The reason I’d quit my job in High Energy Physics was that I was pregnant again. As at the University of Chicago job, I found I couldn’t get close enough to the table to do the work as my belly burgeoned. sarah
The baby was due in February of 1966. In January of the previous year, my dear friend and surrogate brother David Quinlan, who’d grown up next door, killed himself. He was seventeen.
Almost a hundred years before, in 1884, Ned’s great granduncle William Landsberg, referred to as Our Willie by his family and on his Macon, Georgia tombstone, was murdered by a disgruntled employee of the family store. He died in his twenties, childless; since then, a child in each generation of the family was named William—or, as in my mother-in-law’s case, Wilma. (A very un-Jewish practice, by the way.)
So if the baby were to be a boy, we had his name all set: William David. We would bring life out of two untimely deaths.
Meanwhile, we had to deal with some fallout over my being pregnant again so soon; the baby would be born when Sarah was only twenty months old. My mother-in-law memorably said to Ned when we visited Illinois, “You’re not Catholic.” Ned responded, “We’d like to stop having them so fast, but we can’t tell what’s causing it.” For just a second, he reported, she was ready to explain. Then she laughed. Typical Rosenbaum habit of deflecting tension with humor.
She did come to stay and help out while I was in the hospital, which my mother couldn’t leave her newspaper-editor job to do, which was kind of Wilma. Luckily, the nesting instinct had kicked in during the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy—the baby was so late they were almost about to induce—so the apartment was sparkling when Ned and I left before dawn on February 17.
Once it finally started, my labor with Will was shorter than with Sarah—about six hours—but much harder. At the Waltham hospital, they didn’t allow Ned to be with me during it. I remember lying alone on my side looking out the window at passing cars, wishing I were in one of them going about my business instead of trapped in this distressed body. When someone finally came to check on me, I said to the gray-haired, hard-bitten maternity nurse, “I think there’s something wrong. I’m in considerable pain.”
“You’re supposed to be in pain,” she snapped unsympathetically.
“Not like this,” I protested. “This isn’t my first baby, I know what it’s supposed to feel like, and…”
But she had already left the room. Shortly afterward, I heard her say loudly to someone in the hall, “These young girls today, all they can think about is getting something to take away the pain. We didn’t get anesthesia, and we did fine. It’s nothing to bother Doctor about.”
Luckily for us, “Doctor” decided to check on me before his lunch instead of after. He took one look and started barking orders. I heard the words “fetal distress” and “oxygen deprivation.” Right there in the delivery room, he dove into me with forceps and both hands, and dragged the baby out. The pain was so huge it seemed bigger than I was, almost too big to feel, but it was over quickly and then there he was.
They let me hold him while they removed the placenta and generally cleaned up, then they took him away for testing—as I later discovered, he'd been deprived of oxygen (he’d been a frontal presentation; his forehead was caught under my pelvic bone, which had caused the pain I’d tried to tell them about)—and they needed to check his neurological responses.
I knew nothing of that at the time, and simply felt happy and exhausted as they wheeled the gurney they’d transferred me to out into the corridor and next to the nurses’ station (I didn’t see the cranky old obstetrics nurse) and abandoned me there. That actually had a happy result: they’d told Ned it would be several hours before the baby came, so he’d gone back to Brandeis to take an exam. As soon as he came out of it, he called to check on me—and the nurse simply handed me the phone without telling him anything. So I got to be the one to say to him, “We have a son.”
He often spoke later of the thrill that went through him at those words. We already had the perfect little girl, now we had the other flavor, too. He called his mother at our apartment with the news. After I had been put into a room and given a light lunch, I called my family. I got Nonno; when he asked what time the baby had been born, I told him around noon. It was then maybe 1:00. He told everyone I’d called from the labor room!
I had a private room this time, because I’d asked for rooming-in on the entry form. Turned out that, though they theoretically offered it, no one had asked for it yet, and they had no protocol in place for it. There were certainly no fancy architectural fittings to make it easier, as there had been at Lake Forest Hospital when Sarah was born. They just wheeled the baby into the room and left him there. I had to ask for some way to store his dirty diapers (this was before disposable ones were invented); they brought me a pillowcase, which I hung over the back of a chair. When Ned was around, he could hand little Will to me for nursing; when he wasn’t there, I was on my own, so I mostly kept him in bed with me.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the few days I spent in Waltham Hospital. It was a respite from the demands of job, childcare, and housework. Besides tending to the baby, I had ample time to rest and read. (Ned brought me C. S. Lewis’s Ransom trilogy from the library, triggering an obsession with Lewis that lasted for years and a longer-term reliance on the author’s insights and sensibility that carried through all the way to my reading his A Grief Observed the night after Ned’s funeral.)
The urgency of Will’s delivery hadn’t left time for an episiotomy, so I was much less sore and uncomfortable than I’d been after Sarah’s birth. That urgency had been harder on the baby, though: he was wrinkled and blotchy red, his little facial features squashed and misshapen in those first few days; I would write in his baby book under “Whom does baby look like?” the sardonic, “Old man Finkelstein the greengrocer,” plucking the name and epithet from James Mitchell’s novel about Israel.
But he was adorable, and all those hours alone with him—in addition to school, Ned of course had to spend as much time as possible with little Sarah—helped solidify a bond between us. I mentally called him “my little friend” and had an odd sensation of somehow mentally communicating with him. So it was with fondness that I said to a motherly maternity nurse, “He’s a homely little thing, isn’t he?”
“Oh, no, he’s real cunning,” she said, using the Boston-area variant of “cute” (which Bostonians use to mean “clever”—or “cunning,” in fact). I think she took my remark as an indication of post-partum depression or failure to bond or something, because after that I had a string of nurses coming in to exclaim over how handsome he was. I just started agreeing in self-defense, and in fact his color evened out and his features acquired a normal shape over the following days; he was, when unstressed, a handsome baby.
My only real objection to my time in the hospital was the hospital-standard lousy food; once again, this was not Lake Forest. I did have one wonderful meal when Ned brought me chicken soup his mother had made. The broth was incredibly rich and flavorful, but the chicken and vegetables were still moist and firm, not the cooked-out lumps they usually turn into during the hours of simmering it takes to provide a full-bodied broth.
Wilma hadn’t been raised to expect to cook for herself, and had never become particularly good at any but a few dishes. I leaped at this opportunity to offer a wholehearted compliment, and got Ned to ask her for the recipe.
She proudly responded with instructions that began, “Place chicken in deep pot, cover with two large cans College Inn chicken broth.” Ned didn’t understand what I could find to laugh about in a recipe.
I was glad to get back home, especially since I’d been longing to see and hold little Sarah again; they hadn’t allowed her to visit me in the hospital at all. It was a great help to have Wilma there, especially during the first few days when I still felt a little tired and was trying to establish a breast-feeding regimen.
However, it was crowded in our little four rooms, with two babies and four adults—or more precisely, three adults and my teenage sister, about whom more below. After a week, I was itching to get back to our normal life and not have to be on constant “company behavior” with my mother-in-law looking over my shoulder.
