Spring, 1944. Five o’clock a.m. Sun peeking through the night shades. Birds not up yet, not time. Lugenia Turner hit the floor, her eyes on the old-fashioned clock sitting on the dresser in the bedroom she shared with her husband Luke, and two of her five children. She grabbed the tattered old housecoat she’d left hanging on the back of a chair, slipped her arms into the sleeves and tied it around her waist. She then went into the kitchen where she picked up a pan and went out the door to draw water from a hydrant planted in the center of the backyard. Afterward, she gathered a few wood chips and went back into the house to start a fire in the old black wood burning stove.
A half hour later, Lugenia Turner went into the bedroom to wake her husband, Luke.
“Wake up,” she said, “and come to breakfast.”
Lucius Turner got out of bed to the delicious aroma of hot coffee that permeated the whole house. He went into the kitchen where a pan of hot water sat waiting for him to wash and shave his face. Afterward he went back into the kitchen where Lugenia sat waiting for him.
Lucius sat down to eat his breakfast. Across the table from him Lugenia chatted idly while he consumed the hot biscuits, fried sausage, eggs and grits she had prepared.
“I guess I’ll go and hep Miz Fannie shuck peas today. She bought two bushers off de peddler yestiddy. You know she ain’t got nobody much to hep huh since Janie done ran off wid dat no count Jones boy.” “Yeah,” Lucius Turner agreed, “Be good you hep huh; she sho is a nice lady, always givin de chillun thangs.”
Lugenia went on,
“You know ole Miz Sally ain’t doin so good; dey ain’t spectin huh to liv long.” I guess I’ll spen a lil time wid huh too today.”
Lucius grunted, “Unhuh,” then getting up from the table, he grabbed his lunch pail, gave Lugenia a quick peck on the cheek and left for work saying, “See ya“, as he went out the door. Lugenia Turner would never see her husband alive again.
A weekend on “The Street,” without incident, was indeed a rarity. The older people in the community labeled “The Street,” “a din of sin.” From Friday (sometimes Thursday) through Sunday, the people played their music loud - blues, they called it, danced in the street, cursed, fought, going from one extreme to the other - all in the name of fun.
The sound of gunshots in the night was a familiar noise, usually followed by the piercing, mournful cries of devastation from a mother, or a sister, or perhaps a grandmother. Then, came the shrill sound of the inevitable noisy sirens announcing the arrival of police cars; or, in many cases, an ambulance. And, within any one of the houses one could hear cursing, “damn it man, hurry up,” and the sound of running feet and other obscenities the runners mouthed as they made desperate, and most times useless, attempts to get away.
Inevitably, there would be loud banging on one of the doors as a self-designated, town crier brought the news,
“Ole John Henry Just got killed,”
to which would come the reply,
“I knoed he’d git his’n one day - he wuz a bad un, dat John Henry. Who done it?”
The news bearer answered,
“Nothuh bad un, Louis White, you know, Bill’s boy, de one dey call Bubba.”
People died young on “The Street.” The children of “The Street” were taught there were two things they had to do in life - they had to stay black and they had to die.” So, death in the community became another accepted way of life.
A funny thing about the people of “The Street,” though, they never saw their surroundings as others did. The people were just as happy as if they lived in, what we might call, “country club.“ They were neither affected by their impoverished state nor the fact that so many tragedies happened in their small community. It seemed they had resigned themselves to a way of life, and they could do no better. This is the story of just one family and their life on “The Street.”
Once her husband was off to work, Lugenia began her daily chores. First she got her five children fed and dressed for school. Once they were gone, she began her day. It was Friday, payday, and Lugenia didn’t have to cook the usual family meal of beans, which took all day, so she was able to go visiting as she’d told Lucius she would. Once she had the house straightened and in order, she started out on her first errand.
Miss Fannie lived only a short distance away from Miss Sally, so Lugenia changed her mind and decided she’d visit with Miss Sally first. It was very quiet at Miss Sally’s. She was a terribly sick woman, and looking at her, Lugenia knew it was only a matter of time - could be, she thought, any minute.
One of Miss Sally’s sons, John offered Lugenia a chair saying,
“Come on in Lug.” (The front door was open. A rusted, half torn screen door pushed behind her to close.) “Make yosef to home.”
“Okay,” Lugenia answered him. “I’ll jes sit heah a while wid y’all. She don got wurse, huh?
“Yeah,” John answered.
Lugenia could hear the rattling in Miss Sally’s throat and her eyes stared, seeing nothing.
“Yeah,” John went on, “Won’t be long now.”
Lugenia shuddered to think how awful it must be watching and waiting for someone to die - especially someone you know and love.
