"My father protects us by being there. Tom,' he says, 'pick better.' Then he goes toward the boss. 'You never handle my kids,' he says, low. 'You come to me first. We will deal with it.' I worshiped my father.
"One morning, the principal of Stratford Grammar School, a white Smith, stopped the bus to the cotton field and said, 'Children off to school."
"My dad said, 'You don't tell my kids what to do.' They talked. My dad conceded that we came to California for us kids' education. So we got off the bus and I went to second grade.
"School was integrated, and it was my first look at white folks in any number. I remember the most amazing thing. One day my mother gave me a nickel. And I bought an ice-cream cone. And this white kid, Wesley, knocked it out of my hand and said, 'Niggers don't eat ice cream.' I didn't know what to do. I went home and pondered it in my heart.
"Three years later, when I was going to Central Union School in Lemoore, this kid transferred in. Walking home, I said, 'I know you?'
" 'I went to Stratford....'
"They had to pull me off him. I beat him. Then I made him fetch our cows for a week."
In the fourth grade, Smith raced his older sister Sallie to see who was the fastest kid in school. "I ran all out, and I beat her for the first time!" His eyes glisten with the triumph. Smith the adult happily acknowledges the child within. "I can stare at a tree and be overcome by how simple life is," he says. "I'm a kid."
And he's back in sixth grade. "Pivotal year. I realized that academically I was very short. I could barely read. My language was bad, so I didn't talk. No attention was paid to those who needed it. That's when I started thinking of how to better teach school."