Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

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"To say that Lula Hardaway did not have an easy life is an understatement. It was a constant struggle for self-esteem and emotional survival. Yet survive she did - a motherless child born in a sharecropper's shack in Alabama, she was passed from relative to relative, unwanted and, for the most part, unloved. As a teenager she was sent to Chicago, where she met a much older man whom she eventually married. Unfortunately, her life then took an even darker turn as he abused her and forced her to work as a prostitute. Determined to build a better ...
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Overview

"To say that Lula Hardaway did not have an easy life is an understatement. It was a constant struggle for self-esteem and emotional survival. Yet survive she did - a motherless child born in a sharecropper's shack in Alabama, she was passed from relative to relative, unwanted and, for the most part, unloved. As a teenager she was sent to Chicago, where she met a much older man whom she eventually married. Unfortunately, her life then took an even darker turn as he abused her and forced her to work as a prostitute. Determined to build a better life for her children, she started hiding money away, and one day successfully made her escape to Detroit." "One of her sons, Stevland Judkins, was blind from infancy. Although he presented special challenges, Lula noticed from the outset that this little boy impressed everyone he met with his outgoing personality, his intelligence, charm, and resourcefulness -- and his incredible musical talent. By age ten, he was playing and singing gospel tunes in church, and then joining adults singing rhythm and blues on the street corners of Detroit." "Eventually, word of this young phenomenon reached Berry Gordy, who was just beginning to establish himself as a creative force in Detroit's thriving music scene. Gordy dubbed the boy Little Stevie Wonder, and launched him into musical history when he signed him to his Motown label." "Stardom didn't come that easily - there was the question of what material was best for Stevie, and then the question of what would happen to the twelve-year-old boy's voice when he reached puberty. Fortunately, the voice that emerged was even more musical and more captivating than it had been. Great care was taken in choosing his next projects and the result was a succession of top 10 - and several number 1 - hits." "Through it all, Stevie Wonder never failed to credit his mother. When Innervisions won a Grammy award for Album of the Year in 1973, he refused to accept the award unless Lula would walk with
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The tale of Lula Hardaway's life reads like something out of Dickens. Born during the Great Depression as the illegitimate child of a teenage mother and an absent father, she was passed back and forth between relatives before giving birth to three sons herself by the age of 20. Though she eventually found work in a factory, she was hampered by a lack of education and training and eventually resorted to prostitution (at the insistence of her no-account husband) in order to make ends meet. What makes her story different from those of other poor, uneducated, exploited women is that her youngest son, Steveland Judkins, was born with a profound disability and an equally profound talent. Though his blindness condemned him, in one teacher's opinion, to a life of making pot holders or selling pencils, Steveland possessed a musical genius and charismatic presence that took him to the pinnacle of stardom and made him one of his generation's most important and influential artists -- Stevie Wonder.

Though based on interviews with Hardaway and Wonder, the story here is not told exclusively from their perspective; rather, it is filtered through the frequently florid prose of journalists Love and Brown. Despite more than a few heavy-handed passages, Blind Faith is a heartfelt telling of a remarkable mother's story, and a testament to the inner spirit that gave her strength throughout her struggles. Katherine Hottinger

