It has taken centuries to recognize that all humans possess certain unalienable rights. There will come a time when we have to consider whether others deserve those rights as well.
That time will come on July 3rd, 1863.
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It's a mixed genre novel: Alternate History, Science Fiction, Time Travel, First Contact...to name a few!
(March 20, 1849)
The passengers boarding the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad coaches struggled to drag their luggage through the narrow passageways, puffing clouds of white breath in the chilly air. Screams of excitement came from a gaggle of children chasing one other around the piles of luggage.
The chill in Washington City was unexpected, since it was, in fact, the exact day of the vernal equinox. Winter was supposed to be finished, yet it lingered. Edwin Blair, however, anticipated the chill. Having done the research, he gave it little notice.
Aside from surveying the antics of the overly rambunctious children, Blair also carefully observed a tall, gangly man with unruly black hair who looked to be about his age signaling for help. No sooner had the man arched his brow, accompanied by a sweeping gesture toward several well-worn bags, than the two non-company men scattered about the platform leapt into action. How am I going to refer to them? Blair wondered, trying not to panic. I’m not going to use the slavers’ term! ‘African-American’ won’t work. His heart was racing. He tried to reorient his thinking so he could more easily adjust his speech patterns to the time. There was that 1844 newspaper article about a “colored” man stopping the runaway carriage of President Tyler, and eventually the War Department’s going to create the Bureau of Colored Troops. He shook his head in resignation. “Colored’s” going to have to do.
Edwin Blair, sporting a newly grown blonde, well-trimmed beard, and carrying nothing but a shiny metallic valise that he held closely by his right side, boarded several moments after the tall traveler, catching the eye of virtually everyone he passed. The perfectly polished surface of the valise seemed more like mirrored glass than metal, and his black leather jacket flapped opened in the cool breeze, revealing a black cable-knit pullover sweater. This, together with his dark blue denim trousers, his shoes made of indeterminate material, and his gleaming valise, were the source of near universal curiosity. Several of the young children skipping along beside him pointed to him and laughed. Their parents offered barely-hushed admonitions, “Behave yourselves! You know you mustn’t stare at strangers. It simply is not polite.” Yet they, to a person, failed to follow their own advice.
Blair held nothing in his left hand, yet he clenched it so tightly that his nails dug into his flesh, his teeth clenched every bit as tightly as his hand. No one mentioned the word “LEVI’S” burnt into a small leather patch on the back of his trousers, but several men did wonder out loud about the word “NIKE” on the side of his black and white shoes.
“What ho?” one heavily bewhiskered person asked while pointing to Blair’s feet with his lit cigar, spilling its ash over his lap in the process.
Edwin Blair acknowledged him with a brief but empty glance. Egads, he thought, trying to ignore his pounding heart. It’s not going to be a cakewalk to maintain the balance. I’ve got to reveal enough, but not so much that it disrupts the necessary chain of events. Otherwise, this enterprise is doomed from the start.
The recently manufactured New Castle locomotive built up a head of steam and began to pull slowly out of the Baltimore & Ohio depot. Still tightly clutching his shiny metallic valise, Blair lurched back and forth until he spied a pair of bench seats facing each other at the front of the coach. One seat had but a single occupant, the tall, gangly traveler, while the other was vacant. He moved toward them, swaying from side to side. My God, he thought, this really is he…If my students could only see me know.
The traveler was glaring out of one window, oblivious to all else. His curiosity aroused, Blair tossed a quick glance out of the window and caught sight of the station’s bulletin board. Posters nailed to it, some new, some faded, offered a reward for runaway slaves. One large, relatively pristine placard offered $600 for the return of three slaves. “Henry Morsell, Jim Parker and Bill Hutton,” Blair whispered, then winced. “Leaving the service of their subscriber.” He shivered, and then pulled his attention back inside the coach. Moving toward the empty seat, he noticed that aisle-side armrest was broken, split down the middle with several shards of wood protruding dangerously. He made a quick mental note of it then cleared his throat and asked with a small tremor in his voice, “May I join you?”
The gangly traveler turned his gaze to Blair, looked him up and down, and then arching his brow ever so slightly, offered a wry smile while nodding his assent. “I suppose. Maybe then, you might be willing to inform me as to why the name of the Greek goddess of victory is emblazoned on your rather odd footwear?”
Blair began to perspire and laughed nervously. No frenetic reviewing of the history and language of the time had fully prepared him for the actual encounter. John Wright’s Language of the Civil War was helpful, though. Placing his valise carefully on the seat, he sat down between it and the damaged armrest, facing the traveler. “I suspected you might know the appellation’s reference, although I wasn’t positive. I am pleased that my suspicion was correct.”
The traveler raised both eyebrows. “That reminds me of the simpleton farm boy who knew just one fact, and spent his whole lifetime waiting for someone to ask him the right question. When someone finally presented him with the opportunity, and he answered it correctly, he felt extremely proud of his accomplishment.” He smiled before nodding toward the metallic valise. “I may know a bit about the goddess, but I don’t have the slightest idea what that might be. More than that, I wonder why you had any suspicions about me at all. Have we met?”
“No, sir, I have not had the honor.”
“Well, since we seem to be traveling together, my name — ”
“Oh, I know your name, sir. You are a well-known public figure.”
“Then, my wondering increases, Mr. . . .
“Blair . . . Edwin Blair.” Blair extended his hand, which the traveler accepted with a firm grip.