Kevin Boseman has spent the past few weeks sitting under a towering pecan tree at his childhood home in Anderson, S.C. He and his brother used to play on a swing there and chase each other around the backyard. Between Bible studies and summer reading, it was the place where they made their fondest memories.
Kevin, 48, went there to remember his brother, the star of “Black Panther” and other films, who died a month ago from colon cancer at 43.
To millions, Chadwick Boseman was known as T’Challa, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson. But for the Boseman family and his friends in the small town of Anderson, he was simply Chad.
“I have been trying to remember Chad and not Chadwick,” Kevin Boseman said. “And there’s just been a lot of Chadwick in the air.”
When someone is a celebrity, Kevin said, “You have to start sharing that person with the world; I always endeavored to just treat him like my brother.” Kevin Boseman has his own success as a dancer, actor and writer.
It was Chad Boseman, not Chadwick, who walked the small town’s streets, attended its schools and prayed in one of its churches. In the tight-knit community of about 20,000 people, he showed residents that they could do anything, his family said. His renown brought the town together.
“Him being born there is an inspiration that you can come from there and become anything,” said Derrick Boseman, a pastor in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and, at 54, the oldest of the three brothers.
Their parents, Leroy and Carolyn Boseman, had a combined 25 siblings, with roots in Anderson going back generations and hundreds of family members.
That turned soul food Sundays into a huge family affair, Pastor Boseman said. And even as the youngest brother’s fame grew year by year, they kept his illness secret.
Chadwick Boseman learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer as he was on the cusp of his greatest fame as a film star. It is a cancer usually screened for later in life, but rates of colorectal cancer are higher among Black people and cases among younger people are on the rise.
The Boseman family boasts other artistic talents. The father, Leroy, reupholsters furniture, sews and sketches. Hanging above the kitchen table at their family home is a painting of two hands in prayer, painted by an uncle.
“Chad was gifted,” Pastor Boseman said, noting that from a young age, he could sit and draw anyone. “He’s probably the most gifted person I’ve ever met.”
But their parents were not supportive of Kevin taking on an artistic career at first. “It wasn’t something that my family understood,” Chadwick Boseman told an interviewer from The New York Times in 2019.
When Kevin moved to New York City and became a successful dancer, touring with the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey troupes and appearing in the stage adaptation of “The Lion King,” it paved the way. When his younger brother moved to the city, he stayed in his brother’s apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. That’s where he wrote the play “Deep Azure.”
At one point, their father asked if his youngest son would ever make it in show business.
“A lot of people think making it means becoming an A-list movie star,” Kevin said. “I didn’t force that. I just knew that if Chad wanted to work in the arts, he would find a way and take care of himself.”
When the boys were younger, their father always told them to do their best. They took that to heart, especially Chad.
“He always did his best,” Kevin said. “His best was incredible.”
Those who knew Chad as a young man credit his devotion to theater and writing to a play he wrote in high school to cope with the death of a friend. He presented the play across Anderson, but its first audience was at church, his childhood pastor, Dr. Rev. Samuel Neely of Welfare Baptist Church, said at a memorial event in Anderson.
“Tears began to fall from those who observed,” the Reverend Neely said. “And many came to me and were shocked to see such a young man to have so much talent and able to use it in such a way.”
Directing and writing were his first loves, his brothers said, but his professors at Howard University urged him to act if he wanted to be a better writer and director. And he was driven to work harder than his peers, something he had learned as a young Black man growing up in Anderson.
“You don’t just have to be good,” his oldest brother explained. “As an African-American, you have to be twice as good.”
Their mother worked as a nurse and chaperoned on field trips. She was adamant about her boys furthering their education and keeping them busy. Every week during the summer, they checked out books at the library.
Faith was an anchor in their lives. The boys had Bible studies, went to Sunday school, were involved in a youth group and sang in the choir. The Reverend Neely, who had been the pastor at Welfare Baptist since the early 1980s, noticed a young boy in the back row of the choir one Sunday who later introduced himself as Chadwick Aaron Boseman.
His parents embraced their faith, vibrating through generations. “And that same faith was passed on to those boys,” he said. “I can hear it; I can almost see it.”
Biblical teachings motivated the actor to give back to Anderson when he had the means, his family said. He bought hundreds of movie tickets for needy children in Anderson and for his family and friends to see “Black Panther.”
Many of his other contributions to the town were never publicized. “That’s the way we were raised, that when you can help, you should help, and you don’t broadcast it,” Pastor Boseman said.
He took that faith to his dying breath, his brother said. When he was sick, the Boseman family had prayer calls with the actor. No matter what he was going through, he always said, “Hallelujah.”
“He never stopped saying it,” Pastor Boseman said.
The day before he died, Chadwick Boseman told him, “Man, I’m in the fourth quarter, and I need you to get me out of the game.” His brother asked what he meant, but then realized that he was tired. He was ready to go.
“When he told me that, I changed my prayer from, ‘God heal him, God save him,’ to ‘God, let your will be done,’” Pastor Boseman said. “And the next day he passed away.”
This past month has been a time for memorials. In Disneyland, a mural was unveiled showing the actor giving the Wakanda salute to a young fan wearing a “Black Panther” mask.
Anderson officials hope to install a permanent art tribute. And a petition has been circulating online to remove a 1902 Confederate monument from the town square and replace it with a statue of its most famous son. That seems unlikely, because it would require a two-thirds vote from the South Carolina Legislature to remove the monument. His brothers said there were better ways to remember him — perhaps a school bearing his name.
Those closest to him still feel raw with grief. His parents, Leroy and Carolyn, still read the Bible and pray when they wake up every morning in Anderson, just as they always showed their sons.