Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Social Gospel

Judge Mitchel Ransom: Judge, white, father of Carter Ransom.
Cartern Ransom: white, son of Judge Ransom.
Elijah Knight: black, friend of Carter, mother is housekeeper for the Ransom family.

Mitchell started up the truck and pulled into traffic, his expression troubled.

"What was the holdup?" Carter asked.

"Those people look mad," Elijah said.

"The damndest thing," said Mitchell. "Some kind of protest. Students from a local Negro college."

"What were they protesting?" asked Carter.

"They were sitting at the whites-only lunch counter big as y0u please, ordering Cokes and sandwiches same as white folks. Since they were breaking the law, the manager closed the counter and I guess he called the police. The coloreds were sitting in the dark by the time I paid and left. I have to buy your Cokes at a service station."

The pulled into an Esso station, and while the attendant filled up the car, Mitchell went inside to get the boys their Cokes.

"Judge Ransom?" Lige said when he returned.

"Yes, Elijah."

"When you bought the Co'-Cola, did they know you were going to give it to a Negro?"

"They didn't ask me."

"Would you have been breaking the law buying me one?"

"No son."

"Why not."

"The crime is for white and colored to sit down together."

Lige looked at Carter, and Carter looked at Lige, squeezed in beside each other in the cabin of the truck. Then they both stared at the broken white line of the pavement dividing the road before them. The incident was not mentioned again.

. . .
By then they had been swallowed up in the baroque machinery of seperate-but-equal, and their estrangement was taken for granted by both of them.

. . .
Lige gave Carter a look of infinite patience.

"And I can't condone breaking the law." Carter continued. "I don't know--you weren't talking this way the last time I saw you. What's happened?"

"I went to seminary and studied the Bible just like Mama wanted," Lige said. "Hebrew prophets, the Sermon on the Mount. But the only thing was, they also taught us about something called the social gospel. About how these things apply to real life. Not just the sweet by-and-by but the nasty now and now. You ever read Tolstoy on the Sermon on the Mount? I did. And Gandhi. And Thoreau on civil disobedience. I met some folks like me who realized those ideas we'd been reading about weren't just Sunday school memory verses but real-life, down-to-earth blueprints for social change."

--Passages from Magic Time by Doug Marlette. Copyright 2006 by Doug Marlette. Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York.

In memory of Doug Marlette, killed July 10 in a car accident in Mississippi. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the creator and cartoonist of Kudzu, and the author of two incredible books, The Bridge and Magic Time. He was also a gentleman southerner.

I am deeply saddened that he will write no more.


JMG said...

I'm definitely going to have to read this one.

jettybetty said...

That does sound good!

Tony Arnold said...

Truly a great book. JMG, I knew you would like the paragrah beginning, "Lige looked at Carter, Carter looked at Lige..."

The first time I read that paragraph I read it only literally, on the surface. On the second reading I realized how great a writer Marlette was. A short, simple paragraph but so deep.

Squeezed together physically but looking at the broken white line dividing the road ahead.

Tony Arnold said...

Glad to hear from you JB. I do read your blog, I just don't comment too much anymore. Mainly due to time. I can read blogs much faster than I can respond to them.

Purgatory Penman said...

So glad that you still find time to post such profound tidbits from your reading. We do miss the give and take of our comments. Hopefully, you will be able to get back with us soon.
I agree with the eulogy for Marlette. The world needs such writers in these grave times. Obviously, God had a need for him also.