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Bernice McFadden

Chapter 2 excerpt from Glorious,

Copyright 2010 by Bernice McFadden. Reprinted by permission of Akashic Books, New York (www.akashicbooks.com). Publicity contact, Ben Fama at Akashic Books (ben@akashicbooks.com).

   Easter, Mavis, and the older children carried the
scant pieces of furniture from the house and set
them down in the front yard beneath the hot
Georgia sun. The chintzes swarmed and the children
screamed and pointed as the tiny black bugs made a
beeline to their death.
   Easter soaked rags in camphor oil, dropped them
into cooking pots, and set them afl ame, filling the house
with smoke, killing the chintzes that remained hidden
in the walls.
   Outside the younger children played tag and hide-
and-go-seek. Mavis sat in her rocking chair with her
eyes closed and Easter laid herself down beneath the
shade of the tupelo tree and read.
   Over the past few months it had been her great plea-
sure to work for Mrs. Olga. The woman had recognized
Easter’s intelligence early on and did not miss the long-
ing that fl ashed in her young employee’s eyes whenever
they swept across the hundreds of books that lined the
   “Can you read?” she’d asked one day as Easter
rubbed mineral oil into the wood moldings around the
   “Yes, ma’am.”
   “Really? Who have you read?”
Easter rattled off an impressive list of writers and
their works. Mrs. Olga was fl abbergasted, she had never
met a well-read Negro. “Well,” she said as she removed
her glasses and rubbed the strain from her eyes, “you
are more than welcome to borrow any book that strikes
your fancy.”
   Easter was delighted, and devoured four books in
just as many days. She read deep into the night. She read
until the fl ame of her candle burned down to wick.
   The two women discussed, in depth, the books that
Easter had read. Mrs. Olga was impressed with her
insight and was happy to find that Easter’s aptitude
stretched beyond the frivolity of the dime-store romanc-
es most of the women in her generation swooned over.
Olga started to feel that she had found a kindred spirit
in the young Negro maid.
   The day began to slip away and the sun swelled until
it was blood-orange and then began its descent. Mavis
and Easter went into the house, raised the windows, and
opened the doors. They swept the dead chintzes into a
black pile in the middle of the fl oor and then scooped
them up and sprinkled them into the fl ames that crack-
led and spit in the fi replace. They moved the furniture
back into the house and Mavis made a dinner of boiled
yams, snap peas, and stewed chicken feet. The children
were fed and put to bed. Mavis and Easter were sit-
ting at the table enjoying a slice of pecan pie when the
sound of a shotgun blast ripped through the quiet. The
children bolted out of their beds, Mavis’s fork clattered
loudly to the fl oor, and Easter pressed her hand to her
| heart. A second shot sounded soon after the fi rst and
everyone dropped to the floor. They waited for a third
shot, but none came, just the pounding of fl eeing feet.
They crowded under the table, trembling and clutching
one another, until the fl ame in the oil lamp burned out
and the house went as black as the deed that had been
   The following day, clusters of people gathered along
the road, on porches and out in front of the general
store, and the story of what had taken place the previ-
ous night jumped from one mouth to the next. A white
man named Hampton Smith had been shot dead as he
sat taking his supper. The second shot had struck his
wife in the shoulder.
   Mavis’s neighbor, a widower named Bishop Can-
tor, said, “That nigger done gone and lost his mind.”
   He eased himself down onto the porch, removed his hat,
and fi tted it onto the broad cap of his knee.
Easter stood near the doorway, her hands clamped
at her belly.
   “Who?” Mavis asked.
   Bishop dropped his eyes and mumbled something
Mavis didn’t quite hear.
   “What you say, Bishop?” she hissed, stooping down
alongside him.
   Bishop drummed his fi ngers on the rim of his hat.
   “They say Sidney Johnson was the one that done it.”
   Mavis puckered her lips and shook her head pitifully.
Her knees cracked when she rose. Her youngest child
straddled her hip.
   Bishop saw the dark wetness on the material of her
dress. “Boy needing changing,” he grunted before he
placed his hat back onto his head and stood. “Sidney
must be miles away by now, and done left a heap of
trouble behind him. White folk gonna make sure some-
body pay, don’t matter who, jus’ as long as it’s one of us
   Mavis nodded her head in agreement and reached over
and pulled a rotten splinter of wood from the railing.
“It’s gonna be hell here,” Bishop declared. “White
men with shotguns coming in by the wagonload since
six this morning.” He pressed his palms into his lower
back and stretched. “Mavis, make sure you keep your
boys close to home, ya hear?”
   And with that he was gone. Mavis blinked and saw
the gray of his shirt disappear around the corner of the
   The killing spree started that evening. Three innocent
men were lynched over just as many nights, and on the
dawn of the fourth day a woman’s terrified screams
echoed through the blue darkness. “Another one,” Eas-
ter gasped as she tiptoed to the front door.
   “A woman?” Even as Mavis uttered the words she
couldn’t believe it.
   “Who you think they got?” Easter whispered.
   Mavis stared wide-eyed.
   The two women had used the kitchen table and
chairs to build a barricade in front of the door and now
   Easter began to quickly dismantle it.
   “What you doing?” Mavis’s voice was fi lled with
