by Sp4 Clyde Collins
U.S. Army 1980-1984
Before Pvt. 2 Donald Duty joined the U.S. Army he was a school bus driver for a “voluntary ethnic transfer program” in a big city on the mainland.
In this public funded program, minority kids were bused out of the ghetto to schools in the more well-to-do neighborhoods, but only if their parents thought it best to do so. It was part of a larger desegregation plan.
On one particular day, before it was a holiday, the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, Duty picked up his predominantly Black junior high school kids in the ghetto, headed for the plush hills of suburbia.
Now it cannot be said for sure that the bus was haunted, but it was an old bus. And believe it or don’t, as the bus bumped along, the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. whispered to the school bus driver, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation.”
“What?” said Duty. He glanced over his shoulder at one of his sleepy passengers. “Did you say something?”
The little Black girl’s eyes went round. “No! You’re crazy!”
“Hmmm,” groaned Duty as he drove past rickety wino dens and battled with a cement-mixer truck for an on-ramp to the freeway.
Soon enough the school bus loaded with little equalities rattled along the freeway past a local U.S. Army post. Again the ghost of a Black preacher named King whispered to the driver, a little louder this time: “No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.”
Duty grew more pallid than he already was. He glanced over his other shoulder at a tough Black kid glaring back at him. “You talking to me?” said Duty, his voice a quiver.
The kid threw his arms up into the air. “Why I be talkin’ to YOU… You’re scary!”
The school bus chugged ~ down an off-ramp and up into the trimmed, pruned splendor of suburbia.
And the ghost of the man who had studied the nonviolence of Gandhi and the civil disobedience of Thoreau, baritoned: “Adapting nonviolent resistance to conditions in the United States, we swept into Southern streets to demand our citizenship and manhood. If they let us march, they admitted their lie that the Black man was content. If they shot us down, they told the world they were inhuman brutes.”
Duty accidently ground the gears as his bus jerked up a long hill.
The ghost of the man who had been jailed 29 times for what he believed in, continued to say, “The nation and the world were sickened and through national legislation wiped out a thousand Southern laws, ripping gaping holes in the edifice of segregation.”
At the top of the hill where a panoramic view of the city could be enjoyed on an occasional clear day, a group of about 20 people stood with quart-size cans of motor oil in their hands. Two cars were parked sideways, blocking the street. Duty knew these people intended to stop his school bus and pour the cans of oil over his passengers’ heads. He knew it because these people were wearing white hoods. He stepped on the brake and idled the engine half a block away.
“We’re gonna have to go the long way,” moaned Duty.
“But we’ll be late for class,” moaned a passenger.
Duty winced ~ and he looked up at the overhead mirror. He saw the now totally awake expressions upon his passengers’ faces. They were peering back at him expectantly, watching, wondering what he was going to do now!
Then for a long moment Duty stared through red-rimmed eyes at the crowd up the street. He slipped the bus into gear, gunned the accelerator and let out the clutch.
In no time at all the school bus was roaring in fourth gear directly at the blockade. As the bus sped forward, the ghost of he who was assassinated by a sniper’s bullet outside a hotel in Memphis, Tenn., April 4, 1968, had one last thing to say to the all-of-a-sudden unrelenting Caucasian at the wheel: “Now the judgement of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish as fools.”
A couple of years later Duty and a Black soldier were sitting outside the company barracks at TAMC one evening. They were exchanging tales. When Duty finished this particular story the other soldier exclaimed, “Then what happened?”
Duty’s soul expanded like a blooming flower above the city lights and below the twinkling stars. With a smug little smile he said, “We got to school on time.”
“The Trial of Sergeant Rutledge”