Charles Fager
February, 1965. Selma, Alabama

Get out of the car, take a deep breath, and walk down toward the church. The 'cracker in the green helmet is there, and his voice is shrill: "Go, get outa here, go back where you come from (jab jab jab with the makeshift billy club) we don't need your kind around here — "

 — Turn around slow, walk away, stride steady and don't run from him (jab jab)'

The trooper car is, of course, waiting when you get back to your car: "Hey you (flashlight beam, reflection off uniform brass, neck hairs fluorescent in headlight glare) where you think you're goin?"

To freedom. To heaven (to hell?) To anywhere. To — 

"To the church (clear your throat quickly so your voice doesn't falter). " Yes, of course: to the church.

"Lessee your identification and the registration on that car (trooper up close, blue plastic helmet, skin pink and eyes looking you up and down as if you're a side of beef, or something held like to kill, or maybe something else...)."

Pull out the wallet and start the charade, let them examine your drivers license etc. with extreme and exaggerated care. Of course they have to get on the radio and check the car out through Birmingham, outside agitators are an unsavory lot and it's more than likely stolen.;

But while you're standing there, looking carefully off down the nighttime street, notice the other trooper peering at you intently, intently:

"Where you from, Charles (listen to the question: something rings in it besides antagonism, there is more than one query in the words; look up at him quick, how can you answer without exposing the concealed questions?)?"

"Well (you want to say give me thirty seconds to think over my answer(s), at least) — "

"What," interrupts the other trooper, "Does that button mean?" and he points:

GROW — white letters on black background, Get Rid of Wallace, what else, but you won't say that, you don't need to get beat up tonight, and besides you know that he asked it because he too heard some (not all) of the other questions in his partner's voice; so you have to answer him satisfactorily without letting it tear down the little bridge the other has extended.

"Well, GROW refers to the philosophy of the Whole movement..." etc, etc., and so on. It's hard, but the other trooper is still peering so the bridge is still there.

"Mmmmmmmmmmmm," the questioner says; he of course knows what it really means, but your straight faced baloney throws him temporarily off balance. Silence in heaven (and earth) for the space of about half an hour (minute). Then — 

"Where'd you say you were from?" Listen again:

You can't see his eyes under the helmet: but their fear is condensed in the round billy club; you can!t see his person under the heavy blue uniform: but its weakness rests in the shiny black holster; you can 't feel the guilt in the battle flags and the Colored signs: not until you can hear his humanity whispering timidly in a careful, off hand question.

Reach out:

"Well, I was born (yes, I hear you) and then we went (can you give me your hand?) and after that we (just for a moment) when I finished college — "

He nods a little and you know he heard; so did the other, and his guard is up:

 — "Why don't you go get a good job back where you came from, and quit messin' around down here?"

It was too good to last; the weight is too much to bear for long when added to the uniform and a trooper's other burdens. Just try to retreat with dignity and without burning the bridge's remains:

"Look, I don't want to antagonize you guys , but I'm happy with the job I've got now." That finishes it of course, but their response is not as bad as could be:

"Lotta people gettin sucked into somethin they dono nothin about," says the one, giving the signal.

"Yeah, there's other ways to settle this than in the street, " the other, his guard also up now, joins in.

"We got a civil rights law now, take care a this stuff."

There isn't any answer for this, so just lock down at the muddy street. He hands you back your license and finishes up the charade:

"Tell your boss to get some identification on this car, and we're not letting anybody into the church. Only the sheriff could do that. "

"OK." Walk back to the car, jump the puddle and open the door. He'd beat me if they told him to, kill me if they worked him right, hate me right away again when they start to talking about niggers.

But even so, I knew him, for a minute there, at least.

Copyright © Charles Fager, 1965

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