Beside the non-fiction of The Evidence of Things Not Seen by James Baldwin one puts the short story by Toni Cade Bambara “Madame Bai and the Taking of Stone Mountain” in Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions. The title announces something as accomplished what the story hints as yet to come. Madame, the self-defence instructor, poses a series of questions and each of the questions initiates a description of the ruminations of the protagonist.
“One question, daughter.” Madame says it in English.
“Stone Mountain,” Madame says finally […]
The question is followed by a politicized description of the relief carved into a cliff (a relief depicting a tribute to Confederacy generals). The reader is made to understand the monument receives a particular meaning depending on one’s subject position (“Tourist trap entrapment of visiting schoolchildren lured under the spell of the enslavers of Africans and the killers of Amerinds, lewdly exposed mammoth granite rock of ages the good ole boys think they can hide in from history”) — it is all told with rather more urgency and finesse in the short story. The questions continue.
“What is it for?” Madame asks […]
There follows a piece of bravura writing where our protagonist in a series of truncated sentences is not only describing its function (“[t]o rally the good ole boys, to dispirit the young, to celebrate the.”) but also its destruction (“Five sticks of dynamite shoved in just so […] A people’s army could.”). It is an oratorical gesture that prepares Madame’s striking final words which end the story
“Stone Mountain is for taking,” she says.
Without quoting large swaths of the story, I do no justice to the intensity. I do want to be clear that the whole section of Madame’s apparently simple questions and the train of thought they provoke follows a very detailed description of how the authorities withdraw from investigating the murders of Black children (“Wholesale defection begins in June when the headlines around the country announce that the monster’s been nabbed. […] One man, two counts, and amnesia drifts in like fog to blanket the city.”)
Look up images of Stone Mountain. Read Bambara’s story. Understand Baldwin’s “virtuoso polemic” (Kirkus Review). And believe that changing culture is massive work. Good work. Ongoing work. Necessary work.
And so for day 1088