Levee – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom By August Wilson


Context: Levee refuses to be beat down about the imposing authority of white men within his life and musicianship.

LEVEE: Levee got to be Levee! And he don‘t need nobody messing with him about the white man —cause you don‘t know nothing about me. You don‘t know Levee. You don‘t know nothing about what kind of blood I got! What kind of heart I got beating here! (Pounds his chest) I was eight years old when I watched a gang of white mens come into my daddy‘s house and have to do with my mama any way they wanted. (Pause) We was living in Jefferson County, about eighty miles outside of Natchez. My daddy‘s name was Memphis . . . Memphis Lee Green . . . had him near fifty acres of good farming land. I‘m talking about good land! Grow anything you want! He done gone off of shares and bought this land from Mr. Hallie‘s widow woman after he done passed on. Folks called him an uppity nigger cause he done saved and borrowed to where he could buy this land and be independent. (Pause) It was coming on planting time and my daddy went into Natchez to get him some seed fertilizer. Called me, say, ―Levee, you the man of the house now. Take care of your mama while I‘m gone. I wasn‘t but a little boy, eight years old. (Pause) My mama was frying up some chicken when them mens come in that house. Must have been eight or nine of them. She standing there frying that chicken and them mens come and took hold of her just like you take hold of a mule and make him do what you want. (Pause) There was my mama with a gang of white mens. She tried to fight them off, but I could see where it wasn‘t gonna do her any good. I didn‘t know what they were 59 doing to her . . . but I figured whatever it was they may as well do to me too. My daddy had a knife that he kept around there for hunting and working and whatnot. I knew where he kept it and I went and got it. I‘m gonna show you how spooked up I was by the white man. I tried my damndest to cut one of them‘s throat! I hit him in the shoulder with it. He reached back and grabbed hold of that knife and whacked me across the chest with it. (Raises his shirt to show a long ugly scar.) That‘s what made them stop. They was scared I was gonna bleed to death. My mama wrapped a sheet around me and carried me two miles down to the Furlow place and they drove me up to Doc Albans. He was waiting on a calf to be born, and say he ain‘t had time to see me. They carried me up to Miss Etta, the midwife, and she fixed me up. My daddy came back and acted like he done accepted the facts of what happened. But he got the names of them mens from mama. He found out who they was and then we announced we was moving out of that county. Said good-bye to everybody . . . all the neighbors. My daddy went and smiled in the face of one of them crackers who had been with my mama. Smiled in his face and sold him our land. We moved over with relations I Caldwell. He got us settled in and then he took off one day. I ain‘t never seen him since. He sneaked back, hiding up in the woods, laying to get them eight or nine men. (Pause) My daddy wasn‘t spooked up by the white man. Nosir! And that taught me how to handle them. I seen my daddy go up and grin in this cracker‘s face . . . smile in his face and sell him his land. All the while he‘s planning how he‘s gonna get him and what he‘s gonna do to him. That taught me how to handle them. So you all just back up and leave Levee alone about the white man. I can smile and say ―yessir to whoever I please. I got time coming to me. You all just leave Levee alone about the white man.

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