Witness — David Milley

(From 1960-1965, my family attended two churches)

Pastor Jones whispered Sunday homily that day.
We came straight home. Mom went to bed.
Dad sat in his chair,
said nothing,
stared ahead,
then held out his hand to me.

Another bombing. Birmingham, one day’s drive away.
Four girls, my sister’s age, killed.
America would not let our Sunday church be torched.
Downtown, in Orangeburg, old and rich and white,
it was safe from your sons,
all grown up no
w, and vile.
When he let my meddling Yankee family in, Pastor lost prestige,
but he kept his life.

The church by Claflin College, where Dad and Mother taught,
was for Negros and exposed.
It filled the main corner on the dark side of town.
We knew the big glass windows, already once repaired,
could be a target any night,
but we always went, every week, for vespers Wednesday night.
Dad risked his children’s lives to attend,
as did every father there.

That Wednesday, Reverend Manning wept for the girls:
Carole, Cynthia, Denise, and Addie Mae.
He thundered for justice.
He cried out to heaven to bring courage and peace.
My family sat, white, silent, ashen, and ashamed.
Reverend Manning pled, for the million millionth time, he called:
“America, when will you keep your promise?
When can our children come home?”

The choir cried out; the congregation roared:
“Amen! Amen! Amen and Amen and Amen!”


Writing since the 1970s. David Milley‘s work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Christopher Street, and Bay Windows. David lives in New Jersey with his husband of four decades, Warren, who has worked as a farmer, woodcutter, nurseryman, beekeeper, auctioneer, and cook. Nowadays, Warren gardens and keeps honeybees; David walks and writes.