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Biography Of Lum'ma Katie

A Colored Survivor


When I was young, I couldn’t wait to leave home. I was always looking ahead, wishing I were grown gone and on my own. It didn't matter where I went, as long as it was some place other than the northwest Florida panhandle.

When the time came I found that being someplace else and the fun I thought it would be, were both fleeting and fickle. Once I realized that I was beyond my prime, suddenly the well of plenty was dry, and I was thirsty for self knowledge. In my quest to re-hydrate myself, I knew is was important try drawing water from another well of my existence.

For some lucky ones, those who hydrated our being in those early years are still there, but for me, I had squandered away that luxury, and there are only dust, and the echoes from the grave; mark my word, I may not live to see it but one day...

 When I decided to write this biography, it was supposed to be about looking back and feeling good about the Cyp Riley clan. At first I wanted to champion his memory, because he has always been somewhat an enigma that my grandma rarely spoke of. It wasn't about connecting to a person who molded me, and whose teaching seemed to have been wasted on me. Yet in the end, I was reconnected to someone greater, my grandma a soul survivor and a proud Colored woman. Though she a simple, person saw the good in everything good, and the bad in everything bad, thus she had a black and white, cut and dried philosophy to almost everything in life. The color gray just didn't exist. It is my wish, this piece also serve as a written record for her bloodline to come I sincerely hope it highlight her ironclad will and dedication to family. To protect and provide for them she never faltered.

I’ve heard the wealth of knowledge is not the luxury of a few, but a common fund that's to be drawn upon by every one, thus I want to share this her story.

None in her immediate family ever used nicknames, her brothers and sisters knew her simply as Sister Katie, a God fearing, and resolute woman, and however to me she was Lum'ma; The Gibraltar Rock.

She had a strong sense of family ties and by all indications had come from a close-knit family although her pa was evil and sadistic and perhaps a vile human being. He intimidated, brutalized disrespected his children, even friend and neighbors.

By her ways and actions, she showed us it was important to maintain a strong and unified presence. That would help endure hard times. She started with building a solid foundation of trust and faith in the Creator then in each other. Therefore we should look to Him but look out for ourselves, regardless. Furthermore, our focus should be on that which we have to be thankful for, and away from what other folks got. She often stressed to everyone in our family to have gumption, and backbone enough to carry our own load.

She raised both momma Louella, Uncle Bish, Uncle Plezzie, then brothers John, Tommy, cousin Charles and myself within the framework of Christianity, yet without shoving religion down our throats. Her ultimate aim was we lead productive lives. Most important to her was that the males never go to jail. Because she had such a domineering presence, the idea of a woman going to jail, never occurred.

Though Lum'ma never saw herself as being independent or being headstrong, in reality she was very imposing. She was a woman who thought she was just as good as any man, and commanded the same respect. Though strongly pro-Colored, she wasn't anti-any other race, although she took them with a grain of salt.

By that she carried herself as a hardworking, proud and dignified capable member of the Colored race. She never referred to herself as neither Negro, Afro-American, nor Black, and most assuredly Nigger. The word Nigger to her is what red is a to a bull. (There are those who will sniggle of smirk at the word Colored in the title, lest we forget, there was a time when to be called Colored signified a term of respect, and not today’s term condescending in nature).

In statue, she was only five foot two, one-hundred ten pounds soaking wet. She was extremely dark and wiry. By the time I came along her hair was a silvery gray, and her leather-like skin seemed reflect a lot of time spent out in the elements.

She came up hard, and with her there was no man’s work or woman’s work. It was work that either you could do it, or you couldn’t. Even if you couldn’t do it, that was no reason not to try. She constantly drilled us that nothing beats a try, but failing to try.

To earn a living, she worked in the potato, corn, peanut fields, and she picked peas, chopped, and picked cotton for farmers named James Moody, Albert Evans David Cook and I'm sure many others whose names escape me. During other times she would clean houses, then there were times, she chipped boxes, she even cut crossties in Pine Log Forest for the Pensacola & Atlantic railroad.

Mentally, and emotionally she was as strong as they come bar none. Her failed marriage and the depression era only served to strengthen her resolve to survive. She was in good health. Her attitude was, only the Good Lord was greater than her, and acted accordingly. That either angered or intimidated many men of her time. She was also a fighter, that after Grandpa Cyp, she would never allow herself to be under anyone’s thumb, and most assuredly wouldn’t allow anyone to mistreat or run over her.

With her one didn't have to wonder what she was thinking, she said what she meant, and meant what she said. How you reacted to was up to you. She also wouldn't hesitate to give you a piece of her mind either, whether it was asked or unasked for. 

In spite of all the times she was seemingly set back, she always profited from every experience. Her relationship with her father, my Grandpa Mack, and subsequently the depression era, could have all destroyed her. Some how in her craftiness she always found a way to make ends meet, even it meant robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Within her makeup lie what many would call a responsible man’s toughness and mindset. She was often thought of as the reincarnation of her pa, Grandpa Cyp (pronounced Sip) without his sadistic streak. By that she wanted to be a good provider and raise her children to reflect her unparalleled work ethics. That meant maintaining a strong family presence, and holding us together, by any means necessary, even if meant ruling with a firm hand. (Her children never got too old for her to take a switch to, she may not have been able to carry out that threat, but one didn't want to call her hand, because she knew nothing about the back down, and in my heart of hearts, I think when I became a man she would've tried me.

Initially, I only wanted to tell this story to my immediate family. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized her kinfolks needed to know her story as well. We all shared a common bond that was the Riley bloodline, and they should share the story as well. Then perhaps they too can look back with pride and perhaps draw inspiration from our past together and perhaps have a greater understanding of who we are as a people.

In my research, I soon discovered, there wasn’t much to feel good about. As troubling as the story was, in the end there was a sense of triumph over the difficulties of her times.

Many illusions I had were shattered. There were those who I once held in high regards, who sank to the bottom, and there were those, at the bottom, I found little to change that would emerge them, though my condemnation of them may have eased a bit.

The reality of looking in the past, opening doors that have been shut for generations, there is in all likelihood that a number of them should’ve remained closed. In search for truth and answers, I found truths, perhaps not the ones I’d bargained for. It is my intent to remain loyal to the facts, versus assumptions. As she would so often say, tell the truth, the truth is the light that will guide you out of darkness.. 

Granted I could have told her story to each one orally, hoping they would pass it along. By putting it in a written forum, they can pass it along without deviation from accuracy. Albeit can only be charted with a certain authenticity from 1870, in that slave records before were sketchy at best.

But as she would put it, a little of something is better than all of nothing.

For those that read this, her story, I sincerely hope it will serve as an assessment of all of our self worth.

This biography doesn’t or is it ever meant to be an embellishment of her true character. It’s just the simple truth, as I know it. Actual dates of marriages and deaths may vary, as they were taken from sketchy official documents that in places they seemed to run counter to each other, in that accurate records of the African Americans of those times seem to have been an after thought. A case in point, Grandpa Cyp’s name is spelled three different ways. Grandma Rose name is that way and her birth years are actually listed in different years in the decade she was born. Lum'ma never told me but Aunt Effie did; Grandma Rose was a teacher. (It no small wonder, the Riley women were such avid and passionate readers) The 1885 mid-decade census seemed to bear that out that Grand Ma Rose was a teacher: On June 8th it listed her as a housekeeper, and on the 9th she is listed as a housekeeper and teacher. On those same two dates there is also contradictions as where her parents were born, alas.

If this will educate us about how with the right mixture of a little common sense and a little book smarts will carry you a long ways. If we borrow from her bought wisdom, then we too shall not fear adversity, because adversity was almost a day-to-day occurrence she faced every day of her life, then I will have succeeded in accomplishing that which I've tried to do.

In looking back, her burdens seemed insurmountable, often filled with anguish or disgust, yet she was unflappable. The telling of her story shouldn’t be seen as either glorifying her while castigation of others. It’s merely an indictment of the times, and her situation.

In the grand scheme of things, she was one of the little people, who put her time in on earth, then died, and went on to where ever souls go. For me however, she was the brightest star my universe. Yet, I was never a momma’s boy, or in this instance, grand momma’s boy. I recall the many early evenings she was sit on the front porch, and she would teach me life lessons from her on experience. She always believed in molding children in the way they ought to go.

Ironically it was until May 1993, when momma’s died, that I started to really appreciate Lum'ma. The Friday night before the Saturday funeral, I invited all of her grandchildren, and friends for a gathering around a big barn fire and family history, just as she did when she was but a child.

I arranged the informal get together so that without the pressure of getting up in church in a formal setting, they would have a chance to recall his or her fondest memories no holds barred. It was a come as you are, and bring your own bottle. There were several who attended, and others in the community would drop by wondering what the fire was all about. Each person who spoke had funny anecdotes and tributes about momma, but Grandma name almost never came up. I thought, sad. She is the centerpiece of this Mosaic. To me, she deserved most of the credit or the blame for momma being the way she was or so I thought. Yet, it seemed as though she never existed. It would have been easier to accept were they not old enough to remember.

Since it was momma's night I didn't stray off the path of the central theme of the evening. I vowed that night I would not let the memory of her die a quiet death in their minds. Thus this became more of a resurrection than a biography.

In researching her incredible journey there were times I couldn’t distinguish between telling her story and revealing the deep dark family secrets of others. Yet, I understood they were intermeshed. For those times I wanted to call it quits, the presence of her spirit would nudge me on. I knew she wouldn‘t have been very happy in my digging up all the unpleasant things, since she never dwelled on them, because she always insisted that I not be a tattler. Nobody likes a tattler she was always remind me.

During this trek back in time, I would be overcome by sadness or pity and openly wept for her since much of what I found wasn't pretty, especially since I was basically looking for feel good pieces. As the saying goes, be careful of what you look for. Since I was intrigued I pressed on. It became both revealing and healing for me to delve in our past. Therein lied unmentionably physical abuse, shame, and abandonment. There were a lot of issues I had with what went on in her life. Some I was aware of and others rose as I plodded along. They were cutting and went far deeper than anyone could've imagined.

One saving grace on this journey in the past, I found little if anything about her that would change my perception of her. Everything about her showed she was as cool during difficult times as a winter wind. Her no non-sense straight-ahead approach allowed her to never get rattled openly. Granted at times she would get angry, but didn’t allow that anger to run counter to her wisdom or affect her better judgment. How she made it through, the most difficult period of her life, without emotional baggage was a real testament to her regimented makeup.

One would have to ask the question; where did she find the courage to get up? Many wouldn’t have made the effort, especially after the number of times she was knocked down. Like myself none ever gave much thought to why. We assumed it couldn’t have been that bad, since she never (bitched) or complained about anything in her past.

Apparently she developed the knack for blocking out any ugliness of the past, and reveled in the beauty of the present. She took great pride in raising three children, and they under her guidance had done the same. She was proud of every one of them and we the grand children when we came along.

When I spoke with family members, every one remembered her but few knew what she was about and maybe will never fully come to appreciate her. They seemed to discount that their guidance came straight from her through our parents.

Little if anything about her simplistic wisdom or corn pone philosophy will appear in any book. Other than this written piece will she ever appear in anything other than the vital statistics columns i.e. the day she was born, the day she was married, and subsequently the day she died. Yet, we her family, have but to glance in the mirror to see what she created and ask ourselves, who was she? Then and only then we will know her.


The Home Going Ritual

“They sang a song I’d never heard of, as her favorite. I knew different since I’d heard her sing her favorite often enough growing up. It was, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus” Or like the times, she too changed?”

On Sunday January 28th 1979 at one o‘clock, we gathered for a sendoff. We held a home going for the best friend I never knew I had. We said goodbye on numerous of other occasions, some not under the happiest of circumstances, although unhappiness often times is temporary. That Sunday it was permanent, as this would to be my final goodbye to my mentor, my soul and inspiration. She was never broken, and only feared of God. Though small and frail looking in stature, however in determination she was as tall and as sturdy as an oak that never wavered in the storms of life.

This goodbye was permanent. It meant I could never again pick up the phone, dial her number, and she would be on the other end. Albeit, momma would answer first, then hand the receiver to her. Her voice always had a smile in it, as she would be elated it was from her pride and joy. It didn‘t matter if what I had to say was important or not. To her all that mattered was; I had taken the time to call. I‘d make sure she knew I was calling specifically for her, not for momma or any of the others in our family. We'd chat ever so briefly, because it would turn into a shouting match, since she was hearing impaired (this day I still shout on the phone). We would end the conversation, with her asking, “ When was I coming home to visit?” I’d always yell, “Christmas“, right off the top of my head. She’d grin, “Norman why you say you is, when you know you ain't coming no where Christmas?“ “Yes ma’am I am too, If it‘s the Lord‘s will” I’d declare, knowing well she was right, but hearing me mention the name of the Lord made her feel good. She always believed that whipping me once for sneaking off to Sunday school alone was the reason; I stopped going to church on my own regularly. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her how much I enjoyed sleeping in late). It became if I said anything that gave reverence to God, made her happy. Along with hearing from me, and during those brief moments, I shared her sentiment as well. I knew it would give her something to look forward to and talk about. She couldn’t wait to share the news with her friends and mine.

She liked abundance, which probably explains why she never half-did anything, yet it was the small joys she relished most. Something like a telephone call from me seemed to bring her immense joy.

At this last rites ceremony, there was neither a twenty-one-gun salute, nor dignitaries in attendance, or even a brass band. Not everyone in our small immediate family was there. Momma made all the arrangements but wasn’t there, because she neither liked funerals nor dealing with the emotional experience of burying one‘s own mother. In spite of those who weren’t, there were dozens of others who adored her just as much as I did.

Much happened during my years away. St Luke A M E church, built a new and larger sanctuary. Esther Jackson, her cousin was their organist. When I left the community in the 1960’s, the church didn’t have a piano, not to mention an organ, now it had both. Growing up I didn’t recall her even being musically inclined, she was a housewife attending a make shift junior college at Rosenwald High School, in Panama City, Florida. She played soft somber music while the family congregated in the vestibule.

At our request the coffin was closed during the service. Just prior to our entering, the funeral director from Cooper’s Funeral Home did that and ushered us in. Though my head was in a fog; I couldn’t help glancing at the faces of her many who was in attendance. There were both, wonderful friends and relatives, as they too had come to bid her farewell. I did readily recognize many faces, others I could see the family resemblance, in spite of their aging.

All eyes turned toward us as we filed past each row of pews. It appeared those looking at me were curious as to who I was, and probably wondering if I was my older brother John. Most hadn’t seen either one in several years.

The pieced together choir, made up of members from three of the five churches in that rural community sang a hymn while we were being seated. Though she wasn't A.M.E., it was a place where all funerals were held in prior years.

When I was a child the old church had a steeple that housed a bell. A deacon would toll it just prior to every funeral. It would be chimed for the start of regular services on pastoral Sundays. On other occasions it was rang to notify the community of important news. For whatever the reason, the new sanctuary was built did not include a steeple large enough to house the bell.

Two days prior to the funeral, I suggested to mom, that she let my cousin Monk (Minister Willie A Potter) officiate. He was her great nephew. After all, she was as proud of him as she could be. Besides, what other minister would know her better? Certainly not Elder Willis, though he was her pastor, and had known her for a few years. She was a part of Monk’s guidance and direction toward manhood, and watched him come up through the ranks of the First Born Holiness Church. Momma said he had become quite an eloquent speaker.

In his opening remarks he passed along my suggestion, since she had come to the end of her earthly sojourn. “Let there be no tears of sadness, but rejoicing, for she has made it up the rough side of the mountain, and crossed over into the Promised Land. She was now in the presence of her Lord. Though it had been a tough road to travel, she had finally arrived in a better place, where there are no more detours or bumps in the road.”

Final peace for her came in the predawn hours, a few days earlier, therefore, why should we be sad? Though listening to him repeat my words seemed hollow. I was that grief stricken, and could find no joy in the thought; perhaps she had found peace and joy. As much as she cared for us, her family and friends, if given the choice of coming back, I’m sure her answer would be a definite no! “ I‘m in my father’s house among so many family members and friends, thank you though till you’re better paid, but I think I‘ll stay put.” It was like her to be that forthright.

After making the opening remarks, he called upon the choir to sing her favorite song for the final time. They sang a song I’d never heard of, claiming it was her favorite. I knew different since I’d heard her sing her favorite often enough growing up. It was, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus,” or like the times, had she changed too?

Later during the service, a few moments were allowed for those who wanted to reflect upon her life and times. So as not to disrespect Elder Willis, he was asked to give the invocation, and speak of her as a faithful member of his church. Those who later spoke, recalled her fondly. Though a battler, she was well liked by everyone who really knew her.

Once everyone spoke his or her piece, Minister Potter preached her funeral. I was pleased with the brevity of it, and believed she would’ve been as well. She was never one for dragging sadness out. He neither spoke on the eternal damnation of the living, nor issued a plea for her sainthood in heaven. He eloquently spoke openly and honestly about her. After the eulogy, we requested that the coffin be reopened. It would allow those who either came late or wanted to view the body for the final time to do so. Viewing the body for the last time included me. As I stopped and stared in her casket, there she was dressed in white, and she had such a peaceful look on her face. One would’ve thought she was lying there asleep. Growing up, she seemed strong and mighty, now as I viewed her for the last time, she seemed tiny and frail. In taking one last glance, I was disappointed the funeral home had straightened her hair. She would’ve never approved. All of her life, except once she never used a hot comb in her hair. When I returned to my place, my uncle who didn’t view the body was crying. That saddened me even more. I felt so helpless. As much as she was my great loss, for him it was a greater loss, they had seen extremely difficult times together. They weathered the depression era of the late 20‘s and early 30‘s.

As was with local traditions, the funeral director read the cards and showed the flowers that accompanied them. After giving the benedictions, Minister Potter and the other ministers in the pulpit led the procession out. The pallbearers followed carrying her body in a simple inexpensive casket. It was simple and inexpensive, because I suggested to momma that since she lived such a simple life, that such a gaudy display of purchasing a lavish coffin wouldn't be exemplary of her life, regardless to what others thought. Often times those attending funerals were there more than to pay their last respects, but see how much expense went in burying the deceased.

They loaded her casket in the hearse, though it was only a few yards from the church to her final resting place. The ministers, flower bearers, pallbearers, and the family walked the short distance to where the hearse took her body. When it reached the site, the pallbearers carefully lifted her coffin out and carried it to the waiting stand over the vault. The immediate family was seated under a green canopy for the final ritual.

One of the other ministers read a verse from the Bible. Then Monk took over reciting passages from a small book he had in his pocket. Most who attended the graveside ceremony gathered around in reverence, others greeted old friends. There was a scattering of others wandering about the cemetery visiting the gravesites of departed loved ones.

My mind was reliving another time; therefore I didn’t hear much of what was being said. Momentarily, I would find myself fighting off the tears. Although, I could only think of every wonderful thing that happened in our life together. I knew there were perhaps equally as much unpleasantness. I perhaps contributed as much as anyone. I was hardheaded and must have been the source of a number of heartaches and disappointments.

In many ways she was selfless. She was also very loyal, devoted, and unwavering in her dedication to her family. In the process she gave all she had everyday, every step of the way.

Myself, by comparison, had selfishly given a little in return. That was hardly any compensation for all she meant to me, urging me on to do well in school, and seeing to it, I had clean clothing and never wanting for the basic necessities. Yet, I knew she never wanted recompense. It wasn’t her nature to be that way. Knowing her the way I did, she took great satisfaction in knowing that she had gotten me safely to manhood without going to jail. She never chided me about doing for her when I got grown. Now that I was a man and making it on my own, that was compensation enough for her.

I remembered the many trips. She’d always take me along, most trips were by foot. They were long and tiresome, over the hills and through the thickets, around branch heads, stepping over moccasins, ground rattlers, and what ever else was in our way. To save time we’d take shortcuts, even if it meant we had to climb through the fences of Moody’s pasture, crossing his private property.

She adored her friends and relatives alike, and we’d walked to visit them, to the store, to church, anyplace she had a mind to. No relative or church was too far to walk; I believe if she had the strength, she would’ve walked across country to Seattle to visit Uncle Oliver her most endeared brother.

Everything good that happened to me, it was because of her teaching and guidance. By contrast, my misfortunes were because I strayed from it.

Looking solely at my humble beginnings, one would say I was reared to be an overachiever, however by contrast, looking at all that she passed along to me, I was a classic underachiever. I had the will and the ability and knowledge to greatly succeed in life. She had the will and the ability, but sorely lacked the know-how.

My eyes bleared again with the tears, when I thought about her own life, and the world in which she lived and the many places she hadn’t been, things she hadn’t done, and now never would. Most would reason I didn’t cry outright, was probably some macho thing. In reality it was quite the contrary, I didn’t cry because she wouldn’t have wanted me to. She had shed enough for the two of us.

This was the end of her road, but I kept asking, why? The reality, however, it was just her time. Since she toiled long and hard in getting us thus far, it was left to us to carry on from here.

Somehow, as I stared in this simple four by eight by six feet of ground it didn't seem a fitting place as to where it all should end. There were no oak trees, or peaceful water flowing, and no green grass. It was just a sandy plot of ground, surrounded by a lot of other headstones; many names I recognized, but didn't know they died.


The unsettling experience of being head of the household, and sole provider for her family began one Saturday Morning in 1918.

Lum'ma was our Harriet Tubman. Granted there was no underground railroad that led to freedom in some far off place in the north she led us to both freedom and independence in our hearts and souls, in spite of living in a slavery mentality south.

No one can be sure if it was the impact of slavery, but shortly after the American Civil war many African-American men became another type of runaway. They started a trend that has continued through today with no end in sight. Anytime they felt their freedom was threatened, they tended to move on. Some would start families and others with or without provocation abandon them in search of greener pastures under the guise of looking for a better opportunity. Subsequently thrusting their wives in the roles of head of household breadwinners and having to fend for themselves the best they could. Most women weren’t conditioned to take on dual roles, since they went directly, “from momma's apron to daddy house,” with no stops between. They were raised not only to help do field work, be good housewives and mothers, but to be subservient and obedient to the man of the household.

The impact could be felt immediately. There was neither welfare nor AFDC. It not only left already struggling families in disarray, but also mired them in abject poverty. If relatives or other caring members of the community didn’t come to their aid, they were scattered about as a family unit. Children would be forced to move in with various relatives, until the mothers could do better, in a number of cases that was never. Being a good woman and mother took on an entirely different meaning, as many toed the line between the two and doing what ever it took to stay alive.

Men, on all sides of the color line, sadly took advantage of their situation, as many of those women gave birth to a number of their bastard children.

Most is believed to have suffered their indignation in silence. In the meanwhile men reveled in this behavior, it served as a testimony of their male prowess. In retrospect, it was a right of passage. It was not uncommon for a man to have twenty or more children spread out over several women. At some point they would insist the children bond with each other.

Was this the African American men indifference because of what they perceived as the cavorting of a number of their women during the era of slavery? Or was it a continuation of the effects of institutional slavery by not allowing the men the security of bonding with their families? After all they knew the entire family unit was at the mercy of their owner. Much to their dismay, these former slaves knew that their marriage was a farce, and which offered to their masters a chance to produce his slaves rather than having to purchase them on the open market. In essence it was ordained stud service under the guise of holy matrimony.

The unsettling experience of being the head of the household, and sole provider for her family began after Grandpa Mack deserted her in  or about 1918.

Shortly after their eighteenth birthday, she and Grand Pa Mack were married in 1904. He died long before I was born, after checking official documents he died in the crazy house (Mental institution) at Chattahoochee, Florida.

In the minds of those close to us however, he left a pitiful legacy. Possible bigamy was among it, as it appears he was hers and someone else’s husband. It seemed he never bothered with details like getting a divorce.

