Chapter Nine of A Time for All Things
by Charlie Leck
I began writing a novel in 1977 and completed it to my satisfaction in 1979. Through the help of friends, I met an extraordinary literary agent in 1980 who read it and liked it very much. He told a major publishing house about it and talked an editor into reading it. He was certain it would be published. It was a shock when the agent died very suddenly and so did negotiations with the publisher. I tucked the novel in a drawer -- a very big drawer -- and it has sat there for a few decades. My wife keeps urging me get it out and dust it off and find another agent. Literary agents, I am afraid are not approachable. Friends have asked -- some have begged -- over the years, to read it. Some fear that the work is actually horrible has prevented me from allowing it. One friend recently suggested this manner of "bringing it out of the closet."
"Let us read a chapter," he suggested.
Here is chapter nine of the manuscript. The references to Cushman, Iowa, won't be very understandable out of context, but they are brief and meaningles in this chapter. I am very nervous as I place this chapter here for your reading.
Warning! This is a very lengthy post.
Dampness crawls all over your body on a hot summer day in Mississippi. It isn't any fun. The summer of 1964 was hot, hot, hot. The nights did not cool things down. It's hard to control one's temper when that dampness and heat begin to crawl. Maybe that has something to do with what happened to Mississippi that summer. It was just too hot and too crawly and it was too bad for Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
Truman Freeman boarded a Mississippi bound train with two friends on a Friday in June of that year. Summer was still officially two days away, but it was hot in Chicago and the air was thick with humidity. Stuart Gergen dropped David off at Central Station to catch the same train.
"If there's nothing worth it in this, Davey, you come right home. But, I've got a feeling there's some good stories down there. See what it smells like. You may meet some of these knee-jerks right here on the train."
There is nothing glamorous about The Spirit of New Orleans moving through Illinois on its way to the Deep South in the heat of early summer. The aisles were crowded. Bodies smelled. Babies cried.
After an hour of trying to read a Faulker novel, David decided it would be better to move around a bit. There was yet a long ride through the night. He started to wander from car to car. He met Truman Freeman in the club car. He was standing at the bar sipping on a beer. With him were two other men. The three were distinguishable from nearly everyone else on the train. They wore sport coats and ties neatly windsored into their white collars. David was attracted to Truman Freeman first -- perhaps because he towered over the other two men. Truman's bright eyes glistened with brilliance. His black, closely cropped, thick beard also shone. His smile was real and constant. Yet, there was a certain shyness about his eyes. The way they darted about -- constantly surveying his surroundings -- caused him to lack an appearance of boldness. His very white face was long and his chin revealed a squareness -- even beneath his beard. There seemed some slight defect that robbed him of handsomeness, but neither David nor others could define it. Those who meet Truman for the first time notice his gentleness immediately. He moves and speaks softly. It stands out as a feminine quality in so big a man. He was wearing a variegated madras sportcoat. His pants and tie were navy and his shoes brown. He stood to the side of the two men with whom he traveled and listened, not contributing to the conversation.
Alone, a clergyman not dressed in a clerical costume is difficult to identify. But there is some manner about them when they are together and something in the way they speak to each other, gesture, laugh, act pedantically, which makes them easy to spot. As David walked toward them he guessed. He joined them at the bar.
"On your way to Mississippi, fellas?" David asked the question as he leaned on the bar with them. "I hear it's even hotter there," David added.
A short, scrubbed looking man, about 45, emerged as the spokesman. He stuck out a hand to David.
"I'm Hamilton Stone. Yes. Yes, we are, but what caused you to ask?" David took the soft, limp hand and tried to pump some strength into it.
"Mr. Stone, good to meet you. I'm David Casterman. I'm with the Chicago Tribune. Going down to look things over -- looking for a story."
"Mr. Casterman, meet Todd Yates and Truman Freeman. We are each ministers and each representing the National Council of Churches to observe the activities in Mississippi." The two men also shook David's hand. Todd Yates was the extrovert of the three. He was about 35, round faced and his body was stout, but not fat.
"To what part of Mississippi are you going?" Yates asked. He wore full, heavy glasses and kept pushing them back up on his nose with one finger as he talked. It bothered David that it was with the fore-finger of the right hand. It was as if he was constantly flipping him the bird. David still took little notice of Truman Freeman.
"Jackson, I suppose. That's what my ticket says, but I'm not sure where I'll end up. You?"
David looked straight into the eyes of Todd Yates and watched him give the finger again.
"We're getting off in Canton," Todd said, "where we'll stay for two weeks. We've been asked to watch the voter registration drive there. The idea is that there is less likelihood of violence with a group of clergymen around to watch everything." Truman turned his body toward the action of the conversation, as if to contribute. He did not speak, however, and sipped again on his beer.
"The National Council of Churches? Are you all staff members?" The air-conditioning in the club-car was not working properly and David could feel the perspiration, the sticky sweat, building up beneath his arms. As he asked the question, he waved to get the attention of the bartender.
"Heavens no," Hamilton said. "I'm a professor at Chicago Divinity School. Todd teaches at the Urban Training Center. Truman is the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Kankakee."
David fixed his eyes on those of Truman Freeman for the first time. Truman looked down into his beer.
"I don't think I know what the Urban Training Center is, Mr. Yates. Do you mind explaining?"
While Todd Yates explained about his institution on Chicago's westside, housed in the gigantic, old First Congregational Church, David ordered a martini -- dry and on the rocks. He didn't quite understand Yates, but he wasn't very interested in what he was saying either. There were all sorts of vague words and phrases, like dynamic, core-city, radicalization, community organization, church-in-community and localization of the ministry. Truman continued to look into his beer as Todd spoke. Hamilton Stone looked proud. David looked into his martini in order not to show his boredom. David was guessing correctly that Yates had been a student of Hamilton Stone.
"I'll have to visit sometime, Mr. Yates. It does sound interesting and dynamic."
"Do, do," Yates said. The possibility excited him. "Our curriculum will amaze you -- very unusual, alive, relevant for a churchman in a modern, urban world." Yates went off on another long monolog and Professor Stone regarded his pupil. David caught Truman Freeman's eyes again. They were still glistening. This time he regarded David more boldly and hoisted his glass to David so casually that no one else noticed. Behind the sipping of his beer, Truman still wore a faint smile. David wondered if he was mocking the carefully memorized lecture of his confrere.
As soon as there was a pause in the speech, David broke into it and turned to Freeman.
"Kankakee? I know it pretty well?"
"You do?" Truman showed pleasure in his voice. "Then you must know Otis Coleman, the editor of the Gazette. Yes?"
"No, I don't believe I do, but let me ask you this -- part of my assignment is to get to know a minister. You know, a local minister of a church and all that." David was lying and he often went running off with meaningless phrases when he lied.
"Anyway, I would appreciate it if you would take dinner with me tonight in the dining car. I've got this expense account and I could buy -- and hear about your church and tell you what I know about Kankakee."
"I'd be pleased, Mr. Casterman. What time?"
"Please! Please, call me David. About six-thirty. I'll make the reservation for us."
The brown and orange locomotive pulled its line of coaches through the flatlands of southern Illinois. David watched the fields and marshes pass by. He sipped on his second martini of the day and glanced occasionally up the aisle of the dining car to look for Truman Freeman. It was nearly seven. David was rarely late for anything. It made him uncomfortable to be late. It was an irritation to his wife that he insisted on promptness even at dinner and cocktail parties. He refused to understand her reasoning that it showed panache to be late. He thought it a courtesy to accept an invitation for a specified time and to appear at that time. He did not understand why those who extended such invitations thought it discourteous of him when he arrived precisely on time. He even planned for contingencies such as heavy traffic or road construction so that he would not be late. More than once Judith had railed about having to sit parked a few blocks away from a friend's house because they had arrived early.
"What kind of class is this," she would scream, "to ride around Oak Park for ten minutes just so we can show up precisely as their clock strikes eight?" David chuckled to himself and looked out the window toward the lowering sun. He could not impress Judith with his argument that there was indeed a touch of class in being on time. So many other eccentricities people accept gladly. Why wouldn't she, they, allow him this one? He had grown to enjoy seeing an evening's hostess let them in with her hair still not combed out or with an apron still in place, mumbling that she wasn't prepared and was it really that time already. And when they would invite friends, at the given hour he would be ready. The hors d'oeuvres in place, he would be pacing and glancing out the windows over Lake Shore Drive anticipating a prompt arrival of his guests. He would nearly always be disappointed in his waiting.
"Forgive me for being late, David, I got wrapped up in this book and lost track of time." Truman stood looking down at David who pulled himself out of his thinking. The reporter realized for the first time how really tall the preacher was. David was seldom impressed with people's height because he was so tall himself, but Truman was yet a few inches taller. His hands were larger and stronger than David's. He felt the strength of them as they shook hands. Truman held out a book and David accepted it for examination, looking at the cover of the volume as he exchanged greetings with his tardy guest.
"Have a drink. I'm way ahead of you. Ah, you're doing homework about Mississippi. It's good?"
"A beer only. I'm not much of a drinker. Yes, it's excellent, but I don't think the state's chamber of commerce down there would agree." The book was James Silver's essay on the closed and backward nature of Mississippi. A few questions launched the clergyman into a detailed monolog about the state toward which they moved. David could see that Truman was well prepared for his visit. He had read not only this book, but several others about the historical and social character of the state. It was easy to listen to the tall man. His gentle eyes continued to glisten as he reviewed his studies. His voice was strong, but soft.
"On this great totem-pole of states, Mississippi is about dead last in everything and appears prepared to be last in granting full equality of citizenship to all people. The state is about forty-two percent Negro. That's a larger proportion than any other state. Yet, the voice of dissent has been meeker from there than anywhere. There's good reason. There's been carefully planned and stern repression for many years. Black people are poorer there than anywhere else. I think it's the poorest state in the nation in terms of family income. The median family income there is forty-two hundred dollars. The median income for a black family is fifteen hundred dollars. It's a sad condition. Only seven percent of the eligible Negroes are registered to vote while seventy percent of the whites are. That's what this summer is all about."
David listened intently, but he also thought again of the enigmatic, feminine quality of the speaker. It did not sit well on the masculine frame. There was a constant and apparent moistness to Truman's lips and David wondered if that might be what gave him this odd appearance. Again, he considered that the aura of compassion and gentleness in the big, strong man gave off such a contrast that he merely appeared feminine.
"They're simply still fighting the civil war there," Truman went on, "and it's frightening. They were the last state to integrate their university system and look at the fight they put up. It cost the federal government millions to enroll one black student. Yet, from the beginning one could see that enrollment was inevitable. But that is exactly Silver's point about Mississippi. He says the state is on the defensive against the inevitable social change which has been taking place for a century. It is committed to a biracial system. In order to preserve that kind of dualism it has had to become totalitarian in nature. The ordinary process of change, through accommodation and reason, doesn't happen there. Instead, power and coercion and force are used to prevent change from taking place. The result is social paralysis. Now when you listen to a Mississippian talk, like former Governor Barnett, you realize that it is a state which prides itself on individuality -- the rights of each and every person. Actually, and this is Silver's point – his thesis – that the individual in Mississippi lives in a climate where non-conformity is forbidden. If a man expresses an opinion deviating from the majority, he is ostracized."
David absorbed the enthusiastic book review. The man was a scholar. He not only read a book carefully, but dissected it and probed to understand the author's motives, prejudices and presuppositions in approaching his writing. They were interrupted by a waiter who stood ready to take their orders. Truman was not prepared to change the flow of his thinking.
"Oh, I don't know. Please order for me, David. Anything at all." David liked the enthusiasm which caused the disinterest in food, but he did not understand then that it was a permanent disinterest. Truman had selected a wife in order to have someone make his selections for him. He did not want to be bothered with picking out ties and Coq-o-Vin when he had to decide about the expansion of the war, Bultmann's demythologizing or had to explain the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to his congregation.
David ordered the braised short-ribs for each of them, another beer for Truman and a half-bottle of burgundy. He moved a pawn, not to seek victory, but to start the game again.
"You're really prepared for this trip. I'm impressed, but what makes you and Silver so certain that Mississippi is that resistant to change?"
"Do you read the papers? Lord, David, since the threat of this summer project became real for the state they've done nothing but create a show of force. They increased their highway patrol by over seventy percent. The state legislature has passed a host of laws, giving municipalities greater authority to restrain the free movement of individuals. On April 24th crosses were burned in sixty-four of the states eighty-two counties. What can I say? Do you know that a half-dozen Negro churches have been burned down just this month?" There was passion in Truman's eyes and he fixed them firmly on David.
"Doesn’t that sound like resistance to you, David?"
"I'll tell you what it sounds like to me." David spoke and rose a little higher in his chair. "It sounds to me as if there is going to be violence. Aren't you condoning it by supporting this whole program?"
"I think there must be violence," Truman said. "There will be college students in nearly every community of any size. Somewhere things will get out of hand. Mississippi does not understand tolerance. Its law enforcement officials are poorly trained and ill controlled. Local police departments will know nothing about restraining violence. They will probably even encourage it."
"Do you look forward to violence?" David asked. "Do you encourage it as part of the change process? You know? Yates said something this afternoon about growth through conflict." "No," Truman answered, "I abhor violence. I am a committed pacifist and I think all disputes can be settled rationally and without resorting to force."
"It seems to me that more and more Americans are just now discovering they are pacifists. You don't suppose it has anything to do with intensification of the war, do you?" David asked the question and knew it was unfair, but he didn't back down. There was a silence at the table and the two men looked firmly at each other. David was not going to break the silence.
"Pacifism is not very well understood in this nation," Truman answered. David's question did not disturb him. "We are too young yet and too close to the Revolution, the Civil War, the wild-west and the war against Nazism. The events make it difficult for us to understand or accept the pacifist. It is not so difficult in other nations where longer and more complex histories have shown his value and worth to his society. Here pacifism is only a dictionary definition and dictionaries don't have much understanding or compassion."
There was a silence again and Truman waited for a question or an argument. David offered neither, but enjoyed the silence. It seemed to be doing something creative to Truman's mind and he decided to observe.
"You know all the old school-room questions," Truman said to break the silence, "about `what if someone was raping your sister' and that kind of crap? It comes from the dictionary. They all say things like `under any circumstance' and people immediately misunderstand. You see, the pacifist is opposed to the use of force `under any circumstance' but that doesn't mean he will refuse to use force under any circumstance whatsoever. Does that make sense?"
"No," David answered, "I don't know what you're getting at."
"Well, let me use an example. Forgive me for dipping into the field of religion and theology, but I know it better than I know other things. Have you ever heard of Deitrich Bonhoeffer?" David said that he had not. Truman went on and introduced him.
"He was a pastor in Hitler's Germany. And, he was an avowed and terribly committed pacifist. Nevertheless, he participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was imprisoned and eventually executed. To him, his participation in that violent act against a human life was an extension of his pacifistic idealism. He was opposed to the use of force under any circumstance. That very opposition, that burning idealism, caused him to strike out against that person who represented the most forceful opposition to his ideal. Innocent men, women and children were being slaughtered all around him. His love of people, his love of non-violence caused him to act violently. It was a logical action and fully consistent with his idealism."
David was not sure he agreed, but he was moved by the passion in Truman's voice. The fluidity of the voice and the compactness of the thinking also moved David. He wanted to hear more and played another pawn.
"It allows one to be terribly selective doesn't it?"
"Exactly! Exactly!" Truman's voice rose with excitement. He took a long draw on his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he plunged in. "That's the point. We all have to be selective. Each one of us has to make decisions. The pacifist seeks to make his decisions in the light and under the influence of his idealism. He looks first for peace. He believes all things can be settled without force. That does not mean he is oblivious to the reality of forceful aggression in the world. He cannot sit idly by and watch peace be destroyed and people harmed. To do that would be contrary to his idealism. That is what motivated Bonhoeffer. It was precisely as a pacifist that he sought to commit murder."
The waiter placed short-ribs in front of the two men. The coach swayed gently on some warped rails as it approached Tennessee. Truman pushed his plate aside and continued.
"Todd Yates was correct this afternoon. There is growth through conflict. Most pacifists are afraid of it. They shouldn't be. They should seek to use it in positive ways. I don't mean they should encourage conflict, but, look, it's a reality of life. It's going to happen and when it does the pacifist ought to seek to turn the conflict into something good and even use it as an example to discourage the future use of violence. I wish it were not true, but there has been violence in Mississippi already this summer and there will be more. To let property destruction and death happen in vain is stupidity. I have a responsibility to grow through it. You, why you are in an absolutely wonderful position to help people understand violence and to make good things spring from it."
David smiled at Truman Freeman. He did not force the smile. It was not a laughing smile. It was one which showed his pleasure and gratitude. He had seen and heard idealists present their sugar-treats before, but in Truman it did not come out too sweet for the taste-buds. It was palatable. And, the preacher was likeable. Truman smiled back at David and pulled his plate back in front of him. He ate hungrily. David toyed with his food and made a decision. He would disembark in Canton, also.
