The last few years of my father’s law school career, he decided it would be good to do some community work as well as his teaching. He had been president of the BLSA (Black Law Students Association) for many years; coming from a disadvantaged home himself, he felt that extra attention to tutoring and other benefits might even the playing field, particularly for those who found the specific language and diction of the legal jargon to be difficult.
He began tutoring adults to help them prepare to pass their GED. He worked through a group who would assign him a pupil and worked on teaching reading or prepping skills to pass their GED test.
His first student was an African-American man, let’s call him Micah, who had recently been released from prison, where he did his time for felony larceny. Upon his release, his girlfriend was waiting for him and they had a little girl. Micah wanted to fly straight and get out of the criminal life for his family.
He proved an apt pupil. Daddy said he was very bright and he improved by leaps and bounds. As Micah got to trust Daddy, he confided in him how difficult it was within his society to avoid crime and better himself. The men especially harassed him, accusing him of “turning whitey”. Daddy worked hard with him and had him prepped and ready for his GED.
At some time before the test, there was an article put out in the paper about the tutoring program and it featured a picture of Daddy and Micah working at a table.
A week before he was due to take his GED, Micah was taken by someone out to a local lake, laid on his stomach, and shot execution-style in the back of the head.
Mom called and told me and I asked to speak to Daddy. By the time he came to the phone I was already crying, sobbing actually. My dad’s voice was calm and even as he relayed the facts to me. I cried and cried about how horrifying and unfair the tragedy was. I haltingly tried to explain to Daddy how upset I was and how unjust the world was.
My dad has always been good with happy emotions, and love, but something about his past and his upbringing in the 1940’s had left him deeply convinced, I guess, that to cry or exhibit grief was unmanly and undignified.
I remember when I was 12, our little cat died. My dad built him a coffin and the cat actually lay in state in the basement a bit before Daddy took him out and buried him in the woods. Alone. And then Daddy disappeared for the rest of the day. I could occasionally could hear him sobbing. And I hid too, feeling like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t. Daddy’s emotions obviously ran deep; he was very tender-hearted, but he just couldn’t let anyone see.
To this day, I won’t let anyone see me cry.
As I grieved on the phone after Micah’s murder, my dad was very quiet. After a short gap he said, ” Well, that’s mighty white of ya.”
What did I hear in his voice? He was so restrained. I hardly heard any grief. A little anger? A hint of, not derision, but a feeling on his part that I was railing against something that I never in my life would truly be able to understand.
He insisted on attending Micah’s funeral, and did for his family what he could. He continued the tutoring program, with good success, but we never spoke of Micah again.