Like a few young men of that era, he was undoubtedly without conscious and not much sense of moral responsibility. Yet, I never heard her ever mention anything about him good or bad. What I learned of him came from either momma or others who knew him, and of his reputation. Had it not been for the two children he fathered with her, there would’ve been nothing to indicate he ever existed in her life. The things he did left little doubt about the type of young man he was; within three years of his marrying her, in 1907, he took certain liberties with her younger sister, Effie. The indiscretion got her pregnant with my, endeared Uncle-Cousin Plezzie. (I believe had Grandpa Cyp been alive someone would have died). It should be noted that type of behavior was not an uncommon occurrence during those times; it was called breaking a young woman in. As if fathering a child with her younger sister earlier wasn't a family shame; he gained the reputation of a first class ho’ hopper.

Eventually, in 1911 my momma was born and two years afterward came my Uncle Bish. Yet, it didn’t stop his womanizing ways.

Five years later, it is assumed he’d had enough, and left her for another woman named Irene who lived in Panama City, Florida, which was virtually next-door in Bay County. Not to cast aspersion, but he left his wife with three children, Ma Uncle Bish and Uncle Plezzie,:He either married or took up with Irene that already had two children by different daddies. It was the way he departed, I had issues with.

On a mid summer Saturday morning around 1918, he left under the pretense of going to Panama City, and buy shoes for momma, pants for Uncle Bish and something for Uncle Plezzie. He left taking only the clothes on his back and whatever money he had in his pocket. He gave them no indications as to what his ultimate plans were and that he wouldn’t be returning. Momma, being a few month shy of her seventh birthday, was all excited by his showing her a picture of the pair of shoes he said he was going to buy for her. (Sixty-two years later, she still recalled that time vividly and was even able to describe them in great detail; they were a pair of black patent leather shoes with a pink bow). It's not known what happened that day. Could it have been he and Lum'ma decided to part ways but told the children nothing? I’m left wondering if he met this Irene earlier and moved in with her later? Long after he was dead, momma met a woman who claimed to be her half-sister, I can find no record of any Peterson but him living in his household, I surmised that she was a stepsister.

By the early 30’s he was on the verge of total insanity. His family believed the reason he went insane, was because the woman Irene he married, had him hoo dooed, perhaps stop his cheating ways. Whatever the case may have been, he went insane. In his latter days leading up to being institutionalize, his family pleaded with Lum'ma to take him in. She refused reasoning her things were tough enough, didn't need another, hungry mouth to feed.

When momma spoke of Grandpa Mack, there was sadness in her voice and she would grow quiet, and seemed distant for a while after all he was her pa. Lum'ma on the other hand never mentioned him good or bad. It was as though when he left, he did more than physically leave, he took with him anything she may have felt for him.

I've often wondered why. I guess it‘s one of those questions; there will never be an answer to. Before he died he sent word he wanted to see his children, but neither of the three respected his request. He died and was buried in a pauper's grave in Chattahoochee, Florida without ever getting another chance to see them again.

Like today's times, I'm sure there was plenty of gossip in the community, about how hard hearted her actions were, but she was never one to give a hoot about the opinions of others.

Her total focus was on providing food for her family, and those who didn't like it could, "go to the devil." And that's all there was to it.

In spite of her personal efforts, she was quick to point out; her saving grace in the wake of his leaving was her family. She would on occasions help Uncle Gene and Aunt Charlotte in the field for shares of whatever the crop was being harvested. Breaking up the family by giving up her children was never an option. Uncle Joe had a decent job, and Uncle Ben who lived in near by in the community of Mill Creek was a farmer who pitched in from time to time.

Uncle Joe left Millers Ferry after returning from World War in 1919, moved to Pensacola. Aunt Charlotte got word to him about what happened between her and Grandpa Mack. From that time until she could make ends meet alone, he would make regular trips over by boat bringing food to help sustain the family.

Uncle Ben, on the other hand, married into a farming family of Browns, and worked in the turpentine industry as well as grew crops, and raised livestock. He also helped out with food. By them coming to her aid in the clutch, she managed to survive without compromising her virtue or giving up her children. The 30’s shuffled in Old Hoover Times. The depression era was know in the rural Black community as Hoover times, labeled that after President Herbert Hoover who was in office. This was a sterner task as everyone was faced with the same hardships. During the recovery period of the FDR years, the pressure of trying to earn enough to feed a family easing up, but her burdens weren’t necessarily lighter. Granted all of her children were grown, but on October 23rd 1934, momma gave birth to my older brother John. What I gathered it only strengthened her resolve, that she still would not become some man’s good thing, in spite of the hardships of that era. Granted like her mother before, she too had gone from momma's apron to daddy’s house. There is a lesson to be learned from her experience, although she never taught it: Young women individuality and independence would be better served if they could spend time experiencing life on their own, and by learning to support themselves before entering into Holy matrimony. This is not to promote promiscuity, instead it promises a sense of independence later on. Her learning the importance of being self-sufficient and independent, came at a high price. It was through the brutality of one man Grandpa Cyp, she was battle tested and became a hard worker under him before making that short trip to another man Grandpa Mack. When she found herself cutting crossties and working in the turpentine industry. a jobs that were normally reserved for men, she was more prepared for it than most. Yet, in spite of these obstacles that stood in the way of maintaining a cohesive family, she made it up in her mind; she would not be defeated in this manner. Though times were hard for her they were hard for everyone. Thus, she may have been a part of those hard times, but most definitely her family would not be a casualty.

Though he’d probably tried, but Grandpa Cyp never broke her. Just another reasons why she wouldn't let hard times do it.

By the time her troubles with Grandpa Mack came along, she was already had developed strong survival skills and work ethics. Grandma Rose perhaps inspired her never to quit or give up, and that tomorrow would be a better day.

Lum'ma was forever encouraging us to keep trying to do our best. That also meant never wallowing in pity, or jumping from pillar to post, but more important to never turn the other cheek, unless it‘s to reach for a stick or a piece of wood and try to knock them in the middle of next week. Thus self-pity, or surrendering because times were hard, just wasn’t a part of her make up. She had the determination to rise above any obstacle. She put her trust in God, but few men. When her heavy her burden got heavy she knew tomorrow was another day and something would turn up.

Kahlil Gibran once wrote in his book The Prophet:

No man can reveal to you anything but that which lies half asleep in the dawn of your own knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers gives not of his wisdom, but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If that person is indeed wise, he does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom, but rather lead you to the threshold of your own understanding


Sometimes between my job searches, I made the time to sit and really visit with mom.

My momma was living proof why most women shouldn’t go directly from momma's house to daddy’s house. Yet, she was only following the example set by Lum'ma, who followed the one set by her mother Rose, and in all probability, all of the Riley women made the same short trip. Lum’ma gained her experience the hard way, by marrying the ignominious Grandpa Mack. Two years after she died, my stepfather did as well. With them gone, momma seemed displaced and out of sorts, with little sense of handling any matters. All of mom’s life she had been a hard worker as well, yet never developed a sense of independence, she was very much codependent. Who knows, because of Lum’ma heavy handiness she molded her that way.

That made it easier for me to rationalize my returning to this rural community was the right thing to do. Almost four years to the day we buried her, I left Minneapolis to return to Redhead, my secret beloved. I didn’t think so at the time, but her death had an adverse effect on me. Everything that was important to me seemed inconsequential, as I wandered aimlessly. Furthermore, I found myself a man without a sense of attachment or belonging to anyplace.

I became torn between two cultures classes. Living in Minneapolis as long as I did, I had become a Minnesotan, in both heart and soul. Granted, the first nineteen years of my life I lived in the Redhead community. While the other nineteen wasn't all in Minneapolis, I had been away for just that long. One thing was certain; I had dissimilated being a Floridian southerner, and assimilated some other culture. My value system had changed drastically; I looked, dressed, thought, and acted different from the locals. Proof-positive was, those who didn‘t know me, constantly asked, where I was from. And those who knew me viewed me at times as being kind of standoffish.

My southern way of articulation was gone. (Lum'ma, it should be noted, spoke with amazingly good diction, although she would  hide certain words incorrectly behind prepositions). My being somewhat an introvert was in part for two reasons. The first being, she always cautioned me about tendin and lettin, (tending to my business and letting other folk’s alone). Secondly she wanted me acting the way she raised me, with common sense. Albeit, my Midwestern persona reflected in my demeanor may have come across as arrogance.

The southern traditions and institutions as I knew them seemed to have died a quiet death while I was away. There was racial tolerance, and it appeared what it was like to live in the new south, was far different than the one I perceived it to be. In my job search, I found all perspective employers seemed to care about was if I could do the job. It hadn’t occurred to me, in the face of seeking gainful employment, my only tangible marketable skill was sales, although, I ran my own corporation for a few years. The rah-rah slogan nothing happens till somebody sells something, served to inspire me. I made it a point to sell myself on every interview, although it had been many years since graduating from S T I, a school that taught selling. Other than that, I never pursued a more specialized discipline. Heaven only knows I had several opportunities. Yet, almost as an act of defiance, I chose not to, reasoning, I didn’t need a degree to work at the U S Post Office. In the 50’s however, it appeared, if a college graduate didn’t want to teach, there was a postal clerk job waiting. By the time the 60’s rolled around, that qualification was reduced to anyone with either military experience or a high school education. I had other concerns about whether the buying White public was ready for me, or vises versa.

When I left Redhead the 29th of December 1962, I never thought I would ever return to live, and if I did, it would be when I was old and wealthy living in grand style. On January 23rd 1983, I returned. My act had grown old in Minneapolis, and my life had become anything but grand. As far as my style went, it was a garment bag of clothing that went out of style in the early 70's. I was broke, but because of Lum'ma, not my spirit, and often kidded my childhood buddies, at least I could boast, I left home walking on a 20-dollar pair of Hushpuppies, and returned riding a hundred-thousand-dollar Greyhound.

What was important however, this was the new south, and I was clueless about it. Since Washington County offered nothing in the way of gainful employment, my only chance of getting a decent paying job was to look in Panama City. I had no idea how potential employers would look upon me, as I didn't have a local address, or what perceived to be a real marketable skill. Couple that with not having a degree, I knew I had to either dazzle perspective employers with brilliance or baffle them with bull. Granted my work experience included such companies as The Pillsbury Corporation and Northwestern Bell Telephone, though that hadn’t been recent. Also I wondered if my persnickety-ness and smugness would show in a face-to-face interview. Yet, I did have a cockiness or self-assuredness about my abilities and myself. That could be attributed to; in all of my vainness, I was still shamming. I’d worked hard to create an image and mystique about myself while being away all those years. I must admit it was by careful design, and as a result. I made the attempt to distance myself from myself. Lum'ma planted a core value system, and my humble beginnings kept drawing me back. For so long I’d passed myself off as being cosmopolitan and polished. And to be viewed as a good ole boy from the sticks would have been downright insulting.

It didn't take long to realize, just as it had been when I moved to north, I had to learn a new culture. It didn’t matter that over the years, I would return for a visit now and then. While I was away, the south had gone through a metamorphous. A number of places I once couldn’t visit, now welcomed me with open hands (that was as long as I had the money, after all change hadn’t made these folks stupid. That slogan; help keep Florida green, meant more than just conservation, it meant spending money).

Many Black Americans in the community now owned nice  homes, drove new cars, and held well paying positions. A large number held either two, or four years, with a few owning advanced degrees from prestigious universities. Cou'n Jack Brown Jr. had two attorneys in his family with one attending a prestigious law school. This leads me to believe the community per capita had the highest number of college trained young people as any in the state.

Sometimes between my job searches, I made the time to sit and really visit with mom. After both Lum'ma, and my step dad died, she seemed lost, in as much as John’s children were mainly adults, and were spending less and less time with her. For the first time in my life, what she had to say was really important to me.

In July 1983, I attended my first Riley-Jackson family reunion, it seemed to me most of the emphasis was placed on the Jackson side of the family. I had a problem with that. First of all my daddy was a Jackson, but never owned me. That in and of itself stuck in my craw. I really wasn’t identifying with that side of me.

The re-union could just as well been called a Jackson family reunion starring Aunt Effie. Other than casually mentioning Cyp and Rose Riley, everyone making a fuss over her, not much else was mentioned as I recalled.

The following reunion, I took momma who had never attended a family reunion of any type before. Once again Aunt Effie was there and she was the guest of honor She was the last of the original Cyp Riley clan and the aunt of everyone. (After her there would only be cousins left. I sought to make the Riley name more of a presence than just one of an honorable mentioning. Granted my last name was Peterson, which was the family name of my great Grandma Rose) There were a number of things that leaped out at me; why there were no named Riley’s in attendance. I think at the conclusion of this book, it will be obvious why not.

Since momma was getting old, I needed the benefit of firsthand knowledge about our family while her mind was still reasonably sharp. This was for selfish reasons, to boast my self-importance to something greater.

In the late 1960’s, during the Black revolution in this country, I began to acquire a lot of knowledge about the history and contributions of Black people to the world as a whole, not just to America. Yet, I knew very little about me in the grand scheme of things, and even less about my own family. The one I was most curious about was Lum'ma and Grandpa Cyp. I had always championed them. I knew she was a strong and resilient woman. Yet, I knew nothing about him. Down throughout my years, she shared bits and pieces about her life, and almost none about his, but at the time, other than feel good, they were of no importance to me.

During that time I never felt our family was a close knit one, and for the following twenty years I remained emotionally detached. During those years away, however, I hadn’t taken the time once to reflect, or dwell on us. In spite of me, there were things, however that did make the family seem real close. I brought up a forgotten hush-hush subject when I asked about Uncle Plezzie; both momma and her first Cousin Rosa Lee; called him brother. Even though I suspected what I later found out all along, there was an shameful truth. To be perfectly honest, now it seemed to bother no one but me. I was hoping she would tell me something other than the truth.

When I was growing up it wasn’t all that troubling to me; now it was one of those things that kept eating at the pride I was reacquired in my heritage. My first inclination was that being the aggressive type, Lum'ma took her sister’s man. But coming to understand her the way I had over the years, she just wasn’t the type. She loved her sisters with all of her heart, especially, Aunt Effie. Then what about Aunt Effie she wasn’t type to take up with sister’s man either. She was one of the meek that shall inherit the earth. Besides when Grandpa Mack and Lum'ma got married she had just turned 14.

I wondered what kind of man could play a strong willed woman like her and a timid one like my Aunt Effie. Were they just naïve and an easy prey for a smooth talking shyster with game, or just young and dumb? They were probably a little of both considering the way they were raised and the times. I would never cast aspersion or suspicion about either woman. Yet it didn’t take a genius to figure out, there was something very wrong with that picture.

It’s my guess no one in the family ever questioned either party about it. It was one of those things children from the time they could talk was taught; do not meddle in grown folks business.

Yet, I’m reasonably certain everyone in the community knew the lowdown, otherwise I couldn‘t have acquired some of the community gossip that I did. Using today’s vernacular, Grandpa Mack had played three women, not just any two, but his wife her sister and his cousin‘s wife.

One might wonder how, regardless of the times. I could speculate how it happened, since I never knew him, I won’t. Thus I will pass him the benefit of the doubt. After all no man should condemn another for his own lack of understanding. Yet, judging from his off springs, Mack Peterson had serious game. Since it serves no useful purpose, I won‘t dwell on that either.

Furthermore, this took place in the first decade of the twentieth century, when both Lum'ma and Aunt Effie were both teens. Besides, Uncle Plezzie was never swept under the rug, far from it, they both loved him dearly. Although no one in the family dared to talk about his relations between the two families, he was simply Uncle Plezzie.

His kids called Lum'ma the same as I. By the time I reached the age of awareness, he had already left the area, and very little was ever heard of again. It is believed he moved to South Carolina and got off in the dark eerie world of hoodoo-ism and became a root doctor.

Aunt Effie was saintly, to this day she was the most righteous woman I’ve ever known, she never took time off being religious, neither nights nor weekends. She preached and practiced religion all the time

Momma answered my question as though I was a child asking about sex for the first time; she sidestepped or skirted the implication without delving in it too deep. He was their brother, whom she spoke of fondly, and was extremely proud. What his accomplishments were, to this day, I do not know! I got the impression that she still looked upon me as a meddling child and shouldn’t ask about things that didn’t concern me. It didn’t seem to matter; I was approaching my fortieth birthday

To accurately describe Lum'ma, she was a woman who learned a great deal in the school of hard knocks. She was blessed, however, to be instinctive, and was an acute judge of character and human nature, that is other than Grandpa Mack. Yet, it should be noted they both were only eighteen when they got married. Other than, or because of him, make no mistake about it, she had a sixth sense about almost anyone, it was always right, and right on the money. She read others and me as if we were dime store novels.

Her integrity was beyond question, and it revealed the determination of a woman, who learned to survive, come hell or high water. It also reviled the weaknesses in the man in her life who was a quitter.

Though I would have liked to gone further back to her youth, perhaps it would provide insight as to how she came to be the way she was. The burning question I would’ve asked was about Grandpa Cyp, and if she shared Aunt Charlotte’s sentiment? During that time I didn’t know what questions to pose then. Even if I did, I’m not sure if I would’ve understood her answer. Like most children, when her mind was the sharpest, none of that mattered

I sat once with Aunt Effie but her recollection was vague she had had a stroke and her recollection of Grandpa Cyp perhaps luckily had faded from her memory.

I felt the same hopelessness about death; it closes all doors permanently. Questions that weren’t asked won’t get asked; things that weren’t said will never be said, sentiments that weren’t shared will never be shared. I can only hope in the final analysis, I will have a clearer understanding of why she was the way she was, than the one I perceived her to be. Yet, I’m hoping they will be the same. Moreover, will I be better off with it?

Of course, what is written here isn’t entirely for my immediate family as I approach the autumn years, I have tried to recapture her wisdom for our children who have yet to reach the prime of their lives, or while their minds are as fresh as spring earth on the plow blade. It‘s a time when their minds are the most receptive to planting these seeds of knowledge. They need to know her story, so that they can tell the story to their children, their children must tell it to their children for generations to come. And they will come to know themselves, and from whence they came, forever.

It is my wish; this reclamation not be construed as an expose, but one of the forgotten African-American little people; our Black grandparents who either were slaves or one generation removed from slavery. The ones that were either a part of it, or one or two generations removed. It seems one by one, they have all gone, and took with them, their invaluable family history lesson.

Her legacy is a part of both America and African American; the two are like Siamese twins that are co-joined every place except the heart, and the mind. Thus one cannot be separated from the other and survive; no more than one can split its own body and live to tell about it. It‘s not about righting the right, and wronging the wronged, although. as she would so eloquently put it, right is right and it don’t wrong nobody.

Since slavery is neither a part of her life, or any that followed her, it would be folly to digress to that time of evil and vileness. She didn’t refuse to give up her seat on the bus, she didn’t drink from a segregated water fountain, or demand service from lunch counter, she was her own person.

Her spirit was an inspiration for many during the most difficult period in American history, but for me she is much greater than that. She was an institution in her own Blackness.

Long before the Mayflower, Rosa Parks, long before the march on Washington, long before the Brown versus the board of education, and assuredly before we were, Black, African-American, Afro-Americans, Coloreds, Negroes slaves, Niggers, and whatever we choose to call ourselves in the future, she understood she was a continuance of something much larger. She figuratively was a descendant of Zulus, Bantus, Songhais, Mandingos, Abyssinians, Congolese, Nigerians, Gabonese, or any of the thousands of other African tribal kinsmen. She was a proud woman. Though she didn’t know it, they were also kings, queens, warriors, conquerors, and forgers of great civilizations.

Like those who had gone on before her, Lum'ma came to appreciate all they went through to get her to the point she was in life, of which she passed along to those who came immediately after her. Therefore, for us, it wasn't hard to get beyond that part of us, which is mired in the legacy of slavery. She viewed most Whites as decent. I don't think it mattered that many of them were either former slave masters or descendents of slave masters. Sure she never forgot, just the same way she never dwelled on it. It didn’t matter that oftentimes in tracing our roots through history, we were found listed among other sorted properties such as farm animals. I don't think she was overly concerned in their air of arrogance; they made little or no effort to understand Colored folks, yet on the other hand, she knew and understood them well.

I know she never heard of the Supreme Court of 1854 dealing with Dred Scott, and its consequences. She was born a free woman, with independent thoughts. Her only relations to slavery were the stories that were passed on by her mother. She was a stepper, in as much as adversities, setbacks, bitter disappointments and other challenges were more like molehills as opposed to mountains.

She was appreciative for Abe Lincoln. She deemed him as the one that freed her ma, grandpa, grandma, and Uncle Allen.. It was only after I left home and was in quest of the history of Black people, I learned Lincoln wasn't really an abolitionist. In reality it was more of an aberration that he signed the documents that enacted the thirteenth amendment. In one of his consideration, he was looking into the possibility of repatriating the slaves with Africa. He later learned it would be virtually impossible. After all, he was once quoted as saying, "if I could save the Union with resolving the slave problem I would do so". It was always about the Union. It was never more evident than after legalized slavery was finally over in January 1863, there was no mentioning of reparation, or retributions forthcoming. It was only after William Jefferson Clinton became president, there was any formal apology by any head of state.

No attempt to transition them from dependants of the plantation owners, to independent citizens was ever made. Being a product of the 1960’s I know how well that must have gone over in the 1860‘s. I see that as the equivalent today as tossing the keys to an eight year old that’s never been behind the wheel of an automobile; and saying; "Here are the keys to your new car, drive safely now ya’ hear?” That was exactly the way the Federal government approached their plight. It also was to happen again one hundred years later, during the anti-poverty social revolution of the 1960's. Je mi’ souvien (I remember)


I don’t fear the storm, for I’m learning to sail my ship...

Most in the community knew my grandma, as Katie Peterson. Her mother was a Peterson, before marrying a Riley. She returned the name when she married into another Peterson family June 16, 1904. She once divulged, her given name was actually Katie Louise May Alcott. I don‘t know if that was a little girl indulging in the fantasy of a famous person or Grandma Rose wanting to give her a famous name. Grandma Rose was a literate woman who was educated between 1870 and 1880.  She was a teacher until she married Grandpa Cyp.

She was born Sunday, March 14th 1886 to Rosa (Rose) Peterson Riley, and Cypryon (Cyp) Riley, who married, December 25th 1883.

Grandpa Cyp may have been an escaped slave, there are no records indicating things like parents name or relatives. The 1880 census shows a man who would’ve been about his age living in the area, who’s name was pronounced the same but spelled different, and lived with a Henry Sheffield who was a Mulatto from South Carolina, perhaps Charleston.

They subsequently became a family of eight, she was the second child after Charlotte. She was uncertain about the actual name of her birthplace only that it’s somewhere out toward the settlement of Econfina, in what is east of what is known today as Moody’s Pasture, in the southeastern part of the county. She lived there, until she met and married grandpa, then they moved a few miles to the west to what is now known as Redhead, their own homestead. At one time it is believed they owned about eighty acres, but by the time I came along, she only had ten

Unlike the heroines, of her time, she didn’t spend her latter days engaging in old women chatter recalling the way things once were in the olden days. There was always too much yet to be done in the present day. And unlike my favorite western characters, Lone Ranger, and Tonto, she didn’t ride off on some horse into the sunset in a cloud of dust. She quietly slipped away. Yet, it should be remembered, she wasn’t leaving, until she was certain we could make it without her.

It was as if most of her life, she spent preparing us for a place in time, which she couldn’t visit. For somewhere along the way she came to understand that the role of a good parent, grandparent, and even great grandparent was to aim their children in the right direction. To her children were like arrows, and she was the bow person, that propelled them to the future

A few days earlier January 17th, on a damp rainy morning, in the predawn hours, she probably had to be convinced by the Almighty, it was time to go, or she wouldn’t have left without telling someone she was leaving. In the quiet of that early morning, in a lonely hospital room in Washington County Community Hospital, she slipped away.

