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Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams

On Toward Walking the Streets

Page 73

Mr. Hank was always the first to arrive for any meeting of the NAACP. After finding him waiting at the top of the steps for the fourth or fifth time, Griff had given him a key to the main doors. This evening, with key in hand, Mr. Hank hesitated and then walked back down the steps to look at the plaque. He had been-was it disquieted, excited, confused? -by the communion service. He had for the first time felt some real connection between the church and the NAACP. He liked it, but did not yet know quite what to do with it.

-- I'll have to talk with Maggie about all this.

His commitment to the secular organization, along with his (and Maggie's) standing in the Negro community, had led the Reverend and Wendell Rogers to consider him a top prospect to be the next president. If he didn't get shipped-off to some other Navy base.

That was why he had been included in the discussions with the Reverend and Rogers, and The Judge and two other whites, about whether or not to restrict this Friday meeting to members only. The general concern about the presence of white observers at Communion provided Mr. Hank with a sympathetic hearing for his argument that they should make an exception to the basic policy of open meetings. He suggested making it into a committee of the whole sitting in executive session.

After a long and sometimes heated review of the matter, however, he reluctantly accepted Griff's argument that it was probably illegal and in any event a bad precedent, and Roger's assessment that it was unlikely that any of Sunday's visitors would know about the meeting anyway since it had been an ad hoc arrangement passed along by word of mouth. Mr. Hank nevertheless remained wary and appointed himself unofficial greeter, and did not relax until he closed the doors of the church at eight-fifteen. He had welcomed ninety-six members of the total one hundred-seven.

After a prayer and the secular formalities, Griff explained that he intended to participate in the discussion and asked the parliamentarian, one of the whites who had passed the communion bowls, to take the gavel. He in turned called the first order of business as a review and open discussion of the sample newspaper.

The frenetic labors that had produced the paper also warmed the relationship between the Wyes and the Lees, and it had evolved by consensus that Lee and Susan would make the basic presentation. She led off with an explanation of the make-up and the different kinds of news sections. The enthusiasm was visible and audible, but various questions did arise.

"Why don't you print it on both sides?"

Susan spoke to that: "We will as soon as we find some paper the right size that won't run through."

"How come there aren't any editorials? We got lots to say that the downtown paper don't talk about ever."

Lee fielded that one, reviewing Marsh's legal and practical advice. "We also think that strong letters from you and your friends are probably more effective."

Susan stood up: "That's right. This has got to be your paper or it won't work."

"So who does the labor?"

Lee came back in: "The Wyes did most of this on the basis of what some of you contributed on short notice, but we need to have volunteers to be reporters and to learn to run the machine."

The Reverend was recognized. "I took the liberty of arranging for collection boxes for news and volunteers to be put here by the doors, up at the grocery in Five Corners, and the Lees said they'd put one in their Store."

"Leastwise till the owners tell us otherwise." Elizabeth enjoyed the laughter.

"Where do we go to help?"