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
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.