The irony in all of that is not that she died, but it's the last place given the choice she would’ve wanted to die. Like many older head of her time; she always wanted to die at home, with her shoes off. I would like to think had I been around she would’ve, but that wouldn’t be true, because momma expressed much the same request, and I was around and let her die in Flowers hospital in Dothan, Alabama.

She left us her legacy of never conceding defeat even if our best effort fell short. To her, defeat was merely a side street on the road to accomplishment. With her where there was the will, there was a way, give out, but don‘t give up, ever!

She was a family icon that went far beyond what heroes, mentors, and role models should have as a part of their makeup. She was strong, tireless, wise, resilient, resourceful and proud. Yet, to listen to her, she would shrug and think she had none of those qualities. All she wanted was a better life for us than that which she could provide, whether we wanted it for ourselves or not.

Lum'ma  throughout her life remained true to herself, and carried herself with a sense of dignity and pride. She was always confident enough to always hold her head high. The family was always first with her, and did what was best for all concerned. It never seemed to matter if others approved or disapproved. That was just her way, like it or not.

Others opinions rarely swayed her; it was base purely on what she felt in relation to right. To be right was important to her, but to do what was right was more so.

In spite of seemingly endless hardships she never wallowed in self-pity. She viewed it as a cancer. I'm certain for most; she was a complex person. She in as much never blinked, in the face of setbacks or adversity. To me she was an original when it came to being an independent woman. In character, she was as forthright, as she was principled, and would look anyone in the eye, and tell you what she thought, albeit it may not have been what he or she wanted to hear. She knew nothing about the back down, although she would be the first to acknowledge, if she made a mistake, but not in a subservient way.

Given, she never had more than a few dollars, in any bank, yet her resourcefulness and practical knowledge, was priceless. She practiced what she preached. It was that type of integrity that earned her high praises from her peers and the community as a whole. Granted she died poor, and all of the richness in writing will not change that. Yet, even the wealthiest among us monetarily, would seem destitute, by comparison in abilities to make ends meet. I’m reasonable certain much of her survival skills came from necessities, and perhaps came through the wisdom of her grandparents that was passed down through her parents.

There is no hint by anyone in the community that she ever compromised her virtue to make ends meet. Neither she, nor momma ever mentioned her ever having a suitor after Grandpa Mack split.

The community of Redhead itself is barely a blip on the map and probably for zoning purposes at that. It still boasts four settlements; Up the road, Down the road, In the corner, and Happy Hill. Lum'ma resided in the Up the road settlement. Not much is known how it acquired its name. I know there were several communities with head in their name i.e., Greenhead, Mossy Head. Among all of it’s meaning, the term head can mean the start of a branch or stream. It probably came from the red clay hill that surrounded the spring. I can remember at one time there was painted, RED HEAD ZONE 22, in the middle of State Highway 79 at the state forestry tower.

The community, as a whole, abuts three equally as small communities, Ebro to the south, Greenhead and Econfina to the east and Mill Creek/Sand Hill to the north. Yet it was that rural part of the county where Lum'ma Katie grew up, and married She raised a family of her own, part of one of her sib’s and spent her entire life, dying some 92 plus years later never leaving the area. When asked, she didn’t want to visit any faraway place. But she didn’t have to. She had through my eyes, seen every place I visited or lived, I would tell her about it in great details. She would smile and get so much joy out of listening to me describe what I had seen, not knowing or caring I was embellishing it a bit

Earlier in the mid 20s, Washington County boasted a rail spur that reached to that part. It provided work for manual laborers and semi-skilled ones alike. There were jobs, which included making lumber, turpentine, cutting crossties and logging. The train hauled the raw materials away to the cities for construction and making all sorts of wood products including paper. A steamboat from Pensacola, Florida made regular stops nearby boating passengers in and out of the area to destinations as far away as Mobile, Alabama. Nearby Vernon situated on Holmes Creek, was once known as having the best gopher meat in America. Gopher meat was a delicacy that was in high demand at that time.

Other boundaries of this once beautiful place were the Choctawhatchee River on the west and in the middle sit a big blue pond, aptly named; The Big Blue Pond. There were other ponds as well; The Baby Blue Pond, The Little Pond, The Russ Pond, The Double Ponds, Redeye Pond, and The Hicks Pond.

To these former slaves, their sons and daughters this was the Promised Land, in more ways than one. They were free, and no longer under the thumb of plantation owners and their ruthless overseers. For the first time in their lives, they were able to call a piece of ground their own. They built hovels, huts, log cabins, and shacks to live in while they homesteaded and farmed the land.

The homesteads were awarded to folk with names such as, Aunt Charity Peterson-Becoats’ place, Ben Douglas place, Joe Peterson, George Brown, Rensor Brown, Frank Brown, Wesley Potter, Morris Peterson’s homestead and Fred Bush.

Parcels of Black homesteaded land in the area extended east from the Choctawhatchee River on the west to Greenhead and Econfina on the east. Initially the place was as close to being a paradise lost as any for the African Americans. A number of them discovered the place during their stint in the Union Army. Their initial concern was feeding their families, after all, few if any had money, yet they knew they could use their limited skills to farm, hunt and fish. Other than being concerned about the Klan, life was difficult but not impossible. They were virtually in a relative state of oblivion, and were far removed from what was happening in the world outside of the community.

The general area provided much of what they needed to survive. There were cedar, bay, pine, sweet gum and oak trees to build homes. It boasted plenty in the way of fresh fruits, nuts, and game. There was a place called Spring Run (often referred to today as Potter‘s Spring), which feed into the Choctawhatchee river. It was a place for the baptism of everyone in the community, regardless to religion. Everyone I knew, including momma, was baptized there. The water was crystal clear, and icy cold year round and a great place to catch fish. Several species were there and it was a joy to see them swim around, swim up and take the bait on the hook. They had names such as; stump knockers, warmouth, brims, shell crackers, blackfish, eels, suckers, trout, jacks, pollywogs and catfish. Most could be caught with either wigglers or earthworms, (night crawlers). Some of the favorite spots were known as the big and little cutoffs. Those two places appeared to be rapids, where the Holmes Creek (black water) merged in the Choctawhatchee Creek (yellow water). In black water, there were Five, Shell Landing and Potters Landing; they were great fishing spots as well. Those who were fortunate to own boats would launch them from any number of places like Spring Run Landing, Potter's Landing, Cedar Tree Landing or Shell Landing. To get from one side of the creek to the other, they would either travel by boat, or take the ferry. When Lum'ma  worked for a woman she called Miss Daisy, she would take me along sometimes, and we would take the ferry across, which put in at Shell Landing.

There was an abundance of wild life. It included deer, squirrels, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, gophers, possums, raccoons, and wild boars that roamed rampant. A variety of nut trees were there, such as black walnuts, hickory nuts, and chinquapins. Blackberries, gooseberries, sparkleberries and briar berries were in abundance in spring. During summers, there were bullets (blue hull grapes), persimmons, and wild plums, to go along with other fruit they brought in, such as, oranges, grapefruits, pears, peaches, plums and figs. Nearly everyone grew their own vegetables, corn, greens, and several varieties of peas, butterbeans, sweet potatoes, peanuts and okra. For as far as the eye could see, there was a mixture of long needle, jack and spruce pines. There were oaks, evergreens and hollies as well. A number of family heads that applied were awarded acreage within the one-hundred-sixty-acre blocks. Those who homesteaded and farmed the land were deeded the property. A few of its residents came from as far away as North Carolina, which included my great, great Grandpa Joseph Peterson. While most in the area is believed to have either been former slave or lived among the Seminoles, a few actually fought on the side of the Union during the battle of Marianna. The Seminole, however was known for befriending runaway slaves during that era. A prime example was to the east, just outside the gates of St Augustine, Florida, there was a Black township called Fort Moise (Mose). During slavery era, if runaway slaves could make it there, they were free. The fort was erected to defend the city of St. Augustine itself from the British. Since the Spanish had abolished slavery decades earlier, they were safe that is until Florida was sold to the British, and then many emigrated to Cuba and the Caribbean. Thus after the war this region became a natural choice to get away from slave bounty hunters and ruthless overseers after the Union occupation ended. It isn’t known if originally it was called Ebro, Econfina, Millers Ferry or simply South Washington County. What is known, after the Civil War, of the new settlers in the immediate area many were African Americans. The name Redhead in and of itself once still does carry the stigma of the residents dislike for both James Russell Moody Sr. and Jr. He arrived dirt poor white trash, and ended up a land baron subsequently owning most of the land.

The population today is virtually quadrupled. Most residents are blood related, if not, they call each other cousin as a term of endearment.

Black homesteaded land once sprawled to about 80 square miles. Today that number is only a fraction of the 80. Two miles in either direction, off Florida Highway 79, there is not a square inch of Black owned land. Other than growing the proverbial garden, there aren’t any African American farms, farmers or farm laborers.

Although, Negroes, (as we were called then) began settling the land in the late 1860's, much of the deeded property was acquired later through the Federal land grants of 1880, which was about the time the Union Army ended southern occupation. Though it allowed many former slaves in the region the opportunity to homestead and own their own farms for the first time; by the time of the great depression most of that changed.

By the late 1920's a number of the second-generation free men began migrating out of the area for greener pastures. They had had just about all the farming fun they could stand. The back breaking wooding business seemed to be diminishing; the Pensacola and Atlantic railroad was shutting down the spur. A few of the able-bodied laborers joined the New Deal work camps in the 1930‘s. Others went to Warrington, and Pensacola, while a scattering went either north to the Midwest City of Chicago, and either the eastern cities in New Jersey or New York. There, decent jobs were rumored to be more readily available working as migrant workers. A scattering went south to the muck communities as farm laborers. For those who weren't in farming, or turpentine, it offered little else. Millers Ferry was where the community received its mail by general delivery. Yet, it was merely a post office, run by an elderly White woman named, Daisy Morrell, located in southwest Washington County. It must have been difficult to keep track of who was who, since several off springs usually shared given names. As it appeared to be a time honored tradition to pass along a given name on to several grandchildren, separated only by a middle initial, such as Thomas, Joseph, Charlotte, Fannie, John H, John C, Willie C, Willie Jr., Willie James, etc. Most family names were Browns, Peterson, Potters, or Jackson. Although there were a fair number who called themselves Bells. The rest were anything including Greens, and Smiths. One would think, most being former slaves, the names were taken from, or given by the former slaveholders themselves.


Through their tireless effort coming to her aid, she managed to survive Hoover‘s time as she called it.

There were two Katie’s living in the community, Katie Riley Peterson, and Katie Peterson Brown who were maternal cousins. When the two names came up, however seldom were they talking about Katie Peterson Brown. In almost every community, every one had a nickname, but not her, those she wasn't related to closely, including the White folk called her Aunt Katie, or 'Cousin Katie or for the disrespectful, Katie.

She was one of four girls, Aunt Mary Effie, Aunt Charlotte Emeline and Aunt Lena. There were also four boys in the clan, Uncle Jessie the eldest, Uncle Joe, Uncle Oliver (whose first name was Thomas), and the youngest Uncle Ben.

By all indications, children-wise, they were a close-knit family, with perhaps. As they always referred to each other affectionately by given names, and always proceeded by either brother or sister.

Long before anyone thought to use the word survivor in describing one who had endured difficult times Lum'ma was one. Not only was she one who got through those times, by her wits and will, (and help from her brothers), but she taught us how to as well. And while I don’t apply most of her skills and resourcefulness, I still remember the core wisdom of the ones she passed on. The logic of it is still in tune with facing everyday situations today. She was a; can-do type; many say she acquired it after Grandpa Cyp died. Being among his eldest, she and Aunt Charlotte was called upon to help Grandma Rose out in raising the others. Three of the four brothers would repay her in kind, by coming to her aid during her most difficult period in her life in the 1920’s.

She spent all of her life either as a field or domestic worker. I doubt seriously she ever made more than two or three dollars a day. And that wasn't until she was old, and during the summers. We would go to the cotton fields where we would be paid three cents per pound. I know, I never picked a hundred pounds of cotton in a day, and don't think she did either. What she made went basically to buy food and help out with school clothing for me.

Much to the relief of nearly everyone in the family, Grandpa Cyp fell off the roof and died, either from the fall or he had a stroke in November of 1903. Grandma Rose was left with a large family. Their ages ranged from Aunt Lena who was about 4, to Aunt Charlotte who had just turned 19. The year he died Lum'ma had just turned 17, although not the eldest, she was the one most like Grandpa Cyp in grit. Thus she and Aunt Charlotte assumed the role of helping Grandma Rose raise the others.

She adored the entire Riley clan, however her pride and joy, was Uncle Thomas (Oliver). He was drafted in the army, for World War I. After completing his enlistment, he somehow wound up in Seattle, (he was one of the early members of the Sleeping Car Porter's union). From that time until 1958, he never returned home to visit. He did, however, write the sisters once a year. That was always during the Christmas season; and he would send twenty dollars. He never sent it to any of the surviving sisters probably because they were married I surmised. Aunt Lena, whom I never knew, died eight years before I was born. She never stopped talking about Uncle Oliver. Then in the summer of that year he wrote the sister and brothers, he was coming home to visit. I can't recall seeing her as happy as she was that day. Maybe when I graduated an honor student from Roulhac High School in nearby Chipley, came close. Both Uncle Oliver and I took the same route out; we used the military to get out. After meeting him, I came to the conclusion; he was kind of arrogant. It didn't matter to her that he wouldn’t spend a single night with her because she didn't have adequate facilities, (hot and cold running water). But in my own way, I got back at him for her. I dissed him. I was at The Shop, (it was Cou'n Sooney Brown's place, it served as a night spot, community center and a grocery store).

We were playing cards and getting prepared to play an out of town baseball game that afternoon. Uncle Ben’s son Frank picked him up at the train station in Pensacola. He was excited, because he too had heard a lot about Uncle Oliver, from Uncle Ben. When Uncle Oliver sent word he wanted to see the one Lum'ma talked so much about. I replied, if he wanted to see me, he would have to come, because I was playing whist with a few teammates, and wore just as many yards of cloth in my pants as he did his. (I know Frank didn’t tell him that, but he later showed up. He was a short pipsqueak of a man as I today envision Grandpa Cyp to be. He was wearing gabardine slacks, a starched short-sleeved shirt and glasses that were a tad too large for his face). I found him to be a typical southern Negro that took his poor country humble behind north, and came back an uppity Black snob. After all, he was only a Pullman car porter, not exactly the prestige of being CEO of the Pacific and Northwestern Railroad. He wasn't even a conductor, and I’m reasonably certain, he never even got to drive the train. Yet, in spite of what I thought of him at the time, he was precious to her, and treated him with respect. I never met her brother Jessie; according to folk, he was a strange one. He married a Eula Harmon from nearby Orange Hill, and moved to Cottonwood, Alabama. The marriage didn’t work out, but he remained until he had a stroke. Aunt Charlotte went and got him and helped nurse him back to health. He eventually returned to Cottonwood, where he later died. After returning from the war, he must have been an angry man. When he passed in the 50‘s, he’d saved quite a fair sum of money for that time, and region of the country. Yet, he didn’t leave a dime to either his estranged wife or his relatives, he left it all to his boss. Eventually, his estranged wife sued and was able to claim a portion of it.

In looking back, however, I uncovered a deadly Riley family secret. Prostate cancer was in our genes. It now explained why the women who were living well into the eighties and beyond while the men were dying in fifties and sixties. Since doing this book and going back through family history, it’s reasonably certain, with the exception of Uncle Ben they all died of prostate related illness. This knowledge saved my life, and several other relatives with the Riley genes. It did come too late for Uncle Bish; he died as result of it. Though he was the exception to the other men, he lived to be almost 85 years old.


Not being an astute businesswoman per say, but because of her mistrust for him, she was shrewd enough not to be completely taken, despite his repeated efforts

After Grandpa Mack abandoned her, Moody approached her several times about purchasing her land. It was obvious he knew of her situation and made several attempts to wrest it away, but she resisted, because land was just that important to her. Grandma Rose left it to her and the other sibs. By the 40’s all of the others land was gone, with the exception of Aunt Effie and hers.

Moody tried to reason with her that times were tough, and how he was prepared to help her out by buying it. He later tried to convince her it would be next to impossible for her to keep up the taxes on the land and feed her family too. By the 20’s he had come-uppance in the community. In 1916, he married Corrine Miller of Bonifay. She was from a well to do family for the area, and together they built an estate in the heart of the community. He was Lum'ma’s biggest nemesis, and probably vises versa. Later on in life they, each developed a mutual respect for the other. During my time, I recalled when he would speak of her it would be out of respect.

It must have been because she was never one to “beat around the bush” about anything. If she needed something there would be no mealy mouthing or making up a reason why she needed it; she came out stating why. By the same token she expected the same of others. There were no gray areas with her. She believed if you gave your word, it was your bond, and if one’s word was no good they were the same.

Moody wandered into this predominantly Colored community from believed to be North Carolina, by way of Georgia. He came to work in the turpentine industry in the area.

(Turpentine from pine trees is used to make, thinners for paints and varnishes, solvents for waxes in polishes, waterproof cements, cleaners to remove paints and oils from fabrics, disinfectants, liniments, medicated soaps, internal medicines, ointments, synthetic camphor, celluloid, explosives, fire works, synthetic rubber, glazing putty, printing inks, lubricants for grinding and drilling glass, moth repellents, insecticides, crayons, patent leather, in petroleum refinement, textile manufacturing, and ore refinement)

As much as it appeared he wanted her respect, she didn’t trust him. Oftentimes, I heard her refer to him as a beat and a cheat. She drew that conclusion by what she saw happening around her.

He was dirt poor when he came to Washington County in about 1910, he owned one stripped dress shirt, of which   Charity (my granddaddy's sister) used to wash and iron for him weekly. He kept it down through the years, to show others how far he’d come.

By the time of stock market crash of 1929, when things became even more difficult for poor people everyplace, but Blacks of the south in particular, Moody was thriving and had built somewhat an agricultural empire. He was in to farming, turpentine, and other wood industries.

Except for a few parcels, most of the Federal land grant of that area was under his ownership. He turned their property to that of his own and hired both men and women alike to tend the acreage, much to the dismay of those who once owned the land.

From Holmes Valley/New Hope south to Ebro, much of the area had been Colored homesteaded. Some twenty years later, he and a partner was the owner of the Vernon Land And Timber Company and acquired the lion’s share of that land. Land ownership to the Negroes; farmers or not, was precious; it meant once the father passed on, there was something to leave to his widow and or children. Moody now commanded most of the land and hired the former homesteaders to work in his fields and when they died, there was nothing left to pass on. Most Coloreds suspected it was through a clever scheme of deceit, and even the Whites on that end of the county shared that opinion. Few Coloreds however had the resources or the will to fight him in the courts, because they suspected he was in cahoots with the county tax assessor as well.

Most poor farmers of that era and community had little if any education, and a slave’s mentality. They were naïve about business dealings, and wasn’t comfortable going head to head, with White men. That was especially true when it came to land transactions. While they weren't willing to trust a smooth talking carpetbagger, they considered Moody as common as they were. After all he worked the turpentine stills right along side of them. Couple that with, they were even less trusting of most of their own (often times the crabs in a barrel syndrome).

After the transitional period, (from Colored to Negro, to Afro American to Black), many began to inquire, as to how it came to be so many Blacks, lost their property and it was claimed by one man. In recent years, when the records property deeds were carefully examined, the proverbial ‘X’ signed many deeds, and others had signatures when in all actuality, the landowner was not literate. Others would be a simple business transaction dealing in matters that didn‘t have anything to do with land; after the head of the family died, he’d move in armed with eviction notices, have the Sheriff put the occupants out claiming the deeded owner owed him or he purchased it with the conditions he wouldn‘t take over until their death. Within days, the dwellings would be razed. Such was the case with cousin Pang in 1946. Immediately after her daddy, George ‘Wash’ Brown died, he moved in, and evicted them from their home claiming Cousin Wash owed him. Years later, through litigation, it showed the land was signed off on using that same ‘X’, when the 1930 census clearly indicated he was literate, go figure. Lum'ma was not an astute businesswoman per says, but because of her mistrust for him, she was shrewd enough not to be completely bamboozled or hoodwinked, despite his repeated efforts

According to Lum'ma, the hours working on his farms were long and structured. They were hard hours, from sunup to sundown. He would ring a bell at sun-up and everyone would start to work, at eleven thirty or so, he would ring it for 'dinner'. Lum'ma told me on several occasions all she would have was syrup and bread sandwiches, which she either brought with her or momma would bring from home. Sometime she would have syrup water to drink. It was her way to, kill hongry. At one pm he’d ring the bell again, and everyone would return to the fields and worked until dusk dark. I never asked how she got money during the off-season

Moody was not an uncompassionate man, but a wily one, though he pretended to be otherwise. Those that were loyal to him, he provided menial jobs and dwelling. Grandpa Mack’s Cou'n Bobby Peterson was one of those, and a man we called Mister Watha and Mister Dennis. On the other hand, I know from personal experience he would do mean spirited things. There was a plum orchard that was planted by Cou'n Sooney’s wife Mary (Lilla). When Moody obtained the Ben Douglas homestead, he discovered there was a plum orchard there and Black folks gathered them to make jellies and jams, he had them uprooted. In my early school years we traveled by foot down a trail where the old railroad once had been. It was a direct route; just shy of a mile, he fenced it off, and posted the land. Thus we had to walk an additional mile and a half, out of the way.

My Cousin Uleane recalled the time when he tried foreclosing on her parents, Uncle Gene and Aunt Charlotte’s land, in Holmes Valley; he claimed Uncle gene owed him. When he couldn’t do that, he sent one of his overseers, and drove off all his livestock. He had an economic stranglehold on that section of the county. During World War II it was rumored, that there was a certain aircraft parts manufacturing company looking to build a factory in the area, but he vehemently opposed the plan. That company subsequently selected a place out of state, thus he was able to maintain being the most powerful figure in south Washington County.

Were it not for right of easement many wouldn’t have had access to their homes, because he fenced every one out or in, included Aunt Effie, Uncle Doany’s and Lum'ma’s homestead. Because Uncle Doany had the smarts and the money, it was the only thing that saved their homestead. He then fenced them off, by putting up barbed wire. There were certain places we could cross, and that was by a gate, or steps which he placed at strategic points.

The places where the locals fished since the beginning were now posted and they had to find other places to fish. To insure everyone stayed out, he hired a Native American overseer, who was either a Seminole or Cherokee we called old man Ward; Moody authorized him to patrol the pasture and use deadly force if necessary, should he catch anyone trespassing. On another occurrence, he ordered a pecan orchard destroyed that each year provided jobs for us in fall. My late Cousin Edward Brown who worked for him, shared with me once, how his grandfather, Ernest Smith lost his prime land, (now known only as The Ernest Smith cane patch). It seemed he borrowed five dollars to buy a jug of whiskey (which admittedly was trifling on his part). Moody had him put up the parcel of land he used to raise sugar cane as collateral, and when he didn't repay, the five dollars, he subsequently foreclosed on the property. He once undermined his own maid Rose Butler. In 1953, she was diabetic and became extremely sick, he sent her away to her family in south Florida to get well. When she was well enough to return, he sent for her, but only to fire her several weeks later. It created ill will between her and my cousin Edna (Girl Baby), who was supposed to have been a temporary replacement. This cousin was the same person who years previously worked along side in his fields back in the 30’s.

