Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day, 1854

     My newest novel, GODS OF OUR FATHERS, concludes with an epilogue on the 4th of July. Narrated by my protagonist Vesey Van Zant, what follows is an edited version of his thoughts on Independence Day. As you may surmise, little has changed since 1854:

What Independence Day means to a body devolves on the color of the skin wrapping it.
      The black bunting on the day of Burns’s ejection from Boston have long since been replaced with the red, white and blue variety in observance of our independence. Keeping my head down and ears open as I often do, I have yet to hear anyone remark on the irony of us celebrating our independence from a tyranny after having had our sovereignty stolen by President Pierce’s in the act of re-enslaving a black man who merely insisted on his dignity and liberty.
      Cornets, trumpets, drums, tubas and all manner of instruments gaily fill the streets with a horrible and hardly self-conscious cacophony in celebration of a day that, to me, seems more hollow and meaningless than usual.
      Little boys set off firecrackers in the streets to the irritation of stodgy adults. Firecrackers make for a harmless reprise of the bomb in the same way the burning of Guy Fawkes effigies is to the Gunpowder Plot.
      Boston is a city of 150,000 souls. And among that number are perhaps millions of trials and tribulations, of which mine, Mama’s and Maizee’s were but drops in a vast ocean of love, tragedy, grief and ecstasy.
      As I am but a policeman of some perspicacity and not a clairvoyant, I know not what will become of this “city on a hill.” It was optimistically dubbed as such in 1630 by our first Governor, John Winthrop, when it was but a quaint fishing village. In the last two centuries, it has expanded to become in all ways one of America’s three great cities. But each time greatness is achieved, it comes at a cost.
      Naturally, I would prefer to believe my city will, in the decades and centuries to come, fulfill the promise of its destiny, to continue advancing toward that blessed day when we will no longer enslave one another or judge others by the hue of their skin. I hope our constabulary will continue to be a force for good and charity as well as an apparatus to enforce the law.
      But as I said, I am a policeman and I would be silly to be so naïve as to think mere wishful thinking alone will keep evil at bay. My colleagues in other cities round up Negros and sell them into slavery as a matter of law enforcement. My brothers in arms in our own department had arrested Anthony Burns. And some are less tolerant of black people than others. We pass down these dubious values and our gods like odious heirlooms and it is up to the strong and independent-minded to break these destructive cycles.
      Because if a city ever needed a merciful God it is Boston, Massachusetts, a fragmented, fractious mess of a metropolis where black and white people, Protestants and Catholics and Democrats and Republicans tear at each other’s flesh. That goes for brother against brother and if anyone can testify to that, it is I."

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