Beth Kephart
At the 1973 Grammy Awards, Stevie Wonder, the raucous singer of such megahits as "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," took home an astonishing five trophies, including Album of the Year. It would have been an impressive feat for any young artist, but for Stevie, born poor, blind and black, it served as testament to the strength of his mother, Lula. Written by two journalists and based on extensive interviews, this book recounts Lula's story—a hardscrabble existence, years spent footing the bills with cash earned through prostitution—as well as Stevie's phenomenal rise to fame. Though chock-full of heartwarming scenes, Blind Faith occupies an uncomfortable zone somewhere between memoir and hagiography.
Publishers Weekly
Love and Brown, two freelance journalists, based this rambling account of the rock 'n' roll legend on interviews they conducted with Wonder and Hardaway, both of whom cooperated with this bio. Blind since birth, Steveland Judkins (born in 1952) was a musical prodigy who, as a child, played for coins on the street. By the time he was 10, he had mastered the harmonica, piano, organ and drums without taking a lesson. After moving with his family to Detroit, he was introduced to Berry Gordy of Motown Records, who signed him to a record contract and nicknamed him "Little Stevie Wonder." After his first big hit, "Fingertips Part Two," Wonder continued to produce hits for Motown until he was 21, when he negotiated a contract that gave him artistic freedom. The authors accurately portray Wonder's amazing musical ability, but they offer little insight into their subject's character other than stressing his good nature and commitment to social causes. More engrossing is their treatment of Hardaway, who was deserted by her parents and endured a childhood marked by poverty and abuse. Calvin Judkins, her husband and father of their children (including Stevie), drank, beat his wife, and forced her into prostitution in order to feed her family. She finally was able to extricate herself from this relationship and support her three children by finding a job that was low paying, but above the board. Love and Brown describe how Wonder greatly improved his mother's life after he became successful, but, unfortunately, they essentially end their account with Wonder's recovery from a 1973 automobile accident. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1973, when Stevie Wonder's Innervisions won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, he refused to accept the award unless his mother, Lula Hardaway, walked to the stage with him. From the podium, he announced, "Her strength has led us to this place." Like many African Americans of her generation, Hardaway was a part of the great migration north in pre-Civil Rights Alabama. Born in a sharecropper's shack in Alabama's Black Belt, she didn't know her mother or her father and was passed from relative to relative, forced to earn her keep, and constantly reminded that her presence caused a financial hardship. As a teenager looking for a better life, Hardaway was sent to Chicago, where she married a much older abusive man who forced her into prostitution. She eventually ran away and settled in Detroit. Wonder, born blind, was her third child. Hardaway wanted him to have the miracle of sight; to that end, she took him to specialists and faith healers, but to no avail. Yet her son was funny, smart, outgoing, and musically inclined; his talent caught the attention of Berry Gordy, who called him "Little Stevie Wonder" and signed him to the Motown label. Read by Viola Davis, Blind Faith is the dual story of a mother's love and the making of a musician. Recommended for all public libraries with large popular biography sections.-Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two journalists superficially chronicle the life of musician Stevie Wonder's mother. Born in 1932 in Hurtsboro, Alabama, and abandoned shortly thereafter by her unmarried teenage mother, Lula Hardaway was raised by a maternal aunt and uncle. They died when she was about 12 years old; at 13, she made a long train trip to Chicago to live with the father she had never met. Their reunion lasted two weeks. Hardaway next went to stay with a paternal aunt in Indiana, where she was put to work as a seamstress in a local textile mill. Pregnant and unmarried at 14, she was thrown out of the house. Once again she relocated to a relative's home, this time in Michigan. There, 17-year-old Hardaway met Calvin Judkins, a street hustler in his 50s. They married and quickly had two children; younger son Steveland was born prematurely, and his infant blindness may have been the result of too much oxygen in the incubator. Family life was far from idyllic: Judkins soon began pimping and battering Hardaway. During one such incident, she attacked him with a knife and made her escape to Detroit. At this point (the late 1950s), the narrative virtually abandons Hardaway, and focuses on Wonder's pivotal relationship with Berry Gordy Jr. and his long association with Motown Records. This story is always engaging, but has been amply covered already: his first big hit ("Fingertips-Pt 2") in 1963; the influential albums Uptight Everything's Alright, Innervisions, and the spectacular Songs in the Key of Life; his joyful creation of pop history. Oddly, it ends with Wonder's triumph at the 1974 Grammy Awards; Love and Brown bring Hardaway's life story up to date in a two-page epilogue. Although the authors note that herchief motivation in cooperating with this project is to empower other despairing women, they do her a disservice in this shallow biography. Of minor interest to Mr. Wonder's legion of fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684869797
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 11/26/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Dennis Love (right) is a freelance journalist who has worked for The Arizona Republic, UPI, the Los Angeles Daily News, and The Orange County Register. He lives in Sacramento, California. Stacy Brown (left) is also a journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Los Angeles Times Community News, and he currently works for The Journal News in Westchester, New York. This is the first book for each of them.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Saginaw, Michigan, 1952

You need a miracle. God bless you and your baby boy, but there is nothing we can do. I am so sorry.

It was the last doctor — the best doctor, the Mayo Clinic doctor — who said that. She had waited in his private office, the wriggling two-year-old in her lap, with all those impressive-looking diplomas on the wall, and then he had come in to talk to her. He was tall and intense, wearing a long, starched, white lab coat, a pair of half-moon spectacles teetering on the end of his nose. He had peered down through those spectacles at the clipboard in his hands for a great long while, and then he took the spectacles off and looked at her and the uncomprehending boy, and told her. Straight and honest. You need a miracle. God bless you and your baby boy, but there is nothing we can do. I am so sorry.

You need a miracle. Lula had taken those words home with her to Saginaw, which wasn't home at all. Not for an Alabama girl raised on a sharecropper's farm in the hot and humid middle of nowhere in the Black Belt, near a tattered little village called Hurtsboro, about a day's mule wagon ride from Montgomery in those days. That was home to her. But that was such a long time ago, eleven years now since her life crumbled around her and she made her way to this godforsaken place.

But not so long ago that she couldn't remember how it felt, then, to be back there. In times like these, with the winter cold starting to settle in, another whip-cold Michigan winter with the chill wafting into her bones like a ghost, Lula would remember what it was like back then in Alabama, where it never seemed to get cold and where children grew up strong and healthy and could see forever.

It never occurred to her, back then, that she would live anywhere else. Because when you are a child, Lula had decided, even a poor child, you don't ever really think that your world will change. You can't even picture it. You don't even know that any other world is out there. Even when times are hard and there isn't enough to eat and your back hurts so bad from picking cotton that you wonder if you'll ever stand upright again, a child will tell herself that everything is okay, because she doesn't know any better.

