Early in 1940, deep in the rural, primitive Mississippi Delta, on a cotton plantation surrounded by Mossy Lake and Gumbo Bog, a mysterious disease known as "The Curse" started claiming the lives of the Pittman baby boys. It was a world of mourning, pain and misery, a world of gloom and despair. Throughout the generations, the Pittman women dealt with life's everyday ups and downs, as well as with infidelity, ridicule, and apathy from both whites and blacks.
Over a period of three generations, the mysterious disease would claim the life of fifty percent of the males in the Pittman family. Fifty percent is based on the total number of boys, affected and unaffected, in the family. Out of nineteen afflicted boys, fourteen would die. Until 1983, because of racism, apathy and a lack of both money and education, the fatality rate was one hundred percent. The Pittman women had baby boy after baby boy and watched each one suffer a long, agonizing, and horrible death of suffocation. Many of the boys died without having received any medical assistance.
My mother, Irma (birth name Urmia, called Irma) Dell (Coopwood) Pittman, was the youngest of three sisters and three brothers. Until 1995, she and her offspring were the only Coopwood family members known to have had sick babies. Though there is no proof, the roots of this traumatic saga can be traced back to the late 1800s, and maybe further. Who knows how far the curse goes back in time?
Ostracized by family and friends, the only explanation my mother had for this mysterious killer that robbed her of her infant boys was an ancestral curse that had been quietly and secretly rumored for generations.
Alberta Mack (Momma) Coopwood, Irma's mother, was believed to be partly American Indian, having lived on an Indian reservation when she was a child. Irma's father, Governor (Papa) Coopwood, was well known for his infidelity and cruelty. No one knows for certain when or why the curse evolved or when the rumors about the curse started, but it is believed to have begun when Governor Coopwood married Alberta around 1896.
In the early 1960s, Bessie Pittman and the other Pittman women were told not to donate blood for fear that "the bad blood" of the Pittman women could be passed to other women. Doctors, too, felt that the curse was passed through the women of the Pittman bloodline.
Years later, doctors at Riley Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Wylers' Children's Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, performed open heart surgeries and other procedures on some of the boys but without success. Finally, September 10, 1983, marked the birth of Montrell Tramine Lee, the first so afflicted boy to survive the family's curse. Then came the births of four other survivors: Moses Gregory Mitchell, Pablo Antonio Colón II, Rickard (Ricky) Colón and Auneste Lashaun Francis. To the present family, they are the miracle boys. Although these boys survived, each has endured many life-threatening surgeries and procedures. All in the family learned to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for whatever happened.
In June 1984, the silence surrounding the deadly legacy was broken. Along with associates from the University of California, San Diego, I, at the time a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, began to unravel the mystery that claimed so many of the Pittman baby boys.