Harper's Ferry: A Short Story
I was already talking to a family from the Carolinas interpreting the experiences of the town’s citizens after the war, when across the former slave states Provost Marshals were replaced by agents of the newly formed Freedman’s Bureau. They were good visitors, they asked excellent questions. I told them of the intense conflict in Harpers Ferry and surrounding area, of the resistance from the town’s white residents to those black men and women formerly enslaved.
“A young white woman from Maine who came to the county to teach black children was pelted with stones. On the street behind you, there was a brawl between black and white …show more content…
Red Polo Shirt no longer wanted my agreement. He wanted my understanding. As he spoke, I tried to avoid his gaze. I tried to zone him out. To focus on the weight of the musket in my hand and heat of the bright sun rays on my face.
“I am not a racist,” he said again. And again. And again. There was a long bayonet at the end of my musket, a triangular fifteen inches of sharpened steel. My right arm grew sorer by the minute as I looked him in the eye. Silent as the grave.
Unnerved by my silence, he left.
He left uncomfortable but unchanged, he walked the quarter mile or so back to the parking lot visitors used to avoid the admission fee. In his car, I imagine he mulled our interaction in his car on his journey home. I believe he got past his unease. I believe he some means to justify my silence as some proof as his worldview. Maybe he told himself I was shocked into silence by his brilliant challenge of my liberal brainwashing. Maybe he decided I agreed with me completely, but couldn’t say so out loud because the government would fire me.
My silence was subject to