Shortly after Mr. Darby received his degree from the “University of Hard Knocks,”
and had decided to profit by his experience in the gold mining business, he had
the good fortune to be present on an occasion that proved to him that “No”
does not necessarily mean no.
One afternoon he was helping his uncle grind wheat in an old fashioned mill.
The uncle operated a large farm on which a number of colored sharecrop farmers
lived. Quietly, the door was opened, and a small colored child, the daughter of a
tenant, walked in and took her place near the door.
The uncle looked up, saw the child, and barked at her roughly, “what do you
want?” Meekly, the child replied, “My mammy say send her fifty cents.” “I’ll not
do it,” the uncle retorted, “Now you run on home.” “Yas sah,” the child replied.
But she did not move. The uncle went ahead with his work, so busily engaged that
he did not pay enough attention to the child to observe that she did not leave.
When he looked up and saw her still standing there, he yelled at her, “I told you
to go on home! Now go, or I’ll take a switch to you.” The little girl said “yas sah,”
but she did not budge an inch. The uncle dropped a sack of grain he was about to
pour into the mill hopper, picked up a barrel stave, and started toward the child
with an expression on his face that indicated trouble.
Darby held his breath. He was certain he was about to witness a murder. He knew
his uncle had a fierce temper. He knew that colored children were not supposed
to defy white people in that part of the country.
When the uncle reached the spot where the child was standing, she quickly
stepped forward one step, looked up into his eyes, and screamed at the top of her
shrill voice, “MY MAMMY’S GOTTA HAVE THAT FIFTY CENTS!”
The uncle stopped, looked at her for a minute, then slowly laid the barrel stave on
the floor, put his hand in his pocket, took out half a dollar, and gave it to her. The
child took the money and slowly backed toward the door, never taking her eyes
off the man whom she had just conquered.
After she had gone, the uncle sat down on a box and looked out the window into
space for more than ten minutes. He was pondering, with awe, over the whipping
he had just taken. Mr. Darby, too, was doing some thinking. That was the first
time in all his experience that he had seen a colored child deliberately master an
adult white person. How did she do it? What happened to his uncle that caused
him to lose his fierceness and become as docile as a lamb? What strange power
did this child use that made her master over her superior? These and other similar
questions flashed into Darby’s mind, but he did not find the answer until years
later, when he told me the story.
Strangely, the story of this unusual experience was told to the author in the old
mill, on the very spot where the uncle took his whipping. Strangely, too, I had
devoted nearly a quarter of a century to the study of the power which enabled an
ignorant, illiterate colored child to conquer an intelligent man.
As we stood there in that musty old mill, Mr. Darby repeated the story of the unusual
conquest, and finished by asking, “What can you make of it? What strange
power did that child use, that so completely whipped my uncle?”