Robert and Raphael
It was a senseless loss. The police said it was probably arson. The little shop was burned beyond repair; the remains would have to be torn down. All the stock and supplies were lost; nothing was salvageable.
As they stood surveying the damage, the young couple reflected on the loss of their business, their livelihood. They couldn’t understand why someone would do this to them. They had made good connections with the people here in this Tulsa, Oklahoma neighborhood. They had lived here for four years, ever since they’d gotten married. And they had their two sons to take care of. What would they do now?
They turned toward the sound of screeching tires and saw a car coming around the corner and racing toward them. They stepped onto the sidewalk, closer to their destroyed store, watching as it approached, and wondering where the police were when someone was clearly breaking the law. They saw the guns come out, but there was nowhere to run.
The man stepped in front of his wife, instinctively trying to protect her. But it really didn’t matter, as they were both hit several times. As they fell, someone in the vehicle threw a brick. Later, when the cops arrived, they would see the note tied to it reading, “No gooks or niggers”.
The police had just left. The two boys were sitting on the old beat-up couch along the wall, looking with huge saucer eyes at the two remaining adults in the room. They had heard the officers talking about their parents’ murder, but didn’t yet understand what that meant, although the older child, the four-year-old, had a hint of fear on his face, as though he knew something bad had happened, or was about to happen. How right that child is, if that’s what he’s thinkin’, Allgood Boulware thought to himself.
He turned to his wife, a short, plump, dark-skinned woman, and just looked at her for a minute. He saw the tears rolling down her cheeks and dripping on her old sundress. He knew the tears weren’t for her brother-in-law or his Asian wife. No, she’s never accepted that Clarence would marry someone who wasn’t black like he was, and had despised Mi Sun, whom everyone had called Sunny. No, her tears were not for them, but for those two boys, Robert and Raphael.
Allgood took this woman he loved in his arms without trying to brush her tears away. “Share,” he said, “What we gonna do? We don’ have the money to take care of these boys, at least not both of ‘em. My job don’t pay enough, and you got paid for watchin’ them, so now that money ain’t gonna come in no more. But who else is there?”
Sharon shivered in response; then she pulled back just enough to look up into her husbands’ face and grief-damp eyes, seeing the tears he refused to let fall in front of the children. “I don’t know, baby. But we can’t let them boys be taken from each other. They gots to stay together; they’s brothers, even if they momma was a chink.”
“Now, Share, don’t be like that. It ain’t right to speak ill of the dead, no matter what you thought of her when she was livin’. But you right, we can’t let them be separated. They gonna have a hard enough time growin’ up with no parents.” He let go of the woman and ran his hands roughly through his kinky hair and over his face. “But how we gonna do this? I don’t have no ideas on that.”
“I don’t know either, Allgood. But I do know it’s gittin’ late and I needs to start makin’ supper.” With that declaration, she headed to the small kitchen.
The word had gone out through the church the Boulwares and most of the other Negro folks of Tulsa went to. Donations were coming in during the week to help feed the children. Those who had the means, limited though those means were, had contacted other people that they knew or knew of, searching for other family members who could help. The donations had gotten them through Thanksgiving. But all that was forthcoming now, with Christmas almost here and New Years just around the corner, was a trickle of money from the church offering plate and a small supply of basic food, mostly dry goods like beans and corn meal, a regular supply of greens, which were always plentiful, and an occasional peach or apple cobbler.
It had been five weeks since the murders, and it had been rough going. Two-year-old Raphael had been crying for his mommy and daddy until the last couple days; now he just whimpered and whispered for them occasionally. And Robert cried for a few days, refused to eat at all during that time, finally started taking a bite here and there just as Allgood was ready to take him to the hospital, a clinic really, the only place nearby that would even see anyone who wasn’t white. But that boy had been a real trouper for his age, all of four years and a few months, helping to calm his younger brother in the best way he knew, by playing with him, or trying to. The only thing that did go better than anyone expected was that Raphael would eat when he was hungry enough to slow down on the crying and accept some nourishment.
