Thanks to my blogging friend, Imani, for Freedom Friday. This year for Black History Month, I chose to use my four Freedom Fridays in February to share excerpts from Hubby’s published memoirs, “The Son of A Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”
Last week, I posted Part 1 of this four-part series and, as promised, this week I share excerpts from the book about his early childhood.
Childhood in The Big House
“Shortly after my birth, the plantation owner acquired some additional land and a 13-room house from a white man named Mr. Morris. This was the largest house on the plantation and my grandfather was asked to move his family into it. We called it the “Big House.” Even though we had no indoor plumbing, this house was far better than other sharecropper homes, which were basically two or three-room shacks. They had roofs made of corrugated tin, and the floorboards had enough space between them that you could see the dogs and chickens running under the house.
On Christmas Eve all the sharecropping families who lived on the Ralston Plantation would gather on the boss man’s front lawn and wait for his wife, Miss Blanche, to hand out gift bags to each family. The children got a brown bag with one orange, one apple, several loose pieces of rock candy, and mixed nuts in the shell. We didn’t get any toys. This may seem like nothing to the average person, but when you were as poor as we children were, growing up in the south during what I call “the second phase of slavery,” a present like this was a big deal.
When I was six or seven years old my mother married L.C. Childress, who became my stepfather.
I had mixed feelings about him, I knew he wasn’t my biological father, but I loved this man who was there for me when I needed a father figure in my life. Maybe he wasn’t the perfect father, but he did the best he knew how, and for that I am ever grateful to him.
He wasn’t an educated man, but he was hard-working and modestly artistic. He built me a wagon made of wood and taught me how to make wooden tee toddlers and tractors from hay baling wire.
My mother and stepfather had to work in the fields gathering the crops so my sister Shirley and I had to take turns babysitting the younger children. She would go to school one day while I did the baby-sitting, and the next day we switched. I was in the fourth grade at the time. At the end of the school year she graduated to the next grade and I was left behind. We were told that I needed a minimum number of days to graduate. My sister qualified on the number and I was one day short. This was devastating to me. As a result, I was always one grade behind my age group in school.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, something unusual happened. A group of white people came to my elementary school. All of the students were asked to stand in line and give blood. Many years later, I learned they were from the Mississippi Department of Health.
Approximately two weeks following their visit, we received a letter stating that my mother and I had to report for treatment in Meridian, Mississippi. A special bus picked us up in Coahoma along with a number of other people, some familiar and others I had never seen. I was scared to death. My mother tried to explain by telling me I had “bad blood.” I sill did not understand why we were on this old raggedy bus to a town I had never heard of. What was this bad blood?
We traveled all that day. It was a traumatic experience. At days end we finally arrived at an old decommissioned army base. They gave me two sheets, a pillowcase, and a blanket. I was a 9-year-old living in a large army barrack without my mother or any other family member. A situation like this was ripe for a young kid to be molested. Thank God it didn’t happen to me.
I was really afraid when they took me to the infirmary. They had me sit on a clinic stool, lay my head on the table, and gave me a spinal tap and lollipop.
One week later, we were on the same raggedy bus heading home. I learned that my mother’s test came out negative. She didn’t have to take those shots. How could a nine-year-old who was not sexually active have “bad blood”? Where did I get this “bad blood”? What did these white people do to me? Was I part of some type of Tuskegee experiment? Since then, there have been times when my blood tests have been positive. Other times, they have been negative.
My early “bad blood” experience has never been explained. I pray that I was not part of some nefarious experiment by our government.
In next Friday’s post, I will share HIS STORY about COMING OF AGE IN COAHOMA