and strong. They’ve known a life I could only dream of when I was their age – a life of dignity, the right to earn a wage, learn, and vote.

My hands, weathered and scarred from years of toil, run over the photograph of my youngest grandchild, Eli. He’s smart as a whip and wants to be a lawyer. My heart swells with pride but tinged with a new fear.

The evening sun, a fiery orange sphere, dips below the horizon as I return to the porch, staring out at the dust trails the Union wagons leave behind. The world is changing again, the future uncertain, and memory stirs within me.

My mama used to tell me, “Martha, child, the world’s a mighty river. It can be smooth and gentle, then rough and wild. But it never stops moving.”

I can’t stop the river but I can steer my own course and help my family do the same. The troops may be leaving, but we won’t be left behind. We are free, and we will fight to remain so. We’ll teach, we’ll learn, we’ll stand up. We aren’t going anywhere. We’ve been here before. And just like before, we’ll endure, we’ll fight, and we’ll survive.

Notes

“Resilience Under the Southern Sun” is a work of historical fiction. While based on real events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.

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