The Machine Kathya Alexander I am watching Stokely Carmichael on the television and shelling purple hull peas. We been shelling all week. I am sitting on the floor with a bowl between my legs. My thumb is sore and my fingers is purple and green. Every year at this time our three acres of land is full of green peas and black-eyed peas, peas of every kind and all I can do every day after school is shell peas and more peas. My fingers hurt all the time. I look at the afro on Stokely Carmichael’s head. I want to wear my hair just like his is. But Mama say she ain’t gone let me go out of the house with my hair all nappy like that and standing all over my head. I am listening to the speech that Stokely Carmichael is making. He is part of James Meredith’s March Against Fear. James Meredith was the first colored man to integrate the school at the University of Mississippi. He had planned to do the march pretty much by hisself from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to show that signing the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act ain’t made one bit of difference in the lives of most colored people all over the South. He had ask only a few colored men to come and march with him cause he didn’t want all the press that come with King and white people. But on the second day of his walk, a white man had shot him. After he got shot, Negroes come from everywhere. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by Rev. King and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the young people’s arm of the Civil Rights Movement, which was led by Stokely Carmichael at that time, come to carry on the march in James Meredith’s name. And they ended up with almost 15,000 Negroes who marched off and on during those 220 miles. When the marchers arrived in Greenwood, Mississippi and tried to set up camp at Stone Street Negro Elementary School the police came and arrested Stokely Carmichael and charged him with trespassing on public property. The police hold him for hours before he can rejoin the march at the local park where they done set up camp and was beginning to do a night-time rally. 15,000 Negroes! I will never forget the sight. White folks done went crazy seeing all of these Negroes all together at one time, marching and singing freedom songs. And since this is the first all Negro demonstration, even the whites who like us done got tired of these Negroes. Rev. King and Stokely Carmichael done been arguing the whole week. Cause Stokely Carmichael call us Black for the first time on TV and Rev. King was calling us Negroes like everybody always do. But even Rev. King was saying Black by the time the march was thru. When Stokely Carmichael got back from the police station, he was mad as all get out, and he just jumped up on the speaker’s platform and almost ran over Rev. King. Then he took to the stage and held the microphone and started yelling Black Power over and over. Rev. King look like he tired. Like he is almost to cry. Like he know he done lost all control over the march cause the whole march is in the hands of the young people now. Stokely Carmichael say that politics is a machine that is fueled by white folks who have got all the power. And he say he is tired of asking them if they will share a little of they power with Black folks thru forced integration. He explain to all the people watching on the television that Black Power ain’t got nothing to do with no violence. But they done tried to get white people to do the right thing thru Civil Rights legislation and thru forced integration and Black people is still getting killed by the Klan. James Meredith had tried to not even draw a crowd and his body had been filled with buckshot by a white man. So now Stokely Carmichael say Black folks have got to organize and take control of they own communities for they own self since it is clear that white folks don’t want us to be a part of they communities and they political institutions. He say we need to build a machine of our own. And he say that we need to demonstrate against the police and to defend ourselves from their brutality and aggression. He say it is them who is violent but they want us to think that we wrong when rebel against the white machine’s oppression. “That man is crazy,” my Mama say. “I thought King was crazy but I done seen everything now. And I ain’t black. Look at my skin. All of us is the same color of chocolate brown.” “Black don’t have nothing to do with color,” my brother Quinton turn and say to my mama. “Is white folks the same color as the white paint on the walls? No. But don’t nobody say nothing because white is always better. That’s what Stokely is saying,” Quinton he explain. “Stop letting them make you think that black is less. The white supremacy machine will keep running over you as long as they can get you to think like that.” Well, I don’t know, I’m thinking to myself. Cause whenever you get in a argument with one of your friends, the thing that will hurt somebody’s feelings the worse is if you say to them, “You ole black thang.” Playing the dozens is a game that is based on that. “Yo’ mama so black...” it always start out. But Stokely Carmichael is saying that Black is beautiful. This is something that excite me just to think about. Everybody done always told me that I am pretty but Black beauty seem like something that is different from that. My mama always tell me beauty is as beauty does. And I always felt beautiful in the eyes of my daddy. But now Stokely Carmichael is saying that our blackness can’t hurt us. That my nappy hair and full lips is a good thing, not bad. After going to the white school for over a year that is a thought that I like to have swimming in my head. Cause when you see the white girls keep getting chosen for prom queen whether they is better or not, it start to get to you. So I hold Stokely Carmichael’s words in a corner of my heart, but I just keep shelling these peas like Mama tell me to do. At the end of his speech, he keep screaming Black Power! And all the people in the crowd scream the words back at him. Mama tell Quinton to get up and turn the television off and she tell all of us to bring the peas in the kitchen so she can blanche them to get them ready for the deep freezer. The walls is almost dripping from all of the steam. I get up and pour all my peas in the big iron cooker, and listen to Quint and Mama argue while I get ready for bed. we who believe in freedom cannot rest we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Kathya Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller, and teaching artist. Her writing has appeared in ColorsNW Magazine, Arkana Magazine, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace, Native Skin, and The Pitkin Review. She has won the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award; 4Culture’s Artists Projects Award; and the WRAP Award, Youth Arts Award, and the CityArtist Award from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Her play, HomeGoing, was chosen for residency at Hedgebrook Women’s Writer’s Retreat and her play, Black To My Roots: African American Tales from the Head and the Heart, won the Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award in Edinburgh, Scotland for Outstanding New Production and Innovation in Theater. She has a BA in Speech Communication from the University of Illinois-Urbana and an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Her collection of short stories, Angel in the Outhouse, is available on Amazon.