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The Fall of Adam




Brother Gabriel Gainey was the founder, patron, chief elder and preacher of the colored Baptist church in 'Possum Hollow. Before the war "Bre'r Gabe" was the slave preacher on a large plantation, and his pulpit powers were developed under circumstances somewhat unfavorable to a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures or to any acquaintance with the rules of grammar. He had strong lungs, however, and a powerful imagination, and could depict the horrors of sheol with a rude realism which was very effective in bringing plantation sinners to repentance, and it was a tradition of the neighborhood that even a white man had once been converted under his preaching.

In a great crisis genius always comes to the front. Napoleon would never, perhaps, have been Emperor, had General Menou been able to restore order in the streets of Paris. In the breaking up of society which followed the abolition of slavery, Brother Gabriel saw his chance, and determined to have a church of his own. With a little help from the Freedman's Bureau he bought a small strip of land, and chiefly with his own hands put up the rude structure where his followers worshipped. In the fullness of his joy he christened it Hallelujah Chapel, which name it bears to this day. He gathered about him a fair-sized congregation and performed his pastoral duties with a lively zeal. He earned his living as a carpenter, the church contributions being just about sufficient to keep him in Sunday clothes. The dignity and importance of leadership were enough to satisfy the elder's moderate ambition.

One evening Elder Gainey sat by the fireplace in his little frame dwelling-house, slowly and patiently studying out a hymn which he wished to learn by heart in order to line it out the more readily the following Sabbath. A blazing pine-knot supplied him with light, and cast flickering and fantastic shadows on the walls. The Elder had just decided upon a satisfactory pronunciation for a word of four syllables with which he had been wrestling, when there was a knock as the door, and he arose to admit a visitor.

"Good-evenin', Elder," said the new arrival, a tall, angular negro, with a peculiar cranial development known as a "double head," by no means uncommon among the Southern negroes, and generally accompanied with more than ordinary intellectual activity. Elder Gainey greeted the visitor with becoming gravity, and the usual inquiries concerning the health of their two families and the state of the weather were exchanged, when the visitor continued:

"I 'lowed you'd be home to-night, elder, so I thought I'd come over an' ax you a few questions on one or two p'ints in de Bible, what's be'n botherin' my min'."

Brother 'Lijah Gadson, the anxious inquirer, was an active and valuable member of the elder’s church. He had but one serious fault—he was fond of asking hard questions. As not a few of these fell to Elder Gainy’s share as spiritual guide of the congregation, the worthy elder was frequently reminded of a certain old and popular proverb in reference to the difficulty which a wise man may sometimes find in answering the questions of a fool.

Brother ‘Lijah was provided with a shuck-bottomed rocking-chair, and the elder, after placing a couple of sweet potatoes before the fire, seated himself on the other side of the hearth and announced his readiness to impart information.

"Bre'r Gab'l," said 'Lijah, interrogatively, "you's pretty well acquainted wid de Bible?"

"Yas, Bre'r 'Lijah," replied the elder modestly, "dat is, I knows a little sump'n 'bout de Bible."

"Well, elder, da's one thing 'bout de Bible I never couldn' understan', and dass de fall of Adam. Now I'se hearn a good 'eal 'bout dis subjic': I'se sarched de Scriptures, an' axed udder folks, but after all my sarchin's an' my axins, I ain't never yit be'n able to find out whar Adam fell from, nuh how he come to fall?"

"I think," said the elder reflectively, "dat Adam fell 'case he didn' min' de Lawd."

"I knows dat, Bre'r Gab'l, but dass not de p'int. De words used is dat Adam fell, an' I b'lieve de Bible mean jes' what it say. So what I'se tryin' to fin' out is, whar he fell from, how far he fell."

Elder Gainey's face assumed an expression of deep thought, and after a few moments' pause he replied:

"Well, Bre'r 'Lijah, I's be'n studyin' de Scriptures for many years, but dass de fus' time I had de question put in jes' dat way 'zackly. I'll think de question ovuh, an' by nex' Sunday mawnin' I hopes to be able to answer it satisfac'ry. Some o' dese deep p'ints requi'es studying' an' prayin' ovuh. Is yuh had dat wood hauled to de chu’ch yit, Bre'r Gadson?"

"Anothuh p'int what's be'n worry'ing' me," continued Brother Gadson, not noticing the diversion, "is what caused de diffe'nce 'twix' white folks an' black folks. I be'n 'flectin' dat subjic' over a long time, and axin' 'bout it; but nobody doan' seem to known nuffin' sartin 'bout it. Some says it's de cuss o' Caanyun but I never could'n' understan' bout dis here cuss o' Caanyun. I can see how de Lawd could turn anybody blac jest' by cussin' 'im; 'case 'fo I j'ined de church—dat was ‘fo de wah—I use' ter cuss de overseah on old marse's plantation awful bad—when he was'n' da—an' all de darkies on de plantation use'ter cus 'im, an' it didn' make de leas' change in 'is complexion. ‘Peahs to me somebody must 'a done sum'in' to make black folks, 'case de Lawd is good, an' I dorn' b'lieve He made anybody black at fus'."

