Nebraska Center for Writers

THE CONQUEST
by Oscar Micheaux

GOOD GRACIOUS, HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG? It does not seem possible; but it was this very day nine years ago when a fellow handed me this little what-would-you-call-it, Ingalls called it "Opportunity." I've a notion to burn it, but I won't — not this time, instead, I'll put it down here and you may call it what you like.
Master of human destinies am I.
Fame, love, and fortune on my footsteps wait.
Cities and fields I walk. I penetrate
Deserts and seas remote, and passing by
Hovel, and mart, and palace — soon or late
I knock unbidden once at every gate.
If sleeping, wake — if feasting, rise before
I turn away. It is the hour of fate,
And they who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death; but those who doubt or hesitate,
Condemned to failure, penury, and woe
Seek me in vain and uselessly implore,
I answer not, and I return no more.
Yes, it was that little poem that led me to this land and sometimes I wonder well, I just wonder, that's all. Again, I think it would be somewhat different if it wasn't for the wind. It blows and blows until it makes me feel lonesome and so far away from that little place and the country in southern Illinois.
I was born twenty-nine years ago near the Ohio River, about forty miles above Cairo, the fourth son and fifth child of a family of thirteen, by the name of Devereaux -- which, of course, is not my name but we will call it that for this sketch. It is a peculiar name that ends with an "eaux," however, and is considered an odd name for a colored man to have, unless he is from Louisiana where the French crossed with the Indians and slaves, causing many Louisiana negroes to have the French names and many speak the French language also. My father, however, came from Kentucky and inherited the name from his father who was sold off into Texas during the slavery period and is said to be living there today.
He was a farmer and owned eighty acres of land and was, therefore, considered fairly "well-to-do," that is, for a colored man. The county in which we lived bordered on the river some twenty miles, and took its name from an old fort that used to do a little cannonading for the Federal forces back in the Civil War.
The farming in this section was hindered by various disadvantages and at best was slow, hard work. Along the valleys of the numerous creeks and bayous that empty their waters into the Ohio, the soil was of a rich alluvium, where in the early Spring the back waters from the Ohio covered thousands of acres of farm and timber lands, and in receding left the land plastered with a coat of river sand and clay which greatly added to the soil's productivity. One who owned a farm on these bottoms was considered quite fortunate. Here the corn stalks grew like saplings, with ears dangling one and two to a stalk, and as sound and heavy as green blocks of wood.

Reprinted with permission
from The Conquest
Copyright © 2003
by Oscar Micheaux
Washington Square Press


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