John Roy was sitting in a wooden chair, momentarily alone in an upstairs jury room of the State courthouse. While he waited, he was recalling the events of the past few days, noting the peculiar feeling that he was beginning to lose control of his political career. He had been sworn in last Thursday with the other freshmen senators, but had allowed his campaign manager to put on this theatrical inauguration ceremony as a way of thanking his supporters. By the number of newspapermen that had been invited, it was also clear to John that his skin color was as much a story as his political office. That was no surprise. But this feeling he was having, the loss of control, was troubling to him. It was something he had never felt before; even when he was considered inhuman property in the eyes of the law.
Governor Lunz Alcorn broke John’s line of thought as he entered the long empty room. John had known the Governor for some time, and the two men were quite close. Alcorn had appointed him to his first political position as a justice of the peace several years ago. Perhaps because of this familiarity, John could tell that the Governor had something to say, or some uncomfortable question to ask, so he called him out, using his first name to evoke the honesty required of their friendship.
Lunz seemed to demure slightly, instead asking John if he had prepared any remarks for the occasion. He addressed him as “Senator Roy” partly in a congratulatory way, paying him respect, but John also sensed another reason. It seemed as if the Governor was reminding him that he would be speaking in an official capacity now, and that his words would carry a different weight.
John disliked the subtle nuanced language of politicians, so rather than attempt to decipher the Governor’s question, he preferred to simply answer it. He in fact had prepared comments. He was going to speak on his desire to work to improve the lives of people like his father. The Governor’s face looked as if he had just bitten into a lemon. He became agitated, and started doing something that seemed incomprehensible to John Roy. He began telling him who his father was.
Patrick Roy was a white Irish immigrant. He had come to America seeking his fortune and after arriving, invested in twenty acres of land in lower Mississippi and a pair of sibling slaves, a male and a female to assist him in farming it. After the first planting season, his female slave Margaret became pregnant, and Patrick made no pretense of denying that the child was his. For the next dozen or so years, the child John lived and worked as a slave, and after Patrick’s sudden death, was sold along with the rest of the farm property to satisfy the unsettled debts of its owner.
Now John had his turn at having a bitter taste in his mouth. When he began to speak, he did so with a smile on his face, but only because he often smiled when he remembered his father. He could not bring himself to meet the eyes of Governor Alcorn in this moment. Friendships aside, he had little patience for anyone speaking with unkind intonations about his family.
Patrick Roy invested more than money in that small farm. He had poured his soul into it. He worked alongside his servants, ate the same food, and slept on the same pallets in the same dirt-floor cabin. When John’s uncle Will died of malaria one summer, they all wept and mourned together, as a family. When they were blessed with good crops, they all celebrated, and all enjoyed the results as a family. Patrick was an emotional man, and spoke often of his love for Margaret and John. When his horse stumbled in a gopher tortoise burrow, it was John who found his body with a broken neck. On that day, John was not wishing for freedom or opportunity, he was sobbing for the loss of his father. Yes, Patrick Roy was John’s owner, and his mother’s owner, but he was also the man who raised him lovingly, and taught him what it meant to be a man and a Christian.