Rose’s Story

from Lessons From the Damned: class struggle in the black community by the damned. 1973.

from a 12-year old young woman

I was living down South when I was small and I am going to tell you what I remember. In the summer I would walk bare-footed and when the ground was hot, I had to put my shoes back on.
In the wintertime, when I had to go to school, the wind would blow and blow. One winter evening, about four o’clock, I was running so fast the wind almost blew me down. The wind was coming from the South, from Southern Florida which is very flat.

I use to eat hot lunch in school every day and hot breakfast every morning. I liked school down there. Down South the teachers beat you if you don’t do your work and if you fight in school. I had a fight with a girl in my class. She started it and a big boy tried to stop it. I’ll never forget this! He was holding me and I broke-a-loose and tore that girl up. The next day was Friday and my teacher’s name was miss Washington. She took us in the bathroom and we got it good. We saw each other get a beating. When we got out of the bathroom – I don’t know about that girl – but I was embarrassed, in front of all the boys and all.

I think the teachers should beat the kids if they don’t mind and talk back. That makes the kids embarrassed and they won’t do it no more. Up here when the kids talk back, they send them to the principal. He doesn’t do a thing. It doesn’t seem to help the kids… People who beat you, at least, care about you. White kids don’t get beatings usually. They holler at their mother like they’re grown. But I dare a black child to holler at her mother and get away with it.

Down South in Jacksonville, Florida, we had dirt roads. See, the white people had paved roads and didn’t associate much with black people. In the school that I was going to, no white children was there… we had no white people in the whole school. I liked the schools in the South better because if you are in the fifth grade, they give you fifth grade reading books – not third grade reading books, like I have found up North.
Down South the food tastes better than the food in the North. I miss the food down South – the chicken, the turkey, collard greens andthe cornbread and the biscuits, and the eggs and bacon and o-o-o-e-e-e!

My mother came and got me because she thought life was better in the North. I do not think so! The houses are better down South. If you get a house, you can stay in that house all your life, if you’ve a mind. When I was staying with my aunt, I was a week old and she’s still living there.

You could get better jobs and better money – machinery jobs, hand jobs, ladies car-wash. My mother could car-wash. She use to work in the car fields. My mother use to pick the white meat. She’d bring some home sometimes and boy!, do it be good! We use to have crabs every Sunday.

lady day

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the popular trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter cry”