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Why Rush Should Meet the Bunk

Wendell Pierce talked to the Hollywood Reporter about his new memoir, The Wind in the Reeds. Here’s a link to that interview. Excerpt:

On the surprising similarities to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he’ll play in Confirmation, which will air on HBO in 2016:

I actually was intrigued by the man even more because I saw so much in his upbringing as in my mother’s upbringing and my uncle’s and my grandfather, and so I tapped into that, to the understanding of that. His grandfather, the hero of his life, said, ” ‘Can’t’ is already dead. I helped bury him. Don’t ever tell me you can’t do something.” Mine would say, ” ‘Can’t’ died three days before the creation of the world. Don’t ever tell me you can’t do something.” That sort of similarity of the wisdom of those black folks who had gone through so much racial violence and protecting their children as they tried to prepare them for going

Wendell Pierce (s_bukley / Shutterstock.com)
Wendell Pierce (s_bukley / Shutterstock.com)

out into a racist world and a world that, as my parents always told me, “Those who don’t have your best interests at heart.” I try to tap into the humanity of who the justice is. And coming from Pin Point, Ga., he reminded me of College Point, La. — the moral construct of church, the importance of education and so on — where my mother and where my family came from. So I tapped into that. I find it very interesting. I found similarities in that. I reached out to [Thomas, to meet him]. I doubt he will meet me, but, hey, please put it in this article that I still, to this day, would love to meet him.

And the surprising conservative pundit who does want to meet him:

What’s interesting is, I hope to meet Rush Limbaugh because he was speaking about our project on the radio one day and said, “You know, it’s just the left liberal condemnation of our justice and it’s awful, but the guy playing him is that actor from The Wire [Wendell played Bunk Moreland — RD]. I kinda would like to meet him.” So just as an off-cuff relationship, I reached out to Rush Limbaugh, to his office, and said I would like to meet him. His people said, “OK.” If he invited me to come onto the show, I would go on the show because they need to have those voices.

I didn’t know Wendell had reached out to the Limbaugh people. I can think of at least two reasons why Rush ought to invite him on his show.

1. Wendell is a liberal Democrat, but despite what you might think about liberal Democrats, he’s also a very fair man. It speaks volumes that when it came to seeking a collaborator for his memoir, Wendell — a black liberal from New Orleans — hired a white conservative who lives in the country (me). Why? Because he knows that some things are more important than politics. When we met for lunch, we found that we had more in common than the things that divided us. He was a genuine pleasure to work for and with, and because he’s such a generous, big-hearted man, he opened my eyes to a lot of things about race, culture, and history that I had not been able to see before. Anyway, the fact that a black liberal trusted a white conservative to help him tell the precious story of his and his family’s journey tells you a lot about the kind of man Wendell is. He’s a man who looks past ideology, and sees the heart. And he inspires the same reaction in others. In me, anyway.

2. The Wind in the Reeds is surprisingly conservative. Don’t misunderstand: he was and is a strong Obama supporter, and by no means sympatico with the Republican Party. But as Wendell alludes in his Clarence Thomas answer above, the stories about his (Wendell’s) rural family back in the 1930s and 1940s strongly resonate with family values conservatives. Here’s a passage from the book illustrating why. Mamo and Papo were Frances and Herbert Edwards, Wendell’s maternal grandparents, who raised their large family in College Point, a tiny community along Bayou Lafourche:

Theirs was a religious household. Papo was a lifelong Methodist; Mamo, a Catholic. All the Edwards children were baptized into the Catholic faith, and Papo saw their upbringing as loyal sons and daughters of Rome as a sacred obligation. If one of the children didn’t want to go to Sunday mass, Papo wouldn’t let them play outside that afternoon. Every night, Papo would get on his knees and pray aloud, presenting all his family’s needs to the Lord while the children kneeled quietly beside him. He read the Bible to the children and explained it to them as best he could.

The way my mother and my aunts and uncles told it, everybody in College Point was as good as family, and you respected them as such. It takes a village to raise a child? That’s how it was in College Point. Any adult could scold any kid for doing wrong. They knew how your mama and daddy would want you to behave, and they also knew that your mama and daddy would appreciate the reinforcement of the community’s standards. In the Edwards family, as in most other black families in
College Point, life’s purpose was to serve God and get an education. If you did these things, and held tight to the family, you were going to make it.

