Night Train

(An indistinct landscape. A long line of people waiting to pass through a simple, nondescript checkpoint. In the middle of the line, James Brown. Behind him, Gerald Ford. After a while, Ford tries to make conversation.)

GF: My stepfather was a magnificent person, and my mother equally wonderful. So I couldn’t have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing.

JB: Where I grew up there was no way out, no avenue of escape, so you had to make a way. Mine was to create James Brown.


GF: I am proud of America, and I am proud to be an American. Life will be a little better here for my children than for me. I believe this not because I am told to believe it, but because life has been better for me than it was for my father and my mother.

(JB shrugs.)

JB: Any time an Afro-American kid, 9 or 10 years old, can get up and say “Mama, I think I’m gonna study hard because I want to be president,” and have a shot at being president, then we’ve got America. Other than that, we’ve got a name and we’re trying to find out what it means.

GF (defensively): The words I remember best were spoken by Dwight D. Eisenhower. “America is not good because it is great,” the President said. “America is great because it is good.”

(A long pause. JB looks up and down the line of people.)

JB: Killing’s out and school’s in and we’re in bad shape.

(GF nods.)

GF: This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.

JB: The real answer to race problems in this country is education. Not burning and killing. Be ready. Be qualified. Own something. Be somebody. That’s Black Power.

GF: “Black is beautiful” was a motto of genius which uplifted us far above its intention. Once Americans had thought about it and perceived its truth, we began to realize that so are brown, white, red, and yellow beautiful.

JB: I think what I came through is great, but my son can take it to another level, not having to fight racism. His mother’s a Norwegian and I’m mixed up four or five times, so he can face the world.

(Another long pause. GF looks tired.)

GF: Sometimes we stumble in the dark, uncertain of the best course for ourselves and the nation we love.

(JB turns around.)

JB: It doesn’t matter how you travel it, it’s the same road. It doesn’t get any easier when you get bigger, it gets harder. And it will kill you if you let it.

GF: We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.

(JB turns around again, nodding and smiling.)

JB: Die on your feet, don’t live on your knees.


  1. What a beautiful picture you paint.
    I feel good!
    For the rest of the year, I am going to forget GF’s cynical aiding and abetting of Nixon’s crimes, and just think of him as “a nice (easily manipulated?) guy” (in politics?)
    I am also going to try to forget Lincoln’s cynical blaming the murder and destruction of the civil war on the black population
    Free the slaves and create the KKK
    frying pans and fire.
    You are a genius Soho,

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