James L. Bryant Jr. was born in Wesson, Mississippi on a small farm that was owned by the plantation. He went to school in a small building used for both school and church. He then moved to the city and familiarized himself with his new surroundings, church and schools.
They earned their keep picking cotton in the delta under the hot Mississippi sun, hunting cockroaches for extra money, cleaning yards and helping out on his grandparent's farm. He has vivid memories of the family reunions, of seeking a safe haven from storms and tornadoes and trying to adjust to the schools that he went to by participating in sports.
He also recounts getting facial burns from hot tar and how he nearly lost the heel of his left foot. He grew up with the racial segregation that existed, and was bothered by all of the unsolved murders. He moved to Portland, Oregon where there is such beautiful scenery. It took a while for him to make the mental adjustments to an integrated society. He made new friends and adjusted to this new way of life. James wrote The Long Journey for his wife and children and his mother, father, sister, and brothers.