One of the meanest, and most trifling things he did occurred, in the mid 1950’s. What would be considered an evangelist today, a man who called himself Reverend Clay, came in the area to establish a Church Of Christ presence. He needed someplace to pitch a tent for revival meeting; he never sought permission from anyone other than Moody. Rather than let him use other available spaces near White communities, he gave him permission to set up tent on the grounds of the Colored Oak Grove Baptist Church. The Church Of Christ revival lasted for two weeks. During that time when church services were held, the loud speaker from the tent service made it almost impossible to hold it. Yet, what was the cruelest was Clay himself. In order to establish a Church Of Christ presence within the community, he in his sermons ridiculed the Baptist Church and all of the other churches in the area. Many families would attend service nightly, although only one family chose to join. I can only sigh, if I knew then what I know now about religion, and the bible, he would‘ve left after the first night. He was obviously educated, and he spoke eloquently. No one had the education or knew enough about the Bible to challenge him on that level. Many of the religious doctrines they subscribed to, were carried over from the days of slavery. Lum'ma though a member of McQueen’s Temple a sanctified church, in an act of defiance visited the Baptist church each time they held church service.

In spite of how Moody was; his son Junior was a hater that detested Blacks. He would talk harshly, threaten them, or do whatever he had to do to exert his authority over them. Every one referred to him as being bigady. (The best I can discern, it means to act big and gaudy).

Old man Moody had more ways to extract money, than a prospector with a pick ax. He also conveniently owned a commissary that he kept stocked with necessities. Since payday was every two weeks, at sundown on Saturday, many of the men would trade there through the middle of the pay period to get, tobacco, sodas, and sweets or borrow money to buy whiskey. On payday he deducted what they owed. Many of them went home to their families with hardly more than a promise they would do better the next two weeks. They were already in debt for next payday, since they needed other basic necessities to feed their families i.e., flour, and lard. Because many of them were part-time farmers, they were fishermen and hunters as well, (She often told me it's how many supplied their families with meat).

I learned from others she was such a good worker she was paid almost the same wages as the men; $.75 per day, where the women were normally paid .50 cents and young children fifty cents. They were paid bi-weekly, so she would have no part of owing a tab, not as hard as she worked to feed the family. When payday came, she wanted all of her hush mouth (money). She wanted no part of being pencil whipped. She consistently had all of her money coming and, old man Moody, as she sometimes referred to him, began to notice, and questioned her about it. He asked her on more than one occasion, how was she eating? Lum'ma with her forthrightness probably told him, she was making do with that she had. Whatever it was, it didn't set horses with him, because not long afterwards, and in spite of her being among his best workers, he let her go. But she never missed a beat. Albert Evans knew of her and the kind of worker she was, took her on immediately. Cousin Girl Baby, her sister Willie Bell, Uncle Bish, and his wife Aunt Rendy all went to work for him as well in the valley.

It was too far away to walk daily, so they would light out on Sunday evening or real early Monday morning, bunk out sometimes on the floor at Aunt Charlotte’s or in a lean-to shack, returning Saturday evening. When she spoke of Albert Evans, he seemed much more reasonable to work for, and since New Hope and Millers Ferry was near by, she did a lot of her trading (grocery shopping), either there, David Cook's or Bill McFatter’s Groceries around, or in Vernon.

After Moody amassed a wealth of land, toward the end of the late 1950’s, he sold out to a company called Crow and Raspberry. No one knew what the dollar figures were, but the newspaper listed it as millions.


When my older brother John was born, momma told me; she didn't think she was old enough to be called grandma. As soon as he was old enough to sputter the name grandma, she taught him to call her little momma, but it slid into Lum'ma.

I came along at approximately 11am July 10th 1943 on Saturday morning, the enigmatic one. I was second born to a single parent, and was to eventually become the nee baby. My mother was Louella P Potter (Cousin Loug) nee Fannie Louella Peterson, not to be confused with the other Luella Potter, or younger Cou’n Loug Bell), it confused the mailman often enough.

Momma inherited everything from Lum'ma except her feistiness and will for getting things done. Momma believed the Good Lord would make a way, Lum'ma on the other hand, believed He had made a way, it was up to the person to find it, but she also believed you can’t bother God for every little thing you wanted. Sometimes you’d to have to do for yourself, and then if God bestowed His Blessing you’d be that much to the good.

By any stretch of the imagination my mother was passive, often times putting her at great odds with her. I often attribute that to Lum'ma because she would rule with a heavy hand, especially if you lived under her roof. Momma spent over half of her life under her roof.

Those two traits alone placed them in stark contrast to each other. While Lum'ma wasn't the in your face type, she was never afraid to get in it. Ma on the other hand was meek, like Aunt Effie. Her mannerism was subservient and easy going, she believed you'd catch more files with honey than vinegar. She on the other hand, figured put the vinegar out there, and then the flies wouldn't show up at all.

This I can share on Momma’s behalf one thing Lum'ma instilled in her was being determined. The week she died, she made up in her mine she wasn’t going to until she saw all of her grandchildren, and she was assured we would be okay. On that May 2nd evening of her death, she was in a coma like state; I leaned over and whispered, the last of her grand children made it in to see her. It was now left up to her; if she wanted to leave us it would be okay, we’d be all right. I vowed to hold the family together as she did, and Lum'ma before her. It seemed that was all the reassurances she needed. With in one hour she was dead.

Lum'ma had a smile; I never saw again it was a disarming one. She had little or no dental health during those days, most of her teeth had fallen out. Yet, it didn't stop her, even during difficult times she could manage to flash that toothless grin, reassuring me everything would be okay.

Long before it became fashionable to wear cornrows or au naturals, she did. According to mom, only once in her life did she ever use a straighten comb (hot comb), on her hair, and vowed never to do it again. Either she would braid it herself; get mom, her niece Elease or her great granddaughter Lisa to do it.

As far back as I can remember my Lum'ma was old, (though she wasn't vain). When my older brother John was born, momma told me, she didn't think she was old enough to be called grandma. As soon as he was old enough to sputter the name grandma, she taught him to call her little momma, but it slid into Mum'ma then Me'ma and finally Lum'ma. Thus the endeared title Lum'ma was born in our family. Not only was it passed down to me, and my younger brother Tommy, but to John's siblings as well, it even spread to Aunt Effie's grandchildren. I’m not sure, but, if she had been a head of state, like many Lum'ma's of that time, she would have been a dictator, or at times a tyrant. She did, however think the world evolved around her family and friends, and was always concerned about their health and welfare. There were many days when she would share what bit of food she had with them. And if they were sick, she was there helping in anyway she could.


Lum'ma wasn’t mean at all, but she was strict. Her word was law. Obey it and everything was fine, disobey and the consequences could be painful, literally.

She was well known in the community for her directness, and brutal honesty. She wasn't one to mince words. She said what she meant and meant what she said. When it came to me, she didn't take no mess. Sassing her or mouthing off was not an option I wanted to choose. Of course she didn't take no mess off of anyone be he or she White or Colored, as she would put it. .

Along the way, she garnered the respect of many White men and women alike. Most Colored folk admired her because of her forthrightness they figured she inherited that from her Grandpa Cyp.

I’m glad she didn’t inherit any of his nastiness. He was a mean, sadistic, and hateful unhappy man, if all reports were true. He was a runt, black as coal and often referred to as a salt-water Geechee. To punish his boys, he would hang them up by the feet and make the others watch while he lashed them with a whip. (I often wonder if those brutal whipping, too a toll on their manhood. Of all his sons only Uncle Ben had children. He was about seven when Grandpa Cyp died.) It’s not sure why he was a so mean, probably imitating a slave master they guessed. Even his girls, didn’t escape his brutality. Obviously, it was so unspeakable neither Lum'ma, Aunt Charlotte, nor Aunt Effie ever mentioned the way he punished them. It was his way of making them buckle under. It’s unsure if his sadism included sex molestation. It is not known if he was abusive to Grandma Rose, yet we’re reasonably certain he was. What was well known was that Grandma Rose was definitely afraid of him.

He was so mean, Aunt Charlotte once quipped, that she was ashamed to let folk know they were glad when he died. He was up on the roof repairing an earthen chimney, he either fell or had a stroke and fell off the roof and died. Many thought he died because he was so mean. According to Lum'ma, Grandpa Cyp was a man not to be tangled with. He wasn't afraid to fight at all. He kept his knife sharp all of the time, for just such an occasion. He was always sharpening it, and didn't mind using it. She retold about the time when he tried to knife a Mister Henry Smith in church. He suspected him of stealing one of his hogs. To make sure the man didn't get away, grandpa went outside and commandeered his horse and buggy team. She never told me what happened afterwards. He had a very ill mannered habit of passing gas while praying in church. When questioned about it he lauded; There was more room outside, than inside my body.”

Grandpa Cyp sadistic ways even extended to his neighbor as well. He rarely bought necessary farm implements. He liked to borrow them from nearby neighbors, and seldom returned them. When the neighbor would visit him to reclaim their property, (he owned a mean dog name Donnie), if he saw them coming, or when they were leaving, he would sic him on them. Those times when he had an implement they could use, he would lie by saying he didn’t have it or would expect it back on the same day. If it weren’t returned, before sunrise the next morning, he would show up, claiming he needed it back. His demeanor toward the locals was one of contempt. He didn’t visit, or allow visitors, and that included family members. He also had another way or not lending implements, he would give a long lecture on the importance of have your own tools and how the should be used, had he been a congressman, who certainly would have a master at filibustering.

Lum'ma on the other hand wasn’t mean by anyone’s standard. She was strict, and straightforward, and to us her word was law. Obey it and everything was fine, disobey and reap the wrath of the Cyp Riley temperament. They could be painful, literally which meant a butt whipping. In an instant she could get violently angry, ready to pick up anything not metal and flung it at you. But in the next instance the anger was gone though not apologetic, she would justify it was for my own good. She would never tolerate a sassy child or one who talked back hers or anyone else's. For me it was all a part of her effort to save me from the chain gang. There were times I wished I had been on the chain gang, the punishment perhaps may have be lighter.

Most believed she developed her fearlessness after being raised by Grandpa Cyp; she was unafraid, and often defiant of any man. By stark contrast she could be a gentle soul. In our small community, there was a tradition among the women to have their babies bumped to sleep by her. She would take the babies lay them across her lap and to the rhythm of her heels she would bump them off to sleep. It didn’t mattered if they were crying, when she laid them across her lap all the crying stopped as they slumbered off into a peaceful sleep.


I started smoking in spite of her belief cigarette smoking caused 'eatin cancer'.

There were four characters Lum'ma never had any time for. There were the liars, beats, cheats and po mouthers. To her a beat was a man who either wouldn’t or couldn’t hold down a job.

She felt if a man didn’t work, he would steal and she really didn't want thieves around her either. Like many in the community, she always suspected her cousin to be a petty thief, and really went out of her way to avoid her. To her liars and thieves were bosom buddies. She reasoned that a thief would take anything that wasn’t nail down and lied about it.

I once baited cousin to find out if there was any truth in the talk she was a thief. Once when I knew she was coming, I took several slugs and tied them in a handkerchief, made them visible but not obvious. She came to visit for a while and eyed the handkerchief. She slowly inched her way to where it was, and eased it in her pocket. So as not to create suspicion, she took the slugs out and glanced at them. Realizing it was only slugs, tied the handkerchief just the way it was and placed it back just as she found it. She soon excused herself and bid Lum'ma goodbye. We both got a big chuckle out of it.

While I wasn’t a real thief, I couldn't wait to find out about their character. I would tell a lie when she asked me, if I had taken the silver money she kept tied up in a handkerchief.

Admitting to that would constitute a tell-on-me. That was cause for the severest discipline, one of her old-fashioned blackberry bush 'whipping'. There were two types of whippings she doled out. If her heart weren’t in it, she would let you get dog fennels, (an aromatic bush). It was because she knew it broke and shredded easily. If she was trying to prove a point though, it was the blackberry bush; by the way she kept one handy in the corner of our house, for emergencies. That not only went for John, and me, if a neighbor kid acted up in her presence, it went for them as well. Since she knew nothing about the back down, when she finished whipping the neighbor kid, she sent him home to tell his parents she did.

I recall vividly two whippings I got for lying. Once when I was in the fifth grade, and the other was a year later. I owned a single pair of tennis shoes. She cautioned me, not to take the shoes off at school. I heard her, but as usual I didn't hear her because I was hard headed. That day, I took them off and played hard. When the bell rang ending the lunch period, I forgot to put them back on. It was late summer, and as customary, I rarely wore shoes during summers anyway. The teachers in school didn't care, not as long the student did the three ups of conduct; show up, shut up, and sit up. When I got home that evening, she noticed right away, asking about them. I lauded, “they're supposed to be on the porch“' she went out to look, no shoes. Again she repeated the question, where are your shoes, and again, I lied they are supposed to be on the porch. She walked over and asked the others who caught the bus if I wore shoes to school. To the person, they conspired against me. When she returned, she had a blackberry switch and flailed me but good. On another occasion shortly there after she bought my bike, she allowed me to ride the bike to the bus stop. Her specific instructions were I was never to ride it on the highway, she cited it as being too dangerous. She witnessed White folk from nearby Alabama deliberately trying to sideswipe Coloreds. That morning I arrived early; I was riding on the dirt service road. I don't know what possessed me to get on the highway. Maybe I was trying to impress the others. I would ride across the highway then back. What made me decide that wasn't good enough is beyond me. I headed down the road about fifty yards, where traffic was coming from both directions. I panicked trying to get the bike off the road, tripped and fell. The oncoming car in my lane blew his horn, not necessarily in a panic mode, but just to make sure I didn't run out in front of him. My bike landed on the shoulder of the road, leaving me with skinned knees, but it was nothing bad. I quickly went and parked my bike, hoping none of the adults saw this. As though nothing happened I played with the others and waited for the bus. When I returned in the evening, the bike was gone. I was expecting the worse, but was hoping for the best. I thought someone had stolen it. After looking for it awhile, I headed home, trying to think up a lie if she asked me where my bike was. Much to my surprise when I got home, there was my shiny red bike on the porch. I don't know who told her, but before I could say a word she was all over me, this time with a fox berry bush. They were longer and tougher than a blueberry bush. It was also the last time I got to ride my bike to the bus stop.

Among other characters she particularly avoided were drunkards. To her any one who drank to get drunk was one. Whether she turned a blind eye, or he kept it hidden, Uncle Bish liked to take a drink once in a while. Cigarette smokers didn't fare much better; she tolerated, them altering her stance when I became a smoker. I started smoking in spite of her belief cigarette smoking cause cancer. This was years before, studies linked smoking to cancer. In as much as she believed drinking led to hardening of the liver, and her views on smoking, she taught John and I how to make both corn buck and blackberry wine. Using dried corn, cane syrup, and water made corn buck. She would put it in a Mason jar, sit it by the fireplace, and allow it time to ferment, and like that: corn buck!

I learned to smoke indirectly, starting with one of her head cold remedies. There was an aromatic wild plant called rabbit tobacco, it had stringy like leaves. She would make, either rabbit tobacco tea, or showed me how to roll it, using paper cut from a brown bag; it was good for head colds.

Po' mouth is a person that is also a cheat, she found that person extremely irritating. Although he didn’t entirely fit the economic profile, she found Moody to be a cheat. Anyone who was either always crying broke, or talking about what they don‘t have and trying to get over on others by hook or crook was such a person. She deliberately tried to avoid people like that, she warned me many times, not to hang around with a po' mouth. They would always be up to no good.

Although she didn't like po' mouths, she raised one in the person of Uncle Bish(deceased). He was a champion po' mouther; he was always broke to hear him tell it, yet he was a hard worker. I recalled his telling me once he knew I played golf; he caddied for two golfers at the same time, just for a few measly dollars. It seemed he enjoyed po' mouthing though. Long after Lum'ma was dead, he would come visit mom, hit her up for a few dollars to buy gas to get back home, if she had it. She knew he liked boiled stew beef, (diced beef), and every Friday, she made it a point to make sure when Sunday came; Bish would have his stew beef.


Whatever ailed us, she had just the right medicine.

Lum'ma was more that a soul survivor and a philosopher, she was a doctor of medicines as well. Whatever ailed us, she had just the right prescription. When I ran a fever, she would mop my fore head with ointment salve, then take Catawba leaves, and tie them around my forehead to cool it. But like most of my day, the cure-all was a dose of working medicine. Castor oil was mainly the drug of choice, with Epsom salts, Syrup of Black Draught, and Milk of magnesia, at the rear (no pun intended). Castor oil was also a great deterrent from skipping school. It's amazing how quickly I healed when, after informing her, I wasn't feeling well, and she broke out the castor oil. I was instantly made well. Among the other remedies, I couldn’t stomach was bluegrass tea. I had nary a clue what bluegrass was, but I knew what it wasn't. It wasn't for me.

To treat pneumonia, she’d take lard, turpentine and flour and mix up a poultice concoction, then put it in a flour sack and lay it on the chest. To keep us well, she would from time to time search the woods for sassafras roots, to make tea.

Anytime I came down with a chest cold, in the evening she'd reach for the Vicks salve or Watkins ointment, and then rub me down good. For good measure she would give me a pinch to swallow, cover me with three or four quilts and the next morning, I'd be good as new. If not from the treatment, then sweating from the workout of sleeping under those heavy quilts. I recall the first time, my step-dad got really sick; he probably had pneumonia. She, made a poultice, mixed up something to break up the cold, then turned the bed to face the east, in three days time he was up and about.

Any time I appeared peeked she would feel my forehead, look me in my eyes and diagnose me with worms, and give me a teaspoon of sugar, with a few drops of turpentine. For a headache, she would rub the pain away using either rubbing alcohol or camphor.

Once John had the gravels, (a small concretion in the kidney), I don't know what it was, but she mixed up some concoction, and within a week he too was completely healed. It seemed to me, any ailments we suffered; she had seen cases of it before. There were other diseases like jaundice, which she treated with home remedy. The oddest thing I saw was when a practicing MD diagnosed John’s son, Gilford, with asthma. He had seemingly endless attacks until Lum'ma took the case. She instructed momma to take him to a huge pine, have him face the tree, notch it at his height, walk away from it, and not look back. She said once he grew beyond that notch, he would never be bothered with asthma again. To this day he has not had another asthma attack. There were many in our community who would ask her how to treat certain illnesses.

John  and I had different dads, although I had seen mine, up until the middle 1950‘s, he had never seen his. There were old wives tales, if a boy child hadn't seen his dad, by blowing in the mouth of a baby, it would cure thrash. (Thrash is a white milk infection in the mouth).

In spite of all the various illness we suffered, what was most remarkable; John, Tommy, or myself can’t recall her ever catching so much as a cold. I even asked the older heads, and even they can’t remember. Granted, she did have rheumatoid arthritis, but never to the point it was debilitating.


Lum'ma only openly feared three things in life; God the Almighty, the threat of all types of violent weather, and that some White man would come along and steal one of us.

Among my earliest memories began when we lived in the old house down under the hill. It was part of an area called 2800. To this day none of the older heads know why.

Pickets or wire fencing surrounded the entire place. While the pickets surrounded the front portion of the yard, the wire fence started where it left off and went around the immediate property, which included a small field in the back. On the south side of the home there was a spring branch, and several huge magnolia trees. To the north of us, where we got our wash water, (laundry water), was a pond that we called the pond. There was a hand pump nearby; there we not only got our drinking water, but many in the community as well. Just inside of the picket fence, there was a chinaberry tree, and in the back yard were a grapevine a pear tree, and a peach tree. What I remember most about the front yard, there was a swing gate, which closed itself. It had chain and weight positioned inside. One end was tied to the gate, the other to a stake, with an iron weight between. There was enough sag in the chain that the gate could be opened. Any time the gate was pushed or pulled open, the weight would create tension to close it again.

By anyone’s standard, her home would be called a shack at best. It was an open bay A frame home with no insulation. It sat up on blocks, and was probably built during the early years of her marriage. It had neither, hot and cold running water, nor electricity; no home in the community did.

There were wooden shingles on the roof, and an old fashioned earthen fireplace. The floors were made of pine boards, with wide cracks. The windows were wooden, that swung out one way. She didn't own a wood stove, but she could perform magic on the fireplace. I assume she acquired her skill using that type of cooking arrangement from Grandma Rose, who was last of the once enslaved.

Many winter evenings she would sit around and roast sweet potatoes by the hot coals, and on occasion she would speak of the good food from the olden days. Her teacakes were legendary she got the reputation of being the teacakes lady.. Neighbors White and Colored would hire her to make them. I was never sure why they were called teacake since they were made from sorghum. Her “Niggers in the blanket (sweet potatoes turnovers), were legendary." It should be noted that‘s the only time she ever used the word Nigger in any context. She openly only feared three things in life; God the Almighty, the threat of all types of violent weather, and that some White man would come along and steal one of us. It was this almost obsession she passed along to mom, who tried to pass it along to her children and to her grand, in that order.

It wasn't a fear, but she was very adamant about our never having to go to jail. She’d tell us about the slamming sound jail doors made, then would constantly reminded us, that once the jail doors slammed there was nothing she could do for us. There would always be mentioning of what it would be like to be on the chain gang or dangling at the end of a rope. Two of the most memorable stories she recalled that frightened me into behaving were probably circulated shortly after the Civil War. She said the union soldiers told her parents if they came back to the south, they were going to cut off the heads of all their children. The other was she actually saw the last lynched Colored man in Washington County. I still shudder about the thought, and how she went in great detail about how he dangled by the neck and how purple he’d turned after the lynching.

It may have been a false assumption, but considering how strongly she felt, about the possibility we could be stolen, I believe she actually marked John and I; maybe even momma and Uncle Bish. We have the same marks on our backs. I knew that she marked her hogs, rather than brand them. To this day I still remember the way she marked her hogs: On one ear, she cut a whole and two slits, the other ear was two slits. That way in a common pasture she knew which were hers and which were the neighbors. With John and me, it was different. I never thought much about it until after her death. It all came about in 1980. All the money I made during the great times was gone, and I was desperately trying to claw my way back in the meaningful workforce. I had an instructor, from Freetown, Sierra Leone. One day during casual conversation, I asked him about the seemingly small scars at the corner of his eyes. He told me it was what amounted to be a tribal marking. Then I remembered the scar on my back, of which I could never explain how it got there. Later I asked my older brother, if he had that same mark in the same place on his back. Unfortunately, I failed to ask momma about it. I wonder now, if this was a mere coincidence, or was it something done intentionally. Her greatest fear was tornadoes. She was always afraid of being blown away by one, and for good reason. I don't know if she was this way before or after we were actually victims of one. I only know she had a tremendous fear of bad weather. Each time the skies threatened rain, she would get a concerned look on her face. At the first sound of distant thunder or when she saw the clouds rolling in, she would call Marvin, my playmate, and me inside. Whatever she was doing, sewing, cooking, or cleaning, it came to an immediate stop. She would see to it our bare upper bodies were covered and shown where to sit. Then she would get a sheet to cover both mirrors of the chifforobe. We weren't allowed to sit on the floor, or near the door. She would tell us, “ Now boys ya’ll be quiet you hear. God is doing his work.”

She would flinch with each clap of thunder, or flash of lightening. It's the first time I can recall seeing her so quiet and looking so helpless. The next time would come years later after her stroke.

Up the hill we had a tin top house, as opposed to the wooden shingles we had on the old house under the hill. The sound of the rain would put the three of us to sleep. As soon as the front rolled through, she would venture outside first, to decide if it was okay for us to return to playing.

