Forthcoming Memoir

Excerpts from the soon-to-be published
 memoir of Rev. William H. Copeland Jr.
The Lord Will Provide

William H. Copeland Jr. as a child

Chapter 1
 I was surrounded by water. Enveloped by the darkness. I could hear the muffled tones of my mother’s voice. I was in the dark, alone and scared although my mother was just within my reach.
           At three years old I sat perched on a chair in an enormous tub of steaming hot water. A makeshift tent made out of the sheet covered my head, an attempt to trap the steam inside my tent and to save my life.
         My mother and Miss Ella, a short bow-legged woman with light skin, had devised the concoction to sweat the fever out of me. As I sat there in the dark, sweat pouring from my little body, I wondered why my mother had put me in such a precarious position. My little feet dangled from the old wooden chair and I feared falling into the boiling water. Maybe they would hang me out to dry like they did the clothes my mother and sisters washed in the big pot of steaming water, stirring me up, scrubbing all the skin off of me and then hanging me on the clothes line between the trees.
         I already had been labeled a sickly child. And for a boy child born in the South in the 1930s, weakness was not an option if you intended to survive....

...When I was about two years old, I broke out with boils all over my body. Some of the old folks told my Daddy if he bathed me in running water the boils would disappear. He took me down to Beach Springs Branch, a little creek about 100 yards in back of the house and bathed me in the crystal clear fresh spring water. The result was pneumonia in both lungs. As my parents and the old ladies tried remedy after remedy to clear my lungs, I only got worse. They finally loaded me into the wagon, swaddled in quilts, and made the trek through the woods to Dr. Bloom, a white doctor in Jonesboro. There were no Black doctors and the white ones were less than anxious to waste their time giving quality medical treatment to Blacks. The waiting room was segregated—Blacks on one side, whites on the other. Whites were always treated first and with dignity. If the doctor had time he would hurriedly treat the Blacks usually with one jug of red stuff that was supposed to cure everything.
Dr. Bloom was typical of most white doctors in the segregated South. After a cursory examination, he gave my parents his prognosis.
“Got the pneumonia in both lungs,” he said matter-of fact to my mother. “He gonna die in a few days. Might as well take him home and let him die there."
There were no hospitals for Blacks. My parents wrapped me in quilts and took me home in our two-mule driven wagon. But my mother did not take the doctor’s analysis of the situation. After having one boy, my brother O.T., and then eight girls, my mother like Hannah, had prayed for another son and I was the answer to that prayer. She reminded God that he had given her that request and she had given me back to God. He couldn’t let me die. With the prayers of my parents, the constant nurturing of Mama and my sisters, the aid of home remedies such as goose grease on my chest, I recovered from that episode. But about a year later, I developed a fever. 
            And so there I was, precariously perched in a chair and a tub of hot water with a sheet covering me, like a tent to hold the steam, and to make me sweat. That was the second time in less than three years that illness threatened my life. Later, my mother said I was only three years old and could not possibly remember that experience, but it was so traumatic I still remember vividly. There were lingering effects from my early illnesses that labeled me as a sickly child for a time, but I soon outgrew them all.
Georgia Ann Copeland, Pastor Copeland's mother


...I will never forget in the spring of the year. The blooming white magnolia blossoms and the dogwood trees’ white blooms would emit a perfume that would saturate the air all through the woods. The fragrance of those blooming flowers would put fine French perfume to shame and cause the most expensive man-made fragrance to blush with envy.
 It was in this setting with white sand, rich black soil in the field, and a community of loving people that I grew up. In Piney Woods, the old African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” was practiced tenaciously. Any adult had permission to chastise you. Every black woman was a super nanny. 
William H. Copeland Sr.
Our closest neighbors were a white family named Barns. My mother told me how she and Mrs. Barns would take turns breastfeeding and babysitting each other’s children. We grew up eating, fighting and playing together. Our parents borrowed from one another and sat at each other’s table. Although in our own little neighborhood we integrated with the Barns, outside of our little community, institutionalized racism was an art form. Everything was segregated.
          My father never accepted racism and never allowed us to accept it. Papa was not afraid of the Devil or his uncle. I remember once rumors were out that the Ku Klux Klan might be riding in our area. My father kept his double-barrel shot gun loaded with 12 gauge buck shots right by the front door. When he would have to go to the fields or woods to work, at 11 years old I was left to guard the house. He told me, “If you see anybody with sheets over their heads on our lawn, shoot it.”
           The Klan wore sheets over their heads with peep holes so that superstitious blacks would think they were ghosts or “haints” as black folks called them. Papa said real men didn’t wear sheets. They slept on sheets and bore crosses. Haints wore sheets and burned crosses. “There’s no law against shooting a haint,” my father said. “Haints can’t stand buck shots.”
Fortunately for the haints and me, they never showed up on my watch....

Continuing A Life of Service