' Journal Of A Trip South
(Continued from Page 1)
very presence — the white man’s
presence in the Negro’s heme—
cause trouble. What trouble?
Certainly no trouble in the Negro
community. We feel that if they
gink to reprisals, then let them.
Thai sounds dramatic — it is the
reality of this place and this time.
In here, Mozart and coffee and
lamplight. Out there the night.
Out there the threat of violence
hangs like a stench over every
thing — violence from racists who
claim that Christ would bless
them for any act they might com
mit against us in order to per
petuate this system.
Is our host at supper this eve
ning with his shotgun beside his
bed? As we left his house, we re
assured ourselves in whispesr: “I
don’t think anyone saw us enter or
leave this house.”
“No—I'm sure no one saw . . .**
“It doesn’t matter,” the host’s
wife said. “We don’t care if they
did see—what can possibly be
wrong with this?”
But we knew and w e die! care.
"It's six-ten, John.” Father’s
voice aroused me from sleep.
“Thank you. Father.” I groaned,
mv eyes closed, struggling to come
Mass at 6:30. I walked through
a soft cool light of dawn next door
lo the Church. The air was still, j
clear — no cars yet in the streets. |
Mass in the low - ceilinged 1
church w ith only Father, two altar
boys, a matron and myself. I
fought the drowsiness that in
sulated me from everything ex
cept the animal need to sleep.
Communion. A clumsy moment.
If I got up and approached the
altar rail first, the lady might hold
back. (How quickly, when I was
a Negro, I learned that hideous
etiquette: you wait until the last
White has received and returned
to his seat before you approach
(Continued from Page 1)
'‘when he stepped out of a group of people waiting for the bus. j
Then I saw why he stepped out. A crippled Negro girl was having i
trouble with the rubber tip on one crutch couldn't get it to stay on.
“And this man stooped down and helped replace the rubber tip 1
for the girl. She thanked him prettily. But I noticed that he kept
watching her as she struggled on up the street. And yes, the rubber
tip on her crutch came off again.
“The man strode out and caught up with her. Then he sat down
on the curb, took a bit of paper or something out of his briefcase, !
wrapped it on the tip of the crutch, wrestled the rubber cap back on.
wiggled it to see if it was tight, then handed it back to the crippled
girl with a smile. But in the meantime he had missed his bus.”
If that were you, the scanty identification given by the lady w'as
all we knowT about you—except for one thing: A small deed, a little,
nameless kindness such as that paints a much more luminous picture
©f you than reams of detail on physical description.
. And we’ll bet you're a pretty nice fellow’.
* Well, dear friends and gentle people, those are my Christmas
damned good examples of what Christianity should mean. Agree?
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the communion table. It offends
him to receive next to a Negro.
Sacramental lie.) But this matron
surely knew who I was — such
thoughts, such hesitations prob
ably were not in her mind. Never - i
theless, I waited until she knelt
at the altar rail, and then 1
walked up and knelt beside her.
Resentment that concentration
on the Sacrament had to be spoiled
by such considerations for her and
for me. It quieted to deep silence
at the moment of reception. Then
I was aware of a movement beside
me. The lady rose, genuflected
and moved away. Floor boards
announced each careful step she
took in her effort to walk quietly
back to her pew. There in the
silence. I feit again the jolt of
scandal, the true horror of some
Catholic White who can feel and
express protest when Catholic
Negroes receive next to them. At
such a moment of all moments—
the moment of union w’ith the Host
—how’ could any soul recoil against
the presence of another soul
merely because it is encased in a
darker flesh? I heard the lady
kneel behind me and outside
somew'here in the neighborhood
the cheerful cackling of chickens, j
I returned here to the h o u s e f
after Mass to fix myself a glass of
strong instant coffee and for a
IcllCi ui cciaio^i.
In this part of the world, many j
of us — white Catholics — are
leaving Mass, going to breakfast, j
to the routine of our lives. "We J
will go out from Mass and con
tribute our part to prevesting j
Negroes from growing as men.
from fulfilling their human po
tential. We may not do this active
ly, though many of us do; but we
:ondone the system with our
silence—we go along with it.
Seven a.m. Two groups of citi
zens, two groups of men made in j
God’s image, prepare to go about
the business of living and bread
winning— both groups victims of
this system that allows the one
group to suppress the other in a
pious fraud of staggering com
pleteness. I am talking specifically
about Catholics. We do this and
never lose the illusion that we are
in a state of grace, that God smiles
on us. I think of the story I heard
here recently. A well - dressed
Negro Catholic from out of the
area went to Mass in a nearby'
town in an “all-white” Catholic
Church. An elderly white woman :
remarked loudly to her daughter:
‘Did you see that nigger push his
way up to the altar rail. I could
nave spit in his face.” It was not
>o. He w aited to go last. But the
A’oman, I am sure, found her
-ighteous anger in no way incon
sistent with her state of grace.
