Bernard Holyfield (R) spent the early years of his childhood in Alabama.
He and his younger brother, Evander, who would grow up to be a heavyweight boxing champion, had a favorite pet—a dog named Lassie.
At StoryCorps, Bernard told his friend Charles Barlow, a painful memory from that time.
Click here for the transcript.
One day when I was about 5 years old, Evander and I were outside playing and this white man -- he was drunk, disheveled, just reeking with alcohol -- he was passing by and he stopped and he motioned for Evander and I to come over. Of course, our parents had always told us don’t talk to strangers. We didn’t go over and he began to enter the yard. Then lassie began to growl and make his presence known and the guy kind of reeled back. And then he began to taunt the dog. You know, he would charge over into the yard and then pull back and start laughing. Well, about the third time he did that somehow Lassie broke the chain, and uh, chased him out of the yard.
Evander and I went, got the dog back and tied him back up and was playing as usual. And maybe about an hour later or so, the sheriff showed up. And the drunk came and said, yeah, this is the house where the dog attacked me. And so, uh, my sister told Evander and I, she said “You all come in the house.”
We came in the house, we got up on the windowsill, and we’re watching the sheriff. And he went and popped up his trunk, pulled out this long double-barreled shotgun. And then the next thing, we heard two shots--pow pow. Each one of the shots was so loud it seemed like it just rattled everything in the house--the windows, everything. I mean my ears were just ringing.
Now, for Evander and I at 5 and 4 years old, we used to play cops and robbers. And he and I would just be at each other about, “Who’s gonna be the cop? Who’s gonna be the sheriff?” And then the sheriff, who was kind of like our hero, had actually shot our dog. We was just kind of in shock. It was just unbelievable.
And that became a kind of a touchstone for me. At 5 years old that taught me that skin color made a big difference.