It was mid-afternoon on a sweltering and humid summer day. The sun was bearing down as I weeded the crops, when I heard what sounded like gunshots. Scared out of my mind, I raced towards the house to see what was going on.
When I reached the doorway I froze: Both Pa and Tully Bates were lying on the floor covered in blood, holding shotguns. Half of Tully’s head was blown off, so I knew he was dead. Pa was moaning and trying with all his might to move. Mama, seven months pregnant, was lying on her back near the stove. Her clothes were nearly ripped off, she’d been stabbed and wasn’t moving. I’ll never forget that far away look she had in her eyes. Tully’s son Buddy, who wasn’t much older than me, was standing near the corner holding a bloody knife. Enraged, in one motion, I grabbed Pa’s shotgun and blew Buddy clean across the room. His blood covered the floor, and quite a bit of him was splattered all over the walls. Everything happened so fast, I just stood there catching my breath and trembling. I didn’t snap out of it until I heard Pa calling out to me.
Gasping for air, he said, “Lee, there’s not much time, I need you to listen to me. Run out to the barn, climb up to the loft, look under the second bale of hay and bring me that box.” I did what he asked, and when I came back he said, ” Open it up, put all the money in your pocket and the land deed in the bib of your overalls. Take my hat and boots too, you’re going to need them. Sign my x on the back of the deed and take it to Reverend Pope. Tell him I’m donating this land to the church so they can build a school, a separate house of worship and a cemetery. This land’s gotta stay in colored hands, I worked too hard for it. Tell him to bury me and your Ma’s bodies here, and to save four or five plots for yourself. When it gets dark, I want you go down to the rail yard and sneak on that southbound train headed for Florida.”
“Now g’won, get going. I’m sure somebody heard the shots and are probably on their way out here now. You’s big for a twelve year old, you has to be a man now. Me and your Ma love you something fierce. You’s a product of our love, and no Ma and Pa has ever been more prouder than we are. Give me your hands and go with God. Take hold of His hand, and keep us in your heart always. Be a good man and a strong man. Don’t start trouble, but don’t run from it neither. Always be willing to stand your ground and defend yourself. Find work wherever you go and keep moving. You’re bigger and stronger than most men and can outwork them too-but never stop looking over your shoulder.” He smiled, relaxed his calloused grip and passed from this world to the next. With tears in my eyes, and a painful lump in my throat, I put on Pa’s hat, slipped on his boots- the first pair I ever owned, and ran into the woods.
Crouched down and hidden about a mile from the farm, and still in shock, I watched the orange sun set before making my way over to Reverend Pope’s place. I handed him the deed, along with Pa’s instructions. I also told him everything that happened. Short and thin, with kind eyes and a garbled voice, he was extremely grateful for the land. Grateful, but saddened for Ma and Pa, and scared for me at the same time. He and Mrs. Pope covered me, Ma and Pa in prayer before he blessed me, anointed my head with oil and sent me on my way. Before sending me on, Mrs. Pope packed some fried chicken and pound cake for me to take along. A bit taller and bigger than her husband- she was really pretty. Reverend Pope handed me a few dollars and said, ” Go with God son, and be forever blessed. I’ll do everything your Pa wants, and we’ll always be praying for you. Find a way to let me know how you’re doing from time to time. Your Pa was right, it’s not safe for you here. I imagine those boys will turn this town and county upside down looking for you.”…