Warning: This is a paper I did for my English class. It was a research paper, so the original copy has citations in it. If you would like to know where I got information from, then just PM me. The real warning is this: Since this is a realistic portrayal of 1868, there is some obscene and racial language and acts. I do not wish to harm anyone by what I have written, but it is to be as realistic as possible. Unfortunately, realism is not always pleasant. Thank you for understanding.
The sun was in the middle of the sky when they arrived at town. Johnny's legs were sore from riding the horse, and he thankfully jumped down from the mare when they slowed to a stop. Lawrenceville was alive with people; after being stuck on the farm for so long, it was a nice change for Johnny to see someone other than his family.
His father nudged the horse along, pulling it to the front of the tavern. He tied the reins to the rails that served as a fence, making sure that the knot was neither too loose nor too tight. The horse, named Minnie Lou by Johnny's sister Ann, kicked the dirt ground in protest, but relaxed when Johnny patted its warm coat.
"Lemme me tell ya somethin', boy," the man said to his son. He pulled off his straw hat and wiped his wide forehead with his sleeve. His blonde hair was matted against his head. "Don't go gittin' yerself in trouble—'cause ya know who's goin' to have to pay for it?"
"You are, Pa," said Johnny routinely. They had this conversation every time they came into town.
"That's right." Pa spit, watching as the ground sucked up the moisture. "I'm a goin' to the tavern t' talk bus'ness with a friend o' mine. Do whatever ya want, 's long as ya keep ya hands clean." He started to climb up the steps to the tavern, but stopped and grabbed Johnny's wrist.
"Your Ma wants ya to buy a few pounds o' rice." He placed fifteen cents in Johnny's palm. "And don't go a spendin' it on somethin' stupid," he barked before trudging into the tavern.
Johnny wanted to tell Pa that it was stupid to waste their hard-earned money on drinking with his "business friend," but he knew that he would pay for it later. Biting his tongue, he set off down the road, kicking stones and playing with his wide-brimmed hat.
It was then that he saw the nigger.
He was walking up the road, coming towards Johnny, when he stopped in front of the supply store. The man bent down slowly, as if his muscles were resisting the motion, and sat down. The shade from the building covered most of his body, making him seem darker than he really was.
Johnny slid up next to the black man. The shade enveloped him, cooling him off immediately. "What 'r' ya doin'?" he asked forcefully. He might have been younger than the nigger, but Johnny was white. Color trumped age—Johnny had learned that early in life.
He leaned his head against the side of the store and Johnny could hear him panting slightly. "Jus' restin', that's all… gittin' ready t' go out an' do s'more work." He motioned to the shovel that rested at his feet. The boy gave him a looking over: The nigger's pantaloons were covered with dark dirt and he wore no shirt underneath. Sweat covered the man, glistening whenever his skin hit the light.
"What do ya do?" Johnny asked, letting his curiosity get the better of him.
The nigger laughed. It was a deep rumble that shook Johnny inside. "What duz I do? I digs graves, young sir. And I digs a lot 'f 'em."
Staring out across town, Johnny nodded. That sounded like nigger work to him.
"What's yer name?"
"What's your name?" Johnny glanced down at the man, glad that he was standing above him; he felt powerful. At home, Pa was in charge, but here, with only a boy and a nigger, it was clear who controlled whom.
"Walter," he said, trying to suppress a chuckle.
Johnny crouched down next to him and drew in the dirt with his finger. Now, with Walter
sitting next to him, he could see the man's protruding muscles, refined after years of hard work. The sun had started to break through the shade, and it played off his dark skin, sending shadows across his body. A feeling started to well up in the pit of Johnny's stomach. He tried to convince himself that it was anger—that he was angry at Walter for being freed after the War's end—but he knew that it was jealousy. He was jealous of the man's size and strength.
"I'm Johnny," he said finally.
He shook his head. "No, that's m' Pa's name."
"I see…. Hey, cood ya do me a favor?" Walter asked. He shined a smile, his teeth strangely white against his skin. "I'd like a glass o' water from da tavern o're 'ere, bu' I knows that I'd git h'rassed 'f I went in." He dug down into his pantaloon's pocket, pulled out a few cents, and handed them to Johnny.
He debated taking the money and running. What made Walter think that he could talk to a white boy as if they were equals? The North having won the War sure gave the man confidence. If Johnny was a couple years older and one hundred pounds stronger, he might have shown Walter the consequences of his actions.
Though it was only mid-afternoon, the tavern was full of people, mostly the old drunks of town. Pa was sitting at a corner table with a man dressed in a fancy waistcoat. They were laughing and falling over the table, slapping each other on the back occasionally. Johnny slipped through the crowd of people and chairs to the front bar. Two men, each guzzling beer, were conversing loud enough for him to hear.
"I'll tell ya, bein' part o' the Union again sure ain't what I want," said one with a thick beard. Johnny was amazed how he could stand it in the heat.
