MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE (Excerpt 20 from THE HARVEST of REASON) Maddie didn’t decide whether she would go to the party on Saturday until Friday night. She went out to dinner with some of the Black Caucus members after a big meeting, and got embroiled in a philosophical discussion over the step-dancing rally. READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-19 in earlier Blogs )

Maddie didn’t decide whether she would go to the party on Saturday until Friday night. She went out to dinner with some of the Black Caucus members after a big meeting, and got embroiled in a philosophical discussion over the step-dancing rally.
Sitting around the table at Porta Bella’s, over Italian food, Craig had been urging Maddie to attend one of the rallies sponsored by the Black Caucus.
“Look, Craig, it’s just not my thing, okay? I feel like a separatist or something, going to these rallies.”
Craig looked stunned at her answer and a little bit put out. “A separatist? What do you mean? Now, Maddie, I’ve known for a long time that you were, well…different. But this is the Black Caucus we’re talking about, this is our people. It’s a celebration of our togetherness, our unity…”
She was getting more and more exasperated.
“Craig I gotta tell you, I really object to the way you use the words our people. I mean, its downright offensive to me.”
She didn’t realize she had spoken so loudly but suddenly there was a big hush at the table. Ron Stones, Teandra, with her veiled, jealous eyes, and Josette McKendrick, were all looking in her direction. She picked her next words with caution.
“What I mean is, it’s very difficult for me to see things in just black and white. When you say OUR people, it throws me, because I’m used to a wider loyalty – all people are my people.”
“So what are you?” Teandra seemed to find it laughable, “some kind of assimilationist?”
Maddie took a deep breath and decided to keep the discussion on broader terms. “Look, it’s not like I want to turn my back on the fact that some of these kids need extra help academically, and maybe emotional support too. I’m involved in all that, with the tutoring and mentoring stuff I do. But what I’m saying is that socially we ought to be encouraging them to widen their scope. We’re doing them a disservice if we don’t. What good is it going to do them to stay within a tight black circle? My God, this is college! This is the time to be experiencing the larger world, learn new things, not a time to be insular!”
“Yes, but Maddie,” Josette’s voice always sounded like cool running water, “most of these kids come from totally black neighborhoods, I mean, ninety-eight percent of all African Americans in this country live in neighborhoods that are all black. It’s a total shock for them when they get here and see that less than two percent of the student body is black. They need the support.”
“Yes, I know. And I’m not minimizing how hard the adjustment is. But they need to be encouraged to make a few white friends…”
“What makes you think the white people want to be friends? And what is that friendship worth?” Teandra scoffed, her desire to score a point over Maddie poorly concealed in her eyes.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I have any number of good white friends. They’re not so hard to make, you know. You just have to treat people with respect, and for the most part, you’ll get respect back,” Maddie answered.
Craig, who had been listening quietly, now spoke. “Maddie, anything black people have achieved in this country we’ve achieved through solidarity, by banding together and…and seeking justice.”
“Craig, I’m not negating that justice is very important and organizations like the NAACP have done a great job of getting justice. But that’s only part of the struggle. If we want sustainable, long term gains for black people then we have to think about unity, we have to build bridges…”
“Thurgood Marshall said something like that…” Craig interjected.
“Exactly! He said…” Maddie’s eyes lifted to focus on some unspecified point in midair while she struggled to remember the quote.
Craig jumped in again, “He said that the fight for racial and economic justice had just begun, and that the legal system could sometimes open doors but that it couldn’t build bridges. He said that responsibility belonged to the individual.”
“So what are you saying, really. Lay the cards on the table.” Ron spoke up.
“Well,” Maddie warmed up to her subject, “you remember in Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. What was the dream about, Ron?”
“It was about black folk getting their due,” Ron replied.
“Yes, that was in the speech, but what was the dream about?” Maddie interrupted, looking around the table. She had everyone’s attention, but no one seemed to know what she was driving at.
“You see?! My point exactly! Most Blacks have forgotten what the dream was all about. The dream, guys,” she paused for emphasis, “was that someday black children and white children would play together,” faces were still blank. “And that they would be judged or judge each other, —not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Now how are we to accomplish that if we grow every day more separate?”
She went on, with renewed energy, “Black people have forgotten the dream because they’ve lost hope of its ever becoming a reality. So they’ve given up,” she threw her hands up. “Maybe because the high hopes of the civil rights movement didn’t materialize. I don’t know. But I know for the most part we’ve lost hope. We’ve settled. So now we’re working for justice but we don’t care about unity, about building those bridges. But that’s the only way to get lasting change. Let’s face it. If we’re gonna be activists why don’t we go for the highest prize? The one that will really give us what we want?”
Everyone around the table was serious now.
“Well, you say black folks don’t want unity anymore. I’d say most white folks don’t care about it either.” Ron concluded.
“And since when have we ever let that get in the way of what we’ve got to do?!” Maddie said, with finality, as if this were the punch line her logic had been leading up to all along.

