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Children's Story Garden  >  The Token

Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

The Token


THE TOKEN *

A sweet little colored girl named Hazel Tyler had spent all of her eleven years in Boston with her father, a lawyer, and her dear, gentle mother. After her father's death, they had to live in a cottage that was cozy but very small, and her mother worked hard all day. Hazel was not very strong and as the hard northern winter approached, Mrs. Tyler decided that the little girl would be much better off to spend the cold months with Grandmother Tyler among the sunny pines of Alabama. Here she grew fat and healthy, gathering roses around Granny's little house at Christmas time, chasing her kitten and picking up cones among the little evergreen trees on the warm hillside above the scattered cabins, where the pigs and cows wandered peacefully all day long.

At last, in what northerners would call mid-winter, a touch of cold weather reached Alabama, and Hazel had to put on the warm new coat she had worn down in the autumn. The wind made her feel frisky and she ran gayly up her hill to a favorite little shut-in spot among the trees. She had never gone further in this direction before, but now she decided to explore and see what lay on the other side of the hill. Down she went, past other cabins, where dogs barked and strange little white children came out to stare at her. After a while she grew tired and turned to go home, but instead of one hill there seemed to be many, and the more she walked in this direction and in that, the more mixed-up she became, Being a sensible little girl she went to the largest of the frame houses, knocked on the front door, and said politely to the white woman who came:

"I'm Aunt Ellen's grandchild" (all the people called Granny Aunt Ellen) "and I've lost my way. Can you please tell me how to get back to her house?"

The woman looked at her curiously, then called shrilly to someone within, "Sister, here's Aunt Ellen's grandchild come to ask her way, and if the little nigger didn't knock at the front door!"

At the word "nigger" a hot flush seemed to pass through Hazel's whole body. In far-away Boston she had gone to school and played happily with white children and black; she went to their front doors of course, and never in her life had she had that hated word "nigger" flung at her. But Granny and her mother had both explained to her when she came South that here white people would treat her differently. She pressed her lips together and said in a dignified manner: "I don't want to make any trouble. If you will please explain to me how to get to Granny's, I will go." The ladies really meant to be very kind to her and had no idea how they were hurting her feelings. They took her into the warm kitchen, gave her hot coffee to drink, showed her three much-prized stuffed birds, and asked her many questions. They had known her father when he was a boy. They asked about him, exclaiming, "A nigger lawyer! That beats all!" Finally they called an old colored woman and sent her to show Hazel the way home.

That night by the fire Hazel told Granny the whole story, finally adding, as she hung her head, "They called me 'nigger.'" Granny's kind face grew sad.

"You's a hard road to travel, dearie, as you goes through life with your pretty face and your gentle ways. Shall I give you a token to keep in your heart as you go along the road? I learned it to your father and he never forgot it. Watch how folks say things, not what they say. It's an ugly word. I hates it, too. But there's white folks as don't mean no harm by it. You fell into good hands to-day and I thank the Lord for it. There's those as might have spoken slick enough but as would have been rough in their hearts."

Hazel gave Granny a hug.

"I will forget all those horrid things, Granny," she said with a little sob. "And remember the coffee and the fire and that Miss Laura showed me those three poor stuffed birds."

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

* The Token
Adapted from Hazel, by Mary White Ovington. Published by The Crisis Publishing Co. Used by permission of the Author. [top]
Hazel
A children's book, published 1913.
Mary White Ovington
Mary White Ovington (1865-1951), a descendent of New England abolitionists, devoted her adult life to combating racial discrimination and to enfranchising, improving material conditions and providing equal opportunities for African-Americans. A founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she worked tirelessly for the organization for decades, promoting, fund-raising, serving in leadership and mediatorial roles through its stormy organizational period, and helping to set its agenda. For her many contributions, most of them unpublicized, the NAACP board honored her as "Mother of the New Emancipation."
See entry in online Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography.