The People Could Fly

by Virginia Hamilton

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What action does Toby take when Sarah and other slaves can't endure the beatings?

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In the old folktale, The People Could Fly, Toby tells Sarah and the other slaves to fly away when they can't stand the beatings any longer. According to the folktale, some of the African slaves keep their ability to fly a secret from their overseers.

When Sarah's baby cries from hunger, the overseer whips him even as he is strapped to Sarah's back. Later, Sarah is whipped so hard that she can no longer stand up. It is then that she begs her father, Toby, to say the magic words which will allow her to fly away. He agrees and proceeds to say the first of the magic words, 'Kum...yali, kum buba tambe...' Although Sarah's first foray into flight is initially awkward, her courage is soon strengthened when she feels the familiar African magic upon her.

As other slaves fall from exhaustion and pain, Toby speaks the familiar magic words which give them the strength and will to fly away. Eventually, the furious overseer prepares to kill Toby. However, his plans are thwarted when Toby speaks the magic words one last time and flies away with many of the slaves. Only the ones who cannot fly are left in the fields.

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