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Viola Dickerson was Eric Dickerson’s great-great-aunt and adoptive mother, and she was the major of her high school class in Sealy, Texas. Despite her academic achievements, she was like so many black women in her place and in her time; she continued to clean houses for whites across the tracks, never fulfilling her promise, never earning what she thought she was worth.
Eric, his adopted son – his biological mother, Helen Johnson, had him at 15 and was more of an older sister than a mother – saw it all and it influenced his demeanor and his approach to the affairs of football as his gifts as the running back opened up a whole new world for him.
“(Viola) grew up in the segregated south, and she was a brilliant woman, but the only job she could get was cleaning the houses on the white side of town,” said Greg Hanlon, co-author of “Watch My Smoke: The Eric Dickerson Story,” which will be released in 2022. “And that always pissed off Eric because he knew how smart and proud his mother was. To watch her break her bump day after day, say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” to the white men and women who were much younger than her, who still got stuck in her mouth. He recognized the unfairness of the situation, the way whites always outweighed blacks, and that stuck with him even when he found himself in a position where he could make a lot of money playing football.
There are two Eric Dickerson stories to tell here.