Tag Archives: African American Life

Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractors

You couldn’t be a black male from the Piney Ridge area of Remington, VA. and NOT work for the Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor company at some point in your life, it just didn’t happen. Working for the “Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor” company was a rite of passage for every African American male child born within a one mile radius of the business. This rite of passage helped boys become men, as they hauled bricks, blocks, stone, mortar and concrete for at least one summer during their formative years. Some of our most auspicious community members started their careers by working for Charles Davis or his father, Newt Richard Davis. My father acted as the foreman on the job until Charles’ son, Charles Edward or “Cubby” (as he was sometimes referred to on the job), earned his wings and took his rightful place as heir to the vast brick and block empire. When it finally came time for me to take my turn as a summer laborer, Mr Davis saw a unique opportunity and moved on it. The second day I was on the job, he presented me with a fully stocked mason’s tool bag. Inside were new trowels of various sizes and uses, brick hammers, levels, plum bobs and the like. These were all spanking new tools and Mr. Davis had plans for me to follow in my father’s footsteps, little did he know.

It didn’t take very long to find out that I had neither my father’s immense talent nor his desire to work in the masonry trade. I had much bigger plans, I intended to graduate from college and become a high school physical education teacher. I was only working construction to make enough money to apply to Norfolk State. I hadn’t strategized beyond that point yet.

I enjoyed working with the crew, there was a lot of horseplay, gossip and general instigating to see how far you could push the envelope before someone pushed back. The job was ok, but it became fun whenever we did a job for Claude W. Ritchie. “Toad”, as he was called by everyone I ever knew, was partners with his brother C. L. Ritchie, in the business their father started, Ritchie’s Millwork & Building Materials, Inc. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Ritchie was a genius, the Frank Lloyd Wright of his time, I liked watching him work. I enjoyed watching him explain his vision to my father on intricate brick work. The fun part was the carpenters that worked for Mr. Ritchie, they would keep you laughing all day. One of the larger than life characters on the job was “Foots” Southard, there was never a dull moment with him around. The other great thing, even though I did not partake myself, were the times when we worked with Toad’s crew and a job was completed on a Friday. Finishing a job on Friday for those guys usually meant that someone was going to make a beer run and the old ice chest would come out. Our boss, “Mr. Cha’ Newt” would have never allowed drinking on the job, but when those boisterous carpenters yelled “grab one” to anyone in listening range, Mr. Davis would give a nod that said “go ahead, get one” and our guys would happily dig in. Everyone would sit around laughing with a cold one for a while until my father or Charles Edward said it was time to head home. My father only drank when he added ‘a taste’ to a bowl of ice cream, that was the extent of his drinking when I was growing up. I may have had a beer or two by then, but not in the company of my father, that’d never happen. Young Charles and my father both drove company vehicles, hauling men and supplies to and from our meeting place in front of Archie Edward’s general store, so they did not imbibe and wouldn’t have anyway.

Our dad had served in the Navy during WWII as a cook on a battle ship. He served honorably with no chance for advancement even though he had the mind of an engineer who could build almost anything. When he came home from the war he couldn’t get a loan to build a home for his family so he bought what materials he could buy each week until the home was completed. I was five years old with two younger siblings when we moved into that new home in Remington, VA. The good news is when we moved in dad didn’t owe anybody a nickle because he built the entire house with his two bare hands.

My mother says that they did receive some help in the early years. She says that Mr. Archie Edwards “carried” her and my father for the first two years of their marriage. They were just starting out, dad was building the house at the time and they didn’t have a penny to their names. Mr. Edwards let dad put two years worth of food and supplies on credit at his store until the house was completed. After completing the house, Dad paid it all back almost immediately. My mother said that she has always been grateful to Archie Edwards for being there for them.

Speaking of being there for them, a lot of families depended on Haught’s store for everyday needs, “Put it on the bill” was a common expression heard at the counter. Mrs. Haught would pull out the box of index cards, thumb through the names and jot down, yet again, another purchase with a promise to pay. I could never figure out how Mrs. Haught was able to give so much credit to so many people. You could sometimes see the weight of maintaining that store written across her brow. We always kept our bill paid up, but not everyone was that considerate or fortunate, I suppose.

