Free by Nature

by Rufus Battle

For many Blacks in the Deep South, 100 years after their ancestors’ emancipation, survival depended largely upon field labor. For these freedom was just an empty political concept, not an accessible reality. Uneducated, despised by some Whites, and shackled away from means to upward mobility, they grudgingly held onto the menial sustenance afforded them, as their ancestors had done through generations dating back to slavery. Living in houses provided by plantations owners, entire families worked in the fields, a model closely resembling the horrific slave driven operations of the past. Workers were routinely berated by plantation bosses; paid barely enough to live on and constantly reminded that their place in society was below Whites by nature. Statements such as “you should be thankful that I provide work for you,” was typical response to any mention of inadequate pay or harsh working conditions.

Fortunately for me, born on a plantation in mid-Twentieth Century, I lived among and bore witness to these heartbreaking circumstances. Yes I did say fortunately. For I would freely choose the same deployable circumstances, as the experience now gives me the opportunity to share events which are so critical to our present lives, yet virtually ignored by historians in our time. Besides that, how else would the world know about my dad, Percy Battle.

Though Percy raised his family in the region, taking advantage of the little shacks offered as housing to plantation workers, he never stooped with servility as others did. He cleverly avoided working in the fields personally, stringing plantation owners along, sometimes for several years as he pursued his own means to provide for his family. Since plantations dotted the landscape throughout the cotton belt, he could always find another little shack to accommodate his family. Seven times, between 1947 (the year I was born) and 1962 (the year we moved to New Orleans), he relocated us. With fearless determination he moved about the countryside – his family in tow – undaunted by society’s constructs against him – my dad and my hero.