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Excerpt from Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person, Richard Rooker, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Buses Are a Comin'

Memoir of a Freedom Rider

by Charles Person, Richard Rooker

Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person, Richard Rooker X
Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2021, 304 pages

    Jan 2022, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Life in the Bottom

Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he had done to one life multiplied millions of times over these United States and the world. He walks us on a tightrope from birth.

—Rosa Parks


Our neighbor had a peach tree in his yard. A vegetable garden, too. I loved fruit. So did my cousin, Kenneth Booker. We craved juicy flavors created by sinking our teeth into tree-ripe Georgia peaches.

We felt the fuzz on the fruit and checked our chins to see if we were growing any. Neither Kenneth nor I were yet ten years old. No fuzz.

Our neighbor was—who knew how old? Thirty? Fifty? One hundred twenty? In the early 1950s, kids didn't know the ages of adults. They were adults. They were old. We were kids—young, full of fun, and hungry.

The sun was hot. Summers in Atlanta can be sweltering. Swelter builds thirst. Thirst builds temptation. Temptation yields to naughty.

Some days Kenneth and I pretended we were marines fighting in Korea in the bitter cold of the recent disaster at Chosin Reservoir. This day we were the US army attacking Nazi Germany as my father had when we were toddlers. We stuck sticks out our sleeves and small twigs out our pant cuffs to camouflage our assault. We crawled on our bellies, then climbed the neighbor's fence to penetrate the "German" perimeter.

The tree had no chance; the garden, no protection. We plucked peaches. We stole vegetables. We escaped. We crawled back. Our bellies hugged the earth until reaching the fence. Our heads moved back and forth keeping watch for the enemy. Our Raid on Peach Tree succeeded.

The plan was to tell Mom we had saved our pennies, walked to the grocery store, and purchased the food so she could make us vegetable soup and peach pie. That made sense to us. So, as we filled Mom's ears with fibs, our mouths dripped peach juice. We were proud. We were happy. We were stupid.

Mom marched us over to the neighbor and made us knock on his door. Hinges creaked. It might have been the old man's joints. The huge door opened. Mom stood behind me. Her eyes bore down on my head. I felt them. Being nine and two years older than Kenneth, I knew she would make me do the talking. I started stuttering.

"We…" I paused.

"Go on," Mom commanded in a voice both soft and steel.

"We stole peaches and vegetables from your garden."

I don't know if my quivering voice made my knees knock or my shaking knees made my words tremble.

"Keep going." Mom was not going to make this easy. Her quiet voice echoed enforcement more than volume would have.

Words stumbled out.

"We can repay you for what we've eaten. Here's the rest of what we took."

"Took?" Mom's voice challenged.

"Stole." She made me say the word a second time.

I tilted my head back so my eyes could meet the neighbor's eyes. Mom insisted we make eye contact with people as we spoke. Adding a second offense to stealing would not go well. I knew that. I kept my head tilted.

The neighbor's face was so far up. When you are caught in your guilt, it is a stretch to see beyond your shame. But there he was looking down on me. I didn't like it when people looked down on me.

His face looked stern. Then a miracle happened.

"Boys, thank you. That was the right thing to do. You can keep what you have as a gift. Next time, ask. I might come out and help you pick."

Back home, Mom made us the best peach pie and vegetable soup I can remember eating. Kenneth and I felt as if we had dodged death.

Then Death came home from work.

My dad, Hugh Person, strode through the door in a hurry to get to his second job on time.

"We have a situation that needs … attention," Mom said.

She told him what we had done, what she had done, and what the neighbor had done.

Excerpted from Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person and Richard Rooker. Copyright © 2021 by Charles Person and Richard Rooker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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