One day at work while I was standing at the mixing machine “shaking up” a fresh mixed batch of “mud” (making sure the mortar did not set and hardened), a truck drove up to the job site and a white man climbed out of the passenger’s side. As the pick-up pulled away, I noticed the man who’d gotten out had a tool bag under his arm. The bag was flat and appeared to be completely devoid of any tools. He walked up to Leonard and I and asked if the boss was around. We explained that Mr Cha’Newt didn’t worked as a mason much anymore and was probably out drumming up new business. Someone told him that the boss usually came by the job site at least once a day, so he could wait around if he wanted. The gentleman, who looked to be about 45 years old, placed his bag on the ground and took a tour around the construction site, saying hello and introducing himself.

At some point during the day the boss stopped by, that’s when the man approached him. “Mr. Davis, my name is Earl Hager, I’m an experienced brick mason and I’m looking for a job”. Just about everyone heard him and they all stopped working at once, turned and listened. Reading this now, you may not know this but, in the sixties, no self respecting white man that I knew of, would ask for a job working for a black man. I can’t say it never happened, because it did that day, but it was rare. And I can state freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, that it had never happened on our job before.

Earl Hager got the job and began work immediately. From the very start something didn’t quite feel right about him. He was very quiet, almost to a fault. He didn’t join in the horse play, he never spoke at all about himself. He didn’t even call out for brick and mortar when his supplies ran low like all the other masons did. “Little brick, little Mud!!!”, Charles Edward yelled out, but not for his station, he was yelling to get us to set up Earl. “Shake’em up over here” came a cry from Jesse Mason or my father, “Doc Brown” (that’s what everyone called my dad, “Doc”, I never knew how that got started). “Shakin’em up!” was echoed by one of the laborers and they would again bring Earl’s supplies up to par. The “eagle (payday) didn’t fly” for a new employee until they’d worked a full week on the job, the same applied to Earl. When payday rolled around, something very strange happened. On Friday’s, dad and young Charles would pull up in front of the State Bank of Remington and we would all pile out, run in and get our checks cashed or deposited. I jumped out of the truck to go into the bank, looked back and noticed that Earl was just sitting there looking toward the other side of the street, he never got out of the truck. After we all returned from the bank, Sonny Newman, who worked with us at the time, asked Earl if he was going to get his check cashed. Earl explained that he didn’t have a drivers license or any other identification for that matter, so he couldn’t get his check cashed. Sonny told him that he should have asked the boss to pay him in cash, then he offered to go in and have the check cashed for him. Earl agreed and that’s what happened, Sonny had the check cashed that week and from then on Earl’s little manila pay envelop had cash in it rather than a pay check. The next time we worked with Toad’s carpenters you should have seen the look on Foots’ face when he saw Earl Hager climb out of our truck. If you knew Foots at all you can imagine the expression on his face, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to, his expression said it all. He looked at Earl, then at us, then back at Earl again. That collective crew didn’t seem to have a prejudice bone among them, it was always a joy to share a job site with them. Somewhere around the third or fourth week of Earl’s arrival, we received a huge surprise. The day started out just like any other. We arrived in front of Edward’s store, went in, bought snacks and other supplies needed for the day, then went off to the job site. At around 10 am, a green 1965 Ford Fairlane pulled up next to the mortar mixing machine where I was working. Two men in black suits climbed out, walked over to me and introduced themselves as deputy U.S. Marshals looking for one Earl Hager. I pointed Earl out and they approached him. They identified themselves and immediately placed him in handcuffs. Apparently Earl was an escaped convict from a Tennessee correctional facility and had crossed the state line into Virginia. That made his apprehension fall under the jurisdiction of the U. S. Marshals service.
No wonder he was so quiet, stayed to himself and couldn’t cash his own paycheck, he was a fugitive from justice. Earl was always pleasant and quiet, but he’d made one fatal error in his quest to remain free. There was no way he could ever be inconspicuous working with us. What could draw more attention than a white man working in an all black construction crew in 1968? Not much. Thus ended the story of Earl Hager, but the story and success of the Charles N. Davis construction company continued. The black owned and operated business flourished and carried on as a rite of passage for young men in the community for many years to come.

Post Scipt:

If you think the brickwork on your home may have been done by the Charles N. Davis Masonry company, there’s one sure way to find out. Here’s how you can tell:

My father ALWAYS signed his work.
1) Get a ladder

2) Climb to the top of the chimney

3) Somewhere around the flue, etched in the concrete, will be the initials A.E.B.

