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

Chapter 24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

By Clifford Eberhardt

Chapter 22

Bessie and Andrew were out of breath when they reached the Union Station.  They had run all the way from Tannery Flats and now they stood outside the station wondering what to do next.  Not knowing what to expect, Bessie and Andrew walked through the big double doors and inside the main lobby of the Union Station. 

The Union Station was packed with travelers waiting for their trains.  The main lobby of the Union Station was off-limits to Coloreds.  Bessie and Andrew did not know there was a separate entrance labeled "Colored" on the side of the station. 

The train station was filled with people walking back and forward from their seat to the rest rooms, from their seat to the ticket windows.  Other travelers were pacing the floor waiting for their trains to leave. To support each other, the two kids walked slowly into the middle of the station holding each other's hand.  As they walked toward the center of the waiting area, one distinguished looking white man began to angrily shake his finger at Bessie and Andrew. 

"What you Niggers doing in here?  This is not the place for you Niggers...  get the hell outta here!"
The two kids looked in the direction of the man who was speaking.  The man began to walk towards them, and immediately, Bessie and Andrew started to back away from the man.  They were still backing up when they bumped into another white man.

"You monkeys must be lost... get the hell out of here!" the man they bumped into said.

"I'm scared, Andrew... these white people gonna get us," Bessie said to Andrew as they held close to each other.

Now they were surrounded by a group of hostile whites.  Next, another man from the group started cursing and pointing his finger at them.  Then, he walked over to Bessie and Andrew and put his finger in Andrew's face and said, 

"Get out of here, Niggers...   or I’ll kill you both!"

Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere another white man kicked Andrew onto the floor shouting, “Don’t you Niggers know better to come in here?  This is for whites, not Niggers.”

Before the men could even think about carrying out their threats, Andrew jumped up and he and Bessie took out running across the main lobby of the Union Station, and they did not stop running until they reached the outside where the trains were waiting to be boarded.

Trains were aligned side by side on the tracks and the sound of steam coming from the trains made a hissing noise. 

The vapor from the steam engines made it look like a foggy night.  The two kids were afraid of what those whites inside the station would do if they ever got their hands on them.  But instead of leaving and going back home, Bessie and Andrew made their way from train to train looking for Ma and the other performers.  The two kids went back and forth checking all the different trains, but Ma was nowhere to be found.

"Let’s go inside them trains and look," Andrew said to his sister.

"They will get us," Bessie replied.

"How we gonna find 'em?" Andrew asked.  And at the same time, he began going from sleeping car to sleeping car and from train to train looking for Ma as Bessie watched.

Andrew went into one train and he was not in the sleeping car one minute before a woman’s scream came from the train; Andrew took out running.

"Stop! Thief!" a white woman yelled, "get that Nigger!  He tried to rob and attack me!"

Andrew jumped from the train and he and Bessie took out running together.  They ran away from the woman's screams, and then jumped off the boarding area onto the tracks where the trains were waiting.  Then they ran between the trains and up and down the tracks looking for a safe place to hide.   Bessie and Andrew could see the commotion and could hear that the woman was still screaming for help.  

Someone heard the woman screaming and got a sheriff’s deputy who was in the Union Station at the time. The deputy began questioning the woman who was still screaming. "What happened?" the deputy asked her.

"A Nigger broke into my sleeping car... he tried to rob me!" the woman answered.

The deputy asked the woman which way the robber went, "He ran and met another Nigger, and they ran off the boarding area and jumped on the tracks."

While hiding under one of the trains, Bessie and Andrew saw the deputy step off the boarding area onto the tracks. 

Under the trains, the two kids could only see the deputy's feet as he walked in their direction, but he couldn’t see them.  He started to walk up and down the side of each train looking for them.  Bessie and Andrew crawled under one train and then the next until they had reached the last train that was waiting on the tracks.                        

"Bessie, we better get outta here ‘fore they find us and do us like Ed Johnson."

Bessie looked at Andrew and started to cry,  "Let’s go back home Andrew 'cause we can’t find 'em... we too late, they gone.  Now, she knew her hopes of leaving Chattanooga and becoming a great blues singer were gone.  For Bessie, it was back to Tannery Flats.  It was back to the little rundown shack.  It was back to the miserable conditions Colored people found themselves in.  And it was back to what Bessie dreaded most of all, working at the Chattanooga Ice House.

As the two kids climbed up from the tracks and back onto the boarding area,  Bessie hugged her brother.  Then, they started to walk around the side of the train station to go back home. 

But before they reached the end of the boarding area, they heard the conductor of the train they just crawled out from under yell, "All aboard!  All aboard! — The morning express to Louisville.  All aboard! — The morning express to Louisville is leaving the station… last call!”

Bessie and Andrew stopped in their tracks.  They turned, looked at each other and smiled.

"That's it, Bessie!  That’s the train!" Andrew said, "I bet that’s the train Ma Rainey is on."

Bessie and Andrew ran to the train and down the side looking through all the windows to make sure.  Sure enough, there was Ma, Will and the rest of the performers in the last two sleeping cars right in front of the caboose.  Before Bessie could say anything else to Andrew, the train started to jerk and then slowly move.  As the train began to move, Bessie, without saying a word, jumped on the steps back of the caboose.

Boldly, Bessie had jumped on the back of the train.  Andrew was afraid for his sister and, he thought he would never see her again.   But Andrew knew that the life Bessie was leaving behind was far worse than anything that lay ahead. 

Andrew also knew that if Bessie made it, and became a great blues singer, the whole family would be better off.
The train started to pick up speed and all Andrew could do was wave to his sister as the train moved out of sight. 


                      

 

 

 

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