In the rich bottom lands near the Chattahooche River in western Coweta County, Georgia, stretches miles of fine cotton fields. Stately plantation homes, while sparse, are built on the rare anomalies of elevated terrain and are shaded by massive red oak trees. You can’t miss the structures, white with majestic columned porches.
Summers are stifling in west Coweta County. The relentless blazing sun generates temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The cotton is white and fluffy and ready for careful picking. Bloody and painful are the fingers stabbed by the points on a dried cotton boll. The picking crews are Black slaves, some whole families, others a collection of folks wanting to stay alive, to live another day.
Making their way to the fields just as the sun breaks the horizon, their bodies draped with tattered clothes, they walk shoeless. Tow sacks are bundled and tucked under their arms. One young man is carrying a bucket of water. A woman carries a cloth bag with lunch. Walk and pick, walk and pick, they will fill their tow-sacks at least four times during the day. Stopping only for water and a noontime meal of biscuits and lard.
Two miles up the dusty road is the plantation house. The children, roused from sleep and ready for the day, come to a table spread with fried eggs, slices of cured ham, hot biscuits and gravy, milk and coffee aplenty. The Black cook watches as the White wealthy family eats. The cook imagines her own daughter, still hungry, walking to the cotton fields in the fleeting shadows of daybreak.
The homes of the slaves, more honestly, the tiny shanties of the workers are silhouetted dark against the dawn light. A few have screen doors, most don’t. None have glass windows. Just open squares to catch some breezes in the night. Bottomland flies and mosquitoes visit frequently. Sawed tree stumps serve as chairs around a cobbled table and worn pallets over straw are the beds. No books, no Bible, no magazines. A few candles stand on a rough shelf. A pan or two for cooking hang on bent nails. The fire pit waits out back where skinny, ragged chickens peck at anything. We stand here looking at ineffable poverty.
A noise rouses our attention. We step back into the shadows of the room. A poor young dark-skinned woman is carried in, pushed in by an older man. We hold our breath and bristle with cold fear. What is going to happen? The man lowers the young girl to a pallet as she cries in pain. The man kneels beside her and speaks gently, “Now, now is the time.”
In minutes a baby belts out into the darkness its first cry. The girl smiles through tears; the man wipes her forehead with a rag. The Son of God cries in the shanty’s dark silence. Nothing will be the same.