I took the train
from Toronto, through New York,
To Savannah Georgia
and am heading up
Travelling by train through New York state, yellow, red to copper autumn
leaves all over. Over Niagara Falls, where the Passport controllers and
custom dogs come sniffing your ankles for unwanted exotics.
Dark by 5.30 now that clocks have gone back an hour. Smokers getting off
at stations for cigarette. Shivering out on the platform, inhaling together,
eight or nine, dying for their puff before boarding the train again and
on towards New York. Through the Darkness now, silhouettes of trees, street
lights, gas stations fluorescent lights, "Mobil", office buildings,
as we approach a town called. "Eudaka"
The train wheels hammering, thuds in rhythm along the tracks.
I stretched my legs and back I walk to the back of the carriage outside,
between this and the one behind, to play harmonica to myself where you
can feel the wheels shifting and almost jumping the tracks, pins rattling,
cold air roaring through the joints of the coaches.
through places called Schenectady, Yonkers, suburbs of New York City.
Tomorrow train down towards Carolina- Georgia.
South from New York towards Washington DC,
The Autumnal season is later, leaves still upon the trees, clinging. Sunlight
across fields, through trees from the west as we roll South.
Stopping to change the electric engine for a diesel.
I realize how much I have missed train travelling, the back yards, paths,
fields, lakes that you would never see on a bus, no stressful motorway
traffic, and fast lanes. Sharp turns, jams.
It is quieter, you can get up and stretch.
Travelling overnight saved hotel bills and time, but I didn't sleep so
well, I would have tossed and turned in a normal bed anyhow! The train
stopped and was held up for 40 minutes an hour another place. So dark
outside you don't know where you are, might see dark trees against a moonless
sky, telephone poles go by.
Through West Virginia, Raleigh and east coast places.
In the cafe folks smoking, drinking beer, Rum and coke, playing cards,
chatting about redundancies, lay offs, illegal immigrants, work. vacations.
Throughout carriages, other folks sleeping, across seats, crooked, foetal
positions. babies, young kids gathered up in arms. Pillowed. Eyes under
tilted hats, a woman a sleep, holding teddy in her lap, hers or a child's?
Sprawled, legs hanging, shoes kicked off. all over the seat everywhichway,
like Pompeii, Asleep upright, arms folded, one arm above a head. blanket
wrapped, one tosses, turns and wriggles, some sleep mouths open, old couples,
one snoring as the train rolls, black and white folks all. some wake and
stand awhile to stretch.
In Savannah I walked
around the black folks part of town, as usual, I was told, by white folks,
not to go, stories of mugging knives etc. The usual white phobia or paranoia
here of black people. It is still segregated, i.e. where people live etc.
I met a lovely black man, Johnny, gentle and proud. Raised as a Baptist.
We talked. He showed me his church, the first African Baptist Church built
here, and a couple of other places, old houses.
The first African
Baptist church is here, it houses the oldest church organ, pews of oak,
some with tribal markings and Arabic, descendants of west African slaves
came to worship here. The first black Baptist priests.
The church seems to be the community meeting place, songs were sung by
slaves in secret language, Gullah, as they were normally forbidden to
speak to each other.
Here in Savanna
there is much black Heritage, and a history of struggle.As a 12 year old,
in 1842, Levi Allensworth broke a Kentucky law when he taught himself
to read and write! I saw and heard some of the story of the struggle in
a 6 week old "Civil Rights" museum, telling how it was with
Crow, interviewing folks who were kids at the time. Kids who challenged
the "apartheid, or Jim Crow laws. by walking into white only restaurants
asking to be served politely, and of course they were refused, and arrested
for persisting to stay and for asking for a sandwich or a coffee. How
the cops were called on them for refusing to leave, and for demanding
to be treated as human beings. The wide black boycott of white businesses,
shops back then was a success, those shops who wanted black custom and
but refused to give black people book-keeping jobs as clerks etc, or to
let them eat with the whites. Blacks shared baby clothes, kids clothes
at the church, swapping garments with each
other rather than buy them in the white shops. In 1954, School segregation
was ended by law, yet blacks who tried to go to school had to walk past
vicious taunts of white protesters. In 1957 Little Rock Arkansas.
