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By Dale Ricardo Shields
Born in his maternal grandparent’s house in North Brunswick, New Jersey at 2 in the afternoon with the help of the local midwife on July 16th, 1953. The local midwife unwrapped the chord from around his neck and started him on his way. He left Jersey in his mother’s arms and came with her and his father, who was stationed in Piscataway, to live in Texas. The family grew to include a younger brother and sister, and they spent their childhood in a segregated Texas attending school in Fort Worth and every summer on Big Mama’s place down in the Piney woods of East Texas just about nine miles outside of Crockett, Texas across the highway from the Davy Crockett National Forest. Fishing, hunting, playing with cousins and extended family, attending vacation bible school, slopping hogs and milking cows, listening to stories and histories on the porch while shelling peas and even on a couple of occasions picking cotton before heading back to Fort Worth for another school year at the end of the summer.
Living with teachers, Big Mama was one of the teachers at the Kennard Colored school outside Crockett, and Aunt Evelyn Scoot taught in the segregated Fort Worth school district, Eugene was reading the Bible by the time he was four and not long after that was helping his aunt grade the papers of her High School students … so they lied about his age and got him into first grade at age five. He was that little smart kid in all of his classes who took what he was told by his elders and teachers seriously especially the work ethic they instilled in him. He learned he would have to do 300% just to get noticed in that day and age of America if he was to have a shot at any American dream. There was love that came with the learning from the Black teachers for every student in the segregated schools of Texas. It was often tough love that was meant to prepare them for bright futures as leaders and contributing members of this free society and participants in the struggle to excel and to achieve equality against existing odds. That cute little smart boy with good hair who was the teacher’s favorite cause he always finished his work before everyone else and help others when he could is who he was.
Early public appearances included Easter Sunday speeches at Big Mama’s church in East Texas, “What you lookin’ at me so hard for I didn’t come to stay. I just came to tell you today is Easter Day.” He was always being called on to dance with his siblings at holiday house parties in front of visiting family and guests. He was the preacher in what was called a Tom Thumb wedding and had a role in the sixth grade play. And despite President John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas after a visit to Fort Worth when Eugene was in 6th grade, he harbored a dream of becoming President of these United States.