When DeRay Cole was a small boy, he’d follow his grandmothers into the Arkansas cotton fields every day. While most women filled a seven-foot sack, Ma Ma’s sack held nine feet of cotton. She worked harder than anyone else in the field. Little DeRay would get tired in the hot sun, and he’d say to his grandmother, “Ma, Ma, um sweatin.” She would pause to wipe his face. Sometimes he wasn’t really sweating; he just wanted her touch. She was always there, whether he was sweatin from heat, or just from his own nervous energy.
So began a lifetime of love and affection between a woman born a generation past slavery and her favorite grandson. Like many black men, Cole modeled his work ethic and dedication to his family on his grandmother’s undying strength, faith, and tenderness. While Ma Ma never earned an advanced degree and spent her life working on a cotton farm, her grandson rose above segregation, earned two degrees, and became a prominent educator. DeRay Cole wrote the story of his grandmother’s life, and their special relationship, as a testament to Ma Ma and millions of other strong black women.
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