man001057. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1js9mn80
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THIS BUD'S FOR YOU
"That's what I want to be when H grow up. ,,;l want to drive an airplant - "Boy, they don't let negroes drive airplanes".
Several years ago, following his surpassing Babe Ruth s homerun record, Henry "Hank" Aaron was asked how and why he became involved in baseball. His response was, in effect, that when he was a child he spent a great deal of time with his parents. On some occasions, he would observe certain things of interest to him. Invariably, he would make a comment similar to other such comments made by children around the country: "that's what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a fireman". "....I want to be a policeman". "....I want to be a.. , ...."
No matter which of those doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, candlestick maker careers he might have considered in his own boyish fashion, the response was generally the same: "boy, they don't let negroes be"
That was a harsh reality and it was not unusual for black children growing up in the greatest country the world has ever known. It was not unusual during Hank's time, before his time and only recently has its totality diminished. There are still some things that "they don't let negroes do”. Worse than that, there are a lot of things that some "negroes" have convinced themselves that they cannot do. What a pity.
Here of late, we have been hearing and reading quite a lot about child abuse. Ahhh. These things do not begin to approach the kinds of abuses of the spirit black children have suffered for years and years and years.
Hank and others had little to look forward to. It would have been quite easy to become despondent to the point of becoming suicidal. After all, if one does not have the hope of a better life, what reasons does,.?phe have to live? Not many. Perhaps this is why the suicide rate among black people is increasing at such an alarming rate. But still, suicide? I'd rather kill somebody else
kill myself. I guess I'd rather go to jail than to go to hell.
Why didn't Hank and Leroy and Jackie, Bill, Beulah, Willie, Ethel, Solomon, Zerline, and millions and millions of other black youngsters jump off the Empire State Building or a bridge or slit their wrists or something? Why did they not kill themselves and be done with it? Why did they "hang in there" knowing that their chances of becoming "somebody" Were slim to none?
Well, I'll tell you one of the reasons. They "hung in there" because of Miss. Lucy, Miss Alice, Miss. Corine, Miss. Hattie, Miss. Forestine or other women who were their mothers.
Mothers are strange creatures. They'll kiss their child right on the lips even though he might haveMust "threw up" from the colic. They never gag while changing a defecated in diaper. That's normal, I suppose. Every mother is that way regardless of color. Black mothers have been called upon to go beyond vomit and potty. Let me tell you about one—mine.
Harriett. That was her name. Everybody called her "Miss. Had". She was a strong and gentle woman both spiritually and physically even though she was small of stature. Her father was part Chickasaw, African and Spanish. Her mother was part African, Choctaw and Irish. In the entire history of her family, on both sides, she received the greatest amount of education up to that point— fifth grade. Her reading and writing required great effort.
She was born and raised in the country near Natchez, Mississippi at a place called Churchill. She grew up on the Stowers plantation. She started working at the age of seven in cotton fields. As a little girl she picked peas, pulled potatoes, shucked corn, and an assortment of other tasks. Where she came from, everybody worked. The only problem was—nobody got paid. Her family were tenant farmers. Of the things they raised on the alloted piece of ground, they received only a "shotgun''house and food. Money was as scarce then as honesty is today.
As a young woman, she moved to Natchez and married. She found work as a domestic servant at 50C a day and whatever left over food there might be. My
father worked but his is a different story.
In the course of her lifetime, she had seven children. The one who would've been the oldest, died during childbirth. When she would go off to work, she would take the children with her. After they grew up, she would leave them alone with the oldest in charge. My sister Dorothy had that responsibility beginning at the age of six years old. She took care of Morris who was three. By the time Jesse arrived, Dorothy was nine and by the time I arrived, she was twelve. In other words, there were three years between the ages of the first four children. Gloria arrived five years after me and Sandy three years after her. Four boys and two girls.
My mother continued with the domestic work and she also began to "take in" washing and ironing. The children helped out some—"toting" water, "chunking" firewood, gathering "kindling" or whatever else had to be done. We had no. television or running water and only a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling which was taken from one room to the other as needed.
In the evenings and on weekends, my mother would always take us for walks. She pointed everything out to us. She showed us how to get from one place to another so we would not get lost. Evenings , after supper, she would tell us stories which makes today's television fare dull by comparison. My father and my aunt Sarah would always join in the storytelling.
We'd sit on the front "garry". The children with their legs dangling over the edge, my mother and aunt on the steps with pieces of rolled up newspaper to control the gnats and mosquitoes and my father "rared back" in a chair. She always would begin the evening on the porch by asking us what we had learned in school that day. She made sure we had our homework done before dark. We were each required to read to her for a while and when we would have finished, she always called us to her and hugged us and kissed us and cried. We would then kiss her and tell her not to cry. We didn't know, then, why she cried. She
was preparing us for life's great adventure and she did not know if we would
ever get a chance. She was determined that we would be ready if and when the chance presented itself.
When I was six years old, I always thought that I was the cause of her tears. I thought that I did not read well enough. I practiced more and more and more. I learned my times tables from the covers of the Pennwright tablets. learned to add, subtract, divide and all of the rest of it. She called me her little prince. I was everybody's favorite in the family.
She told us that we had to do better than she had done. She only had a fifth grade educations She insisted that we all finish high school and make something of ourselves. She told us that we could be anything that we wanted to be if we tried hard enough.. She told us that there would always be some people who would try to hold us back or to make us feel bad but we were not to pay any attention to them. We were told to work hard, be respectful, tell the truth and bring honor to the family. She always told us that she was proud of us and that she loved us.
Over the years, she washed many a tubful of clothes and pressed many shirts, skirts, pants and dresses and sheets to pay the tuition to send us to Holy Family Catholic school. She had us become altar boys so we could learn Latin. She had us sing in the church choir and the school glee club. She had us all play sports. She insisted that we all be on the honor rolls and get gold stars after our names. She also insisted that we not be pushed around. She told us that if anybody hit us that we should hit them back.
Once, on a Saturday afternoon, she and the children were walking on Franklin Street in fron of Abrams Department Store when a man came out of the door and I accidentally bumped into him. He drew back his hand to strike me and I heard my mother's voice say: "if you hit that boy you might as well give your soul to Jesus because your will belong to me".
She got dirt under her fingernails working in fields and her hands were pruned
from washing clothes on a scruboard. She did not want that for her children.
Through her constant encouragement, all of us managed to graduate from high school. The summer after graduation,- for me, I worked all summer as a painter.- The following fall I became the very first member ever in the history of my family to go to college.
My mother told me to bring honor to the family. There was not much money in my home. Yet, each and every week I received a letter, written with a pencil, from her. It always started out the same way: "How are you. Fine I do hope. We are well and hope you are the same. Keep your clothes clean and read your books. Don't be down there running the streets in and out of juke joints. Here is a dollar to help you a little bit. I miss you very much. Your mother, Harriett."
I always managed to get home for Mother's Day. We'd go to church and the men always wore little rose buds in the lapels of theirBackets. Every Mother's Day, more than other times, I remember the thousands of conversations she and I had. She would give advise and she would always go with me when I would go to see Miss. Irilla or Miss. Fields or Miss. Lucy. She was proud of me because I had brought honor to the family. I was proud of her because she had brought character, strength, decency, honesty, independence, and a kind of moral responsibility that I have rarely seen since.
A Something else which I remember is when T saw Harry Truman on television -MM "that's what I want to be. I want to be the President". She looked
at me with piercing eyes and said simply: "ok".
So, fifteen years after her death I say to her: "This Bud's For You".