May 20, 2013
Freedom’s Fight: Part II
Posted on Nov 20, 2009
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in Truthdig’s two-part series featuring Gary Phillips’ historical novel, “Freedom’s Fight.” To read the author’s introduction, as well as Chapter 2, click here.
May 1943 - Washington, D.C.
Colonel Snow reread the report from his operatives, Palmer and Birch. The two had followed the colored girl reporter to a hotel frequented by Pullman Porters and watched her depart. They were certain she’d gone to see Bascome, probing into his brother’s death. But a subsequent visit the two paid on Bascome later that day assured them he did nothing to encourage her investigation.
A quicksilver sneer played with the colonel’s lower face as he put the report back in its file folder. He hoped their “visit” with Bascome had left him mobile. Snow was not like his peers in their assessment, or rather, their noblesse oblige when it came to the negro race. He was not so dismissive of the black press as he knew his two men in New York were. Snow had done his own checking into Alma Yates’ background. Like a lot of modern colored women, she and her ilk had been pushed by her parents to do better than their forebears had done.
A tomboy from Waycross, Georgia, she’d shown brightness and eagerness early. Her mother had wanted her to become a school teacher. But Yates, who’d lost a tooth scrapping with the school yard bully when she was 12, had her own mind. She did two years at Spellman, working nights, and jumped at the chance to work as a summer intern at the Pittsburgh Courier. He could tell in just the crisp type recounting her young life she had the same hunger for something else nesting in her that took him, long ago, from the small patch that was the family farm in Arkansas City, Kansas.
The hunger that he carried with him on the battlefields of World War I. From scared shitless private to seasoned sergeant in command of doughboys in the Meuse-Argonne. But he’d found that something to satisfy that need. It wasn’t the killing, but the plotting, the strategy and craft you developed to keep you and your men alive amidst the majesty of slaughter. That native cunning was noticed and after the Great War he was recruited into the Cipher Bureau where his sharp mind found yet another plateau to attain. And so it went. Now he was a commander in X-2, the manipulators behind the intelligence operations of the armed forces.
He’d decided, before becoming a soldier, despite the pleadings and threats of his father, to never be a sod buster. He couldn’t see getting up before dawn to plow and plant and fret and scrimp to raise crops and cattle only to repeat that process over and over again until the grave. What kind of life was that? Honor in hard work his old man, a straight-backed Pentecostal lay preacher would hammer at again and again. Him sitting and smoking his pipe in the rocking chair his father had made, contemplating crop cycles and the lord’s infinite unknowable. His pa was stiff-neck proud of the land, the gift from a father who’d fought the Indians for the dirt plot and spilled more blood of the renegade Red Legs after the Civil War to keep the farm.
For the first time he could ever remember his father had cursed. He’d screamed at the young man, his hair already turning white and not yet eighteen, who literally and figuratively turned his back on his heritage as he left for the depot to report for basics. His mother, arms around his younger sister, Claire, silently crying in the doorway.
The movieola in his mind flickered and went dark at a knock on the door. Snow quietly said, “Enter,” and calmly placed the file on Alma Yates underneath some others. His guest was too observant for him to leave it in plain sight.
“At ease, sergeant. Have a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.” Clay folded his six four frame onto the old-fashioned school house chair.
“I’ll do my best, sir.” The tall man sat ramrod straight, no emotion obvious on his angular features.
“Of that, I have no doubt, sergeant. Of course, the ironic part is that outside of the two of us, and a few others you’ll never meet, no one will no of this operation.”
“That’s as it should be.”
Snow opened the file. “But a shame nonetheless. Particularly when negro leaders are decrying the War Department’s manufactured impediments to using the colored man in combat.”
Clay didn’t respond, didn’t blink.
Snow went through the motions of reviewing the material before him, but he knew it cold. There was no one better suited for this assignment than Clay. Even the rednecks in the branch had to admit that. Clay had a Ph.D. in chemistry from Tuskegee, spoke four other languages, and had fought in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He’d been one of 100 black Americans along with some 3,200 whites from the States that had done so.
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