is a short workshop script, based on the No Shame Theatre piece .
It was written as a study for the full-length play .


by Jeff Goode

copyright © 2009

(AVNER, JANES and EVAN are whittlin’ on the front stoop. Enter LYNCH.)
JANESMornin’ to ya, Neighbor Lynch.
LYNCHIt surely is, Deacon Janes. Mornin’, Avner. You mind if I set a spell?
AVNERPull up a whittlin’ stump.
EVANLooks like it’s like to be another hot one.
(Enter BAGGOT.)
JANESMornin’, Grocer Baggot.
BAGGOTAw, what’s good about it?
JANESNever said it was good, I said it was mornin’.
BAGGOTThat’s exactly what it is, and don’t you forget it! It’s a time o’ mournin’ in the land, is what it is, from this day forward.
AVNERNow what kinda call have you got to be so snippety?
EVANSound like you got a hornet in your bonnet, Grocer Baggot.
BAGGOTA hornet’s about right! Ain’t none o’ you heard the news? Well, this oughta make you, at least, happy, Avner. I just come from over to the general store, and they’re saying it sounds like that President o’ yours is thinkin’ about planning on freein’ the slaves.
EVANWhat the--?!
JANESThat ain’t funny.
BAGGOT(to AVNER) I hope you’re happy!
AVNER(madder than the rest) Oh, for the love o’ damnation! Why would you think that’d make me happy?
BAGGOTI thought I heard tell you was one o’ them abolitioners what’s always goin’ ’round belly-achin’ about emancification.
AVNERHell, no! I oughta knock you sideways for sayin’ it.
LYNCHBut don’t you run a stop on the Underground Railroad?
AVNERAnd so what if I do? It ain’t nobody’s business if a man’s got a right to practice his freedom o’ religion in the privacy of his own fruit cellar.
EVANWhat’s religion got to do with helpin’ runaway slaves?
AVNERDon’t you read the Bible, Evan?!
EVANWell, when you put it that way, I guess I see your point.
LYNCHThere’s slavery in the Bible? Where at?
AVNERWhere in the Bible? Hell, I don’t know. Why do you think I go to church? So I don’t have to read it myself. Deacon Janes?
JANESWell, what about the Old Testament?
AVNERThere ya go!
BAGGOTWhat about the time God freed the slaves outta Israel?
EVANI thought Moses freed the slaves outta Israel.
BAGGOTNow, that is just plain blasphemy!
BAGGOTGod freed the slaves. Moses was just following orders. Moses was a slave himself. How’s he gonna free anybody?
EVANI said I was sorry.
AVNERThat’s like saying Harriet Tubman runs the Underground Railroad when anybody knows she’s a conductor at best.
LYNCHMore of a baggage handler, ain’t she?
JANESMaybe a caboosineer.
BAGGOTSo when it come to pass that God decided it was high time to free the slaves, he turns to Moses and says, "Okay, free yourself." And Moses does. And that’s the story o’ the Old Testament.
EVANBut what’s that got to do with our current state of current events?
AVNERBecause it means that God is agin slavery. Right there in black and white.
JANESAnd sometimes red.
LYNCHYeah, but them was Jewish slaves. Everybody knows Jews make the worst slaves.
AVNERThat is so close-minded. Have you ever enslaved a Hebrew?
LYNCHWhat? No, of course not. I never been outta Kentucky.
AVNERThey might make mighty fine slaves, for all you know. Who do you think built the pyramids?
LYNCHIt was the Egyptians, wasn’t it?
AVNERThe Pharaoh’s slaves built the pyramids. And that was the Hebrews.
JANESBut they were just following orders, like he said, so really it was the Pharaoh built the pyramids, seein’ as it was all his idea.
BAGGOTThat’s the trouble with you abolitioners. Always trying to give slaves credit for something they didn’t do. Next you’ll be sayin’ it’s slaves pick all the cotton and take it to market and make all the money that keeps the southern half of our economy going strong.
AVNERNow you’re puttin’ words in my mouth. I never said slaves was good for the economy.
EVANBut ain’t they, though? I mean, isn’t that what all the fussin’ and fightin’s about? All them plantations down south need slaves to keep makin’ the cotton to survive.
