As people of color, we should all be proud of the way our grandparents, parents, and other relatives survived in the South. They not only survived but thrived through the great depression, sharecropping, outright racism, all while living in Klu Klux Klan country. There were plenty of white people who didn’t hate blacks.
Let me give you a little background on my Grandma Gracie. I also would like to relay the following story that has been told repeatedly within our family.
Gracie Hall, born May 13, 1904, married John Hampton. They delivered my father, Codis Hampton (February 3, 1925) as their firstborn. Altogether, two more boys and two girls were born from her marriage. After my grandfather died, Grandma Gracie was left to raise her kids in the backwoods of Bradley County Arkansas.
Given the date range of the story, you’re able to get a perspective of the period that Grandma Gracie had to fend for her kids. They lived in Bradley County, a small little farm near a deeply wooded area about thirty feet from the little dirt road that ran just outside her front door. That road went up to my Cousin Frank Strong’s house (about a mile away).
The isolation, protection of her family, Arkansas racism, and the need to repel poachers or trespassers during those hard times is why Grandma Gracie was known to fire a warning shot at strangers approaching the house. The warning might come from a rifle or a shotgun, which seemed to be her weapon of choice. The shot let potential visitors know they had to announce themselves before approaching the house. Unscheduled night visiting was not very smart, because there would be no warning shot. Maybe that is why she never got a visit from night riders or KKK in the middle of the night.
Grandma earned the reputation of being a strong, mean, independent woman. Out of necessity, one who was very protective of her household family members. She’d cut (with a knife she kept in her apron pocket) or pick up a stick to beat the hell out of anyone who messed with her family or property. Her wrath was colorblind. She didn’t care about your position, including the local law authorities. You mess with Grandma Gracie, and you suddenly had a problem that might not end civilly. Neighbors, relatives, and friends who knew her and her family found her to be one of the nicest individuals in the county. Always willing to help a neighbor in need.
When you think about it, she was not that different from a lot of black people living in/around the area of Banks, Arkansas, in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Most people in that area were relatives of the Hamptons. They cultivated/owned land, farms with chickens, pigs, or a cow or two. Some even had a horse or mules. All used what they had to become self-sufficient. They grew or raised their food for their family, others in need within the community.
Grandma Gracie finally followed her three sons, one daughter who moved to Milwaukee in search of a better life in 1953. She left one daughter, my Aunt, who was married to a farmer whose house was about two hundred yards in front of Grandmas house back door.
The story was that my Aunts husband had fallen behind with regular payments to a white man for his working trucks tires. No, the man was not a racist; he was trying to get paid or get his tires back. They say that Auntie asked Mr. Bunker, who was walking toward the truck parked in front of the house, to “leave the tires alone.” Mr. Bunker told her again that since payment was late, he was not going to wait another minute; he was going to take all four tires off the truck. Her husband could get them back upon receipt of the past due payment.
Auntie repeated herself, “I said, don’t take those tires off his truck, Mr. Bunker,” who paid no attention to her warning. She retrieved and loaded her shotgun. She stepped back out into the yard, called out to Mr. Bunker again, “I told you. Don’t take those tires off RT’s truck.”
Mr. Bunker turned to see that Auntie standing there with a loaded shotgun leveled at his body. Startled, he suddenly asked her, “Who are your people? Who is your mother?”
“Gracie Hampton is my mother…why?”
“Oh, girl, you should have said something. That’s okay, tell your husband to get the payment in by next Friday just like you said, and it’ll be just fine.”
Mr. Bunker didn’t have a change of heart because he was fond of Grandma Gracie. He had a change of heart because Grandma was known to say little, shoot when people didn’t heed her words of warning. Mr. Bunker correctly assumed that any child of Gracie Hampton would have no problem pulling the trigger. That day, his assumption was on point.
I have many fond memories of my Grandma because she was always there for me. I can still see the look in her eye when I told her I was leaving Milwaukee and moving to California. She responded by saying, “Boy, you don’t have any kinfolk out there in that part of California. Who’s going to watch over you, your wife and your kids?”
I, upset with the city in which I grew up, which is another story, replied before I could catch myself, “I’ll be there once I get there.”
She looked at me as if I had no understanding of being around family. I quickly grabbed her, gave her a big hug, tried to explain that my answers not directed at her. As always, she understood. But you know something? To this day, the only real regret I had about leaving Milwaukee was that my kids were not able to play with family as they grew up. Young cousins and other relatives form a bond as they played, grew up together not only as friends but as a close family.
It’s amazing how my grandma and others from her era, many with little schooling, were considered uneducated, supposedly simple-minded, knew how to carve out a healthy standard of living from nothing. They not only survived; they raised their children with discipline, a sense of self-respect for others that is sorely missing among some of our households today. By the way they were also smart as a whip.
The grand lady died on December 12, 1985. She lived to be 81 years old, not as old as some but older than a lot of people who leave these days prematurely. Over the years, I learned a lot from talking to Grandma Gracie. Known as a mean old woman up to her death, the woman I knew had a great love for family. She also had a wealth of good common sense — a rarity of which I’d like to think that some of it finely rubbed off on me.
Gracie Hall-Hampton, the book reveals how, what they did to become successful at parenting, farming, and life itself. Grandma Gracie’s life story and times allowed me to write a very entertaining book. The book, Gracie Hall-Hampton, the Arkansas Years, 1917-1953 is now on display at the new Sweet A’s, an affiliate of Pittsburg Creative Book Store. Sweet A’s is a bookstore/reading Café that affords the public a cozy setting to examine a book before purchasing it.
Owner/manager Belle Jones, of Authors Press (www.authorspress.com) has created an ideal environment for selecting books. The facility meets today’s standard for comfort, selection, with great refreshments while you make up your mind. Coffee, Tea, Juice Bars, and Smoothies anyone? Sweet A’s is next door to Creative Bookstore at 1325 Buchanan Road, Pittsburg, CA. 94565. They are open seven days a week. Check out their Yelp Review for more details. Belle Jones is committed to authors having their books displayed in a bookstore that offers comfort with style.
The good news for me is that I will be able to display more of my works in Sweet A’s. Look for titles like, Remember Moz, Misguided Intentions in the future. I’m currently working on republishing my semi-biography, Unchon-ni. It’s about the maturing of a seventeen-year-old assigned to a US Army post in South Korea. Stay tuned for more information. It does not negate the availability of my books at Amazon.com. Watch my social media sites for clarification and sale prices.
Codis Hampton II
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We continue celebrating the publication of my latest and fifth book, Misguided Intentions. A book where family relationships questioned to the core. Read the books review at https://redheadedbooklover.com/gracie-hall-hampton-codis-hampton-ii/ Click on the publisher-Authors page at https://outskirtspress.com/MisguidedIntentions
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Look for new books, updates of current titles, and submission of short articles to major magazines upcoming in 2019. We love to pass on our written word. – Hamp
Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment