By Sikivu Hutchinson
Early on as a small child I had the visions, the supreme gift, and it was recognized. Supposedly it ran in the family, through what they called the matrilineal line, but some quirk in blood gave it to me. Early on it helped me and mine stay ahead of the white people, to read them before they could read me. The dull-witted, the weak amongst us were always running, always staying hunted, prisoners of the natural world and its evil. Even as an infant swimming in piss buckets, gurgling like a clubbed seal with no words a human could understand, I had the vision greater than any adult three times my age. And this was my solemn curse; to be cut in two, a mortal black body with the spirit of a god, expected to bow and scrape and genuflect to the ignorant masses of thieving white crackers.
There was no college for us but the trades, the Negro agricultural leagues that would work you half to death to earn the slave wage of a sharecropper, or the industrial schools that teetered on bankruptcy. I took a few courses from Roebuck Templeton Industrial and learned how to build ships. I had a knack for it, an inner talent that the old vain fool of an instructor I took carpentry class with was jealous of. He named me black Sinbad. As if that would be enough to cut me down and make me kneel to him. As though my ambition would whither on the vine from his naked jealousy. Whatever shit he threw at me I threw back at him; subtle so he wouldn’t notice at first until the whole class was laughing at his bare behind. He tried to run us like a military regiment, all cock and balls and do what I say not what I do. Just a frustrated tiny little meek little ant pile of worthlessness. And all of the boys, some grown men from the chain gangs, even the more ambitious ones from the tenant farms, the ones that could barely read and write, let this ant pile run them into the ground.
That was my first up close and personal glimpse into the unchecked petty tyranny of the common spook, the garden variety nigger with no sense of history or culture. This country Negro who was just as black and poor as me. Who itched with every marrow of his being to be a white man with real power. When I finished the class with the highest marks out of everybody I gave Countryified a white rose dipped in cow shit, told him to look me up in the Aegean on the black Sinbad. A decade after I’d founded Elysian Fields Temple and built it up from the ground I saw him in Indianapolis lying out in front of a speakeasy rattling a tin cup begging. He’d got hit in the head with a drill bit and blinded. I threw a quarter in his cup, told him that one of my men would be by to take him to our Sunday healing service if he wanted to be saved. He was crying like a baby at my sermon on Second Corinthians about why God’s children must walk by faith not by sight. He’d shriveled up into a raisin, a snapping turtle, jowly skin flapping like a trash bag around a face that women had once swooned over. And now it was a steep dive from the beauty of youth. I say beauty ‘cause he was as vain as a little girl in a new Easter dress primping for Bible study. Back in the day when he stood in front of that classroom you knew he believed that sepia pretty boy shit gave him an advantage over the little backwoods boys scared of their own shadow and insecure about how to handle women.
There’s nothing mysterious about the way the Lord works with me. This punk, who was once so high and mighty and riding us like an overseer lit up with rot gut, became one of my prize lapdogs. The deacons set him up with a room of his own in one of the convalescent homes. He got three square meals a day and his clothes washed once a week by the sisters. And when I wanted a mascot, a cherry on top of a hard two hour truth-telling, I trotted him out on a leash at the end like the monkey he was. For a while he was still too dumb and conceited, too happy to have his thumb up his ass smelling his shit, to realize who I was. He would’ve needed the whole book of Revelations to school him.
Because I’ve been blessed with the vision I say I have a complicated relationship with the Lord. It’s what the scientists call symbiotic. He gives me a taste of the future, a sliver of a glimpse, and we conspire on how to shape it for moral profit. One day I was driving down the street in a pissing rain and I saw a fat little white boy coming out of Samuel’s, the last Negro bookstore standing after the riots of ‘24. I was on the way to a deacons’ meeting but naturally I was curious about why a white boy was patronizing one of our Negro stores. You learn early on that a white child no matter how small unleashed in our neighborhood meant danger. If a Negro woman were looking after one she’d have to be extra careful about what she said and what she did. Because any misstep could be collected as intelligence. Because the tiniest white child’s word against hers could be sudden death.
That fat little white boy Russ Reed devoured every bit of Negro-bilia he could get his mitts on. Was one of those soft sadity kinds with a quick wit and even quicker tongue, a viper masquerading as a wallflower. He’d done a tour of all the local white churches, found them wanting, dull as dirt, then stepped foot in Ezekial Baptist one day and got sucker punched. Bright eyes got swept up in all that sanctified hoodoo and voodoo and marathon singing and praying like he had a front row at his own private circus freak sideshow. Maybe that’s when the germ of a plan came to him; to infiltrate the world of the poor Negro, become more Negro than the Negro and watch as he self-destructed. I’d had a few missionary ofays join Elysian for a month then set sail when they’d wrung enough spook juice out of their sojourn into the jungle. It became a spring ritual, regular as birds migrating to the South from cold weather. They’d heard one of my radio broadcasts or read about me in the international syndicates. They were fresh out of seminary, Rust Belters who took odd jobs to survive, traveled in packs of twos or threes as if there were safety in numbers. As if it was us that was the threat, that was the eternal savages. When all of history, the real record, the one that ain’t in the history books, is the story of how the ofays brought death and destruction to every civilization known to mankind, small, medium or large.
