Cover Image for A Good Community: Children playing near a schoolhouse in the 1800s. (Purchased from iStock.
Yes. I have been Missing-In-Action from my blog and just about everything book-related. Life tends to turn things upside down. I had the usual Holy Week and Easter services and activities in mid-April. But a few extras were added, among them the return of pain related to my degenerative disc disease. One MRI and a consultation with the doctor at the pain management and rehabilitation center later, and I’m getting 12 sessions of physical therapy, including acupuncture. I’m looking forward to feeling better soon – and hoping it lasts for another year.
SO! Today’s topic: a scene from A Good Community, Book 5 in the Saint Maggie series. The main theme in the novel revolves around a majority decision by town’s folk to segregate the school. That leaves the African American children living up on Water Street without a school.
Enter Maggie and Emily, who learn the news when they try to register two newcomers to Greybeal House (orphans Mary and Addie Brooks). They are shocked to hear about the new ruling. When they learn that industrialist Josiah Norton is the chairman of the school board, Maggie seeks Josiah out.
She finds him and Josiah proudly gives her a tour of his hotel, the Norton Arms. Then they sit down to tea in the restaurant. Maggie now has a chance to question him about the new policy at the town’s school. His reply is not unexpected:
“Oh, come now, Mrs. Smith. I should think that were obvious. Everyone knows the colored race is inferior. They are of lesser intelligence and lower morals. To have them sitting next to white children would only serve to slow our pupils down.”
“I disagree. Colored people are quite intelligent and many are well-read. And as for morals, I have met far too many white people who are selfish and badly behaved. I don’t think color enters into morality at all.” Frowning, she sat back in her chair. “And I must say that this situation strikes me as rather odd. Most of the people in Blaineton claim to be Christian, yet they conveniently ignore Saint Paul’s words that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, and male nor female. We’re all one in Christ.”
He smiled condescendingly at her. “Ah, but Saint Paul says nothing of race.”
“Mr. Norton, were not Jews and Greeks considered races back in Saint Paul’s day?”
“But he does not make a specific mention of color. The majority in town believe that white and Black children should not be put together, and with good reason. Remember the story of the children of Ham!”
Maggie had to use all her self-control not to snap at him. She took a sip of tea as she decided what to say next.
“You do know that story, don’t you?”
The nearly mocking expression on his face irked her.
“Of course, I know it,” she fumed. “Ham was the son who saw his father Noah unclothed. But nowhere does the Bible say that Ham was cursed. Noah cursed Ham’s youngest son, Canaan. And nowhere does the Bible say that either Ham or Canaan had dark skin.” She took another sip of tea. Her hand would have trembled, had she not kept it still by an act of sheer will power.
Maggie continued, “In addition, Mr. Norton, those obscure Bible verses have nothing to do with enslaving people with dark skin. And what evil possibly could come of putting children together? By way of illustration, allow me to say that I share a household with colored people of all ages: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Edward Caldwell, Miss Rosa Hamilton, and now Addie and Mary Brooks. And Mrs. Matilda Strong and her daughter stayed with us for several years before moving to Canada. Neither my household nor my life has been hurt by having these friends and acquaintances. On the contrary, we live in peace and our lives have been all the richer for it.”
“The way you live is considered quite eccentric by most of the town. You no doubt are aware of that.”
“Please don’t be insulting, Mr. Norton. Of course, I know what people think. But let us return to the problem at hand. I am concerned about the current situation. What is happening to the colored children who live on Water Street? Do you know who is educating them?”
“Their families, I presume. There are so few of them, it is not economical to have another school.”
“That is a rather cold thing to say, don’t you think? Would you really dismiss children’s futures in favor of saving a bit of money?”
He sat back in his chair and gazed at her in a manner that was common to haughty men who held the opinion that women were stupid. “Mrs. Smith, you are a woman, and naturally you have a woman’s heart. However, you lack the rational capabilities of a man. These greater issues are beyond your comprehension. You should be content with keeping house.”
Speechless and indignant, Maggie blinked at him. There was a pause as she thought what to do next. Tearing his head off simply would not do. They were in a restaurant and it was too public – not to mention too messy. The sheer audacity of her thought momentarily amused her.
But Maggie’s humor faded as she returned to herself and realized that engaging Josiah Norton any further would get her nowhere.
Shake the dust off your feet.
That was a good Bible verse, and excellent advice from Jesus. If you are not welcomed or listened to, move on.
Strengthened, Maggie folded her napkin and placed it on her plate. “I thank you for your hospitality,
Mr. Norton. However, I am afraid I must leave. My husband is watching our baby and it is time I returned to ‘keeping house,’ as you say.”
However, Maggie does much more than keep house when she gets back to Greybeal House - and what she does will cause quite a controversy among the folks of Blaineton.
If you’d like to read the book, you may find the paperback and Kindle at Amazon.
Until next time: practice kindness, friends! It's always a good policy.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder