Charles A. Swanson

Marked for Freedom
Summer, 1813

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.
            Psalm 107:13–14, RSV

I tell you, I’se glad to be registered, down here in this county call Pittsylvania, where I is hardly knowed by no white man. In Loudon, they knows me, that I be made free by Mr. Ansley’s will. And roundabout there the white men don’t get so itchy, like the hairs was rising on the back of they necks. They knows Mr. Ansley, and they was use to seeing me.

Now I’se Lue, and I carries my papers with me, cause I don’t want no white man coming to me thinking I’se a runaway, snatch me by night, or broad daylight, for no man going to stop them if the few here that knows me ain’t round.

My papers spell it out. Mr. Fadely read it to me, after they went down to the court and testifies to Mr. William Tunstall. He’s the white man at the clerk’s office that writes it all down. And it reads right, for I is that free Negro of yellow complexion that the paper say I is. I stand five foot nine, one half inches, and I got these scars and can show them. Look here. One over my right eye, and one on my left wrist, and one under each elbow. And see this on the third finger of this here hand, it matches up with this piece of paper. And I is a man of uncommon ankles. You can sees it when I pulls up my britches legs. And peoples tell me you can figure it when I walks, even if I’se just twenty eight. My age in that paper too.

So I carries this register with me if I step away from the farm, even if to go up to the store. And I knows it right, even though I can’t read, cause Mr. Fadely told it out to me, say it show my marks, my proofs I’se a free man.

Charles A. Swanson

Pastor of Melville Avenue Baptist Church, Charles A. Swanson also teaches dual enrollment college composition at the Academy for Engineering and Technology in Danville, Virginia. He is a graduate of Radford University with an M.A. in English, and he has an MFA from Queens University, Charlotte, where he completed a volume of poetic responses to the Old Testament Psalms. MotesBooks released After the Garden: Selected Responses to the Psalms in July of 2009, and Farm Life and Legend, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press, came out in November of the same year.