Out of the Fields
I ’M A COUNTRY BOY. I grew up in the country, and even though I have lived in big cities and have traveled all over the world, I don’t think the country ever left me. Most of my memories growing up were of the outdoors, not inside—not watching television, not cleaning the carpet, not listening to my CDs or anything like that. None of that was even a possibility then, not TVs or CDs or carpets—well, carpet was, but not for us.
I was born on D-Day—June 6, 1944, in Clarksville, Texas, 35 miles west of the Arkansas border, on the Red River. Clarksville has about 3,000 people living in it, and it’s the county seat of Red River County. Compared to Acworth, where I actually grew up, though, Clarksville might as well have been New York City. Acworth was 13 miles northeast of Clarksville, and while the U.S. Census claimed a population of 20, I don’t know how accurate that was. I don’t know if I knew of 20 people in that area, outside of my family. Acworth wasn’t even big enough to be called a town, and if there hadn’t been a post office there, no one might have had reason to know it was there. From our house, we could see another house only far off in the distance. This wasn’t a town; this wasn’t even on the outskirts of a town. We didn’t live on the outskirts of a town until we moved to California. Until I went to college in San Jose, when I was 19 years old, I had never lived anyplace where a building was close enough to throw a rock at it. For a long time, living right next to other people gave me the creeps.
We were a big family, and we were poor. That should be no surprise: if you were black in the 1940s and living in Acworth in northeast Texas, you were poor. My father, James Richard, and my mother, Dora, had 12 kids in all—Willie Jewel, James Richard Jr., George, Lucille, Sally and Hattie (they were twins), Tommie, Ernie, Mary