Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Black Umbrella

One well-known African American ghost tale that is often retold is “Wait Until Martin (Emmet) Comes”. Black slaves in the southern United States originally shared this story before the Civil War. In a future post, I will discuss the rich African American oral tradition this story represents. Another less known African America ghost folktale from South Carolina is about a black umbrella. This tale takes place in the early 1930s.

“The living may forget the dead, but the dead never forget.”

One rainy afternoon as an elderly housekeeper went about her work she heard a mournful song being sung in a nearby cemetery. She grabbed her coat and crossed the road. She loved to sing in her church choir, and she was proud of her voice. Despite the rain, she felt compelled to join the mourners.

As she approached the grave she heard them singing:

“No more rain gonna wet you—
No more…
No more cold gonna chill you—
No more…
Oh lord, I wanna go home—
Go home...
Bring me home…”

The mourners continued to sing even when the wind picked up, and the rain came down harder. A tall male mourner dressed all in black with pale features approached the housekeeper. He handed her a black umbrella stating that a beautiful voice like hers should not get wet.

Eventually, the preacher who faced the grave offered a prayer and ended with a resounding “Amen”. The housekeeper bowed her head for a moment to offer her own silent prayer but when she looked up confusion overtook her. She looked around, but all the mourners were gone. The cemetery now was completely silent.

The sun was out, and the earth at her feet was dry. Scared she hurried back across the street. As she entered her employers’ house, she realized that she was still holding the black umbrella. She placed it in the corner of the entryway and returned to her work. Later that day as she left the lady of the house called out to her, “Betsy, you left your umbrella.”

She kept on walking and never looked back.

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