And the fact that she had been to college meant that she could become a teacher. That was the highest ambition a mother could have for her daughter back then, to become a teacher or a nurse. I believe my mother wanted me to be a teacher, and surely the respect she showed for Miss Grace was an incentive to me. But as powerful as that incentive was, I believe that it was those two facts together that really struck me. She had left her hometown and she had gotten her education. I started thinking even then about whether those two facts were correlated. Could getting an education help me leave home? What else could it do? I truly believe that having Miss Grace as a teacher shaped my life. She's a big part of the reason why I started down the path I've followed to this day.
The second thing that started me down the path I've followed to this day is what happened to my four eldest brothers on a Saturday night in 1955. I must have been about nine years old.
My four eldest brothers are all just one year apart in age. My mother had her first four kids one right after the other--in 1927, '28, '29, and '30. Since they were all boys, and so close in age, they grew up together as close as any siblings can be. Every chore they did, they did together. Every bit of cotton they picked, they picked standing side by side in the rows. And everywhere they went, they went together. So of course when they went out on this particular Saturday night, they went to the local nightclub, or "juke," together. It's very important to know that my brothers went to the juke on Saturday nights, but they went to the juke because there was nowhere else for black people to go. They weren't interested in some of the nasty business that happened in those jukes, and they certainly weren't interested in drinking. My daddy didn't allow that.
CQ, the youngest of the four, would have been the driver. I wouldn't have paid too much attention to them when they left the house that night. Like I said, they went out every Saturday night. But I certainly remember what happened when they came back to the house that night. Somebody must have woken me up, because it was that bad.
My four brothers ... it's difficult for me to even describe it because they don't beat people like that anymore. They just don't. There was blood everywhere. I mean, CQ's face was beaten so badly that both of his eyes were closed. My other brothers looked like they had swallowed golf balls. Everyone was spitting blood. There were broken bones, broken nose, broken teeth.. and we didn't know what might be broken inside. They couldn't even walk.
Excerpted from The Promise by Oral Lee Brown with Caille Millner Copyright © 2005 by Oral Lee Brown. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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