Freedom Fighters

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Here’s a story my grandpa told about a friend he had from Birmingham. He’d gather us kids around and we’d listen, the big ones shushing the little ones and holding them on our laps. Must’a been near a hundred when he died, but what he told us lives on.

I knew it was over when Jesse told me his people could fly. We were down at the creek and when he said it I had a feeling that the Old South was destined to collapse like a circus tent after the last performance. Not that I’d ever say that to my daddy. He was sympathetic to old Dixie. Figured things had to change some after the North won the war. But he couldn’t see it changing that much.

“Come on,” Jesse said. “I’ll show you.”

Instead of digging crawdads for supper, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water. We confessed to Jesse’s mama in the kitchen at the big house. Thanks to her being from a long line of Gullah storytellers, she forgave us. That tale of magic, passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, saved our hides.

Me and Jesse, we stayed in touch even when I went up to Boston for school. When I come back six years later to practice law at my daddy’s firm, Jesse was the first one I hired. He was whip smart; did my research. I wished he’d had a law degree. He fled north when vigilantes carried out their coup against some of our duly elected aldermen, 1898 I believe, in Wilmington. I gave him a password so he could get through the cordon the Klan set up the night before all the bloodshed. In the dark, he could pass. The way that damned mob went through destroying the businesses in the colored section of town was enough to make you think the whole thing was over, the whole Emancipation. But it wasn’t. Like so many of the survivors, the wish for justice went into hiding but it never died.

Jesse was lucky. He settled in DC, where he got another law job with a friend of mine from school. I tried to get him to come back to Wilmington, but he found his calling in the capitol. I sat in the front row at his law school graduation. Turned out he was good at organizing and that city was ripe for protest. Much of the segregation in Washington was enforced by custom, not law. They had more marches there than a centipede has legs. I visited him, but he never come down to North Carolina. Not until 1965 when he stopped on his way to Alabama for what he said might be his last protest, but maybe his best.

Me and Jessie were ninety years old, riding in that caravan our kids started to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. It was six carloads all told. Seniors at the wheel, a passel of squirming grandchildren in the back while them could walk marched across the Pettus Bridge. Jesse and I looked at each other when Dr. King said the words, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Afterwards, Jesse said, “That moral arc Dr. King talked about must be a rainbow. You need faith to believe there’s an end to it.”

“And do you? Have faith?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t expect him to say what he did.

“If anybody’s going to find justice at the end of a rainbow, it’s the people who fly?” He picked up his two year old great-granddaughter. “You remember that story, don’t you?”

I nodded.

Then he passed that child, arms spread, to her mother and said. “This one’s in training.”

So that’s the story. That little girl was my play cousin Sarah. You’ve met her. A tiny woman. Strong as an eagle, wise like an owl. She’s flying with a slew of others across the land. They’re darkening the sky for justice, a righteous swarm of freedom fighters. They carry the message that we are a nation of laws, not custom; that faith is not enough. In the spots where the sun shines through the clouds of flapping wings, both ends of the rainbow are within reach of anyone with the will and the courage to fly.

The People Could Fly

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When Jesse said his people could fly, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water instead of digging crawdads for supper. Though he fled to D.C. after the Klan burned Wilmington in 1898, we kept in touch. *

In 1965, both ninety-five years old, we rode to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. Afterwards, Jesse said, “The moral arc of the universe must be a rainbow. Takes faith to find the end of it.”

“Helps to fly, doesn’t it.”

He nodded, picked up his two-year old great-granddaughter, who spread her arms, laughing and flapping. “This one’s in training.”

*Go to: https://revealnews.org/podcast/remembering-a-white-supremacist-coup/ to listen to the podcast.

If Those Three Words Were a Statue, We Could Take it Down.

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“Merciless Indian savage.” The Declaration of Independence contains these hateful words.

I did a double take when I saw the phrase emblazoned on a tee shirt in Southwest Alaska. The dark-haired girl wearing it was laughing with a friend. Her bright eyes and brilliant smile offered a refutation to the offensive words.

