Brown Hill, Let the Good Times Roll
Mr. Brown, the man behind it all is the father of “Little Jack,” who we all knew. Mr. Little Jack’s wife was my uncle Johnny’s sister. The Brown’s owned all the land on and under the Hill before selling the lots that became Brown Hill. After his father’s death, Little Jack sold the rest of the lots, until there were no more. Now I don’t know this for a fact, but Mr. Brown could not have been too brown because Mr. Little Jack was a very light-skinned Black man with “good hair.” That is as much as I know of their history. That is, other than Little Jack was the deacon that tithed the most at our church and was the chief power broker. Bar none.
Even the preacher had to step back, and down South that is saying an awful lot. Black folks, or should I say, Black women, love their preachers. He had to be good looking, and most times, they were, and it didn’t hurt if he came with a little baggage. They love them even more then. And if he could scream and holler, he had the job. That was then; I don’t know how the congregation show their devotion in these modern times. Or if the preachers are still as animated as they were back in the day. Don’t get me wrong here. I have, since I was a small child, had thoughts of preaching myself. Still do.
Brown Hill was/is a community of Black middle-class folks where most even if they were not active in the church talked a good religious game. It still seemed to me, at least on the surface, that it was live and let live irrespective of the hell fire and damnation. It certainly had an image that could be called its own. And, there was, a lot of shaking going on. It was well known in many ways for many things. Some of it you did not talk about out loud. We had two “sho nuff” juke joints and the Club. Club Alabam was one of the main venues on the “Chitlins Circuit.” All of this on the crest of Brown Hill, the main drag. There were just three houses between the Club and the house I called home.
Just so you know, the Chitlins Circuit are the clubs and juke joints that the better-known rhythm and blues singers and their bands traveled taking music to Black communities throughout the South. All of the greats made their way to Club Alabam, where Po Boy ruled the roast, long before they made it to the big time. I was just a kid, but I would make sure to be outside early on the night of the shows to see the bands unload.
Of course, the highlight on my watch was when I would catch a glimpse of the entertainers. There was Chuck Berry, BB king, Bobby Blue Bland, Little Junior Parker, Fats Domino, Big Joe Turner, Lloyd Price and a host of other well-known and not so well known artists—I saw some of them but not all. This was the Chitlins Circuit and most of the great ones came through at one time or another. For those I did not get to see, I did hear loud and clear if I could stay awake. I was too young to go and the mores of the community kept most of the older ones who lived nearby out. So, for them and for me, it was (OTPE), on the porch entertainment. It sounds like a name for a music company, but no this is when you listen from your front porch. And after you turn in—which was usually early—you could hear it all from your bed.
I would be remiss of me if I did not mention one of our very own, Little Willie John. He was an American R&B singer who performed in the 1950s and early 60s. He was a hometown favorite and special to those who knew his roots. Many nickels were dropped for him. And a grinding slow dance to his songs flamed the passions of the young and old. He was born in Cullendale, an unincorporated community that stands like an island in Camden and shared its space with the Paper Mill. Even this small way stop had its Black section and it was just a short walking distance from Brown Hill. I did not ever see him and doubt that he played at the Club. But I did hear him sing almost every school day at noon.
Miss Lucille’s place was the favorite spot and noon hang out where we kids would get our hamburgers and hotdogs on our lunch break. My God were they good. The hamburgers were the best. She fried them on a griddle in pure Trans-fat—just the thought now makes my arteries clog. Miss Lucille would toast the meat side of the buns in that very same grease. Then she or her husband, Mr. John B, would then top it off with mustard and onions for sure. There may have been lettuce and tomato, as good as those burgers were, how could I not be sure.
