There was then the night the Klan galloped through the main yard of Freedman University late in the evening. The perils of an open campus.
Four white-sheeted ghosts on white horseback riding in procession; the Klan member in front and also the one in the back held tight to flaming torches. The other two—on and off—waved the glowing white screens of their cellular phones. I remember the procession as a blur of white and fiery orange and gray from the smoke.
They trotted circles around the statue of our founder as if to menace the dead white man. The ghosts followed that by circling the flag pole which held a fluttering Old Glory along with the town flag—the book and the sword that make up the Cross River crest in a square of white set against field of red at the top half and a field of blue at the bottom.
It surprised me how frozen the ghosts made us; I include myself in this. If they tore down our town pride—the banner our ancestors held as they hacked limbs to wrench themselves free— perhaps we’d dash into confrontation, but absent that we became cowards. The Klan members pulled at their reigns and the horses did a piaffer and galloped off. For the first time in ten minutes, I released the air I held deep within my chest.
When I started at Freedman, during orientation, the woman on stage, an alumnus and board member, talked of sitting next to a shy young man with a thick West African accent in Economics class. They struck up a friendship, she said, pausing to wink and nod, which I took as an insinuation of a more intimate relationship. The woman ended the story with his name and I recognized it as the name of a warlord-turned-dictator-for-life of a small African republic. We were supposed to be impressed by the prominence of our alums, and at the same time, we were supposed to wonder about what sort of world-shaker sat beside us.
One day the dictator will be overthrown and executed or tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
I thought of all this today because Malcolm Bailey began our job interview by reminiscing on the Klan ride. He remembered seeing me bloodless and terrified and at this he chuckled. All I recall of him is the Humanities class where we met and how he wept over Okonkwo when things finally did fall apart.
I don’t mention that, of course, even when he tells me of the deal he made with the warlord to acquire cheap gold for the electronics we manufacture. I say we because it’s clear now that I have the job if I want it.
The last thing he said to me—leaning in real close and whispering—was, They never caught those Klan members, huh?
I don’t believe so, I replied.
Psychology class, brah, he said. Psychology 302: Special Topics in Race and Something Or Other. Don’t tell nobody, but that got me an A. Changed my life, too. He tapped the desk three times and it sounded to me like the clopping of white horses across the Yard. Changed my life.
Rion Amilcar Scott