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Cass sneak in pretty late that night and the next few days he lay low. But

Addie Bell ain’t say no more about Cass getting married. So along Monday

or Tuesday Cass get up his nerve and mention the insurance again.


Playing Policy & One Sumptuous Meal



Heavenly Preaching & One Fine Funeral

A Negro Folktale


The Lord ain’t going let nobody get away with no meanness. Sometimes it look like he ain’t paying no mind to what happen, he let some folks get by so long. Then again, don’t nobody know a person is up to no devilment till the Lord put the sign of his vengeance on them. Yes, the Lord moves in a mysterious way. But he do move.

Like it was with Addie Bell Henslee and her brother Cass, the time Cass want to get married. Cass come home this Friday night and say to Addie Bell, “Addie Bell, I going get married with Josephine tomorrow week.”

Addie Bell don’t like that a-tall.

“What the name of God you talking about, Cass? She say. “What ail you, you slim-limb brain, frizz-head fool? You mean that lanky, haggy-looking Josie Foxhall? You ain’t got no business marrying that dim yellow bat-face wench. She’s so snotty she won’t speak to her own mama. You ain’t got no business marrying nobody. You got all the womens you wants rights here on North Central Street. Far as that go, you got this Josie, too, so what for you want to marry her?”

“Josephine she think we ought to get married,” Cass say. “It seems like the right thing to do. And please, Addie, don’t call her Josie. You know how she like for folks to call her her right name, Josephine.”

Addie Bell say, “Oh she do, do she? Josephine, huh? Well I got a lots better names for her than that. Just you wait till I sees her! I show will tell her a few mouthfulls of something. That shriveled out, shrunk up, pale faced hussy! She look like a frostbit pole bean. I swear I believe you done plumb lost your mind, Cass.”

So they talk and they argue. They go on like this for a long spell. And Addie bell she ask how come Cass ain’t please to stay with her like he always done.

“Aint’t I always take good care of you and provide for you good?”  she say. “Is you ever have to turn a lick of work, you black weazled, monkey-face baboon? You the laziest Negro in town. And ain’t I always keep up insurance on you to bury you good? Ain’t never a week I fails to pay your quarter benefits long with mine. And now when you is getting so old you almost dead anyway, you wants to go and get married! Old age done smite you in the head, Cass. You done gone and got soft in the head.”

Cass say, “That just what I want to talk to you about, Addie. About the insurance, I mean. A man’s wife is due and bound to get his insurance, Addie. Everybody know that. I done tell Josephine I knowed you won’t mind, to make her the beneficiary.”

“You what?” Addie Bell say. “You tell her you knowed I won’t mind? I see you toasting on a pitchfork in hell before I sees that dough-face slut collect any insurance that I paid the benefits on.”

Cass don’t get much sleep that night. Addie Bell take on something awful. Ever once in a while she let up and Cass figure she about wore out now. He say to himself, she bound to quit now. Then she start in again twice as strong.

Cass turn over on the bed and stuff the bedclothes in his ears, but he can’t shut out Addie Bell. It go on this way all night long and Cass can’t stand it much longer. Soon as gray begin to crack in the sky he get up and leave the house.

Cass sneak in pretty late that night and the next few days he lay low. But Addie Bell ain’t say no more about Cass getting married. So along Monday or Tuesday Cass get up his nerve and mention the insurance again.

He say, “Josephine and me aiming to get married this coming Saturday, Addie. I sure do hope you has decided to fix up that insurance all right?”

Addie Bell say yes, she done study and decide Cass is right. She say she made the insurance over soon as Cass and Josie get married.

So the insurance man come around that Wednesday to collect the benefit. And Addie Bell double Cass’ insurance. So now it cost fifty cents a week where it only cost twenty-five. But Addie Bell know that the last time she have to pay the benefits.

Friday night Addie Bell fix Cass a sure enough fine supper. She say, “Cass, this is the last time I get to cook for you, so I wants you to enjoy and remember it. I done fix everything you likes best. There’s the likeliest mess of turnip greens you ever see, cook with a whole hog jowl and plenty of poke salad mixed in. And corn pone and buttermilk to go along. And there’s oodles of fried chicken, cooked all crunchy and brown like you likes it. And a big pot of black-eyed peas with the hot pepper chow-chow you likes. I do hope you likes it, Cass.”

Cass like it, all right. That Cass was one man relish eating. He eat like a old black Betsy sow with ten new pigs. He clean the table off.

