• Harun Shabazz

Black Men Should Have Died That Day

"I was there on a slave ship where the breathing and the dead were chained together."

"Was it da slave ship Jesus?" Crow asked. "My grand daddy said that there was a slave ship called Jesus."

"It was called The Good Ship Jesus," Preacher said.

"I don't know her name, the name of the ship," I said as I was staring into what seemed to be an emptiness within an emptiness beyond the dayroom of Cell Block C.

"I remember the smell of death that consumed her belly,

I remember the devils that came to collect the dead and throw them into the sea.

I gazed upon the red streaks that ran down their necks,

The ghostly whiteness of their faces,

The blandness of their blue eyes."

"Nigga it's 1964," Judas said. "Slavery ended a hundred years ago."

"Yes," I said. "It was a century ago, but it was just the other day I came upon a stately plantation house on the edge of a vast cotton field."

"Oh, here we go again," Judas said. "I know this nigga is crazy, but how much bull were goin' to listen to?"

"As much as I say, that's how much," Preacher said.

"It's bad enough that we got to hear this nigga talkin' to himself all night."

"Let da man speak."

"The year was 1806," I said.

"Eighteen-o-six was da other day?" Crow asked.

"Yes, and I was there as sure as I'm here right now.

The plantation house was freshly painted.

The front windows were decorated with flower boxes hung their sills.

The porch was swept clean.

The rocking chairs set empty.

The cotton was in full bloom.

The women and the children were crying.

And the men stood stoic as their black skin baked in the noon sun.

A thin girl, no older than fourteen, was dragged along the ground,

And tied to the whipping tree.

Her back was laid bare

As her child of two years, lay sobbing beneath her feet.

She was whipped unmercifully,

Until she shouted out in a strange tongue,

And gave up the Ghost.

Not a single soul questioned why she had run away.

For they had witnessed the tormentors take the little children—

Male and female, and perform unspeakable crimes.

Some left unable to talk,

But only able to cry out in the universal language of pain.

Black men should have died that day.

Black men should have died that day."

"May God forgive us," Preacher whispered to himself.

Now, all of us were staring into the emptiness within the emptiness, Preacher, Crow, Judas, and myself—transported to another place and time—but a time that is still with us, a time that never left us. We thought to ourselves, that yes, black men should have died that day. They should have sacrificed their lives, not just in the hope of saving the life of that girl, but in the hope of maintaining some sense of dignity, in the hope of salvaging what little manhood we had left, in the hope that generations to come, will look upon us and say that we were men, and died as men.