In June, after attending the ChLA conference, I posted my paper here on the blog along with some of the photos I’d shown in my Powerpoint presentation. Yesterday something miraculous happened: a man who once attended college with my father wrote this email that sent my heart reeling. He has kindly given me permission to share it here on my blog. I know it likely won’t mean anything to those who never knew my father, but as Mr. Greene pointed out, others might come across this blog and find meaning in his memory of that place and time. What I’ve learned from this amazing encounter? Time passes. Love endures.
Hello Ms. Elliot:Yes I knew your Father. I was not in the graduation picture you have in your blog because I am a few years younger than George. I have thought about things I would like to say to you and now that I am sending you this email I hardly know how to begin. So I’ll relate to you the things I remember about George. The first thing one noticed about George, besides his good looks, was his dignity. His bearing and graceful way he carried himself. Not once do I recall ever hearing him complain about anything, and he had much he could have griped about.EPC [Eastern Pilgrim College] was racist to its core. Generations of ingrained racism that seemed absolutely normal to us whites at the time. And I my dear Lady was the worst of the worst. I was born in Mississippi. My family was Klan, and some knew about or participated in the murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss. in 1964. The year I first went to EPC, I was vocal in my disrespect of black people. I was known on campus as THE racist. So why George chose me, out of all the guys at EPC to accompany him on his home calls to the projects and ghettoes of Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa. I did not know. But I went. He never preached to me. He never said anything to me about my racist views. What he did do was take me from apartment to apartment as he counseled with all of those poor desperately needy people. Most were single mothers with a lot of kids. George selflessly gave of his time and money to help as many as he could, and always sharing the Gospel. Ms. Elliot, he showed me people trapped in poverty with no hope for the future. No way out of their situations. And so we went from place to place and it was all the same, children going hungry, mothers trying to feed four or more kids on a few meagre food stamps, and no husband in sight to help out. He did more to change my attitude and perspective by quietly having me accompany him on his rounds than a thousand lectures ever could have.But that’s not all he did. George did not follow the example of the people at EPC and limit himself to only helping black people. Because they were content with helping only the whites. He reached out to the white gang members in the projects. He worked with them. Talked their language. Arranged for them to play basketball. And took them to Church. Well, that opened up a whole can of worms because the good people of the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Bethlehem, Pa. were none too thrilled with all those rough ghetto kids attending their Church. That was the first time many of them had heard of Jesus Christ outside the context of a swear word. But those good people started to murmur and complain, and soon those kids knew they were not welcome. And all the headway George had made with them was wiped away.On campus, in the churches, and in the neighborhood George was surrounded by girls. White girls. Now just try to imagine being a handsome, healthy young man, and all those girls everywhere, and he can’t be with any of them. There was a young girl, I think she was a sophomore, and she was beautiful, and she did have a thing for George. It was obvious they liked each other. They became bold and began sitting with each other on the campus park benches just talking. But George knew he would never be allowed to take her out on a date to a concert or anything like the rest of us did. He would never get to hold hands with her, and God forbid if he ever actually got a goodnight’s kiss, like the rest of us did. There was no chance that they would have engaged in sex or immorality because they were Christians, with principles like every one else. But George was black and she was white and that’s all anyone could see. No sympathy to their plight at all. And I remember thinking what would be the harm? Wow, talk about me doing a 180 degree turn around. But the tongues started wagging and George and the young lady got warned by the administration not to see each other any longer. And I thought that’s just not right. George is a good guy, and she’s a good girl.In your blog you alluded to George going through a period when he became militant. I don’t know what happened to George after EPC. I got drafted in 1966 and I never saw him again. But down through the years I have thought about him. I just always thought he probably became a preacher. For if ever anyone had a pastor’s heart it was George Hood. In the late ’70s a black minister, one of two brothers, came down to our Church to preach. He was from Canada, and very soft spoken and eloquent. After one of the services I asked him if he knew George and he said yes he knew him very well. I asked him how he was doing and the minister said George was doing very well and active in the work of his church. I asked him to tell George hello for me and he said he would.I for one would never blame him if he became bitter. Ms. Elliot, your Father gracefully endured more racism among and from his Christian brethren than most black people are ever exposed to. And he conducted himself with dignity and in doing so in the end he won. Because that college no longer exits. In fact the denomination no longer exists. It was merged with the Wesleyan Methodists.I hope that I have in no way offended you. I said all of these things to you because sometimes children do not see the tough times their parents may have had. I wish I could see George again just so I could tell him how much I admired him.Sincerely,Tom Greene