I found myself remembering
he words of that Negro tenant
armer whom Lillian Smith
nentions. He was thrown off of
lis farm in midwinter, with no
money and no place to take his
amily. He fell on his knees in
he snow and prayed: “Oh God,
>reak their hearts, give them
ears.” I heard myself muttering
hose wmrds for those of us who
>re white Southerners. “Oh God, .
>reak our hearts; give us tears.” j
Somehow', it is our only hope, our i
>nly health now'. But who among
is will feel it, see it?. To most ,
juch a prayer makes no sense at
A brief walk outside. Father
prays in his office alone in the
tittle cracker-box church. Hunger
c>egins to trouble me. I return as
Father’s housekeeper arrives. The
smiles, the welcome — “It’s good
Lo have you here, Mr. Griffin.”
But her eyes look searchingly at
cars that pass, white men’s cars
some of them; and I can see that
she wishes me inside. All around
us in the morning sun, the un
painted wooden houses, the trees,
the dusty streets.
I walk into the house, wonder
Whot is the remedy
For onxiety ond bote?
Quickly! Nimbly! Hopefully!
(But not in boste)
Is your deoth but just o bitter toste?
All fingers ond thumbs,
Our numb heorts rifle through
Your words for comfort;
Quiet souls, ot this lote dote,
Becouse the sound of your own voice
Is shot silent.
Here, now, is the morrow we feored.
All things stronge to your new seoson
Hove reored up irrelevontly.
And thrown the whole wide unreosoning world
This Age of Spoce is spent
On follies it did not prevent
But more thon blood its brow is bent
Becouse the Age is of Consent.
Slowly, grumbling, ond with o groon.
This old ond oiling moss
Grosps for o cushion
To its grief
In whot you so id. §
Con we believe the lilt— |
Now you ore deod— jl
With which you'd tilt the windmills? 1
Take we relief that Youth
At leost begon his deeds?
Hove not sprung weeds,
Lest we forget;
Eiku. (c) 12-3-63.
ing what it is that makes all
rectories feel and smell the same.
Across the entrance hall, I can see
into my room, the bed still un
made — a room in a rectory,
simple, fragrant with cedar.
In the kitchen, I prepare
another glass of instant coffee w-ith
faucet water while the house
keeper watches. I carry it to the
front room office.
Now’ the house promises break
fast. I hear the sizzle of eggs; the
odor of bacon enlivens the
Father has entered the kitchen
through the side door. I hear the
housekeeper tell him: “Well, I
saw7 coffee made a new7 w7ay this
morning — with just tap water.”
Then some laughter and more
“Yes, he drinks coffee all day
and all night,” Father says.
Breakfast in the kitchen. The
sunlight poured in over my
shoulder onto the table. It cast a
magnificent light on the starched,
flowered tablecloth and dazzled
the glasses of orange juice, the
plate of eggs, bacon, biscuits, but
ler and honey.
The heat rises. The sun bakes
the land, but despite the bril
liance, a softness remains in the
atmosphere. The air is still. Katy
dids raspy loudly in trees.
I drove to town for a haircut,
rhe barbershop was filled with
‘sitters.” They talked in quiet,
concerned voices about the “nig
gers” and the “half-communist
Federal government.” I heard all
Df the tired cliches, all of the old
southern cultural myths. Middle
aged and elderly men, their
weatherworn faces seamed with
worry, talked about “winning,”’
talked about fighting for “our
rights” all in condemning Negroes
for seeking their rights. Apparent
ly they are incapable of seeing
such a contradiction. It would
destroy them to see this truth that
nevertheless stands before us and
shouts to be seen.
They talked with an almost
tearful sincerity. “We can still
win yet, if we'll just stick togeth
er.” This said in a melancholy
tone that implied he knew the old
way w as lost. “If we’d all stood
behind Faubus at Little Rock, we
w-ouldn’t be having this Birming
ham mess. No, we haven't stuck -
together — so now each State has
to stand up and fight all over
A young man stood up and sajd:
“We'll win, old man, don't you
w'orry They’s plenty of us and
w-e're strong. "We’re going to see
the niggers don't get the vote.”
The old men, consoled, looked
sadly at their hands.
“God damn, we better wake up,
that’s all I can say,” one of them
mumbled. He looked up toward
(Continued on Page 3)
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