Back in the mid-1990s I wrote a book on sin. Each of us knows sin experientially, of course, but few of us know it comprehensively even in that way because we are parochial even in our sinning. So I had to study sin. For a couple of years I read about sin in the Bible. I read commentaries on the Bible, theological encyclopedia articles and books on virtue and vice.
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Most of us can identify with that request. It’s only fair: each member should receive their own portion of a family’s wealth when the time comes to divide it.
Ken Pyle was in his final year at Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1966 when he met Sheila. She drove up to a barbecue in her ’64 convertible with her dark hair flowing and her guitar in hand—and Ken was smitten. But as Sheila was divorced with two young sons, she was not the sort of wife that Ken’s denomination had in mind for him.
What if that brave Emmett had somehow managed to escape, my boy who had done all that talking, a word or maybe two before those thirsty fists demanding to be quenched in his blood slammed my door down looking for him.
Say he heard their pickup truck. Say he jumped out the window of my clapboard house and ran through row after row of burly-cheeked cotton until even the lily-white moon could not follow him.
Say he made it to that line of loblolly pines and hid in the colored cemetery; no whites allowed their children or their womenfolk to go there where the haints of lynched men lurk, hate messages singed into their chests.
Say he made for the river seeking safety in the bulrushes, the final resting place of so many slaves who ran for freedom, hoping his battered breath might last long enough under the cesspooling water, stringy-fingered weeds and copperheads grabbing for his ankles.
Say the Tallahatchie had not turned vengeful, angry that some black boy would pollute the waters where white men feed their families and their lusts.
Say, too, from the river he searched for a ditch to lie in, coffining him from the burlap-hooded vigilantes swooping over the countryside.
Say a thunderstorm struck that night, as they screamed to God to let them catch the boy before the lightning or the buzzards did. Say, too, they scattered black and white posters all over Mississippi vowing to bury him.
Then say, just say, how he almost found the train tracks which might have led him out of the Delta, out of Egypt, I called my son.