   Easter ignored the question. “Help me move this
   Mavis backed away. “I will not!”
   Easter summoned all of her strength and pushed.
   The table slid across the fl oor and Easter pulled the front
door open and stepped out onto the porch.
   “Git your black ass back in here, gal, are you crazy?”
   The torch-wielding mob stomped past the house and
Easter hitched her gown above her ankles and started af-
ter them. Mavis didn’t call to Easter again. She watched
her niece sprint down the road and into the darkness.
Mavis was sure that this was the last time she would see
Easter alive and so turned her face to the heavens and
asked God to make Easter’s death swift and painless.
   Taking shelter behind a tree, Easter stood, unnoticed,
not more than three feet from a mother who had her arm
wrapped casually around the shoulders of her young
   The abducted woman shrieked out again. Easter rec-
ognized the voice and the hairs on the back of her neck
stood up. The crowd parted and Easter’s eyes fell on
Mary Turner’s terrifi ed face.
   Mary stood whimpering and shivering with her arms
wrapped protectively around her swollen belly.
   Someone yelled, “String the bitch up!”
   Isaac, a big, brawny, red-haired man, shoved Mary
hard to the ground and two men rushed forward, one
bracing her fl ailing legs, the other pinning her arms,
both taking pleasure in digging their dirty fi ngernails
into her brown fl esh. Isaac wound the coarse lynch rope
once, twice, three times around her ankles, and then did
the same to her wrists.
   “Castor!” Isaac turned to the crowd and yelled for
his son. “Castor!”
   The woman who stood spitting distance from Easter
bent over and whispered in her son’s ear, “Go on, Cas-
tor, your daddy’s calling you.”
   Castor dutifully trotted over to Isaac and a jubilant
cheer rose up from the crowd.
   “This is my boy’s fi rst lynching!” Isaac proudly an-
nounced, and he handed Castor the tight end of the rope.
   The boy appeared to Easter to be no more than fi ve years
old. Isaac hoisted his son up and onto his broad shoul-
ders. “Toss it over the limb,” Isaac instructed, which
   Castor did successfully on his fi rst try.
   Ten pairs of hands and dozens of mouths heaved and
hoed and slowly Mary’s body rose up . . . up . . . up . . .
until she swung like a pendulum, ticking away the sec-
onds until she would be dead.
   Someone threw a stone that struck her over her eye.
   The next stone caught her squarely in the center of her
forehead. The third one sliced her cheek. Mary begged
for her life and her eyes cried a waterfall of tears.
   There was a splashing sound and the night air was
suddenly fi lled with the smell of gasoline.
   Again Castor was called upon. His father handed
him a torch and Castor wrapped his small fi ngers around
the stem. The flames cast a luminous light on his face.
   The boy was smiling. Time stopped for a moment, and
when it started again Mary was ablaze. She screamed, a
horrible, haunting scream that would stalk the dreams
of Valdosta’s residents for years. Her body jerked and
twitched wildly as the fl ames quickly engulfed her and
she was dead.
   Then the vilest thing happened, the thing that turned
the stomachs of even the evilest members of the group.
   A young man, maybe sixteen, maybe younger, fought his
way to the front of the crowd; his arm was raised, shield-
ing his face from the heat of the fl ames. In his other hand
he clutched the wooden handle of a rusted machete.
He charged toward Mary with the machete held high
above his head and when he was in striking distance
he brought it down in one precise stroke and the blade
split Mary’s belly clean open.
   The infant tumbled bloody and squirming from
her womb, careening downward, stopping just inches
above the ground, its impact thwarted by the umbilical
   The air sucked away. Some women bent and spilled
sick onto their feet. Others clasped their hands over the
eyes of their children. The men looked away and then
looked back again. The second swing of the machete
severed the cord and the baby hit the ground with a soft
thud and lay in the dirt wailing pitifully.
   Isaac looked around and saw that shame had re-
placed the rage of the crowd and one by one the people
turned their backs on him and started home.
   Castor peered down at the crying infant, then up at
his father. “Can I have it, Daddy?”
Isaac shook his head, raised his boot high above the
ground, and brought the heel down onto the baby’s
   The following day Valdosta was as quiet as a crypt and
   Easter was packing to leave.
   “They turn on you,” Mavis murmured as she watched
Easter throw the few pieces of clothing she owned into
her suitcase. “I don’t know why, but they do.” She sat
down on the bed and pulled her knees to her chest. In
that moment Mavis looked just like Easter’s mother, and
Easter almost cried.
   Mavis smoothed her hand absentmindedly across
her hair. “You know, Mary nursed that boy when his
mama was too sick to do it herself.”
   “Which boy? The one that cut her?”
   Mavis shook her head no and leaned back on her
arms. “Castor, the one that lit the fl ame.”
   Easter glanced around the space to make sure she
had everything. When she looked back at Mavis she said,
   “You should come with me. You and the children.”
   Mavis stood and wrapped her arms around Easter and
squeezed. “You don’t even know where you’re going.”
   “Any place gotta be better than here.”
   Mavis stepped away and snorted laughter. “Girl,
every place the same as here, they just go by different
names. Anyway, I’d rather stay here and deal with the
devil I already know.”