Thursday, February 16, 2006

Incredible, lucky, wonderful

It's one of those great work days.

I just had a meeting with a living historical figure. Photographer David Johnson was one of the primary chroniclers of the San Francisco African-American community in the mid-20th century and of the civil rights movement. Jazz greats, prominent leaders and politicians, and beautiful children and ordinary people all figure in his amazing body of work. He lives in our community now and will exhibit his work here at our university later this spring.

He said to me, "It's time to consider where we go from here. The work is not completed. We are on the threshhold. Our country needs to learn to be what we say we are. It is a critical time for America as a superpower. How will we resolve our conflicts in the Middle East? How will we relate to the Muslims in our world, to the growing populations in China and India? We are in transition from a particular moment in history. My peers are passing. I'm the only living photographer featured in the book, Harlem of the West. It's a great moment to be alive and pass on the stories, pass the torch to another generation."

He said to me, "I'm probably the only person you'll ever meet who was there at the 1963 March on Washington. I was there, and I was photographing." He's right -- I've never before had the privilege of meeting someone who was present at that time. What an honor!

I told him about my little boys. He gave me a postcard of one of his photographs. In it, a young African American man sits on the lap of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Monument, pensive, a little sad maybe, holding an American flag. Lincoln looks ready to stand, and he seems to be pushing the boy to stand, as well, as if to say, "Get up! We have work to do."

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