4) That’s it! If its there, you have an Ellsworth Brown original fireplace/ chimney in your possession, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to sell it on eBay

The State Bank of Remington – Up Close and Personal

Photo/Courtesy of panoramio.com
Remington, Virginia, my home town.
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After I graduated high school, my father decided that it was time for me to have a car of my own. Prior to this I only mentioned wanting to own a car once, but I’d mentioned wanting to learn to drive several times. Buddy Hayes, a friend and neighbor, took on the task of teaching me to drive from the time I was about 16. “Blinky”, as he is known throughout Remington, had me sit behind the wheel of his car with a wide open field in front of me and told me what to do. It wasn’t long before I was kicking up dust – up and down the dirt road we lived on, shifting that straight stick like an old pro (thanks Buddy).

When it came time to purchase a car Dad took me to Alexandria Pike and turned into Arrington Motors. At the time I couldn’t have predicted that my mother, Earlene, would become very good friends with Mrs. Arrington and be a caregiver to her mother for many years to come. Unfortunately at the time, Mr. Arrington’s prices were well beyond my budget, so we decided to try a place on the by-pass on East Shirley Highway just up and across from where the “new” Warrenton Fire Station sits today. I found a black 1962 Ford Falcon for $250.00. I paid cash for it and basically parked it in the driveway because I had been accepted to attend Norfolk State College.

I went off to college and when I returned home for Christmas break, I wrecked my car simply because I was out of practice driving. The next year I decided it was time for another vehicle and I walked to Remington Bank after picking out a 1965 Ford Mustang for $500. When I got to the bank I went up to a teller told her that I was there for a car loan. She directed me to Mr. William Embrey’s desk, the president of the bank.
To this day I have never met the president of any other bank I was a member of.
I sat down and he said
“So you’re here for a car loan” 

“Yes Sir”

“Your Ellsworth Brown’s boy, right?”

“Yes sir”

“He’s a good man, Let’s see… fine, we can give you a loan”

He reached over, shook my hand and said,
“Wait here just a moment”

He left and came back a few minutes later with a bank book with the loan amount hand written in it and a check for five hundred dollars
“Bring it by and let me take a look at it”

That was it, I didn’t sign a single document, never saw a loan agreement. I bought the car and drove it by the bank to let Mr. Embrey have a look at it. I stopped by to the bank every month with my loan book to make the payments. I watched the loan amount slowly dwindle away over the course of 3 years.

Photo/Courtesy of alamedarides.com
1962 Ford Falcon, my first car.
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That’s right, I received a car loan from the president of the bank, William Embrey, with only a firm handshake as a binding contract.

After owning the Mustang for a few years, and a few more cars, I allowed someone to convince me that it wasn’t proper for a respectable young lady to be seen riding in a custom van with drapes and a full size bed in the back and that I should get a new car more befitting a lady of her station. Well, guess what, I went out and bought a really nice car.

I bought a car I couldn’t afford.
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Yes, I bought a really nice car that I could not possibly afford to own. It didn’t take very long for me to discover this fact and after only 2 monthly payments to the Bealeton Branch of the bank, I called the loan officer who had given me the loan (we’ll call him Mr. Hand) and explained to him that I needed to return the car to the bank because I couldn’t make the monthly payments. Mr. Hand didn’t see it that way of course, “You’re making the payments on time every month so there’s really nothing I can do, my hands are tied”.
This back and forth went on for a few months, me calling and asking him to come get the car and him saying he couldn’t as long as I was making the payments. I actually begged him to come get that car. I explained that although I was paying for the car, I was behind on my rent and one or the other would have to be dropped and since I had to live somewhere, the car had to go, but he didn’t budge.

