Note: Robert Jones, Jr. is also known as Son Of Baldwin on Facebook. Please go and follow that space and purchase the book.
I have been following Son of Baldwin on Facebook for years. Literal years. I have always seen him as insightful, talented, and completely brilliant. What really allowed me to follow him full force was his assertion/analysis of the MCU juggernaut movie Black Panther. He believes that White supremacy was the savior of Wakanda–the White agent with the flight experience fighting off an invasion from the air. I could not disagree more fervently! I believe the savior of Wakanda was a Black woman: Princess Shuri. In this, I became a fan of his. I became a fan of his posts, his writing, and even through we do not agree on many a thing–as a writer? I respect him immensely. From that respect, did I include his first book on this growing Firestarter bookshelf.
There is a bravery to this book, and that is what drew me to it! Robert Jones, Jr. is a queer Black man and makes no apology for it. With that identity established, this book is based in the American South during the time of slavery before the Civil War, in Mississippi. The story is about two enslaved Black men–Samuel and Isaiah–and their relationship among the backdrop of slavery, racism, extreme violence and what it meant to be any part of yourself during this time. The story is rich, it is powerful and it will make you question all you know about American chattel slavery, its impact and who we as a people were before the influence of European brutality.
Almost each chapter of the book has a biblical interpretation; the most influential prophets of the Bible are Samuel and Isaiah. Samuel: anointed David to be King. Isaiah was one of the major prophets who foretold the coming of the Lord Jesus. The owner of this plantation called Empty is Paul, his wife is Ruth, with their son–Timothy. The thing that is so prolific and tangible about this book is the idea of what a prophet is, outside of biblical interpretation. The definition of being a prophet is someone that can see or know something before it happens. The thing that I believe is so powerful about this book is it forces the reader to explore what it means to have been Black before European influence. There are influences at play that stripped us as Black people of cultural identity, while reminding the reader of how powerful this knowledge it. One of my favorite characters in this story was Maggie.
Who is Maggie? Maggie is what current interpretation would call a witch. But is she? Or is she one that tried to preserve a portion of herself in an environment that neither sees her, takes from her and wants nothing more than what can be paid for her–pound for pound. Jones has written her in a manner that she cannot be ignored, and reminds you to pay attention to! What else has been incredible about this book is the layers that is has! As a writer, it is essential to be well-read, an Jones is! From female kings, to boy-wives, tribal relations, and what it truly must have been like to be in the belly of a slave ship. The research that went into this? I am in awe.
There is also this element of blood memory and generational trauma (Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome). One of hardest parts to get through was when Isaiah and Samuel were beaten. Why were they beaten? They were beaten because they chose each other. Isaiah and Essie had sex, and there was no child produced (but Essie had a baby with Paul, Solomon. “Half mine, half aint”.). Amos, an enslaved man whose chose Essie (but was sleeping with Beaulah!), and tried to protect her from Paul, decided that if Samuel would have a baby with Puah (a young enslaved woman) and she was pregnant, everyone would be okay. Samuel refused. For that, they were beaten. Amos ‘outed’ them to the entire plantation! What is essential to know is what Jones brings up here. There were more politics going on than what was happening in the life of owners and overseers; this knowledge, this exposure to this knowledge, allows the reader to understand just how evil and insidious slavery was. How devastating it was, and why it is that it had to end!
One of the most powerful images in the book was the ceremony after Samuel and Isaiah were beaten. It was Maggie who knew what to do, and sent Puah to get what she needed in order to help them heal. Reading this was like being transported in time, and looking through a window. Through all they had been through, Maggie and Sarah (whom has visions and dreams–what Maggie called ‘the seeing’) remembered what to do in order to get Samuel and Isaiah to a place of healing. Even reminding them that since they had no drum, they would have to scream loud enough for the ancestors to hear them.
Samuel and Isaiah are trying to make the absolute best of a horrible situation. And horrible is mildest word for it. In a place and time where the person you loved could be murdered for nothing, whipped for anything, and sold to what you can only conceive as the other side of the world, the fact they were still together for as along as they were? I cried. This book will make you think. It will make you made. And at the rebellion at the end of the book? Oh, Torches, you will rejoice!
The Prophets is a book that will remind you what is to be Black, what it has costed some of us to be Black, and how powerful love is! We have always been magic–and this book will tell you just how magical, and powerful we still are…and must remain.