It was her fear of tornadoes, however, that saved all of our lives. The reason we moved up the hill, was because our home under the hill was blown away. On the evening of September 21st or the early morning of September 22nd 1947, we lost every thing we had in this world. Our home was obliterate by a tornado Apparently that year in the Florida panhandles a tornado struck nearby, or someone told her about the roaring sound they made before they hit. In any case, during any storm she became a listener for that roaring sound, and for quite some time had me listening too.

This time it was Sunday night, and we were all bedded down for the evening. (Being four years old my evening started at eight in my momma's arms at church). Lum'ma heard a roaring, she rousted momma and John to get up and get out of the house quickly. No one can be sure but we believe it was around midnight, but really couldn't say for sure as to the exact time. The reason no one knew the time, is because she didn't own a clock. (She operated by the chickens, she went to bed with the chickens, and woke up when they crowed for daylight the second time). That night according to momma and John, they crowed around midnight. As Lu, momma John and her dressed quickly, momma wrapped me in a blanket and they made a beeline for the front door. John recalled that morning recently; he explained what saved my life. We had a number 3 washtub, which was used as the family bathtub. When we finished bathing we would place it outside, sometimes on the front other times on the rear. That night it was on the front porch. As we were getting out, momma accidentally dropped me, and before she could comeback to pick me up the porch came crashing down on top of me, just missing her. Somehow, because I was so small the tub absorbed all of the impact from the roof. He said the sound from the tornado sounded like hundreds of trains' overhead. He and momma thought they were following her out, but immediately lost sight of her in the dark, even though lightening lit the sky. They themselves just cleared the house before everything just exploded. He recalled, he thought she went out the front door, but he couldn't be sure if the wind swept her away, or blew her completely back through the house.

Amidst all of the lightening flashes that lit up the sky, they didn't see her. They kept calling and calling but she never answered. Just when they were about to give up, and seek shelter someplace up the hill she called them, apparently the wind swept her in the field out back. She checked to make sure we were okay, and then led us through downed trees guiding us up the narrow path in the woods and away to safety. She got us out and to our nearest neighbor, Cou’n Sooney. To the day she died, she could never recall what happened and how she, or any of us as far as that goes survived that tornado; it must have been one of those quirks of fate. Either that, or we were to be a link to something important in the future. I have little memory as to what happened during those early morning hours, and can only recall momma holding me, asking if I was hurting anyplace

After that unfortunate event, I recall on a number of occasions, when in the dead of night a thunderstorm would roll in, she'd wake me, and we'd track out amidst a tremendous display of lightening to walk maybe two-hundred feet to cousin Sooney's to ride out the storm. That was a tradition in the neighborhood as a whole; every one would meet at Cousin Sooney’s.

Though it’s years later, I now recall, that tornado did more than destroy our home, it tore the family apart, we were never the same afterwards. She and I moved in with Cou’n Pang, while my older brother John and momma moved in with Cou’n Sooney.

Immediately after the tornado, perhaps was one of the more stressful times in her life, our entire family had been uprooted and mildly scattered. We lost everything, no clothing, no money, and most of all, no place to call home.

Lum'ma, like most women during that time wanted to live under her own roof. It must have seemed as though it took forever, for the Red Cross to grant the $400.00 to build her new home. Cou'n Pang was like a daughter to her, but this was her home, albeit in a new location. I believe this started a precedence with Cousin Pang, as her home became, like a homeless shelter, for anyone that was passing through the community, and didn't have a place to stay. And to a few who did have a place. With us, however, I don't know if we were one of those types or not. I don't have a clue as to what the financial arrangements were, all I know is Marvin and I lived under the same roof and we could play well into the evening, 8pm (sic), and Cou'n Pang had a radio. She never asked for money, or for her to chip in to buy food. There were six of us living in her home, Lum'ma and myself, Cou'n Pang, Marvin, PC, Junior, and Esther Lee. It could have been more, but Cou’n Pang was separated from her husband sometimes before the disaster.

In the meantime, momma and John were living with Cou’n Sooney. There she met, my younger brother Tommy's dad and got engaged. Lum'ma went ballistic when she found out they were going to be married. She harped on and on for weeks. She argued, that momma wasn't working and she was giving up twenty dollars of welfare money for John and myself, although John would be turning eighteen in three years. When that didn’t work, she switched to blasting him, about how he drank and used to beat his first wife Rose, and how his dad Emanuel, did the same thing to his mother, Mrs. Eugenia. She made no secret, she thought he wasn't the best she could do, and really hoped my dad would ask. It wasn't just him she had a fit about; she was upset with Cou’n Pang that she had the audacity to let her have the wedding at her place. My brother John, Uncle Bish, and Aunt Rendy were all there. Cou’n Pang’s brother Cou’n Eli (Coo) Brown married them. The evening momma got married; Lum'ma would neither attend the wedding nor allow me to. I pitched a crying tantrum, until she got a board and beat my butt. The following night in church after momma was married she ticked her off almost just as much. She sang the ultimate, in your face song, before she testified, “I Got Just What I Want.“ Lum'ma was livid for weeks after she sang that song.

When John married Geraldean, she had a fit as well, but she did let me go to the courthouse where they were married. It was her belief she was in a family way. I learned the reason might have gone deeper. Apparently, after Dean’s mother died, her dad Henry Wadford started courting mom. They were going to be married, had it not been for his former mother-in-law, putting pressure on him not to do so, and went as far to saying terrible things about momma.

It may explain why she never cared for any of the aunts in her family, whether it was Sister Girl, Manson, or Sweetie. She wasn't above letting her sentiment be known.

I wasn't there when Uncle Bish left Aunt Rendy for Aunt Ruth, I know she probably wasn't pleased at all; she adored Aunt Rendy like one of her own. And I don't know if she ever warmed up that much to Aunt Ruth, her new daughter-in-law and his second wife. I was glad I was a thousand miles away when I married my first wife. She really would have gone off. I married someone White and redheaded.

Her sense of unity ran deep; I suspect her concern was she didn’t want others marrying into our family she didn't approve of first hand.

In retrospect I’ve come to understand why, I was never permitted to have a girl friend. Even the day I got married I was uncomfortable telling her, I had a lady friend. That was a no-no with her, she didn’t believe young peery tail girls ought to be courting and sparking. That's how they got in trouble.

In the middle 1950's when she discovered the home the Red Cross assisted her to build was on Sooney's land, she never rested until she had a place built on her own land. She believed firmly, if subsequently a dispute developed, she wouldn’t have her position compromised by a debt of gratitude.

I recalled the feud Cou’n Sooney had with my step dad, involving being a school bus driver. In the early days, Washington County subcontracted out the bus service to him. He hired step dad Bud as a driver. In 1951 or thereabouts, the county took over the bus service, and hired him directly. This left Cou’n Sooney out in cold, and he made several attempts, to have my step dad removed from his job as a driver to no avail, perhaps using a number of the arguments, Lum'ma previously had made to momma. Up to that time, they were the best of friends. Oftentimes step daddy Bud would haul moonshine for him, because among his many business ventures he was a moon shiner. During that ordeal however, they didn’t speak for almost a year. Apparently, the county liked my step dad, but for two good reasons, he was a crackerjack mechanic, in spite of his being illiterate. They paid him far less than they were paying Cou’n Sooney. In the early days they paid nothing beyond his bus salary to keep the county’s busses running and other motorized equipment repaired.

That’s the only time; I can ever recall her being openly on my step-dad’s side. Besides she figured everyone should have his own place on his own land. Momma and him however had built a shotgun shack on his land. The deciding factor came when he built a juke joint within fifty feet of her front door. Saturday nights, the jukebox would blare, patrons would cuss and sometimes fight during weekend. Then on Sunday mornings there would be remnants from the night before. She would have to pick up anything from beer bottles, to prophylactics, or shovel away feces where the customers would relieve themselves in our yard. I'm not certain if she complained to him, or not, after all he couldn't control that part. When she put it in her mind to do something she was going to do it, come hell or high water. That was just her way. It would take three years and nearly a plank at the time, but she built down the road a piece out of earshot, and on her own land. To this day I still don't know how. (I believe her old aged pension was up to forty dollars each month). She hired an elderly White carpenter everyone called Old man Pettis to build the home; she used some of the lumber from the old house and bought some new. This one wouldn't be another shotgun house. It wasn’t an A frame home either; it had both a front and back porch.

There were two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and a kitchen. Baths were still taken in a number three washtub. We even had wooden ceiling and interior walls constructed of wood instead of paper. She even bought a sofa. We had everything but running water and electricity. I painted the outside and created the letter P on one corner, it was a good-looking place. We had windows on the front back and side, although the one on the side was boarded until she got enough money to buy a glass one.

On many fall or winter evenings she would tell me stories some funny others not so funny, most of which I've long since forgotten. Some were memorable while others were cute. I recall her telling me about when Mister Angus Parrish first went to Pensacola. Upon his return, he was excited on one hand, but sounded disappointed saying he couldn't see the town for the houses. She would laugh and laugh every time she told the story. I'm not sure if that was true or he was funning her.

Once I asked her about what they did on Saturday nights of her time, and wondered if she ever went out shaking and finger popping. She recalled right away a dance she did attend. Apparently, it wasn’t a club; it was more like a hoedown, or barn dance. They would build a big fire on a predetermined Saturday evening. The word would be out and folks in the surrounding hammocks would come. They would sing and dance. This one time she recalled Mister David Bell, was the life of the party. She laughed when she thought of the song. He was dancing with all the ladies and singing to the top of his voice; “Mister Brown Said No!” She laughed heartily recalling that time, because some fifty years later he was so different, he had become quiet and reserved..

We didn’t have a lot of talks about dreams and aspirations, but once, she revealed to me that she wanted to be a teacher. When I asked why, she didn't have an answer. She would smile and reflect about what could have been. She grew up in the late 1800's, at a time all it took to be a teacher of Colored children in the rural south was an eighth grade education. Because Grandpa Cyp was the way he was and economic conditions being what they were, he made her quit the third grade to help tend to the crops in the field. Even though he was such a taskmaster, I can find no record of his ever owning so much as an acre of land. Like many during that time, he married into a family that owned it.

Joseph Peterson her grandpa was a landowner. He was sold into the area, as records show he was born sometime between 1799 and 1804 in North Carolina. When he died in the 1870’s the land and the home he acquired was left to his wife Charlotte and two children, Grandma Rosa and Uncle Allen. It is believed a portion of the land that subsequently became hers was deeded through Grandma Rose. Initially I thought she acquired the land through Grandpa Mack’s father, but in all likelihood it was passed down maternally. She told me the story of a man she referred to as Grandpa Morris. Records show he was an in-law. She had a habit of identifying relatives on my behalf. I haven’t been able to research Morris Peterson, yet I vividly recalled her relating a story of bravery where Morris Peterson was involved in the killing of a bear. Apparently he was out hunting for food when he came across the animal, wounding it, causing it to run away to cover his wounds with mud. The next day however, he met up with the bear again. As the story goes, he kept firing at the bear, and it kept coming. He was down to his last shell when the bear died at his feet. Was it lore or fact? One thing I discovered in growing up was any ‘bear’ story seemed to always be tied into a whiskey still.

Lum'ma was never one to live out her dream in her children although she wanted momma to be what she couldn’t be herself, but the depression came and that dream died. My older brother came along and she wanted him, not necessarily to be a teacher, but get an education, and to have some sense, (putting it her own words). But, he too kind of gave up and quit in the tenth grade. Had it not been for her, my lot probably would have been the same as his. But she psyched me out, by inferring how smart I was, and how she wanted to see me grow up to make something out of myself, so I could help her.

Though she only had a third grade education, she loved reading. After I mastered phonics, there were times I would help her pronounce certain difficult words. She would smile that toothless grin, and reassure me, I did have a good head on my shoulder. That was as close to openly praising me as she ever came.

She just didn’t want any of us to get the bighead.

Her favorite book was the Bible. Among those she admired most were those who could recite from the Bible, chapter and verse. Miss Benny Peterson was a woman who could. Though she was never excited to see The Jehovah Witnesses coming, she liked reading, The Watchtower and Awake. Now John was a member , I often kid him, if she was alive, and he came to visit, I would have to tell him she wasn’t home. Even though she never did that, she did view them with a certain cynicism only because of those she knew who were members.

In as much as we couldn't afford to subscribe to The Pensacola News Journal, our neighbor Cou’n Sooney did, and almost daily she would go over, sit on the porch and read the headlines. Recently I purchased new glasses, and while the sales associate was pitching me on the various options they offered I had to chuckle, thinking of her. She never went to an optometrist, she would go to Alvin's Five And Dime and purchase all of her glasses for about 59 cents and read up a storm. Watching her obsession with reading made me become an avid reader


Don’t let nobody outdo you, keep your shoulders to the wheel, get tired and give out but don’t ever give up.

In Margaret Taylor Burroughs’ book, What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black, she penned this classic piece.

The truth so often obscured and omitted.

And I find I have much to say to my black children.

I will lift up their heads in proud blackness

With the story of their fathers and their fathers'

Fathers. And I shall take them into a way back time

Of Kings and Queens who ruled the Nile,

And measured the stars and discovered the

Laws of mathematics. Upon whose backs have been built

The wealth of two continents. I will tell him

This and more. And his heritage shall be his weapon

And his armor; will make him strong enough to win

Any battle he may face. And since this story is

Often obscured, I must sacrifice to find it.

For my children, even as I sacrificed to feed,

Clothe and shelter them. None will do it for me.

I must find the truth of heritage for myself

And pass it on to them. In years to come, I believe

Because I have armed them with the truth, my children

And their children's children will venerate me.

For it is the truth that will make us free!”

Ms Burroughs neither met, nor knew my Lum'ma ever existed, however this poem seemed to be written for her, and about her. Yet in telling this story of her, the same thing could be said of me. She was a proud woman who never took anymore from life than she deserved, fought to keep that she took, and yet in her unselfishness, she gave everything she had to her family, friends and the deserving. In my humble opinion, I believe she enjoyed helping others just that much.

Lum'ma’s nephew Clarence, one of Aunt Charlotte’s sons was a World War II veteran and a binge drinker. After his son was killed in Korea, his binges became more and more frequent. There were times I hated to see him coming, and she did as well when he was on one of his binges. In spite of that, she would welcome him, cook and feed him such as she had. She never mumbled a word; other than complain about how foul he smelled after urinating on himself. He almost never visited her when he was sober, yet, once he got in his liquor, here he’d come, muttering WWII stuff no one understood, because he slurred his speech so badly.

For whatever reason she had a special place in her heart for one of Uncle Ben's own, John Riley. He wasn't a binge drinker he was a staunch alcoholic, and would do anything for a drink. If he could've he would've sold his soul, for a little nip. His drinking left him skinny as a rail. Anytime he showed up she offered to make him a meal. Not once do I recall her having anything bad to say about him. To her he was her late brother Uncle Ben son. (Though, I'm proud to say, before she died, he recovered, and stayed sober for the remainder of his life).

She mentally, was one of the strongest persons, I've ever known. She had will and determination to match. Crises situations only brought out the best in her. When Uncle Ben drowned, or had a heart attack over the fourth of July weekend in 1950, as close as she was to him, she didn't come apart emotionally. She calmly got her things together, and went to be there for his immediate family. I never remembered her weeping openly for him. It was as though she felt she had to be strong for all of us, and that started with keeping her emotions in check. Nine years later, it was Aunt Charlotte's turn.

In the early 50's, Aunt Charlotte and her husband Gene left their homestead in Holmes valley and moved to the projects in Panama City. Uncle Gene got sick and died October 18, 1959, when she heard about his being low sick and died, she hired someone to take her to be at Aunt Charlotte’s side until after the funeral. One year to the day, Aunt Charlotte died. Before she did, however, she rounded up Aunt Effie and the two of them went there and helped tend to her diligently during her last few days.

She would make her presence felt in each difficult situation and would help in whatever capacity she could; she would cook, clean, help bathe, and look after them. What I remember most she always had something uplifting to say to them that would make everyone feel better.

In 1967 when John's wife, (Dean) died tragically in giving birth to his daughter Lisa and her twin brother Cecil, (Cecil didn't make it); she was rocked by it, yet remained granite strong for him. In retrospect, I think because of all she had gone through previously prepared her for times like those.

Her generosities to family members were only exceeded by how offering she had. She wasn’t necessarily a giver, however she was giving in what she had to offer. Aunt Effie was the giver.  She told me often, she'd rather go without, than for me to do without. Even her empathy knew no bounds in her. Two things, she wouldn't hear of, making light (making fun) of anyone, or throwing off (flaunting).

At her home, she had an open door policy, everyone was welcomed, even those she didn’t care for. Of course she was no fool either, she wouldn’t let anyone wear out his or her welcome.

She was a simple single minded, single purposed woman who not only wanted the best, but also expected the best of her family. She not only was a survivor, but a constant striver as well. Like some women of her time she wasn't being a male basher, when she said she was just as good a worker as any man. Whether she could or couldn't, it was her make up, to think so. Never one to be satisfied with leaving well enough alone; yet, she often cautioned me to leave well enough alone, and good enough, was never good enough for her. Although she always strived to be the best, yet it seemed almost secondary to doing her best, regardless of the circumstances.


Train up the child in the way he ought to go, so that when he’s old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

Of all of her sibs, grand sibs, and great grand sibs, none of us had her will for getting things done right. When things are at their worst it seems to bring out the best in us. One sure way of motivating me is, tell me I can‘t do it, or it can‘t be done. For certain, however, I’m probably the closest one to having her intolerance for ineptitude. I can’t stand failure from the lack of trying.

Like some grandmas, she believed in the tried and true way of raising a child the way she was raised, with no tolerance for insubordination toward any older adult. Another of her lasting expressions was, train up the child in the way he ought to go, so that when he’s old he will not depart from it.

 She would’ve been proud knowing someone wrote a book, It Takes A Village; she amplified much of what she thought. It did take the entire community to raise a child. Thus every body had a free reign to tan my hide if I misbehaved.

Furthermore when I did misbehave, I hoped it didn't get back to her, because that meant my butt got a second opinion. Yet, I came to realize when I reached adulthood, it helped to prepare me for the time in life when I would be on my own.

She taught her children and grandchildren, every one should create their own niche in life and work at it diligently. She often stress God did things to help Colored Folks that did things to help their self. Along with helping to raise me in the way I ought to go, she did it for all her grandchildren that subsequently came after me, and darn near everyone in our small community. To this date there is nary a soul, in some way she didn't have a hand in their growth toward adulthood, or even their bottom. She was never above telling any child, she would paddle their fanny good fashioned.

To look at her, one would think she was quiet and unassuming. But in her own words, looks will fool ya. For once they peered in her heart they saw an inferno. She was proud and had a passion, for right. One of her favorite saying was, right is right, and don't wrong nobody. She was also known as a person of great character, who didn't like to repeat herself very often. Many times, she would forewarn me simply by saying, I done told you once, I ain't gonna tell you no more cause if I do, you gonna have the devil to pay. It took a while, but I finally learned, it meant this is your first and final warning. The next thing coming out of her mouth, oh you grown? Go get me a switch, I'll show you who grown, and that switch better not break neither. She walked it, like she talked it.

Granted being a devoted Christian she believed in religious doctrines. Although she wasn't a teacher she read her Bible, feared God and did her best to obey His word. At times she could be a bit over the top and self-righteous, but not to the point where she would banish you to hell for your transgressions. Oftentimes she kept those sentiments to herself. Her faith was kept strong by attending church, (no pun intended), religiously three times weekly; there would be prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, tarry services Friday nights, and all day Sundays, starting with Sunday school, morning worship service YPCW and evening prayer service. She coupled that with reading the Bible almost daily and Sunday school books through the week.

When it came to God, she wasn’t mealy mouth; she called Him by his first name or sometimes his nickname Lord. Where some people would say my sweet Lord, or Precious Lord God, or Lord God Almighty, she would just call him, God. There were times when she would call him a good God. Good God a mercy! She was a holy roller, yet it was rare she shouted in church. I thought that was pretty cool, especially since she didn't embarrass me by falling out and speaking in tongue like momma. She would be the fanner. Whenever someone fell out, she would get the fan and fan. I was proud to have a grandma like that and who knew God on a first name basis. One thing she didn't believe in was playing with God. Although she called God by his first name, every night, and every morning, she would kneel and pray, and always started her prayers with our Father, and end it by saying thank God! Prayer was something she was diligent about. In addition to praying twice daily, we would pray jointly on Sunday before breakfast, and a forgotten tradition, recite a Bible verse before eating. On occasions I would walk her to Wednesday night service, but always on Friday nights, although I didn't have to stay. It was pretty cool, she would allow me to go spend that time with Leo and Sheby, they had a radio, and I could listen to John Richberg on WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee. He played that new music called rhythm and blues; that was even more cool.

When I was small, she always took me to church, as I grew older, it was left up to me, though she did mention the importance of spirituality often. She was so different from Aunt Effie. There were times I'd hate to see Aunt Effie coming. She was a righteous woman, and while humble and meek, she could be over bearing religiously speaking; she would give a twenty-minute sermon quoting chapter and verse about good and evil, and make you feel like you killed Jesus. Before she left, she would make you lie by saying not only would you be in church on Sunday, but you were going to join. It was from Aunt Effie, that I learned the importance of a good handshake, but my eye contact, however, was a Lum'ma thing all the way. She was a believer that, anybody who wouldn't look you in the eyes, might be fixing to tell a lie.


When I find him I‘m going to take a stick and give him an elder and a bishop too

She was extremely knowledgeable about the ever-changing future, though she also never forgot the past. She understood television would become a big thing one day; somewhere she heard or read about it. While she never spoke of integration, she prepared me for it in ways I didn't understand. What had her against integration is that White kids would pick at us. This I can say on her behalf, she never bought into the belief; that when they weren't around us, they all called us ugly names. In fact I never heard her use that word, ever in the context of race! What she didn't realize, the things she instilled in me; would make them call me arrogant. Because my attitude was, you'd better open that damn door of opportunity, before I kick it down, then you'll have the devil to pay. Regardless to that she gave me a sense of being equal. She sometimes spoke of a time that would come when Colored and White children might be going to school together, and that I had better be ready, and certainly not let no White youngun out do me. In the school year of 1951-52, two years priors to the landmark Supreme Court decision marked the beginning of the end of segregated schools, all three two-room schools in the community at large (Happy Hill, St Luke’s and St John), were combined and moved to a new location, where the county built Shady Grove Elementary for Coloreds. It was centrally located in the township of Vernon, which was sixteen miles away. Though we didn’t know it at the time but that was the first attempt to even the educational playing field for Black and White kids, and for the first time since I started school, I was assigned new books.

It must have caused her some concern for two reasons. One, I was now becoming a part of the world village, and Vernon was the start, and as close as it was, it was out of her walking distance. If something should happen, she couldn’t immediately respond. I’m sure in the back of her mind, she couldn't shake the thought that some no count White man could steal us and sell us off in slavery. As late as the 50’s there were horror stories still circulating about such happenings. If memory serves I believe Ebony magazine ran a story as such.

She was big on learning from others experience, and in this case she had a personal point of reference. Aunt Charlotte‘s eldest son, John Louis, had that happen to him when he was young. At least that's what he told everyone when he returned home weeks later after his allegedly escape. (While in retrospect, I and his sister Uleane have misgivings about that), but during that time anything was possible.

Supposedly, a White man kidnapped him, taking him to Alabama to work the fields. Somehow he escaped finding his way back to Holmes Valley.

On another occasion, she related, how her niece's husband Cam Campbell was once kidnapped at gunpoint. He picked up a hitchhiker, and the guy drew a gun, and took him off to Alabama. Had the gunman not stopped to use the bathroom, maybe something dreadful would've happened to him. My cousin James (Boy) Riley however did witness a murder, by a group of White men just north of the Valley road in nearby New Hope.

