BROOKLYN, NY (Workers World Today) — “Manessas, Virginia, July 29, 1861. Jason Billings, a runaway slave, the former manservant of a recently killed-in-action officer of the army of the Confederate States of America, continued his relentless plodding through the dense forests of the northern Virginia countryside…he noticed that at the horizon the sky was beginning to change from purplish black to a light azure, nature’s inevitable sentinel, heralding the rapidly approaching rising of the sun.” These are the vividly descriptive words that are printed on the opening pages of E Pluribus Unum: From Many One, a mesmerizing book in the genre of historical fiction authored by Marvin V. Blake. This book invites us, the reader, on a journey backward in time to a disgraceful, heinous, reprehensible epoch in our nation’s history—slavery. The rhythmic flowing of his words that embellish the narrative creating a threshold that we can traverse, so we can enter this world created by his imagination. We are introduced to a courageous man, Jason, who persevered in fulfilling a dream—a dream to be free. Marvin embarked on a copious degree of research to add authenticity to this very important book, a subject that must never be forgotten in the annals of history. This book contains an intriguing collection of controversial chapters from historical texts and characters who we want to get to know. By the light of day Jason hides amidst the dense forest foliage, knowing he was at the mercy of a frightening 19th century entrepreneur—the slave catcher whose modus operandus was to capture these runaway slaves and unceremoniously reunite them with their despicable owners–a career that erupted on the business horizon after the passage of the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act.
Under the protective cloak of the nighttime darkness, Jason escaped; his escape was precipitated by news of his master’s demise during one of the battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run. Albeit a spontaneous decision, he concocted a delineated scheme whereby he would join Abraham Lincoln’s army of liberation. He “made his life mission the killing of any man that…fought for the preservation…of the political system and the twisted ideology that held…millions of black men, women, and children in…slavery…eager to fight to free…his mother and sister from the shackles of human bondage…slaves who were toiling in Virginia’s Rosewood Plantation….He specifically wanted to kill…the white man who had repeatedly raped his mother…the white man who had impregnated his mother…unfettered sexual access to the plantation’s black females was universally accepted.” Besides preserving slavery, the plantation owner’s ideology was that “the civilizing of the West could not be achieved without the …elimination of the West’s …ignorant natives…the barbaric, savage wild Indians…who for centuries…inhabited the vast lands west of the Mississippi River.”
Jason was ultimately captured while in his hiding place within a tree log—a capture he excitedly welcomed since the trousers worn by his captors were blue—blue—the garb of Yankee soldiers.
Brought before an interrogation by Captain Daniel Clark, Jason freely and voluntarily revealed his identity; no duress was necessary. Clark observed that “the slave’s language…and his superficial military knowledge of the rebel forces…led him to recognize [his] potential value to the success of his command…the …fugitive slave…did not… fit the stereotypical image of the stupid illiterate…Southern slave.” Clark met with a member of the military hierarchy, but due to a “1792 federal law that prohibits Negroes…from serving in the U.S. Army he requested permission to hire…Jason…as a scout and interpreter…Jason’s duties …gave him…access to the…correspondence between…Union forces…was privy to …policies of the Union army’s generals and Washington’s politicians.”
Notwithstanding his crucial role in the war effort, Jason was frustrated—fighting was his goal and thereupon resigned his position and embarked on his “travel north to Boston to enlist in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment…where the daily ritual fostered on the black recruits…their transformation of a ragtag gaggle of undisciplined civilians to disciplined soldiers.” Jason was promoted to the rank of corporal due to his ability to “adapt his speech pattern to match the…dialect in accordance to the speech patterns of those he was engaged in conversations.”
Marilyn Silverman is a writer, assistant editor of Caribbean American Weekly, host of Writers Cafe Radio Show, and Panelist (How to market and promote your book: Inaugural Black Book Expo, New York).