A different kind of history... "I know that guy!" said a minister who was shopping at our store for the first time. Originally from Boston, he and his wife had moved to Lynchburg, VA; soon he would pastor a church in a small town near there. He was staring at a man in a picture on my wall, taken in Greensboro, NC.
"He and I met in Boston, where I used to live," the minister added. "He moved south to study a man he admired, Thurgood Marshall."
I was impressed. The minister had pointed to a photo I had purchased from the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC. titled "The Greensboro Four," the group who had defied the color barrier at the Woolworth's counter, a counter that had been restored and placed in a room of its own at the Civil Rights Museum. My photo, by Otis Hairston, Jr., taken in February of 1990, pictured the four at the counter where they had protested more than twenty years before Hairston had photgraped them.
"That's Jibreel. I'll call him!" The minister was jubilant.
I heard part of their conversation.
"Well, I'm at a clothing store in Danville and the owner has your picture. You have to meet this guy..."
Minutes later, the minister and I talked about the Civil Rights era, obviously before his time.
"You may like to read this," I said, as I handed him a copy of my book, No Gold Stars. I pointed to the remarks signed by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. on its back cover.
He brightened even more. That period of history mattered so much to him that I gave him my book. "Please e-mail me after you've read it."
"I will," he promised. "You know that Rev. Jackson went to A & T [in Greensboro]," he said.
"I help get people in that school," he told me. Obviously, he was proud of his work.
"That's great," I said, then added, "I've been trying to get to speak about my book at A & T. Can't seem to make the right connections..."
He offered to call Jibreel, assured me he could make it happen.
"Thanks," I said, hoping to hear from him soon.
Just the thought of that possibilty left me feeling bouyant; I sailed through the rest of the day without expecting anything to top that.
In a very real sense, I was wrong.
Having been unable to open my mail until late in the day, I was surprised to see an envelope, a letter from an old friend, Chuck, who I'd missed seeing for a very long time. Indeed, he'd looked so weak the last time we'd met that I didn't know whether I'd see him again. But I also knew that few men are as tough and durable as he.
Inside was a color copy of a certificate he'd received that announced his induction into the Grey Beret Hall of Fame for his work as a memeber of the Special Operations Weather Team. Attached also was a copy of the induction letter he'd received. It read:
"...you have been inducted into the newly established Grey Beret Association's Hall of Fame. Your selfless service, excellence and remarkable accomplishments are in keeping with the highest ideals of service to the defense of our nation. In your many years of active duty service, your unprecedened contributions led to the betterment and advancement of the Weather Commandos and Special Operations Weather Teams (SOWT).
"...Each nominee was subjected to the scrutiny of the Selection Board to ensure the most extraordinary contributions are acknowledged. The selection criterion is as unique as our Grey Beret history."
I looked above the picture of the Greensboro Four. On display three feet higher was a picture of Chuck in uniform when he was in his prime, probably forty years ago. As I stared at his image, I recalled countless conversations we'd had about hotspots around the world, about places he'd been and places he had been called to return to when he would disappear for months at a time. Rarely was he able to provide more than sketchy details. He was that true to his word about maintaining secrecy, an oath he'd given his government and his commanders.
I'd learned when to stop asking. What amused me the most was that, like me, when I'd taught at Sterling Jr.-Sr. High, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.'s alma mater, Chuck was the only member of his race in an otherwise all white company of soldiers. We'd often laughed about that after he'd found I was the only white person at Sterling the first year I taught there.
I'll write to Chuck soon and I'll tell him about the minister who knows Jibreel. Maybe I'll suggest a reunion that only the four of us will really understand. We may even have to have a picture taken to mark the event.