Canton, Mississippi, was not much of a town. It began for David, Truman, Hamilton Stone and Todd Yates at a railroad station. The plan called for some black freedom workers to meet them there and then take them to a place labeled "Freedom House." There were no black faces on the platform as the four men climbed down. There were only white faces out of which suspicious eyes inspected the well-groomed descendents from the train. David did not judge them to be hostile. It was a hot morning and humid. David felt the heat crawling up his pant legs. The humidity circled beneath his shirt collar. A bit of minor fear wandered around in his stomach. His throat felt dry. He saw drinking fountains on the outside wall of the station and walked to one of them. Above it was a sign which indicated it was for "colored only." He wished young Butch Williams were with him to aim his camera at the sign and fountain. It would make writing a story easier. He felt something snapping behind his eyes and thought it to be anger. He dismissed it because it was an emotion which lacked objectivity. He did not admit it then, but he had dismissed most objectivity anyway. He sent it packing sometime during the night as he talked with Truman. The two of them talked through the night at the bar, in the aisles, in their coach seats and back in the dining car for breakfast. David took a long drink of the water which refused to get cool. White, he thought, is the absence of color, as in black. His skin, he also thought, had a motley pale look about it, slightly pink, slightly beige, but not the absence of color. His fingers ached. They longed to be at work on his typewriter.
On that same Saturday morning, Mickey Schwerner had taken his turn behind the wheel of a station wagon and was taxiing five other freedom workers from Ohio toward Meridian, a small town south of Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was the beginning of a grim and violent saga. The sign above the drinking fountain, the conversations with Truman and the little snapping sensation behind his eyes would have a definite affect on the way in which David would later write that story.
David felt someone tapping his shoulder. He turned quickly in jolted fear. Truman wore a wide smile.
"Mind if I have a bit, too?"
"Jesus, I thought you were the Klan."
"You're awfully jumpy."
"All that talk with you last night about violence here has got me expecting it."
"Don't worry," Truman said in an assuring voice, "you're off the hook anyway. You're just the press -- the objective eyes and ears of America."
"I have a feeling the northern press is not going to be appreciated here."
"Well take my advice anyway, Walter Winchell. Put on your hat, stick your press card in it and pack yourself into a nice, white, downtown hotel."
"Sorry. There's no story there. I'm following you guys. Maybe there's safety in numbers."
"What are you so worried about?" Truman asked. "These people don't exactly look like a lynch mob."
"I don't know. Take it as a newspaperman's intuition. Something big is brewing down here. Where are the others?"
"Over there, in the waiting room. Dr. Stone has a phone number. He's trying to reach the Freedom House."
"Stone? You know, Truman, he's so soft and gentle. If trouble starts he's going to piss cement."
"I think you've misjudged him, David. He's the bravest man I know. He'll take to the front lines before anyone. Get to know him. There's a helluva story in that man."
David saw some movement among the men on the platform. There was a giggling among them that struck David's mind more as a curdling yelp of danger in a dark jungle. He felt his senses leap into action. Two of the natives, white natives, were restless and walked toward the waiting room where Hamilton and Todd had gone. David moved toward them and arrived at the door in time to hear them speaking to Todd Yates. Hamilton was on the phone.
"Y'all walked into the wrong waitin' room by mistake gentlemen. This here's the room for coloreds." The man wore a western straw hat and a white, short sleeved shirt. Todd looked frightened, but spoke as bravely as he could. His face struck up a nervous smile. There was effort behind it.
"It doesn't matter to us," Todd said. "This is fine. We're just making a phone call." He looked as firmly as he could at the eyes which stared out at him from under the straw brim. The face was red from time beneath the sun and, perhaps, from anger.
"Well, son, it matters a might to us folks here," the man said. "We'd certainly appreciate it if y'all'd respect our customs. You know, when in Rome y'all do as the Romans do. There's a right nice waitin' room for white folk down there at th'other end of the station. There's a phone there, too."
"That's okay," Todd said with only a slight quiver in his voice. "As long as we're here now we'd just as soon stay. You see, it really doesn't matter to us." The man and he who followed him moved a pace farther into the big room. He spoke again.