As it happened, she took the initiative, sitting down with me one day to say, “I’m perfectly willing and happy to stay here as long as you need me. But Mother hasn’t been well, and she’s anxious for me to get back. So tell me honestly, would you like me to stay another week?”
I said carefully, “It’s been great having you here, and I’m really grateful for all you’ve done. But I do think that it would be good for all of us to get back into a regular routine, so thank you, but don’t feel like you have to stay. I know Hazel needs you, too.”
In the car on the way to the airport, she said to Ned, “I’ve never been so insulted in my life.”
A/N This chapter was written almost two years before the movie Selma. Just sayin.
Laurie did not lead his friends to war. He led them in a perilous non-violent struggle. He bore that morning’s talk with Dad with him on the front lines, braving billy clubs and firebombs, being spat on and reviled. They lived on donations and handouts. They slept in strange houses in fear, and met in churches in hope. Through it all, Laurie felt his family carrying him.
There had been high spots: James Meredith graduating from Ole Miss, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. Linda and Ned Goldstein had been with them at that one, and Sydney Thatcher, sardonic as ever until King spoke. “Free at last, free at last: thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” They’d cheered themselves hoarse, standing there on the National Mall.
But they never let the good days lull them into inaction. They always went wherever the fires burned hottest.
So for months they’d been in Alabama. They’d been there when four little girls were murdered by a church bombing in Birmingham. They’d heard about it when the bodies of three civil rights workers were dug out of a dam in Mississippi. They’d been shocked by the assassination of Malcolm X by Nation of Islam enemies. They’d seen Jimmie Lee Jackson shot to death by a state trooper in Selma.
But today felt like a climax, like some breakthrough would finally happen.
They were marching from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate at the capitol, some six hundred strong. Henry and Jeff and Roscoe were behind Laurie, along with Julia’s brother Marcus; Laurie’s wife was at his shoulder. They had reached the highest point of the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River.
Laurie looked down. Below them was a sea of blue: a solid phalanx of state troopers forming a wall across the other end of the bridge. John Lewis, with Hosea Williams beside him, was in the lead, as he had been in Nashville and on the Freedom Rides and in Mississippi during Freedom Summer last year.
Laurie, a few ranks behind, could hear the commanding officer barking at them. “I am Major John Cloud of the Alabama state troopers. This is an unlawful march and will not be allowed to continue. I order you to disperse and to return to your churches.”
Someone near Lewis called, “Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray!”
Cloud’s response was to shout, “Troopers, advance!” They put on their gas masks and attacked the crowd with nightsticks and bullwhips, trampling with horses, releasing teargas. As those in the first ranks started to fall, Laurie reached for Julia, standing stalwart beside him. They clasped hands.
Laurie pitched his voice below the screams and shouts around them, to his own beloved comrades and to the people beyond in earshot. “We are soldiers whose weapon is peace,” he said. “We are working for the people, our people. If we fall today, we will pick up our banner and return again and again. We may fall, but we will not fight and we will not fail. This is not the end. We will overcome. Let’s go.”
Laurie ran forward into the fray.
Laurie perched on the sitting rock behind the big old house, watching the sun rise through the notch in South Mountain ahead of him. Looking at the first rays glinting in the gray sky, he thought of something Dr. King liked to say: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The arc of his own life was not as clear to him.
He’d taken responsibility for the people around him for as long as he could remember. But looking back now to when Dad came home from sea duty, he could see he’d needed to relinquish the premature responsibility and learn to be a son in order to find himself as a true leader.
Then, when he’d met his birth mother, his visceral need to “save her” from the condescension of self-satisfied medical people had helped him process the equally bitter tastes of the South’s “you can come close but don’t rise up” and the North’s “you can rise but don’t come close” flavors of racism. First Roscoe and then Julia had helped him see that both attitudes nourished the paternalism of the early years of the Movement and made the shift to community activity necessary.
Laurie rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. And somehow I’m supposed to be a leader there.
It had been three years since Henry had proposed that plan in Julia’s living room. They’d all come a long way since then. They’d been on freedom rides and more sit-ins all over the South. They’d been arrested more times than Laurie could easily count.
Laurie’s family had been active in their ways, too. Jamie and Beth in Boston, Celia and Joy with little Rory in New York, were deeply involved in local organizing. Mom and Dad and Ruby made lobbying trips to Washington and spoke at political meetings in Cumberland County. Jimmy Hodge was a local leader now. Tommy Thumma had gone down to Mississippi from Chicago to register black voters. Steve had used his growing popularity as a singer to bring attention to the cause, with Rob as his manager finding the most effective venues.
Still, sometimes it seemed they were all endlessly repeating the same futile gestures, never making real progress. But they couldn’t stop trying.
Laurie’s last visit home had been the closest to a honeymoon he and Julia’d had funds or time for. They’d spent a pleasant week, then there had been a family sing. Steve was leading them in “Eyes on the Prize” when Julia had caught Laurie’s eye; it was time for them to get on the road again.
Dad had hugged him hard and slipped him money earlier. Ruby had knitted him a pair of socks that now lived in the green satin lingerie case with the booties his birth mother gave him; it went everywhere he did, in his backpack. But leaving the sing that day with his new bride, Laurie had turned back to the living room for a farewell look. Mom’s face had turned toward him from across the room. There was love in her expression, of course, and worry, but also valor and strength and pride.
That look had been with him, riding in his heart, every day. And his wife had been beside him, or behind him, or in front of him, guiding and guarding, inspiring and goading. But Julia and Mom and the others were asleep in the house behind him now, and doubt and uncertainty gnawed him. Their little band of friends had cemented firm bonds among them; he felt almost as close to them as to his brothers and sisters. But he could feel a change coming, a shift in their relationship that worried him.
He wished he knew what he needed; he only knew it was something different from what Mom or Julia or Ruby could give him, different from the support he got from Rob and Jamie and Henry and Roscoe and the rest. Sean, he thought. I need Sean… no, Dad. It’s Dad I need, the way I did that time when I was thirteen and sat out here in the rain, and he really became my father.
Long narrow clouds speared across the sky, stained orange and pink and gold. The trees in the woods in front of him tossed and rustled in the dawn breeze, and the birds made such a racket it seemed they were competing to see who could sing the soonest and the loudest to greet the day.
So this time Laurie heard no footsteps behind him; still, when the warm hand came down on his shoulder he was not startled. “You’re a mind-reader,” he said. “I was just thinking I needed to talk with you.”
Sean—Dad—swung around the rock and settled next to Laurie, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. They both sat and looked at the sky for a few minutes, then Dad said, “Tell me.”
Laurie leaned back on hands propped against the rock behind him so he could see the sunrise and Dad’s profile at the same time.
“These couple of weeks since Julia and I got back from Washington have been great, being here with all of you. And seeing President Kennedy talking about his legislation with James Baldwin—James Baldwin, Dad! I never thought, when I used to read him as a kid… But I keep thinking about Medgar Evers,” he said. “Killed in his own driveway, with his family in the house.”
