Chapters : Foreword 1-2 | 3-4 | 5-6 | 7-8 | 9-10 | 11-12 | 13-14 | 15-16 | 17-18 | 19-20 | 21-22
23-24 | 25-26 | 27-28 | 29-30 | 31-32 | 33-34 | 35-36 | 37-38 | 39-40 | 41-42 | 43-44
This is a story about revenge, and as such, it is dark in many places, particularly in the beginning. It is set in a part of American history that wasn't very pretty, and the language used, while historically accurate, isn't very pretty either. The fact is, though, that these words and attitudes were used with great regularity, and still are in some places. That is fact, and I don't apologize for the use of those words, however uncomfortable they may make the reader.
While it's a story about revenge, that revenge wasn't planned, though, and some readers may decide that "justice" would have been a better word to use in the title. Titles aren't the author's strong point. That's also a fact.
Facts out of the way, readers are reminded that this is a work of fiction. As a work of fiction, this story has everything needed to make just about everybody unhappy. If you're a racist, you may like the first chapters, not counting the Prelude, but you won't enjoy this story after that. If you're NOT a racist, you'll be offended by the first chapters, and may never get to the part you'd be happy with.
So ... why read it at all, you ask?
Well, It's a story about human suffering, and triumph over suffering. It's a story of rags to riches. It's a story about doing the best you can under a given set of circumstances and learning that just because life has been shitty in the past, doesn't mean life still has to be shitty in the future. It's a story about learning how to be happy, and learning how to LET yourself be happy. And ... it's a story about love.
All of us can identify with those situations. That's why I think this is worth reading.
Oh yeah ... there's another reason you might want to read it. It eventually has some pretty hot sex in it too. <G>
Read the prelude. It's important.
Thanks for reading.
As this story has a lot of characters in it, the following list of the most important ones is provided, to help you keep track of who is who. The ages provided are as of the beginning of the story.
Flossie Pendergast: Teacher, 26, black
Harvey Wilson: Banker and father, 44, white
Marian Wilson: Harvey's wife, 34, white
Nathan Wilson: Eldest child of Harvey and Marian, 16, white
Bernadette Wilson: Elder daughter of Harvey and Marian, 15, white
Hilda Mae Wilson: Younger daughter of Harvey and Marian, 14, white
Other Students in the school:
Curtis Lee Waggoner, 17, black
Moses Finshaw, 15, black
Johnnie Sue Thorpe, 13, white
Luthor Cripps, 12, white
Jesse Hawthorne, 11, black
On May 18th, 1954, a sunny and otherwise perfect day in the southern states of the United States of America, the day was completely ruined for hundreds of thousands of citizens, who opened their newspapers and read what was plastered across the front page of every newspaper in the nation.
Dateline: Washington D.C., May 17, 1954. "In a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court, concerning Brown VS the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, the following announcement was made:
"Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system."
Accounts then followed, describing how the Supreme Court also instructed the federal district courts to require the local school authorities to develop and carry out plans for integration "with all deliberate speed". In southern papers, it was pointed out, often in larger type, that this decision, only affected the segregation of public schools and did not abolish legally sanctioned segregation in other public areas. In northern papers, the follow-on stories proclaimed that it DID declare that permissive or mandatory segregation that existed in twenty-one states was unconstitutional.
One citizen who read the newspaper that day was William Jefferson Pruitt, a middle aged man who, until this date, had not distinguished himself in any way, shape or form in the tiny community in which he lived, called Catfish Hollow. Pruitt was a white man, who had two children. Those children attended the Catfish Hollow public school, one of two schools in the town of about three hundred population. The other school didn't have a name.
When it sank into Pruitt's head that, according to the paper, when school started up again in 1955, there would be children with dark skin going to school at the Catfish Hollow public school, instead of that other school where they now went, he was enraged beyond measure.
In that reaction, he was not alone.
Pruitt's mood was foul, after reading the newspaper, so he did what many men in the community did when they were in a foul mood. He immediately went to the porch of the General Store, meeting other men who had read the paper, and were equally motivated to "discuss" the catastrophic announcement. Pruitt's mood got worse.
Sometimes, when men gathered at the General Store, action was taken, and Pruitt wanted to see action taken. But, on this day, while all the men who gathered there were upset about the court's decision, the vast majority of them had, what to them, were bigger problems. Primary among those problems was growing enough tobacco and cotton to make enough money to keep the wolf from their door and feed their families. And, by an large, the men who gathered there were law-abiding men. They didn't like what had happened, but it didn't appear that there was much that could actually be done to counter the court's directive to integrate the Catfish Hollow Public School.
