Richard’s mother taught him to stand up to bullies and fight for himself by sending him for groceries.
When Richard’s mother first told him he was to do the shopping from now on, he felt proud. It made him feel grown up. Yet on his first trip he was attacked by a gang of bullies who beat him up and took his money. He ran back home, but his mother sent him out again.
That evening I told my mother what had happened, but she made no comment; she sat down at once, wrote another note, gave me more money, and sent me to the grocery again. (Part 1, Ch. 2, p. 16)
His mother would not let him back in the house, and told him she was going to teach him to stand up for himself. Young Richard did learn to fend for himself. He fought off the boys, and earned the right to the streets of Memphis.
While what his mother did might seem cruel and heartless, it was effective. Young Richard had been scared at school, and was generally too timid to survive on the streets. If he had not learned to fight back, he would have been relentlessly bullied, beaten, and harassed. The reality of the situation is that his was a tough neighborhood, and his mother was trying to teach him to be self-sufficient and not weak. Bullies target weakness, and she was trying to prevent him from being a target for the rest of his life.