Not exactly. Having been enslaved for years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated.
Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear.
The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us. Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay? But if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution.
For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested. But all we are talking about is studying [reparations]. As John Conyers has said, we study everything. We study the water, the air. This bill does not authorize one red cent to anyone. That HR 40 has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential. The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time.
The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. A nation outlives its generations.
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We were not there when Woodrow Wilson took us into World War I, but we are still paying out the pensions. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge. The high point of the lynching era has passed. But the memories of those robbed of their lives still live on in the lingering effects.
Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. There has always been another way. A merica begins in black plunder and white democracy , two features that are not contradictory but complementary. Morgan wrote. Most of them had inherited both their slaves and their attachment to freedom from an earlier generation, and they knew the two were not unconnected. When enslaved Africans, plundered of their bodies, plundered of their families, and plundered of their labor, were brought to the colony of Virginia in , they did not initially endure the naked racism that would engulf their progeny.
Some of them were freed. Some of them intermarried. Still others escaped with the white indentured servants who had suffered as they had. Some even rebelled together, allying under Nathaniel Bacon to torch Jamestown in One hundred years later, the idea of slaves and poor whites joining forces would shock the senses, but in the early days of the English colonies, the two groups had much in common.
As life spans increased in the colony, the Virginia planters found in the enslaved Africans an even more efficient source of cheap labor. Whereas indentured servants were still legal subjects of the English crown and thus entitled to certain protections, African slaves entered the colonies as aliens. For the next years, American law worked to reduce black people to a class of untouchables and raise all white men to the level of citizens.
But at the beginning of the 18th century, two primary classes were enshrined in America. The state with the largest number of enslaved Americans was Virginia, where in certain counties some 70 percent of all people labored in chains. Nearly one-fourth of all white Southerners owned slaves, and upon their backs the economic basis of America—and much of the Atlantic world—was erected.
In the seven cotton states, one-third of all white income was derived from slavery. The web of this slave society extended north to the looms of New England, and across the Atlantic to Great Britain, where it powered a great economic transformation and altered the trajectory of world history. The wealth accorded America by slavery was not just in what the slaves pulled from the land but in the slaves themselves.
Blight has noted. Loans were taken out for purchase, to be repaid with interest. Insurance policies were drafted against the untimely death of a slave and the loss of potential profits. Slave sales were taxed and notarized. The vending of the black body and the sundering of the black family became an economy unto themselves, estimated to have brought in tens of millions of dollars to antebellum America. In there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the country.
Beneath the cold numbers lay lives divided. Our affection for each was very strong, and this made us always apprehensive of a cruel parting. Forced partings were common in the antebellum South. A slave in some parts of the region stood a 30 percent chance of being sold in his or her lifetime. Twenty-five percent of interstate trades destroyed a first marriage and half of them destroyed a nuclear family.
When the wife and children of Henry Brown, a slave in Richmond, Virginia, were to be sold away, Brown searched for a white master who might buy his wife and children to keep the family together. He failed:. In a time when telecommunications were primitive and blacks lacked freedom of movement, the parting of black families was a kind of murder. Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy—in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family. By erecting a slave society, America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy.
The consequences of years of enslavement, of war upon black families and black people, were profound. Like homeownership today, slave ownership was aspirational, attracting not just those who owned slaves but those who wished to. Much as homeowners today might discuss the addition of a patio or the painting of a living room, slaveholders traded tips on the best methods for breeding workers, exacting labor, and doling out punishment.
By the dawn of the Civil War, the enslavement of black America was thought to be so foundational to the country that those who sought to end it were branded heretics worthy of death. Imagine what would happen if a president today came out in favor of taking all American homes from their owners: the reaction might well be violent. Terrorism carried the day. Federal troops withdrew from the South in The dream of Reconstruction died.
For the next century, political violence was visited upon blacks wantonly, with special treatment meted out toward black people of ambition. Black schools and churches were burned to the ground. Black voters and the political candidates who attempted to rally them were intimidated, and some were murdered. At the end of World War I, black veterans returning to their homes were assaulted for daring to wear the American uniform.
