Poet and community leader in Louisville, Kentucky, Cotter was raised in poverty with no formal education until the age of 22. He later became an educator and an advocate of black education. He is the ... [+]

"Madam," said the negro principal of a public school to an old negro woman who was washing, "I wish your boy to attend my school."

"Whose boy?" asked the old woman as she straightened up and wiped the suds from her arms.

"Your boy, madam."

"Well, ef he's my boy, I reckon I'll look atter him."

She placed one hand on the rim of the tub and resumed washing with the other.

Every few seconds she would change her position, allowing each hand a rest period. She would also change the pitch of a negro melody she was singing, accordingly.

"'Fesser," said she, "is you still waitin'?"

"I am, madam."

"'Fesser, you cyarn't git dis boy."

"Madam, I'll stay and argue with you."

"I won't argue wid you, 'fesser. I'se got ter argue wid dese suds. Does you heah?"

"Your boy, madam, is running wild."

"'Fesser, you don't need ter run. You kin jes' walk. I'se mighty perlite, but does you see dat gate?"

The principal started toward the gate. In passing an ant-hill he walked around it. As he reached the corner of the house a large fierce dog sprang at him. He spoke to the dog, and patted its head. The dog wagged its tail and followed him to the gate. After much trouble he opened and closed the gate and started off at a brisk pace.

"'Fesser! 'fesser!" cried the old woman, "you kin hab dis boy. Come back an' git him right now."

The principal returned and asked the old woman what had converted her.

"It was dem ways of yourn, 'fesser. You's got er mighty good heart in you, 'kase you walked erround dem ants. Dat's jes' de heart I wants ter beat fer my boy. Dat dog bites most folks, but you jes' charmed all de fight outen him. My boy's got er lot of fight an' some meanness in him, but I sees you kin charm dem out. Most folks leaves dat gate open, but you jes' kept on till you closed it. I knows you'll keep at dis boy till you makes er man outen him. Heah's de boy, 'fesser. Jes' take him erlong."

As the principal and boy walked in the street the old woman stood at the gate and said: "Jes' look at dat boy of mine; he's walkin' lack de 'fesser erready."