community, is in danger of collapsing. Out front, the only thing unharmed is the statue of Our Lady; an elderly woman, maybe in her eighties, is steadfastly bowed down in front of it. At Norris’s Cafe on Sixth Street South, people are lying down and dying at the front door. More people head to the cafe. There is no place else to go in The Bottom. Johnson crosses Sixth, and ahead of him he can see that the Booker T. Washington School is sagging. Inside, first-grade teacher Evelyn McClure is struggling up, trying to remain calm and staring at James Lee, who is passing out twenty-five cartons of milk and whose forehead has now been pierced by a piece of steel. Just a few minutes earlier, the children had finished their usual morning routine: raising the flag, singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, saying the Lord’s Prayer, and finishing with the Negro National Anthem. Now, McClure is lifting each of her twenty-four children by the pants and dress sleeves and throwing them out the holes where the windows had been. She is screaming for all of them to run to their parents. Behind the school, on the baseball field where sixth-grader Harold Adams and nine of his friends had been doing their best Jackie Robinson imitations, only Adams is there now His friends tried to get him to go to the docks, and now he is staring at the smoke from the waterfront; he knows that all nine children have just died. Down the block from the school, people are running to the house of Rev. E M. Johnson. He is just about to step outside to drive over to see the fire when the explosion begins to knock down the windows. Reflexively, Johnson is ducking. Maybe someone thinks he’s gotten too uppity. Maybe someone is trying to kill him. Either a bomb has gone off or someone is shooting at inc. Just before the small crowd reaches his house, a piece of steel Os through his back door. His neighbors want him to drive them somewhere, to tell them what to do, where to go. Johnson still isn’t fully dressed. The preacher runs into his yard, opens his car doors, and tells anyone who can fit in to get in. He speeds to Galveston and then speeds back and forth for the rest of the day, the blood soaking deeper into the upholstery in his ’41 Chevrolet; some people hang on to his car’s fender, and some simply drape themselves across the hood. Geary Johnson passes the preacher’s house and is running to his house on Seventh Street, looking for his wife. Two hundred fifty miles away in Jeanerette, Louisiana, Ceary’s father has felt the blast and is wondering what the hell it’s all about. His son is mentally preparing a list of the families that he knows he is going to have to visit. Ceary’s a gang boss, someone his men have relied on. Now he is going to have to figure out a way to tell these families their husbands are dead. He wonders if he should tell them exactly how they looked when he saw them die. As he runs to his house, he is remembering someone else he had seen at the . waterfront. Father Bill Roach. n Merchant Marine Hospital, peo ple are making way for Galveston bishop Christopher Byrne. He is an august man, someone who has just been in contact with Pope Pius XII about the fact that this part ofTexas has one of the oldest and richest Catholic traditions in the United States. His diocese is sometimes called “the mother diocese of Texas?’ Just two weeks ago, the Vatican granted Byrne a special benediction honoring the hundredth anniversary of the diocese, and it empowered him to offer special blessings to the people in Texas City. Four days from now, he was scheduled to oversee the dramatic opening of the first full-scale hospital in Texas to serve Negroes. It is called St. Elizabeth’s, anti it is on Lyons Avenue, considered by some to be Texas’s version of 125th Street in Harlem. The hospital has been designed, Byrne sits alongside Roach, clasps his hand, and tries to summon a hint of recognition from the priest. Roach, with the tattoos of oil scrubbed from his skin, looks exactly like the impudent wiseacre who had barnstormed into the Bishop’s Palace almost a decade ago. His skin, rubbed with alcohol, is ruddy again. Byrne sees what everyone has seen. There are no wounds; there are no scars. But Roach’s eyes are wide open, as if he has encountered something incomprehensible that has frozen him in perpetual shock 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/28/03
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.