Chester Bomar Himes was born on July 29, 1909, in Jefferson City, Missouri, the youngest of three sons born to Estelle Charlotte Bomar and Joseph Sandy Himes, a professor of blacksmithing and wheelwrighting and head of the Mechanical Arts Department at Lincoln University. In 1921 Himes’s father obtained a position at Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Chester and his brother Joe were enrolled in first-year studies there (with classmates ten years their senior). In the same year Joe was permanently blinded while conducting a chemistry demonstration he and Chester had prepared. The local hospital’s refusal to admit and treat his brother (presumably because of racial prejudice)—one of several such incidents experienced in his youth—made a lasting impression on Chester and contributed to his often-cited “quality of hurt” (the title of the first volume of his autobiography).
In the next two years Himes attended high schools in St. Louis, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio, experiencing the loneliness, isolation, and violence frequently accorded the outsider in adolescence (in schoolyard battles he received chipped teeth, lacerations to the head and a broken shoulder that never healed properly). Himes was graduated, nevertheless, from Cleveland’s Glenville High School in January, 1926. Preparing to attend Ohio State University in the fall, he took a job as a busboy in a local hotel. Injured by a fall down an elevator shaft, Himes was awarded a...
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