Contrast the clutch of fishermen on the ferry who bristled with antipathy as a Native man walked past. I stared at them, a witness. Spoke as an ally when the local clinic turned away a Native who needed emergency treatment. The founding fathers got those three words wrong.

Needed Break

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Books stacked to the ceiling; new, old, hard cover, all colors,
smelling of cinnamon, cloves, and musty spider dust.
A woman whirling like a cyclone, her arms extending.
She brushes the walls, her eyes shut.
She chooses. The overstuffed couch swallows her and she reads.

Sips of hot tea, cold tea, cider, coffee, one after another, 
the light changing through the day from powdery gray to melancholy green,
at noon quite bright yellow and then white.
Straining, she escapes into history, imbibing the past. 
Seeking perspective, finding a foundation to understand the moment.
Respite. She girds to return to earth.

Interview with the Antichrist

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Why resign?

— E-mail. God sent me a cease and desist order. It’s here somewhere. Oh, maybe it got trashed when I ran out of space in my Yahoo account.

Were you surprised?

— Yeah. He doesn’t know me from Adam.

No idea you were evil incarnate until God got in touch?

— How would I know? The Biblical criteria are all over the map. Nero, half the Popes, fictional characters, even cardboard reality TV stars qualify. Another reason to quit.

I’m hearing that presenting as a sympathetic character is important?

— More like well rounded.

So what’s your next gig?

— Fairy tale villain.

A Short Conversation Between Two People Who Are Sometimes in Love

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– We can’t hug? Can’t touch?

– Too close. It’s not safe. We still can talk through masks.

– So I drive three hours and that’s it?

– That’s love. The point is… listen. Find the balancing point between desire and friendship. Then sit with me. We’re close enough.

– And watch the sunset. With two lemonade glasses. Wait for dusk and twilight and stars.

– Think ahead, days and weeks and months.

– Make a wish for time to stand still until we find ourselves together.

– A wish on a promise, on an anniversary candle, a wish for the world.

– The stakes are high for us.

HoJo Sunday

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“Donald Trump: the most powerful man on the planet.” The president rinsed his toothbrush. With a lockdown in place, the mirror shot was as close as he could get to a rally. “Don’t you forget it.”

Knotting his robe, The Donald ran ten short feet to bed. “You’ve still got it, baby.”

Picking up his phone, he got to work. Fox News flashed on the TV. His fingers flew, red hot tweets stacking up like dollar pancakes on Sunday morning at HoJos. Invoking emergency powers, he had invalidated the election, clinched by a 5-4 ruling from the Supremes. Now that’s Justice.

Don’t Upset Your Mother

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Mother, apple pie, wrapped in ribbons, red and white and blue.

Mother pie? Did you say you put your mother in the pie? In pieces? Only a madman would do that. Don’t upset your mother. Now try again.

Some things are patriotic. Apple pie, mother, blue and red and white, for example. And Blue Stockings. Because mothers are revolutionary. And so is the white, blue, and red. A proclamation of revolution was the original intent.

What the hell are you saying here? They’re colors. And food. And who wears stockings anymore. You make it too complicated. Light a sparkler. Relax.

Sojourner Truth

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WikiCommons from the Smithsonian

A small black woman stands on stage, the sinews of her arms taut against the lectern. Do you hear her?

The call: “Ain’t I a woman?”

The response: “You are a woman.”

God revealed, though even now not everyone has heard, that women are entitled to respect, to equal rights, to the dignity of their person, to freedom. 150 years ago God spoke through this tiny woman who endured hard lessons about society, about the people close to her, most importantly about herself. Do you know the saying, “The truth will set you free?” Be a sojourner. Find the truth.

Freedom to Fire

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We are prohibited from shouting, “Fire,” in a crowded theater where a (citizen, terrorist, madman, patriot, bad guy) will shoot, among others, a legislator who voted against gun control. The legislator’s good friend, asked who permitted the gun in the theater, will burst into hot tears of grief.

Still he says, eyes dry, gun rights are in the Constitution. Other rights aren’t. Women fighting for choice. Sanctuary. Union organizing. Driving a car. Registering to vote. The legislator’s friend explains that there is room for disagreement. These issues evolve. But on guns, the wording is clear.

He refuses to define militia.