The Death of Daddy

The Death of Daddy


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



He painted a red streak down the back of my coat. Then they walked away, laughing.



 Books by and about Daisy Bates

Long Shadow of Little Rock (Daisy Bates,1998)  / Daisy Bates Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas (Grif Sockley, 2005)

The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine (Fradin, 2004) / Young and Black in America (Julius Lester,1972)

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The Death of Daddy

By Daisy Bates (1914-1999)


The summers of the following years, for the most part, were spent on our farm in eastern Arkansas where my grandmother lived with a brown hound dog, an old gray riding horse, a temperamental milk cow, and pigs fattening for winter meat. Occasionally we would take a trip to other states, or I would be sent to visit friends or relatives of my parents.

I was in my teens. On one of my visits away from home my mother sent for me. My father had been taken to the hospital. When I arrived home, the doctor told me it was just a matter of time. Daddy was gravely ill. The bottom had dropped out of my world.

One night Daddy told Mother to go home and get some sleep. “Daisy will stay with me,” he assured her.

When Mother and the nurse had left, I stood looking down at his tired dark face against the white of the bed linen. I saw the wrinkles etched deep by a lifetime of struggle, and I saw a stubborn chin and proud high forehead. I started to cry, softly. He opened his eyes. “Don’t cry Daisy,” he moaned. “I know I’m going to die, but-”

I started to protest, but his upraised hand stopped me. He knew I knew, and to deny it would make meaningless the honesty we’d always held to in our lifelong relationship with each other. He said calmly, “I’ll be better off.” I knew this was so. He had cancer.

I haven’t much to leave you, Daisy, so come close and listen and remember what I have to say to you.”

I drew a chair close and place my hand in his.

“You’re filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don’t hate white people just because they’re white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum–and then try to do something about it, or your hate won’t spell a thing.”

“I’m listening to every word you say Daddy, and I’ll try to do what you say. But rest–you must rest now.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head impatiently. “I’ll decide when I need rest.”

How I loved this strong man who all his life had not been able to use his strength in the way he wanted to. He was forced to suppress it and hold himself back, bow to the white yoke or be cut down. And now that his life was ebbing, he was trying to draw on that reservoir of unused strength to give me a lasting inheritance.

“Daisy,” he resumed, “nothing’s going to change all of the sudden, and any Negro speaking out alone will suffer. But more and more will join him, and the blacks, acting together will one day . . .”

His voice grew faint. I held my breath. Starting afresh, he continued haltingly, “I remember the day of your mother’s funeral. I went to the post office for the mail. I had on my best dark suit. When I came out of the post office, there were three young white hoodlums standing on the steps. One of them said, ‘Look at that dressed up ape! You live here, boy?’ When I didn’t answer, two of them blocked my path and the other one said, ‘I know what’s wrong, he needs something red on!’ He picked up a brush from a paint bucket left there by a painter who’s been painting the brick foundation around the buildings. He painted a red streak down the back of my coat. Then they walked away, laughing. I stood there with murder in my heart. I could’ve crushed the life out of him with my bare hands. But I knew if I touched one hair on his head I could be lynched.

“On the way home I met one of the deputy sheriffs. I showed him my coat and told him what had happened. He laughed and said, ‘Don’t get so upset about a little thing like that. They were just having a little fun. Turpentine will take the paint out of your coat’.”

Daddy stopped talking and closed his eyes. I just sat there, constantly patting his hard knuckles, hoping he would speak again. He did. This time his voice, still distinct, was softer than before but more labored.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you know later when you should have died. I ought to have died the day they put paint on my coat. I should have taken those guys and wrung their necks like chickens. But I wanted to live–for what, I sometimes wonder.”

I stopped patting the back of his hand, and he drifted off into sleep. Looking back at him, I sensed he would never awaken. It was now nearly daybreak. When the Catholic Sister came into the room, I greeted her warmly. It was the first time in several years that I had spoken to a white person in a pleasant voice.

I walked out into the silent streets. The grass, heavy with dew, caught the sun’s early rays. In most of the yards flowers still bloomed, and in many, red roses. I thought of another such morning years ago, and of the red rose I couldn’t bare to pick. I knew like that rose which clung to its branch in a last, flaming farewell, my father would die before the end of the day. I did not cry for I realized that he was at peace with himself for the first time in years.

As I walked along the streets taking in the freshness of the early morning air, I knew that as surely as my father was dying, I was undergoing a rebirth. My father had passed on to me a priceless heritage–one that would sustain me throughout the years to come.

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Daisy Bates Desegregating Little Rock 

By Julius Lester

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This historic ruling struck at the very core of the social structure of the South and it was to be expected that many cities and states would be unwilling to put it into practice. The first big confrontation came in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the fall of 1957.

Nine black students were to enter all-white Central High School. A few days before school was to open, Orval Faubus, then governor of Arkansas, ordered the National Guard to surround the school. He reasoned that violence would occur when the nine blacks tried to enter the school. However, instead of ordering the National Guard to stop any violence which might occur, he ordered the Guard to keep the blacks out of the school. This was the first open defiance of the Supreme Court decision by a top state official.

The nine black students, their parents, and advisers, had a difficult decision to make. Should the students still try to enter Central High? It was decided that they should. When the day came mobs of whites lined the sidewalk and filled the streets in front of the school. The National Guard blocked the entrances, pointed bayonets at the black students, and refused to escort them to safety through the crowd of whites. As the students tired to make their way through the mob, they were spat upon and beaten.

