Wednesday, July 06, 2005

But I knew this negro boy Willie long before he killed a man

Yes, it happened that I had known Willie for some time before all this. He had been referred to the Lafargue Clinic—a free psychiatric clinic in Harlem—by the Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop as a school problem. He was treated at the Clinic. We had studied his earliest development. We knew when he sat up, when he got his first tooth, when he began to talk and walk, how long he was bottle fed, when he was toilet trained. Psychiatrists and social workers had conferences about him.

Willie had been taken care of by his great-aunt since he was nineteen months old. His parents had separated shortly before. This aunt, an intelligent, warm, hard-working woman, had done all she could to give Willie a good upbringing. She worked long hours at domestic work and with her savings sent him (at the age of two) to a private nursery school, where he stayed until he was eight. Then she became ill, could not work so hard and so could not afford his tuition there. He was transferred to a public school where he did not adjust so well, missing the attention he had received in the private school. At that time his aunt took him to the Lafargue Clinic. He had difficulty with his eyes and had to wear glasses which needed changing. According to his aunt he had occasionally suffered from sleepwalking which started when he was six or seven. Once when his great-aunt waked him up from a somnambulistic state he said, half-awake, that he was "going to look for his mother." He was most affectionate with his aunt, and she had the same affection for him. She helped him to get afternoon jobs at neighborhood grocery stores, delivering packages.