Brother Gabriel gazed earnestly into the fire.

"De ways of de Lawd, Bre'r Gadson, is pas' findin' out. Dat is a deep question, but I have no doubt I kin fin' a chapter in de Bible what'll throw some light on it, if it doan 'splain it all. I will also tech on dat p'int in my sermon nex' Sunday mawnin'. Bre'r Gadson, is yuh hauled dat wood to de chu'ch yit?"

Brother 'Lijah, having relieved his mind of these weighty matters, was now in a condition to talk business. He was the "section" or sexton of Hallelujah Chapel, and attended to the fires, sweeping, and other similar duties. The matter of the wood disposed of, Brother 'Lijah discussed one of the sweet potatoes which by this time was done to a turn, and bidding the elder good-night, took his way homeward.

Whenever he had very knotty questions to discuss Brother Gabriel went into a trance. On these occasions the elder would retire to his chamber, or to the woods, and remain for a long time engaged in prayer. These prayers were delivered aloud, and would gradually increase in energy and vociferousness until the neighbors all knew that "Bre'r Gab'l was 'ras'lin' in pra'r." When he had wrought himself up into a state of excitement bordering on frenzy he would relapse into unconsciousness. In an hour or so he would come to and have a vision, more or less marvellous, to relate to his wondering auditors. Between the date of the conversation above reported and the Sunday after, the elder indulged in a "rastle" which supplied the material of his great sermon.



The next Sabbath dawned fair and beautiful. The great blue vault stretched far above, as clear and soft as a Venetian sky. Along the country roads, bordered with fields of yellowing corn and snowy cotton, the congregation of Hallelujah Chapel streamed from all directions. It was a big day. There were several candidates for baptism. After the baptism it was the intention of the church to start a revival. There was also a collection to be taken up for the benefit of the preacher. With all these incentives to effort, Brother Gabriel was anxious to do his best.

The services did not begin until half-past eleven. The appointed time was an hour earlier, but the colored people in their new-found freedom were like the sturdy Saxons of long ago, who, Blackstone tells us, "held it beneath the condition of a freeman to appear or do anything at the appointed time." Brother 'Lijah had circulated the information that Elder Gainey would preach on the two subjects of "Adam's Fall" and the "Origin of Races," and there was considerable curiosity to hear the sermon—especially that part of it which related to the latter subject.

As the weather was fine and the church small, the services were held in the open air, under a temporary shelter of pine boughs. The pulpit and benches were brought out, and supplementary seats were extemporized by laying pine slabs across logs of wood. While the congregation was gathering, Brother 'Lijah led those present in a new song of his own composition, sung to a simple and not unpleasing melody. The song was a running commentary on the lives and virtues of "Ole Moses," "Ole David," and other Old Testament characters, and was sung by 'Lijah as a solo, the music-loving audience soon catching the swing of the rather rollicking chorus and joining in heartily.

The regular service began when Elder Gainey ascended the pulpit and gave out the opening hymn. This hymn was sung by the choir, which was composed of young people, equipped with large, yellow-covered note-books, having the music printed in character notes. The choir sang with the spirit, though their understanding of the tune (an old-fashioned fugue) was occasionally open to doubt.

Then followed the opening prayer, an appeal to the Deity by a gifted brother, whose effusion equalled in comprehensiveness the Morning Prayer in the Episcopal service. It almost equalled the Morning Prayer in length, must have been tiresome to the congregation, who were all devoutly kneeling. Several indiscreet sisters encouraged the orator by groans and exclamations, and under this stimulus it seemed hard to say when he would stop. He might have gone on and on forever, like the Wandering Jew or the Phantom Ship, had not Brother Gabriel, mindful of the other services, and watching his chance, at last brought the prayer to a close by interjecting a sonorous "Amen," when the eloquent and perspiring orator paused to breathe.

Then followed the second hymn, lined out by the preacher, and led by brother 'Lijah, who always acted as precentor. The hymn concluded, Elder Gainey stood up behind the pulpit, carefully adjusted his spectacles, poured out a glass of water from the pitcher which graced the stand, opened the Bible at random, took out his handkerchief—a large square of snowy linen—sonorously blew his nose in a dignified manner, placed the handkerchief under one side of the Bible, and announced his text—a familiar passage from the book of Revelations—and began his sermon as follows:

"I's gwine tuh preach to yuh dis mawnin', brethe'n an' sistern, 'bout two mighty deep an' powerful subjic's. Las' Wednesday evenin' one o' de members o' dis chu'ch axed me two questions dat sot me to searchin' de Scripters." (Here he stated the questions substantially as propounded by Brother Gadson.) "I read de Bible day by day, but couldn' fin' nothin' sartin; so 'cluded dey wan' no use readin' no mo'—de subjic' was too deep fuh readin'. Pra'r was what was wantint' An', breth'n an' sistern, I 'ras'led in pra'r 'tell I fell into a trance, an' in dat trance I had a vision what made the whole thing plain as de sunlight. Dem two questions might 'peah to be mighty diffe'nt, but dat vision showed me that de two b'longed right close togeddah, dat one growed right out'n de yuthuh."

