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A Change In Time


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There was only one thing that was true to most people- Negros were best kept separate from whites. Life was real hard for any race except for whites. It seemed like everyone looked down on my race as an African-American, and it was all because of my skin color. My mama always told me that there was nothing wrong with us. We weren’t different nor the same as the folks that thought we were less. We lived in a house that could perfectly fit two adults and two children, we were never low on money, (but we weren’t filthy rich), and I went to school everyday like every other “ordinary” child.

It all started when we were walking to the thrift shop on a scorching, hot summer day. The sun was blazin’ and the thrift shop seemed like it would be a perennial trek to get there. I was on Willie’s back -I called him Willie, but his real full name was William- complaining about the sun and why I had to come with. We were going to the thrift shop to buy a cheap fan that was strong enough to cool off four folks- my mama, papa, brother, and myself.

When we reached the intersection of roads, I looked left and then right. On the left, I analyzed different cars goin by, one after the other. They were goin at a painfully slow pace, a snail could beat! On the right, I saw two men arguing loudly. One was a white man and the other was a black man. Of course the thrift shop was right next to where the men were berating at each other. My family and I slowly walked toward them.

“ Sir, you’re not allowed to enter,” commanded the white man. I had an eerie feeling as he said this.

“ And why not?” argued the black man.

“ Well, you’re black. You’re just not allowed to be here and if you come back, then things will get worse,” warned the white man.

“That’s not fair at all!” the black man, raising his voice, retorted..

“Calm down and why don’t you do me the favor of leaving,” replied the white man. The black man started to push through the white man, but he was aggressively thrown to the ground irritated. My family and I just stood there, lifeless and speechless. We cast a shocked look at the white man and he just walked away, through the door, unaffected by what he had just done. Soon, a lady wearing a long skirt that had buttons and lace insertions ran over to the man that was thrown to the ground.

When we reached the thrift shop, I didn’t care about the little trinkets or decrepit and ancient treasures that were there. All I gave thought in were the words that came out of the white man’s mouth- you’re black.

Later on, I realized things were coming worse. Never would anyone look at me, my family, or any other Negro. If they did, they would give us the nastiest look. I was the only black girl in my class and my teacher, Mrs. Smith, gave everyone else in my class adulation while she ignored me like I was a piece of trash. Once, I attempted to convey to her that I wasn’t getting any attention like the rest of the class, but she wouldn’t listen to me. When I kept calling her name, she yelled at me, “Mary! I hear that you are calling my name! Now calm down or I’ll send you tot the principal’s office. Do you understand?” I was flabbergasted by the way she was speaking to me -I used to be her favorite student before people decided to be mean to blacks- and was nearly brought to tears. In Willie’s words, whites thought that they were “macho”-whatever that meant.

Soon after the teacher incident, Willie was jobless. Although he was paid a mere pittance, he loved working for the post office because he had been working as a paper boy for three years. He was buddies with a white boy named James, but James wasn’t fired. I found out that he got a raise, but I didn’t tell Willie. Papa luckily didn’t get fired, but told me that many Negros were being treated differently. Blacks were the “hot topic” and in every conversation, you would hear the words Negro or black man. He told me that many of the public places I used to go to would no longer be available to me. Many of the white folks were taking their stand at public places that used to be shared with blacks.

When I went to the playground, a mother told me that I wasn’t allowed to be there and that I should leave immediately. When I refused to leave the playground I always went to, she gave me one last look then stormed away in disgust. When I told Willie about what happened, his kind, hazel brown eyes turned into a dark brown that I had never seen before. Weeks went by and there was no positive change in how people were treating Blacks. I didn’t understand what was wrong with my skin color. It was just a little darker and it wasn’t like my race did anything different from other races. What was everyone’s problem with Negros? Why are we considered so different? Will anyone do anything about this? I think Willie was the most angry with this issue the most. He was a “free-spirit” and he wanted peace in our world- a real saint. His mood would plummet whenever he saw someone who was black get treated poorly (which was all the time). Luckily, walking was Willie’s “calm down medicine”. If he and Mama got in a fight, he would walk on and on for hours. When he would become enraged, he would try to cool himself down by traipsing about.