In late August of 1955, what she had been preaching finally hit home, and I got her message loud and clear. Shortly after it happened, the Pensacola Journal carried the story about the brutal murder of Emmett Till. Three white men in Money, Mississippi brutally beat then murdered him for supposedly whistling at a White woman. From where we lived Money wasn’t on the other side of the world, it was fewer than five hundred miles. While I was too young then to understand the racial implication of what happened, it outraged her and scared the hell out of me. Her concerns finally did get through to me. That kept me in virtual lockdown for weeks. I couldn't go anyplace without her knowing, who, where, how and when I expected to return.

Her glaring concerns extended to my brother as well although he was then twenty-one. It was never more prevalent, than on a fall Saturday of the same year. We piled into John’s car and went to Bonifay trading (grocery shopping).

On our trip back, just north of Vernon, two White women were having car problems. They were parked on the edge of the road and flagged us down. Against Lum'ma urging him not to, he did, and tried to get the car started, but couldn’t get it going. From their demeanor, the two women appeared to be drinking and was a bit more than just friendly. John realized he couldn’t get their car going again, offered to come back with help.

After taking us home, he and Pete Brown, our cousin went back to help. I suspect they had more in mind than that, nevertheless, by the time they got back the two were gone. An hour or so later they stopped at the Black nightspot, The Flattop Café. They claimed they were there to buy beer, but began socializing and became very friendly with a number of the men that evening, I don’t know if John was among them.

Early the next morning the community was abuzz with rumors about what transpired the evening before. Lum'ma got wind of it. Without knowing if John was involved or not, she urged him burn the shirt, or give to her and she would make a shirt out of it for me. That was just in case someone was accused of rape. She wanted nothing about him the woman could identify.

The irony of that thought was I was but three years younger than Emmett, and during that time all they would’ve had to do was point the finger.

Once, we were visiting Down the road and In the corner, she stopped to spend time with Uncle Frazier Peterson (Grandpa Mack’s many brothers). While she was with him and others in the community, his grandson, Dently and I snuck off, looking for elders, to make a popgun using chinaberries. Elders were hollow as a reed, but it has hollow from the root to the stem. We were off in the woods playing when she called. It was time for us to make the track back Up The Road to our settlement of Redhead; she called and called, but I didn't answer. She thought that perhaps I was playing nearby with the Bell children. When she didn't find me there, I was told later, she got panicky and really mad! . One of the other children told her that we were down in the woods looking for elders. She dropped a classic line to them; When I find him I‘m gonna take a stick and give him an elder and a bishop too. Other times when I'd go someplace and stayed too long, she'd declare I was taking the rag off the bush, which was her exasperating way of expressing disbelief. My guess is that must have been a term that went back to the days of slavery. I assume when slaves were ready to escape to freedom the way may have been marked with strategically placed rags. And in all my years with her I took the rag off the bush many times, because as she put it, I was hardheaded. She constantly reminded me; my hard head made a soft behind.

It got so that if I wanted to get a serious butt whipping, and get a good tongue lecturing, let me go someplace and not let her know. One of the worse I've ever gotten, I asked permission to go someplace and she said no. In my impertinent way, I spouted off I was going to leave home and never come back. I will always regret that little quip. It cost me two double wrapped blackberry bushes. She would beat a while, preach a while, and talk a while, reminding me how some White person might come along and do me like they did John Louis and Cam Campbell. When it was over, I had this clear picture of things you didn't say, regardless to age.

In looking back over my life, I can see where, without all that guidance, who knows where I would be? Hardly a day passes when I don’t draw from the lessons that she taught.

As best as she could, she shielded me from a lot of the harshness of bigotry, and racial prejudice. Yet, in the Deep South it was impossible to completely insulate me. My first blatant encounter of discrimination came when I was about fourteen. I mistakenly walked in a drug store that had a soda fountain. When I walked in, there were several White kids sitting at the counter laughing and carrying on. None acknowledge my presence as I walked in. I wandered into the merchandising section. Other than casually glancing at me, they went back to joking between themselves. Realizing too late I was in the wrong store, I was too embarrassed to just walk out. I strolled down the aisle looking for something to purchase. The soda clerk approached me and asked the customary, Can I help you? I blurted, Er, I'll take a coke. She informed me, We don’t serve Colored people. I felt really bad and mad, I never told anyone not even her. I knew water fountains were separate, we bought our burgers at the back window, and there were no rest rooms for Coloreds, but this was a shock to me. The soda clerk would’ve been perfectly willing, to sell any merchandise from the shelf, but not a soda from across the counter. I could rarely go to town without her, and she wouldn't let me visit things like lunch counters where they didn't serve Black people.

Rather than drink from a segregated drinking fountain, she would bring her own water to town, and wouldn’t hear of buying food from anyone’s back door. Anytime we went to town, rather than go to the back door, she would purchase a loaf of light bread (white bread), cheese, sandwich meat and sodas. We’d find a bench and eat there or in whoever car we were traveling in. In spite of Jim Crow laws that were designated to discourage, dehumanize, intimidate or conquer, she was never any of those things

The times when she couldn't, or didn’t go along she made sure either momma or some trusting adult went along and always reminded me that Colored folks were just as good as White.

She was one who reacted angrily and swiftly when she heard the word Nigger from the mouth of any White person. The word Nigger to her was what red is to a charging bull She was not one to pass it off as White people being White people. No one, regardless of age, could get away with calling her that name either. There was a time when she used to clean and baby-sit for a woman across the creek, Eunice Faison. Eunice had several children, but the youngest was a brat. Once she wouldn’t let him have his way, and he called her that, she jacked his young self up and called him a Cracker. She asked him what did he know about Niggers, threatening to paddle his butt if he didn't apologize. He did in a left-handed way by admitting a Nigger was just as good as a Cracker. She never allowed me to play with him after that incident. After graduating high school, I took a summer job in the turpentine business. The boss was a man named Roy Ray. One lunch hour he decided to get out of the truck, which was where he usually ate his lunch, and eat with us.

We the Black workers were laughing and cracking jokes among each other, he took it upon himself to join in and tell a Nigger joke. I was highly offended, while the others just grinned, and mumbled to themselves. That evening when I got home, I almost told her about the incident, but didn’t. It would’ve created a lot of confusion; she would’ve scolded me for not speaking up and walking off the job, and most assuredly paid him a visit. Even if she didn’t scold me, she would’ve paid him a visit and wouldn’t have let me gone back to work regardless to how badly I needed the money.


Being a solid provider, she made sure of two things; I never went to bed, nor left home hungry

In later years she would do much to supplement her old aged pension of twenty dollars a month, but not just anything. Albert Evans’ wife used to sublet hand-sewn quilts to her. Being resourceful and conservative she never threw anything away, if it could be used later on. To this day, I'm a closet hoarder. I have a difficult time throwing anything away. She possessed a great imagination for creativity, and could see the potential in everything. If it was glass bottles she would turn them in for the refund, if it was metal she would save it or pick it up by the side of the road and bring it home, and sell it to the junk man. With rags it was the same, what she didn't use for quilting and patching, she sold them to the ragman.

In her home there was no ceiling, when you looked up you saw the joists rafters and the tin. There were four hemp cords. She would use those when she got ready to make a quilt. Her stitch work was so exact it was difficult to tell if it was done by sewing machine or hand. On occasion Aunt Effie and or Cousin Rosetta would come, and help out. They would sew, chat about olden days and drink coffee. One would’ve thought they were prissy-legged girls. She craved coffee, almost any kind of coffee, except Louisiana chicory, and would make them a nice dinner that consisted of cornbread and collard greens; they would sew until about three o clock or so, and call it a day. If Aunt Effie spent the night, shewould take the lamp and they would sew more, probably until the chickens went to bed. She also sold candy, for a man from Alabama. Every second Tuesday he would come around and collect. On more than one occasion, he would pay me nickel to do a jig.

Being very resourceful she made sure of two things; I never went to bed, nor left home hungry, and always had clean clothes to wear, be they patched to death. It seemed every season something was always in, as far as fruits and vegetables were concerned. In the spring she would can blackberries. During the summers she would can peaches, pears, peas, and make jellies and jams. In the winter she would barter for fresh cane syrup and she raised hogs. She grew corn for cornmeal, therefore all she purchased were the small things, like cooking oil during the summer, because she got enough lard from the sows she raised for slaughter to last almost a half-year. And of course in her vegetable garden, she grew collard greens twice a year. There were no utility bills to pay, since we lived in a rural community, electricity hadn't arrived yet. She even made her own lye soap.

When she ran low she would send for two cans of Red Devil Lye, and bust out the almanac to see where the zodiac signs were. When it was right we had a large cast iron pot (she used to boiled our laundry), it would take all day because after she made it, she then cooled it before removing it from the pot. She would cut it in slices, then barter some away for store bought detergent, sell some and keep the rest.

Through her resourcefulness she knew the right people to go to get what she needed. I recalled my first bicycle, Sheby and Leo had nice shiny bikes, and Marvin and I didn’t have one. There were times they would let us ride, other times they wouldn’t. I asked her buy me one. She knew she didn't have the money to go to Western Auto and purchase a Western Flyer, in nearby Chipley, but she did have an account with Danley Furniture Company in Panama City. She talked them into getting the bike, and putting it on her account. Other times, when we got either the national Bella Hess, or Alden's catalogue, I would go crazy looking for stuff I wanted. For the most part she would let me order the merchandise, and find a way to pay for it. To the best of my knowledge, none of my friends, Leo, Marvin, or Shelby’s parents would let them do that. When she got her old aged pension on the fourth of the month, I was in kid's heaven. She would let me tag along to push the buggy, as she called it. If there was enough left over, she would buy me a toy, whether, it was a water pistol or cap gun. I often chuckle, that if she were alive today, and with my understanding of how the system works, she would be bigger than Oprah. It may seem as childish fantasy, but there was little she couldn't or didn’t know how to do.

She too, was a lawmaker, judge, jury, and enforcer. She made the laws of the family, presided over them and when they were broken she enforced them. It was just that simple. Where most parents would say to a defiant child, as long as you live in my house, you'll follow my rules. Hers was more defined; it was simple; “ I don’t care how old you get, you’d better do as I say do, cause you’ll never get too big for me to put a stick on you.” That I do believe, because I recall once she threatened to jack my mother up after she was married. In fact it was the only time I ever recall seeing momma crying. I’d been playing outside, and when I came in she had momma in tears for whatever the disagreement was. I yelled, " Lum'ma! Leave my momma alone." It's the only time I ever got away with yelling at her, or yelled at her period.

She was very mindful of what she said around us. While many parents spewed obscenities, I never heard her blackguard. Other than that once with the Faison child, have I ever heard her use the word Nigger except in relation to her sweet potato pies. She was not into making off color remarks either. Words she would use to express her displeasure were, Lord save my time, dad blamed or darn, mess, stew, stuffing or horse hockey! That probably explains why, neither momma nor my older brother ever used cuss words. They all seemed to be very uncomfortable swearing; it's almost out of respect for her. That did not extend its way to Tommy and myself.


Momma came home from work and saw my face; she was livid. She got up in her face, and read her the riot act.

Long before we became; Black; Afro American, and now African American, we were Colored, before that Negroes. She took great pride in being called Colored; however, she tolerated Black, but didn't like Negro perhaps one was too close to Nigger.

To have seen her is to know, she was dark, very dark. I’m sure she completely accepted her blackness, perhaps explaining why folks said grandpa Mack only chased after yella women.

Before the slogan Black Is Beautiful came along, she often used the phrase; “Black is honest.” Though she never explained it. When I happen to mention Mister George Douglas who was black as the ace of spade, they said he would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down, she merely grinned her toothless grin.

She wasn’t hard on yella children, however because Charlotte, Cousin Bertha, Marvin, Velma, Joyce, and my brother Tommy were all yellow. And they were all among her favorite, and Aunt Rendy Uncle Bish's first wife was yella as well, and she adored her.

Those she didn’t know, she just referred to them as yella. To her, high yella or bright or light skinned children usually meant, either their granddaddies or daddies were White. Thus if anyone called me Black, she'd tell me to tell them that. Yet on the other hand, she would sometimes threaten to beat all of the Black off of me

Lum'ma never sat me down and gave advice on anything; she led me down the path of right and wrong through her ways and actions. She allowed me to be a child, and rarely dabbled in my childish affairs, and more over, other than monitoring my progress as I grew. I virtually had to give an account of myself all the time.

Furthermore, I can't recall her ever using the prohibited phrase, you’d better not. Yet by contrast, she would reiterate over and over again a hard head made a soft behind! I took that to mean there was no merit in being impertinent.

She never had big ideals for me, she only wanted me to do my best at what ever I attempted, and she reasoned it was because I could have my own money. Sometimes she would use psyche, by giving me an example of how other well-behaved children acted. It was almost as if giving me the latitude of making my own mistakes, before she reined me in with her conventional wisdom or her peace bearer (the switch). What I admire most now is she keeps getting smarter from the grave everyday.

Many would read this and give out a sigh of relief that they didn't have to go through this. For me, I was lucky to have her, and I thank the Almighty I did. Had it not been for her wisdom and guidance, I would have probably been swept up in the throws of the low life. That would've been, from thinking, I was half ass smarter than everyone else. But because of the way she raised me, I never did drugs, never went to jail, subsequently became a non-smoker, non-drinker, and treat women with the same respect she commanded.

Today’s laws in disciplining children takes too much of the long-range consequences into account. For me butt whippings became a powerful deterrent for wrong doings later in life. Most well meaning social scientists can't make the distinctions between a whipping and a beating, but Lum'ma did. To her, a whipping is punishment for and act of defiance or disobedience, whereas a beating is an act of violence as punishment to achieve obedience. All during my years, she never struck me in malicious anger. Once, however, she came close to crossing the line. As I recall it's the only time, momma ever confronted her, and didn't back down. There was one television in our neighborhood and two in the community as a whole. In the summer of 56, just before going to high school, I was at her nephew Joseph Potter‘s home, (Aunt Effie’s youngest). His son, Willie Alfred (Monk), Marvin and I were watching television. About two ‘o’ clock, she called from our house, "Oh Norman, come go get me a bucket of water, so I can put supper on. "Yes ma'am, I'll be right there Lum'ma," I assured her. Two o’clock came, she repeated the call, once again I reassured her, I was coming.

The show we were watching ended, and I’d gotten into another show. Two thirty, she called me for a third time. My answer was still the same. In the meantime, Marvin went home to do his chores. I became more engrossed in the show, about fifteen minutes later; Monk looked out on the porch and said, "Oh! Oh, here comes Aunt Katie. One door was closed and she cut off my escape route out through the other, I made a beeline to try to go out through the kitchen, and ran smack dab in to her. She came in swinging, and in my effort to run past her, she swung straight down and split the right side of my face including part of my eyelid. I darted blindly out the door bleeding profusely and ran home and got the water. When she saw what she did, she didn't apologize readily, but I could tell she was remorseful. Momma was pissed when she came home and saw my face. This time she got up in Lum'ma's face, and read her the riot act. While she didn't apologize to me, she did express regrets to mom that she perhaps had gone overboard with the switch. That was next to the last 'whopping' I ever got. The mere fact she admitted she was wrong showed she too had compassion in her heart.

My final whipping came on a Sunday morning, probably in 1954 or 55 I was supposed to be getting ready for church. I dressed early, and went up to Sooney’s. There was a dice game, she warned me often enough not to gamble. She felt money gained in that manner would lead to no good. I was about thirteen when I first began gambling with the old men. Isaiah Potter, Clarence Hogan, and Chix Campbell, all liked gambling. I’ve seen them build a fire down in the woods and shoot craps all night long. Many mornings I would go to where they gambled and find loose change; quarters, nickels and dimes, on one occasion I found nearly two dollars. Not only did they like craps, but would also play Georgia skin. Before the law warned Sooney about them gambling in his place, they did it inside. But for fear of being busted and having the place closed, he began making them take it outside.

Isaiah, (affectionately called Fox) and Chix (whose given name was John Henry Campbell) were well in the sixties, they didn’t care about age. Anyone with the money was welcomed to the game. Clarence Hogan was younger than they were; he was probably in his mid-thirties. He also didn’t care as well.

That morning, I didn’t have any money; Fox invited me to shoot for him. I got hot with the dice, and he was cleaning up. He also was supposed to keep a watchful eye for Lum'ma. He and Clarence Hogan started trash talking and bickering, and he completely forgot about Lum'ma. She sneaked right upon the game caught me gambling red-handed. In spite of Fox trying to sweet talk her out of it, she wouldn’t hear it and smoked my butt. (In retrospect Fox was the only one who could get away with teasing her, he would pretend to romance her and she would laugh heartily)

Other than Grandpa Mack, if she thought anyone wronged her, she never forgot. She was a person who never got over anger quickly, yet harped on it from time to time. She wasn‘t above calling anyone out, then and there, and that included me. If I acted up at church, she would walk me outside and make me pay right there, regardless who was watching. Or if it weren’t that serious, she would maul my head. I hated that worse. To maul my head, she made a fist, and then turned her knuckles in a circular motion up against my forehead. This was degrading, as all the kids would laugh. But, their parents would do the same thing, and I would laugh.

She always had my back. As far as that went, she had all of our backs. Remembering back to when I was maybe a third grader, I rode nearly every morning on the back of my brother's Western Flyer to school. One morning he and I had a falling out when he accused me of throwing our lunch in the sand shortly after we got there, (to this day I say I didn't my brother said I did, but knowing the way I am now, I probably did). He reported me to Miss China Bush, the two-room school's principal. I didn’t give her my side of the story, I sulked and pouted. She beat me with a switch and it made me so mad, I got sick with a fever. That night, I was talking in my sleep and Lum'ma was very concerned, especially when, I didn’t touch my beans and teacake. When she asked my brother, why he thought I was sick, he told her what happened. The following morning she walked the three miles we walked to get to school, paying the principal a visit. I was extremely embarrassed and didn’t go to school. Her paying a visit didn’t give me Carte Blanche to act up, because she would've gotten after me herself, and in front of everyone.

On another occasion, one of the Bell boys stole my bike, some saw them riding it and told me, when I told Lum'ma we walked down In The Corner, she confronted his momma and I got my bike back.

Lum'ma’s tyranny didn’t just extend to us, her grandchildren; her firm hand extended to John’s brood, her great grandchildren as well. My Nephew Gilford recalled the time when he, his brother Ozell, and their cousin Gary (Cou'n Girl Baby’s grandson), were playing in the hog pasture out in back of the new place. They were breaking beer bottles, and non-refundable pop bottles. Cou'n Sooney used to cart all of his empties from his juke joint there. The sound of the bottles breaking could be heard in her home. She called out ordering them to stop because someone, or the livestock would step on the broken glass, or flying glass could put their eyes out. They quit, but only until they found another pile of bottles a bit further away, then continued as though she never said a word.

They hadn’t yet learned my lesson. She wouldn’t stand for disobedience. When she was fed up she eased across the fence, finding her a switch along the way. Gilford and Gary spied her coming and snuck away quietly, they circled up and round until they reached the road that led past her home, and started walking back as if they were never with Ozell. Meanwhile, she caught him red-handed, and she was mad. She collared him and was looking around for the other two. Leading him back toward home by the nape of his shirt, she found a place where she could flog him. Hoping to save his own skin, he told on them, but as he was explaining, Gilford and Gary, innocently came in view on the road. Needless to say he received a double portion of whippings. He got one for lying, and the other for disobeying. She never knew or realized he was telling the truth all along, and that the other two had outsmarted her.

I recall once momma telling me of one of the whippings she received. Apparently she and Uncle Bish were playing in the yard with a dog they had at the time. Momma suggested to Uncle Bish, “hold my legs and I’m gonna show you how a dog pee.” Lum'ma, was in the house either sewing, or cooking, and heard her. That was the last time momma suggested any stunt like that; before he could grab her legs, Lum'ma was all over her with a switch, and tried to beat all of the black off of her.

In the face of the rapidly changing twentieth century, she understood it would take a great deal more patience and she would have to back down on her hard-line approach in dealing with the younger generation .She was a lot more lenient on Tommy and John’s children, although she had a significant hand in raising them.

Now that I am an adult, and looking back on my relationship with her, I realize she was one special person, who was a great diplomat as well as peacekeeper.

When there was something she wanted me to do, or not do within the frameworks of right, she would phrase it in such a manner, it seemed like it was my idea. This I can say about her, she liked it when others praised me, being smart or doing well in school. While she never came out openly and praised me, and I could tell she was proud, invariably she would make something special like a blueberry dooby, which is similar to blueberry dumpling. Speaking of her cooking, I swore if ever I got old enough to have a job, I would never eat another collard green the longest day I live. This lady could do more with a collard green than Michael Angelo with a paintbrush. A typical week went like this: Monday, we would have collard greens, seasoned with white side meat (salt pork) and cornbread for dinner. Tuesday, we would have collard pot liquor (greens soup), on cornpones. Wednesday, there would be fried collards mixed with mustard greens. Thursday, for variety, we would have collard greens and rutabagas, with either lima beans or great northern, and corn sweetened bread. Friday, there would be collard greens and neck bones with okra, and for dessert, she would make biscuit pudding out of leftover biscuits from breakfast during the week. Saturday, there would be fried fish, collard greens, and hoecakes. Oh but Sunday, she got down, she would get up as early on Sunday as she would during the week, she cooked three meals at once, (breakfast and dinner and supper). Bacon if she could afford it or salt pork if she couldn't. Pork chops, or chicken n dumplings, rice and gravy, teacakes, or briar berry dumpling peas, and yep you guessed it collard greens and ham hocks. For the record the chicken and rice was for the preacher, and if there was any left we got it. I was almost fifteen years old, before I found out underneath all of those feathers; there was more than chicken necks and backs.


There would be times she would be smiling through the tears in her eyes from the frustration in her heart.

The 20th of May was one of her favorite times of the year. There would be a big celebration, observing freedom day. Apparently it was on the 20th of May when the news reached that part of the country, President Lincoln freed the slaves. Today it seems various regions of the south celebrate different times of the year commemorating the same event. I know in the state of Texas, it’s in June.

On that day, the celebration would be held at the Spring Run. Early in the morning, the men folk would go fishing. The women folk would stay home and make the potato salad, and desserts. Later in the day everyone would meet on the banks. When the men folk returned with their catch, everyone would pitch in to help clean them. Others would help out with the fish frying and hushpuppies. Uncle Doany would make the lemonade. After the meal, the men would huddle together drinking moonshine and lying. The women would laugh and joke, while the kids would romp and play. This would go on until just before sunset, when everyone would pitch in to clean up the mess, and burn it before returning home.

The times she probably hated worse must have been around the Christmas holiday season. Though she liked baking, I didn't know it then, but it saddened her, knowing, I would be expecting that which she was unable to give; lots of toys. Every year, her church, The First Born Church Of the Living God, would put on a Christmas program. It was more than just a program; it was a time of traditionally publicly exchanging gifts within the community.

We, the youngsters would draw names, and to make it even more special parents, would place gifts under the tree for their children and each other as well. All the young and teenaged children would participate. Granted we did it at Easter as well, but there would be gifts involved. It was a time every one young and old 'say' holiday speeches and put on skits, and sings songs. At the end of the program there was a large Christmas tree, where all the gifts were placed. I enjoyed performing, but hated the ceremony that followed. I prayed every year there would be a Roy Rogers cap gun set waiting for me. Although, when they called my name, I knew, it would be more or less either an apple, an orange, or a handkerchief. They would call my name and say; I would walk up smartly but disappointed and get my piece of fruit wrapped in tissue paper. There would be times she would be smiling through the tears from the hurt in her heart. She would be proud of the performance I gave; yet the tears would be for her, since she had nothing to give. Often during the next few years, she would tell me she couldn't wait for me to get grown, so I could buy some of the things she wasn't able to give. . One Christmas, however, she had enough to buy a cap gun, though she didn't buy the scabbard, I was the happiest boy in Redhead.