A little girl like that back in old Alabama...it would never enter her mind that one day she would be waiting on a platform at the train station in Columbus, Georgia, just across the state line from Eufaula, barely eleven years old, her planet in pieces, with no one to care for her but some man who called himself her daddy, a man who lived somewhere up in the grim reaches of Indiana at the distant end of the tracks. She couldn't have predicted that long, swaying, clacking train ride north and the very different world that awaited her there, gray and snowy and hardscrabble and without love. She couldn't have foretold the cruelties she would endure at the hands of ice-hearted men reeking of whiskey, men who would spend their money and their nights next to a warm stove in a gambling house rather than buy coal for their women and children shivering in a drafty, freezing stand of sticks back home. Those cold nights! Those nights when you sit there wrapped in some threadbare blanket and flimsy shawl, fighting off the ghost chill, thinking about that breadwinner who might come with money or who might not, but will sure enough come home sooner or later with anger in his soul.

That little girl chasing her favorite cat down a dusty dirt road near dark couldn't imagine any of that. Not when the sun is almost gone and the air is like a wondrous warm liquid and the crickets begin to rumble and the fireflies are darting and fluttering, their tiny yellow lamps flickering as if there is nothing amazing or spectacular about it at all. And there isn't, not when you're a little girl and you believe the world is a place where things are good and constant and make sense. You could never see yourself in a bitter-cold, crazy-dark tenement hallway with the knife in your hand, your jaw throbbing from the balled fist, a flash of blade and blood, the howling, the crimson tracks across the dirty, moonlit snow.

No, that little girl couldn't see any of that, not on a hot, savage-bright Sunday morning alongside a red-clay dirt road, with the church windows flung open to catch even the promise of salvation or a breeze, handheld paper funeral-home fans foaming back and forth like whitecaps on a choppy sea, the sound of the choir filling up the little white building as if it would burst. Not when the preacher, looming like an apparition, is up there bellowing and frothing at Satan in a voice that surely reached into the bowels of Hell, a voice strong and pure enough to make Satan think twice before attempting to deliver his evil into the hearts of this solid-rock congregation. A little girl wrapped in that much love and faith couldn't possibly envision a life where the Devil runs unchecked, where wind and hearts and blood run cold.

That young girl couldn't peer into the future and see that baby, her third child, born too soon, destined to spend fifty-two days in an incubator. She couldn't envision the day when that precious baby boy, the one with a special spark even as a tiny thing, the special spark that stopped people on the street — Look at that child! — she couldn't foretell the day when that doctor would take off his half-moon spectacles and tell her, straight and honest: You need a miracle. There is nothing we can do. I am so sorry. Or how people would stop her in the street; Look at that child! they would say. That child has the spark, the spark of something I've never seen! A little girl couldn't see that, not when she dreams of her own grown-up life, of some fine husband and their fine children and their life together, a life full of warm-liquid evenings and rumbling crickets and fluttering lightning bugs and churches and choirs and bellowing sermons and Sunday fried chicken and white tablecloths, a life of being wrapped in a man's love, in God's love.

The doctor's words stayed with her: You need a miracle. Little Stevie's affliction would have to be in the hands of the Lord now. But what kind of God would take from a helpless child the power of sight? Lula had seen them on the streets, the blind beggars and panhandlers, selling their pencils and gum and asking for handouts, dirty and pathetic and lost. In night terrors she saw Stevie huddled on the pavement, his mother dead and gone, and the panic would well up within her again, panic and desperation, the desperation that builds in a mother's heart when she has given up on the doctors and the hospitals and the clinics, and wonders what else she can do.

And then, on the radio: hope.

The radio preacher, the one who heals the sick and lame and — Yes, Lord — the blind, the one who exhorts demons from sinners, makes the drunks put their bottles down, brings the unconscious and near-dead to life, that preacher is telling his listeners about an upcoming trip to the Midwest. St. Louis and Topeka and Kansas City and Gary and Detroit and Saginaw and...Saginaw! At the fairgrounds. The hope rises in her heart, and she prays her thanks to God, and she mails in an offering of three hard-won dollars. The name of the preacher's radio program is Healing Waters. The lame and the halt and the blind have been restored by this man of God, and if God wills it, her little boy might see.

And so weeks later she wrapped the boy, walking good now, in his warmest clothes and begged a ride to the fairgrounds pressed hard against the outskirts of that cold and forbidding town, where the big revival tent loomed like the Promised Land bathed in torchlight. Admission is free, dear Sister, just remember the Lord when the plate is passed. It was warm inside, hundreds of people already there, black and white, clapping in time to the gospel singers onstage. Little Stevie was perched on her hip, mesmerized.

Shortly the singing stopped and the Reverend Oral Roberts took the stage, throwing a bolt of electricity through the still-growing, jostling crowd. The preacher, his stallion-black mane of hair glistening, started slow and quiet and stealthy and then began to pummel the crowd with his piercing taunts of their unworthiness before God, taunts punctuated by amens and dramatic chords from the piano. Finally, he sent out the call: "Who among ye would be healed? Who among ye would be healed before God?"

Dozens surged toward the stage. Lula gripped the boy tightly and began to force her way to the front, like a determined fullback swimming for the goal line. At the foot of the stage, amid the swirling tumult, men in suits were choosing who would be allowed onstage and turning others away; Lula still was at least fifteen feet away when one of the men began to bark, No more! No more! She bulled closer and somehow hoisted Stevie in the air. My baby is blind! she yelled. My baby is blind! A thickset white man beside her took up the chant: Her baby is blind! Her baby is blind! And suddenly the crowd just seemed to part, and she was there, the boy bawling, the men hustling her up onto the stage.

It seemed like something out of the New Testament, the braying multitude, the cursed and the afflicted before them, an old crippled man next to Lula speaking in tongues. Another elderly man in front of her shook uncontrollably, his body racked by palsy. Behind her, a young woman's face was marred by a spidery lesion. And Stevie, his opaque eyes rolling back into his head, but not crying now, instead quiet, rigid, instinctively transfixed by the moment. One by one, the preacher began to minister to them, laying his hands on tormented bodies, beseeching God to heal them, to stop the Devil's work, to allow this gentleman to walk unaided, to stop this elderly brother's tremors, to restore beauty to this young woman's face. One by one, he challenged God to invoke His mercy. And, one by one, the afflicted responded. The blathering old man fell silent, reason suddenly reflected in his face, and then he abruptly let his crutches fall away, standing gingerly yet unaided. "Praise God!" someone shouted, and the crowd cheered. The palsied gentleman ceased shaking; the crowd thundered. Roberts placed his hands on the young woman's face, then swept them away; the blight was gone. She gaped in astonishment as someone held a mirror before her. The stage fairly shook with the crowd's seismic roar of approval.

Stevie and Lula were last.

That little girl in long-ago-and-faraway Alabama could never have imagined a time when she would crumple to her knees before a crowd on fire, clutching her precious child as if he might suddenly ascend to heaven on wings, tears of terror and joy plummeting down her face, the radio preacher placing his hands over the boy's eyes and yelling time and again, "I command you to see! In the name of Almighty God, I command you to see!" and the doctor's words echoing in her head, in her heart, and on her lips:

You need a miracle!

You need a miracle!

You need a miracle!

Copyright © 2002 by Dennis Love, Stacy Brown, and Lula Hardaway

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First Chapter

Chapter One: Paradise

She was the first to arrive, the sister in the powder-blue suit from the Sunday school class, standing in the foyer, rigid, tentative, like a statue with a pocketbook. She was exactly on time. Lula figured the sister must have driven around the lush hills south of Ventura Boulevard in the winter rain for fifteen minutes before finally parking and knocking on the door, not wanting to be early but not willing to wait a second longer than she had to.

She stood there in the foyer and took it all in: the white-and-gold French Provincial furniture, the sparkling chandelier that made the late-afternoon light dance, the lush white rugs, the mahogany dining room table dense with food and wine, the white baby grand in the center of the room. She had that hungry look, the look Lula had seen before, hungry for whatever she could see.

And there was plenty to see. No question about that.

Can I take your coat, Sister? Lula asked.

Why, sure, she replied, snapping awake. Lula slipped the raincoat from her shoulders and gave it to the maid, who had drifted in from the kitchen along with the heady smell of baking bread.

Lula took the sister by the arm and led her into the living room with the soaring ceilings, toward the table. Let me pour you some champagne, Lula said. Sit down over here, and I'll get you something to drink. We'll visit until the others get here.

Well then, I don't mind if I do. The sister giggled slightly, then caught herself. She took the crystal flute proffered by Lula and smiled warmly. Sister Hardaway, she said, this is a fine and lovelyplace you have here. Just fine and lovely.

Well, thank you, Sister. I've been blessed.

An awkward silence. The sister took a long, greedy pull of champagne, and then another. The hungry eyes rested on the snow-white baby grand.

Will Stevie be --

The doorbell sounded. Excuse me, Lula said. Let me get that.

The other ladies from the Sunday school class began to spill through the door, laughing and chattering and shaking off the rain, and the social was underway. They gathered first in the living room, sporadically gawking about, as if in Manhattan for the first time. Then, at Lula's nudging, they began to graze along the well-appointed table and sip champagne. After a while they began to scatter about the house, several settling in the den, the walls spangled with framed gold records and the shelves dotted with framed pictures -- Stevie with Coretta Scott King, Stevie with President Nixon, Stevie with Everybody.

The talk was of the church, the preacher, the preacher's wife, of Brother This and Sister That. Didn't the choir sound good last Sunday? Will you be here on Easter Sunday, or visiting your children? No one spoke of the invisible yet overwhelming presence in the room, the omniscient superstar ghost of the great Stevie Wonder. It would be rude, after all. This was Lula's party, Lula's house. They would have loved to have asked a thousand questions -- What's your boy doing now? Tell us about that boy! -- but they did not. Not even the sister in the powder-blue suit, even though she now had the too-quick laugh and the unmistakable glow of someone unaccustomed to alcohol before the sun goes down, if at all.

Soon enough things began to break up. One by one or in small clumps, the guests paid their respects to Lula in the foyer and began to make their way out the door. The last was Sister Powder Blue, listing slightly in her tracks.

I appreciate your coming, Sister, Lula said.

Honey, it was my pleasure, she replied, gazing about one last time. I just love your home, your lovely home. And you treated us so nice.

Well, thank you. We'll do it again sometime.

So lovely. The sister smiled and shook her head. I'll tell you one thing --

What's that, Sister?

You must have been a praying ass to get all this.