They needed bodyguards and any white child that was friendly, like sharing
text book, was ostracized. There's a saying, if it doesn't kill you, It
make you stronger. "The first black cops were appointed here, If
an eighth part black you were forbidden certain positions and work.
The museum celebrates black achievements in struggle, the heroes, teachers,
women, politicians who fought against slavery, Jim crow and racism.
A wonderful wood
carver, self taught, Savannah has a museum dedicate to his work. Started
carving at 10 years old. Also saw cloth painting and batik exhibition.
The gallery is in old wooden part of town. Most of the old
grand houses are renovated, Gentrification took place, urban renewal they
call it but it was really the removal of black folks from the center to
the outskirts of Savannah. I saw old Contracts for bill of sale of slaves,
a woman and her two sons for $800, and others, also a pair of manacles.
There is a kind
of coiled basket weaving here that slaves brought from Africa, it has
survived and taken root in the new land, something ancestors left
to the folks weaving today and something they will leave to their kids.
grass is used, it grows in sand dunes, a warm season plant, they dry the
leaves out in the sun for a week or 10 days, sew the slender blades into
successive coils, lacing in strips of palmetto and pine needles for colour
and contrast. Making cooking vessel, dishes, flower vases, circular trays
called fanners to separate grains of rice from chaff and husks. Men used
to make them and use sturdy bulrush grass for agricultural containers.
Using almost the same methods they still use in Senegal and West Africa.
Making baskets from childhood, they are trying to keep the tradition alive,
keeping it a family centered activity, harvesting the leaves, sewing baskets,
It seems to help kids understand their identities.
The Hallelujah singers
were entertaining. Funny and teasing each other and the audience. Proud
to tell us all that this place in South Carolina, was the
genesis, the center for Afro American culture. This is where the plantations
were and the slaves were brought, this where they came off those crowded
boats where more than 50% died on the voyage. Some even threw themselves
to the sharks and smothered their babies, so that their souls could
travel back home to West Africa.
The group sang gospel songs, soul singing, moving and deep, deep. My
favorite music as always, but they also told/acted out stories, The them
was life and death, and they staged a funeral of "Rev" Wearing
black and waving fans, the women all dressed for mourning in the church
where we played in a town called Beaufort. The women would take the floor
and tell their story, or prayer, full of irony and jokes, they gave accounts
of their husbands and kids and husbands "No good " Brother.
How unchristian certain
people were. etc. They were being satirical of each other and there own
characters were comic, This between the serious and moving songs, made
the songs stand out more, gave them more depth and the celebration of
the African culture, life and death was so much more
human and earthy rather than sentimental and cold and distant.
They enjoyed my songs, liked my voice, said that I sang with a full
heart and soul. They said I must have religion but It didn't have a
name. I said it was Love. They enjoyed "A kind of
Loneliness" Also "Song for Busking Ronnie" a slow lament
made up years ago for a old busking mate who died. They were flattering
saying my story songs were a kind of emotional poetry and full of real
people they felt they could, see, touch and meet. They liked my accent
too! I told them I liked their singing too, it was inspirational and generous
medicine and nourishment for the soul. There were some 14 folks warm and
swapped tapes. It was a popular evening, mixed crowd, in a church. Hymns
were sung at the beginning, a woman played piano. There were Baptist hymn
books so you could sing the words. I tried to guess/jam the
tunes. We shall overcome was one I knew. I sang a gig in Wales with a
Black British Gospel choir from Islington years ago, they were lovely
too, calling each other brother and sister and caring for each other,
reminded me so much of them, so refreshing after all the arrogant, ego
swelling and backbiting competitiveness of the music business/ world.
I will finish this
so I can send it to you. I get on the train and travel back up the coast
I have caught a chill. It was warm then climate changed and got cold.
usual working late and up early to catch a bus or train.
Hi. I just got to Toronto!
Off to Newfoundland Thursday.
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