The Black Cloud

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Did you see it coming?

No, I didn’t see it coming.

Did you see it coming.

No, I never saw it coming.

Did you see it coming?

Yes, I saw it coming.

You did?

I was a fifth grade teacher.

It was my third year.

My first two years were

a learning time.

The kids learned from me

and I learned from them.

It was mostly black kids,

and mostly black teachers…

a small school across from

a cotton field

in North Alabama.

We had fun.

But my third year things were different.

It started off great.

The year was 1983.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller video was released that December.

That’s all the kids would talk about.

Black kids, a few white kids.

Alice, Miranda, Keith, Makayla, Telly, LaWayne…

So I got hold of that video and

I suprised them on a Friday

I must have showed that video seven or eight times that day.

Those were good times.

And then the bad time came.

From where did it come?

Why now? Why us?

Honky!

Nigger!

Sometimes they’d face off in the hall.

And sometimes they’d face off on the playground.

Third graders. Fourth graders.

Fifth graders. Sixth graders.

(The first through third graders were

pretty much left out of the squabbling.)

The principal was a black man.

His name was Harvey Craig.

He was a good man.

He even got elected to the Athens City Council.

In Athens, Alabama.

When I arrived in Athens in 1968

the water fountains were segregated

and a sign, posted in the washateria,

declared Whites only, no colored.

But this was 1983.

That sign was gone now.

I was at my wits end after two weeks

of back and forth

bickering and sparring.

One day, I told Mr. Craig that,

to me,

it felt like

a heavy black cloud

had settled over our school.

I don’t remember his response.

But, what I do remember

is that that black cloud

was gone from our school

upon our return from Christmas vacation.

Everything was good again.

Fun again.

There was peace.

Where did the black cloud come from?

Why did it leave?

Where did it go?

Will it return?

History tells us it will always return.

And history tells us it will always vanish.

Can we hasten the vanishing?

I don’t know.

But I do know that

one day it will be gone.

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