That’s when I decided to simply stop paying for the car, I just stopped. Two months of non payments went by and sure enough, Mr. Hand began calling on a regular basis, threatening to repossess the car if I did not immediately begin making payments again. He screamed into the phone, “I’m coming over there personally and tow your car if you don’t start making payments!”. My immediate reaction was, “Isn’t that what I’ve been asking you to do for the past six months, I’ve been begging you to come get this car”

“You start making payments or you’ll never get another car loan from this bank again!”, he was extremely upset (but there was nothing I could do, my hands were tied).
A week later, I removed the tires, put them inside the car and the trunk, along with the keys. I put the car up on blocks in the apartment parking lot, called Mr. Hand and told him where he could pick it up, packed and moved to Richmond with my sister and her husband, at their behest.
After 3 months of living in Richmond, I grew tired of the city life and left a good job, my lovely sister, her husband and the family they were starting and moved back to Fauquier County. I quickly found a new job and a new apartment, the only thing I was lacking was a car. I needed to catch a ride to work every day and I hated relying on someone else for transportation. One day out of the blue, I received a phone call, “Hello Stanley this is Gloria Comer at the State Bank of Remington, I hear you’re in need of a car”, (Mrs. Comer, VP of the State Bank of Remington? How in the world did she hear that I needed a car), she went on, “Why don’t you come by and let’s talk about it”.

“But Mrs. Comer, the loan officer over there, Mr. Hand, said he’d never give me another car loan”.

“Well I’m not Mr. Hand, come on by, I think we can work something out”.
I dropped everything, shot over there as fast as I could bum a ride and lo and behold, she told me “Pick out a car, bring it by to let me look at it” (YES! They still made you bring the car by so they could look it over back then) and before you knew it I owned a new car.
Back then, everybody knew everybody and more importantly, everybody knew everybody’s business. Someone had to have tipped off Mrs. Comer that I needed a car, but to this day I don’t know who that someone was. Not only did I pay off that loan, I finished paying off the loan on the car I left behind, that is, the couple hundred dollars difference between what I owed on the car and the amount they sold it for after the repo’ed it. Mrs. Comer didn’t have to do that, she went out of her way to contact me, to reach out to me when I was in need and I greatly thank her for that, and to Mr. Embrey, he gave me a car loan solely on the basis of knowing and respecting my father, Ellsworth “Doc” Brown.

As you all may know, some years later, the prominent bank president and community leader ran into some legal trouble, that is not what this story is about, this is a story about people who afforded me and others in the community opportunities that they may not have otherwise been open to if they had not been there for us. Had this happened today, his next move would be to run for public office, and by his popularity, I have no doubt that he would win.

Footnote:

I know, I hate it too, I wish I had a few controversial and highly explosive stories to tell about how terrible it was to live in this area in the 50s and 60s, but I don’t. If there were lynchings and cross burnings (and there may have been), I didn’t see them and so can’t write about them first hand, but… to be fair, it’s hard writing a “Growing Up Colored” series if you really didn’t grow up THAT colored after all. Oh, there was racism, plenty of it, but not the blatant racism and discrimination one would expect to see in a small southern town. I was turned down for a house rental just outside Remington once because of my color and the two young, white, women who bought the investment property in Remington, but lived in Arlington, never encountered that type of racism before. They called me crying to apologize after a neighbor threatened to burn down their house if they rented it to me, they were sobbing and extremely distraught, I sort of expected it. Funny thing, I’d just left the house after meeting the man, with him welcoming me to the neighborhood and shaking my hand. He stood there and watched me sign the rental agreement, all the time waiting for me to leave so he could bully the girls into submission. I left and the phone rang as soon as I got back home, letting me know they had to cancel the contract, I understood and agreed. I saw the old man in Remington several times after that but never said anything to him, he’d speak in passing, never recognizing who I was.

Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved
Revised: 8/2013

Growing Up Colored: Everyday Life


“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou”

“Sing it again Daddy, Sing it again!” We pleaded with our father to sing some more. “Huh? You wanna hear it again?”, he asked. “Yeah, daddy, sing it one more time”, we were all yelling by then. Dad started the song from the top again…

“Good-bye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, gon’na have big fun on the bayou “

(Cue up the sound of children’s laughter, applause and screams of delight)
Our father didn’t sing very often, but he had a really good voice and we loved to listen to him. He liked both kinds of music Country AND Western and that’s all he listened to when we were growing up. You can be guaranteed that nine times out of ten, if he was singing in the car, we were probably sitting, parked in front of J.J. Newberry’s Department Store on East Davis Street in Culpeper waiting for our mother to finish doing her weekly clothes shopping or we were in the parking lot of Dr. Walter S. Nicklin’s office in Warrenton. We sometimes waited for 3 or 4 hours for mama to come out of the doctor’s office. Back then, there were separate waiting rooms for White and Colored.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
Dad taking care of the kids while Mom takes the photo.
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Dr. Nicklin’s office scheduled appointments so Whites were served mainly during the day and Blacks were scheduled in the evenings, even so, if mom had a 7pm appointment, and a white person came in without an appointment, my mother would be pushed back so the white person would be next in line to go in. This was very convenient for those whites who did not like to wait their turn during the day with the other white patients; they could just waltz in any time after six in the evening and be next in line to see the doctor no matter how many people were waiting. So many times dad had his hands full trying to keep the six or seven of us under control while Momma got herself or one of us checked by the doctor. I always enjoyed Dr. Nicklin’s, I’d survey the examination room, looking at all of the old photos of him in his Army uniform and wondering where each photo had been taken. I believe Dr. Nicklin delivered all of us, except Bajean, she was born in my grandmother’s house in Remington. According to my mother, Earlene Brown, “She was almost not delivered by a doctor. Grandma Brown would not let anybody go get Ellsworth and sent to town for old Dr. Grant, who lived in the upstairs drug store building. He was very old and had to walk the 1 mile from town. He had to go to town back twice to check his elderly sister.
Barbara was a natural child birth because the bottle of ether Dr. Grant brought with him was empty. I suffered for years because he did nothing to make sure I was okay. Dr. Nicklin had a fit when he to examined me and the baby.
He said," Earlene I am sorry to tell you that you will never be able to have any more children", famous last words, I had five more.”

On Saturday’s we’d drive to Warrenton to pick-up the week’s mail orders that had arrived at the Sears and Roebuck on Main Street. That’s Fridays in Culpeper, VA and Saturdays in Warrenton. Dad would go to both the A&P and Safeway using a long list and sometimes a coupon or two, but mostly he stuck with the deals he already knew existed through years of experience. The weekly shopping routine had been honed into a science, with our parents working as a team to get it all out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible, they were the shopping version of weekend warriors. If it had been an Olympic event, our parents would have won a gold medal.

Photo/Courtesy of photography-in-place.blogspot.com
If you asked me, Baby Jim’s sold the best hot dogs on the planet back then.
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We were avid movie goers, as I mentioned before, we were always at the drive-in theatre, but the best treat of all was getting all of the shopping out of the way and then going to “Baby Jim’s Snack Bar”, which is still in limited operation on Main Street in Culpeper. They had some of the best hot dogs known to man, whereas, “Clayton’s” on old Rte. 29 in Bealeton had some of the best Fried Chicken and potato salad this side of the Rappahannock (unfortunately, I was not well traveled back in those days and didn’t have much experience outside of the Rappahannock region). We didn’t get to go to Clayton’s very often, but we gobbled down that chicken like it was our last meal on earth. We always made time to go the Glen’s Fair Price Store on East Davis Street, where we would spend our weekly twenty-five cent allowance. I could spend the entire day in that store just looking at all the “stuff”, they had lots and lot’s of stuff.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
Glen’s store in Harrisionburg is still in operation.
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I still can’t figure out how we escaped major injury while we were growing up. There were so many pitfalls that we walked in to and then out of most times unscathed. I remember the time the whole gang of boys decided to go squirrel hunting. It was early on a Saturday morning and the guys had just arrived from ‘over on the Ridge’ to get started. There was Frank, Buster, Herman, Donald, Almond, Raymond, me and several others. We spent the better part of the day traipsing around through the woods searching for game, we didn’t find a thing. The last time we went hunting, we had a skinned squirrel hanging from our clothes line waiting to be cooked. The older kids never went hunting without making sure what they bagged was eaten, this was not just for sport. We all had our Daisy B B guns, some were the pump action, some had the Red Rider Carbine. I just know that the pump guns were far more powerful than the carbines. As I stated earlier, we had been out in the woods all day long and we were getting fidgety, we were looking for something, anything to shoot at. Finally someone said, “Let’s play war!” “Yeah, let’s play” We all agreed that war was the thing to do. Now I had heard about these legendary war games and still saw the after effects of one really huge battle. Sonny Davis still had a crater directly between his eyes after one such episode, when he got shot between the eyes they decided it was time to quit. And Donnie showed me the damage done to his finger when he was shot while aiming his gun, that shot in the hand probably saved his eyeball.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
The sooner we can get the shoveling done, the sooner we can go squirrel hunting.
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But this time I was in on the action. Buster chose one team and Raymond chose the other, being Raymond’s tag-along brother meant that he was obligated to pick me for his team. The teams were divided up and final rules and regulations were put in place. “Shoot for the legs or the coat, no shooting above the chest”, we all had our Navy pea coats on and I knew from prior experience that a BB meant absolutely nothing hitting you with your pea coat on. Raymond and I used to take turns, turning our backs to one another and shooting each other in the back with the guns, we never felt a thing. So I knew that as long as I got shot anywhere on my coat, I was safe. “If you see a squirrel, the game is over, we go after the squirrel”, Buster made sure everyone knew what we were really out there to do.