The demobilization of soldiers after the war, which put white and black veterans into competition for scarce jobs, produced the Red Summer of a succession of racist pogroms against dozens of cities ranging from Longview, Texas, to Chicago to Washington, D. The work of mobs was a rabid and violent rendition of prejudices that extended even into the upper reaches of American government. The New Deal is today remembered as a model for what progressive government should do—cast a broad social safety net that protects the poor and the afflicted while building the middle class.
When progressives wish to express their disappointment with Barack Obama, they point to the accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt. The omnibus programs passed under the Social Security Act in were crafted in such a way as to protect the southern way of life. Old-age insurance Social Security proper and unemployment insurance excluded farmworkers and domestics—jobs heavily occupied by blacks. When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in , 65 percent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible.
The oft-celebrated G. Though ostensibly color-blind, Title III of the bill, which aimed to give veterans access to low-interest home loans, left black veterans to tangle with white officials at their local Veterans Administration as well as with the same banks that had, for years, refused to grant mortgages to blacks. The historian Kathleen J. In Cold War America, homeownership was seen as a means of instilling patriotism, and as a civilizing and anti-radical force. Daisy and Bill Myers, the first black family to move into Levittown, Pennsylvania, were greeted with protests and a burning cross.
The neighbor had good reason to be afraid. Bill and Daisy Myers were from the other side of John C. Sugrue, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania. Home ownership became an emblem of American citizenship. That emblem was not to be awarded to blacks. The American real-estate industry believed segregation to be a moral principle. The federal government concurred. Millions of dollars flowed from tax coffers into segregated white neighborhoods. Jackson wrote in his book, Crabgrass Frontier , a history of suburbanization. Whole areas of cities were declared ineligible for loan guarantees.
By then the damage was done—and reports of redlining by banks have continued. The federal government is premised on equal fealty from all its citizens, who in return are to receive equal treatment. But as late as the midth century, this bargain was not granted to black people, who repeatedly paid a higher price for citizenship and received less in return.
Plunder had been the essential feature of slavery, of the society described by Calhoun. But practically a full century after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the plunder—quiet, systemic, submerged—continued even amidst the aims and achievements of New Deal liberals. Today Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country, a fact that reflects assiduous planning. In the effort to uphold white supremacy at every level down to the neighborhood, Chicago—a city founded by the black fur trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable—has long been a pioneer.
The efforts began in earnest in , when the Chicago Real Estate Board, horrified by the influx of southern blacks, lobbied to zone the entire city by race. But after the Supreme Court ruled against explicit racial zoning that year, the city was forced to pursue its agenda by more-discreet means. By the s, Chicago led the nation in the use of these restrictive covenants, and about half of all residential neighborhoods in the city were effectively off-limits to blacks. It is common today to become misty-eyed about the old black ghetto, where doctors and lawyers lived next door to meatpackers and steelworkers, who themselves lived next door to prostitutes and the unemployed.
This segregationist nostalgia ignores the actual conditions endured by the people living there—vermin and arson, for instance—and ignores the fact that the old ghetto was premised on denying black people privileges enjoyed by white Americans. In , when the Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants, while permissible, were not enforceable by judicial action, Chicago had other weapons at the ready. This came in handy in , when a new federal housing act sent millions of tax dollars into Chicago and other cities around the country.
Beginning in , site selection for public housing proceeded entirely on the grounds of segregation. By the s, the city had created with its vast housing projects what the historian Arnold R. White neighborhoods vulnerable to black encroachment formed block associations for the sole purpose of enforcing segregation. They lobbied fellow whites not to sell.
They lobbied those blacks who did manage to buy to sell back. And when civic engagement was not enough, when government failed, when private banks could no longer hold the line, Chicago turned to an old tool in the American repertoire—racial violence. The mob pelted the house with rocks and set the garage on fire. The doctor moved away. In , after a few black veterans moved into the Fernwood section of Chicago, three nights of rioting broke out; gangs of whites yanked blacks off streetcars and beat them.
