The water from the fire hose stung on his skin and pounded him up against the brick wall. Each drop of water felt like a pebble of sand, moving about 900 miles per hour. Even above the blast of water and the cacophony of sound it created, Edgar could hear the two cops laughing. He lost his footing and fell face down in front of the cafe. Sprawled out on the steaming concrete, the water flow subsided. The Alabama sun and the crowd glared down upon him. The pressure on his back was of a different origin. A knee now, digging into his spine, 243 pounds of a cop behind it. “Cuff ’em and stuff ’em,” yelled the Sergeant, “I got me some pecan pie waiting inside!”
By the time he was tossed into the holding tank, Edgar was bleeding from a gash over his left eye. He had dared to look up, directly into the eyes of the white secretary, as he shuffled down the hall of the police department. His leg-chains had made peculiar sounds against the linoleum tile. A syncopated rhythm with the jangling of the keys hanging off his jailer’s belt.
“When will you people ever learn?” the jailer said as he went off to finish his book-in paperwork. Edgar was actually thinking that exact thing, when would he learn? It had all started with a group of his friends drinking out of the wrong water fountain. Peer pressure bravado that turned, in a matter of minutes, into a full-on street revolt. The hoses and dogs always seemed to come together on the same truck. He actually preferred the pain of the water sting to the incisors of a German Shepard latched onto his calf. Only a black man in 1963 Alabama could make that differential commentary he thought. That fucking jailer doesn’t even know the definition of “differential” Edgar thought…a smile eased across his bloodied face.
Two weeks later Edgar was standing approximately three hundred yards from Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington D. C. Tears replaced blood and tracked down his cheeks. This man spoke his heart, this man was the narrator for his life.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Jangling keys on the belt of the jailer….now transforming jangling discords of our nation. A lot can happen in two weeks of a person’s life. A local pastor, back home, had collected Edgar at jail after he had sat there for seven days and nights. There had been five people arrested for drinking out the “Whites Only” fountain that day at the cafe. All five were now standing shoulder to shoulder in a throng of over 200,000 people. The man to Edgar’s left was a white man. He turned to him and saw a mirrored, tear streaked face. Edgar felt he may indeed be dreaming!
Local people had given up their seats on a bus headed to hear the Reverend, voluntarily given them up to the five brave people arrested that day. Edgar knew his bravado bordered on suicidal actions, but he was so very thankful. Thankful to witness this mass of humanity and to hear these words coming from this man. This world is bigger than that cafe, for sure bigger than that jail cell.
Edgar sat in his easy chair. His granddaughter rushed to the kitchen to get some chips during the TV commercial. The words coming out of the man had been the script of his life. They echoed back to his childhood. They whispered in his ear as he bent down to take that sip of cold water. They woke him as he lay on the floor of the jail cell. They invigorated him as he stood among a throng of many. They slipped lyrically in his good ear, as he walked his driveway every morning looking for his newspaper.
The racists stomped in fits and raised their fists. There were threats made, false allegations and ignorant people did ignorant things. The TV anchor announced that Barack Obama had just been re-elected as President of the United States.
Edgar was a retired civil engineer. He was a father of three and grandfather of seven. His life was one well lived and he was thankful. Thankful that he had lived through the bitterness of the twentieth century, to taste the sweet of the twenty-first.
The President was giving his acceptance speech to the world. Edgar saw his lips moving, but heard the booming voice of another.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
Edgar had long ago, left the valley of despair. America was divided politically, but he knew change would come. Edgar had hope. Edgar always had hope. Hope and change were not just buzz words for a political campaign to him.
The narration that began that hot August 28, 1963 had maintained, steadfast encouragement to fight the good fight. Different people mouthed the words, but the origin could always be traced back to that one man…the narrator. Words can lift up a generation. Words can flow from one voice and lend grace through the decades.
Edgar asked his twenty-four year old granddaughter what she thought had been the hardest obstacle to Obama being re-elected? The young woman responded, “The unemployment rate?” Edgar felt a smile ease across his face…as it should be, he thought to himself, as it should be. She would never be a veteran of creative suffering.