I am an African-American male with a Ph.D. and post-doctoral studies in Theology and Philosophy. Contrary to the TAK (Traditional Analysis of Knowledge), I believe that Inspiration is also a source of knowledge, therefore my blog, Provocative Inspiration
Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, reveals tough childhood that included disguising as Klansman in 'Black and White: The Way I See It'
Williams, a sometimes a controversial figure in tennis, writes in his upcoming book about coping with his unloving father and stealing to help his family survive dire poverty. The famous father also faced deadly racism at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan — and decided to fight back.
Richard Williams rose from dire poverty to raise two of the greatest tennis players, Venus and Serena, the sport has ever seen. “Black and White: The Way I See It,” written with Bart Davis, tells the story of his unique life.
Williams, who has sometimes been a controversial figure in tennis, doesn’t shade his hardscrabble beginnings in Shreveport, La. His father, R.D., burned a hole in his heart by leaving Williams’ mother, Julia, and her five children to survive on their own in a hard, mean place. A young Williams stole so the family could survive and fought back against the racism that saw him bloodied and beaten more than once. In the end, before leaving town, he disguised himself as a Klansman and took his revenge ...
The world may now see me as a famous man in control of his destiny, but no one knows how much my early life defined me as a child, and later, as a husband and a father. As early as I remember, I hated my name because my father’s love did not come with it. It would always remind me of the man who left me alone, who abused my mother, and who put me way behind the starting line in the race of life.
As a child, I struggled to understand why my father didn’t want me and why he didn’t love me. Even now, those questions remain, and I am rarely comfortable with people, or within myself, regardless of the respect I have gained.
In Shreveport, my family and I lived in a three-room shack on East Seventy-Ninth Street, next to the railroad tracks. The house was so raggedy a strong wind could have blown it down.
When my father never gave anything to me, I decided I was going to give my family everything I had. The more I worked, the more I helped Mama and my sisters, and the prouder of myself I became.
I became fascinated with stealing at the age of eight.
The money I brought home barely made ends meet but we survived. I used to go out in the woods and hunt bullfrogs to eat, and fish, and shoot rabbits, and steal chickens. One day, I bought some meat from the market and found maggots in it. It was winter and we were so hungry I could not force myself to throw it away. I cooked it, maggots and all. It wasn’t the first time we ate tainted or spoiled meat. We couldn’t throw anything away, not even bad meat.
I became fascinated with stealing at the age of eight. I don’t know if the thrill was being able to get away with a crime, or that the crime was against the white man. Either way, it was the start of a prosperous career. At twelve, I started a produce garden in our backyard to stock a farm stand. Whatever I could not grow, I confiscated — stole — from white people. I stole watermelons, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, hickory nuts, and pecans. Pecans were my biggest seller during Christmas. When I was at school, I hired the men who loitered on street corners to work the farm stand for me.
By the time I was thirteen, my business ventures were profitable enough to move us into a little-better house at 514 East Seventy-Seventh.
My new best friend was a boy named Lil Man, who ran with the Cedar Grove Gang. Lil Man always had a sly look on his face and wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. He also had a reputation for stealing in broad daylight.
“Man, I can steal anything. One time I crawled under Old Man Thomas’s fence and stole a pig. And I’m gon’ do it agin, Richard.”
Old Man Thomas was a white farmer who lived on the outskirts of town. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Thomas had already killed two Negroes who tried to imitate Lil Man’s success.
The last time I saw Lil Man was by the well when I went to get some water. He had his cap backward and was grinning. Three days later, some boys hunting in the woods found his lifeless body hanging from a tree. Both his hands had been cut off. Rumor had it that Mr. Thomas was having a Ku Klux Klan meeting when Lil Man tried to steal another of his pigs. The Klan caught Lil Man and decided to make an example out of him. They bound his hands and feet and tied a handkerchief around his mouth. They cut off both his hands with an ax and lynched his shocked body from a tree. Then they hung Lil Man’s hands on the fence as a warning to other n------ who thought about stealing.
There was no formal investigation. No one was ever questioned. Nobody was able to prove who killed Lil Man because no one ever tried.
* * *
Anger was my life. I found strength challenging the Klan to see how far I could go.
The Klan rampaged through the South, confident it could violate us with impunity. Only one time did they ever come close to getting to me. To this day, I don’t really remember the reason for the fight, or why it escalated to the point where I was fighting off three white men in the street, covered in dirt and blood, while a crowd watched. I looked up, and there was my father standing among the white crowd, watching me get beaten without so much as lifting a finger to help me. He didn’t call out. He didn’t wade in. He just watched as I tried to survive the onslaught, and as the mob turned in his direction seeking another black man to target with their anger and hatred, he ran off, leaving me there alone.
It is a terrible thing to be so unloved, to know your father would rather let you die than lift a finger to help you, to watch him run off and leave you all alone. It was a rejection so cold it remains burnt in my memory and, in the end, it did what even white people could never do, hurt me so deep in my soul that I have never forgotten or forgiven.
* * *
Richard Williams says his early life very much defined him as a husband and a father.
Anger was my life. I found strength challenging the Klan to see how far I could go. Before I left Shreveport for Chicago, I planned to give back a piece of what had been given to me all my life. I was going to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
My friends Big Mo and Louis were having sex with a white farmer’s daughter named Lucy Clavens. Lucy did anything for sex. Lucy was like an obedient puppy, and I knew she would tell Louis where her father kept his Klan outfit. Big Mo found it just where she said it was, hanging on a nail in the toolshed. My concern was hiding my skin color. The mask only had little round eyeholes so it showed no skin, and the gown was floor-length. I had my sisters buy makeup from the pharmacy that turned my hands into convincing white skin at night.
After dark, I rode my dark blue bicycle into a white neighborhood with the KKK outfit neatly folded inside my jacket. I hid the bicycle in the bushes, walked three blocks, ducked into an alley, and put on the hood and robe and rubbed my hands in the makeup. I walked two blocks before selecting my victims — a white farmer and his teenaged son sitting on a park bench, smoking and drinking. They both wore work boots, T-shirts, and overalls. I smelled their smoke, heard the scratchy sound as they rubbed their stubbly faces.
My hatred was up, and so was my longing to pay back somebody, anybody, for everything that ever happened to me. I felt the power anonymity gave me. I picked up a stick. My attack was quick and vicious. I crept up behind them in the darkness, brought the stick down on their heads, and they cried out and fell to the ground.
I ran away as fast as I could. I pedaled slowly down the street until I was outside the white neighborhood, then pedaled like the devil himself was chasing me. When I pulled into my yard, my heart was racing from the adrenaline rush.