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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:03:20
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  As Freddie busied himself setting up the shoeshine stand, he told me, "Get here early . . . yourshoeshine rags and brushes by this footstand . . . your polish bottles, paste wax, suede brushes overhere . . . everything in place, you get rushed, you never need to waste motion. . . ."While you shined shoes, I learned, you also kept watch on customers inside, leaving the urinals. Youdarted over and offered a small white hand towel. "A lot of cats who ain't planning to wash theirhands, sometimes you can run up with a towel and shame them. Your towels are really your besthustle in here. Cost you a penny apiece to launder-you always get at least a nickel tip."The shoeshine customers, and any from the inside rest room who took a towel, you whiskbroomed acouple of licks. "A nickel or a dime tip, just give 'em that," Freddie said. "But for two bits, Uncle Tom alittle-white cats especially like that. I've had them to come back two, three times a dance."From down below, the sound of the music had begun floating up. I guess I stood transfixed. "Younever seen a big dance?" asked Freddie. "Run on awhile, and watch."There were a few couples already dancing under the rose-colored lights. But even more exciting to mewas the crowd thronging in. The most glamorous-looking white women I'd ever seen-young ones, old ones, white cats buying tickets at the window, sticking big wads of green bills back into their pockets,checking the women's coats, and taking their arms and squiring them inside.

  And an even clearer proof for me of how Jews truly regard Negroes, I said, was what invariablyhappened wherever a Negro moved into any white residential neighborhood that was thickly Jewish.

  My car took me to participate in special prayers at Mt. Arafat, and at Mina. The roads offered thewildest drives that I had ever known: nightmare traffic, brakes squealing, skidding cars, and hornsblowing. (I believe that all of the driving in the Holy Land is done in the name of Allah.) I had begunto learn the prayers in Arabic; now, my biggest prayer difficulty was physical. The unaccustomedprayer posture had caused my big toe to swell, and it pained me.

  Under Bimbi's tutelage, too, I had gotten myself some little cellblock swindles going. For packs ofcigarettes, I beat just about anyone at dominoes. I always had several cartons of cigarettes in my cell;they were, in prison, nearly as valuable a medium of exchange as money. I booked cigarette andmoney bets on fights and ball games. I'll never forget the prison sensation created that day in April,1947, when Jackie Robinson was brought up to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson had,then, his most fanatic fan in me. When he played, my ear was glued to the radio, and no game endedwithout my refiguring his average up through his last turn at bat.

  The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulledalongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger's side, next to me, was a white man.

  "I am not ashamed to say how little learning I have had," Mr. Muhammad told me. "My going toschool no further than the fourth grade proves that I can know nothing except the truth I have beentaught by Allah. Allah taught me mathematics. He found me with a sluggish tongue, and taught mehow to pronounce words."Mr. Muhammad said that somehow, he never could stand how the Sandersville white farmers, thesawmill foremen, or other white employers would habitually and often curse Negro workers. He saidhe would politely ask any for whom he worked never to curse him. "I would ask them to just fire me if they didn't like my work, but just don't curse me." (Mr. Muhammad's ordinary conversation was themanner he used when making speeches. He was not "eloquent," as eloquence is usually meant, butwhatever he uttered had an impact on me that trained orators did not begin to have. ) He said that onthe jobs he got, he worked so honestly that generally he was put in charge of the other Negroes.

  Anyway, it had been ten years since I thought anything about any mistress, I guess, and as a ministernow, I was thinking even less about getting any wife. And Mr. Muhammad himself encouraged me tostay single.

  Hating me was going to become the cause for people of shattered faith to rally around.


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