An Amazing Book

An Amazing Book

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An Amazing Book

Been In The Storm So Long, written by Leon F. Litwack exposes the cruel, harsh, and most disgusting attitudes of humans towards one another. This story is about the lives of black slaves, slave owners, and the people fighting for freedom during the Civil War and even after Emancipation. This story reveals the interactions between blacks and whites and dramatizes their inner dependency on one another. It also divulges the tension and friction between the two groups. After reading this short summery of Been In The Storm So Long, I hope one can acknowledge the intentions of this book and perhaps give one the desire to pick up this book and let the story take one to a place Americans tend to keep hidden.

As the story begins, it talks about the changes in attitudes of the slaveholders. One slave by the name of Robert Murray recalls how his “white folks” started to change. Murray was a young slave that had been treated fairly well and was even taught how to read, even though it was against the law. Some of the children were even welcomed in what was called the “Big House” because the children found warmth there. With Abraham Lincoln’s election as President, things changed for the slaves. The children were not welcomed in the “Big House” anymore. Robert Murray, along with the other slaves, felt uneasy because he was being watched constantly. The slaveholders started to wonder how the slaves continue their chores as if nothing was going on. Mary Chesnut, a South Carolina slaveholder, wonders, “Are they stolidy stupid or wiser than we are, silent and strong, biding their time”(4).

When the white males of all the plantations go off to war, they think it will be an easy and short fight. One North Carolinian says, “whup the North” (5) as if he would be back in time for dinner. Needless to say, many of the white males do not return and for those who are restored; it was in mangled bodies. Because many fathers, brothers, and sons do not return, the women left at the plantations became cruel and cold hearted. Mattie Curtis’s mistress whipped the slaves to the point of unbearable pain when she received news on the death of her son. Master Charley hit a slave girl named Missy with a “hot poker” stick and then says, “Free de niggers, will dey?

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Essay on An Amazing Book

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I free dem”(10), as he gets a gun and heads for the field. Annie Row, the slave girl witnessing all this, ran and screamed because she had brothers and sisters in “de field whar de niggers am a-working” (10). The cruel and disgusted treatments did not halt; they continued and expanded throughout the Civil War.

Even with the cruel and unspeakable treatment the slaves received, some of the slaves were still faithful and loyal to their masters and mistresses. To “play dumb” was
what most of the slaves did to protect their masters or mistresses from the Yankees. One
slave hid the family’s silverware and even struck his master’s children to keep the
Yankees distracted. The slave “cried like a child” when the Yankees left because he did
not want to hit the children but felt it was necessary to protect the master’s family. One group of slaves even humiliated themselves to keep their master, John Williams, from
being physically abused by the Yankees. The Yankees had order Williams to dance or
make his slaves dance. When he stood up and looked at the slaves, the slaves started to
dance. The soldiers were then happy and content, and no harm was done to Williams. One
of the dancing slaves said, “We act lak we dancing for de Yankees, but we trying to please Master and Mistress more than anything, and purty soon he begin to smile a little and we all feel a lot better” (151). Many slaves lied that their owners were true Union patriots, but could not show their patriotism because of the Confederates. While some of the slaves were faithful and loyal, others were called betrayers by their owners.

As the war continued, slaveholders viewed their slaves as back stabbers. The slaveholders could not realize why the slaves betrayed them when the slaves were
constantly given good care . Of course, the care administered was most of the time severe beatings confused for discipline. One slave ran to a Yankee solider and told him a secret:

a secret of where there were two “splendid” horses. The solider sat in awe wondering why
the slaved had “betrayed his master’s prize possession,” and the soldier replied, “You
ought to have more love for him to do such a thing.” The so-called “good slaves” and the
“bad niggers” were becoming hard to distinguish. As a plantation owner left for war, he
placed in charge a slave whom was “more as a companion than a slave” (155). The
faithful slave agreed to take care of the place. However; the first chance the slave got, he fled. On another plantation, a slave woman who was treated as one of the family members left at the first chance she got. This slave woman was born, raised, and even slept in the same bed as the owner’s daughter. To the owner’s girl found this to be the “most troubling defection” (155). As a result, it was not only the slaves wore painful and unforgettable scars, but slave owners also wore scars from all the slave betrayals which continues after the war ends.

Even as the Civil War came to an end and the abolishment of slavery began, some
slaves left their masters and some stayed and earned wages. Chants of freedom rung
throughout the country as former slaves wondered what to with their lives. Many of the
former slaves continued to stay with their masters until the master confirmed their
freedom. A former slaves replied, “No, sir; my mistress never said anything to me that I
was to have wages, nor yet that I was free;.... She ha’n’t spoke yet,”(185) when a reporter asked if he got wages. Although former slaves are freed to work for wages, the abuse and tragic deaths of former slaves still occurred.