The central figure in the drama was Mrs. Daisy Bates, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Born and raised in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, Daisy Lee Gatson married when she was eighteen years old and with her husband, L. C. Bates, moved to Little Rock. There, they decided to assume the ownership of a weekly newspaper, the State Press. Together, they slowly made the paper into the voice of blacks in Arkansas, protesting police brutality, the lack of equal rights in housing, in jobs, and in the courtroom.

In 1952 Mrs. Bates was elected president of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP. The NAACP had taken the lead in the fight for the desegregation of schools. It was involved in trying to make sure that the 1954 ruling was put into practice. Such an effort required not only the skills of lawyers, but also the commitment of many anonymous people, like Mrs. Bates, who were responsible for building strong organizations on the local level to prepare for the day when desegregation came. Just how important such preparation was did not become clear, however, until the confrontation around Central High.

When the governor said that there would be no desegregation, the blacks of Little Rock could either bow their heads or fight. Much of the burden for the decision was carried by Mrs. Bates, as a leader of the black community. The decision to fight placed the lives of all who were involved in danger. Without the kind of leadership and courage shown by Mrs. Bates, the ordeal could not have been endured.

Mrs. Bates’ life was constantly threatened and for many months. She did not leave her home without carrying a gun, or go to bed at night without armed guards posted outside her home. The newspaper which she and her husband had built was forced out of business by whites. Yet Mrs. Bates and the blacks of Little Rock persevered. Her book, The Long Shadow of Little Rock is more than a personal story. It is the story of countless blacks who, in extraordinary times, have had to show extraordinary courage

Source: Young and Black in America (1972), edited by Julius Lester

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Commentary on Daisy Bates’ How My Mother Died

By Amin Sharif 

Daisy Bates is representative of the kind of unselfish black woman raised under the Old South tradition of racism and segregation. Not a feminist, nor a womanist–Daisy was a Race woman who placed the needs of her people before her own. In her How My Mother Died, we are given a unique portrait of how complicated life was for every black man, woman, and child in the early and middle decades of the 1900’s.

Told from the perspective of an eight year old, Daisy’s writings soon confronts the reader with issues of race and murder-subjects one would think would hardly enter into the mind of one so young as an eight year old. Yet these subjects are not only on Daisy’s mind, they forever separate her from her childhood joy. When she is confronted with her first incident of racism by a white butcher, Daisy finds herself  “praying that the butcher would die.” And later, when Daisy finds out that her mother was murdered at the hands of white men, she gives up “dolls and games” and vows to find the men who had killed her mother.

All of this would seem like so much sensationalism if these issues were not handled so well by Daisy. There is more sadness than rage in Daisy’s writing. And we find out early on why Daisy’s response to her mother’s death and white racism does not set her on a path of self-destruction or pessimism. The reason for Daisy’s stability is her father or step-father. It is this man who established a rock solid relationship with Daisy and who shepherds her through her early crisis. As much as the themes of racism and violence, the theme of love between these two–father and daughter–draws the reader into Daisy’s complex world. In the end, it is the love of this wise, understanding man that would transform Daisy and make her into one of the giants of the Civil Rights Movement.

Source: Young and Black in America (1972), edited by Julius Lester

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Charles Mingus: Fable of Faubus

“Fables of Faubus” is a song composed by jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus. One of Mingus’ most explicitly political works, the song was written as a direct protest against Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus, who in 1957 sent out the National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine African American teenagers. The song was first recorded for Mingus’ 1959 album, Mingus Ah Um. Columbia refused to allow the lyrics to the song to be included, and so the song was recorded as an instrumental on the album. It was not until October 20, 1960 that the song was recorded with lyrics, for the album Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, which was released on the more independent Candid label. Due to contractual issues with Columbia, the song could not be released as “Fables of Faubus”, and so the Candid version was titled “Original Faubus Fables.”

The personnel for the Candid recording were Charles Mingus (bass, vocals), Dannie Richmond (drums, vocals), Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone), and Ted Curson (trumpet). The vocals featured a call-and-response between Mingus and Richmond. Critic Don Heckman commented on the unedited “Original Faubus Fables” in a 1962 review that it was “a classic Negro put-down in which satire becomes a deadly rapier-thrust. Faubus emerges in a glare of ridicule as a mock villain whom no-one really takes seriously. This kind of commentary, brimful of feeling, bitingly direct and harshly satiric, appears far too rarely in jazz.” The song, either with or without lyrics, was one of the compositions which Mingus returned to most often, both on record and in concert.—Wikipedia

photo left: As fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford tried to enter the school, soldiers of the National Guard, under orders from Arkansas Governor Faubus, would step in her way to prevent her from entering.

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Fable of Faubus

                                   By Charles Mingus

Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em shoot us! Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em stab us! Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em tar and feather us! Oh, Lord, no more swastikas! Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!

Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie. Governor Faubus! Why is he so sick and ridiculous? He won’t permit integrated schools.

Then he’s a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists! Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

Name me a handful that’s ridiculous, Dannie Richmond. Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower Why are they so sick and ridiculous?

Two, four, six, eight: They brainwash and teach you hate. H-E-L-L-O, Hello.

Orval E. Faubus was the governor of Arkansas in 1957 and against desegregation. He sent the National Guard to prevent black children from attending high school in Little Rock.

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update 28 May 2012




Home    Civil Rights: Struggle for Black Power    Religion & Politics   Amin Sharif Table

Related files: What It Means to Be Negro  The Death of Daddy  The Death of My Mother  The Little Rock Nine  Sylvia Hill Post 6th PAC   No Easy Victories (Damu) 

From Tanzania to Kansas and Back   The Orangeburg Massacre and Its Aftermath  From Atlanta to East Africa

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