NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 14

“ But to get back to what happened in his youth , the defining event that made King Comus a legend not only in the family but all up and down the Mississippi River — to the days when his master , having taught his slave ( who by now was — at least in his mind — his talented adopted son ) how to play almost every instrument in the band and had even started to hire him out to the steamboats as a freelance band musician , sometimes the leader of a band — I once drew myself a little chart with all the dates known to the family as to what King Comus might have been doing at any given time of history and compared those dates with dates in my high school history books at school , and very early in my life I came to the conclusion that King Comus ’ famous leap into the Mississippi had to have taken place around 1837 or 1838 on a Christmas Day not too long after Old Hickory , as in those days they used to call Andrew Jackson , had signed the government decree that kicked the Cherokees out of Georgia and sent them on that long thousand-mile march across the country in the middle of a cold bitter winter with all their old folks and children and including their dogs and cattle and horses and meager belongings to seek a new homeland on the other side of the Mississippi —
“ Now I grant you , how King Comus got mixed up in that terrible , God-awful trek across the country is a story in itself , a story nobody knows too much about , but a story that has always stirred up a whole lot of controversy in our family , mainly because Indians were involved — and you know how skittish black folks are about anything having to do with the redskins — but also because it was a white girl , an emigrant German girl just arrived from Europe who was the real reason King Comus made his famous leap —
“ As for the leap itself , for example when did it actually take place , I always figured it had to have been around 1837 or 1838 , because that was when Andrew Jackson left office and sending some 80,000 Cherokee , Creek , Choctaw , Chickasaw and Seminole tribes West ( I see that funny way you ’ re looking at me D ., but back home in Oklahoma , where I come from , black folks are more likely to get worked up about how much Indian blood you got running in your veins than whether your ancestors were ‘ house niggers ’ or ‘ field niggers ’ on some raggedy-ass cotton-picking plantation , the way it is up North , if y ’ know what I mean !) —
“ Anyway , be that as it may , the day the ‘ leap ’ occurred , King Comus ’ famous leap into the Mississippi , it was dusk on the river and the brand new saloon steamer , the Memphis Vanguard , was on its maiden voyage , all lights burning , a big German-style Christmas tree with bright red and white tree streamers wrapped around it on the prow , smoke rising up out of its stack and a full load of passengers getting dressed for the pre-dinner band concert when suddenly the German bandmaster realizes King Comus , his ace trumpet player and substitute pianist hadn ’ t showed up —
“ Immediately smelling a rat , the frantic bandmaster tells his first trumpet player to take over while he rushes off in a rage to the galley where the Negro cook tells him the last time he ’ d seen King Comus ( you notice how everybody calls him ‘ King ’ Comus , ain ’ t nobody , even back in those days , ever dared to call him just ‘ Comus ,’ at least to his face ); anyway , it must have been about half an hour or so before , when King Comus had come down to the galley to fetch a deluxe tray with all the fixings for a five o ’ clock tea on it , especially those itty-bitty finger sandwiches , which , so King Comus claimed , the bandmaster had ordered him to take to a supposedly sick passenger in a certain cabin on the saloon deck —
“ The only trouble was that the only passenger on the saloon deck on that particular trip was the bandmaster ’ s niece just arrived from Bremerhaven who was on her way to Memphis to be married to a banker who was the scion of one of that rapidly growing city ’ s most prominent families —