Visitors 3

“the Africans”

  1965 Summer:  (Bonham Daily FavoriteYoung Africans Visit in Fannin.  Fannin county will have a part this weekend in hosting a group of six young African leaders who are in the United States under sponsorship of Operation Crossroad:  Africa, and the U. S. State Department.  Austin College is the local host in Texas.... They will be in the Mulberry community Saturday, and Saturday night from 7 to 10 o’clock will attend a meeting of guests and host families in the Clayton Hall home.  Interested persons have been invited to visit in the Hall home during that time to meet the visitors and participate in discussion.... The purpose of the visit in the United States is to give the African guests an opportunity to meet and talk with Americans in rural communities, to give them an opportunity to know Americans in their homes and at work, and to see something of leadership programs for rural youth....

Six Africans in Fannin County

    Austin College was host during the summer of 1965 to six African leaders brought to this country by Operation Crossroads Africa and the U. S. State Department. Their visit to my family’s farm provided the opportunity to create and share with our neighbors a unique experience. We remember our guests individually and call them by name at each recounting of the events during the three days we spent together:  William Laast, Ghana; Sara Dam, Ghana; Ali Elhag, Sudan; Martin Kapesa, Malawi; Bekru Bogale, Ethiopia; Girma Negussie, Ethiopia.

    Our talk during those days was long and slow. On the last afternoon Willie asked, “What do you think is the value of our coming to the United States?”

    “The main value is the opportunity it gives us to do things with our own neighbors that we have never done before. I hope all of you will have learned things that will be helpful when you go back home. I’m glad you were able to meet yesterday the men responsible for organizing the water system cooperative in their community. I hope you feel that you have come to know some Americans in their own homes, but I’m watching my neighbors too.

    “Who are my neighbors you’ve been meeting? They are all farmers. It’s not easy to make a living on small farms now. Sometime we don’t have many years of formal education, and when the farming plays out, we go into towns and take whatever jobs we can. But if we can at all, we hang on to the land because it represents the life we love best.

    “The Negroes nearby live in another community east of here. They are our neighbors too, although I haven’t always realized it. Everybody knows that the trucks go out in the morning and return a short while later with folks to work in the fields. At the end of the day they go back out to their own community.

    “Farming has changed a lot in recent years, and other things have too. The very fact that you’re here shows these changes, but some things have hardly changed at all. The old road that comes this way is asphalt now, but it’s just as crooked, and a sign says “Pavement Ends.” We can go in any direction we want for a while, but eventually we have to realize...[the sign says “No Outlet” now.] The road will lead right round to somebody’s house. Red River is on two sides; just turn and head back out, if you can, the way you came.

    “There’s something else—the other community we went to yesterday. We had their tour and saw their work and then there was a home-cooked supper. Everybody brought baskets of food and sat down and ate together in such a friendly way. But it was different last night, here in Mulberry, and you made the difference. Because you were here, so were Charlie and Lois Hill and their neighbors. Everybody knew that three of you are staying here with us, and three with families in the Negro community. We are sharing your visit. Nothing like this has happened here before. Am I wrong to tell you this? Have I spoiled your impression?”

    I finally stopped. It seemed a long silence followed, and when Willie Llast spoke, we had broken through another barrier.

    “Of course, I knew,” he said. “Yesterday I stood beside your neighbor, Charlie Hill, and as we watched the people coming in with all that food, he said, ‘I never thought I’d live to see this day.’ No white person heard him. He said it to me.”

    Eventually all the Africans had something to say; each had a chance to speak at the 4-H Club meeting we attended. They all made good talks. Ali told how he’d imagined that Texas farmers live in leisure until he talked with them in the fields.

    How full of irony is what I know. One of the leading women let it be known that we mustn’t expect to have members of the African group spend the night in community homes. Yet when she’d heard the talks and the time came to say good bye, one would have thought she’d always shared the vision.

    On the last evening of the Africans’ visit in Mulberry, all were here at our house with their host families, black and white. We’d brought folding chairs from church and arranged them in the yard. People started coming about an hour before sundown—about seventy-five in all—and each person had an opportunity to sit in a group with one of the Africans, move about, ask questions, listen. Those who stayed to the end saw Sarah dance. In the afternoon, she and Willie had devised some music with spoons and sticks and bottles that we recorded on tape, and under that sycamore there Sarah danced for the people.

    Who was the young man who came early and was among the last to go? I didn’t know him, but friends had told him he should come. Now I know why. He grew up nearby and knows the county well. “I know when I became so concerned about the Negroes,” he told his friend, not me. “One night a policeman....” He watched a policeman “beat a Negro boy for nothing. He’s a cripple now.” And where was I? My neighbors never knew.

    Lois Hill told me after Sarah’s dance, “You have everything looking so pretty. I haven’t missed a thing, but what I like most is being here and seeing all the pretty people.” An exact quotation I want to remember.

    Ali asked, “Which way is east?”

The next year the U. S. Information Service sent a film crew. That’s when “Miss Jubie” on Red River threw out and reeled in her fishing line for them.