Dad raised his hands palm to palm in front of his own nose and mouth and bent his head as if praying. “We’re all thinking about him,” Dad said. “And about what that kind of thing means for you and for Julia and the others. We’re all afraid, son. It’s natural to be afraid; it’s even necessary for—”
“No,” Laurie interrupted him. “That’s not it.” Dad leaned back on one elbow to look at his face as he went on, “Sure I’m scared, but I’m not afraid of being scared, if you know what I mean. Not for myself. It’s the others—Henry and Roscoe and, oh God, Julia. Dad, they all say I’m their leader, and they look to me to decide what we should do. Should we go back down to Birmingham, where they put Dr. King in jail? Bull Connor set dogs on us, and knocked down children with fire hoses. And yeah, we resisted him, and we keep on with the struggle. Maybe it’s working, maybe it’s not.”
Laurie sat upright, staring down at the grass between his feet; Dad stayed leaning back. Probably watching me the way I was watching him. “The big wheels in the Movement,” Laurie went on, “King and Reverend Shuttlesworth and John Lewis and some of the SCLC people, don’t even agree about what we should do next. Now that President Kennedy’s put up this civil rights bill, some people think we should be focusing on the legislature, getting that passed. But getting it passed is only a start; it still would have to be implemented, it still would have to be enforced. And meanwhile, every day, people are getting killed and kids are being kept out of school and folks are going hungry because they can’t get work. Should we just do safe things in Washington, or go where the suffering is?”
Laurie rubbed his temples. “God, I feel like a rat in a cage with a wheel in it, just running around and around, thinking over the same old arguments. I know I can’t make decisions for other people, I can’t run their lives: that business with Linda and Sidney taught me that. But they do look to me, Henry and Jeff and the others. They’ll listen to what I think best. So say we get back into it? And then one of them gets hurt, or killed? And I told them to go? That’s what really scares me. I can live with the idea of me dying; I can’t live with the idea of me causing someone to die. What should I do?”
Dad sat up and looked into Laurie’s eyes. “‘Be sure you’re right, then go ahead,’” he said.
Laurie, who had started to get tearful, snorted at that. “Really, Dad? Davy Crockett? You’re giving me cornpone wisdom courtesy of Walt Disney?”
Dad smiled and nodded. “He was a real person, after all, and he made a real difference. You will, too—though without the desperate last stand, please. It’s just good advice for any leader, and for going beyond leadership. You’re becoming a commander: you’re learning not only to marshal your allies and encourage them and inspire them—those skills will serve you well into the future, when this current madness has been defeated and you go on in politics.”
“You sound like Henry. Kind of bloodless, actually. I think I liked the cornpone better.”
Dad chuckled, then took Laurie’s hand and looked down at it, rubbing it with his thumb as he spoke. “I don’t think I have to tell you that emotion is not weakness. But right now you’re in a war, and there are times when, after weighing all the factors and listening to advice from those you trust, you’re simply going to have to make a decision and deploy them to the best advantage.”
Dad cleared his throat and went on, “My first ship’s command, two of my officers were guys I’d gone through the Academy with. But I’d also had those few years after I enlisted, before I went to Annapolis. That experience as a non-commissioned seaman gave me a practical edge but made me suspect to those who’d gone the traditional route. I knew I’d have to come down hard on them to be an effective commander. Then we saw our first serious action.”
He took a deep breath and gripped Laurie’s hand. “We were on U-boat surveillance, not even officially at war with Germany yet. They used what they called wolfpacks, submarines banded together, hunting Allied shipping. We hardly knew how to counter them then; the Nazis called it ‘the happy time.’ Their torpedoes were straight runners, they hadn’t developed homing devices yet. And those early subs were faster above than they were underwater. So we came on one of these packs and I knew they’d surface to attack. My first officer, a man I’d been a cadet with—Jim Axe, his name was—wanted to take evasive action, but I ordered him to stay on course.”
He raised Laurie’s hand to his own cheek and held it there, closing his eyes. Then he let their joined hands drop to the rock and tilted his head back, as though he were looking at the sky, but his eyes stayed closed. “They launched a torpedo but it ran shallow and bounced off our hull—that happened a lot in those days. We weren’t hurt, but the impact jolted us. Jim went overside and disappeared like a stone. Between our wake and the torpedo impact, there was white water all around us. He never came back to the surface. And we were running hard in front of the pack; there was no way, no possibility of retrieving him.” He opened his eyes and looked at Laurie. “I made the right decision. I saved the ship. And outside of formal reports and putting in for a posthumous commendation, I never told a soul about Jim Axe. It hurt too much. Not till after the war, when your mother and Ruby dragged it out of me and saved my soul.”
He shook his head, then turned to Laurie. “I was a good leader, Laurie, and I became a good commander. You’re a good leader. That group of yours, they follow where you go. They’re your brothers and your friends, but I’ve seen them with you—when you command, they will obey. You’ll make mistakes, just as I made mistakes. But you won’t let that fear stop you from making the decisions you need to make, and it won’t stop them from trusting you. And yes, it may well be that some of them will die.”
Now it was Dad’s eyes that were swimming with tears. Laurie dropped his forehead onto his shoulder. “Oh, Daddy,” he said.
Dad pulled him closer, arms wrapped around Laurie’s back. “I know. Believe me, son, I know. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. And I am so, so proud of you.”
It was full day now. The clouds were white again, the sky cerulean blue. The breeze had stilled and the birdcalls had quieted from frantic cacophony to familiar, comforting song. In the midst of the morning the two men clung to each other on the big rock, weeping quietly together till, finally, they rose and made their way home.
Roscoe and Henry and Jeff were all here; they were supposed to be planning what they would do for the Movement this fall, now that Laurie and Julia had transferred to Lincoln. Then there was the news to hash over. A lunch counter in Greensboro had served its first black customer yesterday. That breakthrough, coupled with the integration of restaurants in Nashville, gave everyone hope.
Laurie had expected the others to roust him up early the way they’d done in Nashville. He turned over to look at the travel clock on the table next to his bed. After nine. Julia’s mom will be gone to her office, and her dad’s probably already on his way to the museum.
Julia’s parents had seemed to like Laurie last time he was here, after they got back from Tennessee. It had helped that Laurie had Ruby and Miz Pearl with him, also coming home from helping organize protests in Atlanta. Julia’s mother was light-skinned and a little aloof; Laurie thought the two things were connected, especially when he saw how impressed she was that he had a connection to the prestigious Long/Rucker/Still family.
He wondered whether she felt she’d married down with Julia’s father. He was not only darker than she, his job had less status than hers as a dental hygienist. And Mrs. Hawkins’s slightly stern efficiency was a contrast to Mr. Hawkins’s geniality. Laurie sided mentally with Mr. Hawkins, enjoying his unpretentiousness and the way he spun amusing anecdotes of his life as a museum guard.
But last night he’d told a story with some bite to it. He’d come out of this rambling frame house in the South Philly neighborhood called Point Breeze one morning to find city workers installing parking meters along the street. “You can’t do that,” he’d said. “This is a residential neighborhood. Where are the people who live here supposed to park?”
“Not our problem,” he’d been told. “This is a city street, and the city needs the revenue.”
“Bet the city doesn’t need revenue in Chestnut Hill, where the rich white people live.”
