Against the Law

Music and lyrics by
Brenda Russell

I remember when I was nine years old,
I took a train to see my Grandma,
From Brooklyn, New York, to the sunny South,
A land called North Carolina.
She lived on a dusty country road
Where folks didn't have no plumbing.
She had an outhouse out the back, you know.
There was no water running.

One day, the neighbor kids came by
To take me to the picture show.
We walked a long hot mile into the town
But there was something I didn't know.
Why did they join the longest line?
I just couldn't understand.
They grabbed their little bellies laughing at me.
I thought I had a better plan.

It was against the law.

Well, when I reached the ticket booth
the woman curled up her lip
and sneered, "Can't you read, little girl?"
with her hand pinched to her hip.
With shock, humiliation and shame
I couldn't hardly breathe.
I read the sign above that said "White Only"
and I turned to leave.

It was against the law.

It said, "White only. You can't sit here.
White only. You can't eat here.
White only. You can't go here.
White only. You can't pray here.
White only. You can't be here.
White only. You can't sleep here.
White only. You can't ride here.
White only. But you sure can die here.”

It was against the law.

Against The Law describes a child’s visit to her grandmother in North Carolina. The child sees the poverty but is affronted, shocked and horrified by racial segregation. There is no explanation, no escape, and no justification, only a loss of innocence.

Against The Law is a true account of Brenda Russell’s (So Good, So Right, Piano in the Dark, Get Here) first trip to the Deep South. She was deeply affected by the overt racism, and the fact that the neighborhood children seemed to accept it as an immutable part of life.

Read more about "Against the Law" and resilience.