Freedom Friday – Black History Month: Part 4

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Thank you to my blogging friend, Imani, for hosting Freedom Friday, which gave me a platform during Black History Month to share excerpts from Hubby’s published memoirs, “The Son of A Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream”:

  • Part 1 – Introduction:  February 6
  • Part 2  – Childhood in The Big House: February 13
  • Part 3 – Coming of Age in Coahoma

Part 4

Chicago and Joining The Army

In 1959, there were a lot of changes in my life.  I impregnated a girl and my first child was born on September 3,1959.  I wasn’t there for her birth because I had moved to Chicago to live with my sister and get a job for the summer.

Shirley sent me a ticket and I took the train from Coahoma.  On the trip I met another young black man named Sammy.  He was traveling back to Chicago from his vacation in the south.  Before I left Coahoma my grand-aunt Ophelia gave, me what she thought was my sister’s phone number, but it turned out to be my uncle’s number in Toledo, Ohio.  When I got to the train station in Chicago, I called the number many times and didn’t get an answer.  Then, Sammy tried to call and couldn’t get an answer.  Then, I decided to go to Plan B — catch a bus to Shirley’s apartment.  Mind you I had never been to any major city where I had to ride a bus.

I went outside the station and walked to the bus stop and asked the driver if he could help me get to my sister’s apartment.  He put me on his bus, didn’t charge me a fare, drove me about three blocks, and put me on another bus.  The driver explained to the new driver where I was going and he showed me how to plug the meter.  He told me he would let me know when I arrived at 53rd Street.  When we got there, he directed me to go the corner and turn left and follow the address until I got to 5359 South Wells.

Once I was settled in Chicago, Shirley pulled some strings at the hospital where she worked and got me a janitorial job in the housekeeping department.  I worked hard at my new job which was a lot easier than working in the fields.  I was making a $1.10 an hour instead of 25 cents.  For the first time in my life I had money in my pocket to put clothes and food.  I decided to stay in Chicago rather than return to Mississippi.

They assigned me to work with a fellow name Dixon.  What we would do is work very hard and fast, get the place clean and sit on our butts for the rest of the afternoon.  Well one day the big boss was checking up on the workers and caught us sitting down and I was fired.

During this time, Yvonne and I were getting serious about marriage and pretty soon she got pregnant with our first child.

In April 1960, unable to find work, I volunteered for the US Army at age 18.  Before, I left for service Yvonne and I married.

On the way to Ft. Bliss, Texas, I had a train layover in Memphis, Tennessee.  I walked into the restaurant in the main station to get something to eat, and the manager came up to me and directed me in a nice tone to “the colored restaurant” which was in the basement of the station.  The place was a hole in the wall– it was small and cramped and looked nothing like the large restaurant on the first floor.

After finishing my advanced training at Fort Bliss, I was scheduled to finish the remainder of my time in Okinawa.  However, if I took the assignment I could not take my wife with me, so I re-enlisted for three years in order to get assigned to Germany where I would be able to take my family.

After about six months Yvonne joined me, and we lived in a small town named Gonseheim.  We rented a one-room apartment close to the base, sharing a bathroom with a couple across the hall.

I hated the day I arrived back in the states.  Times were not good for a black man in the country, especially in the south.  The Civil Rights Movement was going full blast in the early 1960s.  When I got to Ft. Riley Kansas, I never felt safe around some of the white soldiers.  They were such bigots,  They’d get drunk at night and come in and terrorize the barracks and you hoped you weren’t around when that happened.

Yvonne and I lived off-base in a row house in Junction City, Kansas.  On payday after we paid rent and bought food, we would have enough money to go for a stroll down Main Street and buy two popsicles.  We would split them in four halves, one half each for Yvonne, Pam, Keith and me.  This was our treat for the week.  When our money was short before payday, Yvonne had a watch we pawned every month like clockwork to buy food.

HIS STORY continues as he writes about —

  • Returning to Chicago after Leaving the Military
  • Going to College in Mississippi
  • Attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Working in the Public Sector – Wisconsin and Washington, DC
  • Starting Three Privately Owned Business
  • Children, Grandchildren and Other Family Members

About The Author

James C. Thomas was born in Coahoma, Mississippi, in 1941 the son of a sharecropper.  As a child and teenager he worked on cotton plantations chopping and picking cotton.

He attended Hull Jr. High School from primary through the ninth grade.  He attended one year at Agricultural High School near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and later earned his GED.

James served in the United States Army as a rocket specialist in Germany and with the Big Red One in Fort Riley, Kansas.  He was honorably discharged in September 1963.  After leaving the service he worked for a number of Fortune 500 companies in marketing and sales.  He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a Certificate for Urban Executives from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge Massachusetts.

