Thursday, June 11, 2009

Buffalo Soldier

While outfitting Andrew for his mission, I joined REI (backpack and wool socks is all I remember, if you are curious). Which led to getting an email about a program offering called "Yosemite - a park for all the people" (or something like that). Ranger Sheldon Johnson was going to portray a Buffalo Soldier who patrolled in the park in its early days. I decided to attend. The boys declined, but I went anyway. I have spent far too much of my life not going or doing something I wanted to do because somebody else in my life wasn't interested. I left home wondering if the evening would be worthwhile or wasted. I soon wished that I had dragged the boys along! Interesting, funny, inspirational. moving, entertaining. The hour plus simply flew and left me wanting more.

Ranger Sheldon Johnson WAS Leezy (I think that was the name, I think from Elijah, again not sure) born to enslaved parents the day that Lincoln signed the Emancipation. However, as they were deep in the south, freedom did not reach them.

Coloreds were not allowed to walk on the raised wooden sidewalk colored people had built. They walked in the dirt in the street. He remembers walking with his Mama in the street - he was so funny as he showed what it's like for a little child with his hand stretched up high over his head holding his Mama's hand! A white man stepped down, pretty much into his Mama and onto Leezy's foot. Leezy cried out in surprise and pain. The white man looked down and said, "Well, n--, you need to watch where you are going!" Leezy had never heard that word before but it pierced his soul and hurt. Mama quickly towed him home. She put her hands on his face - oh! how sweet that felt - and said, " I didn't spend 3 days bringing no n-- into this world, I brought forth a human being."

There is danger in trying to teach an enslaved child that he is a valuable human being. Leezy didn't always comport himself in the appropriately subservient manner. As a older teen/ young man, one day he WALKED ON THE SIDEWALK. All the way from one end to the other. It was Sunday and pretty quiet. As people came out on their way to (or from?) church, he stayed his course and politely greeted them. - Ranger/ Leezy greeted various members of the audience who responded in kind, then R/L said, "That' s not what he said to me."

At the end of his walk, Leezy went home, but news of his audacity preceeded him. His Daddy told him that his hands had been the first to hold Leezy, but he didn't want to be the last as he buried him, and he "suggested" that Leezy leave home. Leave home! Daddy, Mama, Grandma, the only home he ever knew. Daddy suggested he join the military. "But Daddy, people might shoot at me!" "Well, they don't know you. It won't be personal. They might miss. But if you stay here with your attitude, it will be personal and they won't miss."

So Leezy walked from his home deep in the south to somewhere in Nebraska where he met a recruiter with a nice smile and the promise of $13/month, a uniform, and equal treatment. He joined the 9th Calvary and became a Buffalo Soldier. ( The Indians called the black soldiers Buffalo Soldiers because of their hair.)

No way can I do Ranger Johnson justice. He is going to be in a documentary about the parks. He has a book coming out this fall, Glory Land, I think. And there is talk of a movie. If he can capture the spirit of his presentation in writing, it will be something.

He struck several poses and asked which actor should be him. I am a bit partial to Denzel Washington, myself.

If you hear tell of this presentation, book or movie coming your way, I highly recommnd it. It is good for the soul.

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