This post was originally going to be a Crescent City Classic Nightmare recounting the gruesome Saw-like activities of French Quarter socialite couple Dr. and Madame LaLaurie, active in the early 1800’s…read on (from Wikipedia):
The LaLauries, in the style of their social class at the time, maintained several black slaves in slave quarters attached to the Royal Street mansion. Martineau [a local writer] also recounted other tales of LaLaurie's cruelty that were current among New Orleans residents in about 1836. She claimed that, subsequent to the visit of the local lawyer, one of LaLaurie's neighbors saw a young negro girl fall to her death from the roof of the Royal Street mansion while trying to avoid punishment from a whip-wielding Delphine LaLaurie. The body of the girl was subsequently buried on the mansion grounds. According to Martineau, this incident led to an investigation of the LaLauries, in which they were found guilty of illegal cruelty and forced to forfeit nine slaves. These nine slaves were then bought back by the LaLauries through the intermediary of one of their relatives, and returned to the Royal Street residences. Similarly, Martineau reported stories that LaLaurie kept her cook chained to the kitchen stove, and beat her daughters when they attempted to feed the slaves.On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence on Royal Street. As reported in the New Orleans Bee of April 11, 1834, bystanders responding to the fire attempted to enter the slave quarters to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. Upon being refused the keys by the LaLauries, the bystanders broke down the doors to the slave quarters and found "seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated ... suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other", who claimed to have been imprisoned there for some months.One of those who entered the premises was Judge Jean-Francois Canonge, who subsequently deposed to having found in the LaLaurie mansion, among others, a "negress ... wearing an iron collar" and "an old negro woman who had received a very deep wound on her head [who was] too weak to be able to walk". A version of this story circulating in 1836, recounted by Martineau, claimed that the fire was started deliberately by LaLaurie's cook to draw attention to the plight of the slaves, and added that the slaves were emaciated, showed signs of being flayed with a whip, were bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars which kept their heads in static positions.When the discovery of the tortured slaves became widely known, a mob of local citizens attacked the LaLaurie residence and "demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands". A sheriff and his officers were required to disperse the crowd and, by the time the mob left, the Royal Street property had sustained major damage, with "scarcely any thing [remaining] but the walls". The tortured slaves were taken to a local jail, where they were available for public viewing. The New Orleans Bee reported that by April 12 up to 4,000 people had attended to view the tortured slaves "to convince themselves of their sufferings".
Of course the lore grew from there, and the house on 1140 Royal Street became reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in New Orleans. That’s all well and good, but really think about it. This isn’t just a gruesome thrilling local legend. You can hear this story along with several others on a New Orleans Haunted Tour, but none of the rest of them involves a narrative highly charged with slavery, injustice and racism. You may not think about it at first, you may just focus on the torture porn and the ghost haunting. But I urge you to really consider the human victims of this non-fictional tale, just like you might (or might not) put yourself in the shoes of that nice babysitter in Halloween or the latest yuppie victim tied to Jigsaw’s cutting board. Or, a better analogy: a victim of Ted Bundy or the Manson Family.
Where’s the torture porn director/producer that wants to take the LaLaurie legend on?
This neatly bridges the gap to the work of an Open Salon colleague.
Hi FrogTownDiva! Nearly two years ago I promised you I would take a look at your e-book, “They Just Be Killing White Folks ” (available at both Amazon and LuLu). I’m terribly sorry for the delay, a mixture of laziness, economic anxiety and massive life changes, but I did finally purchase and read it for my kindle.
Since I’m terrible at recaps, I’ll let the summary blurb explain the premise:
A black farmer takes his sons on an adventure to see a silent horror film showing at the new theater on Halloween night in 1930, in central Texas. There were nearly 500 black people lynched in Texas that year, so a movie about a vampire hardly seemed frightening except to the youngest son, Lijah, who consoles himself with his father's assurance that in the silent film, "they just be killing white folks."
As it happens, Lijah witnesses and escapes the lynching and rape of his father and brothers after the movie (Nosferatu). Subsequently, his trauma manifests in a supernatural transformation of the leader of the lynch mob into a demonic vampire bound by the covenant that it can only kill white people.
FrogTownDiva has presented us with powerful ideas and images. Lijah’s anxiety manifesting as a literal vampire is an original and unique take on the creature. That’s the first thing I applaud her for. The occultism she features throughout the novella is fascinating, including a spectacular climax where the black community of the Texas town comes together and mixes their Christian, Native American and voodoo/Afro-diaspora rituals into a grand spectral pyrotechnic exorcism. That takes no small amount of imagination.
Using the vampire metaphor to talk about historical, institutionalized racial injustice, “They Just Be Killing White Folks” is filled to the brim with anger, as it should be. It doesn’t leave much room for nuanced characters – the lead lyncher, Norman, is nothing but a depraved monster through and through even before his transformation, his life continually riddled with rape, incest and pedophilia. This (along with a few passages suffering from ‘telling, not showing’) might impact literary quality slightly, but so what? Like I said, there’s an urgent anger in this story that doesn’t want to be compromised by nuance. Accept it.
Bravo, FrogTownDiva, and keep that imagination at work.