The Moon in Alabama is Big and Yellow
Joanne Gavin

The "The Moon in Alabama is Big and Yellow" story or "Stokely in Holly Springs."

During a SNCC staff meeting (of which I was not a participant) at the tumbledown two-story white frame Masonic Hall in the Black community in Holly Springs, Carmichael, who was then working in Lowndes County, Alabama, dropped in for a visit. We sat on the back porch, I on a chair while he sprawled sideways on the steps, his long legs bent in front of him, while he whittled on a twig which I later retrieved and kept for years before some of my wanderings lost it..

It must have been about half-moon stage, because the moon was up in the day sky, in front of us. He saw it and commented, "You should see the moon in Alabama!"

I joked, "Is that a proposition, Mr. Carmichael?"

He responded quite seriously, "No. But I know you like that sort of thing."

I observed that, "The moon is the same everywhere."

"No," he said, "The moon in Alabama is big and yellow."

I then explained that the moon appears to be big and yellow everywhere when it rises and sets. That it seems big because we see it near familiar objects, and it seems yellow because we are looking at it through a denser layer of earth's atmosphere.

"No," he insisted, "The moon in Alabama is always big and yellow."

I thought for a while and then it dawned on me, and I explained that of course. That's because those were the only times he had a chance to take notice of it. He was either sitting on a porch, trying to organize the residents, or just staying in touch, or just enjoying their company, when the moon rose. And, often, as it would be setting he would be on the way home from a meeting and seeing it through the windshield of the car. Always low in the sky...

He conceded that might be so. And I was sorta sorry to shatter his illusion.

For years I told that story and thought it illustrated nothing more than a lack of natural science courses or reading. He certainly didn't have time to study everything. An amusing story, nothing more.

Then, a few years ago, the real significance hit me: it was his statement that: "I know you like that sort of thing."

I must, at some time in the past, have mentioned to him or within his hearing that I love astronomy, geology, etc.

That was it! His incredible memory, coupled with that extraordinary gift of really listening to people, of really being with whomever he was conversing, and of really caring about people, individual persons as well as the masses. I saw that again when he was at University of Houston and gave an interview to a friend's son, then in middle school, for a school paper the lad was writing. A woman came up to Kwame and said that he probably didn't remember her, since they had met but once. Instead he called her name, her city and her organization and what they had been working on when he met them and how was that work going now, and really concentrated on her answer and commented on it.

That was the secret of the Carmichael/Ture' charisma!

When I told Mike Thelwell that story he recalled another feat of memory where Kwame, when they were driving together, recalled in great detail a day long before, when they had been in the place they were passing and which Thelwell had long forgotten.

Copyright © Joann Gavin, 2010

Copyright © 2010
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