"It seemed to me, when I fell into dat trance, I see a tall white angel comin' right down f'om hebben to wha'r I wus. He had a golden harp in his han', golden slippuhs on his feet, and a crown of gold upon his head. He flewed right down 'side o' me an' says: 'Rise up Gab'l, an' go along wid me, an' all will be made cla'r to you.' I followed de angel th'ough de aiah, ovuh de mountains an' valleys an' oceans 'tel we come to a big gyahden whar all kin's o' trees an' flowuhs was growin'. Den de angel says to me: 'Dis is the gyahden of Eden. Look! Den de angel lef' me an' I looked, an' seen Adam an' Eve in de gyahden jes' es dey wus when de wuhld was made.

"I seen de sarpen' crawl up Eve an' talk to her, an' den she et de apple. Bime-by Adam come 'long. Eve give Adam de apple, an' Adam did eat. Bime-by Eve seen de Lawd a comin'. 'Adam,' says Eve, 'yander come de Lawd.' Den Adam turn' pale an' begun to trimble. 'De Law'll be mad with us 'case we et dat apple,' says he, 'what for you make me eat dat apple, Eve?' 'You mighty big cowya'd, Adam, you et dat apple, an' tain' no use talkin.' Yanduh come de Lawd, an' he look mad.' 'Less hide, Eve,' said Adam. So dey hid in de bushes. Bimeby 'long come de Lawd wid a big hick'ry in 'is han'. 'Adam, wha'r is you?' says he. Adam never said a word. But de Lawd knowed wha'r Adam wus, an' he come right straight towa'ds 'im.

"Adam started to run—de Lawd right aftuh 'im; Adam jumped ovuh de tree of life—de Lawd right aftuh 'im; run roun' de worl'—de Lawd right aftuh 'im; swum ovuh de sea—de Lawd right aftuh 'im; jumped ovuh Jupiter—de Lawd gainin' on 'im; jumped ovuh de moon—de Lawd close behin'. When he got to de sun, he was so tired he couldn' jump high 'nuff, an' de bright light blind' 'im so he could'n' see whar' he was goin', an' he fell—fell right down into the rivuh Jurdan; an' befo' he could pull hisse'f out'n de mud at de bottom, de Lawd cotch 'im—an' sich anuthuh whippin' de Lawd give Adam de worl' have nevuh hearn tell uv sence. An' dat 'splains, bro'rs an' sisters, de fall of Adam.

"De yuthuh p'int what was 'splained to me at de same time by de vision, was what make de diffe'nce 'twix' white folks an' black folks; an' what I larn' convince' me dat de Lawd nevuh made nobody black. 'Fac de Lawd nevuh made nobody but Adam an' Eve—de yuthuhs was all bawn. Of co'se if Adam uh anybody else gwine' do anything to make deyse'ves black, de Lawd wan' gwine have nothin' tuh do wid it; he made 'em once, an' he nevuh do this wuk twice. So dis 'splains de diffe'nce. When Adam jump ovuh de sun, de fiah was so hot it scawched 'im black as a crips, an' curled up his ha'r so he nevuh couldn'n't git it straight agin. An', 'cawdin' to de laws ob nachah—

Jes' so de tree fall, jes' so it lie. Jes' so de sinner lib, jes' so he die.

An' so Adam nevuh turn' white no mo', but stayed black all de rest ob 'is life." All Adam an' Eve's chillum bawn fo' de Fall was white, an' dey was de fo'fathers ob de white race o' people—all Adam an' Eve's chillum bawn aftuh de Fall was black, an' dey was de fo'fathers ob de black race o' people."

The close of the sermon was followed by a ripple of excitement and a subdued murmur, which showed the interest with which the statements of the elder had been listened to, and it was not at all certain that the murmur was one of unqualified approval. One brother over in the amen corner was so deeply moved that he forgot etiquette of the service, and startled the congregation by standing up and addressing the elder:

"Elder, did I understan' you to say dat all Adam's chillum bawn befo' de Fall was white?"

"Yas, dass what de vision say."

"An' Adam libbed wid Even aftuh de Fall?"

"Ob co'se—dey wan't nobody else to lib wid."

"Well, it kindah 'peahs to me, elder, dat unduh all de sarcumstances ob de case, dem chillun bawn aftuh de Fall oughtah be’n mullattahs."

“Bre'r Isham," said the elder sternly. "I wants dis tawkin' in de chu'ch stopped. De collection will now be lifted. Bre'r Needham, set de table out. Bre'r 'Lijah, start a hyme."