Our groups split up and we went off to a distance where we couldn’t see their team and could barely hear one another. We were defense, Buster’s team was offense. We hid and set up a perimeter to protect our fort. Softly we could hear them trudging toward us in the leaves. I lay on the ground still as a field mouse waiting to see the whites of their eyes. Suddenly out of the darkness a form came into view, it was Buster, he was bent forward keeping low so as not to be easily spotted. But I had my sights set directly on Buster’s chest. Suddenly, he noticed me on the ground, he turned, picked up his rifle and aimed it directly at my head and just as we were both about to fire our weapons, someone yelled out “SQUIRREL!!!” – “SQUIRREL! STOP THE WAR! Almond has a squirrel up in that tree”, we all jumped up and ran to where the yelling was coming from. I breathed a big sigh of relief and stood back and watched as everyone lifted their guns and aimed at the poor little creature, they all shot, they all missed. The squirrel must have decided that it was time to high tail it out of there and took off to the ground, that’s when it became a foot race, man against squirrel. As Almond chased the animal he must have gotten a brainstorm because he took his Daisy Red Rider Carbine and picked it up by the stock and started swinging it trying to clobber the squirrel. As the squirrel zigzagged through the woods Almond stayed right on his tail. The squirrel jumped onto a young elm tree and clung to it about eye level high and that’s when Almond reared back and swung as hard as he could at the thing. But by then the little squirrel was gone and all that remained was the elm tree. Almond wrapped the entire barrel of the gun around that tree. The instant he did it, he realized that maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, he immediately fell to his knees and started crying. And try as hard as they might, they couldn’t put the Red Rider back together again. Almond cried all the way home that day. But we were very lucky, maybe even blessed, that no one was hurt in that entire melee. We went home, tired, worn out and ready to face another day and with a really good story to tell.

Looking back, I have come to appreciate how well kept we were growing up. We received 3 square meals a day and always a snack immediately after school (usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk). Sometimes we had a delicious ‘Nuco’ sandwich. Nuco was what we knew as fake butter, because for many years we got our butter from Mr. Bowen up the road, but then daddy started buying margarine, but we didn’t call it that, we called it by its brand name. There was bologna and cheese or Spam sandwiches for lunch, there was no cafeteria, so we had to brown bag it to school every day. Almost every Sunday we’d have Steak and eggs and fried potatoes piled with onions for breakfast or toast and chipped beef gravy, that heavy gravy that sticks to your ribs. Sunday dinner was normally fried chicken and potato salad, cabbage, spinach, kale or some other green vegetable from the garden. But the best meal of all wasn’t really a meal at all. On Saturday nights we were sometimes treated to a sneak preview of Sunday dinner with fried chicken and potato salad, this would be the only time we did not sit at the kitchen or dinner table to eat. On Saturday nights we could bring our plates into the living room and watch Jackie Gleason or Gunsmoke while we ate our late supper.
Yeah, there was a lot of love in our family. We stood in line to kiss dad goodbye each morning as he went off to work and mom kissed us as we left for school each day. We ran out of the house to greet our father when he came home from work and we were in church every Sunday morning rain or shine. Growing up Colored for those of us blessed enough to have been born in Remington, VA wasn’t as tough as some have made it out to be, it was a great place to grow up.

Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved

How I Found Out

Photo/Coutesy Culpeper Historical Society
Old Town Culpeper, Virginia, where I attended my first ‘walk-in’ movie, “The Parent Trap” – starring my childhood idol, Hayley Mills.
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Hayley Mills was by far my favorite actress as a child. Talk about having a schoolboy crush, I was barely in school when Disney’s “The Parent Trap” came out. Raymond and Bajean spent hours begging daddy to take them to the walk-in to see it. What’s a walk-in, you ask? Well, it was the opposite of a drive-in. You could actually walk up to the ticket booth, pay for a ticket and go in to the theater, sit down in comfortable seats and watch a movie. I had never been to a walk-in movie theater before. All the other movies I’d seen up until then were shown at the drive-in, we’d back our station wagon toward the huge screen, take out a blanket and lie outside enjoying the movie while watching the comings and goings of all the patrons. I often wondered why no one ever got run over out there, I think folks actually looked out for one another back then. At least until that time when it began pouring down raining and one guy whom we had seen sneak in on foot came up to my mother’s window and asked if he could sit in the car with us and finish the movie. Mom instinctively rolled up her window and turned her back on him, he finally moved on after staring in on us. He dejectedly left the place after going from one car to another and finally realized no one was going to let him in. The last movie we’d seen prior to that was “The Tingler” with Vincent Price and that left me quite terrified for years to come, it gave me plenty to think about on many a sleepless night.

It took some doing but my begging paid off because originally Dad had felt I was too young to go, but then he decided to let me go along. So once we got there, I was in awe of the place, we walked up to the building and of course, my first inclination was to walk through the front entrance, but dad grabbed my arm and escorted me to a small side entrance with the words “Colored” written over the door. I didn’t pay much attention; I was too excited about seeing Hayley Mills. We got our tickets and walked up a single flight of stairs and onto a balcony. The entire balcony was filled with loud boisterous kids,throwing popcorn, leaning over the rail and yelling at the people down below. I glanced over the edge and realized what a great view I had up there. I was glad we weren’t sitting where those other poor saps were, who didn’t have such a great view and were being pelted with popcorn by the people who were seated upstairs with us. The movie was great, Hayley Mills was cute as a button and it felt good to be in that elite club called ”Colored”, if it meant always getting perks like this seating arrangement we had. But, of course, the feeling didn’t last.

On most summer morning’s mom would send us outside to get some fresh air, “Y’all don’t need to be cooped up in the house all day”. And then off we’d go straight outside to the well. We got our drinking water from an electrical well that dad had dug by hand using picks, shovels and dynamite. He tells the story of how one day when the charge hadn’t gone off after he’d set the stick in the well and he’d gone back above ground. He turned the knob on the ignition switch and when it didn’t go off, he waited for what he felt was an appropriate amount of time, then climbed back down the ladder to reattach the wires, he climbed back up, hit the switch again and the blast went off this time. (I wonder if I was born by then).

The area around that well was our official playground. We had a young elm tree that we bent just right, so we could use it as our hobbyhorse. There were plenty of trees to climb and you could usually find us hanging upside down from a limb or the swing set bar. But we derived most of our pleasure from building roads in the dirt. We were experts at it and whenever a new toy car or garage was purchased with our nickel-a-week allowance, we were out the next morning in the dirt making roads by placing the palms of our hands on the ground and moving through the dust until we’d had a complete miniature highway built.

We were on our hands and knees right in the middle of one of our great interstate constructions when one of us looked up and yelled, “Oh no, here comes Timmy Albino!” Barbara Jean made a quick dash to the house. First of all, if we had any male friends stop by, Bajean wouldn’t be allowed to stay outside and play with them unless they were our cousins Dewey and David R. who would come across the field on a daily basis to play with us and end up chasing us around the house trying to pee on us. They seemed to get a great thrill out of trying to urinate of us, we got to the point where we hated to see them coming across the field as well. (Excuse me, I had to stop and laugh remembering what our mother taught us to call our privates, I was probably married before I found out it wasn’t really called a ‘Ding-Dong’)

After an hour or so of us screaming from one end of the yard to the other, our mother would finally catch wind of what they were attempting to accomplish and send them back across the field.

But the dread of seeing my cousins David and Dewey coming across the field was nothing compared to seeing Timmy A. walk up the road dressed in his full Roy Rogers regalia; cowboy hat, bandanna, checked shirt, holstered six guns, blue jeans, chaps and cowboy boots. David and Dewey only tried to pee on us in fun and were great to play with when that wasn’t on the list of things to do, Timmy was another story. I guess I don’t have to mention that Timmy was white, he was coming to play Cowboys and Indians or good guys and bad guys and I also don’t have to mention that we never got to be the cowboys or the good guys. Raymond and I were his designated Indians and Mom would send us outside to play with him after he stood in the front yard yelling for us to come out for over 15 minutes and it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave. And why should he, he knew we never went anywhere. So off we went to play. Here’s how the dialogue of our play went:

Timmy – “BANG, BANG!! You’re Dead!!”