Lula stared hard for a moment. Then, slowly, she gave the sister a diplomatic smile. Thank you for coming, she said again, and gently closed the door.

Lula walked back into the heart of the house, taking in the white-and-gold French Provincial furniture, the sparkling chandelier that made the late-afternoon light dance, the lush white rugs, the mahogany dining room table still dense with food and wine, the white baby grand in the center of the room, the baking-bread smell. She poured half a glass of champagne and sat down on the sectional sofa and felt the old anger rise like bile.

A praying ass?

I must have been a praying ass?

Sister, you have no idea.

You best believe I was a praying ass.


Lula sat in the darkening silence of the room, her son's famous countenance radiating from every wall and shelf, and felt the hot tears of memory come.

***

To get to where it all began:

You float down out of the Southern haze until the Birmingham skyline materializes amid the rolling, tree-peppered hills, which, depending on the season and the drought, are a lush green or a desultory brown. The plane bumps and brakes and rushes to a halt, and before long you are in the car working your way out of Birmingham, which is modern and prosperous and new-seeming, down Interstate 65 toward Montgomery, which is not.

Montgomery, as if frozen in time, still looks as if it could serve as a movie set for the quintessential redneck capital city in the 1930s. The bone-white statehouse gleams dully above the two-storey, brick-and-mortar downtown façades, plain but rigidly resolute in their resistance to the linear desires of contemporary architecture. You half-expect, if you hang around long enough, to catch sight of a rotund, broad-faced, string-tied, porkpie-hatted caricature of some good-ole-boy legislator, his white Palm Beach suit mottled with two great flowering patches of sweat from beneath each armpit, ambling up the avenue toward the capitol after a languid, mostly liquid lunch at the Elite (pronounced "E-light" among the locals), a lunch provided for by, let's say, the cattlemen's association or the teachers' union. The city still has that air about it.

But Montgomery is not only the capital of the state but is also the nexus of the Black Belt, Alabama's still-rural middle swath, so named for the rich soil that has dry-spit out a living for those who have farmed it for two hundred years. But the Black Belt carries another connotation. Once you leave Montgomery behind, be it to travel east, west, or south, Alabama's African-American population is at its most predominant. Some counties -- like Lowndes, or Wilcox, or Bullock -- are 70 percent black or more, and, unlike rural areas anywhere else in the country, have power structures that are almost exclusively black: black commissioners, black school boards, black mayors, black sheriffs. Whites, meanwhile, have voted with their feet. They are gone.

The irony is obvious and overwhelming. Blacks, transplanted here two centuries ago as slave labor to prop up the great antebellum plantation mansions that glistened like fine ships on a dark, loamy ocean, have ended up with the land as a sort of rueful inheritance. These are some of the poorest counties in America, and -- if you take the time to stop along the wandering two-lane blacktop and talk to any of the polite yet suspicious old-timers, who are legion -- you'll be told that while the color of the man wearing the local badge may have changed, not much else has. People is still poor and grabblen for whatever they can get, said one old man in overalls and clodhoppers, who introduced himself as Harvey, watering a modest garden behind a small white frame house with the obligatory swing on the front porch. People is poor and always will be.

So the plantations are gone from around here, as is just about every other sign of economic activity. That is abundantly clear as you drive east out of Montgomery into the country, where tarpaper shacks and dust-streaked double-wides and stooped, rust-flecked farm equipment fly by in a never-ending blur. And there certainly are no plantations in Hurtsboro, Alabama, population five hundred and ninety-two, which is where you will find yourself after about an hour of watching the blur fly by and availing yourself of the passing lane every chance you get to make your way around the sputtering hay truck going thirty-five or the postal carrier in the old Buick station wagon who lurches to a stop at every forlorn, weed-constricted mailbox with the name stenciled in spray paint on the side.

Except you don't stop in Hurtsboro proper, which is three blocks of tattered small town that still looks like an artist's depiction of the Depression at its nadir. No, you keep going along the two-lane for another mile or so, then make a hard right and leave the asphalt behind for a red-clay road, its shoulders draped in kudzu. You barrel along for about a mile, past shacks and barns and sagging houses that make the highway's window dressing back there look like Glitter Gulch. Then, finally, the church -- the little Baptist church, redbrick now, with the original white cinder-block building resigned to the rear, with the cemetery just beyond. The church appears, you hang a left, and you know you are almost there.

The road, lined with barbed wire, is little more than a turkey trot. Big branches hang low. You take it slow...and round a bend and break back out into the open sunlight where the dirt lane slips through an expanse of pastureland. Another fifty yards and the road suddenly expires as though it just got weary and quit. It is stone silent. You are utterly alone. If this is not the end of the earth, it is a fine rendering of it.

And then you realize that straight ahead, in the short distance among the sagging pines and the tall, dusty broom sage swaying in the slight afternoon breeze, is the rubble of the old home place. By all appearances, most of the house that once stood here burned many years ago. The only thing left erect with any notion of pride or poise is an old, crumbling brick chimney. The rest is charred debris and what used to be.

