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A Mess Of Pottage
by [?]

The people laughed and applauded, and Lane went to his work. They were quiet and attentive. Every now and then some old brother grunted and shook his head. But in the main they merely listened.

Lane was pleasing, plausible and convincing, and the brass band which he had brought with him was especially effective. The audience left the church shaking their heads with a different meaning, and all the way home there were remarks such as, “He sholy tol’ de truth,” “Dat man was right,” “They ain’t no way to ‘ny a word he said.”

Just at that particular moment it looked very dark for the other candidate, especially as the brass band lingered around an hour or so and discoursed sweet music in the streets where the negroes most did congregate.

Twenty years ago such a thing could not have happened, but the ties which had bound the older generation irrevocably to one party were being loosed upon the younger men. The old men said “We know;” the young ones said “We have heard,” and so there was hardly anything of the blind allegiance which had made even free thought seem treason to their fathers.

Now all of this was the reason of the great indignation that was rife in the breasts of other Little Africans and which culminated in a mass meeting called by Deacon Isham Swift and held at Bethel Chapel a few nights later. For two or three days before this congregation of the opposing elements there were ominous mutterings. On the streets little knots of negroes stood and told of the terrible thing that had taken place at Mount Moriah. Shoulders were grasped, heads were wagged and awful things prophesied as the result of this compromise with the general enemy. No one was louder in his denunciation of the treacherous course of the Rev. Ebenezer Clay than the Republican bellwether, Deacon Swift. He saw in it signs of the break-up of racial integrity and he bemoaned the tendency loud and long. His son Tom did not tell him that he had gone to the meeting himself and had been one of those to come out shaking his head in acquiescent doubt at the truths he had heard. But he went, as in duty bound, to his father’s meeting.

The church was one thronging mass of colored citizens. On the platform, from which the pulpit had been removed, sat Deacon Swift and his followers. On each side of him were banners bearing glowing inscriptions. One of the banners which the schoolmistress had prepared read:

“His temples are our forts and towers which frown upon a tyrant foe.”

The schoolmistress taught in a mixed school. They had mixed it by giving her a room in a white school where she had only colored pupils. Therefore she was loyal to her party, and was known as a woman of public spirit.

* * * * *

The meeting was an enthusiastic one, but no such demonstration was shown through it all as when old Deacon Swift himself arose to address the assembly. He put Moses Jackson in the chair, and then as he walked forward to the front of the platform a great, white-haired, rugged, black figure, he was heroic in his very crudeness. He wore a long, old Prince Albert coat, which swept carelessly about his thin legs. His turndown collar was disputing territory with his tie and his waistcoat. His head was down, and he glanced out of the lower part of his eyes over the congregation, while his hands fumbled at the sides of his trousers in an embarrassment which may have been pretended or otherwise.

“Mistah Cheerman,” he said, “fu’ myse’f, I ain’t no speakah. I ain’t nevah been riz up dat way. I has plowed an’ I has sowed, an’ latah on I has laid cyahpets, an’ I has whitewashed. But, ladies an’ gent’men, I is a man, an’ as a man I want to speak to you ter-night. We is lak a flock o’ sheep, an’ in de las’ week de wolf has come among ouah midst. On evah side we has hyeahd de shephe’d dogs a-ba’kin’ a-wa’nin’ unto us. But, my f’en’s, de cotton o’ p’ospe’ity has been stuck in ouah eahs. Fu’ thirty yeahs er mo’, ef I do not disremember, we has walked de streets an’ de by-ways o’ dis country an’ called ouahse’ves f’eemen. Away back yander, in de days of old, lak de chillen of Is’ul in Egypt, a deliv’ah came unto us, an Ab’aham Lincoln a-lifted de yoke f’om ouah shouldahs.” The audience waked up and began swaying, and there was moaning heard from both Amen corners.