Volume 111

Speak to Your Dead, Write for Your Dead: David Galloway, Malinda Brandon, and a Story of American Reconstruction

by Aderson Bellegarde Francois

Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. Footnote #1 content: ALEXANDER CHEE, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, in HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL 244, 277 (2018). 

someone will remember us
I say

even in another time Footnote #2 content: SAPPHO, IF NOT, WINTER: FRAGMENTS OF SAPPHO 147 (Anne Carson trans., 2003). 

For over ten years, the state of Tennessee prosecuted a Black man and a white woman, first for living together and then for marrying one another. Their names were David Galloway and Malinda Brandon, and this is their story. It is also the story of American Reconstructiona singular moment in American history in general, and American constitutional jurisprudence in particular, when, for a brief instant, between Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson, between the Civil War and Jim Crow, between the bondage of cotton plantations and the segregation of drinking fountains, between the charnel house of Gettysburg and the strange fruits hanging from Southern trees, the old world of racial slavery had fallen into pieces and had not yet rebuilt itself into the new social order of racial apartheid; everything seemed, again for a brief moment, possible, everything changing, in flux, in motion. W.E.B. Du Bois once eulogized Reconstruction as a “splendid failure” which, had it succeeded, would have given birth to “a different world.” David and Malinda were two ordinary people whose livesdiminished, damaged, brokenwere, in that liminal flicker of Reconstruction, an emblem of the different world whose passing Du Bois would in time come to mourn. 

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Access the Appendix of Primary Sources.

Francois, Speak to Your Dead