Since I began writing Black Folklore in 2020, I have been introduced to a side of Black History that I never knew existed. Extraordinary supernatural tales of ghosts and spirits intertwined with real-life events from Black History. As amazing as those tales have been thus far, they’re nothing compared to the world that was introduced to me after reading Patricia C. McKissack’s book, Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural.
Her 1992 children’s novel, which won a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award in 1993, tells the tales of supernatural activity occurring throughout times of slavery and civil rights in the Antebellum South. One of the most mesmerizing stories from McKissack’s tales is the story of the Pine Oak Brothers, Henri and Harper.
The story begins with a Tennessee slave owner named Amos McAvoy. Amos was the master of a plantation called Pine Oak, which was built in 1801, the same year Thomas Jefferson became president. Amos inherited the plantation from his father and had aspirations to pass it down to his son. He would eventually meet his love, Alva Dean, marrying her and uniting two prominent slave-owning families for better profits. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike the McAvoy family as Alva died while giving birth to Amos’ firstborn Harper. Her death traumatized Amos, so much so that he abandoned his newborn son Harper and the Pine Oak plantation, fleeing to New Orleans. For the next 10 years, Amos would only come back to Pine Oak for a few weeks out of the year during harvest season, leaving Harper with his grandmother. Harper yearned for his father’s love, but rarely got it.
Then one day everything changed. Amos came back to Tennessee wanting to reconcile with his son, so he moved Harper back to Pine Oak in hopes of bettering the relationship. Amos then headed back to New Orleans to finish some business before permanently moving back to Pine Oak. When he returned he wasn’t alone. Accompanying Amos was a mulatto child about two years young than Harper. The boy’s name was Henri and Harper immediately noticed how much he resembled his father. When rumors started to swirl that Amos was Henri’s father, Amos never denied it.
He would eventually admit to Harper’s grandmother that he was the boy’s father, telling her that the child’s mother was dead and that he didn’t want another slave owner to mistreat him. Against everyone’s wishes, Amos brought Henri into Pine Oak putting him in charge of the stables. This infuriated Harper, who grew increasingly jealous of Henri and his relationship with his father, even though Henri was a slave. Harper’s jealousy for Henri would completely consume him as his hate for his brother was the only thing he could think about.
Henri was a hard worker and never complained about his bondage. He was eventually put in charge of Pine Oak operations and was allowed to marry the love of his life Charlemae, another slave who lived on the plantation.
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