Moma and the White Man

by | Jun 8, 1998 | Acceptance, Love, Prejudice

The first time I saw a white man, I was in church in our Alabama parish in the middle of August and it was very, very hot. The preacher rambled on, his fire and brimstone sermon seasoned with an occasional Hallelujah from our sweaty congregation. I was daydreaming about the Sunday feast that we would have after church. This was a reward for sitting through 2 hours of preaching.

But that Sunday everything changed for me. In the middle of his Bible-thumping, fist clenched exuberance, the reverend stopped. The silence caught me by surprise and at first I thought maybe he knew I wasn’t listening. I looked at the pulpit, to see him standing there with an expression of disgust, staring at the back of the church as if the devil himself had just entered…I turned to see.

There, leaning against the front doors of our church, our pure-black church, was a drifter, a skinny, disheveled, white drifter. This man, this invader of our sacred space, stood before us in all his unholiness. His ragged clothes seemed to hang on him and his face looked pasty and sunken, like a man waiting for death. Worst of all, he had entered our church barefoot, his blistered, bloody feet staining our holy wood floor.

We were still. He walked down the center aisle with slow, deliberate steps. His legs looked fragile and weak and his hunched back made him look as though he carried the world on his shoulders. “Pardon me, Reverend”, he said as he removed his hat and seated himself in the front pew. The preacher looked around the congregation and then at Mr. Jackson, our layman, who barely acknowledged the man before turning away. Looking down at the bloody floor, the reverend shook his head. He glanced at the drifter for just a second and with a roll of his eyes, picked up where he had left off.

The man glanced at the stained floor and bowed his head, ashamed. I was confused by the preacher’s reaction. I had never really listened to the Sunday sermons, but bits and pieces I had picked up had taught me that God wanted us to be kind to others. And yet here, in the place that this preacher called “God’s house,” I was witness to a stranger in need being passed over.

Then, to my right, Momma rose. Clutching her good Sunday kerchief, she walked straight to the church’s christening bowl. The reverend stopped speaking. Taking the pitcher of water that the reverend himself had been drinking from during his sermon, she stepped down to the front pew. “Be not ashamed, my brother,” said Momma, kneeling in front of the man. I leaned forward and watched as she filled the christening bowl with the water, and then, dunking her kerchief, she bathed the man’s feet. I could see the man’s face as he began to cry.

Engrossed in the miracle that I had just witnessed, I had forgotten about dinner by the time Momma returned to her seat. I had seen Momma through different eyes that day. Like Rosa Parks walking to the front of the bus, Momma had challenged the racism that surrounded her. Like Susan B. Anthony, taking charge when it was necessary, Momma had showed me the strength of a woman’s actions. And, like the Good Samaritan helping a stranger in need, Momma had gone to the aid of another in need of kindness.

That hot Alabama Sunday, Momma showed me not only who she was, but who I was. In one day, she set a lifelong example, paving a road for her only daughter to walk down proudly. As an African American; as a woman; as a Christian.

This mother taught a lesson by example that could not be taught any other way. Isn’t that the way God expects us to teach others. Yes, we use words, but we add conviction and power to the lessons with the way we live our lives.

Author unknown. If anyone has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as the circumstances dictate.

Thanks to the The Story of Encouragement PBN-on@mail-list.com

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