Dec 8, 2013
An Improbable ‘Fraternity’
Posted on Mar 29, 2013
By Shaun Randol
Randol: Of the 20 black men who entered Holy Cross in 1968, why did you focus on these five men? Six if you count Art Martin.
Brady: What I like about this story is that you have the marquee name of Clarence Thomas, who is a polarizing figure, and Ted Wells, who is clearly up there with David Boies as one of the top litigators of his generation. The fact that you also had literature [Jones] and Wall Street [Grayson] made it interesting to me, that it wasn’t this linear look at a bunch of guys who went into law.
Randol: What I like about the different stories is that there is one character that you can latch on to—
Brady: Who did you latch on to?
Brady: What’s interesting about him is that he’s also the least changed. When I’ve gone back and asked them questions like, “To what extent has the world changed or have you changed?” These guys, with the exception of Jones, have had lives of affluence and influence.
Jones really didn’t come into wealth, per se, until the last few years after the MacArthur grant. He’s also the most aware of continued racism and factors that made him angry in the ’60s; he doesn’t see the world as having changed that much. That makes him an interesting figure today. He has not joined the ruling class in any respect. He’s still very much on the outside.
Randol: Who did you most relate to?
Brady: A combination of Grayson and Wells, I suppose. Wells, for his workhorse nature. I was somebody who was a hard worker in school in part because I didn’t have this effervescent personality, like Jenkins has, and I don’t have any of the bitterness or anger or way of viewing the world that Thomas has.
One of the experiences that’s interesting about Wells and Grayson—and I did not have this—is there are certain people you know wake up in the morning and they look in the mirror and they know they’re winners. Even though Wells has been a hard worker, you can tell that all the way through life he’s always been a winner. He’s worked hard, but he’s never suffered the kind of complex that some of these other guys might have had. He’s never been made to feel inferior.
Partly why I am struggling with this is—I rarely see myself in the people I engage with. I’m very much the interviewer. I’m trying to figure out what makes them tick. It’s almost like a psychograph that you’re creating of what turns us all into the people that we become, and how does the impact of these moments in our lives change us? We all have those moments, and often the moment is related to school where there is a fork in the road and you’re given the impression that suddenly you’re good at something.
I was curious as to the fork in the road that these men met. Jones, for example, started out in math. The fact that he pivoted into writing was something that only really happened because of Holy Cross, he feels.
Wells I think would have done well anywhere he went, but Holy Cross probably gave him a heightened awareness of who he was. Thomas, I don’t know. He clearly had his eye on the Ivy League; I don’t know if he would have gotten there from where he was in Savannah, Ga.
Randol: I wonder if they all came to the same fork in the road, an intellectual one, in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated. What I gather from “Fraternity” is that it seemed to be a moment when they were awakened to a larger world and political system. Even if they weren’t that engaged with Dr. King—they might have been more interested in Stokely Carmichael—that moment flipped a switch.
Brady: Certainly for Thomas it was the final straw for his time in the seminary, which was clearly ebbing in any case. Being a priest is not where he was ultimately going to end up. I think it cemented his bitterness. It was a big pivot in the road.
There is a before and after nature to Dr. King’s death, even more so I think than the whole death of Camelot mythology around Kennedy. Disillusionment set in with the death of King, so I think that did create more of an awareness.
Jenkins is very aware of it today; so is Wells. Thomas is aware of race in a very big way, but I think he’s quietly much more aware of the importance of lifting up, trying to do something about what’s happening to other young black men and women, that he doesn’t like to talk about in public. I think it is at the top of his mind for him, though.
1 2 3 4 NEXT PAGE >>>
Previous item: Maximum Mayhem on His Mind
Next item: Poorest Nations Say Yes to Emissions Cuts
New and Improved Comments