For my father, John Hendricks, Ph.D., for reading to me!
One Sunday during communion in 1865 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia; a black man entered and sat down in the last pew of the last row. He was well-dressed, quiet, and carried himself with what was noted as “an air of great dignity.” The newly freed slaves were encouraged to worship and take communion, as they had been encouraged during their slavery, but they were to always sit in the back, or in the balcony. There were rules, after all, as to how Christians of both races worshipped in Richmond – the former capital of the Confederacy. The War – and the Cause – may have been lost, but people of color were still to know their place. Blacks always took communion last and never intermingled with whites.
Or so people thought, while worshipping on that summer Sunday.
As the communion was prepared, the black man rose and was the first to walk to the front of the church, and proceeded to kneel at the communion altar, to the gasps of the other worshippers. Whispers began, and women poked their husbands with their elbows. Children pointed. Men froze, some of whom were still attired in their worn, gray uniforms.
Who was he?
How dare he!
Who did he think he was!
Quietly, and with great dignity, an elderly bearded white man, resplendent in his Sunday best, rose to his feet and made his way to the communion altar, nodded at the black man, and knelt. Preparing to receive the gift of communion, in unison both men bowed their heads to pray and took communion.
Quietly, row by row, people began to form lines to follow suit. Not a word was spoken; not a person knew what to say – or even what to do – but emulate what first the black man and then the white man had done. The whites and the blacks were utterly silent and still as they, if for one brief moment in post war Richmond, were one body in Christ.
As communion progressed, the black man quietly rose to his feet and, having never uttered a word during the entire service, exited the church. The elderly white man watched and returned to his family, sitting down to finish the service. The black man was said to have never been seen again and left as a great mystery in the annals of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“So, Daddy? What happened next?” I bounced up and down on my bed as he closed the book.
“Fannie, the black man left,” my father took off his glasses and proceeded to tuck me in.
“But…why didn’t he stay and visit? Was he making a point? To teach us that we are all the same in Christ.” At the tender age of ten, I understood the lesson very well; God loved all of us equally; it didn’t matter the color of our skin, but, instead, what a great man had once said, “the content of our character.”
“He had things to do; probably a family waiting on him. I am glad you got the purpose of the story tonight,” my father reached to turn out my light before my small hand caught his tie and pulled him closer.
“Daddy….that man was Dr. King!”
“That man was Dr. King!” I said, raising my voice in case my father was becoming senile and deaf at the ripe old age of thirty-nine, “That man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr! We are learning about him and his now nationally observed holiday in school!”
My father chuckled and freed my hand from his tie, “Fannie, I hate to burst your bubble, sweetheart, but the sixties that Dr. King lived in were the 1960s, not the 1860s.”
“And he got shot in 1968?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well, then that gave him time!” I sat up in bed and pushed back my covers, grabbing the Shelby Foote book from my father, “It has to say that in here…Somewhere….that Dr. King was a time traveler. Hold on. What’s the back again?”
“Index, Fannie,” my father took the book from me and pointed to the bed, “Now, stop this silliness. Dr. King never time traveled, Anne Elizabeth. You…have a lovely imagination. And someday, you will be a great writer. But there is no such thing as time travel. You have read too much H.G. Wells.”
“But you said…”
He rubbed his hand over his face and asked, somewhat exasperatedly, “What? What did I say?”
“Daddy, you said that all things are possible under heaven – you said that! And why wouldn’t God let two great men do something to prove a point, Daddy? Why not?”
My father sat on my bed and stared at me.
“A little child shall lead them,” he muttered, arose, re-tucked me in, and turned out my light. He paused at the door, and the light of the hallway spilled into my bedroom, illuminating his handsome face. An officer in the Kentucky National Guard during the 1960s, my father had been called up during his doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee to riot duty in Louisville, Kentucky on April 5, 1968—the day after Dr. King’s tragic, senseless, and heinous assassination in Memphis, Tennessee at the Lorraine Motel. The dark days of having a man he greatly respected and admired shot and killed led to American against American—black against white. In rage and despair, many blacks took to the streets in violence—in total betrayal of Dr. King’s dreams of nonviolent protests. Mobs gathered, and their collective mentality resulted in the burning of homes in their community and the destruction of businesses in their community –all while facing down soldiers who were sent, not to hurt them, but to restore civil order. The worst days of his life, my father didn’t talk about riot duty, but he did talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dreams of peace and equality through nonviolence.
“Do you think, Daddy? Maybe?” I asked, hugging my pillow.
My father nodded.
“It could have happened, who better?” he shrugged. I beamed at my father, as he closed the door, blocking the hall light as I snuggled down into my bed.
Suddenly, I bolted upright in bed and exclaimed “Daddy, do you think Traveler was tied up outside!?” As he walked down the hall, my father said to himself “Probably.”
The story—this story—a story of a man out of time…and two men for all time!
Anne Hendricks is a Georgia writer and researcher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mercer University and a Masters of Education degree from West Georgia College. The daughter of a regional poet and granddaughter of a Depression era author, Hendricks taught for sixteen years in Georgia public schools. She does freelance and content writing under Tarsus Consulting and is a mother of a fourteen year old son. Hendricks enjoys chasing her Boston down her street for exercise and burns her husband’s dinners for fun. Her first novel, But Thrice, is a Christian contemporary romance, tackling the controversial subject of Post Abortion Syndrome.
What if it were possible an 1865 mystery could be a famous time traveler? A child asks her father during a bedside reading the possibility of time travel and the ultimate brief meeting of two famous Americans, both Southerners, but of different races!