"I'll tell you fellas, you're a gettin started on the wrong foot and you ain't gonna make no friends this way." Hamilton finished on the phone, hung up and walked toward the men at the doorway. He heard enough and it was time for him to speak up.
"Thank you, sir. Thank you indeed for the advise, but I've already told our hosts we'd be in here waiting for them, so I think we better stay." The bulky southerner looked Hamilton Stone over. He felt a disdain for the groomed and gentle human being he saw. He tried to persuade the group one more time.
"We'll make sure your friends find y'all okay. Now if y'all will just accompany me to the other end of the station, I'd be pleased. And don't be afraid. Nothins gonna happen to y'all." Hamilton took a firm step toward the man and spoke as firmly.
"We're not afraid, sir, but perhaps we ought to be more honest. We'd prefer to wait in this room. It is a matter of principle. Thank you, though, for your kind advice and offer." David watched the professor closely as he spoke. There was nothing insincere about him. His voice did not waver a bit nor did his eyes move from the man to whom he spoke.
"Suit yourself gentlemen," the red faced man said, "but I'm tellin' yuh that y'all are making a big mistake in comin' into our town and disruptin' our customs."
The straw hat turned away and walked down the platform with the bulky man beneath it. The other man stepped in quickly behind him. There was a threat in the way they walked. Hamilton Stone had not pissed cement.
The four men gathered in the big, bare waiting room and waited. They said very little to one another, but David could tell that each of them was intent on the doorway. An over-head fan moved slowly. It gently stirred up the heat. It was only a few moments later when they heard car doors slamming and feet moving quickly over the platform. The sound moved toward the closely watched door. Each of the waiters released a bit of fear when the faces which appeared in the doorway wore huge white smiles sprawled across a black background.
"Welcome to Mississippi. Let's get the hell outa here."
This is the way Pulitzer-Prize-Winning stories get rolling. David called the Tribune on that Sunday morning and left the number of the Freedom House for Stuart Gergen. He also left word that he thought there might be a good story and was going to stay on it for the week. Hamilton and Todd planned to remain for a couple of weeks and observe the voter registration drive and, if possible, do some door to door canvassing themselves. Truman was going to spend the month. He told David that he talked it over with his wife and they decided he would take his month's vacation this way. David wavered between thinking it stupid and admirable.
David started taking notes on Sunday afternoon at an orientation session for the three newly arrived ministers and a dozen college students. The collegians arrived in spurts and in a variety of ways over the previous few days. A map of the city was tacked on the wall. Sections of the black parts of town were divided between teams of two. It was immediately clear to David that the young black organizers expected more out of the ministers than their observation. The black leaders gave them work to do. None of the three objected. They were eager. David made a rough copy of the map on his note pad and scribbled out some quick statistics.
“Population = 10,000, 75% Negro, downtown all white, white residential community rings the downtown, black area surrounds white community.”
The organizers made housing assignments. They asked David if he wanted housing. He would have to stay with a volunteer since all assignments were made in pairs. They explained that there was more safety in that. David accepted. Truman spoke up and volunteered to share housing with David. They nodded across the room to each other.
They heard a young, tall black boy announce that work would begin on the next afternoon. Those who wanted to go to church in the morning should be at the Freedom House by nine. Cars would go to a black "freedom church" in the country. How many would go? David raised his hand. Truman did not. David made a note to ask him about that.
"Turkey-butt," Truman later told him and laughed, "I'm a Presbyterian and I wouldn't think of going to anything but a Presbyterian Church and there's one in town. You can bet it's all white."
"I don't think they're going to enjoy seeing you there," I told him.
"Safe bet again. But remember what I told you about creative conflict. In the morning we'll see if I can do some creatin'!" He laughed hard and truly. His eyes smiled thunder and lightning.
The three brave men impressed David. He was uncomfortable with the impression. He made an effort to move out of their circle and meet some of the other volunteers.
In the late afternoon, a group of them gathered in an old, Negro general store across the street from the Freedom House. David walked through the dust to join them. George Washington the Second was the proprietor. Today his son, George III, was in charge of general operations. He held court and had his audience in rapt attention as David entered. He did not interrupt their attention.
"You all better understand Whitey down here. He ain't nothin' like you northern liberals has know'd before. He gonna fight ya. He ain't takin' this thing layin' down No he ain't. You better not walk on the grass or he'll getcha for trespassin'. If you cross in the middle of the street, he gonna getcha for jay walkin'. And if ya drops a gum wrapper, he'll getcha for littrin'. He'll getcha for sumthin' even if ya ain't done nothin'." David took notes and George Washington III looked over at him and smiled.
