“Do You Remember what you were doing on this day 50 years ago?” “Are you kidding me?”
How many times these days, as cognitive functions begin to slow with the build up of creeping years, does this question crop up in conversations? “Do You Remember ______ ?” Simply fill in the blank if you can. That is the question that after the fact gives meaning to specific past events or thoughts small or great. “Do you remember what we had for supper last Thursday? “Do you remember what the teacher said at the close of class Friday?” “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
I do remember as a rambunctious seven-year old coming out of church where my dad was the minister on that sunny December 7, 1941, walking next door to the manse where we lived. Most vivid was the bright blue sky and coolness that comes with early December in north Mississippi. That memory I hold as clearly as if it were last year. I don’t remember much else except I was vaguely aware that something big had happened that stunned a lot of adults around me. But that’s another story.
“Do You Remember what you were doing on this day 50 years ago–April 4, 1968?” “No I don’t.” I checked my calendar in my PCUS 1967-1968 Plan Book and saw nothing to give a clue other than I went to my office at the Board of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, where I was an associate in the Children’s Work Department. Scribbled in the little calendar square was something designated as “CSS” that appeared on several days that week. It evidently had something to do with an assignment related to consultant service sessions I was working on. April 4 was the Thursday before Palm Sunday but I recall no details.
I do remember distinctly what I was doing on the morning of April 5, 1968! I boarded the Hermitage city bus that turned the corner by our house at 1417 Bellevue to make my daily trip to work downtown at the Ross Building. The Plan Book simply marked the day “Office”–nothing in particular.
The bus turned onto Broad Street and passed the train station. Broad Street at this point had not reached the “finer” stores that graced it in the center of the downtown business district. I looked up ahead and saw an accident between a moving van in the right lane and a car. I saw a crowd standing on the sidewalk looking on. As the bus passed I saw the sign on the side of the van that read “Stringer Moving Company, Columbia, Mississippi!” Standing by the cab in the street I recognized the black driver that had moved us to Richmond a year or so earlier from Columbia. He had also moved us from Amory to Columbia before that.
I pulled the cord and jumped off the bus and walked back to talk with the driver. As I approached him I looked at the crowd of white men standing on the sidewalk and was met with menacing and angry stares. It seemed that their reaction was all out of proportion to a minor accident. Looking back, could descendants of this crowd possibly have fit right in decades later with the violent mob in Charlottesville, Virginia protesting the removal of the Confederate statues?
All of a sudden the dynamics of my standing by the side of my acquaintance took on new meaning. He was all alone in a hostile situation and a long way from home. He began to relax when he saw who I was as he told me what had happened. It seems as he had passed the line of parked cars along the street when one had suddenly pulled out and struck the right side of the trailer near the back wheels. I continued standing in the street with him until the police arrived. The whole matter was cleared up reasonably fast. The driver was not found to be at fault and was allowed to leave without further incident. We bid our farewells as he drove away. I never saw him again.
I boarded the next bus and went on to work trying to sort out what had just happened. I was still puzzled when I walked into my office on the 5th floor of the Ross Building. It was as if the air had been sucked out of the place and a strange dark pall had descended over what was usually a bright and cheerful work environment. Someone saw my puzzled face and said, “Haven’t you heard, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis last night as he stood on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel where he was staying.” No, for some reason I hadn’t heard.
IS THAT WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT ON BROAD STREET MOMENTS AGO?
I don’t remember what I was doing 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, but I vividly remember what I did that unknowingly made a difference on the morning of April 5, 1968 in that charged moment standing quietly with my friend on the pavement of Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia.