American Stories. The Baby Boomers by Dewey Edward Chester… The first laughter came when Michael was introduced by the student government president.
The Baby Boomers.
The first laughter came when Michael was introduced by the student government president. It was the kind of day that made laughing easy; a college campus endowed with golden sun.
He was sitting under the Cathedral of Learning’s shadow; farther toward the right of the platform than he would have liked. A black beret covered his head; a black turtleneck sweater pushed into creased black slacks. He chewed gum, nervously clutching his file cards and staring at the huge student turnout.
Most of the crowd sprawled drowsily on the greens. Faculty members were watching from a safe distance.
Down front, Nik was dressed in a Varsity jacket and old chords. Next to him, Archie gabbled on a ‘March of Time’ commentary for Sorority dates.
Perhaps because of the glee of legal class-cutting, the school’s Civil Rights rally didn’t appear to be too serious. It became obvious when the bow-tied President of Student Government said —-“The issue must be heard from both sides…therefore opposition will come from football player, Michael Stahr.”
The student body began to laugh at Michael before he reached the podium. It confused him. They laughed at such odd times.
“I guess I need a course in oratory,” he said slowly, “I don’t do this often.” He was close to the microphone; it whistled.
Someone shouted: “Back up, Stahr!”
Someone else yelled: “Yeah, behind the goalposts!”
But he never blinked an eye when he said — “You can carry the American flag and still be a bigot.”
That got a few boos and too much applause from Nik and Archie.
“Back to Africa, Stahr!” There was a troublemaker in the crowd. It was a freshman girl.
He grinned at her cashmere sweater and said — “I can see why you’re afraid. I’m the only Black man here!”
He palmed his chewing gum then wadded it into the lectern. “I guess you already know that, don’t you? I’m the Quarterback of your football team.
“Scary? Not compared to conditions in Mississippi.”
“What’s cookin’ in Dixie?” the freshman heckled.
This was his chance; he dared —- “Mississippi is worried about the spread of Civil Rights. Are you?” He hurled the passion of his challenge: “REPUBLICAN—!” he cupped his mouth with his hand —“REPUBLCAN STUDENTS ARE BEING MURDERED IN THE STREETS OF MISSISSIPPI. Don’t you know that?”
Michael was on fire. College students were listening: “It’s up to us to fight back. We are children of change, for Christ sakes! We were born fighters! We came in the world with a Boom! And sure as hell, we’ll go out the same way!”
Applause was sporadic, mainly from Nik and Arch. But the freshman girl continued her attack: “Super Stahr save my baby from Integration.”
“Your baby’s been thrown out with Mississippi dishwater,” Michael jeered, making the joke his. “What are you afraid of?” he asked her quietly. “I’m a Black man, and I want to be free; just like you do. Is that scary?”
He waited for her to catch up but found himself jumping back in: “You’re damn right it’s scary. But there is only one thing to be afraid of: not me. Not even the Communist Party. Be afraid of anybody, anytime, anyplace, who takes away your Freedom.”
Whether Nik started it or not, the college students applauded.
But of course they were young and eager and bright. They were concerned; they felt something was terribly wrong. Authority never told them the Truth!
Michael forgot about his notes. “You know,” he said, looking over the crowd —- “You are so beautiful. No, really!
“You are committed to end Segregation.
“Students in Spain, England, Greece, are committed, too! Listen to them.”
He cocked his head as though he heard cheering echoes from afar. “Now show solidarity. Get up on your feet!”
To his relief, the students stood up, motionless and quiet, without the freshman’s jokes, either. They were afraid, but Nik began chanting, slowly at first, then forcefully: “BOOM! … BOOM! … BOOM!”
And student voices joined him, boldly chanting — “BOOM! …. BOOM! …. BOOM!”
Ecstatic, Michael cried — “Feel your power? The torch has been passed to you!
“You must pay the price. You must bear the burden. You brave ones. You few….You band of Brothers in this place and time. Truth will not make you rich; but it will set you Free!”
“BOOM! …. BOOM! …. BOOM!” the crowd chimed back. They were destined to create explosions that rocked the world.
“BOOM! …. BOOM! …. BOOM!”