Tag Archives: Negro life

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

The Community Action Program: Warrenton, Virginia

Photo/Courtesy of The Daily Yonder
The War on Poverty began with President Lyndon Johnson’s visit to Tom Fletcher’s front porch in Martin County, Kentucky, in April 1964.
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I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I landed a summer job working for the Community Action Program. In order to work for the program your parents had to be below a certain income level and we qualified. CAP was a program instituted out of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. The Community Action Program and the Neighborhood Youth Corp both “authorized by the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964 and designed to keep needy students in school by offering them such incentives as a stipend, work experience, and ‘attitudinal’ training”. Both organizations were headed by Mr. Felton Worrell, who had also once held the position of choir director at William C. Taylor High school before it was converted to a middle school. You rarely hear or see the word ‘stipend’ when it is not preceded by the adjective ‘small’ as in, “he received a small stipend for his work at the research lab”, and I can guarantee you, the salary they paid us fit the definition to a tee.

I was 17 years old and this was my first real work experience. My first assignment was to (and this is how I interpreted it at the time) go to some white man’s house and do his yard work for him. I didn’t like the concept and did not apply myself at all. I had never trimmed hedges or pruned flowers or anything of that sort. The man had to practically babysit me the entire day. Yes, one day, I was not asked to return after the first day.

Soon after, I was assigned to the St. James Baptist Church as a youth coordinator (a fancy title for baby sitter), the most I remember of that job was that the “Center” (which is what we called the Community Action Program headquarters on Lee Street) sent a bus throughout southern Fauquier to pick up kids and take them to Vint Hill Farms Station to swim in their pool, everyone really looked forward to that weekly trip. The bus even picked up kids and delivered them to Vint Hill to watch fireworks on Independence Day. Vint Hill had the only public pool that black kids were allowed go to back then. The nearby Remington Swim Club was private, therefore the “White Only” facility didn’t have to worry about being forced to allow blacks to join. I remember our neighbor, Mrs. Georgia Hayes, tried unsuccessfully to sue the swim club in order to gain membership.

Vint Hill Farms Station Pool.
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Vint Hill Farms Station was another of the, apparently many, electronic surveillance stations that dotted the Fauquier County landscape. VHFS was run by the US Army and the infamous NSA, they too spied on embassy row monitoring communication of friend and foe alike, they took some heat for that back around 1989.
After holding the job at St. James for a while I was transferred to the base commissary at Vint Hill as a shelf stocker. I enjoyed this job because it gave me and all my friend’s access to the facility’s gymnasium. Yes, those were really the good old days; you could come and go, on and off a military run facility with absolutely no identification whatsoever, just wave to the guard and they’d wave you in. Don’t try it today.

At one of our weekly meetings at the Center, one of the administrators, Mrs. Fleegle, told us that we had been given a grant that would allow us all to take a four day, 3 night trip to Miami Beach, Florida. The government would pay a portion of the tab, but each of us would have to sell $400 worth of chocolate candy bars (you know the kind). If we reached the goal as a group that uncle Sam wanted us to match, we could make the trip. All of the students (or employees) were given several boxes of candy each to take home to sell in our neighborhoods, two weeks later we would meet to turn in the money and further our plans for the trip. Two weeks went by, we met and were asked “How many of you have collected your 400 dollars?” no hands went up. Of the more than 20 children, no one had been able to sell four hundred dollars worth of candy, so the bar was lowered; Did anyone raise $300? $200? $100? It was finally decided that we should sell $100 worth of candy and come back in two weeks. Two weeks later, we returned and were asked “How many of you were able to sell one hundred dollars’ worth of candy bars?” no hands went up. The prospect of going to Florida was beginning to look bleak. No problem though, a NEW plan was devised, they told us “OK, if you each can sell $40.00 worth of candy, you can go”. Two weeks later we were queried and only one hand went up, it was Gloria Woods, out of all those kids she was the only one who raised enough money to go on the trip. Finally they said, “OK, don’t try to sell anymore candy, if you can come up with the $40 on your own, get it from your parents, borrow it, whatever, you can go”. I went home saved the next 2 weeks’ pay , asked my parents’ permission and surprisingly to me was allowed to make the trip.

