It was time to ‘walk on by faith’
Buzz Trexler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sunday evenings are a time of decompressing for me, usually in the form of watching a movie or two with my wife, Donna.
This past Sunday night, we watched “Mississippi Burning,” with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as two FBI agents investigating the 1964 disappearance of two civil rights workers in Mississippi. The movie is said to be loosely based on the real-life kidnapping and slayings of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney in Mississippi. The film closes with a graveside service and Lannie Spann McBride leading a chorus of James Cleveland’s “Walk On By Faith”:
We cannot see in the future, we cannot see through dark clouds.
We cannot see through teardrops, but walk on by faith each day.
The blues-like refrain of “(On Monday), walk on/(On Tuesday), walk on” mournfully resonated with me, and continued to do so during a quiet moment Monday morning as I prepared for my first Martin Luther King Day march.
At nearly 56 years old, you might wonder why it took so long. Chalk it up to journalistic restraint with regard to public demonstrations.
But this year, after due reflection on memories from my childhood during the civil rights era, I sensed the time was right to “walk on by faith.”
I was born into a working-class family in Richmond, Virginia: My father was a Richmond city police officer, and my mother worked as a secretary for a printing company. We didn’t live within city limits; rather, we lived in a little three-bedroom house at 6400 Horsepen Road in Henrico County, far from the city’s black population.
In 1961, when I was about 5 years old, a black woman named Corrine was hired to watch my older sister, Sheree, and me while my mother was at work. At some point, Corrine must have been convinced that it would be good for her son to come to the house and play with me during the day. (While not totally clear, in the cobwebs of my mind it seems it was my idea.)
I remember taking him over to meet my best friend, who was a couple of years older than me. The introductions took place with a fence between us and my best friend but I know now that the fence wasn’t the only thing that separated us: My best friend looked at my new friend and announced, “He’s a n-----.”
It’s the first time I recall hearing the word.
And that’s the only memory I have of Corrine’s son: Not his name, not his age, not his face; just an ugly word.
Even now as that memory stays with me, there is a need to “walk on by faith.”
My paternal grandfather had a number of professions. As a tradesman, he was a bricklayer, painter, wallpaper-hanger and plasterer; however, old-timers in Richmond remember him as a professional baseball player and, like my father, a Richmond city police officer.
In my youth, I idolized him; however, he was a complex man with moments of bigotry mixed with moments of compassion for people of color. It’s possible that having grown up somewhat impoverished himself in the city of Richmond, my grandfather empathized with poor people — whatever their color.
Still, there were people he was friendly with, though it appears they would never be his friends.
One day, we were passing through the ticket turnstile at Parker Field to see the Richmond Braves and my grandfather obviously knew the ticket-taker. He stopped for a moment and they talked and laughed. I thought. “He must be one of Grandpa’s friends.”
My grandfather later said offhandedly, “He’s a high-yellow.”
That’s the only memory I have of the ticket-taker: Not his name, not his face; just an ugly phrase that has stayed with me all of these years.
And so, even now, there is a need to “walk on by faith.”
Oddly enough, my mother’s family — waterfront people from an area of Virginia known as Tidewater — are people whom I recall exhibiting similar moments of bigotry mixed with moments of compassion for people of color and those who were impoverished. As for my mother, she seems to have compassion for all people, regardless of color, and there is no recollection on my part of her exhibiting any bigotry.
Yet, there is an abiding sense that I need to continue to “walk on by faith.”
In 1970, the city of Richmond was faced with court-ordered busing to desegregate schools, which eventually involved a plan to bus white children from the counties into the city, while black children from the city would be sent into the counties. One morning, as I arrived at what was then Brookland Junior High School in the county system, there was a huge black mass on one side of the field and a white mass on the opposite end of the field.
I joined neither side.
Memories of racial strife and violence lead me to “walk on by faith,” because it is only by exercising our faith that we can continue to build a “beloved community” in Blount County.
In the more than 20 years that I have been a part of the Blount County community, time and again I have seen a spirit of love and cooperation reign among people of all colors. True, there have been occasions when bigotry has raised its ugly head. However, in the wake of those instances the community came together and we were given a taste of the “beloved community.”
For the sake of that vision, may we continue to walk on ... by faith.
Buzz Trexler is managing editor at The Daily Times and pastor at Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa. Email him at (email@example.com)