Preface

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Chattanooga: “The Life and Times of Bessie Smith”

By Clifford Eberhardt

Chapter 11

“Hurry Bessie.  It’s time to go, my child; we got to get down to the river before it gets too late,” the Rev. Jones said, sounding a bit agitated at Bessie for taking too long.
          

Bessie knew that the time had come.  She knew she wouldn’t go to Ma Rainey’s minstrel show.  She knew she wouldn’t become a great blues signer.  She knew she would only be Bessie Smith, the lead singer of the junior choir at the Baptist Church.  The thought made Bessie very sad as she headed for the door to meet the Rev. Jones.  For Bessie, this was her day of reckoning.  For Bessie, this was the end.  For Bessie, this was what she had dreaded all her life.  And for Bessie, the time had come for her to be baptized like most of the other Colored people in Chattanooga.
          

As Bessie walked to the door for what she knew was the end, she heard a voice coming from outside the back window of the church.
          

“Bessie!  Bessie!  Bessie!  Come on! I got it opened!”  Andrew said, waving for Bessie to come to the window and climb out.
          

Bessie turned.  Looked.  She then rushed to the window and in one second, she leaped out the window onto the ground where her brother was standing.  This was Bessie’s leap of faith.  She had no idea where she was going.  She had no idea how to get to the show.  She had no money.  She only knew she had to follow her dream of becoming a great blues singer.
          

“How did you get it opened?”  Bessie asked Andrew after leaping onto the ground next to him.
          

“With this stick,” Andrew said; then he asked her, “What you gonna do now Bessie?”
          

“I’m gonna go to Ma Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show.  I’m gonna get in the singin’ contest, and I’m gonna win that seventy-five dollar bill.  That’s the most money in the world,” Bessie replied.  Bessie didn’t realize that there was no such thing as a seventy-five dollar bill.  She was a street-wise young girl, yes, but she was very naïve to the real world. She, like most Colored folks in Chattanooga, lacked worldliness and sophistication that were common among members of Ma Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show.  But, Bessie was strong-willed and determined, and usually got her way.
          

“You ain’t got no money to get in no singin’ contest.  You ain’t even got no way to go, ‘cause Lulu said it was way outside of town, near the Georgia line,” Andrew said.  “But here Bessie — I got some money.  I been savin’ them nickels Viola been givin’ me to put in church.  It’s almost 75 cents.”
          

“Boy! Boy! Boy!” is all Bessie could say, as Andrew put the money in her hand.  Then Andrew had another idea.
          

“Lulu said the trucks from the icehouse gonna be takin’ ice to the show all night.  Maybe you can sneak a ride on the back of one of them trucks that’s goin’ out there.”
          

Bessie was taken back by Andrew help, and she couldn’t believe that this was her little brother talking.  Andrew and Bessie were close but she never heard her little brother talk with so much wisdom before.  Bessie gave Andrew a big hug, took the money and held it tight in her hand.  Then, she broke away from Andrew and started running to beat the setting sun.
          

She ran down the street, up and alley and cross the field leading to the icehouse.  The Chattanooga Ice House was a warehouse that stored ice shipped to Chattanooga from an ice plant in Rome, Georgia.  The workers, who were mostly Colored, stored, loaded and reloaded blocks of ice from the icehouse to the back of horse drawn wagons and trucks to service the thousands of icebox owners in the city.  Like Andrew had said, trucks were loading ice to take to Ma Rainey’s minstrel show on the hour.  Bessie made her way to the icehouse’s loading dock, and when the time was just right, she sneaked onto the back of one of the trucks.  Now, she was on her way to see her favorite blues singer, Ma Rainey.
          

When Andrew went back into the church all hell had broken out.  Everyone was looking throughout the church for Bessie.  Viola asked Andrew where had he been, and if he had seen Bessie.
          

“No!  I ain’t seen her.”  Andrew replied.  “I been lookin’ for her like y’all.”
          

“When I get my hands on that Bessie Smith…  she’s gonna get it!”  Viola said, obviously embarrassed at what Bessie had done.

 

 

 

Home Page