THE SLAVE MARKET
As they approached the Plaza, they heard loud shouting and raucous laughter coming from a group of men standing around a raised platform at its center. Coming closer, they saw the platform was occupied by three white men and six bedraggled and frightened Negroes. When Jacob saw this, he looked questioningly at Lou Ann. She quickly answered, “Jacob, we are witnessing a slave auction. One of the white men is the auctioneer and the other is his assistant. The third white man seated at the table handles the money they collect from the sale.”
Jacob watched spellbound as the auctioneer’s assistant picked up one end of a chain to which the cuffed wrists of a tall, muscular, male Negro were attached. The shackled black man resisted defiantly by pulling back on the chain, which prompted the assistant to kick him into submission. This display of mastery over a slave must have pleased the onlookers, as they snickered.
The five other slaves huddled together, as their sparse clothing was no protection from the chill November temperature. Or perhaps they clung together for self-preservation, as their terror was obvious for all to see.
As Jacob looked at the scene before him, he drew in his breath so audibly that it caused Lou Ann to jump in alarm. She quickly responded, “I can see from your reaction, Jacob, that York doesn’t have a slave market. I’m sorry you’re seeing this, as it is brutal. I never come here because I can’t bear to watch. Please, let’s leave.”
However, Jacob, as though rooted to the spot, remained standing there. The auctioneer’s helper jerked on the chain, pulling the black man’s chained hands above his head to better display his muscular body. The auctioneer proceeded to describe the slave’s qualifications. This bit of showmanship quickly brought a bid from one of the bystanders, to which the auctioneer nodded his head to accept the offer. As soon as the transaction was completed, the auctioneer gave the black slave a violent shove, and the poor man was thrown from the platform into the waiting hands of his new owner.
Now Lou Ann pleaded to leave, but Jacob didn’t respond, nor did he move from where he was standing. She and Danny looked at him and realized Jacob was transfixed.
The auctioneer now turned to another slave, a trembling black woman, whom he roughly pulled onto the auction block. The male bidders guffawed as they viewed this new offering. Now, with his bidders’ renewed interest, the auctioneer proceeded to rip her already torn clothing from her upper body, exposing her full breasts. Despite being chained, the poor woman dropped to her knees, clutched her arms about her half-naked body, and wailed. Unaffected by the woman’s misery, the auctioneer continued to verbalize her features. “She’s as strong as a horse, and easy to mount and ride, over and over. She’s already proved her ability to produce, as she has a healthy male baby, also for sale – at an additional price.”
The auctioneer’s explanation brought lewd comments from the men standing about the platform and their hands reached out to verify her described charms. With this, the auctioneer called out, “Get your hands off!! This here’s valuable property.”
The frightened black woman remained in a kneeling position as the auctioneer’s helper tore the remaining clothing from her body, leaving her entirely naked. He then kicked her, and she toppled into a crouched position, exposing her bare backside for all to view. This last indignity proved too much for Jacob, and he cried out from sheer indignation.
Lou Ann and Danny reacted immediately by taking Jacob’s arms and literally dragging him away to their waiting carriage. Danny immediately untied Jezebel, and they drove away. Jacob made no comment during their return drive, but sat bolt upright as though his whole body was about to explode in revolt against what they had just witnessed.
When they reached the Whitfield residence, Jacob finally found his voice, demanding, “Lou Ann, I want to speak to you – alone!” Jacob’s unaccustomed stern tone made Lou Ann defensive, but she wisely led him to a bench in the winter-brown garden where they could be alone.
Once they were seated, Lou Ann put her warm gloved hands over his tightly gripped fists, and drew nearer to him. However, her closeness failed to mellow his determination. Without mincing words, he shouted, “You believe in slavery! You and your family keep slaves within your household. You are part of something I abhor!” With his accusation now put into words, he awaited her reply.
Stunned, Lou Ann remained quiet for a few seconds before answering, “Jacob, I could never inflict the misery we just saw on either an animal or on a human. You’ve never seen any member of my family – brother, mother or father – taking part in this cruel treatment. Within our home, the slaves are well treated! We don’t even refer to them as slaves. We call them retainers.”
Lou Ann concentrated on her next rationale before continuing. “Most of the African slaves are, and were, betrayed by their own countrymen while still in Africa. In most cases, they were abducted and sold by their own neighbors or even family. It is the Europeans who are the slave traders. They transport them to the Caribbean Islands, and as far north as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. And,” she paused, “it’s a proven fact that most slaves will have a better life here in this country than they ever had in Africa.” She straightened her whole body as she spoke. “Additionally, their souls are saved! Here we teach them Christianity!”
Now almost in tears, Lou Ann looked down as she softly added, “I think you know I have told you the truth.” Her words enveloped Jacob with a flood of relief. He realized what she just confided in him was the absolute truth. The Whitfield family did not practice the cruelty of other slave owners. She even said how much she detested slavery, and she agreed with all of his objections to slavery. Thus, to his mind, she and her family were completely absolved.
To him, Lou Ann was perfect in every way, and he loved her so much. With a jumble of feelings, he said, “Lou Ann I know you told me the truth. You could never be guilty of the horrible actions we saw today.”
He inhaled deeply before his next words spilled from his emotional depth. Then, breathlessly, he said, “Lou Ann, I love you, and I need you always by my side. Will you marry me?”
Without hesitation, she replied, “Oh yes, I’m in love with you too, Jay, and I’ll happily be your bride.” As they passionately kissed to seal their commitment, they heard a soft melodious whistle coming from behind the lilac bushes beside the stable. The sound of Danny’s acceptance whistle brought Jacob’s mind back to reality. Although they had just made their mutual commitment in the privacy of the garden, he felt he should ask her father for her hand in marriage. To him, this seemed the correct and proper way.
He loosened her arms from about his neck, and said softly in her ear, “I think, my dear sweet Lou Ann, I should first ask your father for his permission to marry you. Then, with his blessing, we can set a date for our wedding. I hope you agree with me.” Lou Ann looked surprised. However, she realized this was their best way to set a wedding date.
Then, with trepidation, he asked, “In the meantime, please don’t tell anyone. Can you keep our engagement a secret until I ask your father for your hand?” She giggled as she replied, “That will be really hard!” Then the reality of Jacob’s request set in, and she very seriously said, “But I guess you’re right.” She looked up at him, and again the mischievous giggle sprung from her lips, “I promise, I really promise. I won’t tell anyone.”
Then Lou Ann, much to his surprise, proposed quite a logical solution. “I’ll urge Mama to request permission from your headmaster so you can visit with us next week. You can speak to Papa at that time. Even if Mama does suspect, a week doesn’t seem too long to wait until we share our news.”