Tale Of A Natural Man

Once in a town called New Orleans there lived a big man named Sam. He had a job down by the river where he and the other big men unloaded cotton from the river boats. As I said, it was a good job and the man named. Sam liked it very much. Sam was a cotton loading fool and a natural man. His shoulders were like an ox-yoke, his feet were big and flat and he had blue gums. When his shirt got wet his back would split it. Seemed like when Sam’s muscles swelled something else would swell inside of him, and he just naturally had to yell or he would bust sure. Sam loaded on Dock 3, and it was the fastest dock on the whole riverfront. Men said that Sam was ten foot high and had a twenty foot song. On a clear day they say you could hear him all the way across Lake Ponchartrain.

Now like any other natural man Sam had to get drunk on Saturday night. That’s the night that Sam and his little Alma would go down to Storyville and drink gin and have a fine time. But there was one Saturday night that Sam got into trouble. He got mad and put his hands on a dandy town man and broke him. The white captains came and got Sam and they locked him up in a big building. Now Sam couldn’t understand this at all, but a big old white man told him that the dandy town man had died and Sam had to go away for sixty years or so.

When Sam heard this he up and sang:

Was on a Monday, on a Monday I was rested,
And on a Tuesday, on a Tuesday I was tried,
And on a Wednesday, on a Wednesday I was sentence,
And on a Thursday, Lawdy, on a Thursday chain gang bound.

Hard luck done found me, great Gawd, it fell all around me.
I go to prison, can’t you people see?
Chain gang is my home, jailhouse is my stopping place,
I don’t like it, Lawdy, for it sure is a lowdown place.

So the men took Sam out into the country to another big place where they put chains on his feet. They used big chains, too, because Sam was a big man and his shoulders was like an ox-yoke.

Sam and the other men with chains on their feet would go outside and break up rock on the hill because the captain with the gun said they had to build a road. Sam could swing a twelve­ pound maul with one hand and could bust more rock than a freight can haul, for he was a natural man.

Sam liked to bust the rock because it made him feel good. Of course when Sam felt good he had to sing. All the other men liked this, for as anyone knows, a man just purely has to have a rock­ busting song. When Sam sang a rock busting song even the walkers back in the place could hear him. Sam’s buddy would say ” That Sam is a natural man. He got a ten foot head and a twenty foot song.” So Sam would sing:

Sam’s old shoulder is six foot tall,
Bust more rock than a freight can haul,
He weigh two hundred and thutty-two,
And he done everything a poor coon can do.

And all the men would sing:

Busting rock, ugh! Lawd, this road has gotta go, ugh!

The road gang was all big grunting men, so it made a pretty good song.

Now the white captain was a nagging man and none of the men liked this a bit. Times are when a rock busting man has to wipe the sweat off his head and this would make the captain mad. One day Sam’s buddy slowed a minute because the sweat was getting in his eyes and the nagging captain hit him with the butt of a rifle gun until he died. This made Sam awful mad, and he couldn’t get it off his worried mind. Made him so mad that he up and sang a mad song.

Captain walking up and down,
Buddy laying there dead, Lord, on the humming ground.
If and I had my weight in line,
I would wallop that captain until he went stone blind.

When the white captain heard Sam’s mad song it sort of scared him, for even with his chains on Sam was a natural man with shoulders like an ox-yoke. They hauled him back to the place and said they would learn him a few things. They locked him away from the light of sun and hit him all the time. Even a natural man like Sam can’t do nothing when he has chains on his feet and arms. But Sam could still sing a song and he did, only it was a different song from a rock busting song. It was slow like a rock busting song but it was all full of mourning and mad. He didn’t sing as loud, maybe, but he sang. At the end of the day he would sing:

Sleep on a pallet in a dirty cell,
Sure could sleep better if I was dead in hell.
I hear danger singing, I hear danger moan,
Crying who? … Crying you!

The big walkers and the other captains did not like to hear Sam sing his song. They hit him and they kicked him and they never let him see the light of sun. And the more they hit him and the more they kicked him the madder Sam got and so his songs got madder too.

Jail guard beat me so much, hurt down to my shoe.
Say he will kill black man, Gawd know I will kill him too.
I hear danger crying, I hear danger moan,
Crying who? … Crying you!

Feel my black-hell rising, raise me seven foot high,
Don’t care about nothing, a man is born to die.
I hear danger singing, I hear danger moan,
Crying who? … Crying you!

One day the captains got so mad that they beat Sam around the head with a piece of pipe, and that noon Sam died away from the light of sun, which is no place for a natural man to die.

They carried him out and planted him, and the next day they put another bad nigger in the cell where Sam had been.

     by Robert B. Orlovich

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