In , thousands of whites in Cicero, 20 minutes or so west of downtown Chicago, attacked an apartment building that housed a single black family, throwing bricks and firebombs through the windows and setting the apartment on fire. Two years after that, whites picketed and planted explosives in South Deering, about 30 minutes from downtown Chicago, to force blacks out. When terrorism ultimately failed, white homeowners simply fled the neighborhood. The traditional terminology, white flight , implies a kind of natural expression of preference.
For should any nonracist white families decide that integration might not be so bad as a matter of principle or practicality, they still had to contend with the hard facts of American housing policy: When the midth-century white homeowner claimed that the presence of a Bill and Daisy Myers decreased his property value, he was not merely engaging in racist dogma—he was accurately observing the impact of federal policy on market prices.
Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever black people lived. Speculators in North Lawndale , and at the edge of the black ghettos, knew there was money to be made off white panic. They would hire a black woman to walk up and down the street with a stroller. To keep up with his payments and keep his heat on, Clyde Ross took a second job at the post office and then a third job delivering pizza. His wife took a job working at Marshall Field. He had to take some of his children out of private school.
He was not able to be at home to supervise his children or help them with their homework. Money and time that Ross wanted to give his children went instead to enrich white speculators. They think this neighborhood is where they supposed to be. It changes their outlook. Instead she was hired by Western Electric, where she worked for 41 years.
I met Lewis in the home of her neighbor Ethel Weatherspoon. Both had owned homes in North Lawndale for more than 50 years. Both had bought their houses on contract. Weatherspoon bought her home in The blacks are coming. Before moving to North Lawndale, Lewis and her husband tried moving to Cicero after seeing a house advertised for sale there.
In , the couple bought a home in North Lawndale on contract. They were not blind to the unfairness. But Lewis, born in the teeth of Jim Crow, considered American piracy—black people keep on making it, white people keep on taking it—a fact of nature. And that was the only way I could get it. If everybody else can have one, I want one too. I had worked for white people in the South. Whenever she visited white co-workers at their homes, she saw the difference. Lewis and Weatherspoon, like Ross, were able to keep their homes. The suit did not win them any remuneration.
But it forced contract sellers to the table, where they allowed some members of the Contract Buyers League to move into regular mortgages or simply take over their houses outright. But for all our exceptional ones, for every Barack and Michelle Obama, for every Ethel Weatherspoon or Clyde Ross, for every black survivor, there are so many thousands gone.
I met him in his office at the Better Boys Foundation, a staple of North Lawndale whose mission is to direct local kids off the streets and into jobs and college. On June 14, , his year-old son, Billy Jr. Every day. Brooks was not raised in the streets, though in such a neighborhood it is impossible to avoid the influence. You got to go to school. I lived here. I went to Marshall High School. Over here were the Egyptian Cobras. Over there were the Vice Lords. But he is still working in North Lawndale. When they tore down the projects here, they left the high-rises and came to the neighborhood with that gang mentality.
We walked over to a window behind his desk. The name and face of the other man had been spray-painted over by a rival group. The men drank beer. Occasionally a car would cruise past, slow to a crawl, then stop. One of the men would approach the car and make an exchange, then the car would drive off.
Brooks had known all of these young men as boys. We watched another car roll through, pause briefly, then drive off. From that alley to that corner.
See the big brother there? He almost died a couple of years ago. The one drinking the beer back there … I know all of them. And the reason they feel safe here is cause of this building, and because they too chickenshit to go anywhere. Brooks showed me a picture of a Little League team he had coached. He went down the row of kids, pointing out which ones were in jail, which ones were dead, and which ones were doing all right.
Then he wondered aloud if keeping his son with him while working in North Lawndale had hastened his death. From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people. But Billy Brooks Jr. Trayvon Martin had a father. Jordan Davis had a father.
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
Adhering to middle-class norms has never shielded black people from plunder. Adhering to middle-class norms is what made Ethel Weatherspoon a lucrative target for rapacious speculators. Contract sellers did not target the very poor. They targeted black people who had worked hard enough to save a down payment and dreamed of the emblem of American citizenship—homeownership. But they generally find white predation to be thrice as fast. Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality.