Still there were people, who did not raise the necessary funds, but they were allowed to go anyway, everyone who wanted to go could go whether they came up with any money or not.
For some unknown reason, the Center decided to deliver the 20 or 30 kids to Union Station and subject us to a 17 hour train ride to Florida, big mistake. Those kids tore that train to shreds. We started out relatively quiet but then we all got use to our surroundings and at some point all hell broke out. Kids were running up and down the aisles from one car to another, screaming laughing, fighting, yelling. The more the passengers complained the louder the kids got. I even got tired of the hustle and bustle of the long train ride and just wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride, but they wouldn’t have it. The conductor spent the majority of his time chasing down my friends and bringing them back to their seats, mind you, no one was under 16 or over 18, a trainload of wild animals, they were. The final straw for the conductor came when someone broke one of the reclining seats; it sat flopped back against the seat behind it. They’d been using the seats as trampolines, jumping from one to the other until, finally one caved under the pressure. The conductor gathered up all the kids, cleared out an entire car of passengers at the rear of the train, moved us into that empty car by ourselves then left and locked the door behind him. For the rest of the train ride, we were as noisy and destructive as we wanted to be and no one got any sleep at all.

Photo/Courtesy of State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory
Aztec Resort Motel – Miami Beach.
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When we arrived in Miami we checked into the now defunct Aztec Resort Motel, right on the Miami Beach ocean front at 159th street and Collins Avenue. As the adults were checking us in, a man, who had been watching us all from a distance, approached and introduced himself as “Mr. Griffin, the house detective”. Up to that point, I had only seen house detectives on old Humphrey Bogart type movies and have not seen one in person since. He told us that he would be keeping his eye on us and he was true to his word. The man never took his eyes off us for our entire stay.
One thing that I learned immediately upon checking in was that barely anyone in Miami Beach spoke English, especially the service workers; they were all Cuban, mostly all black Cuban. By then I had studied Spanish in school for a couple of years, but I was nowhere close to being able to hold a conversation with a native speaker. “No me gusta las albondigas” was about the best I could offer, I’d just have to bide my time until I was in a situation where I was eating spaghetti in order to tell someone, in Spanish, that I did not like the meatballs. That opportunity never came, so I spent much of my time in the motel trying, in vain, to interact with the maids when I needed something.

I left home with 20 dollars in my pocket and unfortunately for me, just across and down the street from our motel was a little pinball arcade and it only took an hour after our arrival for me to walk out of that establishment penniless and distraught over what I would do with no money for the next 3 days. I was at the arcade with Jimmy James and on the way back to the motel, as we were crossing the street, a red convertible pulled up to the corner where we were and stopped. Two beautiful white girls were in the car and one asked what we were doing for the next couple of hours. We told them we had nothing planned and out of the blue one asked, “How would you two like to come with us and make an x-rated movie?”. I was in complete shock, taken aback, embarrassed and a few other adjectives. I was just barely able to stammer out some excuse as to why we couldn’t go with them. Here we were barely 17 years old walking along the Miami Beach strip and getting hit on by two beautiful girls but who were obviously old enough to drive. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we two country bumpkins would have been driven to some far away alley where their boyfriends were waiting and been beaten and robbed. I’m both disappointed and relieved that I never found out what was actually in store for us had we accepted their offer.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
That’s me enjoying the pool at the Aztec Resort Motel on Miami Beach.
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When we returned to the motel, Mrs. Fleegle (not her real name) was gathering everyone together to take us to a local movie house. We’d returned just in time. The theater was within walking distance so we headed out of the building and down the street. Can you imagine the sight we made, 20 plus young boisterous black kids, laughing and joking our way down Miami Beach? People were stopping on the street and in their cars to watch the parade we made. Someone from across the street yelled out, “What’d you do – win a contest?” We sort of ignored them, a few kids gave responses that can’t be written here, but we made it to the movie theater as a single unit without causing too much of a scene. The theater was like none I’d ever seen before or since, there was a red carpet and velvet ropes stretching from the street to the huge double doors and to top that off, there was a doorman (white, not Cuban) dressed English garb holding the door for us. He sort of turned his nose up at us as we entered, but he held the door for us to come in anyway. The interior of the building had a huge chandelier and valuable looking paintings hanging on the walls and for the life of me I can’t remember what movie we saw that day.

By the time we returned to the motel it was getting dark, we had eaten already so all that was left to do was hit the beach and the pool. After we came in and went to bed, the house detective visited us several times throughout the night yelling at us and warning Mrs. Fleegle about the disturbances we were causing, threatening to kick us off the premises if they continued. The next day we took a bus tour of the Orange Bowl and President Nixon’s “southern white house” on Key Biscayne, we also toured a factory of some sort but it eludes me what type it was.
That night a storm came up out at sea, so we decided that it would be an excellent time to go out on the beach and wade in the dangerously high winds and waves. After almost drowning a few times as the storm grew in intensity and Gloria Woods accidentally losing her top for the third or fourth time, we came up with the brilliant idea of building a bonfire on the beach, that’s right, a bonfire on Miami Beach, directly in front of our hotel. We had it going pretty good and we’d been gathered around the fire for about 5 minutes when the house detective came running out of the hotel and onto the beach in his white suit and clutching his gray fedora against the wind.

