By Charles Morgan III
Life is a circle. If you’re fortunate, it’s a big circle.
Two things that happened more than 50 years ago circled back to me this week.
My father was a 33-year-old attorney in Birmingham in 1963. He was a struggling attorney with a wife and an eight-year-old son. He was a standard lawyer, eager for any case that might come his way that might help pay his bills.
Everything changed on September 15th when four young girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
The next day, my father delivered a speech to the Young Men’s Business Club (YouTube—A Time to Speak, Charles Morgan). Many people’s lives changed with that bombing, including my father’s.
Our family remained in Birmingham for a couple of weeks after the bombing before hundreds of hate-filled letters and threats forced us to move.
We left for the Washington D.C. area. My father was going to spend almost a year writing a book, A Time to Speak. He wasn’t a civil rights lawyer before that bombing, but he was from that day forward.
With no money, no job, and my father having never written a book, we moved from our home to a place we’d never been and had no place to stay.
Vic Gold, a friend of my father’s from law school at the University of Alabama, invited us to stay at his home in northern Virginia. Vic and Dale and their children Paige, Jamie and Stephen lived on Lake Barcroft.
Leaving family and friends and moving to a strange place wasn’t so bad after all. We were on a lake! I could fish all day. I learned to ice skate in the winter. The neighborhood was full of kids my age.
Vic was the polar opposite of my father when it came to politics. He was the press secretary for Barry Goldwater and later became a speechwriter for George Bush (the elder). He even wrote a book with Dick Cheney’s wife.
There were long nights after dinner, and I would watch my dad and Vic drink and argue. Really argue. Really drink. Vic’s face would turn to an unnatural shade of red.
I learned that it was okay for friends—real friends—to argue.
A year later, we moved again. My father had finished his book, and we set off for Atlanta and a new job. We knew nothing about Atlanta except that while it was geographically close to Birmingham, it was a far different political and racial climate than what we were used to. But we had no place to stay. Again.
So we stayed with the Stewart family. Ledger and Mary Ellen had gone to the University of Alabama. Ledger knew my dad from law school. They had five kids—four boys—and a basketball court.
We played on that dirt court until the dirt was caked on our hands and would barely come off. Mary Ellen had a counter in the kitchen with loaves of day-old white bread and what seemed like five-gallon jars of peanut butter and grape jelly. We drank powdered milk. We’d get high-top Converse shoes (with imperfections) for $5.
The Stewart boys played big time basketball at Druid Hills High School. They lived in a classic neighborhood (Driving Miss Daisy was filmed just down the street).
The Braves were moving from Milwaukee. The Falcons were coming in 1966. And the Hawks two years after that. Atlanta was great.
There were late nights for the adults. While we played basketball, my father and Ledger would drink and argue politics. It was a repeat from the Gold family’s house. Again, I learned that arguing didn’t have much to do with friendship.
This week, Mary Ellen Stewart is visiting my mother in Destin. We’ve been reliving those years. Despite the turmoil in the country and in my family’s life, they were wonderful times.
My mother and I are going to Birmingham Thursday for the memorial service for Vic Gold. Vic died last month. His family and his friends who are still living will be there.
My circle has been a good one. I’ve had some success in business. I’ve been married since 1979. I’ve helped raise four children. I’ve got lots of friends. I don’t need much more than that.
At this point, I think what I have learned to value most is not what people might do for me. I’ve been so lucky and fortunate, it’s probably tough to get me a present. But what people did for my parents—and now do for my children—I will not forget.
The Stewart family and all of Vic Gold’s children should know something.
I’ve got a great imagination. But I can’t imagine anything that I wouldn’t do for the people who helped my family when we needed it.
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