20th Century: 1924

Walter White (1893-1955)

                                                                The Fire in the Flint

                                                                        Chapter 1

     Kenneth Harper gazed slowly around his office.  A smile of satisfaction wreathed his face, reflecting his inward contentment.  He felt like a runnner who sees ahead of him the coveted goal towards which he has been straining through many miles.  Kenneth was tired but he gave no thought to his weariness.  Two week of hard work, countless annoyances, seemingly infinite delays- all were now forgotte in the warm glow which pervaded his being.  He, Kenneth B. Harper, M.D., was now ready to receive the stream of patients he felt sure was coming.

     He walked aroud the room and fingered with almost loving tenderness the newly installed apparatus.  He adjusted and readjusted the examining-table of shining nickel and white enamel which had arrived that morning from New York.  He arranged again the black leather pads and cushions.  With his hankerchief he wiped imaginary spots of dust from the plate glass door and shelves of the instrument case, though his sister Mamie had polished them but half an hour before until they shone with crystal clearness.  Instrument after instrument he fondled with the air of a connoisseur examining a rare bit of porcelain.  He fingered critically their various parts to see if all were in perfect condition.  He tore a stamp from an old letter and placed it under the lens of the expensive microscope adjusting and readjusting until every feature of the stamp stood out clearly even to the most infinite detail.  He raised and lowered half a dozen times or more the lid of the nickelled sterilizer.  He set at various angles the white screen which surrounded the examining-table, viewed it each time from different corners of the room, and rearranged it until it was set just right.  He ran his hand over the card index files in his small desk.  He looked at the clean white cards with the tabs on them- the cards which, though innocent now of writing, he hoped and expected would soon be filled with the names of innumerable sick people he was treating.

     His eye caught what he thought was a pucker in the grey-and-blue-checkered linoleum which covered the floor.  He went over and moved the sectional bookcase containing his volumes on obstetrics, on gynaecology, on materia medica, on the diseases he knew he would treat as a general practitioner of medicine in so small a place as Central City.  No, that wasn't a pucker- it was only the light from the window striking it at that angle.

     "Dr. Kenneth B. Harper, Physician and Surgeon."  He spelled out the letters which were painted on the upper panes of the two windows facing on State Street.  It thrilled him that eight years of hard work had ended and he now was at the point in his life towards which he had longingly looked all those years.  Casting his eyes again around the office, he went into the adjoining reception room.

     Kenneth threw himself in utter exhaustion into one of the comfortable arm-chairs there.  His hands, long-fingered, tapering to slender points, the hands of a pianist, an artist, whether of brush or chisel or scapel, hung over the sides in languid fashion.  He was without coat or vest.  His shirt-sleeves were rolled back above his elbows, revealing strongly muscled dark brown arms.  His face was of the same richly coloured brown.  His mouth was sensitivley shaped with evenly matched strong white teeth.  The eyes too were brown, usually sober and serious, but flashing into a broad and friendly smile when there was occaision for it.  Brushed straight back from the broad forehead was a mass of wavy hair, brown also but of a deeper shade, almost black.  The chin was well shaped.

     As he lounged in the chair and looked around the reception room, he appeared to be of medium height, rather well-proportioned, almost stocky.  Three years of baseball and football, and nearly two years of army life with all its hardships, had thickened up the once rather slender figure and had given to the face a more mature appearance, different from the youthful, almost callow look he had worn when his diploma had been handed him at the end of his college course.

     The reception room was as pleasing to him as he sat there as had been the private office.  There were three or four chairs like the one in which he sat.  There was a couch to match.  The wall-paper was a subdued tan, serving as an excellent background for four brightly coloured reproductions of good pictures.  Their brightness was matched by a vase of deep blue that stood on the table.  Beside the vase were two rows of magazines placed there for perusal by his patients as they waited admittance to the more austere room beyond.  It was comfortable.  It was in good taste- almost too good taste,  Kenneth thought, for a place like Central City in a section like the southernmost part of Georgia.  Some of the country folks and even those in town ould probably say it was too plain- didn't have enough colour about it.  Oh, well, that wouldn't matter, kenneth thought.  They wouldn't have to live there.  Most of them would hardly notice it, if they paid any attention at all to relatively minor and unimportant things like colour schemes.

     Kenneth felt that he had good reason to feel content with the present outlook.  He lighted a cigarette and settled himself more comfortably in the deep chair and let his mind wander over the long trail he had covered.  He thought of the eight happy years he had spent at Atlanta University- four of high school and four of college.  He remembered gratefully the hours of companionship with those men and women who had left comfortable homes and friends in the North to give their lives to the education of coloured boys and girls in Georgia.  They were so human- so sincere- so genuinely anxious to help.  It wasn't easy for them to do it, either, for it meant ostracism and all its attendant unpleasantnesses to teach coloured children in Georgia anything other than industrial courses.  And they were so different from the white folks he knew in Central City.  Here he had always been made to feel that because he was a "nigger" he was predestined to inferiority.  But there at Atlanta they had treated him like a human being.  He was glad he had gone to Atlanta University.  It made him realize that all white folks weren't bad- that there were decent ones, after all.

 

 

 

 

1925                                            Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

                                                                 Heritage

                                                      (For Harold Jackman)

 

What is Africa to me:

Copper sun or scarlet sea,

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprang

When the birds of Eden sang?

One three centuries removed

From the scenes his fathers loved,

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,

What is Africa to me?

 

So I lie, who all day long

Want no sound except the song

Sung by wild barbaric birds

Goading massive jungle herds,

Juggernauts of flesh that pass

Trampling tall defiant grass

Where young forest lovers lie,

Plighting troth beneath the sky.

So I lie, who always hear,

Though I cram against my ear

Both my thumbs, and keep them there,

Great drums throbbing through the air.

So I lie, whose fount of pride,

Dear distress, and joy allied,

Is my somber flesh and skin,

With the dark blood dammed within

Like great pulsing tides of wine

That, I fear, must burst the fine

Channels of the chafing net

Where they surge and foam and fret.

 

Africa? A book one thumbs

Listlessly, till slumber comes.

Unremembered ae her bats

Circling through the night, her cats

Crouching in the river reeds,

Stalking gentle flesh that feeds

By the river brink; no more

Does the bugle-throated roar

Cry that monarch claws have leapt

From the scabbards where they slept.

Silver snakes that once a year

Doff the lovely coats you wear,

Seek no covert in your fear

Lest a mortal eye should see;

What is your nakedness to me?

Here no leprous flowers rear

Fierce corollas in the air;

Here no bodies sleek and wet,

Dripping mingled rain and sweat,

Tread the savage measures of

Jungle boys and girls in love.

What is last year's snow to me,

Last year's anything?  The tree

Budding yearly must forget

How its past arose or set-

Bough and blossom, flower, fruit,

Even what shy bird with mute

Wonder at her travail there,

Meekly labored in its hair.

One three centuries removed

From the scenes his fathers loved,

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,

What is Africa to me?

 

So I lie, who find no peace

Night or day, no dlight release

From the unremittant beat

Made by cruel padded feet

Walking through my body's street.

Up and down they go, and back.

Treading out a jungle track.

So I lie, who never quite

Safely sleep from rain at night-

I can never rest at all

When the rain begins to fall;

Like a soul gone mad with pain

I must match it weird refrain;

Ever must I twist and squirm,

Writhing like a baited worm,

While its primal measures drip

Through my body, crying, "Strip!

Doff this new exuberance.

Come and dance the Lover's Dance!"

In an old remembered way

Rain works on me night and day.

 

Quaint, outlandish heathen gods

Black men fashion out of rods,

Clay, and brittle bits of stone,

In a likeness like their own,

My conversion came high-priced;

I belong to Jesus Christ,

Preacher of humility,

Heathen gods are naught to me.

 

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

So I make an idle boast;

Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,

Lamb of God, although I speak

With my mouth thus, in my heart

Do I play a double part.

Ever at Thy glowing altar

Must my heart grow sick and falter,

Wishing He I served were black,

Thinking then it would not lack

Precedent of pain to guide it,

Let who would or might deride it;

Surely then this flesh would know

Yours had borne a kindred woe.

Lord, I fashion dark gods, too,

Daring even to give You

Dark despairing features where,

Crowned with dark rebellious hair,

Patience wavers just so much as

Mortal grief compels, while touches

Quick and hot, of anger, rise

To smitten cheek and weary eyes.

Lord, forgive me if my need

Sometimes shapes a human creed.

All day long and all night through,

One thing only must I do:

Quench my pride and cool my blood,

Lest I perish in the flood,

Lest a hidden ember set

Timber that I thought was wet

Burning like the dryest flax,

Melting like the merest wax,

Lest the grave restore its dead.

Not yet has my heart or head

In the least way realized

They and I are civilized.