Freedom Friday – Black History Month: Part 2

Introduction

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 

Writer’s Quote Wednesday 2015

Thank you to Silver Threading for hosting this weekly event.

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My  Writer’s Quote this week is one by Gwendolyn Brooke:

 “What I’m fighting for now in my work … for an expression relevant to all manner of blacks, poems I could take into a tavern, into the streets, into the halls of a housing project.”

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The first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950, Brooke published her first book of poetry in 1945.

Her awards and recognitions are many including a 1962 invitation from President John F. Kennedy to read at a poetry festival being held at the Library of Congress.

Though ten years younger and we never met; I grew up in Chicago, we lived in the same neighborhood, and we attended the same school (Englewood).

Yet, I didn’t connect with this distinguished, gifted and talented writer until 1970 as a college freshman.

Sadly, in the 1950s, the Chicago Public School System did not include the literary works of  Gwendolyn Brooke in their curriculum.  At least, on the South Side of Chicago where I grew up.

Gwendolyn Brooke died on December 3, 2000 at the age of 83.  The gift of her poetic words remain for us to share and reflect upon for generations to come.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge – February 6, 2014

Scale – Weekly Photo Challenge

“This week, share an image that highlights a size relationship — make us pause and take a second look to understand the scale of the elements in your photo.”

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I created this Mosaic Note Collage with the App, Pho.to Lab.  I used random family photos as my interpretation of a scale of musical notes.  

 

Freedom Friday – Black History Month: Part 1

February 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month; and, the theme for 2015 is a “Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”

On this Freedom Friday and for the remaining three Fridays in February, I choose to celebrate Black History Month by recognizing  and celebrating my Hubby and BFF (Best Friend Forever) for all that he has endured, overcome and accomplished during his lifetime.

I am grateful to have this blog platform to tell HIS STORYHIS HISTORY and IN HIS OWN WORDS by sharing excerpts from HIS published memoirs, “The Son of A Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”

“I am a 70-year-old  black male who was born in Mississippi in 1941 to an 18-year-old unwed mother with one child.  I did not know my biological father until I was 15-years-old.  I grew up in dire poverty in the pre-Civil Rights south, chopping and picking cotton for ten hours a day, eight months of the year.  I was a high school dropout and had my first child, out-of-wedlock, at the tender age of 17.  One year later, I married my beautiful childhood sweetheart and by the age 26 I was the father of four children.  By age 33, I had obtained a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I overcame my difficult beginnings to become the successful person I am today.

My story and my family’s story is about being black in this country — an honest story about how much progress we have made but also about how much progress we still need to make.  I faced many hardships and struggles as a poor black boy growing up in 1950s Mississippi.  But my struggles and hardships didn’t end when I moved to the north and began my professional career in business and government service. While I was no longer chopping and picking cotton ten hours a day, I was still in many ways treated like a second class citizen.  This book, then, is a cautionary tale for black people about attitudes that have not changed fast enough and the progress we still need to achieve.

At the same time this is not a memoir about an angry black man.  Rather, it is a story of hope and perseverance — about how I overcame tremendous odds to achieve success and the American Dream.  Despite the problems I describe, I’ve had many more victories, and I am thankful to my family, friends, colleagues and county for the opportunities and achievements that have blessed my life.”

James C. Thomas, December 2012

In next Friday’s post, I will share HIS STORY about HIS CHILDHOOD.

Writer’s Quote – Wednesday 2015

A special thank you to Silver Threading for the invite to this weekly blog event.

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A quote by Nikki Giovanni is my choice for Writer’s Quote this week.

“There is always something to do.  There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well.  And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call a friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.”

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Ms. Giovanni, a renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator, has shared her gift of the written word with followers throughout the world for more than thirty years.  

“Black Feeling Black Talk,” was her first book of poetry published in 1968; and, shortly after its publication, she was given the name, “Princess of Black Poetry.

Three decades of publications and lectures earned her the title, “National Treasure;” and, Oprah Winfrey selected her as one of the twenty-five “Living Legends.”

Nikki Giovanni’s Bio at:

http://www.inspirational-black-literature.com/nikki-giovanni.html