Go Down, Moses
Go Down, Moses
A young, gaudily dressed negro lies on a cot in a prison in Illinois, answering a census-taker's questions. He does not speak like a Southerner nor like a negro. He gives his name as Samuel Beauchamp and says he does not remember his parents and that he was raised by his grandmother, Mollie Beauchamp. After the census-taker leaves, the guards remove Beauchamp's fancy suit and shave his head.
Old, frail Mollie Beauchamp comes to Jefferson to see Gavin Stevens, the district attorney. She says over and over again that Carothers Edmonds has sold her boy into Egypt. She insists that Stevens help her grandson get out of his trouble. Stevens makes some phone calls and visits the newspaper editor and learns that the boy has murdered a police officer and will be executed the next day. Miss Worsham, the old white woman with whom Mollie's brother lives, comes to visit Stevens and asks that the boy's body be brought back to Jefferson. Stevens tells her it will cost twelve dollars. She gives him 25. After she leaves, he telephones the newspaper editor and says that the real cost will be two 225 dollars.
Stevens raises the money, and the boy is brought home on a train, in a coffin. Before the funeral, Stevens goes to visit Mollie and Miss Worsham's house, but the three negroes in the house simply moan about how the boy has been sold to Pharaoh, sold into Egypt by Carothers Edmonds. Stevens leaves quickly; the funeral is the next day.
This strange epilogue to Go Down, Moses is even stranger for being the title story--as though the negro spiritual it refers to and the negro spirituality that dominates this story were also central to the concerns of the book. And perhaps they are, indirectly; spirituals and the mindset of spirituality (shown in this story in Mollie's repeated insistence that her grandson has been sold into Egypt, like a slave in the Old Testament) were in many ways small realms of freedom within the slave experience and represented a kind of inscrutability that white men could not penetrate. In this story, Gavin Stevens does his best to help Mollie retrieve her grandson Samuel (or Benjamin, as she calls him, or Butch, as he is known in town), but he is unsettled and unable to penetrate the moaning and wailing Old Testament references with which the negroes at Miss Worsham's respond to events.
So "Go Down, Moses" may be most centrally about the wall of racial misunderstanding, which preserves a certain kind of racial freedom but also enables a great deal of more threatening misunderstanding, such as that of the deputy in "Pantaloon in Black." The wall still separates the "black" branch of the McCaslin family from the "white" branch, even though those two lines have been physically reunified in the previous story. The death of Samuel Beauchamp seems to cut off the black branch; now the child of Carothers Edmonds and Tennie's Jim's granddaughter will carry the blood of Carothers McCaslin--though not his name, and not his property--forward into the future.
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