Today was different from the routine that had developed. Today they were
expecting a visit from a socialworkerfrom one of the white folk churches, coming to talk about the boys. Maybe they’d be able to get some help finding a good home for them, because Sharon and Allgood just couldn’t take care of them for much longer. They didn’t have a way to earn more money, and the donations of food were beginning to slow down a bit. It was only a matter of time before everyone in the house would start going hungry more than once or twice a week.
In the meantime, Sharon was putting the finishing touches on the small living room, making sure it was clean enough for company. And Allgood had fixed the loose boards on the porch and the stairs so that nobody would trip over them; the last thing they needed was for any white person, social worker or any other, to get hurt on their property. There would be no end to the problems then, would there? Sharon thought.
The knock came, quiet and hesitant at first, as though the visitor was afraid to disturb anyone. It came again, more firmly. Sharon rose from her seat, walked over to the door and opened it. There stood a pair of women, pale complexions showing a life led mostly indoors. They introduced themselves as Mrs. Jacobson and Mrs. Morton, then asked if they could come in.
Sharon stepped aside, then closed the door gently behind her, shyly welcoming them into her humble home. She showed them to the best chairs she had, where her husband had just laid out a pitcher of iced tea and four glasses from their best dinner dishes, clearly old but clean. She busied herself pouring the tea, then sat down next to Allgood on the couch, which she had covered with a clean cloth so the wear and tear would not be seen. Then she asked, “Why you want to help us, ma’am? Ain’t nobody from your church ever helped any of us folk on this side of town.”
Allgood made a quiet yet insistent shushing noise as the taller, slender woman, Mrs. Morton, replied, “Well, there are a number of reasons. First, we think it’s time for a change in our town. We’ve been watching and listening to what’s been happening around the country on the news, and we see that the Negro has been treated poorly for a long time, and we would like to do what we can to change things here in Tulsa. But mostly we just want what’s best for the children you’ve been taking care of.
“We know you’re having a hard time what with work being kind of scarce for your husband, so you’re not able to feed and clothe the boys easily. We also were told that you don’t want to separate them, even if it would mean a better home than would normally be available for them, because of their being brothers of course. It would be a shame to separate them at so young an age, wouldn’t it?” The speaker giggled softly for half a second, then put her hand over her mouth embarrassed at her faux pas.
“We’ve found a couple willing to adopt them and raise them as their own sons,” the other woman added. “But they’re not from around here. However, they have offered a rather largish amount of money to cover the expenses of adoption, and will be here in a few more days to see you personally if you should agree. And they would also be amenable to providing you with a small sum for your trouble. As we understand it, they are quite well off, especially for Negroes. These boys would do well with this couple. They can’t have their own children, and they do want children. So you see, it would be good for everyone involved.”
Allgood sat up. “A small sum for our trouble? They think we can be bought off? We took these boys in because their daddy was my brother. They’re family, Ma’am. Ain’t no getting no money for taking care of family.”
Sharon put her hand lightly on her husband’s arm. “Shush, now, Allgood,” she said quietly. “I’m sure these nice womens didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that the chirren would have all that we couldn’t give. An’ I’m sure we’d be able to stay in touch, bein’ as how they’s family.”
Allgood slumped in his seat. He knew she’d made up her mind, and there was no arguing with her about it, at least not in front of company. So he asked in a rough tone that he hoped showed his displeasure, “How much they offerin’ up?”
Mrs. Jacobson answered, “Five thousand dollars, Mr. Boulware.”
Allgood whistled, starting at a high pitch and dropping quickly down the scale, similar to the sound the bombs made when they were dropped out of the planes over in Korea when he was there with his brother. And he remembered that that was where Clarence had met Sunny and fallen in love.
He put that memory aside, unwilling to deal with the discomfort it brought, knowing that his brother and his sister-in-law were now up in Heaven with the angels. At least he hoped they were.
Instead, he asked, “So who are these people who want to adopt my nephews? They got to be rich if they can just give away all that money.”
The reply was totally unexpected, from the giggly woman. “Why, the husband is your distant cousin. Their family name is Hopkins. Do you know anything of them, perhaps?”
Allgood looked more startled than he had upon hearing the dollar amount they were being offered. He sighed loudly. “No, I don’t know ’em. Heard about the family though. Took off for California some thirty-five years or so ago, after the big riot over in Greenwood, as I recall the old story. Ain’t nobody heard from ’em since, that I know ’bout.”