This was the universal rule, the way they locked up history and made it over, counterfeited it in their own image. The Negro was just a bit of entertainment for them, like a wind-up toy monkey or pop goes the weasel. When I was preaching the gospel I could see them from the pulpit getting high on curiosity. They could’ve flown right up to the rafters with Icarus they were so high on the honey of my voice, my command of the English language; finally freed up from that bootleg Baptist gibberish Ezekial was trying to sell them. But a murmur started going through the congregation, a ripple of doubt. All these hush-hush questions about why Prophet Zeke let these Philistines into our sanctuary, our family. In committee meetings with the church board I would tell my people to be calm, to steel themselves. There was a reason, a purpose for the interlopers’ presence. I had the vision and the vision told me that ultimately they would be useful to us. My lieutenants, Murray and Cosmo, were straight up race men, served as teenagers in World War I when Negroes were sneaking in underage. They were my radar; always on alert, my Alabama eyes and ears guarding the temple and everything around it like it was a vault holding state secrets. They advised me about appearances of favoritism. Said I was letting bright eyes fly too close. They were older with solid heads on their shoulders but there is a reason now brothermen why ya’ll remain foot soldiers and not generals in God’s here army. The Lord spoke in my ear and said I’m never going to let you be even 1/10th of a nigger. Not 1/10th, 1/16th or any particle of your being. When the police lynched our organist Lynetta Mae’s boy in the county jail and sat up half the night playing black jack on his back He was testing me. When the government tried to come after me for mail fraud and the so-called corruption of a minor, a fifteen going on fifty little harlot-in-training, He was testing me. And when He guided my vision to Russ Reed it was a supreme test too.
Prophet Zeke has nothing to hide, nothing to cover up, nothing to shuck jive or apologize for.
After the IRS tried to shut us down I watched Russ Reed come in with nothing but the white skin on his back and leave with a fortune, a multi-millionaire dripping gold with a doctoral degree in Negro-sophy. That old nigger Countryified was his first charge. I gave him to Russ to work on due to his punk love, his secret reverence for white boys. He would lick the shit off that white boy’s toilet seat and say it was vanilla ice cream he loved him some Russ so much. And the feeling was mutual at first, bound and determined as Russ Reed was to make old Countryified see and read John 9, where Jesus heals a blind man by rubbing spit and dirt into his eyes, right there in front of the congregation. After Bible study on Wednesdays he’d stay behind and practice his preaching in the basement. Shy and quiet at first, awkward about delivery, about how to move his body, project his voice, tongue-tied with scripture. He discovered quick though that some Negroes would give a white boy every benefit of the doubt; every second, third and fourth chance to prove themselves before they fell flat on their face. Even then some would offer up their asses to carry them across the River Jordan. That Negro blindness was a white boy narcotic. A 100 proof potency drug like glue, candy, gasoline and moonshine all mashed up together. He played on it when his shit was faltering, when he confused verses, couldn’t remember a sequence, was winging it through the slurp of a breath mint. Then the sister women washing dishes in the kitchen would stop to prop him up, baby him, fawn and drool with clucks of encouragement that they should’ve saved for their own children, running their fingers through that toothpick straight tar pit colored hair of his.
I tried to break my people of that instinct through my preaching, my healing, my radio spots, my vision for an Afro-Asiatic world ministry with a black face and not the shucking weakling simper of a minstrel. Through my word and deed I tried to instill them with a healthy dose of skepticism, a way of busting out of the mental chains locked on them by the material world. But servitude is like a virus, a fungus, always lurking, always looking for new hosts and moist dark places. No matter the villainy, the outright desecration the peckerwood terrorists committed right here under our noses, in our own neighborhoods, sometimes in our own beds, there would always be an appetite among rudderless Negroes for the blond angel on the soap box hiding its devil horns.
Russ Reed barreled through his “apprenticeship” at Elysian like a runaway freight train. Like any good pupil trying to please a school marm every waking moment was a learning one, an opportunity to prove himself. Learning was oxygen to him. He finagled his way into being one of my junior operatives through his discipline, but I kept him at a distance. If there were errands to be run to our vendors, or basic plumbing to be done or a letter to be typed when the church secretary was out sick he magically appeared. He figured out that Prophet Mother had an affinity for those nasty little rat toy dogs and brought her one as a present. He saw that our choir’s lead soprano needed infusions of tea with lemon to hit the high notes and he started brewing that smelly shit during rehearsal breaks. Any whining child cutting up in the back of the sanctuary would be calmed by one of his mangy menagerie of vermin, offered as a gift after service. He became the church pet store and vet, doing his first healings and miracles on mutts he dragged in from Lord knows where. This two-bit Tarzan of the dogs.
After the war ended a lot of my people got laid off. The women who’d gone to work in the factories making more than they could cleaning up after white ladies—all ritually canned. Our men who’d fought in the Negro regiments coming back with lost limbs, damaged souls and the worst shell shock like layers of their brains were being peeled off. They weren’t worth shit anymore to America. Got handed a mop or a broom or a shoeshine box and told go buck-dance. White soldiers snapped up all the jobs in the rubber and metal plants and bought themselves big cars and new homes and worked overtime to keep their blocks nigger-free. But Russ Reed stayed up under me, went to college in the day to study philosophy and tore through scripture at night, constantly asking why and what if, playing wide-eyed innocence to the bone. But even in his zeal I sensed resistance. My own sons were jealous of him. Smeared castor oil on the lunch meat in his sandwiches, glued the pages of his bible together, poured red ants on him at the church picnics. They seemed to believe that there was a succession plan for Russ Reed and that kept them hungry. But that was a good thing, because all the privilege they had as my sons, as the black princes of Elysian, made them soft, entitled, unable to see ahead without their mother or my operatives, the deacons, the sanctified men entrusted to protect us, walking behind them with a tissue wiping their asses. There’s nothing like comfort and a father king to smother ambition. And with none of those things Russ Reed had a compass, his father a falling down drunk, a reprobate, a blasphemer, a failure in everything he touched. Because Russ Reed was white trash and came from nothing, less than nothing, and nothing to the nth power in the white world that was the fire that burned under him.