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`The day I lost Momma’

By Bishop James E. Swanson Sr.
Oct. 8, 2015

Her name was Arnola Verna Triplett. She was 33 when I was born.

The doctor instructed her not to have any more children but, despite the warning, she gave birth to me on February 2, 1950.

She was a great momma. She taught me many life skills––how to develop lasting relationships with people and how to iron my own clothes. She taught me to respect my elders and to have confidence in myself despite growing up as a black boy in a racist United States.

It was a little more than six months after my 18th birthday that the man she chose to marry killed her because she was tired of his drunken ways and abusive language. 

It was Saturday evening in July of 1968. I was dancing to music on my portable record player on the front porch of Yvette, a girl I hoped would become my girlfriend. I was happy she was finally giving me some attention.

Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see her.

Above the sound of the music I heard someone calling my name. My next-door neighbor was running toward me. “You need to hurry home,” she shouted. “Your mother has been hurt.”

I told Yvette I needed to go and left the record player with her (by the way, I never saw the record player again either).

Resources to fight domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women work together to fight domestic violence. 

Get resources from United Methodist Men.

Resources from United Methodist Women

EMS on the scene

I ran the five or six blocks and arrived home in time to see an EMS team loading my mother in an ambulance.

My head was spinning and I didn't know what had happen or what to do.

Someone got in touch with my oldest sister, Helen, and she and her husband took me to the hospital where we stayed all night.

I finally went to Helen’s house the following day. On Monday, my brother in law woke me up to tell me what I instinctively already knew. “Man, your momma died this morning,” he said.

I rolled over and went back to sleep. I didn't cry until the day of the funeral a week later. 

Many victims

I tell you this story because victims of domestic violence are not only the “mommas,” but the children, as well.

I'm now 65-years-old; it still hurts just as much today as it did 47 years ago.

I have lived without the comfort of my mother for these 47 years. She never saw any of my children, never saw me graduate from college or seminary. She didn't attend my wedding. She never heard me preach––not a single sermon. She never saw me give an invitation to Christian discipleship or celebrate Holy Communion.

I missed all of this because one man was determined to control her life.

Now, Momma, I'm trying to stop this from happening to other 18-year olds. I want women to live full and productive lives because I still hurt from a summer in 1968 when R C Calhoun killed you. 

The Rev. James E. Swanson Sr. is the bishop of the Mississippi Area and president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men. His personal story was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of UM Men.