As I grew older, I would work at pulpwood, and turpentine to buy myself the things I wanted for Christmas

The Christmas prior to my leaving home, was the best I ever had up to that time, yet it came at the expense of mom. That year, I ordered a green, corduroy suit and black suede shoes from National Bella Hess. Since I spent all I had on those two items and a shirt, I needed money to buy red socks and matching kerchief. I didn't know if momma had it or not, but I'd ask her for the money. Just as I planned it, I gave her some line about how I needed five dollars to purchase her a gift. With mom, I could feed her any line, and get money if she had it. She just whipped it out, and off I went to

National Shirt Shop, and bought those accessories. Not too my surprise, there wasn't much left. I purchased a fifty cents handkerchief, wrapped it up and gave it to her, She was ultimately disappointed, and hurt. I was too old to whip, but was not pleased, she scolded me for doing such an underhanded thing. She let momma have an ear full. She would've done one of two things; either took me to where I wanted to purchase the gift, or opted out of my buying her a gift altogether. I would've felt so bad at her justifying why she didn't need a gift, I would've wound up taking my outfit back and purchase something for her anyway. But God got even with me. I loaned Marvin the pants to my suit, and the next day I saw him shooting hoops with them on, and the entire rear ripped open.

In as much as I didn't get a lot of gifts, our holiday meals weren’t anything special either. She never cooked a family Christmas dinner. A few times she would be invited to eat with the neighbors, she would have them put it in a plate and bring it home for the two of us to share. Other times she'd make chicken and dumplings, and for dessert she would either make sweet potato pies, potato pone, or just baked sweet potatoes. Thanksgivings weren't any better food wise. It wasn't until I was in the service I had my first taste of turkey. There were no turkey hunters in our family. Those who were in the community rarely killed a turkey either for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Two of my boyhood buddies used to tease me, how, Lum'ma would always say, "If ya'll kill a turkey, make show ya’ll put my name in the pot.”


In somewhat a contradiction, in all she passed along to me about staying on an even keel, I didn't realize until I had long since left home, I wasn't the smartest kid in the world

Of the most valuable examples she set was, (and it's probably one of several reasons I never grew up with chip on my shoulder) she never hated anyone, be they he or she White or Black. She wouldn't allow me to either, if she knew about it. Granted there were a few of both she didn't like, she didn't get to be old living the life of mother Teresa. Nobody, don't owe you a thing, she would often say. Cause all you got coming out of this life is a living and a killing. And you hope the last come late and the first come early.

She would often caution me, common sense would carry you a lot further than book smarts in dealing with whatever mess came up. Over the years, another bit of wisdom stuck with me as well; if you do good; good will come back to you. I've found that to be the most powerful piece, she has ever passed along. Her words still reverberate in my mind when I think back time and time again, especially when I find myself trying to hoodwink; or bamboozle others. Almost every child in my community lived in a two parent household, I was the exception, although, she was like both parents. She wielded a firm hand as a father would, and yet had the sensitivity of a mother. When she assumed the firm hand a father would, she would go biblical on me with her; spare the rod and spoil the child. If not that one it would be, bend the sapling while it's young. Since I was hardheaded, she had to do a lot of bending. I also remember it was hard for me to get over on her. She could see right through me, and state flat out; "you're lying like a puppy, I’m an old dog don't treat me like a pup." She was hard to trick as well. I recall once after I left for the military, and came home on my first leave, I bought a bottle of wine and mixed it in with her favorite beverage, strawberry soda water. As much as she liked strawberry soda water, she sensed something wasn't right and didn't drink it.

It's only now that I have a sense of how much she cherished me. She was the doting grandmother, yet she possessed the wisdom to keep me humble. When she suspected me of getting the bighead; she’d keep me humbled by reminding me, don’t get too big for my britches, or my favorite; it’s a poor frog that won’t praise his own pond. One reason I probably haven't had many peaks in valleys in my demeanor, she forever drilled in me to keep a level head.

In somewhat a contradiction, in all she passed along to me about keeping a level head, I didn't realize until I had long since left home, I wasn't the smartest kid in the world. In an underhanded way she instilled that in me. The most wonderful part about it, she didn't put anybody down to make me seem taller. My best buddy Marvin, she looked upon him as one of her own, and was always proud of him until we fought, then she'd tell him he'd better get his yella belly home, before she took a switch to him. As I grew older she slowly allowed me to ease from under her thumb. Three other of her favorites came along, my younger brother Tommy, Cou'n Pang’s Velma, and Mitty’s Joyce, then later my brother’s oldest daughter, Tina. While she soon became her favorite, I don’t think it ever supplanted our closeness. I think in the back of her mind she never felt she humbled me, to the point where as I wouldn't be as restless and curious about the world in which we didn‘t live.


That evening before going home I went by moms and she informed me about what happened. That is the first time, I ever thought of the possibility, she might die sometimes, expectedly or unexpectedly

What I still loved most about her today, she wasn't a complainer, or whiner. When I was either in the fifth or sixth grade, she cut her hand so badly; it's a wonder she didn't die. She had an old yellow cat, she called old cat. One morning after she sent me off to school, she was taking out the trash to be burned. There was an empty Spam can; she was taking out as well. Her feet got tangled with cat, and she fell on the can splitting her hand. Bleeding profusely, she wrapped it as tight as she could, and called for mom. Since there was no one left in the community with a car that day, they started walking toward Vernon, sixteen miles away. Momma recalled it seemed she would pass out any moment. They walked three miles up highway 79 and nary a soul stopped to help them. It seemed obvious they needed help, when they reached a neighbor in the Sugar Doll Potter community; H L was there and took her to Chipley, some 38 miles away to have her hand stitched. It took twenty-six stitches to close the wound. That evening before going home I went by moms and she informed me about what happened. That was the first time, I ever thought of the possibility, she might die sometimes, expectedly or unexpectedly. To me death was something that occurred in other's family. I left in a huff, and was as nervous as a kid could be, I found her sitting, reading as though nothing happened, dinner was ready, and the table was set. I wanted to kill the cat, but she wouldn't let me. She accepted the blame for what happened. From that day to this, I've never liked cats. But she kept them around because it helped keep the rats in check.

Lum'ma was also an economic forecaster, she always believed in setting something aside, she always felt Hoover's time would come again, and while it wasn’t Hoover times, it was more like Jimmie Carter’s time in the late 70's when inflation was out of control. And while she was in the last few years of her life, she saw many similarities between the times. For the first time since the depression she saw, White folk feeling the same pinch as that she knew years before.


When the Grand Ole Opry came on the radio, I would have to sit very, very still and be quite.

Today I see many of us walking for the exercise, she walked because she didn't want to depend on anyone to take her anyplace if foot could reach it, and by the same token she relished riding in cars. During the summer, if we went to visit Aunt Effie, we would walk, she, Marvin and I. Because we were small, she’d walk so far and find a nice shade tree and let us rest, and then we would walk again. There were times when we would run ahead, and she would call out to us if we got too far, " boys, ya'll look out for snakes." When we tired she would stop again until we got there. She would visit with Aunt Effie, and when the sun was about two o’ clock high, we'd light out again for home. If we were going to visit Aunt Laura in the other direction, Marvin couldn't go, because that meant we were spending the night. She wouldn't let me walk ahead of her. I had to walk behind, because we were walking through the thickets with a very tiny trail.

We would take the shortcut through Moody's pasture, past the double pond, come out and walk across highway 79 by the mill lake, then in his other pasture, coming out at H L Potter's place, then through Tiger town to get to the Mill Creek (It was called Tiger town because it seemed there were always fights and confusions going on there), crossing two spring branches before reaching first Uncle Bish's place, where we’d stop and rest, then cross two more branches before reaching Aunt Laura's.

What I liked most about spending the night there, for sure there would be chicken and dumplings, biscuits, pear preserves, and buttermilk to drink. I could also play with my cousin Maggie who was the same age. On an occasion there would be a prizefight on radio, we would walk down to Aunt Laura's brother-in-law Tom to hear it. I recall one night when Joe Louis fought Ezzard Charles; she was all set to listen to the fight, because she’d never listened to a fight before. The radio signal was too weak to pick it up, she seemed to take it in stride, but I could tell she was disappointed.

It was just as well, because Joe Louis lost. Today, I prefer radio to television. Perhaps the reasons being, we never owned a T V, and in reality only had one radio of our own, as I recalled. That never stopped us from listening in the evening. She would open the back door and we could hear it blaring from Cou'n Pang. Sometimes on Saturday evening, Lum'ma and I would visit her, or venture over to momma’s to listen to the Grand ole Opry. She was a huge Minnie Pearl fan, especially when she would make her entrance using her now famous greeting, Howwwwdeeee! Lum'ma would laugh so hard sometimes there would be tears in her eyes. I had to sit very, very still and remain very quiet because she didn't want to miss a single word of Minnie Pearl‘s skit. It didn't matter that she would have to sit through all of the country and bluegrass music. She loved to hear Red Foley sing, Peace In The Valley, her favorite. It was that five minutes of Minnie Pearl that made it all seem worthwhile. Radio in retrospect helped me develop my sense of imagination. When it was over she would stay around to let me listen to Gangbusters or Gunsmoke, not that she was interested, but knew I liked it. On an occasional weeknight, I could visit to listen to Amos n Andy, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly.



Though she wasn't there to see it, in the tenth grade, I won the countywide public speaking contest for her. She hired someone to take me the thirty-two miles that evening, and when I returned telling her about it, one would've thought; it was her who won, and in a way it was, because she kept me motivated, by telling me I was lucky to be chosen. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was chosen by default, by our English teacher Mrs. Annie R Campbell, because no one volunteered and she selected Kipling's poem 'If‘. It was a great suggestion, because the audience raved. I think luckily for me, the judges were White from the county school board. In my heart, I believe if it had been left up to the Black Chipley city snobs, I wouldn't have had a chance. It also helped I nailed it. That poem was exemplified every thing Lum'ma tried to teach.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,

If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will, which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

As much as winning the public speaking contest being one of the highlights of my high school days, there were shameful ones that preceded it. In my freshman year, I became a member of the now disbanded NFA Negro Farmers of America. (today it is incorporated into FFA, Future Farmers Of America, which was the southern White counterpart during the era of segregated schools).

There was an annual tradition of having a banquet in the spring. At the start of the school year we would raise chickens and grow vegetables for the affair. When spring came around, I wasn't thrilled, because the invited guests were our parents. I was ashamed of them and really didn't want to invite either one, neither momma nor Lum'ma. But because Marvin invited his mother, Cou'n Pang, I felt locked in. Two weeks before the banquet, the school authorized the use of the school bus to bring every one up from our community. Everyone was excited; both momma and Lum'ma were beaming ear to ear. To my relief I could only take one in, and Lum'ma readily opted out, by agreeing to stay on the bus and baby-sit Tommy. The week leading up to the banquet, momma purchased something nice to wear, and had her hair done. The night of the banquet, all of the members of the N F A proudly strolled in with their parents. I eased momma in making sure she sat in the right place, then eased out and hid out in the bus until the ceremony was over. Momma never questioned what happened, she felt proud and enjoyed the meal. She also brought leftovers, and they went home proud. A few years after Lum'ma died, and I was in my forties, momma mentioned the occasion again fondly, she joked about my disappearing act. It was like sticking a stake through my heart. Over the years, I have reckoned with myself as to why?

In a way, in 1960 I redeemed myself sort of. I finished high school an honor student. That June evening I marched in the auditorium dressed in cap and gown she was beaming with pride. Before I received my diploma, I was given another meaningless award. I looked out at her she was smiling, and crying. I had done her proud.


Wives tales and cornpone philosophies and other assumptions...

At night before we went to bed, she was very structured. First, I had to wash my feet, second I couldn't get in bed without saying my prayers. She was a stickler for those two, and if I forgot, she would remind me and I would have to get up and do both. There was a time she would wave the wash your feet clause, if I donned socks. Yet, she preferred I didn't go to bed dirty, no more than she would let me out of the house the same. She constantly reminded me, just because you're po’, it don't mean you have to be dirty, always try to make yourself look presentable. She was also incessant about good hygiene. While we didn't have running water, we did have a number three washtub. I was probably 6 years old, before I got my first toothbrush. For toothbrushes, she would cut oak sticks, then chew them until the end got soft, then using Colgate tooth powder we would brush our teeth, and then soak the brush in a glass of water. A crude toothbrush like that would last for about a week. In as much as she insisted on me putting on clean underwear, her reasoning was that in case something happened and I wound up in the hospital, I would have on clean underwear. I didn't have the heart to tell her; if something that bad happened, I don't think I'd be worrying too much about clean underwear, (I don't think). To this day, there are two nevers; one is to leave home with my bed unmade and the other is without clean underwear. She always said, leave the house like company’s coming.

Like many of her era, she was as full of folklore as she was wisdom. A few were universal others were quite quaint to say the least.

If you clasped your hands behind your head, you

were praying for your parents to die.

To break a mirror meant seven years of bad luck.

She considered it bad luck to wish for anything,

although she would use it in another vernacular.

If a man's index toe were longer than the big toe,

the wife would rule him.

If you walked backwards you were cussing your momma.

It was a sin to play ball on Sunday.

Trimming fingernails on Monday, would bring

money during the week

If the right hand itched, meant money was coming,

yet if it was the left hand, it meant letter was coming.

If the left eye twitched someone was going make you mad,

and vise versa for the right one.

It was bad luck to use the house broom to sweep outside.

One of my favorites, she wouldn't let a pregnant woman

comb her hair, for fear it would fall out, it also applied

to her scuppernong grape vine.

It was bad luck for a man to wear his hat in the house.

She believed if a man killed another, then all of the sins

of the dead man would passed along to the killer

Trash shouldn't be swept outdoors after dark because

it meant sweeping luck out with it.

Wearing new clothing to a funeral was bad luck.

It wouldn't be long before there would be news of a new death.

Therefore she suggested we wear them to visit a neighbor.

A male child, who has never seen his father,

can cure thrash of the mouth by blowing his breath in it.

The signs of the zodiac represented different parts of the body.

Where the sign was at that time during the month,

that part of the body was vulnerable to infections.

I recall once I needed a tooth extracted badly, but because the sign was in my jaw at the time, I had to wait until it moved.

The old twelve days were those proceeding Christmas.

Those were the days to plant flowers or fruit trees.

It was also an indicator of how the weather would be during the month it represented.

Everyone in the world gave her their junk, clothing, tables, chairs, anything they were too lazy to take to the dump they brought it to her. She would accept it graciously. When I grew older, I asked why? She believed that when others gave you something you should accept it, other wise you'd be blocking their blessing.

If there was any validity in that, one of her grand nieces is going to be right up there with Job. I don't want to seem bigady, and I know Lum'ma is somewhere shaking her head; but today I don't accept anything I don't want. My mother became just like her and John as well.

Lum'ma was the most principled person I've ever known, repeatedly instilled them in me, because she knew, I was headstrong and needed every word of it.

To her if a person’s word wasn’t any good, then they weren't either. Your word is your bond. She also had a number other favorite sayings, these are among my favorites.

You can’t get blood from a turnip, butter from a duck,

and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Nothing beats a try cept a failure;

Always look before you leap

It’s a poor frog that won't praise its own pond.

If you lie you’ll steal; cause lying is stealing

Let every tub settle on it's own bottom;

Common sense will carry you further than book learning;

Spare the rod and spoil the child;

and bend the sapling while it's young;

When grown folks are talking, younguns should listen;

What you miss in the wash will come out in the rinse;

A Person ways and actions speaks louder than words;

Right is right, and it don't wrong nobody;

In looking back over the years of living away from her, a lot of the wit and wisdom she shared with me I had forgotten. But the longer I live the more it comes back to me. It’s as though she’s talking to me from the grave. The many other values she instilled of her dos and don'ts are becoming like a beacon to guide me. Today, I find myself yearning for more of her logic and cornpone wisdom.

Before it became en vogue to have humble beginnings, there was a time when I didn't mind lying, to prevent anyone from knowing. But true to her word, everyone found out, I’d tell him or her through my ignorance of the background I was portraying. Twenty years ago, this written biography with all my honesty would not have been possible. I cringe to think about, all the years I made a concerted effort hide my identity, and in essence I was denying my very own existence.

All of the chastising, and the few whippings taught me one truism that stood out above all others; she was right about everything she taught and if I adhere to the things that she was leaving behind, I would never be misguided.

Granted, I'm sure much of what she passed along were many were passed along by her parents, others were wives tales, cornpone philosophy and assumptions she learned through her own experiences, but was as the Ten Commandments, they kept you on the straight and narrow path of right and out of jail.

There were a couple of terms she used to used that always made me laugh.


When you do your best, that‘s all you can do, just make sure it's your best

In 1962, after letting another cousin persuade me to take the Air Force test, it was the values she instilled in me that prevented me from deliberately failing the exam. I graduated in 1960, and took various odd jobs, although the smart thing to do was continue my education in college, but not one teacher in high school encouraged me to do so. There were no guidance or career counselors for rural kids. The attitudes of most teachers to we country kids were, be glad we got a high school education. It never seemed to have mattered to them; I was more than just another student. I was a gifted actor as I got one of the lead parts in our senior play, Auntie’s Money. I was an artist who loved to draw, a poet, a published lyricist, and by even others account a very good baseball player. I even taught myself to read music and play the trombone.

Since she had neither the know-how nor the money to get me in Florida A & M, Edward Waters, or Florida Memorial, I never attended any one of them. I certainly had the grades to attend, and I think my S A T would've gotten me in the White universities, had they been available.

Probably my biggest embarrassment was during my sophomore year. Someone gave Lum'ma a pair of hand me down pants, they were a little large on me; Mrs. Campbell our English teacher took a look at me pointing out to the other students the way I was dressed, and lauded, “We certainly don‘t want anybody looking like that in our annual.”

In 1966 when I requested my high school records, for the purpose of trying to get in the University Of Minnesota, I got the shock of a lifetime. During my ninth grade year, my homeroom teacher, Mrs. McAllister entered in my records, I would never be able to learn. I Thank God I didn’t know that I didn't have the ability to learn. It could’ve had a profound adverse effect on me. Because of what Lum'ma instilled in me, I grew up thinking I was smart. 

My Cousin Hozie Peterson, who graduated in June of that year, was leading an equally frustrating life. He got the bright idea, to join the Air Force under the buddy-buddy plan. I didn't want to do anything buddy-buddy with him, because he was such a momma's boy. Yet, he kept insisting, and insisting. Had I told Lum'ma, she would've never let him set foot on our property ever again. Finally at the end of summer, I said okay just so he would stop bugging me, and I was getting restless. I didn't think he would show up on my doorstep the following day. When Lum'ma inquired about where I was going, she was stunned. If she had a baseball bat, she would've caved his head in right there. After that he was never welcomed in her home again.

The entrance exam was given at the Air Force recruiter's office. It was located on the third floor in the Dixie Sherman Hotel in Panama City. Because I wasn't ready when Hozie came for me, we arrived there with not a moment to spare. They separated us, and I could tell by the look on his face, he was panic stricken. I assumed he thought we would be sitting next to each other and we would take the exam under the buddy-buddy plan as well. Halfway through the exam, I decided I didn't want to fail. All of my young life, literarily I was among the upper echelon of my class. I got serious and finished the exam with a flurry.

Three days later, I heard from Hozie. He received notice that he hadn't passed the exam. He asked if I’d received mine. After a week or two passed, I was really kicking myself in the pants. I really didn't care whether I went in to the military or not. I was more bent, that I hadn't passed the exam. When you do your best, that‘s all you can do, just make sure it‘s your best, then when you look back you ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of. Those words of hers kept resounding in my ears. After a week and few days passed I was really feeling down. I knew I hadn’t done my best. I wanted to leave the place desperately. Over the years, I’d watched other trying to leave, they would go someplace stay a while, but returned. I made a vow I would not follow their paths. Granted they had great stories to tell, but I wanted my own, and wanted to be a part of those faraway places. By watching movies, I knew the culture well. Since I was 19, and not getting any younger, I realized the longer I stayed the more difficult it would be to get out.

Three weeks passed, and Cou'n Sooney's daughter asked me, if I got my letter. I didn't have a clue as to what she was talking about. (In those days, after the Millers Ferry RFD, we were assigned a community mailbox; everybody's mail came to Star Route Box 27-A). The mailbox actually belonged to Cou'n Sooney, but who ever walked the quarter mile or so picked up the mail and dropped it off at their home. I went a lot because I enjoyed following sports and reading the funny papers. Immediately I took off for their home. No one was there but as was tradition during those times, the doors weren't locked any way. No one did in that community. There were letters and box holders lying by the radio. I nervously shuffled through them, until I saw an official looking one with my name on it. I had mixed emotions about opening it. I took the letter and walked outside, it was though I was in a daze. I opened it slowly, and began to read. Robert Anderson Technical Sergeant U S A F signed it. After reading his brief note it seemed the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulder. While I hadn't done my best, I passed the exam.

The letter was sitting there at their home for three weeks. Hozie seemed heartbroken when I told him about the results, but not as heartbroken as Lum'ma. At first she grew quiet, and withdrawn. The thought it was nice that I passed the test, yet then she proceeded to question me if I really was gwine jine. Perhaps, this was her last ditch effort to save me from myself or perhaps she knew this was the end of our relationship, as we knew it. I would now join the world community, instead of being a part of the small Redhead one.

The age of reason however, had dawned upon the both of us. I was now officially making my own decisions.

Initially, I led her to believe I might not, but deep inside I knew, this was my ticket out of the thicket. Then I told her, I was gonna do it. I was actually going join the Air Force. The expression on her face, told me how much she loved me and the sadness she felt.

She pleaded with me again not to. I would've pleaded my side of the story, but I don’t think she would’ve understood. Granted she didn't give up with bringing out the heavy artillery, she cautioned me about the stories she’d heard of how rough soldiers were treated in the army and she warned about the horrors of war. She didn't understand the difference between the branches of service. Then she came at me with I was being hardheaded, then cautioned me that a hard head makes a soft behind.

I would hear none of that, with or without her blessing it was a done deal.

I think one reason she let go eventually, was because of an incident that happened at Sooney’s Cafe a year earlier.

Older folk had a thing about dying with their boots on. After that, she realized that could happen to me there as well.

Jolly Brown was a family man, but could be trifling after having a drink or two. I recall once her telling me, that Cou’n Rensor Brown prophesied that he one day would die with his boots on. Low and behold on a hot Sunday night in August of 1961, he got in a dispute with Willie Hogan, and was shot several times in front of Sooney’s Café. He died either on the way, or at the hospital. I have always been curious, if my Cousin Fonso (Alphonso), who drove him the thirty-two miles bother to take his shoes off, or if he died in the emergency room, did they remove his shoes? When older folk badmouthed (prophesied), someone she believed it would come to pass. She remembered, my Aunt Clara had prophesied that Leo, Sheby, and I, would be in the reform school before reaching the age of twenty-one if we didn't change our ways. In 61, I was three years shy of my twenty-first birthday.


It would take several years, after her and mom's death for me to see how the over protection of me had once been at the root of all of my self-centeredness.

She always believed in what goes around, comes around, and sooner than you think. If that is true, (and I do subscribe to it in many ways); I can only wait until my heart is broken a thousand times by my own. I'm reasonably certain I have run up an awfully high tab. I can see all of the youthful me in him. What's different now is, it's illegal to paddle his bottom.