"Write this down, Mr. Reporter. They gonna get yer fuckin' ass, too, if you ain't careful cause they don't like no white ass northern newspapermen down here neither. Far as they're concerned yer all jest a lot of fuckin' nigger lovers." A huge white grin broke across his round, chocolate brown face and he added one more comment. "But as long as you nigger lovers is her yer all welcome in George Washington's place and the coke is always on us, hear? So drink up."
Bottles of wonderful, dark, rich Coca Cola were passed around the room and David, with the others, drew deeply on the soda in a battle against the scorching heat and dry dust of Mississippi.
He watched the young men and women and he moved into their circle with questions. They answered freely. He wanted to know about their weeks of training school at Oxford, Ohio. The wire services had covered it thoroughly, but he hoped for a new highlight or two.
While David listened to their answers, over a hundred miles away Mickey Schwerner and his good buddy, James Chaney, got the news about the Mount Zion Baptist Church. On June 16, with Schwerner and Chaney away teaching in the training school at Oxford, Ohio, the church burned to the ground. Some black folks were at the church and a white mob beat them badly. One poor fellow was in particularly bad condition. The church was a meeting place for civil rights workers and it would soon have become one of Mickey Schwerner's Freedom Schools.
The site of the fire was fifty miles northwest, but Schwerner decided to borrow an old station wagon belonging to C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality) and drive there the next day. Schwerner could feel the Mississippi heat crawling all over his body as he listened and asked questions. David Casterman would write later that it was probably not the heat of Mississippi at all, but the boiling rage of reaction to injustice.
Michael Schwerner was an unusual young man and his wife an unusual young woman. They came to Mississippi at the turn of the year. Working for CORE, Michael set up a community center. There they trained voter registration workers. It included a library of about 10,000 volumes and housed a freedom school. Mrs. Schwerner taught reading in the school and the operation of sewing machines and citizenship. Michael was twenty-seven. He left his job as a social worker in New York City for this freedom work. He was willing to sacrifice much, but he did not want to give up his life.
David did not hear of Mickey Schwerner and would not until late Monday afternoon when he would receive phone calls from Stuart Gergen and from the Attorney General of the United States. Both of them would mention the name. Until then, David had to scratch for a story.
Truman joined him in George Washington's general store. David grabbed him a cold cola and told him of the II's and III's generosity. Truman's hot body and thirsty throat agreed.
"I've drawn a map of the way to our housing, Davy. Let's grab our luggage and scoot on over there. Then we can find a black restaurant and some dinner."
"Fine," David answered, "let's move ass preacher, but I want to tell you that as long as I live I will never forget the general store of George Washington." Walking across town, David spoke more truthfully.
"What a fuckin hole this town is. They ought to stick some dynamite up its ass and make it into one big swimmin' hole." Truman chuckled at him.
"First let's get its Negro people registered to vote so they can get in the water if they want."
Turelina Adamson was not a very handsome woman. She bore wear across her face and more upon her body. She was tiny and very black. Her eyes were as sad as a beagle hound. Her teeth were rotted. There was a stench to her breath and to her body. She had born eight children and all of them lived with her now. Her husband, Morris T. Adamson, did not. He headed for Alabama to work shortly after the eighth child was born. It left his wife eligible for welfare payments. She considered it good fortune for reasons other than the payments. Now there might not be any more drunken beatings from him and no more children from him.
Truman tried to speak with her, but the woman barely responded. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor of her little house and only muttered quiet little answers to the white man's questions. While Truman tried to lead her in conversation, David wondered what he was doing in this place. There were hotels. There were other cities with more comforts. There were stories which could be written so quickly that he could be gone from Mississippi in three or four days. Readers of the Chicago Tribune would not be very interested in Turelina Adamson -- not a paragraph of interest -- even if Truman managed to get her to say more than "Ya-sir" or "Na-sir."
That little shack, which I will describe to you in a moment, is now more than forty years away from this little room in Cushman, Iowa. And, Cushman is more than fourteen hundred miles away from Canton. It is more. It is less. Time and space controls our thinking and we put our history within a book and upon a shelf. But there is a fourth dimension into which '68 has gone, but is still present. And there are those of you who are still reading. I salute you because you are about to understand David Casterman. He is more than one man at one moment. He is less. He is a whole people but, he is less than one man.
