Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

























Out of Chattanooga: “The Life and Times of Bessie Smith”

By Clifford Eberhardt

Chapter 25

The sheriff, his two deputies with Ma, Will, Jake, Cora and Lonnie in tow re-entered the sleeping car after a final search.  The sheriff, with his short stature and potbelly, walked up to Lonnie; put his finger in Lonnie’s face and said, “Nigger, tell me where them two damn Niggers is hiding… or I’ll drop you where you stand!”

“Sheriff, please! We ain’t seen them two kids… I swear to God… we ain’t seen them two kids,” Lonnie pleaded with the sheriff while the others stood in stone silence.

“You lyin’ Nigger!  All you Niggers lie.  You just can’t trust none of you Niggers,” the sheriff said.
The sheriff gave another glance around the car and notice the door to the pantry was not completely shut.

“What’s in there?’ the sheriff asked, pointing at the pantry door.

“Nothin’ is in there, sheriff.  Nobody can get in that pantry,” Jake said as he walked over to the pantry and kicked the door shut.

“Nigger, didn’t I tell you to keep you to keep your mouth shut?’ the sheriff said. “Let me see!”
Lonnie then approached the sheriff, “sheriff, we ain’t done nothin’.  We just good hard-workin’ Coloreds, boss.  We tired from the last show.  We need some sleep.”

“Boy, you better not be lyin’ to me.  I don’t like Nigger who lie,” the sheriff said.  “We has a boy last week lyin’ about stealing some chickens.  We sent That Nigger to glory with a chicken bone stuck in his mouth.”  The two deputies burst out laughing as Lonnie and the others dropped their heads in fear.

“Sheriff, we ain’t lyin’… we just hard-working Colored folks,” Lonnie said with his head still bowed.
Then Lonnie slowly raised his head to look at the sheriff face-to-face and said, “sheriff, we ain’t crazy ‘nough to think we can out smart a man like you.

“We sho’ ain’t that crazy, Jake said, followed by Will and Ma saying,  “We sho’ ain’t that crazy to think we can fool a smart man like you, sheriff.  The sheriff smiled and stepped back from Lonnie.

“If y’all lyin’ to me, I’ll make all y’all pay!”

“We ain’t lyin’, sheriff.   We wouldn’t lie to you.  We ain’t that crazy.”   Lonnie said as he reached into his pocket pulling out a fifty-dollar bill; cuffing it in his hand.   He extended his hand as if to shake the sheriff’s hand.  The sheriff stopped for a moment.  He saw something green in Lonnie’s palm, and then slowly extended his hand.  As the sheriff reached to shake Lonnie’s hand, Lonnie then slid the $50 in the palm of the sheriff’s hand.
Seeing that it was $50 bill, a big wide grin came over the sheriff’s face.

Lonnie acted just in time.  This sheriff seemed set on charging them with something even if no crime had been committed.  But he changed his whole attitude for the $50.   Money was always the great equalizer for Coloreds back then.   It had even been said, “Coloreds could buy their way out of a lynching by paying off the sheriff.”
The sheriff put his arms around Lonnie’s shoulders and said with a big grin,  “Boys, let’s go and let these good Colored folks get some sleep.  We got better things to do. We got bigger fish to fry!”

The sheriff turned to his deputies and they quickly left the train.  Still, no one said a word until the sheriff and his deputies were completely gone.  As the train stared to move, Ma broke the silence by asking, “who hid my moonshine?  I sho’ need a big drink now.”

“That cracker scared the hell outta me,” Ma said.  “Will, find my whiskey and get me a drink!”

“We sho’ tricked that cracker sheriff… didn’t we y’all?” Jake asked.  “Them crackers think they so damn smart, don’t they Ma?   But you can always get ‘em with a few lies and a few bucks… can’t you Ma?”  Everybody in the car broke out laughing.

“I hate the way them crackers treat us.  But we can’t do nothi’ ‘bout it but take it.  And y’all better believe one thing, they hang Niggers everyday down here,” Lonnie said, looking at everybody one by one to make his feelings known.

Now, the performers were convinced of their safety, and they all started to laugh at the sheriff and his deputies, and now everybody was telling stories about how they tricked another white man.

“Where’s Bessie?” Someone finally asked. 

“Oh, po’ Bessie is still in that pantry,” Ma said, and rushed to open the pantry door.     
When the pantry door was opened, Bessie rolled out like a ball, and the moonshine came out behind her.  Her nose was broken-blooded from the kink Jake gave to the pantry door, and she could barely stand to her feet from her ordeal that left her almost unconscious.

“I saved the moonshine!  I saved the moonshine!  I saved yo’ moonshine, Ma!”  There was a brief silence then Jake spoke.

“You didn’t just save the moonshine… you saved all us from gettin’ lynched,” Jake said, as everybody rushed to hug Bessie.

“If that sheriff had found that jug of moonshine, we would be a bunch of dead Niggers by now.”  Lonnie said. “Bessie really did save our lives.”
They were hugging, kissing and praising Bessie for what she had done.  She had saved them from that mean sheriff.

She had save the show.  Now, everybody in the show accepted Bessie as their own.  No one had a dry face, and Bessie was very happy to be a part of Ma Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show.

No one mentioned all the trouble Bessie had caused; they were just happy that the sheriff and his deputies had left the train without doing them harm.  They all felt lucky to be alive and continued to embrace Bessie as their shero.

The train picked up speed to the next destination, and Bessie Smith, ‘The Blues Singer,’ was the newest act on Ma Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show.



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