They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the midth century, to federal policy. After his speech, Johnson convened a group of civil-rights leaders, including the esteemed A. The urge to use the moral force of the black struggle to address broader inequalities originates in both compassion and pragmatism.
But it makes for ambiguous policy. Is it meant to make amends for the crimes heaped upon black people? Not according to the Supreme Court. In its ruling in Regents of the University of California v. If so, it only tangentially relates to the specific problems of black people—the problem of what America has taken from them over several centuries.
But this does not necessarily include preferential treatment. Yet America was built on the preferential treatment of white people— years of it. Vaguely endorsing a cuddly, feel-good diversity does very little to redress this. Today, progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything.
On a practical level, the hesitation comes from the dim view the Supreme Court has taken of the reforms of the s. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. The Fair Housing Act might well be next. Affirmative action is on its last legs. In substituting a broad class struggle for an anti-racist struggle, progressives hope to assemble a coalition by changing the subject. The politics of racial evasion are seductive.
But the record is mixed. Aid to Families With Dependent Children was originally written largely to exclude blacks—yet by the s it was perceived as a giveaway to blacks. The Affordable Care Act makes no mention of race, but this did not keep Rush Limbaugh from denouncing it as reparations. The Affordable Care Act, like Social Security, will eventually expand its reach to those left out; in the meantime, black people will be injured. Massey writes. The lie ignores the fact that reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same.
The effects reverberate beyond the families who were robbed to the community that beholds the spectacle. Think of his North Lawndale neighbors—their children, their nephews and nieces—and consider how watching this affects them. Imagine yourself as a young black child watching your elders play by all the rules only to have their possessions tossed out in the street and to have their most sacred possession—their home—taken from them. You not no good. The only thing you are worth is working for us. You will never own anything. You not going to get an education. We are sending your ass to the penitentiary.
You will never own anything, nigger. W hen Clyde Ross was a child , his older brother Winter had a seizure. He was picked up by the authorities and delivered to Parchman Farm, a 20,acre state prison in the Mississippi Delta region. And they had him picked up, because they thought he was dangerous. In the early years of the 20th century, Mississippi Governor James K. Vardaman used to amuse himself by releasing black convicts into the surrounding wilderness and hunting them down with bloodhounds.
When the Ross family went to retrieve Winter, the authorities told them that Winter had died. When the Ross family asked for his body, the authorities at Parchman said they had buried him. Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income.
Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races. Reparations would seek to close this chasm. But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same. Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans.
But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. T he early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. And this destruction did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws joined the equal burden of citizenship to unequal distribution of its bounty.
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These laws reached their apex in the midth century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the wealth gap, which remains with us to this day. When we think of white supremacy, we picture Colored Only signs, but we should picture pirate flags. We invoke the words of Jefferson and Lincoln because they say something about our legacy and our traditions. We do this because we recognize our links to the past—at least when they flatter us. But black history does not flatter American democracy; it chastens it. The popular mocking of reparations as a harebrained scheme authored by wild-eyed lefties and intellectually unserious black nationalists is fear masquerading as laughter.
Black nationalists have always perceived something unmentionable about America that integrationists dare not acknowledge—that white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it. And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely.
The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie.
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Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans. Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.
Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history. W e are not the first to be summoned to such a challenge. In , when West Germany began the process of making amends for the Holocaust, it did so under conditions that should be instructive to us.
Resistance was violent. Very few Germans believed that Jews were entitled to anything. Only 5 percent of West Germans surveyed reported feeling guilty about the Holocaust, and only 29 percent believed that Jews were owed restitution from the German people. Movies that suggested a societal responsibility for the Holocaust beyond Hitler were banned. Konrad Adenauer, the postwar German chancellor, was in favor of reparations, but his own party was divided, and he was able to get an agreement passed only with the votes of the Social Democratic opposition.
Among the Jews of Israel, reparations provoked violent and venomous reactions ranging from denunciation to assassination plots. On January 7, , as the Knesset—the Israeli parliament—convened to discuss the prospect of a reparations agreement with West Germany, Menachem Begin, the future prime minister of Israel, stood in front of a large crowd, inveighing against the country that had plundered the lives, labor, and property of his people.