Addie Bell ain’t eat none herself. She just stand by and wait on Cass. “Have some more poke salad, Cass,” she say. “Let me pour you some more buttermilk. And there’s a sweet tater pie for desert. I wants you to eat hearty, Cass.”

Cass eat hearty, all right. He shoveled it in like the Negro firemens stoking the Robert E. Lee.

About half hour after supper Cass sit in the front stoop smoking his old corn cob. All to once he grab his belly and bend up plumb double. He fall out of the chair and commence to hollow till all the Negroes on North Central Street heard him and come a-running. “Oh, Addie, honey, I’m a-dying! Oh, Addie, call the doctor quick!”

“Hush your mouth, you fool no-good Negro!” Addie Bell say. “Ain’t nothing the matter with you except you done made a hog of yourself. You plain done eat too much. You ain’t need a doctor no more than I does.”

But Cass he done died by time the last Negro get there from the far end of North Central Street. So they lay Cass out on the bed and put some money pieces on his eyelids. They turn the mirror and pictures to the wall. Some of them start to moan.

“Poor Cass!” they say. “Poor Cass, you gone and left us. Done gone and left poor Addie. Done gone and left poor Josie. Poor Cass, poor Cass, done gone to meet Sweet Jesus!”

Some of them whispers and say, “Poor Cass sure do die hard. That look bad for Addie. Cass come back and haint her, sure.”

But Addie Bell ain’t seem much upset. When she see Cass done plumb dead she call the insurance doctor. So the doctor come and look at Cass and he say Cass is dead.

So he ask Addie some questions about Cass and how old he is and how he die. And he fill out the papers to say Cass die with acute indigestion, which mean with a god-awful bellyache.

When the doctor leave, Addie Bell call the undertaker and they lay Cass out for burying. They wrap Cass up in winding sheets and lay him out on the cooling board. Addie Bell tell the undertaker to do the funeral up in high style, cause she get twice as much insurance as usual. She say she want Cass to have the biggest and best funeral North Central Street ever see.

Then Addie Bell call some regular moaners to come in and help them moan. And now Addie Bell got the business all done, so she start in to moan herself. She carry on more than anybody.

Some of them say this look funny. “How come?” they say to one another, “Addie Bell ain’t put out till now. She ain’t seem much broke up at first, and now she moan louder than anybody.”

“That ain’t all look funny,” say some others. “How come Cass die on this Friday? Just when he about to get married tomorrow? And Addie Bell don’t seem no bit surprised when he die. There’s something someway peculiar.”

So they talk to one another, but Addie Bell ain’t take no notice And when Josie Foxhall come in, Addie kiss her and call her, “Poor honey.” And each cry down the other one’s neck.

The Negroes come in from near and far to set up with the corpse and help moan. They bring plenty white corn to keep wakeful and they moan for three nights and two days.

On the third day they hold Cass’ funeral. Negroes come from all over and the church house was plumb packed full. When you stand off a piece and look at it, the walls looks like they bulge out. There was old Negroes, young Negroes, rich Negroes, poor Negroes, near Negroes, far Negroes, and a lots that just plain Negroes. And some of them sad and some of them glad, but all of them pretty well drunk. There’s more Negroes and autos on hand than North Central Street ever see. That sure is a fine funeral.

Out in the church yard the grave is dug, six foot deep and six long. And a awning spread overhead to keep it dry if it rain. And a striped canopy awning from the church door out to the street. But ain’t no cloud in the sky, and the June sun shine like a wash day fire. Sure is a fine day for the funeral.

Inside the church house there so many Negroes don’t look like there’s room for the corpse. But Cass lying there right up front in a satin-lined coffin with gold handles. And the ferns and flowers stack waist deep all around. That sure is a mighty fine funeral.

So the preacher get up and they sing some hymns and they sure do sing them sweet. The window panes rattle and the shingles shake and the whole church house creak and groan.

Then the preacher commence to pray and he pray for mo than a hour. This preacher name Brother Bumpas and he sure can pray and preach. Then they all sing another hymn, and the preacher commence to preach. And he preach all about Heaven.

“Brethern and sisters,” he say, “we ought all of us think about Heaven, but most of the time we don’t. But when the Lord call one among us, then we should stop and study about it.

“And now that Cass is in Heaven, we wonder what do he find there? I tell you brethren and sisters, he find it a wondrous place.

