At Appomattox Courthouse, General Lee laid down his arms, and then it was all finished (prologue). Gideon Jackson, a former slave, is a strong man, full of integrity who had taken up arms with the north to fight for freedom. After the war is over, Gideon returns home to Carolina, the Carwell Plantation, and his family, Rachel, his wife, Jenny, the youngest, Marcus, the middle boy, and Jeff, the oldest. The Carwell Plantation is closed up, all the overseers are gone, and the slaves left alone. The former slaves stayed in the only homes they have known, the old slave quarters, planting crops to sustain themselves.
All men over twenty-one years are called from Congress to vote. The vote is either “For a Constitutional Convention” or “Against a Constitutional Convention.”. Along with the vote, a delegate is chosen by ballot to represent the people in the convention, and Gideon is chosen to be the delegate. It is understood that he would go to Charleston and join in the Convention (13). The vote is by secret ballot and the delegate will be notified and receive their credentials at that time. Weeks later the letter came. Gideon’s election became, to him, a grotesque, a caricature of a thing that made a mockery of all their fine, new-won freedom (29). The letter instructs Gideon to convene in Charleston, South Carolina, on the 14th of January. On his way to Charleston he meets James Allenby. He is a teacher, taking in, and teaching orphans. He gives Gideon a warm meal and a place to sleep. Gideon insists the next morning that he pack up everything, and go to Carwell where he and the children would be safe. He would be welcome there, and he could teach the children. Reluctantly Allenby agreed. The next day Gideon continues to Charleston. The feeling of panic that came over Gideon Jackson once he was in Charleston could not be reasoned away. It was terror of the deepest and most threatening unknown, the white man (41). Arriving in Charleston, Gideon had no money or food. He finds a day job hauling bales of cotton that pays fifty cents a day. With that he can get a good meal and find a boarding house for delegates owned by the Carter’s. The next day, Gideon signed into the convention and met Francis L. Cardozo, a Jewish black man that was born free. Cardozo introduces Gideon to other black men in the convention and encourages Gideon’s learning by giving him the books Geldon’s Basic Speller and Usage of the English Language. This was the start of Gideon’s desire for learning. At the Convention Gideon spoke shortly. “No man stays free,” he said, “I know a little history, and the little I know makes it a fight for freedom, all along. There’s one big gun for freedom- education. I say, arm ourselves.” (79) And so, the Bureau of education was established. After the convention is over it is time for Gideon to return home. He wonders if anything had changed, and it has. The railroad is being built through the swamp, hiring on black workers for a dollar a day. Gideon knew that the Carwell plantation had been seized for taxes, and the land was going to put back on the auction block sooner or later. Allenby asks if Gideon will take Jeff with him, and says that he should not. Allenby explains that Jeff knows how to read and write, and his mind is like a sponge, soaking everything in. “He’s trying to soak the whole world in – so quickly that it makes me afraid. He knows what he wants to, Gideon; he wants to be a doctor.” (107) Gideon contacts Cardozo, and it can be arranged that Jeff will go study Boston. Twenty-two from Carwell go to work on the railroad to raise money to purchase their own land. For the first time, Gideon had an inkling of the relationship of labor to the whole of life and civilization. As slaves, he, and his people had worked, year in and year out, having nothing, gaining nothing, the was the mule or the ox works. Now the railroad, had advertised for a product they wanted to buy; the...
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