…and He Couldn’t Be Killed

Long Live the King

(Detroit, 1968)

Black boy (2)

She saw it on television.  The King was dead, and mama was crying.  “He was a good man,” she told me.  She held onto me so tight I could hardly breathe.

I got to eat breakfast in my pajamas the next day, and watch cartoons, because school was cancelled. Wile E. Coyote was trying to eat the Road Runner, but he couldn’t catch him.  Coyote fell off a cliff and got smashed flat as a pancake.  Daddy was home, so he watched TV with me for a while.  I laughed every time Road Runner said “beep-beep” and took off down the road, but daddy didn’t laugh.  When he changed the channel, we saw a whole lot of buildings on fire.  There was a lot of smoke, and people were throwing rocks, and running back and forth, just like the coyote.  Daddy took a handkerchief from his back pocket and blew his nose.

Unca Butch came to our house, and he brought a refrigerator, and a bunch of meat. Mama told him to get the refrigerator out of her house, but daddy said we was keeping the meat.  Mama sat down at the kitchen table and folded her arms. “Sam, you know that meat is looted. It doesn’t belong to us. I’m not going to cook it or eat it.”

The vein on daddy’s neck jumped like it did when he paid bills. Me and Unca Butch watched to see what was going to happen next. “Woman, we are not going to turn down good food,” daddy yelled. “Money don’t grow on trees.”

Daddy said that a lot. About trees. But, he was right. All last summer, me and Kenny shot marbles under that big oak in his yard, and we didn’t see even one penny.

Daddy got mama’s biggest pot out of the cupboard and poured water in it. He put a ham in the pot and turned the fire on the stove way up.  He told Unca Butch he would make him a ham sandwich. Unca Butch and I played catch, watched The Three Stooges, and then he gave me a piggy-back ride. Daddy said the ham was almost ready, but Unca Butch said he couldn’t wait anymore, and carried the refrigerator to his truck.

Mama made spaghetti for dinner. She made our plates, but daddy said he was going to eat a ham sandwich.  He offered me a piece, and I took it. “How is it, Casey?” mama asked me.  She gave daddy the evil eye.

I didn’t tell her it tasted like a rubber band, but it did.  I know, because one time me and Kenny ate a rubber band. Daddy chewed and chewed. Finally, he swallowed hard, and took a drink of water.

“You’re too stubborn to eat crow,” mama said, and shook her head. Daddy took another big bite of his sandwich and chewed some more.  I never ate crow, but I think it must taste better than looted ham.

At night time, we sat on the sofa and saw a TV show about the King.  Mama started crying again, and daddy put his arms around both of us. “They shot him, but they can never kill him,” he told mama.

When I said my prayers, mama got on her knees next to me, MLK,JRand then she tucked me into bed. When I was falling asleep, I was thinking about how the King must be a lot like Road Runner, because he couldn’t be killed either.

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Eva Jessye: Women of the March on Washington-In Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

She “was the first black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor” reads the Wikipedia entry for Eva Jessye.  But I hadn’t even heard of her and wondered why she and her chorale had been invited personally by Martin Luther King, Jr. to be part of the official program for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

EvaJessye

Jessye began her musical career as a teenager organizing choral groups in her hometown in Kansas where she attended college at age thirteen.  In 1919, she was the choir director for Morgan State College in Baltimore.  She formed the 16-member Eva Jessye Choir in 1926 performing regularly on WOR radio in New York and touring the country.  In 1929, she was the choral director for the MGM film Hallelujah directed by King Vidor; in 1933, Jessye worked with composer Virgil Thomson and author Gertrude Stein on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts which opened with an all black cast on Broadway a year later.  In 1935, Jessye began a two-decade collaboration with composer George Gershwin as his choral director for Porgy & Bess.  She also appeared in several movies.

Roosevelt-Jessye

Ms. Jessye’s travels throughout the U.S. gave her first-hand experience with Jim Crow laws and she joined many of her contemporaries-including Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson-as an active supporter of the civil rights movement.  Perhaps King admired her for her profound talents as a composer, actress, poet and teacher, as well as her intellect.

Ms. Jessye-a creative force in American music for well over a half century-died in 1992 at the age of 97.  A large collection of her personal papers including music, writing, correspondence, photos, newspaper clippings and legal documents are housed at Pittsburg State University in the Leonard H. Axe Library in Pittsburg, Kansas.  A similar repository of Jessye’s works and papers are at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan where, in 1974, she established the Eva Jessye African-American Music Collection.

At the historic March on Washington, the Eva Jessye choir performed one of her own compositions, “Freedom is a Thing We’re Talking About.”

 

Photo Credits:

~Eva Jessye. I Dream a World, 1989 copyright Brian Lanker.

~Eva Jessye with Eleanor Roosevelt circa 1940.  Kansas Historical Society

Resources:

Wintz, Cary D., Finkleman, Paul. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Volume 1 A-J.  Eva Jessye (p. 617-618)

Conlon, Joan C. Editor.  Wisdom, Wit and Will:  Women Choral Conductors and Their Art.  Eva Jessye chapter by Joan Whittemore (p 419-434).

 

Eva Jessye Collection.  Pittsburg State University

http://library.pittstate.edu/spcoll/ndxjessye.html

 

website: Another Ann Arbor http://anotherannarbor.org/home/2013/02/17/if-i-belong-to-anything-i-belong-to-my-music-eva-jessye-1895-1992/

 

website:  WGBH Open Vault  Say Brother (1 minute video) http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/sbro-mla001072-eva-jessye-black-american-folk-music