Listen: Langston Hughes poem Thank You, Ma'am read by actor Gregory Alan (GregAlan) Williams

On this First Friday segment, actor Gregory Alan Williams reads Langston Hughes short story "Thank You, Ma'am."


(00:00:00) She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it, but a hammer and nails it had a long strap and she carried it slung across his shoulder. It was about eleven o'clock at night dark and she was walking alone when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse the strap broke with the sudden single tug the boy gave it from behind but the boys weighed in the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk and his legs flew up the large woman simply turned around and kicked him right Square in his blue. Jean sitter. Then she reached down picked the boy up by his shirtfront and shook him until his teeth rattled after that. The woman
(00:00:48) said pick up my pocketbook boy and give it here.
(00:00:52) She still held him tightly but she bent down enough to permit him to stoop and pick up her purse then. She said
(00:00:59) now ain't you ashamed of yourself? Firmly gripped by his shirtfront. The boy
(00:01:03) said yes. Mmm. The woman said
(00:01:08) what did you want to do it for?
(00:01:10) The boy said I didn't aim to she said you are
(00:01:15) Lie by that time two or three people
(00:01:18) passed stopped turned to look and some stood watching.
(00:01:22) If I Turn You Loose will you run
(00:01:25) ask the woman?
(00:01:27) Yes and
(00:01:28) said the boy
(00:01:29) then I won't Turn You
(00:01:30) Loose said the woman she did not release him.
(00:01:35) Lady,
(00:01:36) I'm sorry was with the boy.
(00:01:39) Hmm. Your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain't you got nobody home to tell you to wash your
(00:01:47) face. Noah said the boy
(00:01:51) then it will get washed this evening
(00:01:54) said the large woman starting up the street dragging the frightened boy behind her. He looked as if he were 14 or 15 frail and Willow wild in tennis shoes and blue jeans. The woman said
(00:02:09) you want to be my son I would teach you right from wrong least I can do right now is to wash your face. Are you hungry?
(00:02:19) No him
(00:02:20) said the being dragged boy. I just want you to turn me loose
(00:02:25) was I bothering you when I turned that
(00:02:27) corner? That's the woman. No.
(00:02:32) But you put yourself in contact with me said the woman if you think that that contact is not going to last a while. You got another thought coming when I get through with you sir. You are going to remember. Mrs. Louella Beach, Washington
(00:02:44) Jones. Sweet popped out on the boys face and he began to struggle. This is Joan stopped jerked him around in front of her put a half-nelson about his neck and continued to drag him up the street when she got to her door. She dragged the boy inside down a hall and into a large kitchenette furnished room at the rear of the house. She switched on the light and left the door open the boy could hear other rumors laughing and talking in the Lord's House. Some of their doors were open to so he knew he and the woman were not alone. The woman still had him by the neck in the middle of her room. She said
(00:03:23) what is your name?
(00:03:25) Roger answered the board
(00:03:28) then Roger you go to that sink and wash your
(00:03:30) face said the woman whereupon she turned him loose at last Roger looked at the door looked at the woman looked at the door and went to the sink.
(00:03:45) Let the water run until it gets warm. She said here's a clean towel you going to take me to jail
(00:03:51) ask the boy bending over the sink.
(00:03:54) Not with that face. I would not take you
(00:03:56) nowhere said the
(00:03:58) woman here. I am trying to get home to cook me a bite to eat and you snatch my pocketbook. Maybe you ain't been to your shop. Either. Ladies would be have
(00:04:07) you
(00:04:08) there's nobody home with my house at the boy. Then we'll eat said the woman
(00:04:14) I believe you're hungry or been hungry to try to snatch my
(00:04:17) pocketbook. I want a pair of Blue Suede Shoes said the boy.
(00:04:24) Well, you didn't have to snatch my pocketbook to get some Suede Shoes
(00:04:27) said mrs. The Weller Bates Washington Jones. You could have
(00:04:30) asked me. ma'am
(00:04:35) The water dripping from his face the boy looked at her there was a long pause a very long pause after he dried his face and not knowing what else to do tried it again. The boy turned around wondering what next The door was open. He could make a dash for it down the hall. He could run run run run. The woman was sitting on the bed after a while. She said
(00:05:05) Well young ones and I wanted things I could not
(00:05:08) get there was another long pause the boy's mouth opened that he found not knowing he frowned. The woman said
(00:05:18) hmm. You thought I was going to say but didn't you you thought I was going to say but I didn't snatch people's pocketbooks. Well, I wasn't going to
(00:05:27) say that. pause silence
(00:05:32) I have done things to which I would not tell you something neither. Tell God if he didn't already know everybody's got something in common. So you you sit down while I fix us something to eat. You might run that comb through your hair so you will look
(00:05:47) presentable. In another corner of the room behind a screen was a gas plate and an icebox. Mrs. Jones got up and went behind the screen. The woman did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run now nor did she watch her purse what she left behind her on the daybed but the boy took care to sit on the far side of the room away from the purse where he thought she could easily see him out of the corner of her eye if she wanted to. He did not trust the woman not to trust him and he did not want to be mistrusted now. Do you need somebody to go to the store? Ask the boy
(00:06:25) maybe to get some milk or something? No, I don't believe I do said the woman unless you just want sweet milk yourself. I was going to make cocoa out of this canned milk I
(00:06:34) got here. That would be fine said the boy. She needed some lima beans and ham she had in the icebox made the cocoa and set the table. The woman did not ask the boy anything about where he lived or his folks or anything else to put embarrassing instead as they age she told him about her job at a hotel beauty shop that stayed open late, but the work was like and how all kinds of women came in and out blondes redheads and Spanish. Then she cut him a half of her Ten Cent cake. eat some more sun she said When they were finished eating she got up and
(00:07:12) said now here take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes and next time do not make the mistake of latching onto my pocketbook. No. Nobody else's because shoes got by devilish ways will burn your feet. I got to get my rest now, but from here on in so and I hope you will behave
(00:07:31) yourself. She let him down the hall to the front door and opened it.
(00:07:37) Good night, behave
(00:07:38) yourself boy. She said looking out into the street as he went down the steps. The boy wanted to say something other than thank you man to mrs. Luella Beach Washington Jones, but although his lips moved. He couldn't even say that as he turned the foot of the barren stoop and looked up at the large woman in the door. Then she shut the door.


Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

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