Shackles of Slavery

by Rufus Battle

Excerpt from: “One More Row to Hoe”

My siblings and I are third generation descendants of slaves who remained on the plantation after emancipation. Many such families filled the countryside in the fertile farmlands of northeastern Louisiana in the 1950s. The Helena plantation was located near Waterproof, Louisiana, about 35 miles north of Natchez, Mississippi. The little plantation shack which we called home offered nothing to dispute claims we were merely the subservient hands of a White ruled society.  Poor uneducated Black families, almost exclusively, inhabited such dwellings which stood conspicuously along the edges of cotton fields throughout the region. Such were the families on the Helena Plantation where I was born.

From around the age of ten, I began to work in the fields with servile old men, many of whom never saw the light of day outside our little rural community. Sadly, some appeared to have succumbed to idea they were destined to be servants. These were gentle old souls, who would give you the shirt off their backs, even while striving daily to make ends meet for their families.  Besides my parents and grandparents, men such as these had been instrumental in shaping my approach to life during my childhood. Underneath an often selfless persona in the older field hands was a solemn apathy for their existential state within American society.

The stigma projected upon our race clung to me like a garment.  Instead of believing in myself and using my special gifts to move ahead, I spent more time attempting to prove myself within the confines of some task or accomplishment which had no bearing on the grand theme of life.  Though I knew my intellectual abilities were superior to most, I hesitated to assert myself because I didn’t want to be in the spotlight.  I was labeled as shy due to my hesitance and soft spoken, carefully controlled personality. The impetus behind this behavior was a deep sense of shame. Yeah carefully controlled alright, and contented to remain in the shadows for one reason only; SHAME. Haunted by feelings of inadequacy, I strove relentlessly to prove myself, often going to great lengths to get woos from those around me.  Though others raved about my performances I could never do enough to please myself and was never satisfied.

Though these tendencies and attitudes reflect my personal life, the invisible “shackles of slavery” vary among individuals and might manifest in different ways among others within the Black community.