“When Cass enter them pearly gates, amazement done seize upon him. He find it a land some ways like the earth, only a lot more prettier. Like the prettiest place on this earth, only a lot more prettier.

“Now consider these flowers and ferns,” he say, “that stack all about Cass’ coffin. Do Cass find flowers like these in heaven? Well, he do and he don’t. Fine as these flowers here is, they don’t hold a nubbin to them that’s in heaven. There is ferns and flowers and shrubs that’s bigger and greener than any on this earth. Cass he see roses and flowers, flowers and roses. He see red rose, pink roses, yaller roses, white roses, he even see green and blue roses. He see roses that’s spotted all colors, like the fantail peacock’s feathers.

“He see birds and beasts about him of every sort and conditions. He see lambs and dogs, and hawks and doves, and love birds and lions all about him. And they is all friends with one another and friends with the peoples likewise. The fleas and the skeeters don’t bite and they ain’t bedbugs a-tall. Everything in heaven is just like Cass like it, only a whole lot more so.

Brother Bumpas say Cass get his reward for the good life he led on this earth. He tell what a fine place Heaven is and what a good time Cass have there.

He say, “Cass ain’t got no troubles of no kind, now that he is in heaven. There ain’t no wars in heaven and there ain’t no sweetheart troubles. There ain’t no work to do and there ain’t no bills to pay. And there ain’t no taxes neither, and likewise no stinky smells.

“All times the weather just right, so don’t nobody talk none about it. It don’t rain, nor thunder, nor lightning, nor snow, but there’s always plenty of water.

“Don’t nobody notice the time, cause in heaven time just stand still. Say Cass take his self a catnap. Maybe so he sleep ten million years but it just like he doze for ten minutes. He wake up with his friends close about him. Then might be eat him some breakfast. A few pork chops, maybe, or maybe fried chicken, with coffee and preserves and hot biscuits. Or anything else he might like. All this he get and lots more, cause he live for the Lord on this earth.”

Brother Bumpas say Cass always is been a mighty man at the praying.

“In heaven,” he say, “there’s no praying. The Lord don’t never pray, cause He got nobody to pray to. We don’t pray no more, cause there ain’t no sin no longer. And we don’t have to go to no church.

“But while we is on this earth it behoove us to meet and pray mightily. That way we can all get to heaven. O brethren, oh sisters, I tell you, that heaven’s a sweet place to be!

“Cass will be there to greet us and all them that’s gone before him. And the Lord and the angels will sing and all of us join in the singing.”

So Brother Bumpas preach, and he preach for more than three hours. It sure was a mighty fine preaching.

And now the preaching is done and they most ready to put Cass away. They stand up to sing the last hymn, and Addie Bell go up to lead. She stand there right beside Cass. She close to the pulpit, right under the organ loft. She commences to sing “Steal Away.”

Addie Bell singing sweet, sure enough. She more than a little bit tight, holding to the coffin with one hand and swaying like a sycamore sapling. The organ is bumbling and grumbling and Addie Bell singing so sweet. The others all singing too, and stomping they feets, slow like. The whole church house creaking and groaning.

And then all to once it give way. The church house floor spread apart and the rafters crack and bust loose. The walls commence to swag in and the roof shingles cracking apart. The whole organ loft sway out from the wall.

Then the organ bust loose and fall. It just miss the coffin, it just miss the pulpit. Right smack on Addie it fall and squash her totally flat.

And that lick finish the house. On through the floor do the organ. Organ, pulpit, coffin and all, on down to the ground dirt, eight foot below. The whole floor bust plumb loose and everybody fall eight foot to the ground. And the rafters cave in about them.

The coffin hit the ground with a smack. It bust open and fling Cass out. There he sit with his eyes wide open, prop up against one of the high stilt posts that’s suppose to hold the floor up. He staring right at Addie Bell. And one of his arms fling straight out in from of him, pointing right at her. Addie Bell deader than Cass is now, squash totally flat by the organ. And nobody else ain’t hurt.

So after that, folks all know. They all know Addie bell poison Cass so he can’t marry Josephine Foxhall. Addie Bell done poison Cass and the Lord strike her dead for her meanness.

But that sure was one fine funeral. The Negroes on North Central Street ain’t never forget it till yet.

Source: Tennessee Writers' Project. God Bless the Devil: Liar's Bench Tales by James R. Aswell, etal. University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

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Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 25 March 2012




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