Dad was a member of the Knights of Columbus (KofC), a Catholic fraternal organization, focused on supporting the church and engaging men in various outreach projects, fundraising for worthy causes and helping the poor and disadvantaged. With the 1960’s came heightened awareness of civil rights, and barriers began to come down. Dad told the story of inviting a young black Army recruit to come to a local Knights of Columbus social with him, only to find that this arrangement was not yet workable with at least some of the members or leadership. The young recruit was apparently not welcomed. Not to be deterred, Dad decided to start a new KofC council in Augusta, named for President John F. Kennedy (right after his assassination), whose members were mostly black Catholic men, with Dad being the first leader, or Grand Knight of the Council. The JFK Council prospered for decades, and when Dad passed away in 1987, we received a copy of a very nice photo-portrait of Dad which had been displayed in the council hall. I learned that being a Catholic was also about promoting social justice.
While at first a shock, that is, being away from home in a boarding school at 13, I quickly adapted to life at St. John’s seminary in the Fall of 1965. Lots of my friends from Augusta also attended, including several I knew from Sacred Heart School, so it was sort of like camp at first. Our days were measured out by the hours, and we learned quickly about the regimentation of each day, with time for Mass, meditation, the Angelus, and Benediction in the evening. There was time allotted for study halls, intramural sports, campus maintenance assignments, with lights out each night (for Freshmen) at 9:00 PM, with required silence until morning. Some of us brought transistor radios with us, putting in ear plugs after lights out. Those who dared might unplug so others might hear a new Beatles song, or a funny Mountain Dew jingle, but just for a few seconds through the small speaker.
For most of us, we came from Catholic grammar schools with only white students. This changed when we were introduced to Clarence Thomas, hailing from the Savannah area, who was one of those confident Juniors two years ahead of me. Clarence excelled in the classroom and on the sports field. During one intramural football game, I remember going long down field to catch a pass thrown by Clarence, and the football came to me as a rapid projectile. My skinny self, I was able to get my hands on the ball, but just couldn’t hold on it. Clarence was one heck of an athlete, and a star student as well. Years later, we heard that Clarence was chairman of the EEOC, and later was appointed to the Supreme Court.
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