BAGGOT(to AVNER) You see what you’ve gone and done? (to EVAN) God makes the cotton, Evan. The plantation owns the cotton. Slaves is just the middleman. The South don’t need no slaves to survive. If they freed every last one of ’em tomorrow, the cotton’d still get itself picked the day after.
LYNCHI hear Hebrews is excellent slaves.
JANESNow you’re just talkin’ foolish.
BAGGOTSouthern ingenuity, that’s how.
LYNCHAre you sayin’ white folks’d pick the cotton?
JANESThat seems a mite far-fetched.
BAGGOTCourse not. Why would they wanna go and do what they already got plenty enough black folks doin’ already?
EVANNot if the President gets his way, they won’t. Will they?
BAGGOTWell, think about it. Put yourselves in their shoes a minute.
LYNCHNo, thank you. I got enough trouble lacing up my own boots.
BAGGOTSupposin’ you was a slave. And you spent your whole life bein’ a slave. So you’d be pretty good at it by now, don’t you think?
LYNCHNot me, I’m all thumbs.
BAGGOTYou got a career. You got job security. And then one day, you get the bad news: You’re free. Now you got no job, no prospects. And no experience. You want to go back to Africa, of course, but you can’t afford the passage. And top o’ that, you got family to feed.
EVANWhen you put it that way, they was better off workin’ the plantation.
BAGGOTThat’s right. So now what happens when your old boss comes around, says, "I’ll tell you what. How about you come on back home and pick some cotton and I’ll give you each a dollar a month?"
JANESA dollar a month?! Why, that’s highway robbery!
AVNERIt’s worse than that, it’s horse thievery!
LYNCHHorse theft?! That’s a hangin’ offense. I’ll go get some rope!
BAGGOTNow calm down. They pay ’em a dollar to work, sure enough. But then they charge ’em two dollars for room and board and it all evens out.
EVANWell, that sounds like it works out better for everybody.
BAGGOTCourse, it does. And that’s what I mean by southern ingenuity. Emancipation’ll be exactly the same as no emancipation for the slaves, and the plantations’ll be makin’ an extra dollar a head every month.
EVANWell, then, so why don’t we want that?
JANESHaven’t you been paying attention? It changes the way we’re used to doing things.
EVANBut it changes things for the better, right?
AVNEROh for criminy’s sakes. What’s better about being different?
EVAN(to BAGGOT) But you said–
AVNERLook, it’s like this: First you change things for the better. And maybe that seems like a good idea at the time. But if that works out, God forbid, then folks are gonna want to change a few more things for the better. And a few more. Pretty soon everything’s changed for the better and nothings the same, and that’s a change for the worse!
JANESAnd once everything’s different, you got nothing to fall back on. And then where will you be?
EVANSomewhere else?
JANESThat’s right! Somewhere else. Hell, for example. That’s somewhere else.
BAGGOTOr San Francisco. That’s sure as hell somewhere else.
LYNCHIt sure as hell ain’t here.
AVNEROr how bout Brooklyn Borough, New York. How’d you like to live there?
LYNCHNo, thank you.
JANESBut that’s where we’re gonna end up if this keeps up. First stop New York. Then San Francisco. Then to hell in a handbasket. And all because the goddamn President–God bless him–
ALLGod bless him.
JANESCouldn’t leave well enough alone!
AVNERIt’s like the time they built that bridge over from Chandlersville. Wasn’t it good for the economy, at first?
JANESSure, ’cause we had all those Chandies comin’ over here buyin’ up our goods and shopping at the general store.
AVNERBut you build a bridge, it’s a slippery slope, isn’t that right, Baggot? You own the general store. How was business before they put in that the footbridge?
BAGGOTBad. Purt near bankrupt.
AVNERBut now we got a bridge, and you’re about the richest man in two counties.
BAGGOTThat’s right.
AVNERAnd now you couldn’t get rid of those Chandies if you wanted to.
BAGGOTY’got that right. I got their goddamn kids runnin’ in and out o’ my store all day long buyin’ up candy and sweet tea. Runnin’ errands for their parents.
AVNERHow you think they’d take it if you put up a sign says, "No Customers from Chandlersville"?
