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The Voice of the Black Community


Local author details hardships with deaf parents
Published Friday, July 13, 2018
by Maria Magher, Correspondent

Silence Isn’t Golden

By Mary Louise Shelton

The old saying goes that “Silence is golden.” For Mary Shelton, growing up in a silent household was anything but, and she wrote about her experiences in the memoir, “Silence Isn’t Golden.”

Shelton grew up with two deaf and mute parents in rural North Carolina. Not only did her parents experience a lot of hardship and abuse, but so did Shelton and her brothers.

“It’s about rape, murder, lies, and innocence stolen,” Shelton said of her book. “It’s about the hard road to recovery that takes a lifetime to achieve.”

Shelton’s parents met at the Raleigh School for the Deaf, and wanted to marry, but weren’t allowed to because her father was white and her mother was black. Not only was it illegal at the time, but their parents disapproved. After their parents died, they moved to Detroit to marry and start a family.

“The first born was stolen from my parents because they were deaf and mute, and the people at the hospital just said, ‘You’re deaf and dumb. Go home and have another,’” Shelton said. She is still trying to find that long-lost brother.

As she grew up, Shelton became the interpreter for her parents. Her brothers refused, and her parents had no one else to help.

“It took away my childhood. I just remember always working as their interpreter and doing things,” she said. “My older brother, Charles, resented having to interpret so all the responsibility seemed to fall on me. I don’t remember having any fun. We couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t dance, couldn’t do any of the things that kids do.”

Her home life was strict since her parents were religious and “believed in a God of punishment,” she said. She couldn’t play the clarinet. She couldn’t listen to music.

“She would turn the eye of the stove on every day and say, ‘God’s gonna find something you did wrong, and you’re gonna get punished for it,’” Shelton said of her mother.

Besides this strict and somewhat joyless environment, Shelton suffered additional hardship that took her a long time to overcome. She was sexually abused from infancy until about 5 years old. Her mother knew but didn’t tell her father. Then her mother was raped by a man who was renting a room from their family. Again, no one told their father.

Shelton said her mother was molested as a child, so she didn’t react as strongly to her daughter being molested or to her own rape years later. Her mother was abused while in school, which Shelton says is a common occurrence among the deaf.

“I want to expose those schools for the deaf,” she said. “I want to expose the fact that those kids don’t have a voice.”

According to a study in the American Annals of the Deaf, approximately 50 percent of deaf people were sexually abused as children. But the U.S. Department of Justice reports that only about 5 percent report their assaults to police.

“I became an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing, and I noticed that a lot of the deaf and hard of hearing children are acting out like my mother,” Shelton said. “I’ve had a lot of kids I’ve interpreted for that are suicidal.”

Shelton said she felt alone and helpless after her own abuse because she had no support. She said she went to therapists over the years for her depression, but none wanted to talk about her past.

What helped her time and again was God, though she had different ideas about God over the years. For a while, she was a Muslim, and now she identifies as a non-denominational Christian.

“I wanted to get as far away as possible from Christianity because my mother was a Baptist,” Shelton said. “She was a hard-nosed Baptist and believed that God was a god of punishment, and I didn’t want anything to do with that god. I believe that we’re all equally yoked. I’m an ambassador for peace now.”

In her book, she details these struggles and how she overcame them, including the murder of her younger brother when he was 21 by the brother of a girl he got pregnant. He was shot six times with his hands tied behind his back. Shelton was 26 at the time.

Her other brother later died of lung cancer, leaving Shelton the only one of the children left. Her father died of Alzheimer’s in 1998, and her mother passed in 2015 at the age of 102.

Shelton has self-published “Silence Isn’t Golden” and is selling it for $15. She is working to get the book in local bookstores or online at Amazon. For now, it can be purchased by contacting her at mshelton@nc.rr.com.



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