That remark had made no impression on the crew, who’d gone on with the installation. After they left that night, Mr. Hawkins had gone out, uprooted the meters from the still-soft concrete, and dropped them down a storm sewer.
They’d tracked him down and taken him to court, of course, where he’d pleaded his case before a judge who was sympathetic but constrained by the law to find him guilty. “If I let you off with a warning, will you promise not to destroy any more city property?” he’d asked.
“No, your honor. If they put more parking meters on my street, I’m going to be pulling them up again.”
“What would you say if I just sentenced you to a $25 fine?”
“I’d say put me in jail, because I ain’t paying it.”
The judge had laughed and let him off with a warning anyway—and there were no parking meters on this block. The city foreman had been heard to say, “Not here, boys; this damn man will just pull ‘em up again.”
Julia gets her looks and that cold determination from her mother, but her spirit comes from her father. Wonder how her little brothers will turn out. They don’t have the ambition she does. And where are they all, anyway?
On that thought, he rolled out of bed and got ready to meet the day. By the time he got down to the living room, he was getting seriously worried about where everyone was.
Something’s up. Last night they kept ducking into corners, whispering in the kitchen. Now they’re all huddled in the living room, talking without me. And Julia was so quiet last night, looking at me like I had a pimple on my nose or something. But she wouldn’t bring all of them here to break up with me, would she? No, it must be something else, something I did, maybe.
By now Laurie had gotten to the living room. Their conversation had stopped; they all turned to stare at him. But look at their faces, they don’t look like they’re about to tell me off. Serious, but not mad.
He sat down facing them, feeling like a prisoner on the witness stand. “Is there something wrong?” he asked.
“There’s lots wrong, and going to be wronger before it gets better,” Roscoe said.
Laurie threw up his hands in exasperation. “Get off the soapbox, Ros, I already know we’re in this for the long haul. I meant is there anything wrong with me?”
They all snorted with laughter. Jeff, sitting to one side whittling over a newspaper spread on the floor, muttered under his breath, “Walked into that one.”
“Ok, very funny. Now you want to answer my question?” Laurie was starting to steam. He cooled down a little when Julia reached over and took his hand.
“Are you still afraid of being arrested?” she asked him.
“Why? Are you planning on getting me arrested?”
“Answer the question, please.”
He blew out and thought a minute. “Not the way I used to be. Something you said in Nashville, Roscoe, that someday it would be a badge of honor to go to jail for the Movement, struck me. And what we’ve all been through: having to go into those places unprotected—when the coordinators made Jeff give his knife up so the cops wouldn’t be able to claim he was armed, it just came home to me that you can’t be law-abiding where the law’s the evildoer.”
The others looked at each other meaningfully. Henry said, “So you’re willing to stick it out, even if it means jail or beatings or putting your personal plans on the back burner for a while?”
Laurie sat back, frowning. “I thought that was obvious.”
“It is,” Julia assured him, but the guys kept staring intently at him.
“Ok,” he said finally. “You want my assurance, you’ve got it. I’m in this with my heart and my body, and nothing else will take precedence over it. Now you want to explain why the third degree?”
They did another silent canvass, then Henry leaned forward, arms on his knees, hands hanging loose. “We’ve been talking, and we decided you’re the one.”
“What? The one what?”
“The one who’s going to take us forward, the one who’s going to be the Man Who. Congress for sure, senate I hope. Maybe governor.”
Laurie smiled to show he understood he was being teased, but the smile faded as he took in their expressions. “Why me? Anyone in this room could do that.”
Henry shook his head. “You’re the one who knows best how to operate in the white world. Ever since we picketed that Woolworth’s and I saw the way you handled that cop, I’ve been thinking about this. You’re easy with them, and you don’t make them as nervous as we do. You’re the most electable.”
Laurie shook his head in disbelief. “And you’ve all been talking this over, deciding my life for me?”
Roscoe grinned at him. “Somebody has to. Sure thing you can’t do it yourself. And it’s no fair to make Julia do all the work.”
“All what work? What exactly are you all talking about?”
Henry spoke up again. “We’ll be your team,” he explained. “I’ve got the background, I’m your chief of staff. Jeffie’s the organization guy, the one who watches the money and arranges the venues. Roscoe here has the street smarts; he’s your muscle, the guy who deals with the local precinct pols and the party goons. Julia’s your classy dame, your first lady and the other half of your brain.”
“Why shouldn’t Julia be the one? I’m smarter than you guys, sure, no question,” here Jeff reached over to rap Laurie’s knee with the handle of his whittling knife, “but Julia’s smarter than any of us. Let’s elect her.”
“One revolution at a time,” Julia said. “You’ll be ‘the Man Who,’ I’ll be the little woman behind you.”
“That’ll be the day,” he said.
She smirked at him. “You just keep telling yourself that,” she said. “In any case, I’m putting my eggs in your basket.”
“Great image, there, Carrie Nation,” Henry said. Julia tossed her head and sneered at him.
Laurie’s head was spinning. “Wait, wait,” he said. “You all aren’t really serious about this? I mean, I know you all have your own ambitions, and—damn, don’t make me get all goopy here, but every one of you has at least as much strength and talent as I have.”
“It ain’t about you,” Roscoe said, “it’s about what’s the best way to win, for all of us. You sound white, you act white, hell, you even look white—‘cept for your skin.”
Laurie shook his head, still trying to absorb what they were proposing. “I have to talk this over with my family,” he said.
“Go ahead,” Julia said, “but I’ve already had a conversation with your parents and Ruby about it, when I stayed at your place over the Fourth.”
“That’s what you guys were doing holed up in Ruby’s apartment that night? I never did believe that story about planning Steve’s birthday party. I didn’t realize Dad was in there, too, though—I thought it was just some girl thing.”
“So much for the Enlightened Modern Man,” Julia said sardonically. “No, there was a masculine presence anchoring our frivolous talk. Something real was actually being discussed.”
He jabbed at her with his toe. “So what was the upshot of this Summit meeting?” he asked, ignoring the jibe.
“Basically, your mother said we’d have trouble with you because you try to protect everybody you come across whether it’s feasible or not, and your father said you’d make it hard for us because you’d insist on being honest whether it was practical or not. Ruby just smiled and said, ‘The child will do us proud,’ and they agreed with that.”
Laurie shook his head wonderingly. “Good to know everybody’s got my number. So… what am I supposed to do now?”
“Just keep on the way you are,” Henry said. “You’ve got good instincts. And I know that family of yours will stand behind you. But from now on you’ve got us to rely on, too.” He put on a Col. Parker drawl. “Come on, son, I’m gonna make you a star.”
“My running days are over,” Laurie said.
“Oh, that sounds deep,” Julia teased.
“I’m not so interested in running since Julia taught me to dance,” Laurie told Henry.
“I thought your sister taught you to dance?” Henry said.
“She taught me the steps; Julia taught me the moves, man,” Laurie smirked.
Julia smirked back at him. Henry snorted and said, “Hire a room, you two, or pay attention here.”
They were standing just inside the entranceway arch to the rolling green campus. It feels more open than Haverford, and it’s almost as old, Laurie thought, gazing around. Red brick instead of gray stone, but solid. The main difference was in all the black faces of the summer school students they could see strolling across the lawns, moving in and out of the buildings. Here the white faces were the exception.
