We remember James Brown as the Godfather of Soul. We remember him as a singer, a performer, a tormented artist who fought racial barriers and triumphed to become one of the most famous and influential artists in music history. His daughter remembers him as the father she loved dearly who violently and repeatedly beat her mother.
Dr. Yamma Brown recently penned a memoir about growing up with her father called Cold Sweat: My Father James Brown and Me. Vulture has a long excerpt (which is definitely worth a full read.) She recounts in agonizing detail what it was like, as a young child, to witness her father violently beat her mother and how the impacts of the abuse manifested years later in her life:
As much as I loved my father, and I sure loved him, I hated him during those times. And I didn't like my mother much, either. I didn't understand why she let my father treat her like that. If she couldn't stand up for herself, how would she protect me? What if I slipped up and did or said something Dad didn't like and he decided to turn on me, his little Yammacakes? I didn't think he'd hurt me, but I couldn't be sure. I couldn't possibly defend myself against a strong man like my father, especially not when he was in one of his rages.
After a while, I did what my mom did and acted as if the beatings hadn't happened. I'd pretend the Browns were just like everyone else, a happily married couple with their two great kids.
She goes on to describe her torment as a young child trying to reconcile her resentment towards her mother for tolerating his abuse. "I didn't like my mother much, either," she wrote. "I didn't understand why she let my father treat her like that. If she couldn't stand up for herself, how would she protect me?" She said she coped by pretending they were just another normal happy family and tried to block out her father's abuse. Until the day she witnessed for the first time with her own eyes what he was capable of:
I ran to the front door and peered outside. My mother was dressed in her blue and white robe. Her legs were splayed wide open and my father was straddling her, pummeling her with clenched fists. Doosh. Thud. Doosh. Thud. Blood spurted from my mother's face. She started thrashing around, kicking her legs, holding up her arms to ward off the punches and trying to break free, trying to save herself. I froze in place, but then something inside of me took over and I knew I had to do something. I felt no fear, only rage. I ran outside, screaming, "Leave her alone! Stop punching Mommy!" He didn't even turn around. He just kept punching. The next thing I knew I was on his back, trying to pull him off of my mom. Sweat was dripping off his face and his eyes were glazed and wild. When he first looked at me, it was as if I was looking into the eyes of a stranger — and a mad one at that. "Stop!'' I screamed. "Leave Mommy alone!" My father looked stunned. It was as if he'd awakened from a bad dream. His head dropped and his shoulders slumped. I looked down at my mom. Her eyes were purple and her face was bloody. She didn't look back at me.
Brown wrote that by the time her mother did find the strength to leave him, she had already "been programmed to accept abuse as part of life." She said no one ever warned her that victims of abuse often end up with abusers themselves. She never expected she would end up with someone like her father, because "I promised myself that no man would ever treat me the way I saw my father treat my mom. God help the man who took a hand to me. I wouldn't stand for it." She never realized it was happening to her until it was too late.
Brown first started dating her husband, Darren Lumar, in 1998. "He was...charismatic and smart. And he was a real flirt." Their courtship culminated in Lumar asking her father for her hand in marriage. Everything was going great until she witnessed "an angry, aggressive side that seemed to come out of nowhere."
Darren followed me from the apartment into the hallway. He followed me into the elevator, still ranting like a madman. "Okay, Darren," I said, trying to sound calm. "Enough. We had our argument; now let's cool off." Darren wouldn't let it go. He was all up in my face. I was really scared. The elevator stopped at the lobby, and I walked off and headed out of the building to my car. Darren was on my heels, still cursing and shouting. "Bitch! Slut! Whore!" When I finally got to my car, he grabbed my keys from my hand and threw them to the ground. I bent down to pick them up, and he pushed me to the pavement. I would get in the car when he was finished talking, he said, not before. Did I understand? "Okay," I said. I tried getting up. He pushed me down again. I finally picked myself up and headed toward the busy street. Darren stalked me to the road, still screaming at me. No one stopped to help, and I'm pretty sure I would have waved anyone away had they tried. "Leave me alone!" I cried. "I don't want to argue with you!" I should have run and never looked back. But I didn't. God knows why. We headed back up to the apartment, where Darren eventually cooled down and then apologized.
Brown said he told her was sorry, he was under stress, he never meant to hurt her and promised to never do it again. "I was his princess," she wrote. "Going forward, he would never again forget to honor and respect me as much as he loved me."
Our society possesses a false notion that celebrities (and their offspring) are somehow immune from so much of the pain and trauma that regular people go through. But then we hear stories like Yamma Brown's and we realize that the none of us are immune from the tactics that abusers use to control and dominate their victims.
Yamma Brown said it took her ten years to break free of the abusive marriage. It wasn't until one particularly gruesome attack that left her immobilized that she knew she had to leave. "I was lying on that cold tile floor, with my head pounding and my vision blurred from being punched in the face, that I finally saw my marriage with absolute clarity," she wrote. "Suddenly after ten years of false hope and make-believe, there was nothing left but the bare and brutal truth."
Image via Getty.