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On the Beat of Truth

A Hearing Daughter's Stories of Her Black Deaf Parents

Maxine Childress Brown

Publication Year: 2013

As an African American woman born in 1943, Maxine Childress Brown possessed a unique vantage point to witness the transformative events in her parents’ lives. Both came from the South C her father, Herbert Childress, from Knoxville, TN, and her mother, Thomasina Noble Brown, from Concord, NC. The oldest of three daughters, Maxine was fascinated by her parents’ stories. She marveled at how they raised a well-respected, middle-class family in the midst of segregation with the added challenge of being deaf. Her parents met in Washington, DC, where they married and settled down. Her father worked as a shoe repairman for $65 per week for more than 15 years. A gifted seamstress, her mother gave up sewing to clean houses. Because of their modest means, Maxine and her sisters lived more than modest lives. When Maxine’s tonsils became infected, her parents could not afford the operation to have them removed. For her high school prom, her mother bought her a dress on credit because she had no time to sew. Herbert Childress showed great love for his young daughters, but events turned him to bitterness and to drink. Throughout all, Thomasina encouraged her girls, always urging them to excel. She demanded their honest best with her signature phrase, her flat hand raised from her mouth straight up in the air, “on the beat of truth.”

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Everyone has a story, and is the product of many more stories. The people’s historian elevates and exposes the wisdom, wit, humor, and reflections of “Everyday People,” or rich lives outside of the perimeter of celebrity. ...

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pp. xvii-xx

My mother, Thomasina Brown Childress, was a natural storyteller, telling me vivid stories as early as I can remember, from when I was three years old until her death at ninety-six. Stricken with crippling diabetes, renal failure, and ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura), ...

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pp. xxi-xxiv

There were many individuals who made this book possible as proofreaders, researchers, editors, and photographers as well as religious organizations offering quiet quarters to write. Special recognition is made to Ivey Wallace whose insightful questions shaped the content of this book. ...

Brown and Childress Family Trees

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pp. xxv-xxvi

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1. A Policeman Comes A-Knockin’

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pp. 1-25

My father was the handsomest man I have ever known. He was deaf. My mother was the prettiest woman I have ever seen. She was deaf. Together they used American Sign Language. And that was the language of my youth. ...

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2. Herbert Andrew Childress

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pp. 26-37

Until Daddy’s trial for indecent exposure, one day was much like any other day. Mama would be hunched over the sewing machine, guiding the material with her hands through the metal presser foot, simultaneously moving her own feet up and down on the floor pedal, making the machine miraculously stitch a plain piece of fabric into a garment. ...

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3. Annie Dublin Nero and Martha Nero Brown

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pp. 38-53

Mama relished giving me an account of her relatives prior to her own birth. Yes, she enjoyed dramatizing events in Daddy’s life before he met her, but she reveled in sharing snatches of her own life, especially about her mother, Martha, a domestic worker; her father, Clarence, a farmer who became a bricklayer; ...

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4. Thomasina Brown

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pp. 54-69

Months turned into years while Martha was working on the farm with Uncle Henry. My mother, who had come to the Raleigh School with just two dresses so many years ago, now made blouses, skirts, dresses, suits, and coats. By the time she turned fifteen years old, she was so adept at sewing that she soon acquired the skill of knitting and crocheting. ...

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5. Maxine

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pp. 70-86

The great occasion of Mama’s first pregnancy all happened on Ames Street, where she and my father lived with Mary and Grindaddy. The year was 1943. ...

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6. Becoming Aware of Things, Part I

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pp. 87-94

I always knew Mama couldn’t hear me. But I am six years old when I finally realize that she has no notion of what a life with sounds is like. In private, she wants to know the meaning of sound, and she trusts me to explain without embarrassing her around other people. Her hands begin to probe, asking me several questions. ...

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7. Silent Herbert

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pp. 95-112

The year is 1949. I am still six years old. Evening comes later and later since spring has come, and the advent of summer is just around the corner. I’ve crawled into my bed, which I share with Shirley, exhausted from working with Mama all day. I am so tired, I can’t sleep and crack my eyes open to stare at the darkness. ...

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8. Becoming Aware of Things, Part II

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pp. 113-125

Mama and Daddy want me to interpret almost everything I hear, but they don’t share with me anything important to them. It isn’t fair, after all I am nine years old now. ...

