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Syndic Literary Journal

Syndic No.43 ~ Richard Cook

Mary ‘n Battis

Written and Narrated by Richard Baldwin Cook


Sojourner Truth said:

“I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’ ” – Sojourner Truth, quoted in Darkwater by W.E.B. Dubois (1920), & Oriflamme poem by Jessie Fauset (The Book of American Negro Poetry, 1922) [Oriflamme, peeps is a flag, a medieval French battle standard, intended to inspire courage]

 Mary ‘n Battis


Richard B. Cook

A reflection on the Civil War journal kept by Mary Chesnut of South Carolina, A Diary from Dixie (1905).


You Mary, can’t see us. Nor can you hear.

Alone we give voice or nothing is said

The dead they respond not, brave or in fear

Your jottings now deathless all else is dead


Raised up Carolina, by Blacks, slaves for life

Unmerited privilege your song and your hymn

Cold passion ruled James, who made you his wife

His gifts to you were first gifted to him


Plantation called Mulberry, two or three more

A fine home in Charleston, you’d live here or there

Teas and new dresses picked out in the store

Brought home by your slaves in rags, who gonna care?


You left us your record of blood, Civil War

Boys of the South mustered shoeless at times

Fell by the thousands in stench and in gore

No planning. No resources. Useless church chimes.


‘sides pride what’s the point of kill and be killed?

Keep hold of a boy to brush flies away?

“Young Battis” would stand with feathers – such skill!

Behind you at table “brush flies away”


‘If Sherman not hindered, a new life we make’

Whisper your sphinxes, now silent at home

Your fly brush boy Battis not feathers he shakes

Betrayal? Naw! freedom! You’re left, Battis gone!


Look Mary, your bird cage life it’s a dodge

Cotillions, dinners, dresses ‘n pearls

White men called colonel? Their command’s a mirage!

Free labor of Black Folk makes this top twirl


You Mary, wrote what you lived, what you saw

One scene that you set will us readers disturb

You’ve earned pride of place, Mary, take the last word:


“I hate slavery. What do you say to this—to a magnate who runs a hideous black harem, with its consequences, under the same roof with his lovely white wife and his beautiful and accomplished daughters?

“He holds his head high and poses as the model of all human virtues to these poor women whom God and the laws have given him.

“He was a man of polished manners, and the best husband and father and member of the church in the world.

“Can that be so?” “Yes, I know it. Exceptional case, that sort of thing. . . . the unfortunate results of his bad ways were not sold . . .They were kept in full view . . .

“The wife and daughters in the might of their purity and innocence are supposed never to dream of what is as plain before their eyes as the sunlight, and they play their parts of unsuspecting angels to the letter.”


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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