Stowed away in a boxcar headed westward with my fears and wits intact, I began to calm down. My racing heart was grateful just knowing God was with me. There’s no other explanation for me being able to stay a step or two ahead of the folks looking for me. Not to mention the kindness I’ve been blessed with so far.
Listening to the locomotive’s whistle and the soothing rhythm of the wheels meeting the tracks, my thoughts hung on my folks and Mr. and Mrs. Crump. I took the Bible from my tow sack and opened it. To my surprise, an envelope fell out. When I opened it there was a note from Mrs. Crump.
Using the moonlight to see, it read: Dearest Lee, Forgive the sloppy penmanship, I wrote this in haste. Here’s some more traveling money for you. I’ve saved it for years, and can’t imagine a better cause for it. Take these two hundred dollars and be safe. Mr. Crump didn’t even know I had this. We were never blessed with children, but if we had, I would hope they’d be like you. In just a short period of time, you’ve brought joy to our lives. We know you were raised by good, God fearing folks. No one, let alone a child, should have to endure what you did. Be safe, and take our love with you always! Being Jewish, it is our custom to render aid to anyone in need. I know you’re not Jewish, but someday when you’re an adult, I want you to offer kindness and help to another in need. Life is unfair and full of challenges, but you have what it takes to go far! Love always!
Ma and Pa always said there were good white folks and bad white folks in the world. In these past few months,I’ve seen and experienced the best and worst of both.
A few nights, and a couple of trains later, I found myself in San Francisco, California. I quickly found a couple of jobs: working on the docks during the days, and washing dishes at a diner in the evenings. I rented a room for two-fifty a week. I saved on food by eating at the diner for free. Aside from clothing and toiletries, I saved the rest.
Taking no chances, I was now eighteen-year old Harold Cox from Mobile, Alabama. I was even more cautious, and always looking over my shoulder. I was polite like I was raised to be, and mostly shy and quiet. Colored folks had more opportunities and were treated a lot better here. Some of them even owned businesses. Like I said earlier, there were a few bad apples, but the good ones far out weighed the bad ones.
In no time, seven years passed and I grew into a man. Tall, strong and slender, I have a physique like Pa. Whenever I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw him. I grew a beard to further mask my identity. Until now, I’d been able to steer clear of trouble, and had earned and saved a heap of money. But, the night I headed to the carnival would be my last one in San Francisco.
Like I said, I was a tall and strong young man now. Women folk were noticing me, and I was noticing them, but that was as far as it went. Why chance starting something I knew I couldn’t finish. Anyway, I was walking past a bar when I saw a sign in the window announcing an arm wrestling contest with twenty dollars in prize money. The night was young and I didn’t see a problem with entering it. I easily won every match, setting up the final one pitted against the biggest white man I’d ever seen. Lou Phibbs was 6’6″ or 6’7″, and was close to three hundred pounds, if not more. He was solid like a mountain. I knew I had a chance because he was pretty drunk, and even more confident. His boys and his pretty girlfriend were there to cheer him on.
We locked hands and went at it. The longer the match lasted, the angrier and redder Lou got. Finally, with one push, I slammed his hand down on the table. The whole bar went quiet, and he was enraged. It didn’t help that his boys were razzing him. I suppose the final straw was his girlfriend hugging me. I knew this wasn’t good. I took my prize money and got out of there as fast as I could. Lou and his boys followed me out of the bar and up the street, yelling and calling me names. I took off running and made the mistake of turning down a dead end alley. Trapped, all I could think about what Pa told me about standing my ground.
Lou looked at me and snarled, “Boy, it’s one thing for you to luck up and beat me, but it’s another to put your hands on my woman! I believe you need a little reminding of your place!”
Ella, his woman was begging Lou and his boys to leave me be. I thought about offering him the prize money, but I remembered I always carried all my money with me.
Growling, he grabbed me and pushed me up against the wall. I managed to get my hand on my knife and plunged it as hard as I could deep into his chest. When he gasped and fell to the ground, I went after his boys. I stabbed one in the back, but the other one got away.
Shocked and screaming, Ella looked at me and said, “Run as fast as you can and as far away as you can get! Lou’s folks won’t ever stop hunting for for you!”
Soaked in blood, I took off running, heading for the rail yard. There was no need to go back to the boarding house. I snatched some clothes drying on a line behind the laundry house and threw them on. As happy as I’d been in San Francisco, I knew I’d never be able to come back. Trouble had found me once more, blood was on my hands again and I knew I’d never be able to return…