In 1973, he took a job in the Madison Wisconsin city government as a manpower planner with the mayor’s office.  He was later appointed the first Black Assistant Mayor in the city’s history, and held a number of positions in city government before starting his own medical transcription business in the early 1980s.  Thomas later opened the first African American art gallery and custom framing shop in Madison.

In 1996, he moved to Milwaukee to partner with his daughter, Dr. Pamela Thomas-King and her husband Dr. George P. King, II to open the first black and female owned multi-disciplinary chronic pain management and treatment center.  In 2002, the Thomas family bought a 9000 square foot building in North Milwaukee which now houses the clinic and an ambulatory surgery center.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday 2015

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The opportunity to share a quote from authors who have inspired, uplifted, or enlightened me over my many years of living and reading is a beautiful thing.  And, I am grateful to Silver Threading for hosting her weekly event.

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This week, I selected a quote by Toni Morrison:

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Toni Morrison is a well-known American novelist, editor, and professor.  Even though her work typically focuses on Black women, she does not define her it as feminist.

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Morrison first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published in 1970.  There have been nine novels released since that time.  She released her last novel, “Home,” in 2012.  But, in 2015, a new novel, “God Help The Child,” will publish in 2015.  Her best known novels were:

  • The Bluest Eye
  • Song of Solomon
  • Beloved

For Beloved she received the:  Pulitzer Prize (1988)American Book Award (1988) and Nobel Prize in 1993.

Morrison, also, shared her gift of writing through:

  • Children’s Literature
  • Short Fiction
  • Operatic Words (Libretto)
  • Plays
  • Non-Fiction

Born in 1931, Morrison celebrated her 84th Birthday on February 18.

Freedom Friday – Black History Month: Part 3

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The freedom to speak freely is not always free from repercussions.  When blogging friend, Imani, created Freedom Friday, I saw this as the first-step toward freeing me from ego and self-judgment about what I write, embrace, or critique on this blog.

With this newfound freedom every Friday, during Black History Month 2015, I chose to recognize an “unknown man” to many but a “Black Hero” to me.  The Hubby that I have loved and respected for almost fifty-five years, who stepped outside of his comfort zone, to write his first book, “The Son of A Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”  

The following are excerpts from his book of memoirs.

 Part 1  – Introduction:  February 6

Part 2 – Childhood in The Big House: February 13

Part 3

Coming of Age in Coahoma

After living on the Ralston plantation for about two or three years, we moved to another house on the Parker plantation in Coahoma.  I was about ten years old at the time.  This was exciting I had more kids to play with and I could go to town on the weekends.

Coahoma consisted of three general stores, three cafes, a dry goods store, a train station, a post office, a doctor’s office, two churches and a cotton gin.

As a teenager, I worked in the fields, babysit my sisters and brothers, and attended school.  I had begun working in the fields at age 5 or 6, chopping and picking cotton, but now I was getting paid.  I worked 10 hours a day to earn money for school clothes and other personal needs.  The rate was 25 cents an hour if you worked on the plantation where you lived, and 30 cents an hour if you worked off the plantation.

Going to the fields to chop cotton was a lot of fun.  It was extremely hard and dirty work, but it gave us an opportunity to enjoy our good friends, sing, tell jokes and trash talk.

From age 12-17, I worked five days a week, ten hours a day, for about eight or nine months of the year.  I was in school only four months of the year,

One could earn about $12.50 a week if you worked all five days, ten hours a day.  I gave some money to my parents and kept the rest.  Sometimes the owners would let the grownups work more days than the kids, so they could make as much money as they could to provide for their families, while the work lasted.

One week after working in the fields chopping cotton and getting paid, I took my fist bus ride by myself, a 13-mile trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a much larger town.  Clarksdale had many big stores and three movie houses.  The bus line only ran on Saturdays, at noon, five p.m., and 10 p.m.  If you missed the last bus, you had to walk home.  I couldn’t have been much older than 12 or 13, and I took this trip all by myself.  I watched a Class B western and bought a shirt for the first time in my life.  I remember the shirt was blue with pink designs, and I was surprised that it was a good fit.

On this trip I bought my first hamburger at the cafe on Issaquena Street.

During the summer of 1956, I met Yvonne Burks.  Yvonne was born in Mississippi but grew up in Chicago.  She was in Coahoma visiting her grandparents for the summer.