Begin claimed that all Germans were Nazis and guilty of murder. His condemnations then spread to his own young state. From the rooftops, police repelled the crowd with tear gas and smoke bombs. But the wind shifted, and the gas blew back toward the Knesset, billowing through windows shattered by rocks.
Two hundred civilians and police officers were wounded. Nearly people were arrested. Knesset business was halted. Begin then addressed the chamber with a fiery speech condemning the actions the legislature was about to take. No matter, they will go, they will sit in prison. We will sit there with them. If necessary, we will be killed with them. Survivors of the Holocaust feared laundering the reputation of Germany with money, and mortgaging the memory of their dead.
Beyond that, there was a taste for revenge. What groans of over-fed or half-starv'd who fall sunstruck or in fits,. What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry home and give birth to babes,. What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls restrain'd by decorum,. Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips,. I mind them or the show or resonance of them—I come and I depart. Falling asleep on the gather'd leaves with my dog and gun by my side. The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails, she cuts the sparkle and scud,.
My eyes settle the land, I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck. I tuck'd my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time;. I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far west, the bride was a red girl,. Her father and his friends sat near cross-legged and dumbly smoking, they had moccasins to their feet and large thick blankets hanging from their shoulders,. On a bank lounged the trapper, he was drest mostly in skins, his luxuriant beard and curls protected his neck, he held his bride by the hand,.
She had long eyelashes, her head was bare, her coarse straight locks descended upon her voluptuous limbs and reach'd to her feet. Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,. And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd feet,. And gave him a room that enter'd from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,.
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,. And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;. He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north,. I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner. Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,. The beards of the young men glisten'd with wet, it ran from their long hair,. The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them,. They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bend- ing arch,.
The butcher-boy puts off his killing-clothes, or sharpens his knife at the stall in the market,. Each has his main-sledge, they are all out, there is a great heat in the fire. The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms,. Overhand the hammers swing, overhand so slow, overhand so sure,. The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses, the block swags underneath on its tied-over chain,.
The Journey: Bare Essence of Me
The negro that drives the long dray of the stone-yard, steady and tall he stands pois'd on one leg on the string-piece,. His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens over his hip-band,. His glance is calm and commanding, he tosses the slouch of his hat away from his forehead,. The sun falls on his crispy hair and mustache, falls on the black of his polish'd and perfect limbs.
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And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else,. And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me,. Ya-honk he says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation,. The sharp-hoof'd moose of the north, the cat on the house-sill, the chickadee, the prairie-dog,. Of the builders and steerers of ships and the wielders of axes and mauls, and the drivers of horses,. The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,. The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanks- giving dinner,.
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready,. The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,. The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loafe and looks at the oats and rye,. He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother's bed-room;. He turns his quid of tobacco while his eyes blurr with the manu- script;.
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand, the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove,. The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate-keeper marks who pass,. The young fellow drives the express-wagon, I love him, though I do not know him;.
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The western turkey-shooting draws old and young, some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs,. Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece;. As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle,. The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their part- ners, the dancers bow to each other,. The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof'd garret and harks to the musical rain,.
The squaw wrapt in her yellow-hemm'd cloth is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale,. The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways,. As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers,. The young sister holds out the skein while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots,. The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her first child,. The clean-hair'd Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine or in the factory or mill,.
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter's lead flies swiftly over the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold,. The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread,. The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him,. The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions,. The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, how the white sails sparkle! The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray,. The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, the purchaser hig- gling about the odd cent;.
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly,. The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck,. The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other,. The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries,. On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms,.
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold,. The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle,. As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change,. The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the roof, the masons are calling for mortar,. Seasons pursuing each other the indescribable crowd is gather'd, it is the fourth of Seventh-month, what salutes of cannon and small arms! Seasons pursuing each other the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;.
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface,. The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe,. Flatboatmen make fast towards dusk near the cotton-wood or pecan-trees,. Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river or through those drain'd by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas,. Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahooche or Altamahaw,.
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grand- sons around them,. In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day's sport,. The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;. Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff that is fine,. One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,. A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable down by the Oconee I live,.
