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In the segregated south, a young girl thinks that she can drink from a fountain marked "Whites Only" because she is wearing her white socks.
Grandma, can I walk into town by myself?" I asked, one hot summer's day. I knew what she was going to say. She was going to tell a story. Not just any story, but my favorite story.
I watched her turn toward her spit can. Ping! The snuff juice hit the bottom, sounding like a chime. She rocked one or two times, her eyes closed, and then she looked up at me.
"You know you ain't big enough to walk into no town alone, girl. I sho' don't know why you asking me that. You ain't big enough 'til you gon' do some good there."
I smiled and plopped down on the step. She was about to begin the story.
YOU KNOW ... when I was a little girl, like your-self, I sneaked into town once. Yep, all by myself. Wasn't planning on doing no good. Had just been waiting for a scorching hot day. I had two eggs hid in my pockets. Not to eat, mind you. But to see if what folk said was true.
I slipped on my finest Sunday dress and my shiny black patent-leather shoes and my clean white socks. I pulled my plaits back with a bow. Why, I though I looked pretty grown-up. Lord, you should a'seen me strutting, the dust flying behind me! I had to hold my arms steady on account of them eggs, though. Now that I think about it, I must'a been a mighty funny sight.
I sneaked on up that road a'singing, "Jump back Sally, Sally, Sally. Walking up the alley, alley, alley" to nobody but myself. And child, was it hot! On that kind of day a firecracker might light up by itself.
I was feeling pretty fine until I spotted that old Chicken Man, sitting on his porch, with his mouth like a smile. I just looked down at the dirt.
My mama had told me how the Chicken Man still did things he knowed all the way from Africa. Stuff that his grandmother done taught him. Mama also had told me he could heal the sick by the laying on of his hands. And that one time he made a blind man see just by looking deep into his eyes. And folk said he turned people into chickens if he didn't feel what they were doing was right. That's why he was called the Chicken Man.
I was kinda scared he might think I wasn't doing right, so I started walking faster. I still held my arms out steady, though, so I wouldn't break the eggs.
Anyway, when I got to town, I didn't see many folk that I knew. I wandered around, with my mouth gaped open, looking at the white women in their fancy hats. That's when I saw Mama's friend Miss Nancy turning the corner. I was going to sho nuff be in trouble if she saw me. She told Mama everything. So I took off running toward the first big tree I saw and hid behind it.
I stayed there for a minute, panting, until I saw Miss Nancy walk out of sight. Then I tiptoed out. But in my rush I'd burst one of my eggs, and it was slinking down my dress and legs.
I figured I'd better do what I come to do and get back home. I was standing in front of this big old building where there was a statue of a soldier sitting up on a horse. I read what it said on the building: "Cole County Court-house, Mississippi."
Excerpted from White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman, Tyrone Geter. Copyright © 1996 Evelyn Coleman. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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This is a story about a little girl who mistakes a sign at a water fountain reading "White Only" to mean 'white socks only'. The girl is endearing and the reader feels for the child as she loses her innocence believing the world around her is fair. Great for classrooms and families to initiate talk of prejudice and equity.