Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Report on 10 CENT BILL by Charles Pittman

10 CENT BILL by Charles Pittman

This is a true story about Bill Yopp. Bill was born a slave, helped with the Confederate Army, traveled the world, then the last stage of his life he worked tomake life better for the down and out ex-CSA soldiers in the Confederate Veterans Soldiers’ Home in Atlanta.

I cannot figure this man out. In essence, this black ex-slave voluntarily remained a servant to those who were willing to give their lives to keep him in bondage. What gives? Is it the Stockholm Syndrome before it was named or what?

It is not a simple story. It is complex. Charles Pittman compiled the information and put it all in chronological order. Bill was born a slave in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia, in 1845. Bill was more or less a present to young Thomas Yopp, son of the plantation owner. Yes, apparently, all the slaves of the plantation had the last name Yopp too. Thomas was only a few years older than Bill. They hunted together, fished together, played games together, and were the best of friends.

When the Civil War came Thomas went in the Confederate Army as a young officer. Bill went with him as a manservant, which was common in that war. Bill cooked and kept his master-buddy’s uniforms clean and in good shape. He also was willing to do favors, like shine shoes, cook something, for other the other men at a charge of ten cents each. That is how he got his nickname.

In Virginia Thomas was injured and fell into a coma. Bill stayed by his side nursing him back to health.

In one of the major battles Thomas and some other officers disobeyed a direct order of General Robert E. Lee. It was overlooked except for Thomas. He was demoted to the enlisted ranks and transferred to another unit.

Bill stayed on and earned a reputation as being a great cook and boots shiner.

When he returned to his home at the Yopp Planation in Dublin he found the plantation was in terrible shape. There was no job for him. He went to Macon and found work at a hotel in Macon and soon became the bell captain. According to the book Bill and the owner were friends in no time.

In the following decades Bill had all sorts of adventures. He was a cook on Naval ship for over a dozen years, maybe over 20 and saw the world. Another time he was the personal servant of a big railroad tycoon and the tycoon was so impressed with him he gave Bill a present of a trip all over the world that lasted a few years.

Bill had a knack for getting to meet and impressing the owner or president of many big companies.All his rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful sort of blended in and I got them all mixed up. I should have taken notes.

In his late life he wanted to see his old master-buddy, Tom Yopp again and went to Dublin to look him up. He found that the plantation has been divided off for share croppers, the mansion was in decay and Master Tom no place to be found.

Bill went to Atlanta and got a job as a runner for the Georgia State Legislation. On his off time he spent looking for Thomas and finally found him in the Confederate Veterans’ Home alone and ill. Again, Ten Cent Bill took care of his ex-master. He came by every day and visited him and brought him anything he might need.

Bill noticed the other veterans at the retirement home not were faring very well either. They were forgotten by their relatives and had no money. Bill went to work getting donations for them to have some cash money to buy little things in life to make living in their restrictive means more bearable. The first Christmas he collected enough to give each man slightly over $4 each and the Governor of Georgia helped him raise the money. I think this eventually led to the state giving the CSA veterans a retirement.

But, all this sounds something like a fairy tale. In the book, Bill was sort of presented like Will Rodgers, “He never met a white man he didn’t like.” And they liked him.

I think Bill probably had a Uncle Tom personality that white people liked. He always had a way of getting to know the head man and becoming his personal man-servant/friend, servant, and cook. Otherwise, if he didn’t have the Uncle Tom personality I doubt if he would get very far.

Back in those times, unfortunately, whites did not trust blacks who talked as their equals and had little tolorerance with them. And they sure were not going to award such behavior. On the other hand, if the black was very humble, agreeabl,e and smiling, and would do anything for that white person, then they awarded this type positivism with positivism.

I think Bill was also smarter than his bosses in most cases. He knew how to get what he wanted with his white boss-men smiling.

Of course, then, after reconstruction segregation was the law in the south. In the book I read nothing about Bill not allowing to go enter someplace because of his race, which surely was a way of life.

Ten Cent Bill brought help to the poor white men who I think probably thought they were better than he. That is true charity.

Ten or so years ago I Marietta City Cemetery had a tour on a Sunday that you paid for. The next door Civil War Cemetery was part of the package. On the tour, there was supposedly the ghost of a person in a grave near where he or she, would be standing and he or she would speak in first person and rattle off facts about that person when he was alive. I remember close to the Civil War Memorial Arch was a Confederate Soldier telling how he got to be buried there, or the incidents leading up to it. He proudly said he was the only black person buried in the Confederate Cemetery. He said his name was Bill Yopp.

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