They couldn't even take out their anger on any of the black citizens of Catfish Hollow at that particular time. That was because no black citizen was stupid enough to show his face in town that day.
William Jefferson Pruitt, however, decided to do something about it. He was alone in that decision, at least in the town of Catfish Hollow, and because this story is about that town, we will disregard what happened elsewhere, at least initially. Suffice it to say that, if Pruitt had known that the court's order wouldn't actually be obeyed for at least ten more years, he might not have done what he did.
But, of course, he didn't know that. He thought that his precious Liza Jean might have to sit next to a dirty little nigger boy in school, the very next school year. And that was only four short months away.
He began drinking around ten in the morning, and stayed at it until after dark. His alcohol-fogged brain worried at the problem without any answer coming to mind. Then, when he realized he'd lost an entire day of farming because of the situation, he decided to prepare his tractor for the next day's work by filling the gas tank. It was while doing that, that the answer came to him.
By the time that answer came to him, the five gallon gas can in his hands was only half full, the rest having gone into the tractor's tank. Looking around blearily, he saw another five gallon can, this one containing kerosene, and he topped off the gas can with that. Then he set off for the Catfish Hollow Public School.
The building wasn't locked. No one locked anything in Catfish Hollow. He distributed the five gallons of gas-kerosene mixture by simply tipping the can and shaking it while he staggered around the four rooms that made up the building. The pant legs of his overalls, and his scuffed brown leather shoes soaked up perhaps a two pints of the fuel. His right hand, supporting the top of the can, and shaking it, also got wet with the mixture.
Pruitt was cackling aloud, thinking about how no nigger children could defile a school house that didn't exist any more, when he struck the match ... with his right hand.
To say that William Jefferson Pruitt burned down the Catfish Hollow Public School is to put too fine a point on it. He intended to throw the match, and exit the building. The problem was that, in his drunken stupor, the door he planned to exit the building from, turned out to be the door from one room into the next, and not the exit to the building. Further, while the match did ignite one splatter of the flammable cocktail on the floor, the primary thing it lit on fire was ... William Jefferson Pruitt. It was the torch that Pruitt became, that then distributed the fire more or less evenly throughout the building as he ran, screaming, and bounced off of walls.
By the time he reached the actual exit to the building, where he had dumped the majority of the fuel mixture, there was that perfect distribution of vapors in the air that is similar to what firemen call 'flashover', or 'backdraft', though it was technically neither of those conditions.
The results were, in one sense, all that Pruitt might have hoped for. By the time anyone else got to the site, it was clear that no one would be going to school in the burnt-out shell that was left. The volunteer firemen cranked up the old fire truck, but by the time they got any water on the blaze, all that was left were two walls, and a pile of something that was eventually identified as the remains of William Jefferson Pruitt.
It's also a pretty fair bet that those remains, buried in a child's coffin - because they would fit and it was cheaper - were turning in his grave almost as that coffin was lowered into the ground of the white-only cemetery outside of town.
That is because, during the meeting of the town fathers that followed, their decision was that it would be too expensive to build a new school. Seeing as how the only white students in the school were the children of share-croppers, and since those children had worked and played with the children who went to that other school all their lives anyway ... and with what had been published in the paper and all ... it was just decided that they'd all have to go to the only remaining school in town.
In effect, William Jefferson Pruitt advanced the cause of de-segregation in the Catfish Hollow Public School a good ten years. Had he left the building alone, nothing much would have changed in the town. People were too used to things the way they were, and, truth be told, no outsiders would have pushed the issue, had both schools been kept open and operating in thoroughly segregated fashion. Catfish Hollow was too small, too poor and too far away from the big, wide world to show up on the radar of any damned Yankee, or any of the damned nigger-lovers who were causing all that trouble.
There were two other casualties of the incident that night.
One was Mable Crosby, the school teacher of the school that burned down. When she was informed that she would start (and teach) school in 'the other school' the next year, she suddenly decided to accept the marriage proposal of Morris Fullbright, a traveling salesman who had been sparking her for three years on his infrequent visits to town, trying his best to get into her thick, sensible panties. She moved far away to be with her new husband.
The other was Elsie Toombs, who was the teacher of the other school. She wanted no part of writing grades on the report cards of white students. One of the girls she had just graduated, named Flossie Pendergast, was actually going to go to a real college the next fall, and that, as far as she was concerned, was the apex of her career. It could only go down hill from there. She had a sister who had gone North, and she went to visit her. She never came back.
It took the town fathers four years to find another teacher, and that's when William Jefferson Pruitt's bones began whirling in his grave like a dust devil.
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