***

It has been nearly sixty years since Lula Hardaway lived among the pines and swaying broom sage here on the outskirts of Hurtsboro, just beyond the reach of the small-town tatter. Stevie Wonder never lived here, nor has he ever visited this place. But it is the place where his mother came into consciousness, where her legs took root and steadied beneath her, only to fling her northward toward the strange and cruel and wonderful destiny that became places like East Chicago and Saginaw and Detroit and Los Angeles.

Here, at this particular end of the earth in 1932, a young, unmarried, pregnant woman named Mary Ellie Pitts, still in her teens, came in a lurching, mule-drawn wagon from Eufaula -- a thriving river city, further east near the Georgia line -- to bear a child with the assistance of her uncle, Henry Wright, and his wife, Virge. Henry and Virge were sharecroppers on what is now the expanse of pastureland but, back then, was a billowing field of cotton that was planted, tended, and harvested by several black families, with Henry acting as sort of a patriarchal overseer for the white planter.

Henry Wright was a big, strapping, authoritarian man who knew farming and understood people, both black and white. Little is known about his background or ancestry, but to the handful of those in Hurtsboro who vaguely recall him, Henry was emblematic of -- and yet a departure from -- the black men who played principal roles in the sharecropping economy of the rural South in the late 1800s and well into the 1900s. He was a gruff opinion leader within the community and an absolutely dedicated family man with a brood of children who worked on the land just as diligently as he did. He handled the finances for the sharecropping collective, acting as middleman between the families and the landowner, at once field boss, banker, and mayor.

That made Henry a very unusual sharecropper, according to the ways of the Black Belt, for blacks almost without exception were placed at a great disadvantage. Sharecroppers essentially were economic prisoners within the self-contained fiefdoms that were the plantations. They were issued scrip, rather than real money, redeemable only at the plantation store. As late as 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. encountered Alabama sharecroppers who had never laid eyes on U.S. currency. Sharecropping families worshiped at plantation churches and their children attended grossly substandard plantation schools.

Each sharecropping family farmed a plot of land, as much as forty acres depending on the sharecropper's reputation for hard work and the number of able bodies at his disposal. While the crop was brought to fruition the families relied on the "furnish," a monthly payment by the landowner meant to cover expenses until harvest time. The furnish rarely was adequate, even for the standard of poverty prevalent then, and most sharecroppers were forced to purchase items from the plantation store on credit. The final accounting came at the "settle," which occurred after the sharecropper had delivered his cotton to the plantation gin. In November each sharecropper would be called to the plantation office, where he would learn how much money he had cleared from his crop -- if any -- and get paid.

For most sharecroppers -- black and white -- the settle was a crushing ritual. Rarely did they come away with more than a few dollars. More likely, the planter's arithmetic -- which included charges for store purchases and other, sometimes murky, fees -- would show that the sharecropper had broken even or, worse, still owed the plantation money. That deficit would be carried over to the next planting year, ensuring that the sharecropper started the new year in the hole.

(One old sharecropper told of the blatant lengths to which one owner would go to avoid paying what was due. At one settle, the sharecropper purposefully held back twenty-five dollars worth of scrip, which ordinarily would have been turned over to the owner for credit toward cash. The owner did his computations and determined that the sharecropper owed a few dollars. The sharecropper then pulled the hidden scrip from his pocket, which would have covered the "debt" and brought him some real cash besides. Undeterred, the owner blatantly "refigured" the settle yet again and determined the sharecropper still owed money.) If a planter chose to shortchange a sharecropper by lowering the weight of his cotton, the sharecropper's hands were tied. If a planter chose to layer a sharecropper's account with suspect equipment repairs and the like, so be it. The sharecropper was powerless.

The sharecropper had little or no recourse. Legal action was out of the question. To even question the settle was risky business in the Depression-era South. Legends abound here of sharecroppers shot by owners as a result of arguments over the settle. Punishment in such cases usually was nonexistent; the big plantations were above the law. When troubles arose on their land, the planters handled it themselves. The local authorities would stay clear.

Inevitably, the end of the year presented a sharecropper who had come up short with few options. Finally, there was the decision at which most sharecropping families inevitably arrived: sharecropping elsewhere. Some were forced to sneak away to escape a burdensome obligation to the planter. There was a great annual redistribution of black families throughout the plantation South that strained both the families and the social structure of the entire black community. Rarely did a move do much good for a sharecropping family's circumstances. The relatively few plantations where sharecroppers regularly cleared money rarely had openings, so the families that moved usually wound up at another dishonest place where they would once again end the year in debt.

It was a cruel and distressing system, one that in many ways worked against the planters as well as the sharecroppers. It certainly couldn't have been good business for the landowners to have to deal with the constant churn of field labor, but the more unscrupulous and shortsighted planters shrugged it off as just the way of getting business done. In the 1930s, slavery was a reality only six decades in the past, an experience and time well within the memory of many, many people, white and black. Sharecropping was undeniably viewed -- by the white planters, anyway -- as an evolutionary step removed from the slave days, while most sharecroppers certainly saw it as simply another, albeit more complicated, manifestation of forced servitude.

Those few sharecroppers who were able to find a plantation that was run in an aboveboard fashion and where their families were treated with a modicum of respect considered themselves lucky indeed.

