Portrait of a Negro
- Ridgely Goldsborough
The man stepped into the square with his wares on his back.
He began to set up shop, as he did every day except Sunday—a day reserved for his God.
“Mawnin’,” he responded when greeted.
He went about his business deliberately, methodically and with a pride seldom seen in black men in the early 1930s.
He carried his chin high, looked others’ straight in the eyes and stood his ground.
He seemed cut from a different cloth.
He remembered his father’s behest before he died.
“Don’t you fear no man,” Pappy said, “Do your job, keep your respect and kneel only to face the Lord.”
Pappy made him promise.
He vowed to make good.
The sun beat through the soupy air of a Southern summer scorcher.
“No relief today,” he thought, as he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Tough to sell much,” he grimaced and glanced upward. “Don’t you say nothin’, Pappy. I ain’t goin’ no place.”
He often spoke to Pappy, ever since his passing and he missed him more than he wanted to admit.
He knew how others stared at him, talked about his uppity ways, called him names.
He didn’t care.
“Everybody puts on their trousers one leg at a time,” he told himself. “Ain’t nobody better `n anybody else.”
A Model-A came sputtering around the circle, belching smoke and interrupting the stillness of natural sounds.
He raised his gaze, as did everyone else, in time to see the driver carelessly splatter dirty water from a puddle on one of his colleagues.
He stepped onto the street.
“He’ll have to hit me before mud touches my stand.”
Defiant, he anchored his feet.
The driver swerved, yelled something unintelligible above the noise, rolled on without stopping.
The man turned to his station.
The fury in his bowels dipped to a manageable level.
“I know, Pappy,” he uttered. “Don’t you start with me. He had it comin’.”
Centuries of oppression weighed on his soul, the beatings, the whippings, the stories, the hatred.
He forced the wave of despair from his body.
The tears that would not come chiseled a steely resolve into his face.
“Not me, Pappy. Not me.”
Inside, he built his core, brick by brick, one swallowed comment followed by an exertion of his manhood, a delicate balance that kept him on the edge.
“I will honor you, Pappy,” he declared. “You know I will.”
That’s A View From The Ridge…
This column was inspired by a painting of the same title, housed at the Roger H. Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Portrait Of A Negro, painted in the 1930s leaps off the canvas and into one’s soul, with a haunting dignity extraordinarily rare for that oppressed era. Special thanks to Roger Ogden for his infusion of passion in the description during a recent museum tour.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ridgely began scribbling as soon as his fingers could curl around a pen. So began a love affair, interrupted periodically by schooling, business and any number of self-initiated distractions to mask the fear of pursuing his childhood dream-to be a writer.
The journey took him through Law School, a number of private companies, going public, a large merger and back to his desk, a computer with a keyboard and the daily challenge of following the dream.
Along the way, Ridgely founded and/or acted as publisher for Network Marketing Lifestyles magazine, Domain Street magazine and the Upline Journal along with dozens of books, audio and video materials. He writes several books per year, in addition to The Daily Column.
Ridgely holds an undergraduate degree from The University of Virginia, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law, is fluent in five languages and has spoken to audiences throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico and North America.