Photo/Courtesy of Affordable Florida Vacations
“Put that fire out you backwoods country bumpkins!”.
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“What are you idiots doing? You can’t build a fire out here! You’re not in the sticks now, you’re in Miami!”, he went on yelling, “Some poor lady left her kid in the hotel room for a moment and all this smoke came pouring in through the windows. She thought the hotel was on fire and now she’s called the fire department. GET THAT FIRE OUT, you backwoods country bumpkins!!!”. We quickly complied, the fire trucks came and went, the gathered crowd was dispersed, things quieted down and we went in and went to bed. The next day things ran a lot smoother, no one got in to trouble.

On our return trip back, we flew Delta Airlines from Miami to D.C. The strange thing is that it only took an hour and a half to make that flight to Washington National. I recently flew round trip from Reagan to Miami and neither leg took less than two hours and 20 minutes to make. I’ve never understood why it takes so much longer to fly the same distance now than it did over 40 years ago. It is a mystery for the ages I think. That was our trip and our contribution to the war on poverty. We had a great time and received some life molding experiences to look back on. A special thanks to LBJ’s commitment to helping the underprivileged, Uncle Sam’s undying need to spend taxpayer dollars and Mr. Worrell and his staff for caring enough to keep us safe and out of real trouble.

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

Country Living

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
The Brown Home Place – Built in 1952 by Ellsworth Brown.
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I think by today’s standards, we may have grown up on a farm. It wasn’t really a farm and we certainly would not have admitted it back then, but the only thing we lacked was a barn and a herd of cows. And all we had to do to find those was cross the road, go between the barbed wire fence that separated our property from our grandparent’s and we would be standing in our grandfather’s cow pasture. It never seemed like a cow pasture like Mr. Penn’s property because there didn’t seem to be the volume of manure everywhere like it was on his land. Grandma and Granddad had a beautiful place, especially in the spring, cool green grass that you could lie down on in the shade and immediately fall asleep. And then there were the orchards, apples, pears, peaches, by the time we came up, most of the trees no longer existed, but there were at least 3 or 4 of each still there and we took advantage of them. I had found a place I kept all to myself up in their woods that had grass surrounded by thickets and once you crawled under those, it opened up into a cool meadow. I had gotten mad at my mother one day, announced I was running away from home, packed a knapsack and spent the better part of a day up in my secluded meadow. Finally, around dinnertime I got hungry and decided that I had punished my parents enough and traipsed back home expecting them to come rushing out of the house glad to see me still alive and well, but no one seemed to notice I’d ever been gone, at least someone learned a lesson that day…

Just up at the top of the hill a bit off from my grandparent’s house was a large barn that we, and the neighborhood kids spent many a summer’s day jumping out of, we jumped out of the hayloft. Well, honestly, I was the only one too small and scared to make the more than ten-foot jump. There was an art to making that leap (the “land with your knees bent, fall forward and roll” technique), but I couldn’t muster up enough nerve to try it. While the older boys (including Baby Ray) were going through the cycle of jumping, falling and rolling, springing to their feet, proclaiming that they hadn’t been hurt, running back into the barn, climbing back up to the loft, then standing around the next jumper, egging him on and expecting that he wouldn’t have the nerve to do it and then starting all over again. Well, while all this was going on, I was usually busy with other more important things like running about, waving my hands and arms frantically in the air trying to keep the barn swallows from attacking me. If you have any experience in barns at all, you’ll know that the swallows are very protective of their young and will attack whenever anything gets within 50 feet on their nest. My grandpa paid absolutely no attention to their mock dive bomb attacks, because he knew it was just for show, very seldom did one swoop down and actually make contact, but for some reason they seemed especially attracted to me and well, “Doink!” right on the noggin… Now my cousin Anna Ruth couldn’t go up to my grandparent’s house, because every time she attempted to make the trip up the hill, she’d get right in the yard and then we’d see her scampering back down the hill as fast as lightening, she’d zing right by our house, not bothering to seek shelter behind us, as we stood outside watching all this transpire and then we found out why she was running so fast, right on her heels came “Shep”, Grandma’s white German Shepard. For some unknown reason, Annie Ruth was not welcomed up there by Shep. The dog loved us, but hated her. We’d end up going to get her and walk her up the hill to keep the dog off her, so she could visit Miss Lula as Anna Ruth called her.

