When I spoke at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism on Tuesday night, a woman sat in the back of the room, often staring at me, her face deeply sober, even stern. I couldn’t help but keep glancing at her. When it came time for questions, she asked about the victims of Yusuf Bey’s rapes and beatings, especially two sisters who bore children by him as teenagers and who he enslaved in his compound, forcing them to work in his bakery, keeping them out of school. Her question allowed me to briefly delve into the sister’s horrible story, which is told in chapter 13 of the book, entitled A Boy in Seaside. I took that title from the answer one of the sisters gave a county social worker when he asked who fathered her baby. The girl’s response was a lie – she said she was visiting her grandmother in Monterey County when she was 13 years old and had sex with “a boy in Seaside” whose name she didn’t know. The truth was that Bey was the baby’s father and that she feared he would kill her – and the infant – if she told the truth. As I related this to an audience of about 75 people, the woman in the back of the room nodded affirmatively. I knew then that she was one of the sisters about whom I had devoted the chapter.
Soon her hand was pressed into mine as she told me her name. In the book I call her “Nancy,” a pseudonym to protect her identity as a victim of terrible crimes. (Her sister is called “Jane”). So many years earlier, Nancy had told the social worker that “a boy in Seaside” fathered her baby and the social worker accepted the answer and fled, leaving her and her sister to endure years more of Bey’s rapes and beatings.
I had attempted to interview the sisters for Killing The Messenger; both declined and their lawyer thought it best not to press them. Each had a son who became caught up in Yusuf Bey IV’s schemes and crimes and was arrested, one remains in state prison. Without access to the sisters, I drew details of their lives in the bakery from depositions they and others gave in a lawsuit and from police reports detailing Bey’s arrest when his victims came forward in 2002. For the chapter’s epigraph, I quoted a line from Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: “When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing, that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong.”
As Nancy and I talked, several people who attended the signing stayed and listened. Several women hugged her. She spoke openly about the horrors she endured, her continuing search for justice and the day to day violence within the Bey’s cult. Her strength and confidence were immense, and she expressed gratitude for the work of the Chauncey Bailey Project and for the book. It was humbling to me to be in her presence. She was, in fact, along with her sister and others, a Bey “slave girl,” and like Harriet Jacobs, she somehow survived.