Monday, July 04, 2005

Serendipity Now, Serendipity Forever

The Never-ending Story: On a visit from California, my father blithely has let slip that a Civil War veteran lived next door to his family in Rockport, Texas, in the 1930's. My research has confirmed that a very old man named Grant Richardson lived near my dad's family and that the man's grandson was married to my father's aunt. But was he a Civil War veteran? Perhaps a little field trip will tell.

And Now the Conclusion (?): Another cooler-than-normal, but muggy, July day. As my parents and I get out of the car on U Street NW, just past Vermont Avenue, the rich redolence of barbeque drifts from a corner stand. Across the street, clubs and restaurants occupy the rowhouse buildings. It's easy to imagine this a thriving uptown in the 1920's and 1930's. I almost expect Langston Hughes to come out of one of the coffeehouses and I can see young Edward Kennedy Ellington running playfully around the neighborhood long before succeeding to his duchy.

We're in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s storied Shaw district, about as far as possible from Rockport, Texas, in culture, if not distance. From the corner of Vermont Avenue and U Street, right in front of the barbeque stand, my father says, "Look at that!"

"Oh, yeah! I don't know if I have my camera," Mom says. They did not know where we were headed on this field trip or why. But now they've both spotted the intelligent sculpture that sits in the middle of the African-American Civil War Memorial.

As we cross the street to the Memorial, Mom finds an old disposable camera in her purse. We walk around the perimeter of the Memorial, on which there are metal plates containing the names of more than 200,000 black soldiers who served in America's most tragic conflict. They are arranged by unit. I lead Dad around to the plaque for the 67th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.

"How about that!" Dad exclaims, as he examines the name GRANT RICHARDSON.

Serendipity Forever: On July 12, 1865, the 67th U.S. Colored Infantry was consolidated with the 65th Regiment. Later that year, the soldiers of the consolidated 65th USCI contributed $1400 to a project commenced by their brethen in the 62nd USCI--the establishment of an educational institution for the benefit of freed blacks. On September 16, 1866, Lincoln Institute opened in Jefferson City, Missouri. In September, 1951, my father arrived at Lincoln University from Texas as a new freshman. My mother, from Kansas City, was a junior that year. They married after her graduation in 1953. I was born the following year. In October, 2005, my dad will attend his 50th reunion--with a tiny new bit of history to tell.

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