We’d get our butter and milk from the man who lives up at the end of our road, Mr. Bowen. For about 50 cents a week, he’d bring whole milk, butter, buttermilk and even sometimes eggs. Momma would look over the presentation with an experienced eye, deciding what was acceptable and what she wanted to turn down. And then the “Fish Man” came on Fridays, some days the fish was fresher than others, but then there were the times when someone in the neighborhood would buy up a big batch and have a “Fish Fry”. The fish fry was a lot like the “Lawn Parties” we used to have from time to time in our front yard. Music would be blaring, there was food for everyone. Lawn parties were free; usually fish fries meant someone was trying to raise money, because you had to pay for the fish sandwiches. They don’t have those kinds of neighborhood parties around here anymore, I don’t know if they have then anywhere anymore.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
We had pigs and chickens… we had a farm.
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Except for a barn and cattle we had all the trappings of a working farm. Of course there were chickens, pigs, one or two vegetable gardens and most times there was a dog somewhere under foot. Our father would buy about 50 chicks in the spring along with several piglets and we’d raise them. We kept the pigs through the summer and fall months until “hog killin’ time”. The chickens roosted in one half of the shed and in the mornings we’d go out and collect the eggs that had been laid over night, clean them and place them in the refrigerator for breakfast the next day. The other half of the shed was where we stored our canned vegetables and cured meats, anything from the garden that didn’t get canned would end up in the freezer on the back porch. The pigs had to be fattened up for the fall slaughter so we took turns slopping the hogs. This was a task that we all dreaded, but it had to be done. We kept a big five gallon bucket on the porch and whatever did not get eaten from the dinner table was scraped into this bucket and saved for the hogs to eat (we kept this bucket covered). The pigs were fed twice or three times a day. We gave them corn and grain feed for breakfast and “ze feast de resistance”, a good slopping in the evening. That full 5 gallon bucket was no treat to carry and deciding whose turn it was to slop the hogs was a big sticking point each day. But we took our turn because we knew we’d be rewarded later in the fall for all our hard work. Unfortunately for us (me and Raymond), at some point in their lives the male pigs came of age and something not unlike a bar mitzvah was held for them, only without the pomp and circumstance. There was something about the testicles, which if allowed to remain with the pig, would make the meat taste pungent and (for lack of a better word) “pissy”. So, we had to hold the hog while my father removed his testicles. As little piggy was busy chomping away at the trough (for this he got the best meal having no money could buy), and while his mind was a million miles away, I grabbed hold of him around the neck and then dad went behind him, sprayed some disinfectant on his privates, took out the razor he’d probably used that morning to shave with and sliced and diced until the sack was devoid of any notables. The pig jumped and squealed for about 5 seconds, my father sprayed something either to numb or to keep the infection out and before you knew it the pig seemed to have forgotten that he was now somewhat less of a male than when he began his day. I really can’t tell you what happened to his “family jewels”, but let’s just say it was snack time for his little brothers and sisters who eagerly watched the ceremony from the confines of the main pen.

Now feeding the chickens was no easy task either, there was always at least one ‘Banty’ (Bantam) Rooster that was just as mean as could be and the moment one of us stepped out into the backyard we’d get chased around in circles, yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs. Once or twice we had some that were so bad that they would jump up on your back and commence to pecking you on the back of your head and wouldn’t get off until someone came out to the rescue. Oh, but we got even, whenever mom decided to have chicken for dinner, we were the ones who helped her pick out which one would be served up. And as soon as mom said he was big enough, we would choose the one that gave us the most trouble out in the yard. The rooster didn’t often get the blade, but if one got too tough to handle because of the constant attacks on the kids, then it was ‘bye-bye birdie’ for him. But picking him out was the easy part, someone had to chase him down and hold him. Usually it was mom who finally caught up with it and it was mom with the axe. We had a chopping block always at the ready whenever an execution had to be performed. We anxiously stood waiting for what we knew would be the grand finale. With the disapproving chicken in one hand and the axe in the other, momma would lay the chicken across the chopping block and with one good WHACK! “Off with his head!” and then she’d let him go because he wasn’t dead yet. That chicken would take off running around the yard, bumping into things and the three or four of us would take off trying to run away from the headless chicken to get the thrill of being chased by him one last time. Then Mom would grab a foot tub (not the same tub we took our Saturday night baths in, mind you) and put on some scolding hot water for the de-feathering and cleaning that was about to take place. As time went on and our household continued to grow, we would have to kill two chickens for a single dinner setting. Somebody once said, “Colonel Sanders might kill more chickens in a day, but Earlene Brown can catch’em quicker” …Okay nobody said that, but she was fast out there, chasing after them yard bird. They don’t raise anymore chicks at the house, now when I go visit there is only a yard full of cats. Mom doesn’t cook as often as she used to, so I don’t question where the meat comes from when she does decide to cook a meal, but you know what they say: “M-m-m-m, taste just like chicken”.