There's a phrase that I hear often, it's always about in order to get the most out of life, one has to be willing to work hard. To those who like to bandy that phrase about; I say, “I know where there is a four by eight by six plot of ground. The person buried there is the embodiment of that phrase, but other than a piece of sand land that’s so barren, nothing will grow there.” That’s exactly what she has to show for a lifetime of hard work. It would take several years, after her and mom's death for me to see how their over protection of me had once been at the root of all of my self-centeredness; living with her, my chores were simple, I had to sometimes slop the hogs when she owned them, cut wood for the stove, and tote water. Not that we were living in the lap of luxury, but in hindsight I was living in a lap of poverty luxury, as far as simplicity went. But every morning, Sunday through Saturday, when I arose there was a hot breakfast waiting, albeit I did have to get up before dawn to get it fresh and hot, if not she would reheat it. There would always be fresh biscuits, either preserves, or fried syrup. On other occasions there would be flapjacks, or corn cakes, and some type of juice. Because I used to watch how much she savored her coffee as my brother John did before me, I began asking for a cup, and while she never said no, as she told my brother before me, "You oughtna drink coffee, cause coffee will make you black". Which prompted me to ask, "Lum'ma, I thought you said black is honest? Don't you want me to be honest?” As she was pouring me a cup, she insisted I drink it with milk.

In retrospect, she must have been right, she was very berry black, however it must have made her strong as well, because she was one of the strongest person in will and resolve that I've ever known, bar none. 

When, I decided to leave home, I may as well have driven a dagger through her heart. I never conferred with anyone in the family. It never occurred to me, Lum'ma being well in her seventies could be hurt by my insolence, or that she may need someone to look after her. All I know was I wanted the heck out of Vernon. As a result of her effort, my life had been easier than most. I got almost anything I wanted, whether she could afford it or not.


Had it not been for Lum'ma drilling in me the way I was to go, my life would’ve gone in a different direction, and perhaps I would’ve traveled the route of the drug culture, and a lot of other things that would've landed me in jail.

It's taken until after her death, but I understand why, she always pitied me. I know now it was because; she felt she didn't have the money to buy me things she felt I deserved.

When I left home, I had several things in mind, but foremost it was to make something of my self (never once realizing she already had).

I also wanted to make her proud; and show her the sacrifices she made hadn't been wasted on me. Initially I wanted to make the Air Force a career. Once in there, I started thinking it was too slow. Now that I was on my own, I wanted to get on the fast tract, just like the movies. I never thought about giving back to her then, somehow I took it for granted there would be plenty time for that. Immediately, I missed my first opportunity, because I could have made out an allotment to her. After settling in military life, doubt began to set in if I really did want to be a career person. Maybe the company I kept influenced me. Most didn't want to make it a career, thus that became my thinking. After spending a couple of years on my first base, I felt much too big for Vernon. I knew that if I went back, I wouldn't go quietly, I would be kicking and screaming all the way. The idea of putting a few dollars on the side began to occur to me. If I got out and didn't go back home, I would need a safety net. Yet, my thoughts were, if I sent that money home, (though wrong), I wouldn't see a dime. Between momma and Lum'ma all my money would be gone before the ink was dry on my discharge papers. I was all prepared to go home, before my next assignment, when I discovered my cousin Charles, (Uncle Bish's eldest son) lived in Minneapolis.

When I passed through, I was impressed with what I saw, He seemed to be doing well; I liked that and decided to move there.

In spite of his blowing the money I sent him to tide me over, I recovered quickly and climbed the ladder of success rather quickly and lived there until 1983. By 1976, I was living the life of a boy wonder. It seemed everything I touched turned to gold, (or was it rust), from some legitimate and not so legitimate business concerns. I thought at the time there would be three things I would never run out of money women and youth. In 1979, things had gotten so tough, a friend had to donate me enough money for plane fare. My sudden tumble off the high horse was in part due to my taking care of myself and not taking care of business. I made several poor business decisions, and financially it caught up to me. Before my 36th birthday I had reached the proverbial wall.

God took over where she couldn’t. He has a way of making us pay for pass transgressions, while we are still among the living.

By 1980, what I considered my fortune was gone; I sold plasma, and delivered sales fliers to get money for food. In reality, I was one lover's spat away with my lady friend Gail, from being homeless.

Had it not been for Lum'ma instilling in me the way I was to go, my life would’ve gone in a different direction, and perhaps I would’ve traveled the route of the drug culture, and a lot of other things that would've landed me in jail.


She still saw me as that little boy without a dad, who she had so little to give in the way of money.

In her latter days, what time I spent with her, I could see the Lum'ma I knew resolve was weakening. Life's hardships had taken its toll on her.

The old way of living had changed drastically; the sense of our family unity was almost nonexistent. Everyone seemed to be doing his or her own thing. All she held dear was like the sand in an hourglass draining away. A changing of cultural values had ravaged her world. Kids were not hardheaded, but had become downright disrespectful, in that their language would make a sailor blush. They no longer listened to their parents, and parental abuse was commonplace. She was the proudest person, I've ever known. Borrowing money was something she absolutely deplored. She never liked beholding to anyone anything. I'm sure somewhere along the way, she probably borrowed her share of money to keep her family afloat, but from all the indications I got during my years, she hated it.

My brother John once confided in me, Moody respected her so much, that he would lend her any amount of money she needed to borrow, and gave her as much time as she needed to repay. Base upon his track record for obtaining land by hook or crook means, I didn't put a lot of stock in that. He called her a good paymaster. But that was the case with all the White folk within twenty miles, mention her name, and it was like American Express. All she had to do was say the word.

I recall once I came home, and she needed money to pay a bill. She languished and languished; until there was no choice but ask me. I discovered what she owed wasn't that much and paid the entire bill off. I could tell by the look in her eyes, how much she appreciated it. Yet, as much as she had given me she didn't want me to give her money. She still saw me as that little boy without a dad, who she had so little to give in the way of money.

It wasn't until years later; I got to give a little something back to her. In the early to mid 70's, her little two-room house grew over-crowded.

My older brother seemed to be having a difficult time after his wife died, I sent for him to come live in Minnesota. I'm sure she had mixed emotions about his leaving. At the behest of Lum'ma and momma (I'm sure), initially he left all seven children with them. His seven, mom, and my step dad moved in with her. That placed nine people living under one roof with her in a tiny two-bed room house. Lum'ma was growing old but certainly not helpless. Yet they all crowded in under that one roof.

Later that year, or the next, a remodeling company out of Pensacola sold them on doing the addition. I can't say for sure, but it had to be my momma who made the decision. Lum'ma wouldn't have been hoodwinked or bamboozled that way. The way the contract was written, even a four year old wouldn’t sign it. It offered little that would hold up in a court of law, yet expected every thing in return. It was one of those no money down take forever to pay for it, deals. One of the conditions was Lum'ma had to put up both her home and the land she hadn't sold to relatives, as collateral. When I found out about it, the deal was done.

The extra room that company erected wasn't fit for a hog to sleep in. There was no insulation; the lumber they used was second rate, the roof leaked, even the floor was not safe to walk upon. The gas heater was a death trap if fire had broken out. To the best of my knowledge they didn't even construct a rear door. I suggested to momma that she call the company back out to make the necessary repairs. The company responded with one broken promise after the other. When she stopped paying them, the company slapped a lien on everything she and Lum'ma owned. After grasping what was happening, I reluctantly stepped in. I flew in from Minneapolis for the over night trip, hired an attorney and got entire matter resolved, not paying another dime.

In her eyes I could see the pride, but there was sadness, it had come to this. Lum'ma was so grateful and humbled that it was I who had saved the place. I was so touched; by it I wanted to cry.

It's amazing, here I was living very comfortably, and with out so much as a thought that they were catching hell.

I think it's the first time Lum'ma looked upon me as being a man. By this time in life, however, she seemed resigned.

In the summer of 1977, I was able to reduce my indebtedness to her by some degree, I purchased a mobile home for them, and for the first time in her life, she had hot and cold running water and central heat. I only regret not building a home from the ground up, and one that had central air as well, but the old place was falling apart. It was also the last year I would ever see her in good health.

Looking back, on that holiday season, I did something that I knew was disrespectful to her household, to me and to the young lady that was with me I had just met. In the early evening hours, we went in to a bedroom and had sex.


'Raison d' etre' (reason for being)

Some time around the middle of 1978, momma called me with the news Lum'ma had the first of a series of strokes. I was devastated. Reluctantly I came to visit in December, she was overjoyed to see me, but the effects of the stroke frustrated her, she could barely speak. She would try to say something and the words wouldn't come out, and she would be so frustrated there would be tears in her eyes. As much as I tried to understand I couldn't. What I saw left me almost in a state of shock. If I could’ve I would’ve buried my head in the sand. The Lum'ma I once knew was now frail, weak, and peeked looking. Although, I wasn't willing to admit it, I felt this would be the last Christmas I would ever see her alive. When I left for Minnesota I didn't say good-bye. I felt if I didn't, she would live until I returned, (wishful thinking). Not in her wildest dream did she ever want to live long enough to be a burden to anyone, her children not with standing. She just adored their company. I could also see the stress it created for momma to have to look after her; she started showing signs of intolerance.

On the 19th of January 1979, at the age of 92, one month and a half before her 93rd birthday, she had another stroke. This one was devastating. She left this earth quietly as she slept peacefully. Some nine years later, she Aunt Lena and Aunt Charlotte came for the last living Riley, Aunt Effie. Five years after that, she came back for mom, and five years beyond that, it was Uncle Bish‘s turn. And now, we can only wait our turn. Hopefully in our beds, and it will be just at though company’s coming.

I’d like to think that last morning here on earth, she heard what she thought was a doctor calling, but it really was the voice of her Master. There was a clamor that followed. It was the morning train bound for glory. When it arrived two angels got off and called out to her!

Sister Katie! Sister Katie

Lord Child! It’s time ta go home!

It’s Sister Charlotte and Sister Lena!

opened you eyes

Your time have arrived

Ma Rose’s awaitin’

Your earthly journey is over

Give up your body let your spirit soar

Your children will be fine.

You taught ‘em well

You know, the rest of the family

Sister! They been talking bout you’

We know you want to come home

But don’t want to leave

Sister Effie and your children alone

Wondering if they’re going to fine

They grown now and Sister Effie’s old

Ease your mind and let ’em go

They’re in the Lord’s hand

Brother Oliver, Joe; Jessie and Ben

Even your African kin, you never knew,

They all waiting on you

Don’t worry bout getting gussied up

The Lord wants you just as you are

He’s got waiting on you

Brand new shoes, a long white robe

And a starry crown

Once we cross that Jordan River

Honey child! Just wait till you see

The new place he prepared you

No cooking, no cleaning, no sewing!

All you have to do is just to rest

Come, come, Sister Katie

Come on, come on don’t you want to go?

Let’s not keep Him waiting sister.

Little did I know, when she died, something in me died right along with her. She was my 'raison d'etre'. All I ever wanted my entire life was to make her proud, because she never stopped wishing the best for me, and believed I had the ability to do almost anything, I had a mind to.


There are those who may view this book as an attempt to distance myself from the Grand Pa Mack part of me, as opposed to setting the record straight. To those, I say yes, I‘m trying, but only as the hand that would reach for the mirror to view itself.

I carry with me today, one regrets. Neither is that she's no longer alive, (in 2017 she would've been 131). I never thanked her for all she gave me.

Despite her dying monetarily a poor soul, she left us her rich legacy and treasure trove of bought wisdom. She was a firm believer that bought wisdom was better than borrowed any day. It’s taken me nearly a lifetime to appreciate it. After deciding on doing her biography. I was amazed at how much I’d forgotten and even less with most of my family. Granted John’s children were a lot closer, to momma and their memories about her were much clearer, whereas my memory is that way about Lum'ma. Much of what is written is from my own recollections and that of her nieces and nephews. Although valuable, little of it came from my brothers, while the remainder was taken from official records and documents.

When I told them I had completed it, they were excited but didn't have a clue as to what I’d written that they didn't already know. Much to their surprise and mine, there were names dates and places none of us ever knew existed.

While many questions have been answered, there were even more left unanswered. All of my life, she was extremely close to Aunt Effie. Was she content to let bygones be bygones, or did Grandma Rose intervene before she died in 1915?

What was it like to have a constant reminder of his infidelity living under her roof? Was he a ladies man, and when did he start to show signs of mental instability? Was he emotionally weak, other than in areas of the flesh? One thing I discovered after I grew up, Lum'ma was a passive man’s biggest nightmare. She couldn’t stand complacency. What attracted her to him? Were any of his brothers like him? This would not be for the sake of condemnation, because to condemn him would be to condemn myself.

There are those who will view this book as an attempt to distance myself from the Grand Pa Mack part of me, as opposed to setting the record straight. To those, I say yes, I‘m trying, but only as the hand that would reach for the mirror to view itself to see the truth.

After all before she was a Riley, Grandma Rose was a Peterson. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps Grandpa Mack was a cousin. It’s not beyond the realms of possibilities for those times. Yet, I realized for legitimacy sake, many former slaves took the last names of their slave masters.

One would say ultimately; regardless to the number of times different men who came into her life for different reason knocked her down. But each time she was knocked down, she got up time and time again. It didn't matter if it was Grand Pa Cyp, Grand Pa Mack, or James Moody. Ultimately the last man standing in her small world wasn’t a man at all. One might say in spite of what she didn’t have, she was blessed, by the Almighty Himself, she out lived Grandpa Cyp, she witnessed the demise of Grandpa Mack, and she lived long enough to see James Moody’s land holdings diminished to a 4 by 8 foot plot of ground in Evergreen Cemetery in nearby Panama City, Florida; she outlived them all.

When I was putting this biography together, one Saturday morning, I called my Cousin Edna (Girl Baby), just to confirm much of what I already knew. I found her ailing, and still in bed, but when we finished the conversation, she told me the conversation inspired her to get up and stir. I felt even better knowing that a single telephone call accomplished two things: I made someone I cherished feel better, and I got much appreciated information to fill in the gaps about Lum'ma. I also contacted Cou'n Uleane, one of Aunt Charlotte’s daughters, she was equally as glad to hear from me, I added her to my regular call list. Before she passed, I would occasionally call Cou'n Gertrude another of Aunt Charlotte’s daughter and Cou'n Rosie Lee Aunt Effie‘s oldest daughter. Though I was picking their brain, they seemed to enjoy it. That’s where the idea of doing a book first came to me. We would have long chats about the sisters, (mainly they would talk and I would listen). It took her death, the death of mom, Aunt Effie, and Cou'n Pang, to appreciate how uplifting a simple telephone call can mean to the elderly. During those days I would call them; I could here the excitement in their voice, and at the end of the conversation, they would both thank me for calling. I didn’t get it; I thought it was because she was glad to hear from me, and in part I’m sure it was. But now I know what the underlying reason is: When you are old, and someone takes the time to think of you enough to make the call, it makes you feel better. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to learn, our elderly Black folk are the vanishing Americans. Granted we do pay lip service to them by checking on them once in a while, but it’s just that, lip service.

Unless they are ill, we really don’t care much about what goes on in their lives and certainly very little about their past. I think the most difficult part about growing old is not the aches and pains from a body that’s in decline, but the mind. We remember the times in our mind when were younger, and each day that passes distant us from those times. I think the greatest understanding about life comes from living it one day at a time: Grow old and grow smart.

To the young, it's making a simple telephone call. To the elderly, it’s the world that’s calling. For the most part they think the world of them, thus they are the world to them. All too often we take it for granted that they're there, and will be there until we say it‘s time to go. But as we all know, it doesn’t work that way. The thing about death, its arrival is most sure, but it’s timing is uncertain, and once it arrives all goodbyes are permanent. We don’t get do-overs. After death for the survivors it’s filled with, I wished I would’ve could’ve, should’ve.

That’s my situation with Lum'ma, I wished I would’ve told her, just how much she meant to me, I could’ve, and know I should’ve, but the reality is I didn’t. I did learn my lesson, however and told mom, often. For a long time now, I have come to believe, it's a blessing from God for our parents to live long enough for us to take care of them.


For every day of sunshine in her life, there was a season of rain.

These are the dozen most important things I learned from

her bought wisdom, of which often referred to a Lum‘ma’s

Peterson Principle.

1. What goes around comes around.

2. Respect others, even if they don‘t respect themselves.

3. Always say what you mean and mean what you say, don’t

make idle threats

4. God help folks that help themselves.

5. Don’t throw off on or make light of people.

6. If you play with a puppy, it will lick your mouth;

don’t play around with children who may not take you

serious later.

7. If you lay down with dogs, don’t be surprise if you wake up

with fleas.

8. If you live fast you will die young. The graveyard is

just as full of young people as old ones.

9. A little bit of something is better that a whole lot of


10. Don’t ever use color as an excuse not to do your best.

If any thing use it as motivation to try your hardest.

11. Nobody is going to give you anything in this world, so

don‘t expect it.

12. Always do for yourself, that way you won’t be

beholding to nobody.

She was never a quitter at anything until the very end, I don’t believe she got tired

of her conditions, and gave in to it. I think God had to say enough was enough.

Otherwise, she believed there was always a way to work through it. Her favorite

saying was give out but don't give up. By the same token, she never said it


she took great pride in her off springs. I don’t know why but she took great pride

in me, not because I ever accomplished anything, but I had a good

head on my shoulder, as she put it. Yet, so that I wouldn't get the big head, she

never stopped reminding me, it's a poor frog that don't praise it own pond.

I don’t believe Lum'ma was receptive much to social change; she liked the old

ways when Colored stayed around Colored and White around White. Yet, she fully

anticipated it and moreover was adapted to it. When I see myself today, and think

of the way she was then, I realize in spite of her resistance to change, most of her

core values, took change in account. Furthermore, as she grew older, she

mellowed with time and learned to tolerate those she had no time for.

It's ironic now as I recalled those times, I never fully appreciated all she did and

the many sacrifices she made for me. I never empathized or tried feeling her pain.

It is only now that I have passed her way, I'm able to grasp the importance of her

effort. Somewhere along the way after leaving home and surviving

the turbulent 60‘s, I got very materialistic and became all about me, and complete

turned my back away from the way she raised me.

It seems each day now, however; I appreciate her wisdom more and more. And as

the old saying goes, she keeps getting smarter everyday from the grave.

If I live long enough, maybe I will come to regard her as a genius.

Was she different from any other grandma? God only knows.

I’ve come to believe that for every day of sunshine in her life, however, there was a season of rain. Yet, in spite of her setbacks and hardships, her determination was an umbrella, as it always shielded her from being drenched.

One thing that has been omitted entirely until now was, her actually using the word love. It was a term she never used. In all of my years, I never heard the word love come out of her mouth. It was one of those unspoken things she’d show through her ways and actions, that way we knew it were genuine. It wouldn't be until after her death, we would use the word love among us. Today, we never say goodbye to any family member without saying, I love you. I never said it to her; likewise she never said it to me. We just knew it.

As Monk continued to read, while the body was being lowered in the freshly dug grave, he recited the lines I've heard numerous times before

and since; “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me

will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never

die.” Then it hit me; this was it. Her life was over. Granted, I could visit

her grave a thousand times, but that’s all it would ever be, visiting.

All verbal communications had been terminated forever.

Most attending this home going service approached me immediately afterwards,

inquiring, as to which one of her grandchildren I was. They introduced

themselves as cousins, her nieces, nephews or acquaintances. As keeping

with tradition they shared their fondest memories or anecdotes, and offered their

condolences. They would end with an atypical sentiment, “she had had a good

long life and now was in a better place“. I was so tempted ask how do you know?

A long life doesn't necessarily equate to a good life. She caught living hell every

step of the way. Only God knows if there’s a better place awaiting her once she

surrendered her body.

After the casket was lowered, and I could no longer see it, this was it; from this

moment on she would only be history.

I know, in spite of her enjoying the company of her ancestors, brothers,

sister’s nieces and nephews, she’s keeping an eye on the rest of us.

Regardless to what we did or where we played, she knew where we

were and would caution us; don’t run off now, stay where I can see you

and watch out for snakes now, ya’ll hear?

You were there to be my shelter when the rains came

You were there until the blue skies came out again

You were the joy in my sorrow that helped eased my pain

You were my reassurance things would be all right again

You were the one who encouraged me, be all I can be

Now that you are gone, who will be here for me?


To answer the burning question why no Riley was in attendance at the Riley-Jackson Family Reunion, there isn’t a lot of then around, neither now nor ever

With the exception of Lum'ma all of the Riley women married for better or worse and remained lifetime partners having lots of children. Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Gene were married for 55 years, Aunt Effie and Uncle Doany for about the same. Aunt Lena married to Uncle Ben Jackson died young in 1934.

There also have never been at any time since the union of Cyp and Rose Riley more than 15 off springs bearing the last name Riley at any one time. The first 8, after the women all married, the number dwindled to 4. Subsequently, Uncle Ben had the largest number 6, James, John, Ophelia, Frank, Cyrus, and Mary.

In 1950 there were the 4 brothers, and his 6. He died in 1950, in the late 50's, Frank began his family, and the number grew by 2. Yet, in that same decade, Joe, and Jessie died. Frank however, sired only one son with the eight daughters by the 1960's, yet Uncle Oliver died in that decade as well. An even greater irony, no Riley male until the late 1970s ever lived to see his grandchildren. In 2000 there was only one could make that distinction, and that's second generation Frank Riley who is also now deceased.

Currently the oldest living Riley in 2007 is Cyrus senior 69, has a son Cyrus junior, and three grand children, of which only one (Ben) carries the name. There are a total of four males left what carry the Riley name. Cyrus Sr (2015 deceased), Cyrus Jr, Kenneth, and Ben.

To answer the burning question why no Riley was in attendance at the Riley-Jackson Family Reunion, there isn’t a lot of then around, neither now nor ever. It wasn’t until 1999 before I discovered why none on the men ever lived to 70. But that is in and of itself a story for another time. As she would acknowledge when she agreed with a point, you said a mouth full there.


A book recording your deeds will be to you. Those who receive this book in their right hand will read it; they will not suffer any injury. But those who have been blind in this life will be blind in the life to come, going further astray. Qu‘ran”

The Deceased Bloodline

If you believe in forever, and a place called paradise, where the soul goes to rest, then she’s there with the rest of the Cyp Riley and Rose Riley clan; Lena Riley Jackson, Charlotte Emeline Riley Jackson, and Mary Effie, Riley Potter Joseph Riley, Thomas Oliver Riley, Benjamin Riley, Jessie Riley,

Louella Riley Peterson Potter, Benjamin “Bish“ Riley Peterson, Plezzie Riley Peterson, Franklin Riley Jackson, Alvin Riley Jackson, Joseph Riley Potter, Thomas Riley Potter, Henry James Riley Potter, L C Riley Jackson, John Louis Jackson Riley, Tilton Riley Jackson, Clarence Riley Jackson, Jessie Riley Jackson, Hathaway Riley Jackson, Rutherford Riley Jackson, Willard Riley Jackson, Robert Riley Jackson, James Riley, John Riley, Frank Riley, James Riley Jackson, Alphonso Riley Jackson, Coretha Riley Jackson, Willie Riley Jackson, Cleola Riley Jackson, Rhodie Riley Jackson, Rosanna Riley Jackson, Rosie Lee Riley Potter Edwards, Sandra Diane Riley Jackson Smith Walker, Gertrude Riley Jackson Carter, Annie Riley Jackson Smith, Rosa Riley Jackson Hartsfield. I know there are a number of names not mentioned here, thus I beg for forgiveness.

It’s Finished

And from those of us among the living that she loved so dearly, we can only say, well done! You set great examples and taught us well, and though we never told you, we loved you just as much.

Peace and blessing be unto them, peace and blessing be unto us all