Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THE "N" WORD
Having spent my entire childhood in a Jacksonville, Florida orphanage, we kids never knew of the prejudices known to the rest of the world. At least, we did not think we were prejudice.
I remember running away from the orphanage when I was about 8 years old. I was walking down Riverside Avenue, when I happened to duck behind a restaurant; I had seen a police car driving toward me. Standing by the back door of the restaurant was a young Negro boy about my age. A large white man was handing the young boy a paper bag. He rubbed the little boy on top of his head and then he closed the door. The little boy reached into the paper bag, pulled out a chicken leg and began to eat it as if he were starving.
"You like chicken legs?" asked the boy looking up at me with his big white eyes.
I had not eaten since very early that same morning and I did not have any money.
He held the bag open to me. I reached in the paper bag, took out a chicken leg and began to eat it.
"You want to walk down to my house with me?" asked the boy.
"Sure," I said.
We walked out onto Riverside Avenue and headed toward the park. It was the park where I always stayed when I ran away from the orphanage.
"Get off the road, nigger boy," yelled someone from a vehicle driving past us at a high rate of speed.
I looked up to see who had yelled, but I didn’t know them. The Negro boy did not say a word. He just kept on eating his chicken leg and walking. Less than a block down the road, the same car came past us again.
"You like walking with niggers, boy?"
There was a white boy hanging halfway out of the passenger window yelling.
"Don't say anything. Just keep on walking," said the Negro boy.
"Why would they call me a nigger like that?" I asked.
"They ain't talking to you. They talkin’ to me."
"No, they are talking to me," I said.
"You ain't black. You can't be no nigger."
"The orphanage always calls us kids niggers. How would those guys know that I am from the orphanage?" I questioned.
”You got to be black to be called a real nigger.”
"Black! Black, like a black crayon? Is a black crayon called a nigger?" I asked.
"No, that is different. You gotta be a Negro person to be called a nigger."
"That don't make any sense at all to me. I ain't black, so why does the orphanage call me a nigger?" I asked.
"I don't know why they do that," he responded.
We walked about a block, before the car came around once again.
"What you got in that damn bag, boy?" hollered one of the people in the car.
"Just chicken legs," I replied.
The Negro boy wrapped the bag into a ball and held it tight to his chest.
"Bring me the damn bag!" yelled the man driving the car.
We just stood there too afraid to move. All of a sudden, the car door opened and one of the boys stepped out onto the sidewalk.
"Give me that bag right now," he said.
He was shaking a small hammer that was in his hand. The Negro boy held out the bag and let it drop to the ground. He and I took off running as fast as we could across the street and into the park. We stopped by a large tree and looked back to see what was happening. The boy with the hammer had picked up the brown paper bag and was dumping the contents all over the sidewalk. The man and two other boys had exited the car, and all four began laughing and stomping on the chicken.
After they kicked the chicken off the sidewalk, they got back in the car and drove away. I walked the boy back to his house, where I met his mom and dad. As we sat on their front porch drinking iced tea, I waited for him to tell them what happened, but he never did. He acted as though being called a “nigger” was just a normal, everyday thing.
I will remember that incident as long as I live. I will never forget the look I saw in his eyes or the scared look I saw on his face. However, more than that, I will never forget what it feels like to be called a "nigger," no matter what color you are.