“It’d be different going to a coed school,” Julia observed.
“That, too,” Laurie said.
“A lot less expensive than your schools,” Henry said.
“We’re both on scholarships, which we’d lose,” Laurie said. “Ease up, Hen, we know you think we should do this, just let us soak it in, ok?”
Henry waved his hands in surrender and resumed his tour spiel. “Ok, that big building you see in the middle there…”
Later, sitting in the student union coffee shop, Henry and Julia were deep in the specifics of course offerings. Laurie, listening with half an ear, broke in. “Wait, so you have to decide whether you’re going to be in the humanities school or sciences or whatever?”
“This is a university, not a college like Haverford,” Henry reminded him.
“I knew that. I just wasn’t expecting—I guess, all these options.”
Henry’s eyes narrowed. “You thought transferring here would be a come-down, didn’t you?”
Laurie ducked his head and put his hand on his forehead. “Guilty,” he said. “I repent in dust and ashes.”
“He can’t help it,” Julia said to Henry. “I’m sure his parents are having fits.”
“Now, there you’re wrong,” Laurie protested. “Mom said I should do what feels right to me. Dad said a college degree is like an entrance ticket, and which college I get one from should depend on what doors I want to have open to me.” He turned to Henry. “You said something like that to me once yourself, talking about whether you’d go here or to Penn.”
“True,” Henry admitted. “And a degree from Lincoln will open doors for you in the black community.”
“And in the Movement,” Julia said. “The impetus is already shifting; the power is going to be with the students, not so much with the churches.”
“SNCC, not NAACP,” Henry agreed.
“Anyway,” Laurie said to Julia, swallowing a bite of his cheese steak sandwich, “you told me your own folks weren’t that thrilled about your transferring.”
She shrugged. “My mom isn’t. She’s all about the respectability; it was really important to her that I got into one of the Seven Sisters. It’s Daddy who’s into the Movement. He never wanted me in Bryn Mawr in the first place. It’s enough for him that I’m the first person on his side of the family who’s ever gone to college.”
She reached across and snagged one of Laurie’s fries, munching it thoughtfully as she went on, “All us kids have Latin names, you may have noticed—me and Marcus and Claudius, obviously, and Tony’s real name is Antoninus. It was my parents’ compromise: Daddy wanted us to sort of redeem names like they used to give slaves as a joke, to degrade them; Mom likes the idea that they’re names of Roman rulers.”
She rubbed a finger over the diamond on her left hand. “And now I wear a ring that used to belong to someone who wouldn’t have let me in the front door.”
“Grandmother McAlister loved Ruby,” Laurie reminded her.
“As a nurse.”
Laurie sighed. “Could we go back to arguing about transferring? Arguing about my family gives me heartburn.”
“I’m sorry,” Julia said, reaching for his hand. “I promised I wouldn’t keep doing that.”
“But you should,” Henry broke in. They stared at him. “Argue about Laurie’s family, I mean. You need to understand it, understand him, Julia. That’s the crux, see? His connection to both worlds. And the way he can talk to people where they are, whoever they are.” He gave a meaningful look to Julia that Laurie couldn’t decipher.
She squeezed his fingers across the table. “I do see why you love them, Laurie. But they’ll always be a little alien to me. So how much do you want to continue that family’s traditions in the way we build ours? Will you want to name our kids after them?”
Laurie had actually been thinking about this. “Names are kind of an issue with us. Me, I’ve got a girl’s name. Confuses people whenever I introduce myself—everybody but you, that is.”
Julia shrugged. “I have an uncle named Lynn. I knew you were a man right away, though, with my superior powers of deduction.”
Laurie and Henry laughed. “I notice Roscoe calls you Mac,” Henry said.
“Yeah,” Laurie picked an olive off Julia’s salad, tossed it up, and caught it in his mouth, to the sardonic applause of the other two. “He says it makes him feel like a sissy to call me Laurie. People in the navy call my dad Mac, too, because ‘Sean’ sounds exotic or something. Anyway, I found out when I met my birth mother that ‘Laurence’ was supposed to be my last name; my original name was Rufus. And my brother Jamie, he was born ‘Chaim,’ but nobody can pronounce that guttural ‘ch’ right.”
He pushed his plate away and put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his clasped hands and gazing at Julia, who was watching him intently. “It all seems to come down to authenticity. So… how about African names?”
She sat back in surprise. “Like what?”
“Zuri, for instance. It means ‘beautiful’ in Swahili. Or Jelani, ‘mighty,’ for a boy.”
“Huh.” He could see she was intrigued. Let her cogitate on that for awhile, he decided.
Henry said slowly, “I can see the appeal. But it might be a problem later on.”
Laurie turned to Henry. “You and Jeff are named for illustrious ancestors. You’ve told me that sometimes makes you feel inadequate, or like there are expectations laid on you. But it also makes you feel grounded, connected to your past, right? Or do you mean the kids might be self-conscious because their names are unusual and maybe hard to pronounce.”
Henry chewed and swallowed the last bite of his ham sandwich before answering. “I actually wasn’t thinking about your kids. I was thinking about you. You might have a harder time in politics if your kids have names that aren’t American.”
“Politics? Who says I’m going into politics? I thought that was you.”
“Man, we’re all in politics. Wake up and smell the coffee, I keep telling ya,” said a voice from behind Laurie’s chair.
He craned his head back to see Roscoe grinning down at him. “Good God, what time is it, Ros? I’m sorry we didn’t meet you at the gate, we just got talking and lost track.”
Roscoe cuffed his shoulder lightly and nodded at the others. “No big thing,” he said. “I figured you’d be someplace exercising your jaw, one way or another. But we better get this show on the road if you’re going to get Miss Julia home to Philly and carry me off to the boonies with you before your family sends out the Saint Bernards.”
“Right,” Laurie said over the scraping of chairs as they got to their feet. “Henry, give you a lift?”
“No, thanks, I’ll wait for Jeff to get out of class. Our mom’s coming to get us, take us to the grandparents’. Papaw Still’s been a little under the weather lately.”
“Sorry to hear that. Give him and Miz Pearl my best, will you? And say hi to your mother and Jeff for me.” Laurie slung an arm around Henry’s neck and squeezed him to his side. “And thanks for showing us around today. Good thing Lincoln has rolling admissions; if we get busy, we should get our applications in for the fall semester.”
“So you’re going to transfer?”
“Oh, I think the fix was in on that before I ever got here today, wasn’t it?” He gave a mock-stern glare at Julia.
She shrugged it off. “I can’t help it if I know what you’re going to do before you do.”
They all laughed as they made their way out to the parking lot. Laurie, Julia, and Roscoe waved at Henry as he veered away toward the library building, then made their way to the car.
“Nice wheels,” Roscoe said, running his hand appreciatively over the Oldsmobile’s flat emerald green roof. “Like ridin a boat.”
“My mom’s,” Laurie said. “Her Dodge finally gave up the ghost.” He handed Julia into the front passenger seat.
As he eased the car onto the road and turned toward Route 1, Roscoe said, “So, your folks going to blow a gasket that you’re leaving your fancy school?”