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,. A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,. A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;.
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland,. At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tack- ing,. At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch,. Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, lov- ing their big proportions,. Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat,.
The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place,. These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,. If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,. If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,.
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing. This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,. I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer'd and slain persons. I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won. And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes! And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known! It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appoint- ments with all,.
This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,. Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica on the side of a rock has. Does the daylight astonish? Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids, con- formity goes to the fourth-remov'd,. Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair, counsel'd with doctors and calculated close,. In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,. I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's compass,.
I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night. I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all. One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is my- self,. And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,. I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait. The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,. The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.
It is a trifle, they will more than arrive there every one, and still pass on. Press close bare-bosom'd night—press close magnetic nourishing night! Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue! Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Prodigal, you have given me love—therefore I to you give love! We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,. Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell'd yet always-ready graves,. Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,. Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house that supports them? I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also. Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,. Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work'd over and rectified?
What behaved well in the past or behaves well to-day is not such a wonder,. The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man or an infidel. Here or henceforward it is all the same to me, I accept Time abso- lutely. This is the lexicographer, this the chemist, this made a grammar of the old cartouches,. This is the geologist, this works with the scalpel, and this is a mathematician. And more the reminders they of life untold, and of freedom and extrication,. And make short account of neuters and geldings, and favor men and women fully equipt,. And beat the gong of revolt, and stop with fugitives and them that plot and conspire.
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,. Through me the afflatus surging and surging, through me the cur- rent and index. By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their coun- terpart of on the same terms. And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,. I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,.
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle. Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from,. If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it,. Root of wash'd sweet-flag! Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you!
Broad muscular fields, branches of live oak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you! Hands I have taken, face I have kiss'd, mortal I have ever touch'd, it shall be you. I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish,. Nor the cause of the friendship I emit, nor the cause of the friend- ship I take again. A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the meta- physics of books.
Hefts of the moving world at innocent gambols silently rising freshly exuding,. The earth by the sky staid with, the daily close of their junction,. We found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the day- break. With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds. Come now I will not be tantalized, you conceive too much of articulation,.
My knowledge my live parts, it keeping tally with the meaning of all things,.
Happiness, which whoever hears me let him or her set out in search of this day. My final merit I refuse you, I refuse putting from me what I really am,. To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it. I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,. Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,. Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,.
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,. The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronoun- cing a death-sentence,. The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,. The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streak- ing engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color'd lights,.
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars,. The slow march play'd at the head of the association marching two and two,. They go to guard some corpse, the flag-tops are draped with black muslin. I hear the violoncello, 'tis the young man's heart's complaint,.
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess'd them,. It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick'd by the indolent waves,. Steep'd amid honey'd morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,. If nothing lay more develop'd the quahaug in its callous shell were enough. To touch my person to some one else's is about as much as I can stand.
My flesh and blood playing out lightning to strike what is hardly different from myself,. Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sunlight and pasture- fields,. They bribed to swap off with touch and go and graze at the edges of me,. I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the greatest traitor,.
I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there. You villain touch! Blind loving wrestling touch, sheath'd hooded sharp-tooth'd touch! Sprouts take and accumulate, stand by the curb prolific and vital,. And a summit and flower there is the feeling they have for each other,. And they are to branch boundlessly out of that lesson until it becomes omnific,.
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,. And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,. I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots,. In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach,. In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the great monsters lying low,.
I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of the cliff. I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,. Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,. They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession. Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.
A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,. Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving. His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return. And again as I walk'd the beach under the paling stars of the morning. By the city's quadrangular houses—in log huts, camping with lumbermen,. Along the ruts of the turnpike, along the dry gulch and rivulet bed,. Weeding my onion-patch or hoeing rows of carrots and parsnips, crossing savannas, trailing in forests,. Scorch'd ankle-deep by the hot sand, hauling my boat down the shallow river,.
Where the panther walks to and fro on a limb overhead, where the buck turns furiously at the hunter,. Where the rattlesnake suns his flabby length on a rock, where the otter is feeding on fish,. Where the black bear is searching for roots or honey, where the beaver pats the mud with his paddle-shaped tail;. Over the growing sugar, over the yellow-flower'd cotton plant, over the rice in its low moist field,. Over the sharp-peak'd farm house, with its scallop'd scum and slender shoots from the gutters,.
