Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, the first child of Aretha and Bailey Robinson.
His father worked off and on for the railroads; his mother took in laundry. The family started out poor and stayed that way throughout the hard years of the Depression. “Even compared to other blacks,” Charles recalled, “we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground” (Charles, 4).
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When he was about five, Charles witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother. The two boys had been in the backyard playing near a large metal tub their mother used for washing clothes when four-year-old George slipped over the edge and into the soapy water. Charles tried to pull him out, but his brother — quickly weighted down by his wet clothing — was too heavy. Charles ran indoors, screaming for his mother, but it was too late.
It was the first major tragedy in a life that would have many other sorrows.BlindnessNot long after the drowning, Charles began to lose his vision, apparently as the result of untreated glaucoma. He was completely blind by the time he was seven. He credited his mother with preparing him to live without sight. She made him continue to draw water from the well, bring in the firewood, and do other chores, even though he often tripped and fell.
You may be blind, she told him, but you’re not stupid; you have to do things for yourself, no one else will do them for you. “She let me roam, let me make my own mistakes, let me discover the world for myself,” he wrote (Charles, 6). From this he developed a fierce independence and the ability to maneuver so adroitly that some people, later in his life, doubted that he was really blind.His mother managed to get him.