My room was dark. The July heat filled my room. A warm breeze blew through my open window stirring up the dry hot air. If you have ever laid in a hot room then you know firsthand how miserable it is. I pushed off the covers and tossed and turned in the bed. I truly felt sick because of the heat. It was hopeless I could not get comfortable I sat up in bed and picked up my clock. When I saw that it was five I decided it would be better to get up. When I was dressed I walked out of my room and downstairs. The smell of bacon frying and biscuits led me to the kitchen. I was greeted with a hug and kiss from mama.
"How did you sleep?" She asked.
"Awful." I moaned. "It was so hot."
She smiled and continued making breakfast. I heard dad moving around upstairs.
"Does dad work today?" I asked. If he didn’t have to work then he slept in.
"Uh huh, they called him in to work someone else's shift." Mama answered.
"Your father is always the one they call." Mama continued.
Mama put the food on the table just as dad came down, "Good morning my darling." Dad said to mama. He poured a cup of coffee and then walked over to the table. "Morning princess." He said to me. He sat down at the table and began looking at the paper. My older brother Jeremiah came stomping down the stairs. Not an angry stomping, he just always stomped.
"Morning mama." He said as he hugged her.
"Jeremiah what have we told you about stomping." Dad said looking up from his paper.
"Sorry dad." Jeremiah replied.
He tickled the back of my neck as he sat down beside me and I slapped his hand.
"So you two." Mama began as she sat down. "I need to get some work done so I thought you could go swimming in the river. As long as you are careful." Mama said.
My eyes got big and I felt very excited. We had not been swimming in a long time."We can do that. It sure is hot enough." Jeremiah said.
"Yeah. That sounds like fun. " I added.
We hurried and finished our breakfast then went upstairs and got ready. I put a dress on over my bathing suit while Jeremiah put on his shorts and no shirt. We hurried out the door and began walking down the dirt road towards the river. The river was only a mile from our house which was not far at all compared to our walk to school.
"I didn't sleep good last night." I said.
"Me either. It was too hot." Jeremiah added. "The water will feel nice though." I added.
The dirt on the road felt hot and some of the rocks burnt my feet. I should have wore shoes. I thought to myself. A car spun past us on the road and Jeremiah and I had to stand in the grass as it went by. When we got to the river I started down the trail towards our swimming spot. Or where we were allowed to swim I should say.
"No Jewels, lets swim here." Jeremiah said as he walked to the water's edge.
"You know we can't. It's White only." I said nervously.
"Come on Jewels there is no one around. And besides you know the water is not even deep enough down there." He bent down and threw water at me.
"Fine. If we get in trouble it is your fault." I said as I took off my dress. I walked to the water's edge and stepped in. The water felt cold and the rocks beneath my feet were slimy.
Jeremiah walked further out and the water was up to his shoulders "Come on!" He called.
Reluctantly I walked into the water, once I was standing by my brother I realized that it would be okay to be in this part of the water. We started splashing around and playing in the water. The bright sun shone down on us through the trees. When the sun hit the rippling water it made it sparkle. For a moment I felt mesmerized by the water. Until Jeremiah picked me up and threw me in the water. I stood up and wiped the water from my eyes. As I did I heard Jeremiah laughing, "Thanks for that!" I said laughing. We were so busy laughing and playing that we didn't notice the four teenage boys that was standing on the river bank watching us.
"Well what do we have here boys?" The one called loudly.
Jeremiah and I stopped and looked at the boys "Oh no." I whispered. In nineteen fifty nine this was a fear for many of us. Mama always taught us to be nice and respectful but we also tried to avoid getting in their way.
"It looks like a couple of colored's." The other boy added.
"You two know the rules! Get out of our water." The first boy called out.
Jeremiah grabbed my hand and we walked out of the water and stood before the boys with our heads down. Still holding his hand I bent down and picked up my dress.
"Now I can't go for a swim cause you were in the water." The boy continued. "Just wait until I tell everyone in town."
