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David Was His Story

I never knew explicitly why David was my father’s favorite Biblical figure. But if you want an action hero, he’s as good as any. This is what Zora Neale Hurston found when she started reading the Bible. She learned how David “smote ‘em hip and thigh.” Just took out enemies without a whole lot of preaching. You couldn’t do much better than to be a vast underdog and slay Goliath, not to mention a string of other victories and daring escapes topped off by forty years on the throne and credit for numerous good works.

I suppose my father appreciated David as Zora did. That was my father’s ultimate novel. I don’t know him to have read many others. A friend of his wrote a tale about growing up in the legally segregated South. My father was really enthusiastic about it. Because of the work I did and my contacts (mostly noninfluential), his friend thought that I could get the manuscript published, but it wasn’t a favor that I could pull off.

I know he read at least a good part of And Then We Heard the Thunder, the war novel by John Oliver Killens. The author hailed from Georgia, like him. The main character, Solly Saunders, spends time at Fort Benning and served in the South Pacific during World War II, as my father did on both counts. And you get plenty of resistance to Jim Crow. It’s a nearly 500-page read, but I think my father, even without a high school education, did it. He had a review comment or two that basically boiled down to “them crackers in the Army was something else.” Some of them crackers tried to kill him at Camp McCain in Grenada County, Mississippi, in 1942.

He never set foot on a college or university campus until he was 72 years old and came to hear me speak at the Black Language Symposium at Teachers College, Columbia University. He said he liked the speech. He said he thought the peoples liked it, too. He always said “peoples.”

His main current information came from cable news. He could get stuck on that for long periods of time. Mix that in with sports. He wasn’t one for the phone. He treated the phone as did characters in movies who tried to keep their calls short enough not to be traced. Overall, he didn’t bother a whole lot with the outside world, and the outside world didn’t bother a whole lot with him. He wondered about people more than he contacted them.

Then always back to the Bible. Often David. He didn’t bring up the Bathsheba situation to me. I would bring it up, cold-blooded as I thought David was. My father didn’t make the move of some theologians that this was a test of the ability to repent. No, he thought David setting up Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to be killed on the battlefield was a bad move not to be justified. But David was still his guy.

I would watch him read sometimes. Deep in the Books of Samuel. What man doesn’t at some point want to experience slaying a Goliath? Maybe at least one every day? Or be a celebrated musician? Or roll with the Ark of the Covenant? Or be a long-reigning powerful king, at the very least any kind of king? I’m not judging all of that.

RIP Pops.

Sunrise: October 20, 1922

Sunset: February 3, 2021


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