urgently needed; absolutely necessary
Hunger still a
vital part of my consciousness.
frail, not weighing a hundred pounds.
climb awkwardly, as if by scrambling
I stuck it out, reeling at times from hunger, pausing to get my breath before
clambering up a hill.
inclined to a healthy reddish color
I was hired by a
florid-faced white man at the rate of fifty cents for nine holes.
barrier preventing blacks from participating in activities
I was feeling the very thing that the state of Mississippi had spent millions of dollars to make sure that I would never feel; I was becoming aware of the thing that the
Jim Crow laws had been drafted and passed to keep out of my consciousness;
attempt by employing effort
I was acting on impulses that southern senators in the nation’s capital had
striven to keep out of Negro life; I was beginning to dream the dreams that the state had said were wrong, that the schools had said were taboo.
marked by or paying little attention
Somewhere in the dead of the southern night my life had switched onto the wrong track and, without my knowing it, the locomotive of my heart was rushing down a dangerously steep slope, heading for a collision,
heedless of the warning red lights that blinked all about me, the sirens and the bells and the screams that filled the air.
represent as less significant or important
That was the way things were between whites and blacks in the South; many of the most important things were never openly said; they were
understated and left to seep through to one.
a force that makes something happen
I was poised for flight, but I was waiting for some event, some word, some act, some circumstance to furnish the
My classmates, motivated by a desire to “save” me,
pestered me until I all but reached the breaking point.
become slow or slower
I watched out of the corner of my eyes, but I never
slackened the strokes of my chamois upon the brass.
expressing extreme scorn
No doubt they felt a sort of
agreement with a statement or proposal to do something
They nodded their
of an obscure nature
I worked through the days and tried to hide my resentment under a nervous,
ripen and generate pus
I lived carrying a huge wound, tender,
festering, and I shrank when I came near anything that I thought would touch it.
a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
I cleaned acres of glass shelving, changing my tempo now to work faster, holding every
nuance of reality within the focus of my consciousness.
prepare for something unpleasant or difficult
braced to defend myself.
abject or cringing submissiveness
I could not make
subservience an automatic part of my behavior.
corrupt morally or by intemperance or sensuality
I would sit listening for hours, wondering how on earth they could laugh so freely, trying to grasp the miracle that gave their
debased lives the semblance of a human existence.
an outward appearance that is deliberately misleading
I would sit listening for hours, wondering how on earth they could laugh so freely, trying to grasp the miracle that gave their debased lives the
semblance of a human existence.
offensive to the mind
The mere idea of stealing had been
take or use
More than once I had been called a “dumb nigger” by black boys who discovered that I had not
availed myself of a chance to snatch some petty piece of white property that had been carelessly left within my reach.
make a counterattack and return like for like
The very thought would have been terrifying to them, and they knew that the whites would have
retaliated with swift brutality.
collect or gather
If I saved a dollar a week, it would take me two years to
amass a hundred dollars, the amount which for some reason I had decided was necessary to stake me in a strange city.
goods whose trade or possession is prohibited by law
I learned how to walk past a white policeman with
contraband upon my hip, sauntering, whistling like a nigger ought to whistle when he is innocent.
susceptible to being led or directed
He grew violently angry and I quickly consented to stay, fearing that someone might turn me in for revenge, or to get me out of the way so that another and more
pliable boy could have my place.
an initial attempt
Later I came awake with a sudden start, remembering the fright and tension that had accompanied my
foray into crime.
draw back, as with fear or pain
winced and turned my head away.
as if struck dumb with astonishment and surprise
But such simple unaffected trust
the act of increasing the prestige or power of something
I had never dreamed that anyone would accept me so simply, so completely, without question or the least hint of personal