I do remember how that little piece of meat had just enough juiciness to soak the mustard covered buns to make it the mouth watering goodness that it was. You know what I am talking about if you ever had one. As you would cross the football field on the way to Miss Lucille’s, the aroma would take you by the nose and lead you to the front door. And the music would keep you there, and of course, the girls, or boys, if you were a girl. And as far as I know, there was no girl on girl or boy on boy stuff going on. I will admit there could have been. What I do know, if you could get there you could be there. No age or grade limit. Step right up to the jukebox and for a nickel, you could hear your favorite singer belt out the tunes.
RESPONSE TO A NATIONAL PUBLICATION ON COLORISM
The author speaks of colorism among Black folks in this country; well I have news for her. It is no different where ever there are Blacks and people that are not of the same race and ethnicity. Let us make short work of this. You will look up to and want to imitate in any way possible the real or perceived attributes of those who are in power. And dark skin people are not. Until not too long ago, most if not all of the countries in Africa were colonies of White countries. First, they lost control of the continent then started to lose their identity. Now the women, and I am sure some men, are bleaching their skin, straightening their hair and wearing weaves and wigs.
For us, the Blacks in America, what are the features and attributes that would be enough to classify us—a group of people—as a race. Yes, I said group. And at what point or dividing line would this change our classification. We as Black folks do not have our own name; we did not all come from the same place in Africa and we do not know our ancestral roots. Many of us are the offspring of miscegenation and are of different shades and hues. We grew up in different worlds. Black folks are light skin, dark skin and everything in between. There are just as many who do not share a common worldview, so I ask; how can we be expected to think or act as a group consistently over time. That is just asking too much, it is not going to happen. Color difference, skin tone, and yes, hair texture, are used to classify and judge the world over. It is what it is. And we as descendants of slaves whose bodies were the property of others became divided as the result of the sexual desire of the master.
A Story My Mother Told Me
The train ride home, in many ways would signal some of what was to come from an unexpected source. As my mother tells it, she was cradling me in her arms. Just as you would expect a new mother would. And easing up to her side, in this segregated train, a nice White woman could not let her need to know hold her back. I guess looking was not quit enough for her. She had to know why my mother had a White baby in her arms. I must have been a tad lighter then, or it could have been my skin next to my mother’s much darker complexion that gave this appearance. Maybe this is what gave me such a White look.
My father and mother are Black just as I am. We have a past where the female of our race was not allowed to say no. For this reason, some Black folks are more black than others are. It is the same with the way we think. We run the color wheel from cold black to almost white. For me, as it is with many Blacks, one parent—my mother—was dark skinned, and the other—my father— is light. Hard feelings and just plain old hate as the result of this kind of setup is guaranteed. This certainly was part of the plan. And of course, the complete control over the Black female by the White master allowed him to use our women, and many instances our men as they willed. When you see this, you will see dissension. The shade of a Black person’s skin made a difference then and as so stated in this article, it makes a difference in the Black community to this day. It is an issue. It is a type of tension that kind of simmers and will often boil to the top. I have had to fend off a number of attacks from my own people. Needless to say and with regret, they were darker skinned. Now that is a hell of a thing.
There are times when a truce and an uneasy alliance is all you can get. This is the old light skin vs. dark skin, with the light skin as the winner, in most cases. That is what is thought by those who are not thinking. But who is counting. We are on the run. It is what the mind can be made to believe. You never know which way to turn. So, you turn on the one closest to you. That would be your Self.
One thing that has always been as far as we know is free will. We like what we like and should have the right to do so. And as it relates to mates, the love for the yellow bone has not changed. They were a prize from the time the first one was created by the White man and Black woman just as they are today. Right or wrong, it is a matter of choice, why not when you have one. I see not a thing wrong with this. It is what it is and it was handed to us. This was all born in slavery and lives on in us. All there is comes from what was. It is called history. We can deny it, but we will not change it. There is one big difference with the Black male. Over the years, there has been a going back and forward with the choice of the dark-skinned and light-skinned Black male.
If you are mad at me for what I have written, it only means you do not understand what I wrote. If you want me to explain, just ask.
The legacy of slavery is real.