Jeremiah said nothing and clutched my hand tighter. "Come on Jewel's." He said.
We started to walk by them when one of the boys grabbed my arm "We're not done with you yet." He said jerking me towards him. Jeremiah let go of my hand and punched the boy hard in the nose. He fell to the ground and I rushed to Jeremiah's side, he put his arm out gently pushing me behind him. The boy looked up at Jeremiah with a bloody nose. "You're going to pay for that!" He shouted. The boys helped him up "Don't ever touch my sister!" Jeremiah shouted. I was proud of my brother for defending me. "What are you going to do about it?" He yelled.
I could see the rage in his eyes and I knew this was going to end badly. One of the boys came over and tried to punch Jeremiah. He ducked and missed the punch then threw his own hitting the boy right in the face. He stood up and all four boys came at Jeremiah. He missed a few punches but then got hit in the face and fell to the ground. They started kicking him and hitting him. He had no defense against four boys. How could he. He was finally able to stand up and keep fighting. I stood fearful and helpless not knowing what to do. I picked up a rock but how could I throw it? I was afraid I would hit Jeremiah. My brother had finally taken all the hits he could take and fell to the ground unconscious.
"Jeremiah!" I cried.
The boys came after me now. I tried to run but they caught me and knocked me to the ground. One of them kicked my stomach the instant pain I felt was unbearable. I gasped trying to catch my breath but it was no use. Something hit my head and I heard a high pitched noise. I heard them talking but their voices sounded muffled. I felt around the ground for something to get them away from me. My hand landed on a rock, I picked it up and flung it. Through somewhat blurred vision I saw it hit one of the boys and he fell to the ground. The other boys were now distracted. My head hurt and I knew I was bleeding. Before I could get up I saw Jeremiah leaned over me.
"Hold on to me Jewel's." He said.
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and he gently picked my tiny body up off the ground. He was walking quickly down the road.
"Your head is bleeding." I said softly.
"It's alright." He whispered.
He walked up a big hill and then onto a porch and knocked on the door with his foot. I should have known where we were for it was one of my favorite places. The sunlight hurt my head and my eyes so I had them closed. I heard the door open, "My lord! What happened." A voice said.
Through my pain and closed eyes I knew that voice, it was my wonderful grandma.
"Hurry up get in here." She said rushing us in the door. "April come here!" She shouted as she closed the door.
I opened my eyes just as we were walking down the hall towards the kitchen.
"Set her down on the table." She said.
April came in the kitchen "My lord Jeremiah what happened." She cried.
"April we don't have time for that. We got to get these two cleaned up. Go and call the doctor." Grandma said.
April ran back down the hall while grandma sat down on a chair in front of me. She gently rubbed my head with a rag and I cringed with pain every time she did. Jeremiah grabbed my hand and kissed the top of it, "I'm sorry." He whispered. April came back in the room I called the doctor and I called Marie. "Daddy's gonna kill me." Jeremiah whispered.
Grandma cleaned us up the best she could until the doctor got there. There came a sudden panicked knocking on the door and April rushed down the hall to open it. Mama rushed back to the kitchen and began to cry when she saw us.
"Who did this to you two?" She cried.
"Some boys down at the river." Jeremiah answered. "But it was my fault."
Mama looked confused "How was it your fault?" She asked.
Jeremiah looked up at her "I got in the water where it was whites only." He said.
Mama looked angry now and her tears stopped, "That doesn't give them the right to do this to you and your sister."
There was a knock at the door and then the doctor walked in the kitchen, "Hello everyone." He said.
"Hello doctor" Mama answered.
He sat down in the chair in front of me and began looking at Jeremiah "No!" He said pulling away from the doctor.
"Son, you have to let me tend to these wounds." The doctor said nicely.
"No sir. You tend to my sister first." Jeremiah said. "I will wait."
The doctor turned to me "Julia where does it hurt?" He asked.
I was not sure how to answer because I hurt everywhere, my head especially. "My head and my chest hurts." I answered.
