Cover

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Frontmatter

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. vii

Part One: I Think I Can Serve

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pp. 1-78

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1. In Front of Speed’s

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pp. 3-15

The paint-peeling sign above the door is barely legible: Speed’s Grocery. I stand on the sidewalk sweaty with nerves. This can’t be the place, I think. This is nothing like I pictured. Behind heavy iron bars, darkened windows sport stickers for cigarette brands...

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2. Never Go Back

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pp. 16-26

On January 19, 1979, twenty-three years to the day after he rode the Sunnyland bus in Tallahassee, my dad and I sat together on the couch in the family room in Riverside, California. I was eleven years old. My dad was forty-seven and already a ghost of himself...

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3. The Tallahassee Bus Boycott

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pp. 27-38

I run each morning in Tallahassee. I’ve been running most days for a year now, to stay in shape and for the sheer rediscovered pleasure of it. My gait is unsightly, one leg swings wide, so I look more like an eager preschooler flailing across the playground, Laurie always tells me...

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4. The Acquaintance of Grief

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pp. 39-53

“How’s it going, Mama Sue?” The voice on the phone at the La Quinta is not Rev. Foutz returning my call, as I’d expected, but my ailing mother in California. “I’m really tired,” she says. “I sleep all the time.” Her voice slurs and lilts upward...

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5. The Forgotten Coast

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pp. 54-66

We leave Tallahassee, straight from the clicking heel echo of the state archive building onto the highway heading south toward the Gulf Coast. Trees line the narrow two-lane road tight and tall. No horizon. I feel both at home, as I do in the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, and suffocated...

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6. Something More

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pp. 67-78

Rain starts slow as we pack the rental car and settles warm and churches — Primitive Baptist, the signs read — appear at intervals amidst the pines, more churches than I’ve ever seen anywhere, from another era, and I’m relieved to think that in a city church “Because it’s wrong to go as a tourist?” I asked. “Because ...

Part Two: A Highly Personal Thing

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pp. 79-185

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7. Handwriting

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pp. 81-93

Back home in the tiny mountain town, winter settles hard. I sit by the woodstove, night after night, reading civil rights histories, hoping to put my dad’s role in perspective. I spend so much time in the 1950s, I joke to friends, that pretty soon I’ll start wearing pill-box hats...

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8. Herndon

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pp. 94-103

Dawn skims the tops of the snowy peaks surrounding us. In winter, our ferry boat runs only three days a week, so I’ve hitched a ride on a smaller ranger boat, now bucking wind swells and slamming down, tipping precariously to one side then the other. I hold tight to an overhead rail, straining...

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9. The Cloven Hoof

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pp. 104-117

San Francisco to a kid from Riverside had always stood like an overachieving older sibling. Sure, Los Angeles had glamour and money, but that hardly mattered. For one thing, L.A. was sixty long miles away — we usually went only once a year for a school field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry...

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10. City of Hope

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pp. 118-133

My mother needs feeding. Her hands tremor wildly, a side effect of chemotherapy or the resulting high blood pressure, no one seems to know, but the sores, open and oozing on her lips, are from the severe dehydration that landed her back here at City of Hope. She can’t hold...

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11. Folsom

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pp. 134-146

The light on the phone machine at my mother’s house blinks with rapid-fire insistence. No matter what, I can’t ignore it. Someone may have called from the nursing home, Community Care, where things have not been going particularly well. Early this evening, Mom was running a fever...

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12. Community Care

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pp. 147-157

I’m running at dawn as daylight floods the wide streets of my hometown. I pass the retirement apartments under construction in the vacant field where we rode bikes as kids and the senior center where my mother had taken to playing bridge before she got sick...

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13. A Real Difference

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pp. 158-171

Snow has drifted down to the foothills, and the Southern California sky has lightened to a thin translucent blue, like a screen fading slowly to white, as Julie drives me up over the San Bernardino Mountains toward the desert and the empty spaces beyond. Before I made enough...

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14. Orchard Burning

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pp. 172-185

Smoke from a dozen piles of burning apple limbs obscures the view of Lake Chelan. A light mist settles on my bare arms, one gripping the idling chainsaw, the other yanking a cut branch free of the tree. The day is gray and cold. On the low flanks of the mountains, this small midslope clearing...

Part Three: Fiftieth Anniversary

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pp. 187-261

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15. Every. Single. Day.

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pp. 189-208

The plane hits the tarmac, wheels skid on asphalt, and at the very moment when I’d normally be pocketing my rosary, grateful just be on the ground, I’m checking my watch. I have ninety minutes before I’m to offer remarks on my father’s behalf at Tallahassee’s First Baptist Church...

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16.Tarpon Springs

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pp. 209-219

The war had left scars on Jon Folsom, I understood that. Not so much scars as unhealed wounds ready to crack open and ooze each time our conversations skirted anywhere close to Korea, as they did regularly, because of the current war in Iraq and because of his refrain...

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17. Not Forgotten

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pp. 220-235

The activist grandmas. That’s who I’m among this morning; it’s an honor and it’s a hoot. We sit side by side on a hard, splintery pew in a historic church, a pretend church, really, at the Tallahassee Museum, clapboard sided, old-timey, with a potbelly stove, and most noticeably today...

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18. Heroes and Sheroes

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pp. 236-251

The freedom march, such as it is, convenes at the bus plaza under the statue of C. K. Steele in stifling afternoon heat. “Ninety-six degrees,” Proctor announces, exuberant as ever. “It’s not stopping us.” The crowd, by any standards, is meager. Maybe fifty people...

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19. Always Go Forward

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pp. 252-261

Five hours later I stand barefoot in the Pacific. Jets landing at LAX roar overhead, descending perpendicular to incoming waves, and toddlers squeal at the tide line, sand-coated and lolling. My sister stands beside me comfortably quiet while her stepson, Michael, takes a few last rides on the boogie...

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Epilogue: No Big Deal

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pp. 262-267

Summer came as a whirlwind and a tonic. Laurie and I climbed trails, a thousand feet per mile, to meadows where snow melted away in a circle to expose a single yellow lily. We peeked over ledges where cornices hung translucent blue, ready to crack apart, lose purchase, and chatter down a thousand...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 269-270

I owe my heartfelt thanks to the many people who inspired, encouraged, and supported me on this journey. Almost thirty years ago, in a living room in tiny Marshall, Minnesota, Joe and Cathy Amato and Bob and Posie White switched on a cassette recorder as they sat together to reminisce with the hope...