Study Guide

The People Could Fly

The People Could Fly Summary

Before being captured into slavery, many African people could fly. At some point, however, they lost their wings and forgot about their secret powers.

We open on a young woman named Sarah. Sarah is working in the fields with her baby on her back, exhausted and emotionally beaten down. Her child starts to cry, drawing the attention of the cruel Overseer and merciless Driver. The Driver whips Sarah and her child until she collapses.

Just as all hope seems lost, a man named Toby appears and rekindles Sarah's flying powers. And with that, they're gone, soaring away in the clouds like Superwoman and Superbaby, a crime-fighting team that we just made up and now need to see turned into reality.

The next day, people are collapsing left and right due to the heat. Luckily Toby whispers the magic words to each one of them just in the nick of time and they fly away, too. When the bad guys finally wise up, Toby shouts his incantations at the few remaining stragglers and flies away himself.

Sadly, there are a bunch of slaves without the ability to fly left behind. Although they'll have to suffer through slavery for some time longer, they too will ultimately become free. And when they do, the story of the people who could fly will become one of their all-time favorites.

  • Story

    • There once was a time when a small group of Africans had wings and could fly. Probably got bit by a radioactive eagle or something like that, right?
    • Unfortunately, these lucky people were forced to shed their wings after they "were captured for Slavery" (2). Although their powers remained, they forgot they even had them during the journey to America.
    • These days, the people who "once had wings" (5) now work on plantations in the American South. We're introduced to two such latent-superheroes: an old man named Toby and a young mother named Sarah.
    • The power structure on their plantation is simple: The Master is the boss, the Overseer watches over everything, and the Driver attacks the enslaved people if they stop working.
    • Sarah is hard at work, her child tied to her back. Naturally, the baby starts crying—it's kind of how babies roll—and this draws the Overseer's attention. Sarah is too exhausted to quiet the baby.
    • Suddenly, the Driver whips the baby. Wait… for real?
    • Toby tries to help her, and they exchange some mysterious words. Of course, the Overseer is not happy to see this and sends the Driver back over.
    • As the Driver whips Sarah, Toby returns to help. Out of nowhere, he shouts out the magic words—"Kum… yali, kum buba tambe"(18)—and Sarah starts to float. The Overseer gives chase, but Sarah flies away.
    • The next day is a hot one and slaves are passing out left and right. Toby approaches any slave that collapses and recites the magic words, though, and presto, you've got a flying person.
    • Finally, our three villains set their sights on Toby. But Toby doesn't care—he simply says the magic words one more time and a whole group of slaves "rose on the air" (27). Toby follows.
    • Sadly, there are some without the ability to fly, so although they will eventually gain their freedom, they will have a much harder journey.
    • Regardless, they will all go on to tell "about the people who could fly to their children" (32).