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From Keepers of the Tradition

This was told to portrait artist Leslie Roberts Gregg and me by gospel singer Ada Sherman when I asked her if she'd ever been poor.

“Yes, when I was a child. I remember when we didn’t hardly have food to eat. But we had so much love! I had three sisters and a brother. I’ve seen my mother wrap sacks around her feet because she didn’t have shoes. She went out to pick up wood to keep us warm. She would walk the railroad tracks and pick up the coal that had fallen off the trains. She would bring it home to make a fire for us. She washed our clothes on a washboard. I saw her hang up clothes on the line in the wintertime and they’d be freezing on the line before she could hardly get them up there. Sometimes we just had beans and bread or fried potatoes.

“We had so much love! My mom would set us on her lap and hug us and tell us how much she loved us. We didn’t have toys and things. We’d get fruit at Christmas, apples and oranges. We were so happy we’d eat the white part on the inside.

“They taught us to be honest. They taught us not to steal anything, not even a safety pin. Even if we were hungry, she told us not to steal food. She said, ‘If you ask somebody, I believe they will give you some food.’ She said, ‘Don’t never mistreat nobody. Don’t never make fun of nobody.’ My parents, they planted those seeds.

“But I want to tell you something: I am so happy to be black. God don’t make no mistakes. He made every last one of us. He created every nation under Heaven. If your blood is AB+ and my blood is AB+, we can give each other blood. When we give blood, they don’t put on it, ‘This blood is from a black person or from a white person.’”

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