In the wake of my recent bit of Trump Fiction, I should confess to working up some stories about a so-called ‘Occult Detective’ going by the name of John Domingo, the Black Constable. Based on a real person, my version exists after the demise of the original (and possibly before), whose background I present here:
There was an old house in Charleston, South Carolina, on Magazine Corner leading into the once respectable Mazyck Street. Said to have been placed under a dark curse it was, during the last years of the nineteenth century, home to an infamous hoodooman and necromancer.
He was said to be the most powerful conjure-man in the state, if not the country. His name was John Domingo, but his people – the Gullah – spoke of him as The Black Constable, so-called because his was the the only law the neighbourhood needed, and it was to Domingo, not the police, that people would turn to for help.
He was said to be a huge, powerful man, dressed in a Union greatcoat with long, lionized hair that fell to his shoulders (the picture above is of him, so I’m uncertain if this is true). This led some to believe he had served as a soldier for the North.
There were other rumours – that he was none other than High John de Conquer, an African prince once sold into slavery. Turning to the African powers, High John had used conjure to effect his emancipation, falling in love with the goddess Erzulie and tricking her three husbands into letting him live.
Domingo’s power, Le Grand Zombi, was said to lie within the solid silver conjure-ring that he wore upon the fourth finger of his right hand. This ring took the form of Danbala, The Grand Master, and he claimed that it had been forged in Africa on the banks of the mighty Congo River. With this he he summoned forth lwa, invisible spirits that were his to command.
To the sick he was a healer. To the ambitious he brought fortune. To the newly bereaved he was a medium for the spirits of the dead. To the old, the forlorn and the ugly he could help them to find young, attractive mates. To the local fishermen he could calm the weather or summon favourable winds. But there was a dark side to this power, which he sometimes used vengefully and to deliver curses.
As a necromancer and zombi-man it was said that Domingo could raise the dead, and it was whispered that his house was filled their souls, and with zombie servitors whose shuffling shadows kept unwelcome visitors at bay.
Certainly John’s visits to the local cemeteries to gather goofer dust and to raise up his servant army were spoken of in hushed tones by the town’s Gullah population, and the fear and awe that he engendered kept the neighbourhood safe and both the white police and the Charleston guard from his door.
It was the meting out of justice that eventually ended the Black Constable’s reign, for so confident was his last act was considered so blasphemous that it saw him struck down by a power greater than his own.
Or was he?
Legend has it that, in the late 1880s, Domingo was called to deal with a pair of thieves. How he caught them is not recounted, but he emerged into the street in triumph, holding a thief in each in each hand as he addressed his people.
“Am I not just like Jesus, with a thief on each side?” He asked, before urging them to accept that He was more powerful than Jesus.
Southern Hoodoo, though, is not just about the witchcraft, and like its Haitian cousin it can be said that the people worship Jesus in the morning and practice hoodoo in the evening. Many of his people were African Methodists, while others had been Catholic vodouists brought up in Haiti and Saint Domingue.
As the words left his lips, Domingo was lifted from the ground by an invisible force – an angry lwa, perhaps – and began to clutch at his throat, choking as white froth poured from his mouth and trickled down his chin.
With a final gasp, his body was flung to the ground, dead.
But as it lay inert the body began to age and wither. Gathering around him, the people carried his body to a nearby butcher’s shop where they lay him upon the counter while a doctor was called for. But when the doctor arrived, the hoodoo man’s corpse had taken on a shrivelled, husk-like appearance.
Some though, say this was not the end for Domingo. As a servant of Danbala, his demise was no different to that of a snake sloughing an old skin. And the zombi-man’s final words–were they arrogance, or a proclamation that preceded his transformation and rebirth? Was that just a shadow that crept away into the darkness?
There were sightings. Whether a ghost or a physical manifestation is unknown, but the Black Constable continued to walk the streets of Charleston at least until his ties to the town – the derelict old house on Magazine Corner – was demolished.
Others say that, if he is High John, then Africa beckoned, and he will, much like King Arthur, return to Charleston in its time of greatest need, reclaiming the conjure-ring and using his powers to once more serve his people.
A note on sources: As a writer rather than a scholar, I’m choosing not to cite my sources. John Domingo was a real person, but the legend presented here is aggregated. Feel free to google him or buy books in which he appears.