Papo refused to accept from his children anything short of excellence. When one of his kids would say, “Daddy, I can’t do it,” Papo would respond, “Can’t died three days before the world was born!” He believed in you, and he expected you to rise to the challenge. Education was one of the most precious gifts a man or a woman could have, Papo believed. “If you get an education,” he told his children, “they can take away your job, they can take away your house, they can take away everything you have, but once you get something in your head, they can’t take it away from you.”

And:

Mamo worked as a cook and a maid in a white family’s house, and she spent the early part of Christmas day there preparing their dinner. Back at the farm, Papo oversaw the preparation of the Edwards family’s holiday meal, which they would celebrate as the evening meal, so Mamo could be with them. Christmas dinner was always rich with country food, including chicken, turkey, and goose from their farm, rice, green peas, and potato salad. For dessert, the family ate candy and cake Papo made himself. There wasn’t much money for Christmas gifts, but Papo and Mamo made sure their children feasted well on the Nativity.

One Christmas evening after supper, the Edwardses went to call on their College Point neighbors, to wish them a happy holiday. The kids were startled to go into one house and to see that all that family had eaten for their Christmas meal was potatoes and grits. When they returned home, Papo told the children, “This is what I mean when I tell you it’s important to save for a rainy day. If you put your money aside now, you will have enough to eat well on Christmas.”

Given the man Papo was, if the Edwardses had any food left, he probably took it to that poor family, and didn’t tell his own children for the sake of preserving their neighbors’ dignity.

One more:

His children remembered Papo as a slow talker but a deep thinker. He never made a quick decision, but acted only after prayer, deliberation, and sleeping on it. Whatever the answer was, he arrived at it through careful reason, not passion. Acting on impulse was the sure way to lose your money, in Papo’s view.

Papo worked for a time in a sugar factory, and received his weekly wages in a brown packet. He had a firm rule with himself: wait 24 hours before spending a penny of it. Uncle L.C. says that as a young working man, he thought his father’s rule was silly. You have the money, he figured, so why not enjoy it?

But when he got married and started a family of his own, he understood Papo’s good sense, and followed the rule himself. Uncle L.C., who worked at the DuPont chemical plant, has done well through saving and investing over the years. To this day, he credits Papo for teaching him by word and example the importance of being careful with your money, and not letting your passions guide your decisions.

These were dirt-poor country black folks living through the Depression in a culture of violent white supremacy. And yet, they triumphed. Their kids all did well for themselves. Wendell credits the values that Mamo and Papo instilled in their children, and through his mom, into him, for his success. I can’t resist one more great anecdote about Wendell’s mother Tee:

After graduating from Southern University with a degree in education and home economics, Tee returned to the bayou to teach. Back then, the only middle-class professions open to African Americans were teacher, preacher, and undertaker. If you were one of those, you held elite status in the black community.

Though she was working at the black school in Paincourtville, Tee, a tomboy in her youth, helped out on the farm by driving the tractor as Papo, Tee Gladys, and the others gathered hay. One of the kinfolks chastised her for lowering herself in that way.

“You finished college,” the relative chided. “You have a sheepskin. You’re not supposed to be on this tractor.”

“If I hadn’t been on this tractor, I wouldn’t have a sheepskin,” Tee shot back. In her family, there was nothing undignified about hard work.

You want to read the whole thing? Buy the book. It’s a great American story, one that pays tribute to the sacrifices of past generations, and to the truth that hard work, education, and a refusal to cripple yourself with self-pity and victimhood, even in the face of injustice, can lead to triumph. It’s the story of the black middle class in America.

3. The patriotism of Amos Pierce, Wendell’s father, a World War II combat veteran who was humiliated by his country, but who never stopped loving America — and who was, at long last, The story of what happened, and how Amos Pierce got his due at long last, is very moving, and I told it here the other day.

Come on, Rush. Call Wendell back. You really want to have him on your show.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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