Sunday, June 27, 2010

Colonel Stone Johnson: "I am just a servant"

Colonel Stone Johnson is a Civil Rights activist and foot soldier who I proudly call my friend.

The last three years or so, he has stopped by my office in city hall every Tuesday, to say hello. If he's not in a hurry, he'll stay for a while and talk. A lot of our conversations are about his life and activities as an African American male growing up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era. I always ask a lot of questions. I want to know and I want to hear from someone who has walked the walk. Colonel has a phenomenal memory. His recall for names and dates and places is extremely sharp. And, yes, he knows where many of the political skeletons are buried. To think that I can talk with someone who stood in front of the rabid segregationist Bull Connor, unafraid, is unbelievably surreal. Sometimes, Colonel will close his eyes to think for a moment or two before he's able to name an event, person or place. He's slow but steady at 92 years! We also talk, a lot, about the Civil Rights Movement and the many personalities who he interacted with. Too many to name here.

Colonel (his real name) was the personal bodyguard of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. There were a thousand and one incidents which took place in and around Birmingham and the South that Rev. Shuttlesworth and Colonel were involved in: marches, prayer vigils, freedom rides, sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, the integration of schools and public places the list is unending. He and many others were leaders of carefully planned strategies and tactics which, in fact, have led to my employment in city hall 40 plus years later.

Colonel is known to wear his trademark cowboy hat everywhere. I have yet to ask him how and or why he wears it. He stands close to 6'4'' and maybe taller. Age and time have weighed heavily on his shoulders and he is not able to stand fully erect. There's no doubt in my mind that he was an imposing figure as a young man. He has a very humble spirit, a quiet demeanor. But don't get it twisted, he's ALWAYS in foot soldier mode! I've only known him a few short years, but I somehow know that his character has never been questioned. I once asked him about the mounds of money that undoubtedly passed through many hands during the campaign for justice. I wondered aloud if he has ever felt that he could have been rich had he chosen another path. He looked at me and responded in his raspy voice with a half smile, half smirk, "Darlin', the Lord has been too good to me. I had to do right by Him, not man. I'm just a servant."

My reference for the linoleum block print of Colonel is based on a photo which I took of him two months ago. Last week, I presented the print and asked if he would sign it. He did. I'm honored. There are sixteen prints in the edition.

I am just a servant.

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Blogger Long Day Press said...

D. Riffe,

Wonderful portrait. I wish I could see it blown up. I still would like to do a collaboration some day.

Mike Day

2:14 PM  

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