This is the story of a black man whose multi-racial child is dug up from her resting place by the good deacons of the Victory Baptist Church in order that the infant might be reburied in the more appropriate “black” cemetery. When the white church is subsequently torched, Elijah, the baby’s father, is arrested.
Sound open and shut? Well, if you know Robbins’ work, you know it’s not. Ah, these little southern towns and their nasty underbellies. Evil, the author tells us, has found fertile ground in which to spread its ugly tendrils. “Elijah’s trespass was to strike back beyond the boundaries of society, and for this he will be punished. But his blow was against property. Theirs (the deacons of the burned church) was an offense against a man and a wife and a pitiful baby.”
The child’s grandmother? Rosalind Epps, a widow who has taught nearly every white person in the town: “…squat and old, she preserves her teacher’s presence, at the head of the class, daring you to let her spot you cheating.” Mrs. Epps is also the owner of the cemetery plot that is opened, closed, opened again, closed again.
A reporter sums up what’s happening in America that makes these things if not possible, at least somewhat understandable: “Your everyday man on the street thinks he’s threatened on all sides, from blacks or whites to crime to terrorists to the IRS to politicians. He doesn’t think he’s safe anywhere or that his money or his vote or his health will be any good this time next year.”
This is the America of which Robbins writes.
Sound wonderful? It is.
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