During her summer visits we went on hayrides and the annual community trip to the zoo in Memphis.  I can remember sitting on her grandparents front porch trying to be Mr. Big Stuff, rapping to her that the stars and the moon reminded me of the power of our love, how much she meant to me, and how our lives would come together as husband and wife when we were older and got married.

I met my father, Willie Brown, for the first time when I was 15, in 1957.  One day he and his wife showed up in Coahoma, where he had grown up as a kid.  He was in the army and was en route back to Chicago.  I was in school and some people came in the classroom and said my father was out there and wanted to see me.  I went out and he introduced himself.

It was such a shock, I didn’t now how to deal with it.  I was happy that he was here, but at the same time I never expected to see him.  He showed up at my school, without writing, sending a smoke signal, or some other form of communication.  You do not walk up to a 15-year-old and say, “Hey boy I’m your daddy.”  You must remember that I had not heard from him or spoke with this man during my entire life.

We talked and got in his car.  He drove me home and visited with my mother and stepfather.  He talked about his army career in World War II and Korea.  He gave me an old pair of army tennis shoes, and the next day he left.  I didn’t see him again until I moved to Chicago in 1959.  I stayed in touch with my biological father from time to time, until he passed away in 1970 from throat cancer.

When I finished the 9th grade, I enrolled at Agriculture High School, located outside of Clarksdale.  Aggie was the only school and junior college that Blacks could attend in Coahoma County, Mississippi.

I played on the basketball team.  This created a problem for me because all of the games were held at night and I didn’t haves a ride home.  If you didn’t have a car your only transportation was the school bus.  If I wasn’t lucky enough to catch a ride after the game with a kid who was using his parent’s car, I was forced to sleep illegally in the back of the gymnasium on a dirty mat with no covers.  When I got up the next morning, I had no soap, toothbrush or toothpaste.  If I wanted to eat breakfast, I had to sneak into the cafeteria.  The coach let me get away with it for a while, but told me I would have to pay for breakfast.

You have no idea how hard life can be when you’re poor.  In high school everyone was poor.  We had no means of income during the non-farming season.  Sometimes a bus would come by from Florida to pick up people for migrant work, but that was it.  There was no other work.

There were days I went hungry in school.  I’d stand outside the lunchroom and beg for nickels and dimes from the kids coming out of the cafeteria.

In next Friday’s post, I will share His Story about Chicago and Joining The Army.

 

Writing 201 – Poetry

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Assignment

“Today’s word is trust write a poem in which you address, reflect on, or tell a story about the feeling of trusting or being trusted by another (person, animal, object, potted plant…).  Or about distrusting them (or not being trusted yourself).”

Bright sunny morning, yesterday.

Rested great the evening before.

Even positive of outcome today.

After five years, no recurrence.

Satisfied mammogram clear and okay.

Trust broken image not clear today.

Sadly, breasts may not be okay!

Prompted by a suggestion from fellow blogger, Karuna, to participate in Writing 201-Poetry, I printed down Day 3’s Assignment this morning.

First, “what the heck is meant by acrostic“?  Googled and found the answer and said to Hubby, “Oh I did something like that, and didn’t even know it, shortly after Chelsea was born.”

Chelsea Yvonne is our 23-year-old granddaughter.

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I was so overjoyed with the birth of this beautiful new baby, with my name and birthday, that I created what I thought, at the time, was a poetic Welcome New Baby Card:

Cuddly

Huggable

Enchanting

Lovable

Sweetheart

Embraced, and

Adored

This stab at poetry twenty-three years ago as well as this assignment today are my poetic words written from the heart.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday 2015

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Thank you to Silver Threading for hosting this event.

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I selected Langston Hughes for this week’s writer’s quote:

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Born on February 1, 1902, Hughes first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” published in 1921; and, his last poem, “Panther and the Lash,” posthumously published in 1967.

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2002 – The United States Postal Service Added the Image of Langston Hughes to its Black Heritage Series of Postage Stamps

For over four decades, Hughes’ portrayed the life of Blacks in America through:

  • Poetry
  • Novels
  • Short Stories,
  • Non-Fiction Books
  • Plays
  • Children’s Books

One of my favorite poems is “I Dream A World.”

I dream a world where man

No other man will scorn,

Where love will bless the earth

And peace its paths adorn

I dream a world where all

Will know sweet freedom’s way,

Where greed no longer saps the soul

Nor avarice blights our day.

A world I dream where black or white,

Whatever race you be,

Will share the bounties of the earth

And every man is free

Where wretchedness will hang its head

And joy, like a pearl,

Attends the needs of all mankind

Of such I dream, my world.

I continue to dream that one day, despite our gender, ethnic, religious and cultural differences, we all will live together in peace, joy and happiness.