Strange fruit in a Plum Tree

Ronnie Dunn,
Cleveland, OH

My family was the third African American family to move on my street, Gay Avenue, on Cleveland’s Eastside in 1964. I was three years old and the youngest of three children. My siblings, a sister and brother, respectively and four years older than I, had already started school. The grandchildren, a boy and girl, of our kind, elderly white neighbors to the left of us became my first playmates outside of the home. Their parents, as well as their uncle and his wife, lived in the home with their grandparents. One spring day in 1965 as my mom did laundry in our basement and myself and my white playmates were playing and climbing in the plumb tree in their backyard, their aunt raised a window in the back of the house and called for them to “come in the house and don’t ever let me catch you playing with that N-word again!” They climbed down from the tree confused and went into the house. I stayed there sitting in the tree for what must of been several minutes not grasping what happened and that they were not coming back out to play. Realizing they weren’t, I climbed down from the tree, crossing to my backyard and rang the side doorbell. I could see my mother at the bottom of the basement steps as she looked up through the screen door and saw me standing there. As she came up the stairs and unlocked the door, she asked, “why are you coming in the house?” I fumbled over the words as I tried to explain to her what had occurred and what my playmates aunt had said. A somber expression came over my mother as she bent down to pick me up and carried me into our living room and sat me in her lap as we sat in my dad’s favorite recliner. She reached down next to the chair and picked up a volume of a children’s bible stories set of books that was placed next to the chair in a small wood bookcase. On the cover of this book was a picture of the typical European image of Jesus found in the West sitting on a large rock surrounded by multiracial children of various nationalities and my mother used this to teach me about race and to explain to me how some people think they are better than others based on the color of their skin. She told me that no one was any better than I am. That was my introduction to the concept of race and racism, a lesson that I was force to learn before I even started kindergarten. I never played with my playmates again, and seemingly in a relatively short time, the family moved from the neighborhood. I started school the next year and my kindergarten class as probably 60% white but by the time I was in the third-grade my school was more than 95% black.


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