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‘Spitting at My Feet’
Growing Up Colored in North Carolina: 1977-1986

Shawn is a reader from North Carolina who was stopping into town on business and decided to treat me to two meals, a kindness I repaid with the pointed interrogation which resulted in the following remembrance.

On several trips from the family farm to the surrounding towns I was subjected to hatred, by people who were older than me, sho should have known better and was not instigated on my part. This was in my early teens. I was a very shapely, brown suger little thing back then. I would do grocery shopping for my grandmother and uncle. My grandmother would give me the list and my uncle would let me borrow his pickup truck.

The first time I got behind the wheel I was five my uncles would set me on their lap while they drover their pickup trucks and let me steer while they drank their beer. The first time I drove on my own I was thirteen. It was going from one house to another on the little dirt roads. But then when it came to driving to town, my Uncle Fred was not sure, but my grandma said, “She’s ready.”

Of course, I was ready. She had never driven and somebody had to get the groceries. You can’t let a man take care of something like that. She was about five two and a half, always wore a skirt over pants in case she had to gout and tend to the pigs. But the skirt had to be on to let people know she was a woman. Her hair was always tied up in a scarf. She would never put her teeth in so I had to learn how to listen to her. She could gnaw a chicken bone like she had teeth. She was scary. She didn’t go for that highfalutin “grandmother,” she liked “grandma.” On the rare occasions that she would leave the family homestead to go into town she would always have this black purse that was so heavy. I didn’t realize until years later that it was so heavy because she had a big ole gun in it. Grocery, store, doctors, bank, we went all these places for all these years and the whole time we were packin’—black and female and packing gun. You didn’t come up to the house unannounced in the dark, I’d wake up and she’s shooting out into the dark, yelling, “Who’s there,” and it’s my uncle saying, “It’s me Mamma, the truck went into the ditch.”

Grandma and her Colt .45. Whenever you went out she wanted you to pick up her Manischewitz wine and her bullets. Bulets and some Jewish wine—crazy.

Once I went into town to the Piggly-Wiggly and there would be these stupid young rednecks saying, “Look at her walking down the sidewalk like she owns it.”

I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, a long-sleeved autostore shirt.

Then the next thing I know I hear the hocking of spit and it hitting the sidewalk in front of me. I didn’t say anything back and wolked down into the street around the spit.

Were they angry that I looked good, that I was black or that I got out of a nice pickup truck?

They said, “Yeah, you know you aught to best get off the sidewalk,” and started laughing to each other.

No slur was made, which made me think that maybe the guy liked me and was just mad that I seemed out of reach.

Another time I was going to the JC Penny with my aunt and female cousin and we were walking in, I was lagging behind, a white guy said, “Hey nigger, nigger, got some money, gonna spend it?”

My aunt wanted to stop and start something, but my cousin and I convinced her to keep on along.

Was he waiting for any black person?

Was it something about me, that I looked like I didn’t belong?

I never had any trouble like this in Virginia.

My trouble in Virginia was from black people—jealous, hateful, black, ghetto people.

I don’t have a threatening face.

Maybe they get rises out of other people, but I’m intelligent enough to know that’s what they want, so I don’t give it to them.

Thriving in Bad Places

Add Comment
Sam J.June 16, 2017 2:41 AM UTC

I've lived in the deep South with LOTS of Black people. Very high percentages as the places I've lived, and still do live in, were right in the middle of the Black Belt(agricultural term for soil type) and I've never have seen any Whites act this way unless provoked, ever.