Another visitor, everybody called Miss Rena, came upon the porch. She attended the same church with Miss Sally and Lugenia. Miss Rena took a seat by the bed, opened her Bible and began to read Scripture to the sick woman.
John made a fresh pot of coffee for them, and he and Lugenia sat sipping their coffee as they reminisced about Miss Sally, when she was up and about.
The time passed quickly, and Lugenia realized she had to go if she was going to stop and help Miz Fannie. She said her goodbyes, reminding them,
“If’n y’all needs me, jes send somebody fo me and I’ll come.”
John reassured her,
“We will, Lu, we will. We knows yo is always ready to do sumthin to hep anybody.”
Leaving them, Lugenia cut across their yard to Mis Fannie’s, whom she found sitting under a tree shelling peas. She called out to Lugenia,
“Come ovuh heah gurl and sit wid me a while.”
Lugenia plopped down into one of the straw bottomed chairs under the tree and began to help with the peas. Miss Fannie said,
“Recon you been to see Miz Sally?
“Yesm,” Lugenia said. “She ain’t doin so good, won be roun much longuh.”
“All de chillun done come?” Miss Fannie Asked.
“Yesm, but de only one theah wuz ole John, and you know he always de firs to come de minit he gits wurd his momma is sick or sumthin.”
Then changing the conversation. Miss Fannie looked around as if checking to make sure no one had come up, and in a whispering voice, said,
“Lawd gal, I know you don hurd bout how ole Elner whupped Gladys at de grocy sto yes ditty.”
“Nome, I ain’t hurd. Whut don happen’d?” Lugenia asked.
“Well,” Miss Fannie continued, “Don’t say I tole you, but dey say Elner caut ole Henny wid Gladys at huh hous, and she jes let huh have it. I ain’t seen huh, but dey say she got a black eye.”
Lugenia chuckled. “She shouda got huh. I ketch anybody wid my Luke, an I doan know what I mite do.”
The two of them sat there for the longest laughing and talking, gossiping about the things going in their little community. It was getting late, and Lugenia had to leave so she could beat the children home. And, she had to fry fish before Lucius got hom.
Once she was home, Lugenia saw to it that the children did their chores. By that time it was 4:30. Luke would be home soon. On Fridays he was always late. He’d get his check cashed; then, he’d always stop at the store and get treats for the children. He knew she loved ice cream, and on Fridays, he always bought her a pint.
The sun had gone down as Lugenia prepared the fish for frying. The children were running around outside playing hide ands eek. Lugenia looked at the old kitchen clock and thought to herself, “Luke ought to be just about ready to turn the corner now.” It never happened. Instead, came a loud banging on the door followed by,
“Miz Lugenia! Miz Lugenia! Yo betta come, sumthin done happun to Mr. Luke. He don been stabbed!”
All the breath went out of Lugenia, and for a few minutes she couldn’t move. All she could do was stand with her mouth open; her feet felt like they were weighted down in cement. Seeing her shock, the man shouted again,
“Miz Lugenia! Miz Lugenia! Com on! We got to go see bout Mr. Luke!”
The man grabbed Lugenia’s hand. The touch of his hand brought her back, and reaching for her purse, Lugenia ran out the door - the children right behind her. They only had to go a short distance. Lugenia’s heart was heavy. She just knew her Luke was dead! She just knew it! At the scene, her worst fears proved true. Lucius Turner, lying face in a puddle of his own blood was dead. Lugenia knelt beside him. Somehow she managed to turn him over, and cradling him in her arms, she cried, loud, pitiful, heartbroken sobs, asking over and over,
“How cud dis happun? Who wud won to kill my Luke?”
The children were crying equally as hard. The police and the ambulance arrived at the same time. The ambulance took the body, and Lugenia was allowed to ride in the front seat with the driver, but the police stayed behind to ask questions.
“You,” one of the policemen motioned to an onlooker. “Did you see what happened heah?
The tall black man answered, “No suh, I didn’t see nothing.”
Exasperated, the policeman asked pointedly:
“Did anybody see anything?”
No answer. The policemen walked away shaking their heads. As they got into the car, the people heard him say,
“Jes another dead niggah.”
Who killed Lucius Turner? The question rang throughout the whole neighborhood. One person finally spoke up, of course, not within earshot of the police.
“It wuz ole Sidnee Jones. I seed him do it. Firs he wuz talkin to Luke, and Luke, he seem lak he wuz ignoin him. Luk, he jes kep on walkin. Den ole Sidnee came upon him an sed sumthin. Luke, he turned round, sed sumthin back, an befoe I knew whut wuz happun’n, ole Sidnee had whupped out his knife and he stabbed Luke. An dat’s jus how it wuz.”
