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Birthright A Novel   By: (1881-1965)

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[Illustration: "Yes, Cissie, I understand now"]




Illustrated by F. Luis Mora





"Yes, Cissie, I understand now"

Peter recognized the white aprons and the swords and spears of the Knights and Ladies of Tabor

Up and down its street flows the slow negro life of the village

In the Siner cabin old Caroline Siner berated her boy

The old gentleman turned around at last

"You you mean you want m me to go with you, Cissie?" he stammered

"Naw yuh don't," he warned sharply. "You turn roun' an' march on to Niggertown"

The bridal couple embarked for Cairo



At Cairo, Illinois, the Pullman car conductor asked Peter Siner to take his suitcase and traveling bag and pass forward into the Jim Crow car. The request came as a sort of surprise to the negro. During Peter Siner's four years in Harvard the segregation of black folk on Southern railroads had become blurred and reminiscent in his mind; now it was fetched back into the sharp distinction of the present instant. With a certain sense of strangeness, Siner picked up his bags, and saw his own form, in the car mirrors, walking down the length of the sleeper. He moved on through the dining car, where a few hours before he had had dinner and talked with two white men, one an Oregon apple grower, the other a Wisconsin paper manufacturer. The Wisconsin man had furnished cigars, and the three had sat and smoked in the drawing room, indeed, had discussed this very point; and now it was upon him.

At the door of the dining car stood the porter of his Pullman, a negro like himself, and Peter mechanically gave him fifty cents. The porter accepted it silently, without offering the amenities of his whisk broom and shoe brush, and Peter passed on forward.

Beyond the dining car and Pullmans stretched twelve day coaches filled with less opulent white travelers in all degrees of sleepiness and dishabille from having sat up all night. The thirteenth coach was the Jim Crow car. Framed in a conspicuous place beside the entrance of the car was a copy of the Kentucky state ordinance setting this coach apart from the remainder of the train for the purposes therein provided.

The Jim Crow car was not exactly shabby, but it was unkept. It was half filled with travelers of Peter's own color, and these passengers were rather more noisy than those in the white coaches. Conversation was not restrained to the undertones one heard in the other day coaches or the Pullmans. Near the entrance of the car two negroes in soldiers' uniforms had turned a seat over to face the door, and now they sat talking loudly and laughing the loose laugh of the half intoxicated as they watched the inflow of negro passengers coming out of the white cars.

The windows of the Jim Crow car were shut, and already it had become noisome. The close air was faintly barbed with the peculiar, penetrating odor of dark, sweating skins. For four years Peter Siner had not known that odor. Now it came to him not so much offensively as with a queer quality of intimacy and reminiscence. The tall, carefully tailored negro spread his wide nostrils, vacillating whether to sniff it out with disfavor or to admit it for the sudden mental associations it evoked.

It was a faint, pungent smell that played in the back of his nose and somehow reminded him of his mother, Caroline Siner, a thick bodied black woman whom he remembered as always bending over a wash tub. This was only one unit of a complex. The odor was also connected with negro protracted meetings in Hooker's Bend, and the Harvard man remembered a lanky black preacher waving long arms and wailing of hell fire, to the chanted groans of his dark congregation; and he, Peter Siner, had groaned with the others... Continue reading book >>

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