I got a call after I got home from last week’s Moral Monday. It was my granny from up in Mayberry. Now, Granny keeps her ear to the ground up there—never misses much. Said she’d just got off the phone with Ms. Viola Mae over in Mount Pilot.
What you need to know about Ms. Viola is that she has a grandson who lives down in Raleigh. Always was a good boy, that Timmy. He sang in the church choir, got the Little League sportsmanship prize three years in a row. Even got his Eagle Scout badge a year early. A smart one, too, that Timmy. Ms. Viola was just as proud as a peakcock when he got one of them Morehead Scholarships to UNC and they put his picture on the front page of the Surry News. Timmy’s a lawyer in Raleigh now. Married a good woman from Winston-Salem and they’ve got the prettiest three kids you ever seen. Just ask Ms. Viola. She’ll show you their pictures anytime.
But back to what I was saying—Granny had just got off the phone with Ms. Viola cause she’d heard from Ms. Betty that she’d seen Timmy on the news getting arrested. ‘Course, Granny couldn’t just come out and ask Ms. Viola about it, so she’d pried and prodded a little—“Well, how’s the family?” and “I ain’t heard nothin’ about Timmy and them lately…” Finally, Ms. Viola told her it was true what she’d heard. Timmy got arrested at one of them Moral Mondays. Said she was real proud of him for standing up for what he believes in. But Ms. Viola couldn’t make heads or tails of what this Moral Monday was really about. So soon as they got off the phone, Granny called me.
“Honey, tell me,” she says, “is this like that Moral Majority from back in the 80’s?”
“No mam,” I says. “It’s more like the March on Washington, back in the 60’s.”
“Well, good,” Granny says. “I always thought that Fallwell fellow was full of himself. But, tell me. What’s Timmy trying to do down there?”
“I reckon he’s trying to get word back to Mayberry that there’s a bunch of fellers down here in Raleigh who are full of themselves, too. Maybe they thought they was doing right when they got into this business. But the power’s done gone to their heads, Granny.”
“Well, that’s what happens to all of ‘em,” Granny says. “But tell me, what is it exactly that they’re doing?”
I said, “You know how Uncle Joe worked for the factory down in Mount Pilot for thirty years and then they realized he was costing ‘em more than a young feller just out of high school would so they got rid of him?”
“Yeah,” Granny says. “It’s been real hard on him and Erlene.”
“Well,” I says, “Uncle Joe won’t get his unemployment check next week because Gov. McCrory says the state can’t afford it.”
“My Lord,” Granny says. “It’s hard times for everybody, ain’t it?”
“Well, you’d think,” I says. “But the Governor and his buddies are going on a retreat at the end of this week. Say they want to talk about how to renew North Carolina. Two tickets for two days will cost you $10,000.”
“Won’t cost me nothin’,” Granny says. “But I reckon they don’t want any of our kind there.”
“No mam,” I says. “That’s the point. They don’t want us there. They don’t want us in Raleigh. They seem to think the only way out of the mess we’re in is for regular old folk like us to just go away.”
“So Timmy got arrested for just being at the State House and trying to talk to them about what’s happening to people like us?”
“Yes mam,” I says. “Timmy and about six hundred other people. And there’s been thousands standing outside singing.”
“Well, how many you reckon it’s gonna take before they’ll listen?” Granny asked me.
I told her I wasn’t sure, but I’d tried to find out.
So, I called Rev. Barber over at the NAACP and asked him what he thought. He said, “Don’t ask me. Ask Tillis. Ask Berger. Ask McCrory. We didn’t start this thing. They did.”
So I hung up and called over to their offices. “How long do you think these Moral Monday rallies are going to go on?” I asked. I asked it as sincerely as I could. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t just asking for myself, I was calling on behalf of Granny and all the good people up in Mayberry. I tried to tell the receptionist how proud we all are of Timmy and how genuinely concerned he is about these issues.
But she just referred me to the Civitas Institute’s website where she said I could learn more about Moral Mondays.
I was at something of an impasse with Granny’s question—not knowing quite where to turn. How long will these Moral Mondays have to go on? I thought about calling Granny back and saying, “I don’t know. Nobody knows.” But as a rule, I do what Granny asks me to do. I couldn’t give up until I’d pulled every stop. I had to take her question to the top.
When I got to the pearly gates, St. Peter said, “Well, fancy seeing you here,” and I said, “Please, don’t bother checking your list just yet. I’m only here with a question.”
“This is a one way street, you know,” St. Peter said with a stern sort of look. And I said, yes, I understood that was how things worked generally, but I was wondering if he might make an exception just this once.
“Just where are you from?” St. Peter asked, and I said, “Mayberry RFD.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “We had one of your fellows through here not long ago—Andy, I believe it was. Thought I recognized that accent.”
“I just have this one question,” I says. “Give me just one minute and I’ll be on my way.”
St. Peter looked at me real hard and said, “Listen. I’m only gonna say this once. Go straight through the gate and all the way to the end of the street. Don’t turn to the right, don’t turn to the left. Don’t stop to talk to anybody, and please don’t go snooping around. At the end of the street, just beyond where it turns to gravel, you’ll see a little cabin out on the overlook. Knock three times and wait for an answer.”
I did like I was told. It was a simple little cabin with a tin roof and a Tar Heels welcome mat by the front door… but I won’t get into all that. I did like I was told. I knocked three times and I heard somebody say, “Come on in.” So I opened the door.
God was sitting at a little table, right over by a big ole picture window with the bright sun shining in so as I couldn’t see too well. But I says, “Pardon me. I don’t mean to bother you, but I’ve just got one question.”
“Go ahead,” I heard, so I just blurted it out: “My granny wants to know how long these Moral Mondays are gonna have to keep going on.”
“Well, tell her I said, “Not long, because a lie can’t live forever.’”
“Well, OK,” I says, “but… I think she was hoping for something a little more precise.”
“Tell her I said, ‘Not long, because the moral arch of the universe bends toward justice.’”
I paused for just a moment, not wanting to be disrespectful. “Seems like I’ve heard this before,” I says.
“Well,” God says, “you’re not the first to ask.”
And then I heard a whisper, like when somebody wants to tell you a secret in a quiet room full of people. “Come on over here and have a look out my window.”
I walked across the cabin’s bare wood floor to that big ole picture window, and I looked out on the crowd at Moral Monday. I saw those same beautiful faces I’ve been seeing in Raleigh for the last two months—black, white and brown—and they were standing arm in arm, singing. And out there on the clouds, between where I was and that great congregation, I saw the faces of others I recognized—Ms. Ella Baker and David Walker, Bill Friday and Terry Sanford. There was a bunch more I’d never seen before, but right there with ‘em, I spotted ole Sherriff Andy. And he was holding his guitar, just like he always used to, and he was singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
And I heard God say to me, “Now, what was your Granny’s question again?”
And I said, “She wants to know how long this is gonna go on?”
And God said, “Well, tell her not long. But just between you and me, I ain’t seen nothing this beautiful in a long time. I might just have to let it go on a little bit longer.”