The slave owners could not grasp the concept of their slaves being free. Some
slaveholders forced the former slaves to stay on their plantation; the only way out was
death. A Virginia planter asked his former slaves to stay on the plantation and when he
received a negative reply, he got a riffle and shot into the crowd of ex-slaves. Some of the “terrorized blacks” were killed and others were wounded. These ex-slaves became slaves for the plantation again because of the fear put before them. Another former slaveholder gave a huge speech on how he knew they were free but he would like them to stay and work his land like they always had. If the slaves stayed, it is not because they felt threatened. The slaves believed since they contributed to the land the most and they out numbered the owner they now owned the land.

Several slaves thought the land belonged to them because they were born, raised, and worked on a plantation for many years. When a South Carolinian former slave owner
returned, he found his servants in his house continuing their regular duties. The former
master thought all was well until one ex-slave replied, “We own this land now. Put it out of your head that it will ever be yours again” (206). When a former slave owner told his ex-slaves that he wanted them to keep up his land, the slaves said with a smile, “ We ain’ gwine nowhar... whar we wuz bo’n an’ whar belongs tuh us” (208). Since the former slave owners were angry over the slaves’ freedom and for their demand of ownership of the land the slaves bleed over, the friction and tension between the two escalated even more.

The freed slaves thought because of their freedom they had rights as do the “white
folks,” unfortunately, the never ending fight to be equal continued. Since blacks were not taught how to read or write, they seldomly achieved other skills than that of a salve. Because the slaves only knew of servant work, they felt that the whites still looked at them as salves. The “freed blacks” wondered how they could succeed in a society dominated by white men and women. This feeling grants the ex-slaves the impression that they were still placed beneath the whites. A young Virginia servant realized “that to be free was not to be like everyone else” (224). Like many other former slaves, she perceived that a person was only something in America if you were white. With all the hate and spite caused by the abuse from blacks and whites to one another, both “now need to unlearn the old relationship” (337).

With dignity and pride, former slaves began to start their new lives as free men and
women. A convention was held for the rewriting of the Constitution so it would include
blacks as equals to the whites. The former slaves tried to make peace with the whites and hoped for unification of the two. At the Convention of Colored People, the delegates, former slaves, stated, “We have not come together in battle array to assume a boastful attitude and to talk loudly of high- sounding principles,... still we come together, we trust, in a spirit of meekness and of patriotic good-will toward all the people of the State” (515).

After experiencing massive sufferings during the war to protect their masters, the
ex-slaves’ loyalties were disputed. Evidently, the ex-slaves’ memories of the immense
sacrifices they made for their ex-master during the Civil War truly displays their loyalty. Overcoming all the threats and economic duress, blacks started to vote in the elections, thus showing their first exercise of political power. To the slaves, dropping their ballot in the box was a statement that anything was possible. Despite the cruel, harsh, and disgusting attitudes between the blacks and the whites, there was hope.

It is evident page after page in Been In The Storm So Long, the cruel, harsh, and
disgusted attitudes were displayed in both slaves and slaveholders. Although freedom was
sought out, it was a never ending battle due to the lack of cooperation from neither sides.

The blacks and whites could not interact with one another in a manner that was desperately needed in the hopes of ending the friction and tension between the two. After all, black or white, we are all humans.

Leon F. Litwack, author of Been In The Storm So Long, was born in Santa Barbra,
California. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his
B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. He is currently Professor of History at this university. Other
universities he has taught at are University of Wisconsin, South Carolina, and at Colorado College. Litwack has held the Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Teaching Award, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Film Grant. His latest book is the Trouble in Mind.

Tears rolled down my face through out Been In The Storm So Long. It brought to my attention the cruel and unbearable treatment that one human being could give to another. I had to pause to keep the nausea down after reading a part in the book where a
slave recalls her master grabbing a gun to shoot all the slaves in the field. It only gave me a weary feeling when the slave said, “we’uns starts runnin’ and screamin’,’cause we’uns has brothers and sisters in de fild” (10). I imagined those brothers and sisters as young children at the age of nine and ten. I was angered on how one human believed they could own another human. To who in the world gave them the right to think that. I was disgusted. This book lead me on a journey that I believe all Americans should read about. To me, it was a disgrace to belong to such a country in which slavery existed.
Been In The Storm Long is a tremendous assist to our learning about our history and in
hopes of not making the same mistake twice.
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