Over the western persimmon, over the long-leav'd corn, over the delicate blue-flower flax,. Over the white and brown buckwheat, a hummer and buzzer there with the rest,. Over the dusky green of the rye as it ripples and shades in the breeze;. Scaling mountains, pulling myself cautiously up, holding on by low scragged limbs,.
Walking the path worn in the grass and beat through the leaves of the brush,. Where the bat flies in the Seventh-month eve, where the great gold- bug drops through the dark,. Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to the meadow,. Where cattle stand and shake away flies with the tremulous shud- dering of their hides,. Where the cheese-cloth hangs in the kitchen, where andirons straddle the hearth-slab, where cobwebs fall in festoons from the rafters;.
Where trip-hammers crash, where the press is whirling its cylinders,. Wherever the human heart beats with terrible throes under its ribs,. Where the pear-shaped balloon is floating aloft, floating in it my- self and looking composedly down,. Where the life-car is drawn on the slip-noose, where the heat hatches pale-green eggs in the dented sand,. Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water,. Where shells grow to her slimy deck, where the dead are corrupt- ing below;. Where the dense-starr'd flag is borne at the head of the regiments,. Under Niagara, the cataract falling like a veil over my countenance,.
Upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs or a good game of base-ball,. At he-festivals, with blackguard gibes, ironical license, bull-dances, drinking, laughter,. At the cider-mill tasting the sweets of the brown mash, sucking the juice through a straw,. At musters, beach-parties, friendly bees, huskings, house-raisings;.
Where the mocking-bird sounds his delicious gurgles, cackles, screams, weeps,. Where the hay-rick stands in the barn-yard, where the dry-stalks are scatter'd, where the brood-cow waits in the hovel,. Where the bull advances to do his masculine work, where the stud to the mare, where the cock is treading the hen,. Where the heifers browse, where geese nip their food with short jerks,. Where sun-down shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome prairie,. Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles far and near,.
Where the humming-bird shimmers, where the neck of the long- lived swan is curving and winding,. Where the laughing-gull scoots by the shore, where she laughs her near-human laugh,. Where bee-hives range on a gray bench in the garden half hid by the high weeds,. Where band-neck'd partridges roost in a ring on the ground with their heads out,. Where the yellow-crown'd heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs,. Where the katy-did works her chromatic reed on the walnut-tree over the well,. Through patches of citrons and cucumbers with silver-wired leaves,.
Through the gymnasium, through the curtain'd saloon, through the office or public hall;. Pleas'd with the native and pleas'd with the foreign, pleas'd with the new and old,. Pleas'd with the quakeress as she puts off her bonnet and talks melodiously,. Pleas'd with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preach- er, impress'd seriously at the camp-meeting;. Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole forenoon, flatting the flesh of my nose on the thick plate glass,. Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn'd up to the clouds, or down a lane or along the beach,.
My right and left arms round the sides of two friends, and I in the middle;. Coming home with the silent and dark-cheek'd bush-boy, behind me he rides at the drape of the day,. Far from the settlements studying the print of animals' feet, or the moccasin print,. By the cot in the hospital reaching lemonade to a feverish patient,.
Nigh the coffin'd corpse when all is still, examining with a candle;. Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while,. Walking the old hills of Judaea with the beautiful gentle God by my side,. Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and the diameter of eighty thousand miles,. Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly,. My messengers continually cruise away or bring their returns to me. I go hunting polar furs and the seal, leaping chasms with a pike- pointed staff, clinging to topples of brittle and blue.
Through the clear atmosphere I stretch around on the wonderful beauty,. The enormous masses of ice pass me and I pass them, the scenery is plain in all directions,. The white-topt mountains show in the distance, I fling out my fancies toward them,. We are approaching some great battle-field in which we are soon to be engaged,.
We pass the colossal outposts of the encampment, we pass with still feet and caution,. The blocks and fallen architecture more than all the living cities of the globe.