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.”