Either Raymond or I would fall to the ground.

Raymond – “BANG, BANG!! You’re dead, Timmy!”

Timmy –“No, you missed me”.

Raymond –“No I didn’t, I got you

Timmy –“No you didn’t, Bang! You’re dead again Raymond!” Raymond would fall

Stanley – “Bang, I got you Timmy!”

Timmy –“Nope, you missed me, I was ducking behind the tree

Timmy –“BANG! Stanley I got you

Stanley -“Na-uh! You missed me Timmy

Timmy –“No I didn’t, I got you in the arm” – then I’d fall obediently to the ground.

Repeat dialogue fifty times, with Timmy climbing on the chicken shed, jumping from tree limbs, ducking behind the wood pile and him never once getting hit by a bullet, much less getting killed. We’d be falling and dying every time he pointed his gun in our direction. We were the most frustrated gunfighters in the West, but we did our part, we just didn’t enjoy it as much as he did.

Then Timmy would head back home, only to play again tomorrow. Timmy lived on the blacktop (the paved road) most blacks that I knew lived on dirt roads. And the only time we ever saw paved road was during the mile long trip to town. All of “our” roads were dirt and gravel and they were always the last to have snow cleared in winter or the last to be plowed and graveled in the summer. Once or twice we were blessed to have the chain gang go up our road clearing out the ditches and picking up debris. Mom would make us stay inside when that gray bus would drive up, armed guards would have the convicts file off the bus. As they went to work on our roads, we stayed glued to the window and watched in awe while they were out there.

Photo/Coutesy Brown Family Collection
Earlene Brown allows her children to relax between playing Cowboys and Indians with lifelong friend and neighbor, Timmy A.
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Timmy was the only kid in the neighborhood who could get away with anything he wanted at our house. If we were caught on top of our shed we knew we’d get skinned alive. Timmy would hide up there and we’d say, “Timmy, we aren’t allowed to play up there” and it was as though no words had come from our mouths. He completely ignored our warnings and our father ignored his complete disregard for the rules that we were bound by. At first I thought it was because he was white and maybe that did have something to do with it. But I also know that my father and his mother were really close friends when they were growing up. My dad would say that Rita would always have her goats following along behind her everywhere she went and you never saw her without them”. So, just maybe his loyalty to his friend Rita was the real reason Timmy could get away with anything he wanted and that’s why we were obligated to be Indians or bad guys to his perpetual good guy/ cowboy. This went on almost everyday during the summer. Timmy was at least six or seven years older than us and we had nothing in common other than our little western gunfights. So when it came time for the annual Fireman’s Carnival and Raymond and I were walking through town to get to the carnival grounds. It was natural that when I saw Timmy walking towards us with a few of his friends that I, being a naive six year old, would ring out with, “Hi Timmy!”. But he didn’t say anything; he just walked right passed us as though we weren’t even there. So, I tried again after he passed by. “Hi Timmy!” still no answer. I turned to my older brother and asked, “Why won’t Timmy speak to us Bay Ray? Didn’t he hear me?”

Raymond just kept walking and looking straight ahead and said, “Because we’re Colored Stanley, that’s all, just because we’re Colored.” As we continued on down the street, I overheard one of the boys ask Timmy, “Do you know them boys?” To that he quickly replied, “Nope, I don’t know who they are.”

And that’s when I first learned what it really meant to be Colored, we were different. I still didn’t know exactly what all it entailed, but one thing I did know is that it didn’t feel good.


Prologue – I saw “Timmy” for the first time in over forty years in August 2003 at my father’s wake. He stopped by to pay his respects, we laughed and talked about old times and he unexpectedly apologized for some of the torment and unfair treatment that he put us through when we were kids. It wasn’t something we needed or felt was necessary, because unfortunately, we are all guilty of childhood pranks and snubs that we feel are required if we are to be accepted by our peers, we do things just to go along with the group. There was never any ill will between us and him and I most sincerely appreciate his gesture of kindness, like they use to say, “that’s just the way things were back then.”– Stan