BAGGOTThey wouldn’t. I’d be dead broke in a week.
AVNERSoon as you let other people into your way of life, it stops being your way of life and starts being "our" way of life. And that ain’t no life at all.
JANESDo you realize, thanks to that goddamn bridge, there’s folks I couldn’t even see from this side of the river, and now I gotta pass ’em on the street every morning and say "How do" if they even half-way smile at me? And ask ’em "How’s your kin?" and talk about the weather when I see ’em in church.
LYNCHI can’t even go to my Klan meetings anymore, they got so many Chandies showin’ up to help with the lynchings.
AVNERIt’s not two years since they put in that bridge and now some of my best friends is folks used to be from Chandlersville, and you know how that makes me feel?
EVANI’m from Chandlersville.
AVNERAll right. So think how you’re gonna feel a coupla years down the line, when you got friends used to be slaves.
LYNCHIt makes my skin creep.
EVANSo that’s why you’re against abolition, even though you’re an abolitioner?
AVNERI told ya, I ain’t no abolitioner. I wish you’d stop sayin’ that!
LYNCHBut you run a stop on the Underground Railroad, Avner.
AVNERThat’s right, I’m proud to say. I got 37 neggras in my fruit cellar right now. And that’s the way I’d like to keep it. Today, they look up to me. But you know what happens to me if they free those slaves?
JANESYou got one happy fruit cellar?
AVNERI’m outta business is what happens. Maybe they start thinkin’ bein’ in my fruit cellar’s not such a good deal. Maybe they start to thinkin’ they’re doing me a favor bein’ there. Maybe they start thinking they’d be happier in my fruit cellar if Harriet Tubman was runnin’ the Underground Railroad. And next thing you know I’m tossed out o’ my own home on account of I tried to help those people.
LYNCHSome folks is just born ungrateful.
AVNERLook, I’m not gonna stand here and defend abolition. It sounds too much like abomination. And that’s in the Bible.
AVNERBut slavery’s in the Bible, too. And that’s a sin. And when you got God Almighty on the one hand, and Jesus Christ Almighty Jr. on the other, some times it’s best to leave well enough alone and not take sides.
JANESI’m with you on that score. I got nothing against any o’ God’s creatures. Even if some of ’em he messed up and shoulda had to do over again. Didn’t I bring a pitcher o’ cool water and a tray o’ doughnuts over to your fruit cellar the time they was gettin' heat stroke ’cause you locked ’em in there too long during that drought we had?
AVNERI was outta town on business. What was I supposed to do?
JANESThe point is, I don’t mind if a coupla slaves wanna escape up north to Canada and act like they’re free up there in the privacy of their own country. But you free all the slaves at once, just on general principle, just ’cause it seems like the decent thing to do, and it won’t be long before we got some of ’em runnin’ around free right here in town. Next thing you know, they’ll be teachin’ it in schools.
EVANTeaching slavery?
JANESNo, that’s sick. They’ll be teachin’ that slaves is free.
LYNCHThat ain’t right.
EVANCan they do that?
BAGGOTNo, they can’t do it, ’cause it’s a damn lie, is what it is. It’s a historical fact that slaves are not free. And if we let our children think that slaves is free, then it changes the whole definition of freedom. That’s what I can’t stand about these abolitionists. Always tryin’ to redefine freedom.
JANESThere oughta be a law against it.
EVANAgainst freedom?
BAGGOTNo! Against changin’ the definition of freedom to include people who wasn’t free to begin with.
EVANWouldn’t we just use the old definition?
JANESWhat about a constitutional amendment?
BAGGOTNow there’s a good idea! A constitutional amendment to protect the traditional meaning of freedom.
EVANWhich is what?
AVNERThat all men are created equal, and have the God-given right to do all the things God put us on the earth to do. And women and darkies can stay in the fruit cellar where they belong.
LYNCHBut ain’t some o’ the darkies men, too?
BAGGOTNow you wanna change the definition of manhood?
JANESYou got women in your fruit cellar, Avner?
AVNEROf course I do. And it wouldn’t be none o’ your business if I did!
LYNCHThat don’t sound right.
AVNERWhat’re they gonna do about it? They can’t vote.
