Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amos Fortune, Free Man (1951)

The majority of Newbery books I have read to this point have been good, but not stand-out great.  There were a few (Caddie Woodlawn, The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Johnny Tremain).  Amos Fortune, Free Man goes on that list. This biography reads like fiction.  I don't know how extensive the "Amos Fortune papers" are (available in the East Jaffrey library) which the author used in writing this, but I would hazard a guess that she made up the dialogue and internal thoughts.  Although it does say in the book that Amos carried around a notebook. 

The book begins in Africa in 1725.  Ms. Yates paints a superb picture in our minds with lyrical, poetic prose, of the night and the group gathered in the jungle, among whom is At-mun, the chief's son.  During this night, slave traders surround the tribe, shoot the chief and take all of the healthy, young men and women captive.  Then begins the arduous path to the Americas with a wait in the pit, the notorious Middle Passage, the humiliation of being sold.  Through all this, At-mun keeps his pride, remembers his heritage as a king. 

I will not go through the story of his life.  Know, kind reader, that it is filled with hopes and dreams and faith, love and loss.   What I will do is put down some of my favorite quotes.

"Amos went to church for two long hours in the morning and again in the afternoon, observing with respect the laws that pertained to the Sabbath during the hours when he was not under the vigilant eye of the minister.  It puzzled Amos that the white people put so much stress on Sunday.  Yet it seemed somehow similar to the stress they put on the color of a man's skin.  To Amos, once he understood the Lord, every day was lived to Him.  It was not in the Meeting House alone but in the tan yard that he took delight in being a Christian.  It was not with his own people he felt at his best but with all men" (p. 56)

On the day he bought his own freedom, "He stood in the doorway and breathed the air...and it seemed that now he was free he could breathe more deeply...He was almost sixty years old and he was ready to live." (p. 68)

"The struggling colonies had been bound together by words on a parchment, words that said 'All men are created equal...'  words that were to become the foundation stone of a nation, words easily ascribed to in the enthusiasm of youth when they signified breaking the bonds of restriction and tyranny, words hard to explain to the black man who looked to the white for wisdom and understanding." (p.77)

Describing the preacher, "Imposing and fiery, challenging and inspired, his words on a Sunday were as forceful as his life on a weekday." (p. 121)

Amos and Violet, his wife, had an argument and these are her thoughts.  "What right had she to oppose him?  Yet it was he who had given her freedom.  The word was meaningless unless in its light each one lived up to his highest and his best." (p. 140)

Amos, after many years, told Violet about his capture and his initial desire to escape.  He said, "My hand was restrained and I'm glad that it was, for the years between have shown me that it does a man no good to be free until he knows how to live, how to walk in step with God." (p. 162)

There are many more, but this is getting too long.  I think children would enjoy this book.  I sure did.

Yates, Elizabeth.  Amos Fortune, Free Man.  Dutton, 1950.

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