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After fighting as a Union officer in the Civil War, former slave Obi Booker returns to South Carolina to make a new life for himself and his beloved Easter.
Obi gazed at the long line of black men with a sprinkling of whites and could not shake the odd feeling that something special was going to happen that day. As usual, whenever Obi was in a new place, he searched for a familiar face — anyone who might give him information about Easter and Jason, or the people who had left the Phillips plantation. Fighting his shyness and distrust of people he didn't know, he even struck up conversations with strangers at times. These often ended up telling Obi their own stories of searching for a sister or brother, a mother or father, a lover, a friend.
In the two years since he'd visited the Jennings farm he had found out nothing. He'd gone back to the farm and the neighborhood surrounding the plantation. He'd also traveled to a few of the coastal islands — Parris, Port Royal, Ladies, Hilton Head'but there were many more that he had yet to step foot on. He promised to visit every one of them. Freed people were still pouring onto the islands, fleeing the beatings and lynchings and the hatred against them that was beginning to spread like a plague.
He carefully studied the faces of the men who were lining up at the courthouse so that they could vote. Perhaps this was his lucky day, and he'd find the one person who could lead him to Easter and Jason.
"We are witnessing history." Thomas startled Obi. "Black men have been given the right to vote," he added.
"Y'all be witnessing buckshots in your hindparts if youdon't pay attention to these woods behind us," Peter said, his eyes roaming the slight rise of hills covered with pine and oak trees.
"Okay, Peter." Obi turned to several other men who were also from the 104th U.S. Colored Infantry, part of a small company of soldiers sent from Beaufort to guard the men voting for a new state constitution.
"Time for another round of patrols, men," Obi said. "Two of y'all go check that thicket. It don't look natural to me." Then he turned to Thomas and Peter. "Let's see what's over on the other side of the hill."
"Good spot for a sniper," Thomas muttered in his clipped northern accent as he rushed ahead of Obi and Peter.
Peter, large and husky, frowned at Obi. "Soon as I muster out of this army, I'm leaving the South. You still ain't free if you can't go and vote without soldiers guarding you. Let me tell you, the only reason the freed people ain't all been killed dead is 'cause the army and the Freedmen's Bureau still here. When they go — " He ran his index finger across his throat. "Death to all blacks and all Republicans — white ones too."
"Hush, Peter," Obi said. "Concentrate on what we doing here."
Obi watched the back of Thomas's large head bobbing up and down, and his nervous quick movements as he stomped through the brush, loudly crunching dried leaves and twigs. That city boy still scared of the woods, he mused. "Peter, make Thomas slow down. He sound like a herd of buffalo, someone hear him coming a mile away."
Suddenly, one of the soldiers who'd walked toward the thicket on the other side of the hill called out, "Corporal Booker. Over here."
Obi ran to him, with Peter and Thomas following. "My God," Thomas gasped.
Three frightened children were huddled in the thicket. Their feet were tied with filthy rags, and the eldest child wore a long shift so old and worn it seemed as though it would crumble at a touch, like yellowed parchment. The two younger children, one of them a toddler, wore dirty shirttails and were partially covered with a dirty blue blanket. Sores and scars covered their arms and legs.
Obi kneeled in front of the biggest girl, who appeared to be about ten years old. He couldn't tell whether the other two children were male or female. The girl cradled the toddler in her arms. The other child held on to the girl's ragged dress.
"You the only one taking care of these children?" Obi asked.
She nodded, staring at the ground.
"Where's your mama?"
"She dead," the girl answered in a leaden voice. "They all dead."
"Who? Your kin?"
"Everybody where we live. The white men come there. Pull everyone out the houses. Kill everybody."
"How you know everybody was killed?"
"They was hanging in the trees. Everybody. Miss Emma, Mr. George, Daniel, their boy used to play with us. Mr. Edward, Miss — "
Obi patted her shoulder and stopped the recital. The images her words created were clear enough. Her story was the worst he'd heard so far.
"Lord, lord, lord," one of the soldiers murmured.
Obi continued. "Where this happen?"She still stared at the ground. "Pine Bluff."
"In South Carolina?"
"I don't know, sir."
"How you get away?"
"My mama and us hide in the woods. Then when the men leave the next morning, we see everybody hanging. All of them. Miss Emma, Mr. George — "
"I'll get their names later. What happen to your mama?"
"We leave, and some white people help us. Carry us in a wagon. But my mama give out. She say though that we not from Pine Bluff. Say our home be in South Carolina. She tell us to go to the island. Our home is on the island."
"I don't know, sir."
"How you get here?"
"The white people give us to some black people and we walk and ride in boat and wagon with them. They leave us at the house down there." She raised her head slightly and pointed to the courthouse. "Say someone there help us. But we afraid and hide in the woods." She spoke in a flat monotone and stared at the ground again...
The Heart Calls Home. Copyright © by Joyce Hansen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted April 6, 2011
The Heart Calls Home is about an ex- slave name Obi Booker. During the civil war he joined the Union Army. When the war was over and slavery was almost abolished, he came back to his plantation owner's house, but he found it empty. Because of this he went around looking for his once known family. I thought this book was pretty good. I could definitely picture a lot of scenes that were going on in this book. At some parts it got a little confusing, but it never took me a long time to understand what was going on. I think the reason I started to get confused on what was going on was because I would not read this book for a couple of days then I would go back to it. This book is a very good book if you need to use it for a Social Studies project or something. It has a lot of History terms and places in here, that really helps you learn a lot. This is probably one of my favorite historical- fiction books I have ever read!
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