EVANWhy do you have ’em there?
AVNERYou see? Do you see what’s wrong with this country? Twenty-five years ago, you wouldn’t dare to ask me that question in broad daylight. But nowadays I have to explain myself why I want to keep things in my fruit cellar that’s always been in my fruit cellar, and I shouldn’t have to explain it. What’s the world coming to?
JANESPerdition, if you ask me.
BAGGOTYou’re right, Avner. You may be an abolitioner, but your business is your business. And the government’s got no business pokin’ around in it. What we all do in the privacy of our own home oughta be a sacred trust between a man and his conscience.
EVANAnd what if he don’t have a conscience?
BAGGOTWell, then it’s nobody’s damn business at all. Including him.
AVNERYou give people freedom, they’re gonna want rights. Rights, they’ll want jobs. Jobs they’ll want to vote, and you know what’s next? Beastuality!
JANESThat seems a mite far-fetched.
LYNCHYeah, how do you get from freein’ a coupla slaves to a man makin’ sweet love to his livestock? Which oughta be legal, if ya ask me.
AVNERWho says I’m talkin’ about a man?
AVNERYou fellas ever seen a pretty southern belle get all hot and flustered after she ain’t seen her man in awhile ’cause all the good ones done gone off to war?
LYNCHDoes she turn to her livestock for comfort?
AVNERNo! Get your mind outta the pasture! But she might turn to the lovin’ arms of an educated black man, who’s been workin’ the field all day, covered in sweat and the clean smell o’ good earth.
BAGGOTEducated! Now hold on!
JANESBut that’s impossible! A neggra’s barely even human. They’s practically a monkey.
AVNERThat’s right, and once a red-blooded southern gal’s had her way with practically a monkey, she’s gonna want to have her way with actually a monkey. And that’s beastuality. And after that she’ll get into the livestock!
LYNCHI like the sound o’ that.
AVNERAnd next thing y’know they’ll be teachin’ that in school. ’Cause you know half o’ them southern belles is just a school marm waitin’ to happen.
BAGGOTThe minute them slaves is free, there won’t be no such thing as slavery, and when that happens, we’re all no better than slaves.
AVNERYou let a slave call himself "free" and "freedom" won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on. (takes out a Confederate dollar) You see what it says here on this worthless Confederate dollar?
JANES"Freedom". My God, it’s happening already!
BAGGOTHow you gonna feel when slaves got the same jobs you got? When they got houses and front yards like you got? When they got family’s like you got?
LYNCHLike a slave, I reckon.
JANESStands to reason.
AVNERAnd it won’t stop there. How you gonna like it when they start lynching white folks with the same ropes as neggras?
EVANThey can’t do that, can they?
JANESThey’d have to redefine lynching.
LYNCHRedefine lynching? Is nothing sacred?
AVNERWe got to protect our freedom!
ALLDamn straight!
BAGGOTI got half a mind to go over to your fruit cellar and teach a coupla folks a thing or two about keepin’ their hands off o’ my inalienable rights.
LYNCHI’ll get some rope!
(LYNCH rushes off.)
AVNERYou know what? You’re right! I’m sick o’ their belly-achin’.
JANESHear, hear!
EVANBut fellas, don’t you think we’re overreacting just a little?
ALL(overreacting) What?! What the–?! What did you say?! What the hell did he just say?!! Shut up, I didn’t hear what he said! I can’t shut up, I don’t know what we’re talking about!
EVANIt just seems to me, if freedom’s such a good thing, what’s the harm in everybody havin’ some?
EVANYeah, everybody.
BAGGOTYou want we should give ’em some of yours, Evan?
EVANWell, no.
BAGGOTYou want ’em to have some o’ mine then?
EVANThat’s not what I said.
BAGGOTI know what you said, and I don’t think you know what you’re sayin’.
EVANLook, we all love our freedom, don’t we?
JANESY’hear that, boys? It looks like we got one o’ them freedom-lovers on our hands.
AVNERYou know, I think we might just want to think about redefining lynching, after all.
EVANNow, wait a minute–
JANEAll in favor?
(Enter LYNCH.)
LYNCHI got the rope!
JANEMotion carried.
(They close in on EVAN, as the lights fade to black.)