Photos by Allegra Jordan, 31 AUG 2018. At left My Soul is not Shredded at the former site of the Silent Sam statue dedicated by Julius Carr, UNC-CH. At right, My Soul is not Shredded on the altar of the 1843 Chapel of the Cross. In this Chapel Saint Pauli Murray gave her first communion under the slave balcony where her grandmother once sat.
On the grounds of UNC in 1913, Julian Carr dedicated a Confederate memorial statue. In the speech, he bragged about torturing a black woman and horsewhipping her until her skirt hung in shreds. He did this because he says she insulted a Southern lady.
How did the women feel about this?
The late, great Tiane Mitchell-Gordon and I were appalled when we learned of his speech. 105 years after Mr. Carr’s boast, we offer this imagined response of both women.
For context about authorship, Tiane Mitchell Gordon was descended from African slaves and grew up in NC during segregation. Allegra Jordan’s Alabama grandfather was one of the last living sons of a Confederate veteran. Her Ohio great-grandfather owned a house used by the Underground Railroad.
Part I by Tiane Mitchell Gordon
(Tiane wrote this poem as if she were the White woman for whom Julian Carr tortured a Black woman)
The Maligned Southern Lady Speaks to Mr. Carr
By Allegra Jordan
Your actions did not make it better but
My silence made it worse. I did nothing.
The lash of the whip! How deep it did cut
My sister! My conscience – my reckoning-
Became, “Dear God let this pass from me.” And
So I saved myself. For what? For a god
We had made in your image. Blood-drenched sand
Under her skirt became a lightening rod.
Our children wander in a trance and say
They don’t see. Her children point to that space.
Some want justice. Some want revenge. The day
Will come when light exposes my disgrace,
And frees me from shackles of my making,
Which I chose when Love was there for the taking.
My Soul is not Shredded
by Tiane Mitchell-Gordon and Allegra Jordan
My soul is not shredded.
What gives you pleasure from my pain?
To brag with glee at your handiwork…
Pieces of cloth, blood-streaked from the horsewhip’s
Fury…no…your impotence taking form as fury.
You see my worth through clouded eyes
By blinded notions of superiority not earned or deserved.
Does viewing me as less than, elevate your humanity?
Does the blackness of my skin hold a mirror
To the blackness of your heart—
A deep soulless pit, void of empathy and love?
You poor fool.
The shreds of this skirt are your legacy’s shroud.
The linen bands you ripped will mummify all that you were,
And bind your children’s children.
A hundred years from now no one will be able to see you
Without hearing about my skirt.
But I will listen for a deeper sound.
I will call to a deeper well.
I cry to my ancestors, “Comfort me!”
I see the children of my future rise up
And create a kinder world.
I pray with a soul that is not shredded
But held in love by a love so big.
I wish love for me. I wish love.
My soul reaches for love.
Julian Carr’s words:
“I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.”
We wrote this last poem on a beautiful, new linen dress, streaked it with Palo Santo ash and we said a prayer as we shredded it in remembrance of her. We took the poem prayer-dress to Silent Sam’s empty pedestal and to the alter of the 1843 Chapel of the Cross, a chapel that still has a slave balcony in it. We thought the spirits and angels who inhabit that chapel – so close to where this woman was tortured – would want to know.
If you are encouraged by the moral vision and courage of the students and faculty at UNC who oppose Silent Sam’s retun please consider giving funds to their legal aid.