One mornin, Willie acted differently. He looked tense and there were dark circles under his eyes. His clothes were wrinkled, there were eye boogers1, and his breath was yucky and smelly. I’m only a seven year old, but I know that Willie did not sleep well, slept in his clothes from the day before, and did not wash his face or brush his teeth. It was a good thing Mama didn’t catch him so dirty lookin or else Willie would be smacked right across his face.

“Willie, where do you think you’re goin so early in the mornin?” exclaimed Mama.

“Don’t worry Mama, it’s um... a work-related thing. I’m goin to um... try and get a job,” Willie responded softly.

“Alright, but be home before dinner time,” nagged Mama.

“I know Mama.” Willie muttered.

“Don’t mumble at me! Say that you will be home before dinner clearly!” she warned.

“I will be home before dinner. Is that good enough?” he complained.

“Yes, now you may go,” replied Mama.

“Willie, where are you goin? It’s bad enough that I’m cooped up in this house. Please stay. You were supposed to help me with my homework!” I whined.

“This has nothing to do with you, so you don’t need to know,” he answered.

“But what about my homework...”

“I’ll help you when I get back,” he kissed me on the forehead. “See ya later.”

One hour after dinner, Mama and I were worrying like crazy. When was Willie comin home? Where was he? What was he doing out so late? This was very tenuous. Willie always listened to what Mama or Papa told him and he wasn’t home yet. Mama asked him to be home an hour ago, but he wasn’t here. My head wouldn’t stop swirling with unanswered questions, but they were all answered when a white police officer came to our front door...Willie was dead.

The police man told us that Willie was part of a small street protest with some of his black friends. Many people were getting fed up with the noisy chanting. Five white men in particular, were extremely furious with Willie and his friends. They just couldn’t take their protest anymore ,so they decided to take action. The five men beat Willie and his friends raucously to death with baseball bats. No one dared to step in, in defense of Negros. By the time the police arrived, all they found were three badly bruised and broken boys, lying beside two innocent, dead boys (one of who was my brother).

“Please officer, I’m begging you to tell me the truth. Tell me that my baby is alive and that he will be comin home very soon. He promised me that he would be home before dinner time. He promised!” Mama bawled.

“M’am, I am telling you the honest truth. Your son, William Turner is dead. He was a part of a small street protest with friends and was killed by a group of men. You will just have to accept the hard truth. I am sorry for your loss, I wish you the best,” explained the officer.

After the police man finished explaining, water works were flooding our ethereal house. Mama was full out bawling, Papa had tears in his eyes, but was trying to fight them back, and I was drowning in my own tears. Our noses and eyes were red and our faces were so puffy you could have mistaken us for a puffer fish. I started remembering Willie’s motif- you should never hate someone no matter how much you dislike them. I couldn’t stick to Willie’s motif -I just couldn’t- no matter what. What those men did to my brother is was inconceivable and undecipherable. If anything like that happened again, it would be detrimental to everyone. Everything in me hated those inhumane monsters.

As the days went by, I began to accept that my family was changed forever. Two days passed since Willie’s death and I saw Mama in Willie’s room. She was crying so hard that every few seconds she would need to gasp for air. Mama was bawling her eyes out whispering his name, pleading, “Willie, come back. Willie...” I knew she couldn’t accept the fact that he was gone. Papa just stood by the window where rain was poundin’ like an earthquake. The streets were a ghost town. Not one person would be spotted in this hell-hole. Papa didn’t cry or talk after he heard that Willie was dead. He showed no emotion (he forever wore a poker face on that oval head of his). Papa was always a strong man who was brave. He never showed fear or weakness, but after Willie died, I knew that Papa had a depressing feeling deep, down.

