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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Long Jump to Glory

Illustration for article titled Long Jump to Glory

Dig Pat Jordan's 1975 Sports Illustrated profile of Willye White:

"Pull over here," she says. There is a sign by the side of the road—MONEY, MISSISSIPPI. Across the highway, pointing down a dirt lane, is another sign—SWEET HOME PLANTATION. Up ahead on a sagging, unpainted, wood-frame building are the hand-lettered words GROCERY STORE. Farther on is a mobile home propped on cinder blocks. POST OFFICE. And finally, at the edge of Money, the tallest building, THE COTTON MILL.

A railroad track runs alongside the highway, and beyond are rows of green bushy plants flecked with white. A morning mist hovers over the plants. "I was born out there," she says, pointing out the car window toward the cotton fields. "On the plantation. We lived way down in the fields. Now they build the houses closer to the road, but in those days, before anyone had an automobile, they built them in the middle of the fields. My first memory is of my uncle leaving home. My mother stood in the yard and watched him walk through the fields. You could see the top of his head moving between the rows. When he reached the road and turned left, my mother said, 'Well, your uncle's leaving home.' He lives in Oakland now.

"I started chopping cotton when I was 10. We used a long hoe called 'the ignorant stick.' At five in the morning the plants were cold and wet and they soaked your clothes as you moved down the rows. It was a terrible kind of chill. But by late morning the sun would be hot. Lord, it was hot! You could see the heat waves shimmering behind you. 'Hurry up,' someone would shout. 'Hurry up, the monkey's coming!' And then others would pick up the shout, 'The monkey's coming, the monkey's coming!' Lord, those rows were long! You could chop for a whole week and never finish a row. I got paid $2.50 a day for 12 hours. I never understood why my father made me chop until now. He wanted me to be independent, and it worked. I call him my father, but he was really my grandfather. I was born with red hair, gray-green eyes, and skin so pale you could see my veins. My real father looked at me and told my mother I was not his child. Three days later he took a boat across the Tallahatchie River from Racetrack Plantation, picked me from my mother's arms and carried me 15 miles to my grandparents'. They raised me. I hold no animosity toward my father. It was just ignorance. Later on he realized that I was his child.

"We can go now."


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