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Sounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South

Mary Herring Wright

Chapter One
The Beginning: Home and Family

My life began in a farmhouse on the back roads of a community called Iron Mine, located eight miles west of Wallace, a small rural town in southeastern North Carolina. Ours was a farming community with mostly tobacco and strawberries. Wallace had no industry and the business district consisted of Front Street (Main Street) and Back Street. The White-owned businesses were located on Front Street and consisted primarily of the clothing stores, the drug store, the grocery store, and the doctors’ offices. There was also a post office, and just off Front Street was a hotel.

The Black-owned businesses were located on Back Street, which ran parallel to Front Street. The Bass Family Cafe was known for its good home cooking. Across the street was another cafe. The two shoe repair businesses were owned by the Pearsall family and by Mr. Powers. One of the grocery stores was owned by our cousin, Eugene Bennett, and the other was owned by Mr. Robinson. Back Street officially became Boney Street sometime during the 1960s, but is still known to most locals as Back Street. The Whites who lived in town worked in the stores, the bank, and maybe a few other businesses. The Blacks who lived near town either worked on Back Street or did house or yard work for the Whites. Very few, if any, worked in other towns because not very many people had cars or other means of transportation.

Iron Mine was a mixed neighborhood of Black and White families. Although most families were related to each other, the kinship of the Blacks and Whites wasn’t discussed in public. Most everyone farmed or worked for someone who did. Several Black families owned large farms and nice homes. Everyone seemed to get along as far as race relations were concerned.

Outside of the city limits, neither Blacks nor Whites had electricity. We also used outdoor toilets. Usually, they were well-built little outhouses with two covered seats. A broom was kept in a corner to sweep and keep them neat. The only phone in Iron Mine was at the Smith farm. This belonged to Mr. Tom Smith; his wife was Martha, and their three boys were Colwell, Ted, and William. They had a country store in the yard. Papa farmed with them at times and all of Iron Mine received and sent messages at the Smith farm.

Now for my family: Papa; Mama; my beloved, one-and-only sister, Eunice; and four brothers, Bennie, Frank, Willie, and James Lloyd (we always called him Sam). Bennie was the first born, then Frank and Eunice. Another boy, named Clarence (also known as Bud), was next but he died at four years of age, before I was born—due to pneumonia I believe. Mama was watching someone playing cards and sent one of the children to the bedroom to see how he was. The child came back saying Bud was lying there “great long” (stretched out). Mama went to see. He was dead. She never liked cards after that. Willie came after Clarence and I was the next to arrive.

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