"Hasn't even been a month since Arkansas was let back in," added the other. "And t' think that the War ended three yars ago, too."
"What side are ya on, Bill?"
"What ya mean?"
The man with the beard snorted. "Ya sound like you're glad those Union men won!"
"Calm yerself—I'm just commentin', that's all." He paused to drown a shot of beer. "Ya sound worse than Margaret; she's always naggin' me 'bout somethin'."
"That's like my Elizabeth when I tell her I'm a goin' to throw the papers. She says that she should be 'llowed to throw a biscuit party, then."
The other man laughed and began to say something else, but Johnny did not hear. The man behind the counter had noticed him and had taken his order.
"Is that all ya want?" he asked when Johnny told him he wanted a glass of water. "No beans an' sweats; ya look hungry, kid."
"No sir, just the water."
"Alright, then, kid."
Johnny rushed back to Walter with the water. He was not fond of niggers, but he knew what it felt like to be thirsty while out in the July heat. Much to his surprise, Walter was not alone. A man, garbed in a vest, bright pants, and a derby hat, stood next to the gravedigger, chatting him up. When he got closer, Johnny could see the strange man's frock coat resting on top of a large, red carpetbag.
"…I'm telling ya, you sure look like ya could do a lot of work," he was saying. Johnny's eyebrows rose when he heard the man talk. He was not from the South—or at least not from Georgia. "You might be mighty helpful to me, ya know. Say, what did ya say that your name
"It's Walter, sir."
The carpetbagger nodded abruptly and his derby hat went flying backwards off his head. On his way over, Johnny picked it up.
"Here ya go, sir," the boy said, handing over the hat. "Here." He shoved the water at Walter, his tone of voice changing completely.
The nigger pulled himself up from the ground, groaning as he stood. "Thank you, Johnny," he said and poured the water down his throat. "But I've a got to git goin'. There's 'nother grave to digs today."
"Really, who died?"
Walter nodded toward the north end of town. "Mister Thomas Philips. I feels bad for da Missus: she still has youngins at home, Martha and Frances, and dey're girls, too. Dey're no men to take on da fambly bus'ness." He leaned in, so that the carpetbagger could not hear, and said, "Don't go a tellin' no one, but I off'ed ma serv'ces t' dem any time dey need it."
Johnny tried not to shake his head at the man in disgust. "Walter, you're one of the nicest niggers that I've ever met. That's a goin' to git ya in trouble someday."
Walter shrugged his massive shoulders. He nodded to the carpetbagger and set off out of town, a silhouette against the sun.
Before he could slip away, the carpetbagger turned to the young boy, letting Johnny see him face on for the first time. His features were squashed, as if there was not enough room on his face for everything. "Well, hello, there, young sir. I'm George Wyatt." He tipped his hat, revealing close cropped brown hair. "And who might ya be?"
"Johnny," he said warily; the man made him nervous. Pa had told him about carpet-
baggers before. They were crooked politicians. Originally from the North, they came to the South to make money and create chaos.
Wyatt gave him a lopsided smile. "So Johnny, do ya happen to know who runs this here town?"
"A lot of people do, sir."
The carpetbagger laughed, but his eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm guessing that you're not quite into politics." He picked up his large bag. "I'll see ya around then, Johnny." He set off in the same direction that Walter had gone not too long ago.
Worry filled Johnny. Should he tell Pa about the carpetbagger? The wayward politician was up to no good; he could feel it in his bones. However, before he decided what to do, Pa came rambling out of the tavern, barking at his son to get the horse.
"Two nights from now," Pa said, his breath reeking of beer, "we're a comin' back here for a meeting—you're goin' to be part of it, ya here?"
Johnny nodded, and helped his drunken father get onto the horse.
"Where's the rice?" he asked.
Johnny gulped; he had forgotten all about that.
This time, it was almost dark when they reached town. Two nights had passed and the meeting that Pa had mentioned had come. Johnny was uneasy about what was going to happen, but he knew it had something to do with the man Pa had gone drinking with. A simple cotton farmer did not cross paths with men in fancy waistcoats.
Minnie Lou stopped in front of the fanciest house in Lawrenceville. Pa tied her up to a tree in the yard and went into the backyard, yelling at his son to be quiet. There, he knocked on the backdoor, tapping his foot impatiently. A woman, clothed in an expensive princess dress, opened the door and ushered them in.
"Is this where Mister Hooten lives?" Johnny asked. Joseph Hooten was a major player in the politics of Lawrenceville. His status, exactly, Johnny did not know, but he did know that Hooten was as high up as you could get in the small town.
Pa grunted an answer and shoved his son into a richly furnished room. A walnut cabinet stood in one corner, facing the window. Oval-backed chairs were placed around the room, most of them filled with people. Hooten stood at the front of the room, a pile of white cloth in one hand. He was an older man, with a long nose and beady eyes, like a dog. Pa said that he had served in the Confederate Army years earlier, but was discharged due to a leg injury.
"It seems that now that we're all here, we can begin," said the white-haired man. "Men, this meeting of the Invisible Army has started!" A cheer broke through the room before Hooten could continue. "We all know that the Fourteenth Amendment is set to be ratified on the twenty-eighth of this month." Groans erupted from the men surrounding Johnny. "But we just won't have it! Niggers shouldn't have citizenship, men!"
A man across the room stood up. "What's Johnson thinkin'?" he spat. "The man 'as takin' slow action for Reconstruction—why else was he impeached?"
"I don't know 'bout ya," said another man, "but I sure wish that it'd a taken place now, rather than in March."
Voices filled the room as men complained to each other about politics. Hooten yelled at them all to be quiet. "We have very little time to git our message across," he said. "As some of
ya may know, I've sent two 'f our members out tonight and they should be back soon—"
As if on cue, the door opened, interrupting Hooten. Two figures came into the room, white fabric floating around them, as if they were under water. It took a moment for Johnny to recognize them as men; with their white robes and pointed hoods, they reminded him of ghosts. But these people were much more dangerous than ghosts.
They were Klansmen.
One turned his head toward the boy. Johnny shuddered as his eyes met two black holes.
"We've got a problem, Mister Hooten," said one of the uniformed Klansmen.
"And what might that be?"
The men glanced at each other, afraid of what to say. "Tha-that carpetbagger that a come into town t' other day—he's a roundin' up all the free niggers. We ran inta the group that they was a forming an' scared 'em off. We tried to git a look at t' other niggers, but it were no use."
"Excep'," said the other man, "we did rec'nize one 'f the niggers: that 'ere gravedigger."
A cold sensation grasped Johnny's heart. He should have suspected it. He did see Wyatt talking to Walter the other day; but he did not think that it would turn out like this, with an entire group of Klansmen against Walter. Johnny knew what would happen to the gravedigger—and he was scared.
Hooten's features were twisted in anger. "Did ya lynch 'im?"
"Which one?" asked a Klansman. "Wyatt or Walter?"
"Well, no, we's a waitin' to come back here and git the whole lot of ya…."
Hooten snorted in disgust. "No, we don't need all 'f us. Who wants t' go?" he asked the crowd. Every man bellowed out, wanting to be chosen.
"Pick m' son!" Johnny snapped around to face Pa. "It's his furst time with the Klan!" he was saying. "He'll do good!"
Before he knew what was happening, Johnny was being pulled from the room by the white cloaked men. Many others raced past them, pulling on their own cloaks and masks. Horses had been pulled from Hooten's stable and were lined up in the backyard, waiting patiently for their midnight ride.
"You," someone said to Johnny, "ride with me." He was half hoisted, half pushed onto the horse before the Klansman took the reins.
The sound of the horses' hooves was thunder, pounding against the ground over and over again. Johnny held his breath, afraid to let it out; he was Southern at heart, but he never expected to go this far, hunting down niggers and carpetbaggers in the dead of night.
"The gravedigga ain't stupid 'nough t' go back t' his own house," shouted one of the Klansman. "He may be a nigger, but he sure does have common sense."
The Klansman that sat in front of Johnny pulled his horse to a stop. "What do ya suggest we do, then?" he barked. Johnny recognized the voice as Hooten's.
"I bet ya that the carpetbagger's still at his lodgin' room—an' Walter might be 'ere too."
This was met with a wild cheer from the Klan members as they turned their horses to the right and set off in the direction of the town lodge. Johnny shut his eyes, trying to block the waves of feeling that pulsated through him. He should be proud to join the Invisible Army—but all it did was make him feel sick.
Members of the Klan broke through the door of the lodge while others slipped a braided rope over a tree limb, hooting in excitement of a lynching. Johnny watched in horror as white figures pulled a screaming man through the door.
"—I don't know! I don't know where he is!"
"Shut up!" a shrouded figure yelled at the man. "Ya tell us where that nigger is, now! We don't a need the 'mendment comin' 'round here and givin' our niggers more freedom!" He pushed Wyatt in front of the Ku Klux Klan. "Where's Walter?"
The carpetbagger looked around wildly, an animal caught in a trap with no way out. "I-I told ya th-that I don't know where he went…." His voice shuddered and broke.
"Lynch 'im!" A roar built up through the crowd. Hooten glanced at the carpetbagger, then at the tree, and gave a curt nod. Pure fear spread across Wyatt's face as Klan members grabbed him from under the arms and pulled him toward the tree. Never before had Johnny seen a man struggle so much in his life.
The boy's stomach twisted inside of him as the rope was slipped around Wyatt's neck. They held him up high in the tree, waiting for the perfect moment to let the man slide to his death. Finally, Johnny saw a member push the carpetbagger, and he looked away. He stared at the ground, allowing himself only to glance as high as the man's swinging feet.
Silence bit through the air like a knife. No one spoke. No one cheered.
A Klansman looked down at Johnny, and he swore that he could see a ghastly smile through the white mask. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Welcome to the Klan."