“Are you talking to me?” Julia said. “’Cause I’d think you’d know by now that Laurie’s parents never object to anything he does.”
“Quit it, will you?” Laurie said, half laughing, half annoyed. “I thought you were taking a break from ragging me out over them.”
Julia looked surprised. “I wasn’t. I really meant it. I’m jealous, really. It’s not just that they love you, it’s that they let it show so much.”
“Mmm,” Laurie agreed, distracted as he maneuvered into the highway traffic.
Silence fell in the car for the next few minutes.
Suddenly, from the back seat, Roscoe said, “Your old man’s not gonna try to hug me or anything, is he?”
Before Laurie could answer, Julia made a hooting sound. “Man,” she said, “I thought you knew that family. Everybody in the house is going to hug you.”
“Yeah,” Roscoe said gloomily.
Chapter 65. Tuesday, April 19, 1960
“Dr. Looby’s house was bombed! Dynamite, they’re saying.” Henry Still stood clutching the doorway into the room where Laurie’d slept. Half a dozen of the students who’d come down to Nashville from Pennsylvania bunked in it, rolled in sleeping bags on the floor of the house a local black family had volunteered to share with them.
Laurie had just gotten dressed after waking up to realize he was the only one still here. He’d been trying to shake off an exhausted sleep after a long day of sitting on a backless lunch counter stool at Walgreen’s, next to a sign reading, “Closed in the Interests of Public Safety.”
Now, hearing Henry, he forgot his own aches and jumped to his feet. Just like Fred Shuttlesworth, that Christmas, he thought. But he came out of it all right. “Was he hurt?” he asked Henry anxiously.
“No, he and his wife are ok. The house is wrecked, though. Come and see.”
Laurie staggered after him out to the modest living room, where the morning news was playing on the little tabletop TV set. Alexander Looby’s distinguished, scholarly-looking black face was on the screen, a white reporter holding a microphone to his mouth. “I think the bombing is an isolated incident by the hoodlum element in our community,” Looby was saying in his mild tones.
Roscoe looked up from the floor in front of the TV and said to Laurie, “That jerk just asked him if he thought we caused the bombing—because we’re protesting and ‘raising tensions’.” He scoffed and turned back to the screen.
The reporter persisted in suggesting that the sit-ins were only “making things worse.” Looby responded, “I think the Movement is worth the risk of some possible violence, though I hope very much there will be none.”
But there already has been, Laurie thought. Demonstrators had been beaten and kicked by marauding whites while the police made themselves scarce. The police showed up to haul the people who’d been attacked to jail, though. The hundred and fifty or so who’d been arrested were all protestors, mostly black. Still, they’d managed to control themselves and not fight either the mob or the cops.
John Lawson, a divinity school student at Vanderbilt, had trained them in non-violent resistance. "Do not strike back or curse if abused,” the written code of conduct he’d given them said. “Do not laugh out. Do not hold conversations with the floor walker. Do not leave your seat until your leader has given you permission to do so. Do not block entrances to stores outside nor the aisles inside. Do show yourself courteous and friendly at all times. Do sit straight; always face the counter. Do report all serious incidents to your leader. Do refer information seekers to your leader in a polite manner. Remember the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. Love and nonviolence is the way.”
But Lawson had been expelled from Vanderbilt for his involvement, and now Looby, who’d defended the students in court, had been attacked and could easily have been killed.
The threat of death hung over all of them, of course. When they’d first arrived, Laurie had been almost paralyzed with fear. He’d thought back to the days after Emmett Till’s murder, when he’d promised Robbie never to go South. This is real hate; I never really knew it before, he realized the first time he saw the faces of the mob staring in the Woolworth’s window. These people would kill me given half a chance.
The flap over the soda shop in Bryn Mawr had been chicken feed compared to this. They’d shown up a few days later: Laurie and Julia, Henry and Jeff, Roscoe—what Julia called “the usual suspects”—and some of their black friends, a dozen or so, along with sympathetic whites from campus. They’d chosen a time when the manager was on duty, and faced with their quiet unity, and with the prospect of lost profits from the white students, he’d caved on the spot.
Nashville was a different kettle of fish, the real deal, with deep-seated enmities and irrational fears on both sides. But as the hours and days of tension went by, Laurie started to feel sure that he could still operate in spite of the fear, even here. When a counterman had deliberately poured scalding coffee over the homework Laurie was trying to do, he’d managed to stay silent. It was harder to sit still when a local tough put his cigarette out in Julia’s hair, but he knew she’d not thank him for intervening, so he hadn’t.
He never retaliated, but he never backed down, either. Some of the local students had actually started to look to him when they were threatened, taking cues from his manner.
“I’ve seen my daddy, totin a heavy load, step off the sidewalk to let a white man with empty hands go by,” one said to him. “It’s hard to get that out of my mind, that ‘go along to get along’. But I look at you standin up, standin firm, makes it easier for me to do it, too.”
Conversations like that, and the experience of simply getting through one day at a time without breaking down or being broken down, fed Laurie’s confidence.
I can bring something to this endeavor, he thought, staring at the blasted-out ruins of the Looby house on the screen. And now that I’ve got Julia beside me… where is Julia, anyway?
On the thought, the front door opened; Julia stood there, holding a white paper bag. She’d had her hair cropped close to her head after the cigarette incident; the exposure of her shapely skull made her look more regal than ever, even in jeans and a butter-yellow jersey. “Diane says we’re going to march on the courthouse,” she said. “Come on!”
The people in the living room piled out after her. It was a gorgeous day, clear and sunny and just warm enough. Laurie was happy to be marching in it instead of sitting still on an uncomfortable stool in a gloomy lunchroom for hours. He got even happier when Julia handed him her paper bag; inside he found a ham roll and a cardboard cup of coffee. “Advantage to staying in a black neighborhood,” she said, “you can find places that will serve you.”
“Advantage to being a handsome stud,” he teased, “you can find a girl who’ll serve you.”
“Oh, keep it up, Kingfish,” she said. “You’ll be finding out who serves who around here.”
They caught up with the crowd massing for the march as Laurie finished bolting his breakfast. Henry and Roscoe were behind them; other students were all around them. Linda and Ned were somewhere around, too. Laurie’s heart lifted. How can we lose? he thought. We’re together, we’re strong, and we’re in the right.
They snaked in a long line across the highway, two abreast, with C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, and Bernard LaFayette in the lead. When they got to the courthouse, the mayor, Ben West, came out to meet them on the steps.
Laurie craned his neck, trying to read the body language. They couldn’t hear anything back in the crowd, but the word got passed along. “The mayor just said he thought segregated lunch counters are wrong!”
Laurie and Roscoe grinned at each other and Henry swung Julia into an impromptu victory dance. “Hey, find your own girl,” Laurie laughed, snagging her away and hooking his arm around her neck. “This one’s mine.”
“Oh, really?” Julia said, nudging him in the solar plexus with her elbow as she put her hands on her hips.
“Really,” he said softly. Her hands moved to rest on his hips as he kissed her.