***

And so it was with Henry Wright, who was diplomatic and wily and commanded respect from the planters he dealt with, in no small measure because he also commanded respect from the sharecropping families he partnered with. Dealing with Henry meant that you dealt with the chieftain of about five or six families. Henry guaranteed the quality of each family's work and deportment. In return, Henry guaranteed the families that he would ensure that they were dealt with as equitably as could be hoped for. Henry oversaw the food purchases, negotiated the settles, and generally served as a buffer between the planters and the families.

This was a rarity, indeed. Henry's interlocution with the planter meant that there was a prized, if relative, stability among what amounted to the farming commune he headed. And so, for a number of years, Henry and Virge and their brood of children lived in the clapboard house amid the broom sage and not-yet sagging pines, enduring poor and desperate lives that were, at the same time, more secure than any of them could have ever hoped.

So it was natural, then, that Mary Ellie Pitts, her belly beginning to swell, would hitch a jostling wagon ride with a relative and finally make her way down the turkey trot to the clapboard farmhouse amid the billowing cotton. She needed help, and care, and a good roof over her head. The father of her child, Noble Hardaway -- a fine-looking man, knowledgeable and glib -- had disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, visiting his family from up North. But when Mary Ellie's condition had become apparent, he had vanished. There would be neither love nor aid from him, which was fine with Mary Ellie. Her mother and father, tired of her contrary and independent ways in matters of men and everything else, had given Mary Ellie her unconditional release into the world years ago. But now she needed help, and she wasn't about to go back to Mama and Papa, who were dirt poor anyway, and old. So it was Henry and Virge who willingly pulled the short straw, who took in their blood because there simply wasn't anyone else who would.

Two months later, Lula Mae Hardaway was born in the teeth of one of the poorest corners of one of the poorest states in the most poverty-stricken chapter of American history. But her birth was greeted as a blessed occasion, a gift. She came into the world healthy and grinning, with a dusting of reddish hair. They named her Lula, but they called her Little Red.

Mary Ellie stayed for about six months. But then the contrarian, independent part of her breached, like a whale leaping clear of the water, and she made her apologies and excuses and promises and left. She didn't come back. And Henry and Virge became Papa and Mama, and Little Red wouldn't know anything different, not for a long time.

To think of Hurtsboro as idyllic in any sense of the word -- particularly during the Depression and World War II, when Lula lived there -- seems almost ludicrous. The way of life there, even today, would be a shock to the system of most Americans. Yes, today there is some subsidized housing, and there is a local pizza delivery outfit, and a couple of gas stations that stand sentry out on the main highway that blazes through the town in a tremendous hurry to just keep going somewhere else. Some of the people who live there now commute to jobs in Montgomery, or Eufaula, or Columbus, Georgia. Downtown there is a struggling drugstore and some people, white and black, milling about. Mostly, though, it is a typical small Southern town that, like its inhabitants, is barely getting by. Its young people leave at first light, if they have a glimmer of ambition. It is dying a slow, not very complicated death, a death that is being repeated throughout the rural South as the big cities and their suburbs steal away the lifeblood of Hurtsboros everywhere.

But for Lula Hardaway, Hurtsboro was a happy place, even in those punitive times. There wasn't always enough to eat, despite Henry's assiduous efforts. The work was hard and long, and Lula herself was no stranger to the fields (as a small child she was dragged up and down the cotton rows in a wooden crate attached to a rope; at age six she was expected to do fieldwork herself). But for one of the precious few times in her early life, she was surrounded by a nuclear family, complete with father and mother, and an extended network of family and friends comprised of the other sharecropping families who lived nearby. As the youngest child -- and as one who was there under special circumstances -- Lula was doted on. There were playmates, lots of them, and there were golden afternoons when the children all gathered and ran and shrieked and played as children do, trappings be damned.

In the evenings, after the smokehouse ham and black-eyed peas and cornbread had all been cleared away, the family would settle in next to the stove and the singing would begin. Some of the songs were gospel hymns, others old slave songs passed down through the years. Henry would rumble deep and low, while Virge had a sweet tenor that cut through all the voices that filled the house. The songs were punctuated by Henry's ruminations on Jesus and the family's forebears, spliced with interrogations of the children about the various ways in which they spent their days. He spoke of a time, long ago, when black men were kings. Sometimes, the children would ask if Henry believed that black men would ever be kings again.

I don't know, child, he would say.

But we are all kings and queens on the inside, if we choose to carry ourselves that way.

We are all kings and queens, he would say, though we may not have a throne or a kingdom. Riches come from within.

And then Virge's pure voice would start up, and the little congregation joined in and the clapboard house bulged with the sound. Sometimes at those moments, in the summer, Lula would slip outside -- for she was the baby, and special -- and spin and careen among the fireflies that appeared from some secret firefly-hiding place (she could never figure out where) at dusk. Then suddenly she would stop, turn toward the house, and stand motionless and steady. The song -- maybe it would be "Bound for Canaan Land" or "In the Sweet By-and-By" -- poured from the house, filling the sky. It sounded different, better, from out there, pent-up and cascading from the open windows. And the fireflies, swarms of them, blinking-blinking, swirled about her in a vortex as she stood motionless, listening, watching, feeling as if she were the absolute, inarguable center of a knowable and fathomable universe. The lightning bugs would swirl about her, and she felt that if she stood still enough, long enough, the fireflies would pick her up, gently and carefully, light as a feather, and carry their special friend to the secret firefly-hiding place. She imagined that it was a cave in some distant, as yet undiscovered woods. It would be a place of sheer happiness; a dark, cool place where the lightning bugs flitted and blinked and sparkled all day long, impervious to the withering sun outside.

