My mother was traumatized during her pregnancy with me. All of us were born and raised in struggle. In January of 1956, Yoki was ten weeks old and they were living in Montgomery when a bomb was set off at their house. My father spoke of having an epiphany at the kitchen table in this same house a few days before that. The bombings — the one at my parents' house was not the only one — were owed to the violence of vigilante whites, poor whites, after the bus boycott led by the Montgomery Improvement Association, for which my father served as president. He held some of the smaller meetings at his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; Uncle Ralph's — Rev. Ralph Abernathy's — First Baptist Church held larger mass meetings. My father had talked about being "paralyzed with fear" during this time.
But at the kitchen table in the house in Montgomery, he had an epiphany; he said all the fear left him, and he gave himself and his Cause over to the hand and grace of God.
It wasn't until this bombing in Montgomery on January 30, 1956, that it dawned on him: it wasn't just him but also his family who were involved in this Cause. Yet only he had the epiphany.
In April of 1960, after having dinner, my parents were returning the southern writer Lillian Smith to Emory University Hospital, in DeKalb County, where she was getting cancer treatments. After dropping her at the dorm they were stopped by police. My father was a black man; a white woman had been in the car. My father was recognized by the DeKalb County police and arrested because he had not changed his driver's license from an Alabama license to a Georgia license in the three months since they left Montgomery. Daddy answered the summons, was fined $25 for "driving without a proper permit," given a suspended twelve-month sentence by Judge Oscar Mitchell, and released on probation. This occurred at the time of the Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch-counter student sit-ins to protest segregated public facilities, on the heels of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott sparked by the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Shortly after this event, sometime in June, my mother discovered she was pregnant with me.
These were heady, dangerous days. But my father, pleased my mother was pregnant for the third time, was undeterred by his arrest. My mother did her usual thing and exploded in size; she was one of those women whose entire body, not just the belly, became larger when she got pregnant. By October, she was five months gone, and showing like nine.
This was when my father agreed to be a part of a lunch-counter demonstration at Rich's department store, protesting segregated eating facilities — the only time he joined any such local demonstration in his hometown of Atlanta. He did it against his father's wishes, to support idealistic student leaders like Lonnie C. King, Marian Wright, now Mari Wright Edelman, and John Porter. They'd ask for service at a snack bar at the downtown Rich's, which, like most department stores in southern cities, "welcomed" black patrons through a back entrance to come spend their money as long as they didn't use rest rooms, drink from water fountains marked "Whites," try on hats, or get refreshments.