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A Fighting Faith

It so happened that I read the galley proofs for "Passion Play in Mt. Pisgah" by David Bradley, C'72, just a couple of days after that landmark television event, The President's State of the Union AddressO.J. Simpson Civil Trial Verdict Show. Much of the commentary in the days following focused on the irony of the fact that the verdict was announced just as President Clinton was concluding his speech with a plea for racial harmony.
At the time, I didn't notice this juxtaposition, as I'm not able to hear and read simultaneously. (How the television networks could pat themselves on the back for their "maturity" in not actually cutting away from the President but merely doing the electronic equivalent of parading in front of him with a huge sign is a question for Annenberg School Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson and her colleagues.) But the cheering whites outside the courtroom this time around, like the cheering blacks last time, was a sharp reminder of how personally we have come to take this very public drama -- and of the enormous gulf between blacks and whites in this country that it has come to symbolize.
Bradley's previous essay for the Gazette, "What's In A Word?" which appeared in our December 1995 issue, went on to win awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for best article of the year, illustration (by James Yang) and layout (by Dwayne Flinchum). That's not the only reason I'm glad to have him back in these pages, though. I've been an admirer of his since reading his novel The Chaneysville Incident in a single sitting of eighteen hours (it's my record).
"What's in a Word?" touched on the Simpson case, as well as Huckleberry Finn, in the course of an extended examination of what everyone was then calling the N word. It also described in passing Bradley's experience as a boy, of first being called nigger, and what it meant to him and how it -- and subsequent, similar experiences -- shaped him. The article in this issue (also illustrated by Yang) is an extension of that one, a variation on a theme, in which Bradley recalls how schoolyard attacks because of his race prompted a crisis of faith in his intensely religious eight-year-old self.
Raised in a family where "for at least one male in each of our generations the ministry was destiny," and being the only male in his generation, young David (he's proud of his biblical namesake) found himself caught between his desire to be true to his friend Jesus and the reality of the playground, where forgiveness of one beating brings a second, severer one. It's understood that the advice he's given by adults -- walk away, don't fight back -- besides being good Christian dogma is also a survival strategy in a world where blacks can't expect justice. Returning home after his first beating, he finds that his "elders seemed powerless, almost indifferent." In this world, religious belief and racial prejudice interpenetrate and combine to oppress. Finally provoked into violence, the young Bradley suffers storms of guilt but ultimately reaches a sense of acceptance, and discovers -- invents? -- a Jesus he can believe in, even feel sorry for, and battle alongside. Turn to page 22 to find out how.
Hello and goodbye. There's a new name on our masthead: Susan Lonkevich, previously an education reporter with a local suburban newspaper, has joined the Gazette staff as assistant editor. As we welcome her, we also say goodbye to acting assistant editor Carolyn R. Guss. Carolyn's writing and graphic contributions, not to mention her eagle-eyed copyediting, added much to the mix here, and she was wonderful to work with, too. We'll miss her.
-- John Prendergast, C'80


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