All the papers were signed, funds transferred, meager belongings packed. All the legal requirements were taken care of, goodbyes were said, hugs were shared, and the two young boys were on their way to Los Angeles, California in a brand-new 1959 Studebaker.
Allgood and Sharon had met the adoptive parents, and in spite of the income differences, they had gotten along fairly well. Catching up on family history had taken some time; the Hopkins’ had been very open about it, and about how they had made their money and thereby improved their lifestyle.
They had a good feeling about the people, yet Sharon had a rather vague sense of foreboding, as if something wasn’t quite right. Nothing she could put her finger on, just that something seemed ... off in some way that she couldn’t quite grasp. And since she couldn’t explain it, even to herself, she kept quiet.
The boys arrived in L.A. late at night. The trip had taken three days due to frequent rest stops, as they were not used to traveling. At first they had not wanted to go; but the people were really nice, giving them the best food they’d ever had, and lots of attention, especially the lady. But the older one, Robert, knew that mommy and daddy were never coming back. And now they were leaving Uncle Goody and Auntie Sharon too.
After a while, the car pulled into a long, winding driveway and stopped next to a big house, the biggest either boy had ever seen. The lady picked up Raphael in her arms, and the man took Robert firmly but gently by the hand, guiding him up the stairs to the entrance. The younger boy woke up whimpering quietly, but was easily hushed with a promise of milk and cookies before going to bed, a treat they hadn’t had in a very long time. But they would have to bathe first.
In the dining room, dressed in brand new pajamas, little Raphael went through a half-dozen chocolate chip cookies and two glasses of milk before starting to nod off, unable to keep his eyes open or his head up. Robert finished his snack, and the Hopkins couple took them up to their new bedroom and tucked them in.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, white grits, hash browns and orange juice, they were taken out to the back yard, a huge grassy area with a playground that had been built just for them. There they found swings, a sliding board, monkey bars and a sandbox with clean white sand complete with child-sized buckets and shovels. They had a wonderful time, watched over by a nanny hired the week before.
They had lunch on the picnic table not far from the swings, then were taken inside for a nap. They spent the afternoon with Papa James and Momma Corey, as they all got to know each other.
The nanny, Bessie May Waters, kept watch, observing how the boys interacted with their new parents. She was getting up there in years, but was still as spry as someone half her fifty years. Bessie knew a thing or two about what to look for if there was going to be a problem with the boys, having raised a few of her own along with the many kids she babysat over the years, in other families, while their parents were at work.
As the weeks went by and Easter approached, the young brothers grew close to the Hopkins, and the young couple in turn grew to love them more each passing day. Even Miss Bessie, as they called the nanny, developed a sense of kinship with the boys as well as the adoptive parents. Things were going much better than anticipated, in light of, and in spite of, the circumstances surrounding their coming to L.A.
All of that changed on Easter morning. Miss Bessie had taken Robert and Raphael to church for the traditional Easter sunrise service. James and Corey Hopkins had stayed in bed, not being churchgoers themselves but not averse to letting the boys go with the nanny.
Near the end of the service, some of the attendees smelled smoke and looked around for the source. It was coming from the direction of the Hopkins house. The entire congregation got in their cars and on their bicycles and headed that way. But when they got there, the house had been engulfed in flames.
All that was left were the playground items in the back yard. The wind had been blowing toward the front, so the fire hadn’t touched them. But the two boys were now homeless, so Miss Bessie took them with her.
Phone calls to Tulsa, to try to contact the Boulwares to inform them of what had happened and inquire whether they could take their nephews back, led to a dead end. Apparently they had moved and left no forwarding address. Bessie May Waters couldn’t afford to keep them, and the state took them to an orphanage where they were housed in an old warehouse converted to a dormitory.
After a few months of this, they were adopted again, but separately. They both cried, wanting to stay together because they only had each other. But that was taken from them too. They never saw each other again, until many years later, when a certain Marine Corps Major Charles Richardson, meeting each young man separately and at different times, ultimately arranging for them to be reunited.