When I walked into my living room, there was a picture of Willie in his football uniform. He looked so pristine and had a beatific smile no one could resist. He had always been a merry guy that everyone wanted to be around. Willie extolled people who felt that they were worthless when they would try to do something so that they would feel more confident. They may be tormented everyday, but Willie always made them feel like they were the most important people in the world. Also, he gave great homage to the soldiers by helping their families, while they served our country and then saying thanks when they came home. Willie invigorated lots of people and everyone liked Willie because he was a leader.

The one person he was delicate with was me. We spent so much time together we almost had a schedule. Every day after school, he would be waiting for me outside and we would walk back to our house, talking about our day. After that, he made make me a quick snack and read to me while I was eating. Then, he would help me with homework and later have to go to football practice on certain days. When he came home from football practice, it would be dinner time and we would wait for Papa to come home from work. While we would wait, he would read to me (he gesticulated most of the books boisterously when he read to me to make me laugh like a hyena-he loved my laugh). Then, when Papa arrived, we would eat as a family and be thankful for all the good things that has happened. After that, Willie would take me upstairs to my room and tuck me in bed. Nights were not the same anymore.

The day of Willie’s funeral, I didn’t want to go out of my room. Mama was gouging me by the third time she had to call me down. I just wanted to be alone, without a single person saying , “I’m so sorry for your loss.” (but obviously, it happened anyway). Did these people really mean what they say? Do they even know what it feels like to lose not only your brother, but your best friend? The ceremony was held at our church and it was the same as every other funeral I had been to. There were the same people who commiserated with our family. I hated funerals, and this one especially. Willie’s funeral didn’t last as long as I expected, which was good, but I had to wait until all the people that were “supporting” my family left before I could escape.

At home that night, my parents pulled me into Willie’s room.

“Mary, you know we love you to death. I know Willie’s death has affected you the most in our family because you were so close to him,” Mama explained.

“And we know everyone misses him thanks to those horrible people who killed him,” Papa acknowledged.

“Yes, I know Mama. I know Papa,” I agreed.

“Then you have to know that Willie’s death has made our family stronger just by the choices that we are about to make. Papa and I are going to lead a protest filled with loads of people who hate segregation,” confessed Mama. “It’s what Willie would have wanted.”

“That’s amazing! I can’t believe we’re going to be in a protest. And it’’s going to be for Willie!”

“Actually, you’re not going to be a part of the protest. You’re too young and these types of protests can get messy. So you’re going to stay home with Grandma while the protest is going on. You have to trust Mama and I, okay baby?” pleaded Papa.

“Alright, but be safe. I love you both.” I sobbed. I wanted to be a part of the protest. What difference did it make if I was in it or not- oh right, I’m just a kid.

It has been so long since Mama and Papa have been home. They left four hours ago for the protest, but they still weren’t back. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my parents like what happened to Willie. I was so anxious, yet afraid. My heart was pounding so hard it hurt. My eyes were locked onto the door as I was waiting for them to walk through, hoping it would be any second. To be honest, I was scared. I was terrified that they were going to get hurt. I was panicking that they were going to go to jail. But most importantly, I was frightened that they were never going to come back.

I barely got any sleep until I couldn’t take the mental exhaustion and I drifted off into a deep slumber. Suddenly, I heard the front door open. I sprinted like a cheetah down the stairs and found Mama and Papa lying on the couch. Their smiles said hello to me and I knew we were safe. Mama and Papa told me everything. They said how a man named Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of the protest and how he inspired people into fighting for freedom from segregation.

After the big protest, life was slowly unrolling back to the way it was before any of this craziness happened. Although there were some people who still despised Negros, a majority of people were being respectful and caring to them. I was back to being Mrs. Smith’s all-star student and hangin out with my friends. I was even asked to a playdate from this white girl named Helen.

Months later, I dreamt about Willie. He was tucking me in bed one last time. He squeezed my hand tight, kissed me on the forehead, and whispered “I’m always here if you need a shoulder to lean on.”



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