Is symbolism so bad? Isn't mythology greater than fact and not confined to truth? Did not a nation have a storm raging in its head? And, did it not also run away and hide -- leaving behind, as if it never happened, a war, a revolution and all the wealth of possibility which struggle, crisis, tragedy and torment can bring? It acknowledges the existence of the past by sending back a cashier's check from time to time. Is the storm gone? Or is it repressed? It is difficult for me to remember the past precisely and to recall how tragic and ugly it was when the odor of pig shit and the sounds of screeching hogs fill me up. Mythology is another dimension. It points beyond itself and beyond its presence and present.
David Casterman went away from the sixties. On May 4, 1970, it was easy for him to decide the sixties were over. Yet, time and again, he is drawn back and wonders if he should not have filed that final story. He wrote so well in 1964 of Turelina Adamson and Mickey Schwerner and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. However, while he stood looking at her, wiping sweat from his face, and listening to Truman lead her in conversation, he did not know there was a story in her. It was because Mickey Schwerner was still alive. It was difficult for David to comprehend that eight children lived in this place with their mother. He tried to glance through doors to measure the house for some surprising space it might have yet to reveal, but there was not any surprise.
Truman made certain. She wanted them to stay. They were to have her room -- the master bedroom. There was another bedroom and she insisted she could sleep there or in the little living room or on the porch with some of the children. It amazed David that Truman had gotten her to speak now in phrases which moved closer to sentences.
"Truman, I think this is too much to ask of her." David Casterman was sincere, but he wondered if Truman did not think he simply wanted out of this shack, this stench. "We can get a room somewhere else. We can't put her out of her room."
"No," Truman insisted, "this is important. She wants us to stay."
"Ya-sir. We wants y'all to stay here whiz us. We ain't got much in the ways of comfort. Ya-sir, we wants y'all to." This sudden splurging of words surprised and quieted both of the men. It moved Truman and he smiled at David. He looked back to the woman and spoke quietly to her as if she was a lady.
"Yes, Mrs. Adamson, and we want to stay. We appreciate it all and will enjoy being your guests."
David listened to Truman and watched him. Could a man be that kind? Or is it a way of talking, a way of expressing kindness that they teach preachers? Of course not. The man was real and David knew it. These kind thoughts about Truman motivated David to speak to the tiny woman, also.
"Thank you, ma'am, thank you for your kindness."
Six of the children huddled in the doorway leading to the kitchen, listening. They were wide-eyed and frightened. Not all of them could understand the words which were spoken, but each of them sensed the tone. When they heard the bravery rise up in their mother and observed her lengthy speech, they each began to relax. Their wide eyes narrowed slightly. Here and there in the huddle, a smile spread across a black face. It was contagious. David reached for his suitcase and spoke.
"Got some gum in my bag, Mrs. Adamson. I wonder if I might give each of the children a stick."
"Ya-sir, thank ya sir."
David did not leave his chair, but extended his arm straight toward the children in the corner. He held out two packs of Chicago's own Juicy-Fruit. The bright yellow colors did dances in front of the children's eyes and they widened again and eyes looked at eyes and smiles smiled upon smiles. The youngsters pushed forward the biggest child, a girl of twelve or thirteen. She took tiny, nervous steps. Her mother urged her on.
"Yu kin hep yerself, Miza, yu kin. Says yer thank ya-sirs, girl."
The girl rushed forward, swooped the gum out of David's hand and skittered back to the safety of the huddle.
"Thank yu, sir, thank yu indeed," the big girl spoke from across the room. She sent flashing eyes of wonderment at the two big, but gentle, white men.
With a baby in her arms and a boy barely able to walk clinging at her skirts, Turelina toured the house with David and Truman. There was a bathroom. It was only relatively clean -- cleaner than the rest of the house. There was a shower and David felt a stream of gratitude in seeing it.
The woman's bedroom was small and one double bed looked cramped there. David felt a stream of discomfort.
"Da sheets is brand new. Dey brung em from da Freedom House."
"Thank you," Truman said, "we'll be very comfortable here, but we feel badly in putting you out of your room. Are you sure?"
"Ya-sir, I'ze to sleep on da couch."