Saturday May 23: Darius is particularly interested in the session on ritual healing, in which Jonathan Stapley will talk about men and women giving healing blessings. Though he needs to rest first, he instructs me to phone him when it’s time for the session to start. Why the interest? Darius’s mother, Elsie, was threatening miscarriage when she was pregnant with him. She had already lost several pregnancies and was desperate to keep her baby. She called in the sisters of her Pentecostal religion, who then anointed her belly with consecrated oil and prayed over her, dedicating the fruit of her womb to God. Darius knew from an early age that he had been so dedicated. In his teen years, he independently promised God that he would not drink alcohol. That wasn’t a requirement of either religion his parents lived (AME for his father, Church of God in Christ for his mother), but he was inspired by the story of Sampson. He is not self-impressed, but he has always been aware that he was consecrated while still in the womb.
We eat dinner that night with a BYU colleague of mine, and it turns out our waiter is LDS. He takes down Darius’s phone number and offers to drive him to church on Sunday. Darius accepts.
Sunday May 24: We attend the devotional at the Presbyterian church which Lincoln’s family attended. A white man sings “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen.” He has a pleasant voice, but makes the song a little upbeat for my taste. And honestly, I haven’t heard a white guy do that song justice yet. Give me Mahalia Jackson. Still, it’s a good, inspiring service. Elder Marlin Jensen’s prayer thanks God for the Sabbath, and I give a second thought to my plans for the day: attending the Lincoln Museum. Maybe if I do it worshipfully… And I won’t buy anything at the gift shop.
Darius and I go to the museum after a delightful breakfast with one of our favorite people. The first exhibit shows Pixar-worthy presentations of three-dimentional holograms talking about the challenges of Lincoln’s presidency and the treasures the Lincoln library holds. Smoke rises, and we can see battles from the Civil War in the mist. We are both amazed at the technology. Darius stays after to figure out how some of the effects were done. But he is “hitting a wall”, as we say. His energy is waning fast. I see the evidence as we move on to the other exhibits. Finally, he sits on a bench and beckons me. “I’m going to leave you,” he says. Ominous words, but I understand what he means. I know him well enough to realize that he must not stay with me in the museum, and that I must not offer to cut the museum visit short for myself. He doesn’t work that way. Slowly, painstakingly, he gives me instructions for getting back to the hotel. He repeats the directions, identifies landmarks for me. He’s treating me like a second grader, but there’s a reason for this, and I love him for it. He knows I get lost easily. He is taking care of me. He can’t leave unless he’s certain I’ll find my way back.
For nearly eleven years, he has been my guide through places where I could’ve gotten lost. As I inevitably found some of the ugliest, most racist teachings from the 19th Century collection of Church leaders’ thoughts and pronouncements, Darius knew I would struggle. Once, he called me simply to bear his testimony. “You’re finding some of the hard stuff. I just felt like you needed to hear my testimony. Margaret, this is the restored gospel. That doesn’t mean people didn’t say stupid things. Don’t let it grind you down.” He was already very familiar with the “stupid” things. (It’s always a bit funny to us when someone tells us about some awful thing a past church leader said–assuming we’ll be stunned. Nope. We’ve long since negotiated those muddy puddles and found higher ground.)
I am left to explore on my own, but Darius and his family remain with me in other ways as I listen to the words of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Justice Taney [the same man who read the Dred Scott decision] and others arguing over the Emacipation Proclamation. A mannequin of Lincoln stares contemplatively down at the paper awaiting his signature while many voices rise arguing for one side or the other.
Darius’s ancestors were slaves in Missouri. When we were writing our trilogy of books on Black Latter-day Saints, we portrayed a slave auction in St. Louis, where a woman is put up for sale. She is purchased by the “owner” of another slave. That slave is Louis Gray. We don’t have the woman speak until the last paragraph of the chapter, when Louis asks her name. As I typed the name “Gracie,” and we read the paragraph together, Darius and I both suddenly wept. Gracie Gray (eventually the wife of Louis Gray) was his great great grandmother. The horrors of the slave pen, the division of mother from child, the horrific concept of human property are part of Darius’s own history.
Throughout my museum visit, I find myself wiping tears. It’s all hitting me hard, and my respect for Lincoln is deepening. Sure, I know the controversies and I know he wasn’t free of racism himself–but he respected humanity and understood our nation’s ideals. And oh, that second Inaugural speech! Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
I walk back to the hotel, remembering all the instructions of my caring guide, and find it easily. He has already been picked up by our waiter from last night’s dinner. I will catch a plane in a few hours and go spend time with my children in Indiana–including my grandchildren.
6:00 p.m. Sunday evening: My beautiful daughter meets me at baggage claim in Indianapolis. I hug my grandchildren in the car.
Monday, March 25: We go to the Children’s Museum. We visit a display on Ruby Bridges, who was accompanied to school by armed guards. She was integrating Kindergarten in 1960–the same year I started Kindergarten in all-white Provo, Utah.
My daughter takes my six-year-old granddaughter into the school room which replicates the one Ruby attended. “Back than,” my daughter says, “people with your skin color went to one school, and people with skin like Ellie’s went to another. They didn’t go to the same school. They didn’t play together. Ruby had skin like Ellie’s. When she went to the school with children who had your skin color, a lot of people got mad.”
My granddaughter gives her a questioning look. “Mommy,” she says, “that’s stupid.”