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9. Social Club and Church

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pp. 126-140

I am nine years old and in two months, I will be ten. It is 1953. It’s that time of year again, when “colored” deaf folks from all over the world flock to Washington, D.C., to their annual dance event—it isn’t annual, more like every three years or so, because the event alternates between cities each year: ...

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10. Summer with Grandma

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pp. 141-156

It all begins with a letter from Grandma written with a lead pencil in small legible print. Mama rips open the envelope, carefully reads the letter, and then gives it to me to read, too. It begins with a thank-you for the five dollars my mother sent her. ...

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11. From Chocolates to Fresh Goat and Pig Meat

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pp. 157-166

I love chocolates: chocolate cookies, chocolate candy, chocolate cake with thick chocolate icing. I must have been eleven years old and in the sixth grade when I discover that chocolate just plain makes me feel good and eases the troubles I have at home or school. ...

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12. Crossword Pruzzles and Pearl Bailey

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pp. 167-179

Newspaper clippings are scattered all over the bed. A small pocket dictionary of synonyms lies in their midst. Nearby are still other dictionaries: a three-inch-thick Webster’s Dictionary, a thesaurus, a crossword puzzle reference book, two more pocket dictionaries, and countless other student dictionaries. ...

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13. The Bench

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pp. 180-187

The year is 1955. I am twelve years old. Some days I find school outright exhausting. As I trudge along Fifty-Ninth Street approaching my house, I pass Mrs. Johnson’s home. ...

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14. Becoming Aware of Things, Part III

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pp. 188-196

I am still a despondent twelve-year-old. I worry daily about doing my homework and getting A’s in my classes; I am anxious too about buying new clothes and where I’ll get the money to pay for them. ...

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15. The Notebook

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pp. 197-208

It is an unbearably hot day, typical for Washington, D.C., with such intolerably high humidity that clothes stick to my body and perspiration rolls under my arms and down my back. School will be closing before long. The dense and stagnant air in my seventh-grade classroom refuses to move, making the air too heavy to even make a breeze. ...

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16. From Happiness to Misery

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pp. 209-221

The year is 1956 and I am thirteen years old, promoted now to the eighth grade, “classification 8-6,” a class for all girls who are deemed to be academically gifted, by virtue of their test scores and superior grades. I am determined to excel in my studies because in my mind, getting A’s in all my classes is the only way I can show that I am equal to the other students ...

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17. Asbury Park

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pp. 222-239

I am fourteen years old, and the prospect of going to a strange faraway place to earn money seems like a fairy tale to me. I am anxious to leave Washington, D.C., with its dark cloud of hurts and pains hovering over me, from all the angst at home to the trials and tribulations at school. ...

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18. When Tempers Flare

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pp. 240-252

Today I must go to Daddy’s job, so I catch the bus on Dix Street and ride downtown to Daddy’s workplace. I show up unexpectedly at the shoe shop to ask for money. When I arrive, I walk to the back of the shop and watch him closely to see if he has been drinking. ...

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19. Theodore Beamon

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pp. 253-270

The year is 1959, and I am sixteen years old. I am volunteering to help Mrs. Hughes in the library to check books in and out. It is near the end of May, and I am a tenth-grade sophomore, having learned my way around Spingarn High School (It is named for Joel Elias Spingarn, founder and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.) ...

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20. Let It Go

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pp. 271-279

It is the late winter of 1960, and I am seventeen years old. I am at home, preparing for another school day. I sigh, telling myself I must find the energy from somewhere to go to school one more day. I am suffering from the winter blues, as I feel listless, tired, and apathetic about everything. ...

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pp. 280-286

Our home was the epicenter of comings and goings of African American deaf folk, and it was not unusual for unannounced visits from deaf out-of-towners, local residents, and even deaf students. In fact, the first African American student to graduate from Gallaudet University was Andrew Foster who was close friends with our family. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685538
E-ISBN-10: 1563685531
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685521
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685523

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 25 photos
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Brown, Maxine Childress.
  • Brown, Maxine Childress -- Family.
  • Deaf parents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Children of deaf parents -- United States -- Biography.
  • African Americans with disabilities -- Biography.
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