I don't know, maybe it was one too many re-runs of The Twilight Zone; maybe it was one too many posts at 538. All I know is that one night I found myself in a huge ballroom, somewhere in the middle of Washington, D.C.
Guests began arriving early. There are no place cards and no name tags. Everyone knows everyone else here. Now, there’s a grand foursome - Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz sharing laughs with Martin and Coretta Scott King. Looks like Hosea Williams refused the limo again, keeping it real. And my goodness; is that Rosa Parks out there on the dance floor with A. Phillip Randolph?
Seated at a nearby table, Frederick Douglass has a captive audience in W.E.B. DuBose and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Medgar Evers has just joined them. Marian Anderson was asked to sing tonight, but she only agreed to do it if accompanied by Marvin Gaye, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. Look, there’s Harriet Tubman. No one knows how she arrived, but there she is. And my guess is that, when the time comes, no one will see her leave.
There’s Jackie Robinson swiftly making his way through the hall as the crowd parts like the Red Sea to the unmistakable sound of applause. “Run, Jackie, run!” Along the way he is embraced by Jessie Owens. Three beautiful young women arrive with their escorts – Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Ms. Viola Liuzzo flew in from Michigan, exclaiming, “I could not miss this.”
Richard Pryor promised to be on his best behavior. “But I can’t make any guarantees for Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley,” he chuckled. Joe Louis just faked a quick jab to the chin of Jack Johnson, who smiled broadly while slipping it. We saw Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole greet Luther Van Dross. James Brown and Josh Gibson stopped at Walter Payton’s table to say hello.
I spotted Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem having a lively political discussion with Eldredge Cleaver. Pearl Harbor WW II hero Dorey Miller shared a few thoughts with Crispus Attucks, a hero of the Revolutionary War. And there is Madam C.J. Walker talking with Marcus Garvey about exporting goods to Africa.
General Benjamin O. Davis flew into Washington safely with an escort from the 99th Fighter Squadron - better known as The Tuskegee Airmen. At the table on the left are three formidable women - Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, and Barbara Jordan - gathered for a little girl-talk... about world politics.
As usual, all the science nerds seem to have gathered off in a corner, talking shop. There’s Granville T. Woods and Lewis Latimer needling each other about whose inventions are better. Someone jokingly asked Benjamin Banneker if he had needed directions to Washington. And George Washington Carver was overheard asking, “What, no peanuts?”
Dueling bands? Anytime Duke Ellington and Count Basie get together, you know the place will be jumping. Tonight is special, of course, so we have Miles, Dizzy, and Satchmo sitting in on trumpet, with Coltrane, Cannonball, and Bird on sax. Everyone’s attention is directed to the dance floor where Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is tap dancing. Right beside him is Sammy Davis Jr., doing his Bojangles routine. And behind his back, Gregory Hines is imitating them both. Applause and laughter abound! The Hollywood contingency has just arrived from the Coast. Led by filmmaker Oscar Micheau, Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, and Hattie McDaniel, they find their way to their tables. Dorothy Dandridge, looking exquisite in gold lamé, is seen signaling to her husband, Harold Nicholas, who is standing on the floor with brother Fayard watching Gregory Hines dance. “Hold me back,” quips Harold, “before I show that youngster how it’s done.” Much laughter! Then a sudden hush comes over the room. The guests of honor have arrived.
The President and Mrs. Obama looked out across the enormous ballroom at all the historic faces. Very many smiles, precious few dry eyes.
Someone shouted out, “You did it! You did it!” And Obama replied, “No sir, you did it; you all – each and every one of you – did it. Your guidance and encouragement; your hard work and perseverance...” Obama paused, perhaps holding back a tear.
“I look at your faces - your beautiful faces - and I am reminded that The White House was built by faces that looked just like yours. On October 3, 1792, the cornerstone of the White House was laid, and the foundations and main residence of The White House were built mostly by both enslaved and free African Americans and paid Europeans. In fact, most of the other construction work was performed by immigrants, many of whom had not yet become citizens. Much of the brick and plaster work was performed by Irish and Italian immigrants. The sandstone walls were built by Scottish immigrants. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that The White House is, ultimately, The People’s House, with each President serving as its steward. Since 1792 The People have trimmed its hedges, mowed its lawn, stood guard at the gate, cooked meals in the kitchen, and scrubbed its toilet bowls. But 216 years later, The People are taking it back!
“Today, Michelle and I usher in a new era. But while we and our family look toward the future with so much hope, we know that we must also acknowledge fully this milestone in our journey. We want to thank each and every one of you for all you have done to make this day possible. I stand here before you, humbled and in awe of your accomplishments and sacrifice, and I will dedicate my Presidency, in your honor, to the principles of peace, liberty and freedom.
If it ever appears that I’m forgetting that, I know I can count on you to remind me." Then he pointed to me near the stage... “Kenyada, isn’t it time for you to wake up for work? Isn’t it time for all of us to wake up and get to work?”
Suddenly I awake and sit up in bed with a knowing smile. My wife stirs and sleepily asks if I’m OK. “I’ve never been better,” I replied, “Never better. It’s gonna be a good day.”
from "Reflections in the Dark Room: The Black Essays" Now on Sale
Copyright © 2008 Richard Kenyada