By Betty DeRamus
to Hear Webcast from Virginia
Festival of the Book
(Go to "Listen to Events" & Scroll down to "Passage to Freedom: Legacies of Slavery")
Chapter 1: Love in a Time of Hate
Joseph Antoine would have found the 21st century as baffling as ballet is to a bulldog. He wouldn’t have understood married couples who split up before their wedding flowers wilt or their new woks and washing machines lose their showroom shine. He wouldn’t have understood why black marriage, as an institution, began dwindling so drastically after 1940. He wouldn’t have understood why black children, who once could count on honorary “aunts” and “uncles” on every plantation, now, in some cases, boil their own oatmeal and tuck themselves into bed. Most of all he wouldn’t have understood why, for some men, falling in love became a fatal flaw, the crack in a man’s smooth chocolate-ice-cream cool.
For the love of a woman, Joseph Antoine sat in a jail cell, churning out letters that explained how he wound up in the trap baited, set and sprung by his wife’s owner.
For the love of a woman, Joseph Antoine stood on an auction block to be sold like a keg of bourbon or a hog.
For the love of a woman, Joseph Antoine signed away his freedom and became an indentured servant or temporary slave for seven and one-half years. His court petitions and records document his struggle to hold on to his wife, no matter how large or even deadly a price he was required to pay……
She was a slave owned by a man named Jonathon Purcell, who was born in 1754 in Hampshire, Virginia, now West Virginia. Antoine married her—or what passed for marriage in American slave societies. Her name is not known, and no pictures of her or Antoine survive. Maybe she was a black beauty with the kind of high-riding hips that could support a bundle or rock a baby, Africa oozing from every pore. Or maybe she was a pale woman with a slant to her eyes and a whisper of silk and cinnamon in her hair. Or perhaps Antoine just looked into eyes the color of morning coffee and saw something that told him that in this far-off place called Virginia he’d managed to find a home….
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