NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 107

Eva worried more about him at seventeen than when he was a little boy. She knew the trouble he caused now could cost him his life. She remembered how much he loved carrying the engraved, gold, pocket-watch that once belonged to his daddy. Marvin won it in a crap game years before Jason was born and had a jeweler in Raleigh engrave his initials in large cursive letters on the front. After Marvin was killed by a jealous husband, Eva gave the watch to Jason. He never went anywhere without it. He even slept with it under his pillow. She loved the way he treated it like the most precious thing in the world. Eva heard her two younger kids moving around inside the house and knew she’d better start cooking breakfast. She slowly walked towards her back door, hoping her big boy would be home in time for lunch. For generations, his family had seen calloused black and white hands grip plows and shovels to carve out a living in Red Oak County. He knew he embodied the complex make-up of the people there; being a mixture of Indian, white, and black. It amused him how no one ever mentioned the black and white mixture of many of the people, despite the light skin, fine curly hair and freckles on so many of the faces of the colored residents. His wife, Doretha, could pass for white and did so once on a trip to Raleigh to buy something from a downtown store. They laughed their heads off that day driving back home from the capital with a nice fancy blue dress packed away in a beautiful big box in the back of his Model T Ford. But they also knew that nobody ought to try to pull off anything like that in Red Oak County. Everyone knew their role and place, nobody ever stepped out of it, especially in the world of 1924. Blacks knew that doing so could cost a white man his reputation and a black man his life. Rev. Walker knew this better than most. He pastored a small, but respectable, baptist church, owned a funeral home and a tobacco farm. He worked from sun up to sun down, six days a week; but most of all, he never started any trouble and minded his own business. After returning from World War I, only six years ago, Rev. Walker married Doretha, his childhood sweetheart, and now they had three beautiful little girls, whom they doted on. He’d worked hard and saved up enough money to buy an old farm on two hundred acres of bottom land, then he started a funeral business, which buried most of the respectable black people in the county. Living in Europe, during the war, had shown him there were places where black men were respected and treated like human beings. He knew Red Oak County could never be France. But he and other black men in the county also believed they could fight to make a better life for their families. They decided to work harder than anyone else, save every penny possible, and buy their own land and property. They believed owning land, having a farm, and running their own businesses meant pride, dignity, and independence. And they were willing to pay any price in blood, sweat and sacrifice to obtain it. Reverend Walker and his flock had no time, or respect, for black people they considered too shiftless, or dumb, to understand their philosophy. They believed one was either part of the solution, or part of the problem. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE She knew her boy could be wild and mean and didn’t always know when to shut his mouth, even around white folks, which could be dangerous. But he’d never stayed out all night. Sometimes he’d come home drunk in the wee hours of the morning, but he always came home. R ev. Clyde Walker had wide protruding feet, big brown calloused hands, and a strong, powerful, sweaty back. He firmly gripped the reins of the young mule walking slowly in front of him. Pride filled him as he looked over rows of freshly planted tobacco. He believed no other farmer in Red Oak County could plow a row as straight as he, and none could do a day’s work harder. He was born and raised in Red Oak County and knew its people and history well. 105 But on this bright Saturday morning, without a cloud in the sky, Eva didn’t feel very rough or ready. Only frightened because Jason, her seventeen-year-old son, hadn’t come home the night before. A sour feeling in the pit of her stomach told her something was wrong.