The group split up as they left the restaurant and Craig and Maddie headed up State Street in the direction of Maddie’s car. It was a typical Friday night with summer semester just beginning. Lots of students were on the street, some hurrying to late night assignments, others intent on starting their weekend-long booze binge. The evening air had cooled considerably, down to a pleasantly tolerable temperature.
Craig was somewhat withdrawn. Maddie wondered whether he was upset with her over the discussion at the restaurant. But no, come to think of it, he had been somewhat reserved the last time she’d seen him too. She decided to confront it, though he was the one who spoke first.
“Hey Maddie,” he said, his eyes focused up the street, on the floodlit Capitol Building. “You doing something tomorrow night? Want to catch a movie with me?”
“Sure Craig,” she answered. Could this be what he was brooding about? “I’ll go to the movies with you in the evening if you’ll go to a party with me in the afternoon.”
He seemed to brighten, then get skeptical. “What kind of party?”
“Oh, some of the graduate students are throwing a party to celebrate the end of the planting season.”
Craig snorted, then laughed outright. “Oh, okay so that’s what you people do. I always wondered. So do you dance around your little seedlings or something, chanting ‘grow little seedling, grow?'” He was moving around her and his arms were making funny motions to accompany his razzing.
Maddie swatted the air and pushed him, saying, “Oh quit it, you silly man. It’s a regular party, you know, with volleyball, a keg, and the usual bunch of graduate students getting drunk.”
“Hey, you don’t sound like you’re too excited about going.” Craig interjected.
“What? Oh, it’s just the … people who live there… Well, nothing. I’m sure it’ll be a great party. How about it?” They had reached her car and Maddie leaned her back up against it.
Craig took a long soulful look at her and said seriously, “Honey, I think I’d go just about anywhere with you.”
Maddie did a double take, and focused a serious look on his face.
“Are you that surprised, Maddie?” he asked quietly. “Girl, you know how I feel about you, don’t you?”
“Craig,” Maddie proceeded very gently, “I know how you felt about me back in high school. But that was a long time ago, a lot has happened. You can’t tell me time has stood still for you all these years.”
“No, I won’t tell you that,” he looked out at the street, at the traffic going by, then back at her, “but Maddie, the minute I saw you, it all came back, you know. To me honey, you’re it. My dream, girl.” He took a deep breath and continued, his eyes on her face. She looked down to avoid the intensity of that look. “Now, I know, that back in high school you felt that you couldn’t return my feelings…but is there any chance…” His voice dwindled off as she looked up. She couldn’t keep the pain out of her eyes.
She hated to be the source of disappointment to anyone. There wasn’t a nicer guy in the world than Craig Berry. In fact, she knew she was totally crazy for not wanting him. But that was the problem. How did you make yourself want someone you didn’t really want? She felt like such a failure because she’d been in this position a number of times and had never been able to make herself feel what the other person wanted.
“Craig…” she started.
He put up his hands and smiled. “It’s okay Maddie, forget it, forget I brought it up, okay?” He seemed very resigned.
“Will I still see you tomorrow?” Maddie wanted to give him an out if he wished it.
“Sure thing. What time do you want me to pick you up?” he asked. His demeanor was so casual it made her question if the previous few minutes had actually taken place.
Maddie was already unlocking the door of her car. She rolled down the window to let out some of the suffocating heat. “Oh, one or two in the afternoon will be all right.” The later, the better. It was supposed to start at eleven and she didn’t want to be there any earlier than necessary.
She cut into the busy traffic and then glanced back at the figure standing by the curb. Craig was looking at her retreating car, hands in his pockets. She couldn’t tell if he looked defeated or determined.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

QUESTION 20: What was Martin Luther King’s “dream” about?

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

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About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
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