Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, on July 29, 1909, to Joseph Sandy Himes and Estelle Bomar Himes; his father was a peripateticblack college professor of industrial trades and his mother was a teacher at Scotia Seminaryprior to marriage; Chester Himes grew up in a middle-class home in Missouri. When he was about 12 years old, his father took a teaching job in the Arkansas Delta at Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), and soon a tragedy took place that would profoundly shape Himes’s view of race relations. He had misbehaved and his mother made him sit out a gunpowder demonstration that he and his brother, Joseph Jr., were supposed to conduct during a school assembly. Working alone, Joseph mixed the chemicals; they exploded in his face. Rushed to the nearest hospital, the blinded boy was refused treatment because of Jim Crow laws. “That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together,” Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt.
“I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying….We pulled into the emergency entrance of a white people’s hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.”