This information was reported to the police. The eyewitness repeated his statement, but there was never an investigation. The police never visited Lugenia - never talked to her. The killer was allowed to go free - to possibly kill again. But everybody, black and white, knew that Lucius Turner was indeed, “Jes another dead niggah.”
And, worst of it all, nobody seemed to care - t6hat is, nobody but Lugenia Turner and her children. After the funeral she tried to go on with her life. She took care of her children as best as she could. Lucius had a small life insurance policy which paid for his burial and a few hundred dollars left over. There was, of course, no other income, so Lugenia had to get work.
In 1944 the only work for a black woman in the south was that of maid, cook, or work in the cotton fields. Lugenia went to work in a private home as maid and cook. Her weekly salary was $5.00, and this was good because, at that time, most people didn’t make that much. With this she was able to eek out a paltry living for herself and her five children. But, in the midst of every tragedy, there can be blessings. The family she worked for had children the same ages of hers, and they would pass their children’s clothing and toys down to her. On top of that, a lot of times, they would even buy the children toys and even groceries for the family.
Lugenia cried a lot, but she also prayed a lot. Her load, indeed, was a heavy one. Grief for her husband had almost consumed her. Yet, she tried, as best as she could, to go on with her life. She continued to visit the sick and give of herself as she always had, but her heart was no longer in it.
Too, Lugenia had been a great worker in the church. To her many friends there was no doubt that she was a Christian in the truest sense of the word.
In fact, Lugenia would stand boldly and declare her faith whenever the opportunity presented itself; but now, doubt had over clouded her mind, and try as she might, to keep in mind Jesus’ words, “And lo, I will be with you always,” she could find no peace. The void in her life was tearing her to pieces.
Then came the night Lugenia accepted one of many invitations to a party. At that party she took her first drink of whisky. She liked the way the drink made her feel, so she took another, and another, and another. For the first time in her life, Lugenia Turner was drunk! And worse, she allowed the man, who had given her the drinks, to escort her home. At he door the man grabbed her and kissed her. And she, floating, more form the liquor than from anything else, allowed the man to come into her house.
From that point on Lugenia Turner’s life was on a downhill course. She couldn’t forget Lucius, and she couldn’t forgive herself for what she was doing to herself and her children. Worse, she felt too unworthy to ask God to forgive her and to help her. As a result, Lugenia sank deeper and deeper into the pit. And, on top of that, the people of “The Street,” and her church just didn’t seem to care. It just didn’t seem to matter to them that their dear friend, neighbor, and Christian sister appeared to be at her wits end.
Whatever a person was, or wasn’t on “The Street,” it was expected and accepted. If they managed to overcome “The Street,” it was fine, but no big thing. By the same token, if not, then that was fine too. So be it. Whatever. Whatever‘s bad inside of you, “The Street,” will bring it out.
Gossip about Lugenia rang throughout the neighborhood. It seemed that as along as they kept their eyes on Lugenia and how bad she was doing, they wouldn’t see their own desperate situation.
And, Lugenia, in her pitiful state, didn’t have a chance. She became the neighborhood drunk. Those who had once sang her praises; who professed to love and respect her, now avoided her. Lugenia felt she no longer had anything to live for. “The Street,” had her. In 1946, almost two years from the day Lucius Turner was killed, Lugenia Turner died. She drank herself to death.
A tragedy! Yes! But, again, out of every tragedy can come blessings. All of the children were adopted by the same family and taken away to another town, another environment. Most important, they were introduced to the Word of God. And, in His Word (Joshua 1:8) He says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
How do I know they used the Word of God as their guide? They’re always ready to tell anyone who’ll listen, “If it had not been for the Lord on my side…..” Very often we read of their accomplishments as adults. One child became a teacher, one a minister, another, a doctor, another godly mother and housewife; another, a godly husband and father. When we hear of their successes, all we can do is rejoice and hake our head in awe! Their lives and testimonies are a true message of grace as defined in the Holy Word.
A dear friend often quotes to me something that has been said to her,
“You can’t get pass your mind.”
These words are very true, but, we have help. Our minds, so the book of Romans, chapter 12, tells us that our minds can be renewed. How? You might ask. The Book of Proverbs, chapter 3 gives us the answer: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
We only need to apply these Scriptures, never forgetting our support system, Jesus Christ, Who said in Matthew 18, “And lo, I will be with you always.” Like words to different people in a different time; but you know what, in this, another time - our time - He’s always with us too!
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