The Legacy of Tom Bailey. The Authors Collection
April 26, 2014
Where I live in Medea, Pennsylvania, people use that name…like a warning.
‘Don’t end up like Tom Bailey.’ ‘Don’t you be no Tom Bailey.’
For a long time, I thought maybe it was one of those stories that comes out of the Bible. You know. People saying things like ‘Aren’t you a Doubting Thomas.’ Or, ‘Don’t go being a Judas.’
So I asked my daddy…my step-daddy…or…I guess…really…my uncle. Truth be told. One day I said, who was this Tom Bailey? What did he do? Is he from the Bible?
He’s a quiet man, my uncle. Serious. Sometimes he won’t answer me. Almost not hearing me. Or I’m just a young girl. So he won’t pay attention. Even though I’m 16 now.
So I thought maybe he won’t answer me. He is quiet for so long.
Finally…finally he said to me, ‘You know I’m not from ‘round here. Not back then. Back then…I…just a boy…growin’ up…in North Carolina.’
‘But I hear about him. About Tom Bailey. He is a local man…colored…from Medea. He work in the mill. This is what…maybe 20 years ago,’ my uncle says. Maybe even before the War.
Well. ‘ol Tom Bailey. He gets juiced up one night, accordin’ to my uncle. Full as a tick. And walking home. Somehow…some way…gets into a fight with a police man. And Tom Bailey goes and shoots the police man. Kills that white man with his own gun.
You can guess what happens. A crowed drags Tom Bailey out of jail. He’s beat up. Tied up. Thrown on a fire. Escapes. Beat up. Tied up again. Thrown on that fire again. Tough. Tough ‘ol Tom Bailey. Well, even a tough ol’ colored man. He is gonna die. And he does.
And what do they do? They throw his body. His beat up. Burnt. ‘Ol Tom Bailey body. Off the bridge in town. Into the river. After all this…just wantin’ to see the last of Tom Bailey.
But Tom Bailey. He’s still not ready. Not ready to leave. When the sun comes up…there he is. Caught on the gravel. Stuck where the river bends. There he is. Still there. Until they drag him out.
I bet they found some Negroes to do it.
I was in the five-and-dime one day. The one across from the bank. Two colored boys were playing around. And one says to the other…who is playing around too much. He says, ‘You goin’ to end up jus’ like Tom Bailey.’
But I looked up at a white man in the store. He’s an old man. Pale. With a mustache. I know he hears this.
And he turns two shades whiter. The color of fresh milk. And that mustache. It’s moving around. Like a caterpillar on a hot stove.
I’m thinkin’ I’ll have to catch it for him and bring it back.
So anyway. He leaves. Fast. The man with his caterpillar. Trips on the way out. He can’t leave fast enough.
So. Yes. Tom Bailey is famous ‘round here. Maybe more than the mayor. I mean who remembers who was the mayor twenty years ago.
He’s not exactly a hero. Maybe more like a ghost. Or a spirit. More like that. And he is hauntin’ white people. Not just the colored. At least some of them.
Yes. People rememberin’ Tom Bailey in Medea…for a long…long time.
(The above is drawn from a play I’m writing based partly on the period shortly before World War II – R. Lowe.)
Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s mystery/thriller, Project Moses.