But they never took Lula there. So she would stand there motionless and steady as the song bulged until the darkness was complete and the lightning bugs seemed to evaporate into the night, conceding to the stars. And then Lula would slip back inside, sitting on the floor next to Papa, nestling up against his oaken shins and taking in the glory of melding voices and talk of kings.

Copyright © 2002 by Dennis Love, Stacy Brown, and Lula Hardaway
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2002

    Amazing Story

    Blind Faith is an amazing story of a mother's courage and love for her children. It inspired me and I know it will inspire everybody who reads it, woman or man. Stevie Wonder should be proud of his mom.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith grabs your attention and takes you on this incredible ride that you never want to get off. This story reads like a movie and you better have your popcorn, because you're not going to want to put this down or get out of your

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    I loved Blind Faith. It took me all of one day to read because I just couldn't put it down. Congratulations to Lula Hardaway and Stevie Wonder. This is worth more than a Grammy Award. Blind Faith is award-winning material.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith is a true test of a mother's faith and certainly a mother's love for her children. Lula Hardaway did so much not only for Stevie Wonder but all of her children. The strength and power she displayed most of her life allows her to live with dignity. This story is one of the most compelling stories you'll find. Blind Faith is captivating, suspenseful and wonderfully told.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    This was perhaps the most compelling and honest biography of a music celebrity I've ever read. It is brutally honest and has you captivated throughout. I couldn't wait to get from page to page, it was written like a theatrical play. Totally impressed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    This biography made me cry and then it made me applaud. It is a lovely story. The book solidifies Stevie Wonder and his mom's legacy for me. They are truly wonders of this world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith is so compelling, I had to be forced to put it down. It's good to know that celebrities are not too much different from every day people. Blind Faith is 5 Stars in my book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith is a great book, based on the life of Stevie Wonder and his family. I enjoyed it, especially how his mother was able to overcome so much adversity. I think everyone should read Blind Faith.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    I'm struck by the candid nature in which Lula Hardaway allows the public into her life. This story is based on a miracle. The miracle of Lula's life and the resulting gift that is Stevland Judkins or, as we know and love him, Stevie Won

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith is a winner. It was done with a touch of class, sensitivity and professionalism. The story of Stevie Wonder's family is one that should have been told years ago, but in 2002, it is still very timely. I enjoyed the description of Hurtsboro and Saginaw. I enjoyed the life of Lula Hardaway.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    This outstanding story is a must read for everyone. I learned so much about what life was really like for Stevie Wonder and his family. It wasn't all peaches and cream and his mother's efforts were truly blessed. I can only say that this was inspirational.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    I'm convinced that authors, Love and Brown, are related in some way to the Hardaway clan. Their ability to tell this story seems to have meant that they have the immense trust of Stevie's family and they were so candid. It was a great read and I'm proud to have this for my library. Blind Faith should be a movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2002

    Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother

    Blind Faith is an outstanding account of the life of rock legend Stevie Wonder and his mother, Lula Hardaway. The journey begins in Hurtsboro, Ala. where Hardaway unknowingly enters a world of abuse, deceipt and injustice. After moving from state to state to care for her five children, including little Steveland Judkins who spent 52 days in an incubator and born blind. Hardaway's story is a made-for-television script. The recipe for a good biography is to be honest and after exclusive interviews with Wonder and Hardaway, Love and Brown delve into the realm of the hush hush. Prostitution, physical and mental abuse, a knock down drag out brawl and other fascinating tid bits of the life of a mother who would do anything (and we mean anything) to care for her children. The book also chronicles Wonder's foray into Motown and superstardom. Even there it doesn't let the reader down when Love and Brown detail Wonder's innocuous pranks. The story of Stevie Wonder has rarely been told the way the authors of this fine work tell it. They are candid, humorous and uncompromising. It is a most wonderful journey and a read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2002

    A Miraclous Story

    Authors Dennis Love and Stacy Brown take readers on a truly miraculous and privileged journey into unchartered territory. They candidly tell the story of how one of rock's biggest superstars and acclaimed geniuses came to be. Wonder's childhood and theremarkable resolve of Hardaway are captured in this 288 page work of art. Hardaway, forced into prostitution by an abusive husband who derides her and Stevie ('Nobody's gonna want you especially with a little blind boy'), ultimately triumphs along with her famous son. Revealing anecdotes, Wonder's visits to faith healers and evangalist Oral Roberts, are moments to treasure. Some may sense that Wonder's fans are short changed because the book essentially ends in 1974, but the author's quickly - and without boring you- bring the reader up to speed in a lively epilogue. Blind Faith is a must read for fans of Wonder and people around the world. A guaranteed Best Seller.

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