“Open it and see what’s inside,” I was told.
My fingers a-tremble, I complied, smelling the fresh leather and finding an official-looking document inside. It was a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. My eyes filled with tears and I ran awkwardly off the floor.
I was overjoyed; I did not even mind when I discovered that the gold pieces I had scrambled for were brass pocket tokens advertising a certain make of automobile.
When I reached home everyone was excited. Next day the neighbors came to congratulate me. I even felt safe from grandfather, whose deathbed curse usually spoiled my triumphs. I stood beneath his photograph with my brief case in hand and smiled triumphantly into his stolid black peasant’s face. It was a face that fascinated me. The eyes seemed to follow everywhere I went.
That night I dreamed I was at a circus with him and that he refused to laugh at the clowns no matter what they did. Then later he told me to open my brief case and read what was inside and I did, finding an official envelope stamped with the state seal; and inside the envelope I found another and another, endlessly, and I thought I would fall of weariness. “Them’s years,” he said. “Now open that one.” And I did and in it I found an engraved document containing a short message in letters of gold. “Read it,” my grandfather said. “Out loud.”
“To Whom It May Concern,” I intoned. “Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.”
I awoke with the old man’s laughter ringing in my ears.
(It was a dream I was to remember and dream again for many years after. But at that time I had no insight into its meaning. First I had to attend college.)