Trouble Down South Art Challenge
Painting No. 13
Here is a painting on the theme of racism for the 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge with Leslie Saeta. My paintings are reflective of the stories in my Trouble Down South and Other Stories short story collection and my novel Bootlegger Haze (Books One and Two).
This is a painting of a colored World War I soldier, named Rock, who saves a whole white infantry unit. Hezekiah Bennett–nicknamed Rock in the War because he had a head shaped like a rock, all lumpy and dented–is a war hero. But Rock doesn’t receive a hero’s welcome when he returns to the homefront at War’s end. This painting was inspired by my short story “Rock (A Short Story).
As soldiers returned home from the War, they were surprised to learn that alcohol was banned in the States. They were angry, particularly, because alcohol was sold unreservedly overseas and they could indulge freely while on their tour of duty. The soldiers couldn’t believe the evangelists and prohibitionists, that they had risked their lives for, had taken away a freedom they believed was guaranteed by the Constitution, something that helped them keep their sanity during the War, many coming home from the War addicted to the intoxicating brew.
Many colored soldiers made their way.to the Nickel and Dimer, dressed in their military uniforms, to knock back a few bottles of whiskey, tell some war stories, and gamble. The crowd welcomed the soldiers like they were colored celebrities. One soldier, in particular, Hezekiah Bennett, nicknamed Rock in the War because he had a head shaped like a rock, all lumpy and dented, bragged about how he saved a whole white infantry unit, telling the story with zeal, other soldiers refusing to recant their war stories, wanting only to forget the whole experience, the nightmares and flashbacks paralyzing them to the point they couldn’t acclimate themselves back into society.
“At daybreak, you see, we were starting our advancement,” Rock narrated, holding a whiskey bottle in one hand and a soldier’s smoke in the other.
“Yeah, and what happened then?” one patron asked, listening intently to his tale.
“The enemy forces were closing in, you see,” Rock added.
“Uh huh, uh huh,” another patron said, urging Rock on, who had paused to take a swig of whiskey and a long drag on his Camel cigarette.
“There were men all over, see?” Rock continued. “Men laying out, some wounded, some dead.”
“Go ‘head,” the first patron insisted, tired of his slow progress in the story.
“We couldn’t stop. We had to leave the wounded,” Rock said.
“Why?” the other patron asked.
“There was gunfire and shells all over our heads,” Rock said. “We couldn’t stop advancing until we got to a position to take the enemy out.”
“And what happened then?” the first patron asked.
“Two white soldiers and me, we saw a shell hole and made a run for it,” he replied.
“Yeah, uh huh,” the other patron said, hanging on to Rock’s every word.
“I managed to dive in,” Rock said.
“Yeah?” the other patron said.
“They fell in after me,” Rock added. “They was hit, both of them.”
“And,” the first patron egged on.
“I bandaged their wounds and got them stable,” Rock said. “One guy lost his life. The other lost just his hand. Then I advanced forward. I had to leave them and take out the enemy.”
“Did you take them out?” the other patron asked.
“Hell yeah, I took them out,” Rock boasted. “We pushed them damn Germans back. We beat they asses. They gave us medals and welcomed us back to D.C. Colored soldiers, a colored platoon did that.”
“Damn, you the man,” the first patron commented. “You the damn man. Barkeep, get this soldier another drink!”
As more patrons entered the joint, they gathered around to hear Rock retell his story many times that night, each retell embellished a little bit more with exaggerated details. Rock didn’t see any harm in it. He was a hero in their eyes, no doubt.
Prints are available for purchase of the painting “Rock.” Prints are available in sizes 8 x 10, 11 x 14, and 16 x 20 inches (unframed). Email Katrina Williams at stepartdesigns at hotmail dot com for prices.
Check out the 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge with Leslie Saeta–http://www.lesliesaeta.blogspot.com/.
I am an artist and an author of southern and historical fiction and short stories. View all my artwork on my artist page at Daily Paintworks.
Check out more of my artwork at my Art Blog–KPWms Art Studio.