NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 108

A large photograph of Booker T. Washington sat on the reverend’s mantel-piece at home. He and his congregation followed Washington’s belief that hard work, not stirring up trouble with white folks, and staying on a clear moral path were the keys to success for the black community. Go about your business quietly. Give the white man a smile, but never let him know what you’re thinking. Don’t get him riled up unnecessarily. That was the advice Reverend Walker gave to his congregation. He and many of the men in his church had proven their bravery on the battlefields of Europe. Some, including the reverend, won medals of valor from the French government when their own home country would award them none. But back home they knew that challenging the power structure head-on was a fool’s tactic. They figured another strategy had to be chosen and believed Mr. Washington had found it. 106 They obeyed their own rules of survival and believed one had to have the slyness of the fox, as well as the courage of the wolf, for a black man to make it in Red Oak County in 1924. Sundown was moving in fast, coloring the sky a bluish dark gray. The red ball of the sun was disappearing behind a group of distant trees when Reverend Walker saw Sheriff Billy Dove’s old white patrol car. The sheriff drove up the reverend’s long dusty road and stopped beside his tobacco field. The pit of Reverend Walker’s stomach churned and he decided to keep his guard up and be ready for whatever trouble the sheriff brought to his doorstep. “Evening Reverend,” said Sheriff Dove. “It’s still hot as blazes out here, but I see by your tobacco that you’ve been busy working your farm.” The Reverend made sure to have the correct tone of subservience in his voice and not look directly into the sheriff’s eyes, which could be taken as a sign of disrespect. “Yes sir, sheriff, from morning to sundown, I’m out here in the fields, although we could use a bit of rain now and then.” The tall, pot bellied sheriff took out a soiled white cloth from his back pocket and wiped beads of sweat from his red wrinkled fore-head. “Ah, Reverend, you got a boy by the name of Jason Johnson in your church?” Reverend Walker pondered the question. “Well, sir, I’ve known the boy since he was small and his family of course, but none of them ever set foot through our church doors. They’re not exactly what you’d call church people.” Sheriff Dove sighed. “Well, Reverend, you’re a leader here among the colored folks, so I’m going to need you to go with me anyway to his momma’s place, and tell her that her boy done got himself hung.” Rev. Walker said nothing. “Some old boys were hunting back off of Church Road and found him hanging from a large oak tree. Look like he’d been there just a day, or so.” “I see,” said Rev. Walker. “Any idea who done it?” The Sheriff looked past the Reverend’s shoulder at the large crop of tobacco plants in his field. “Not yet, probably some old boys from the next county he pissed off about something. That kid had a smart mouth on him. So it’s no telling who could’ve done it.” Sheriff Dove put his large meaty hands on his hips. “I don’t have the resources to devote to this sort of thing, but if any information comes into the office, we’ll take a look at it.” He spat a wad of Big Chief chewing tobacco on the ground. “Yes sir, I understand,” said the Reverend. He knew the sheriff could care less about one more dead black boy and was probably more interested in getting his supper that afternoon than finding the killers. “Take your bible and let’s get this thing over with,” said the sheriff. “Maybe you can say a prayer or two with her. It’s the decent thing to do.” Reverend Walker nodded his head. “I’ll get it right away and put on my suit jacket.” E va’s stomach twisted tightly. Every five minutes she’d looked down the road for her boy. For what seemed like the hundredth time, she stood in her small yard, looking again, when she saw a car approaching up the darkening road. She could make out it was the sheriff’s car, and it looked like Reverend Walker was in it. She’d never taken to religion and never liked the Reverend much. She’d cussed him out more than once when he tried to persuade her to change her ways and join his church.