The march was over, but the struggle wasn’t. Mayor West had temporized his statement against segregated lunch counters by adding, “It’s up to the individual business owners, of course.” One Nashville paper reported emphasizing one half of the remark, the other featured the other one.
Still, the group was heartened. On Sunday they’d all gone to Easter service at one of the black churches involved in the movement. They’d sung “I’m Goin’ to Sit at the Welcome Table” and “My Mind Stayed on Freedom.” Laurie had thought back to Sister Tharpe telling him church was about being “scairt,” accepting challenges. The black churches were proving to be the backbone of the civil rights movement, providing succor and inspiration.
But Roscoe was skeptical, chafing at the principle of nonviolence, and even their advances here didn’t convince him. He’d argued with Henry about it on Sunday till Laurie had stepped in. “Put some graphite rods in it, guys,” he’d said. “A nuclear explosion will only hurt us all.” They’d calmed down, but Roscoe still wouldn’t go with the others when Dr. King spoke at Fisk, the black university in Nashville, the day after the march on city hall.
King stood at a podium in the gymnasium, surrounded on all sides by people in bleachers, on folding chairs, on the floor. He called the Nashville sit-ins the best and most well-regulated in the South, and said he’d come to gain inspiration from them, not give it to them.
Laurie turned to Julia and whispered, “We’re never going back to the Main Line, are we?”
She bit her lip for a second, considering, then nodded. “No, we’re not,” she said.
Then he saw Julia stepping out from under the arch of Rockefeller Hall. Her bare head was up, her coat was open, and she gazed around her, knitted muffler flying in the wind, as though she’d just walked onto a speaking platform. Heads turned to look at her, but she skimmed over them till her eyes found Laurie’s and flared a little.
He moved forward and grasped her lapels. “Good lord, girl, button up,” he said.
She batted his hands away. “I’m fine, Mom,” she said, unsmiling. “So what’s on the agenda this afternoon?”
“Always an agenda?” he said, falling into step beside her as they made their way to the campus entrance pillars.
“Promises to keep,” she said, “and miles to go, et cetera.”
“Did you hear that Commission on Human Relations is getting promotions for black restaurant workers?”
“Drop in the bucket.”
“No resting on laurels?”
“So you’re good for a walk into town?”
“Sorry I couldn’t find anybody to lend me a car this time.”
“We Mawrters don’t need cars like you big strong men seem to.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, you keep us humble.”
A pair of female students passed them, glancing sideways at them and then at each other, and edging to the inside of the pavement.
“Among other uses,” he said with a bite that made Julia look up at him quizzically.
“They didn’t cross to the other side of the street,” he said, nodding toward the girls who’d just passed. “If I’d been alone, they would have. With you alongside me, I look more like just a guy to them instead of a big, bad, threatening black guy.”
She nodded understandingly. “So how do you cope when you are alone?”
“I whistle Mozart. It reassures them.”
She snorted a laugh and shook her head. “Right. Retreat to the white.”
“Protective coloration,” he agreed.
They reached the soda shop he’d been making for; he held the door for her and they found a booth. “One of these days, you’re going to have to learn to walk down the street while black,” she said. “Come out from where it’s safe.”
“I know,” he sighed. While Julia glanced over the sandwich menu, Laurie thought back to Sunday, when he’d gone with her to a Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia—a place Julia had described as “stomp-down Christian.” Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the blues and gospel singer, had performed a rollicking “This Train” that had made the walls ring.
After the service, having coffee and soft pretzels with the congregation in the church hall, the woman had sought him out. “You didn’t like my music?” she’d challenged him.
Laurie had been taken aback. “I loved it, ma’am,” he’d said. “I was wishing two of my brothers were here, they’re musicians.”
“But you were just sittin, not rockin with it.”
He’d ducked his head, embarrassed. “I’m not used to so much… participation in a church service. You see, I’m a Catholic; we mostly sit still and listen to the Latin.”
She’d cocked her head to one side. “And what does that do for you?”
“It brings me peace, makes me feel safe.”
She’d scoffed. “Church ain’t a place to make you feel safe, boy.”
Laurie had blinked and stared.
“Well, some of it’s about safety,” she’d relented. “But more, it’s the place to feel the Spirit. And I ain’t mean just wavin hands an dancin around; Spirit’s scary. Scairt is good. Makes you move off the dime.”
The sound of Julia clearing her throat brought him back to the present. “Sorry,” he said. “Just thinking about Sunday. Sister Tharpe said the same thing you did, about not staying where it’s safe. I have to tell you, though, Julia, it scares me to think about stepping out.”
She put her hand over his on the chipped vinyl table. “I know,” she said. “But you’ll do it anyway.”
He nodded. “I told Linda once, it’s like running off a cramp. Learning to go forward, even through the fear. Staying safe is an illusion, anyway. Did you hear about that guy in Houston yesterday?”
“Felton Turner. They say he’s going to live; he’ll always have that KKK scar on his chest, though.”
“And remembering those guys beating him and hanging him upside down in that tree. That’s what I mean, though: he wasn’t even part of the sit-ins down there; they just grabbed a convenient black guy to scapegoat.”
“Speaking of sit-ins…” Julia shifted on the booth bench to look around the half-full restaurant. “That couple over there came in after us, and they’ve been served. We haven’t even had someone take our order yet.”
“You’re right.” Laurie furrowed his brow. “But I’ve been served in here before; I’ve come here half a dozen times, at least.”
She looked at him shrewdly. “Alone? Or were you here with white boys?”
“Oh, God,” he said. He thought of stories Jimmy Hodge had told him, about places in Carlisle where Laurie had eaten with his family but Jimmy’s knew they couldn’t.
The waitress, a thin, harried-looking woman with graying brown hair, passed their booth. “Ma’am?” Laurie said quietly. “We’re ready to order if you have a minute.” She kept walking away without looking at them, but spots of scarlet bloomed on each bony cheek.
“I hope you’re not too hungry,” he said to Julia. Should I ask her if she wants to leave? No, look at her face.
“I’m not eating if they do serve us, anyway,” she said. “At this point, I’d be worried she spat in it.”
“There’s a lovely thought.” He exhaled gustily. “You know, it’s funny; I was raised to be sensitive to service workers, to think of them as underdogs and sympathize with them. In Founders Hall, the black men who serve at the steam tables might as well be invisible. But there was one preppy kid who complained to Mrs. Nugent, the nutritionist, about the way they dished up his food, said it was ‘sloppy.’ You should see the mess they make of his plate now.”
He smiled bleakly, but Julia wasn’t amused. “At Bryn Mawr they wait on us at our tables, black women in uniform the age of our mothers. And those girls call them by their first names without thinking twice about it.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. The waitress brought burgers and fries to the booth behind Laurie; the aroma nauseated him. Julia called across him, “Miss? Are you planning to take our order at any time before the heat death of the universe?”
Once again, the woman turned away without answering. Laurie pitched his voice to fill the room without shouting. “Is everyone here aware that we’re being refused service?”
A dead silence fell, except for a subdued clatter as people put their forks down. Then, “Is that true?” a guy Laurie vaguely remembered seeing around Haverford said to the waitress.
She was standing in the middle of the floor, clutching her order pad to her skinny chest. “The manager, he said…” she said helplessly. “It’s my job!”