The doctor looked at my head. "She is going to need stitches." He said. He continued looking at me, "Does this hurt?" He asked touching right above my belly button. I groaned in pain and he shook his head as if he didn't understand. "How old are you now sweetie?" He asked.
"Twelve." I answered.
He looked at Jeremiah next and then opened his bag. "They both have concussions and broken ribs. I am going to do stitches on them both." The doctor explained.
The alcohol he used smelled bad and burned when he put it on my head. I ended up with ten stitches and Jeremiah had twelve. When the doctor was done he stood up and picked up his bag.
What do we owe you doctor?" Mama asked.
"Nothing." He said with a wave of his hand. Then he walked down the hall and out the door.
"Thank you Hannah for taking care of them." Mama said rubbing her shoulder.
Grandma looked over at mama "I think you should let them stay here for a couple days. There is already going to be trouble and they will be safer here." Grandma explained.
Mama looked as if she was thinking "Maybe your right. I will be back this evening with their stuff." She said. She walked over and kissed each of us, "Be good for grandma."
"We will." Jeremiah said.
Mama walked down the hall and out the door. April walked back in the kitchen "What rooms are we taking them too?" She asked
"Let's do the twin room on the second floor." Grandma said. Jeremiah picked me up and carried me upstairs. Grandma always had plenty of rooms ready because she basically had a boarding house. That evening mama and daddy came over to grandma's house. To Jeremiah's surprise he was not upset with him. Instead he was upset with the four boys that did this to us. "I can't believe this!" He shouted when he saw us. We were all upstairs when we heard a loud banging on the door. Daddy and grandma went down stairs to answer. I suddenly felt scared and had a feeling that something bad was going to happen.
Suddenly we heard shouting downstairs and then stomping on the stairs. Two officers rushed into the room and grabbed Jeremiah. "No!" I cried grabbing his arm. Mama backed up and was crying. The officers tried to pull him but I wouldn't let go, "Please don't take him!" I shouted. Jeremiah was struggling and trying to stay in the room.
"Please let me go!" Jeremiah kept saying.
The officers could not get him out of the room with me holding on. One of them let go of Jeremiah and walked over to me.
"Let go girl!" He shouted as he grabbed my arm and forced my hand away from Jeremiah's arm.
Quickly he walked over to Jeremiah and grabbed his arm again and they led him out of the room. Mama tried to comfort me but I ran from her arms as best I could. I stumbled down the stairs as quickly as I could. I was in pain but I could not think of that now. When I got downstairs daddy tried to stop me, but I wouldn't be stopped. I quickly walked out the door and down the stairs. The officers had just got in the car. I placed both hands on the backseat window and I saw a glimpse of Jeremiah along with my own reflection. He put his hand on the window in the same place as mine. Then the car began pulling away and I knew I could not chase the car. I fell to the dirt ground crying and daddy rushed out to me. He picked me up in his arms and carried me in the house.
"So what happened to your brother?"
They kept him for a month, we hired a lawyer that helped us get him out. He brought him back to the house and I rushed out to hug him. I am pretty sure I wouldn't let him out of my sight for a while after that but that was a long time ago.
"How old was your brother?"
He was sixteen when that happened.
"What happened to you when you were twelve. Did that change how you feel about white people? I mean they are the one who did that to you and your brother."
I have heard these trick questions before ma'am. I know how to respond to them.
"And how is that?"
With the truth. I cannot and I will not blame every white person I see for the actions of several people. That is unreasonable and quite childish. The people in the small town that we lived in were wrong. They should not have treated us the way they did. But if I think of every white person as a racist. And blame them for what happened to me and my brother when I was a child, then I am no better than they are. I forgive those four boys. They were taught to hate and were so blinded by it they could not see straight. But I refuse to hate!
When the reporter was finished I walked out of the studio. My husband and brother were standing out front waiting.
"How did you do sis?" Jeremiah said.
"I told the truth. It is up to them to decide what to do with it." I answered softly.