Sunday, June 16, 2013

Paths to Enlightenment

Here's a story I don't think I've told before but only because it happened not to come to mind until just lately. Anyway, the time is late 1958 and I am finishing my Army "training" (oh hoh hoh) at Fort Leonard Wood, MO.  One night I drew telephone-answering duty at company HQ (what if President Eisenhower called?). To kill time I was fiddling with my newly-acquired Greek-language textbook, when a couple of MPs showed up with another young man in charge. They instructed me to furnish him with a cot and a corner to sleep in, explaining only that "he would be going home in the morning." The MPs left and we fell to chatting, my new charge and I. He was a tall black youth with medium-light skin, a bit fattish for a basic trainee, and with a ladylike manner. It didn't take long to surmise why he was on his way home but he I was glad for some diversion and we fell into an amiable chat.

At one point idly he flipped open my Greek book and straightway began to read:

ἐv ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. 

Okay, so it is easy Greek (this was, after all, a beginner book);   But so far as I could tell, his rendition was letter perfect.  I reflected then and there on the bewildering truth that the world was a more complicated place than I had anticipated.

Followup:  Now that I think of it, here's another.  This one takes place nearly three years earlier, Spring of 1955, while I am working as a general gopher for the Associated Press in the reporter's lobby at the House of Representatives in DC.  One day I was lounging in the viewer's gallery gazing down into the well of the House when my co-gopher slipped in beside me.  This young man was, in a word, a yokel: amiable enough and probably more competent at gophering than I, but so green he squeaked--green enough that even I, in the full wisdom of my 19 years, could hear the squeaking.  After a moment, he tipped his head towards a particular corner of the chanber. 

"Look at that," he whispered.  I thought I knew what he meant but I stayed noncommittal.  "Mm?"  I replied.

"It's a --" (and he used a word not currently deployed in polite company).

No words could convey his astonishment.  But he was right  By my memory it was William L. Dawson, of the Illinois First, only the third black to serve in Congress since reconstruction.  "That's right," I said and could think of no safe continuance. So I left my colleague in his stunned reverie.  So what have we learned today, children?  We have learned that enlightenment comes in many forms.


Jimbo said...

Great stories. Did not know there were any black Congressmen in the '50s other than Adam Clayton Powell.

Buce said...

There was at least more: Charlie Diggs from Detroit. I covered Powell a few years later in my reporter days. I remember once when he was being badly treated by his colleagues (he was entangled with Carl Perkins of Kentucky who was a major responsibility). I asked Powell if he knew the source of his travail and he said (with a demure smile) "must be a caucasian in de kindlin'."