I might be a Secesh. Then I might be a friend of your race. Or maybe just an old man who is nothing. Or maybe an old man who is very wise. Or an old man who might kill himself tomorrow. Maybe an old man who must go on living, just to give two children a pan of meatless greens and cornbread.
The old man in the section "Old Man" in Book 1, The War Years, makes this statement. He has taken Jane and Ned in and fed them. Jane is particularly obstinate during this sequence and refuses to let anyone help her. The old man shows Jane a map of the United States and plots her route to Ohio. Jane insists that she will not go through Mississippi, so the old man carefully shows her the way all around Mississippi to Ohio and estimates that it will take her thirty years. With his statement, the old man demonstrates that he is just a human being who tries to live his life outside the strictures of race. This man's statement suggests the difficulty of such an existence. The entire country, and especially the south, divides itself upon racial lines and even a small black child will not trust this older man who wants to help her. The man sounds weary from the years of war. His appeal in this quote will be repeated in different ways by other characters throughout the text who will try to avoid the legacy of a racist history and simply life their lives, such as Tee Bob.