Laurie could see she was close to tears. The boy who’d spoken stood up and started gathering the books he’d strewn across the table. “Well, you can tell your manager he’s going to lose a lot of business when this gets out on campus,” he said. He brushed past their booth on his way out. “Sorry, man,” he said to Laurie.
The rest of the customers went back to their meals, studiously keeping their heads down. “What do you want to do?” Laurie asked Julia.
She tapped a thumbnail on her front teeth, thinking. “We can’t do anything, just the two of us,” she said finally. She shrugged back into the coat she’d let fall behind her when they sat down; Laurie picked up his from beside him. “We need to organize a group.”
He stood to put his pea coat on. “Sitting-in feels a lot bigger than picketing. Have we crossed the Rubicon?”
“Nah. This is just a little river.”
“‘Give me a boat that can carry two,’” he said, smiling down at her. As they passed the waitress, still frozen in the middle of the room, he said gently, “We will be back.”
“Hey, Mac, you’re late,” one of them called.
Laurie shook his head. “I just got off the phone with my cousin,” he said. “He goes to Lincoln. He just heard they’re picketing the Woolworth’s on Chestnut Street—”
“No, he got it wrong,” said a white kid who was active in the committee. “That’s in North Carolina, Greensboro, that they’re picketing. Started yesterday.”
“No, they’re doing it in Philly, too,” Laurie insisted. “To step up pressure on the company to change their policies in the whole chain. My cousin says they were too late yesterday to get people from the black schools, from Lincoln and Cheyney, but they’re on board now, and Temple and Penn and some other schools. We should get over there. I’m going to call my girlfriend at Bryn Mawr and get them going, too. Don’t leave without me!”
He ran back into the dorm. It had been cold and windy outside, and the overcast sky promised rain or worse later on. After he called Julia and arranged to meet in town, Laurie bundled up in windbreaker and knitted cap, winding the muffler Mom had knitted for him in Haverford scarlet and black around his neck.
The entryway was now deserted; he went to the parking lot and found the others.
A couple of the white guys had some papers spread out on the hood of the car, making plans and talking about how everyone should behave. No one really looked at Laurie, much less asked him for his opinion. I don’t have any experience with picketing, he reminded himself. I don’t know any more than anyone else about this. Still, he resented being ignored; he did know more about discrimination than any of these pampered kids. Jamie’s favorite rebuke came back to him: This isn’t about you.
During the drive into the city, the other guys were chattering and excited, almost manic. Laurie sat silent, stomach cold and heavy, thinking about the scene in the high school parking lot after the prom and wondering if anyone would attack them here.
The Woolworth building was big—three stories tall—but still smaller than the buildings it was squeezed between. The gray façade loomed over them as they got out of their car. In front of the huge plate glass windows, a small crowd was walking in circles. There were adults and what looked like high school kids, but most of them seemed to be college students.
People carried hand-printed signs. A Negro girl had one that said, “Freedom to Eat Together.” Laurie spotted Henry Still, holding a big piece of cardboard with “Philadelphia Youth Committee Against Segregation stands with our brothers in Greensboro.” They shook hands and smiled grimly at each other, then joined the circling picketers.
The car from Bryn Mawr arrived soon after: three white girls and an older-looking black one, besides Julia. “There’s like an unwritten rule,” he remembered Julia telling him. “No more than two of ‘us’ at a time. But Barbara’s married and some kind of bridge genius; don’t know whether she counts for or against the quota.” Now Julia hurried to Laurie’s side and suddenly he didn’t care who else was here, or whether anyone else was here.
As they started walking together in front of the building she said to him, “You realize we may get arrested. Yesterday the cops hauled off the black protestors who were here.”
Laurie had known that was theoretically possible, but the prospect of going to jail, even for a short time, filled him with dread. He looked across the street, where a group of uniformed policemen stood glaring at them. What will they do to us, he wondered, and I’ll have a record; what will that do to my plans for the future? But if I don’t do something about this, I won’t have a real future, anyway.
Roscoe and some other kids from Cheyney showed up halfway through the afternoon. They milled around a little, not sure what to do; no one was really in charge of the protest. Roscoe looked older, more sure of himself than Laurie remembered. There was no horseplay in their meeting as there had been in Washington—just a curt nod. But he did give a sardonic lift of the eyebrow when Laurie introduced him to Julia.
They didn’t have long to socialize, in any case. The influx of half a dozen more black students seemed to have galvanized the cops into action; they stalked across the street toward them, legs stiff, hands on their batons. “All right, break it up here,” one of them growled.
Laurie watched the group split. Some of the white kids looked scared, some looked contemptuous. Roscoe was snarling openly, Henry seemed to be bracing himself for the worst. The only one besides Laurie who wasn’t looking at the police was Julia; she was watching Laurie. She wants to see what I’m going to do. What am I going to do?
A white boy—Laurie didn’t think he was from Haverford, maybe one of the other colleges—stepped up to a cop with a double-stripe chevron on his sleeve. “See here, officer,” he said snappily, “we are within our constitutional rights here. This is a lawful demonstration. I’d advise you not to overstep your bounds.”
Can’t he read military insignia? Laurie thought. Worse, can’t he read body language? He just turned that guy from warning to threatening in a couple of sentences. Laurie moved toward them.
“Sergeant,” he said, keeping his tone firm but quiet, “we’re just going to be walking here and holding our signs. We don’t want to make any trouble.”
“My ass,” a patrolman behind the sergeant snarled.
“Please, sir, there are ladies here,” Laurie said, gesturing toward a frail-looking black woman wearing a cardigan over her dark skirt and white blouse, her gray hair pulled into a bun, her expression calm but wary.
The patrolman snorted, but the sergeant glanced the woman’s way, then gave his underling a quelling look. To Laurie he said, “No trouble, eh? No screaming at people on the sidewalk or shoving them out of the way, no going into the store and stealing or messing things up?”
Laurie let a look of puzzled horror come over his face. “Certainly not. We just want to draw people’s attention to the situation, make sure they understand what’s happening. It would be against our own interests to act like hooligans.”
At the back of his mind, he was aware that both Henry and Roscoe were staring at him: Roscoe speculative, Henry astonished. The expression on the combative white kid’s face was shifting from disdainful to hopeful. Don’t they get it? he wondered. This is like with me and Dad: figure out what role you’re each supposed to be playing and do it like you mean it.
The sergeant looked around the group speculatively, then gave Laurie a crisp nod. “All right,” he said. “If you promise not to make trouble, stay orderly, we won’t arrest you. This time. But behave yourselves and watch your step or you’ll be behind bars so fast that wooly head of yours won’t know what hit it.” He said that last holding Laurie’s eyes.
He’s testing me, Laurie realized. Trying to see if I’ll fly off the handle. So he merely said, “Yes, Sergeant, I understand,” firmly, trying for a tone that was respectful without being meek.
The cops moved off and the others started circling again. Behind Laurie, Julia said mockingly, “‘Please sir, there are ladies here’?”
He turned back to explain, then saw from the mischief in her face that she understood exactly what he’d been doing.
I don’t have to explain myself to her, he thought.