by Willow Hart
The prologue to my first proper novel, set in a fictional town in 1920s Alabama.
It was Sunday, much too hot for autumn, and the sun was a bright disc in the sky. A hanging on a holy day! Perhaps they had gone too far this time. But, no – I didn’t believe that. There was no perhaps about it. They had gone too far, and I knew it.
My father was one of them. The tallest of the group, the only one in the large, pointed hood and full robe. The others stood beside him, laughing and cheering, clapping their hands and catcalling. I could hear them all the way down the street. It sickened me. How could my own father be one of them? Had he no respect at all for anyone but himself? I drew the curtain sharply and turned my back on the window, trying to steady the anger and injustice boiling in my veins. I swallowed convulsively. Downstairs, I heard my mom clattering around in the kitchen, baking a large chocolate cake for the church hall fête that afternoon. Baking, when my father was out there, about to march to a clearing in the nearest park, him and a thousand other people, who would watch whilst he...but I couldn’t even think the word.
I had never known a crueller way to die before this. And the reason? The boy – yes, boy, not much older than I was – was black. How could something as trivial as skin colour amount to something so horrible as a public hanging – ‘lynching’ they called it – in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of filthy people who believed that coloured people should be condemned? If anything, they should be cared for even more because of the suffering they had endured before any of us were even born! Did the words of Our Lord not matter at all? Could they try for any remorse?
I had never hated anyone as much as I hated my father. I hated him for his prejudice, his lack of respect, his lack of care and protection, and above all, lack of respect for equality. Every day on the way to school, I had to pass the ‘Trade With Klan’ and ‘No Colored Persons Allowed’ signs in store windows, the cramped dilapidated streets where coloured families were forced to live, herded like cattle, and – the injustice of it infuriates me – the Abraham Lincoln Middle School for coloured children, collapsed and broken and hardly in any state to educate anybody. But that was the point – a school that mirrored the social status of black people in our town. And, every day, I was forced to sit back and watch how these people were being treated, knowing that I was powerless to stop it. My own father!
Trembling, I sank back onto the bed. Yes, I was powerless. But the Lord, surely, was not! Knowing that I could never physically do anything to stop what was happening to these poor people, there was only the option of prayer left to me. If I couldn’t save the boy from the lynch mob awaiting him, then I could at least ask God to watch over his suffering family. It would not bring them justice, but perhaps it would bring them comfort to know that someone, somewhere, cared about what was happening to them. It was all I could do, as the uproar from outside, the yells and the cheers that meant the boy had successfully been killed, reached my ears.
Somewhere in the distance, the bells of the church began to chime.