I wandered around Tallahassee for a few days scared out of my mind, looking for work, and hiding in plain sight at the same time. At night, I slept in the shadows at the rail yards. I kept moving while keeping my head on a swivel. Of course, I missed Ma and Pa terribly and thought about them often, but I knew I had to keep going. A few days later, after I was sure no one was looking for me, I found work in a barn behind a feed and grain store loading and unloading sacks of feed and grain. I earned sixty cents a week, which was good pay for a ten year old colored boy in 1910. Of course now my boss, Mr. Herman Crump didn’t know that. He thought I was a seventeen year old named Will King from Macon, Georgia.
Tall and thin, with those spectacles always resting on the bridge of his nose, Mr. Crump liked that I worked sunup to sundown without ever complaining. Truth was, I think he took a shine to me, or at least I’d earned his respect. He even let me sleep in the barn’s loft. Mrs. Crump would bring me food and books to read in the evening. Short, stout and always smiling, both she and Mr. Crump were kind to me. Before long, he raised my pay to a dollar a week and I saved every dime, along with the money Pa and Reverend Pope gave me earlier.
Months later, one morning when I was on my way into the back of the store, I spotted Dale Fowler and his boys coming through the front. I heard him tell Mr. and Mrs. Crump that for months they’ve been looking everywhere for me and wouldn’t rest until my body’s swinging from a tree.
When he asked Mr. Crump if he’d seen me, he looked him in the eyes and said, “No, I haven’t seen him, and he’d better pray I don’t. Seems like this boy doesn’t know his place and needs to be reminded of it.”
He even grabbed his rifle from under the counter and cocked it. They shook hands and told him to wire them by telegram if he saw me. They also asked him to deliver me unharmed, because they wanted that pleasure for themselves. When Mr. Crump agreed, they left.
Terrified, I ran back to the barn and hid up in the loft until sundown. I was so scared I couldn’t think straight or stop shaking. But despite this, I knew one thing was certain: I’m way too close to Attapulgus, and it’s clear those folks aren’t going to ever stop looking for me.
Before long, Mr. and Mrs. Crump came in the barn where I was. And because I’d seen him cocking his rifle in agreement with Dale, I didn’t know what to think. But my heart was calm, so I trusted it. Ma and Pa always said you can never go wrong following, listening and thinking with your heart.
Mr. Crump whispered it was ok to come down. Once downstairs, Mrs. Crump handed me a plate and a glass of lemonade. They wore concerned and horrified looks when I told them what really happened that night, and who and how old I really was.
Mrs. Crump had tears in her eyes. Mr. Crump looked me in the eye and said, “Son, it’s no longer safe for you to stay here. I’m sure they’ll be coming back if they’ve even left in the first place. You need to go as far away as possible, California even. Here, take this and put it in your pocket. It’s fifty dollars, I wish we had more to give you. Just as you hopped a train to get here, you need to do the same and leave tonight. Stay in the shadows and keep you eyes open.”
With a firm handshake, he said, “Go with God son, may He bless and keep you.”
Wiping away tears, I said to them both, “Thank you so very much Mr. and Mrs. Crump, I’ll never forget y’all and the kindness you’ve shown me.”
As I threw my rags and belongings into my bag, Mrs. Crump ran into the house and came back carrying a bible. Handing it to me, she smiled and said, “Take God and His word with you. He and His angels will always watch and keep charge over you. Plus, Mr. Crump and I will always keep you in our prayers.”
“Thank you Mrs. Crump, God bless you both. I’m obliged to you both and I promise to keep moving. I’ll take God and my faith with me, because wherever I go, He’ll be there.”
After a prayer and hug, I slipped into the night.