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American Annals of the Deaf

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

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“Miss Minnie brought him,” he told me.

“I didn’t see him in the truck.”

“That’s because she put him in her little black bag,” he assured me.

“She did?”

“Yeah, that’s what the little black bag is for.”

So that was it! What a smart brother I had, to know all of that, and he took the time to tell me. Well, I felt I should know something too.

“Dat’s right, dat’s right,” I volunteered. “I went with Papa to get Miss Minnie and she hid him in her bag.”

Having gotten started, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had to make it even fancier.

“I went in the house with Papa. There were a lot of babies on shelves, and Papa let me pick him out.”

“Sure enough?”


I almost believed I was fully responsible for the arrival of Sam and have always had a special feeling for him, that in some way he was also mine.

Much later, I learned that Miss Minnie was a midwife. Back then most babies were born in their mothers’ beds with either a doctor from town or a midwife to attend the birth. Our nearest hospital was James Walker Hospital in Wilmington, thirty to forty miles away. Some years after Sam was born, a White doctor in Wallace had rooms built over his office for White women to deliver but not for the Black women.

Sometime during the 1950s another White doctor, named Dr. Hawes, built a clinic in the next town, Rose Hill, and delivered babies of both races. Of course, the rooms for White women were on one end, and the rooms for Black women were on the other end, but he gave good care to all his patients. His fee was fifty dollars for nine months of prenatal care and delivery. If you preferred, he’d bring his nurse and a portable hospital bed and deliver at your home. It’s said that he delivered three thousand babies before he died. Now Duplin County, where Iron Mine is, and the surrounding counties all have nice, up-to-date hospitals and ambulance service and provide all kinds of care.

Our home was a weathered six-room farmhouse with a long wraparound porch and a swing on one end. My mama’s family had a large farm with lots of acreage. Her parents had nine children, and each time one married, a piece of land was sectioned off and given to that child. When Mama married Papa, she was given fourteen acres on the south end. That’s where she and Papa built their house and raised their six children, plus about that many more children belonging to other people.

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