KENNETH HARPER gazed slowly around his office. A smile of satisfaction wreathed his face, re- flecting his inward contentment. He felt like a runner who sees ahead of him the coveted goal to- wards which he has been straining through many gruelling miles. Kenneth was tired but he gave no thought to his weariness. Two weeks of hard work, countless annoyances, seemingly infinite delays—all were now forgotten in the warm glow which pervaded his being. He, Kenneth B. Harper, M.D., was now ready to receive the stream of patients he felt sure was coming.
He walked around the room and fingered with almost loving tenderness the newly installed ap- paratus. He adjusted and readjusted the examining- table of shining nickel and white enamel which had arrived that morning from New York. He arranged again the black leather pads and cushions. With his handkerchief he wiped imaginary spots of dust from the plate glass door and shelves of the instrument case, though his sister Mamie had polished them but half an hour before until they shone with crystal clearness. Instrument after instrument he fondled with the air of a connoisseur examining a rare bit of porcelain. He fingered critically their various
parts to see if all were in perfect condition. He tore a simp from air old letter and placed it under the lens of the expensive microscope adjusting and readjusting until every feature of the stamp stood out clearly even to the most infinite detail. He raised and lowered half a dozen times or more the lid of the nickelled sterilizer. He set at various angles the white screen which surrounded the examining-table, viewed it each time from different corners of the room, and rearranged it until it was set just right. He ran his hand over the card index files in his small desk. He looked at the clean white cards with the tabs on them—the cards which, though innocent now of writing, he hoped and expected would soon be filled with the names of innumerable sick people he was treating.
His eye caught what he thought was a pucker in the grey-and-blue-chequered linoleum which covered the floor. He went over and moved the sectional bookcase containing his volumes on obstetrics, on gynaecology, on materia medica, on the diseases he knew he would treat as a general practitioner of medicine in so small a place as Central City. No, that wasn't a pucker—it was only the light from the window striking it at that angle.
“Dr. Kenneth B. Harper, Physician and Surgeon.” He spelled out the letters which were painted on the upper panes of the two windows facing on State Street. It thrilled him that eight years of hard work had ended and he now was at the point in his life towards which he had longingly looked all those years.
Casting his eyes again around the office, he went into the adjoining reception room.
Kenneth threw himself in utter exhaustion into one of the comfortable arm-chairs there. His hands, long-fingered, tapering to slender points, the hands of a pianist, an artist, whether of brush or chisel or scalpel, hung over the sides in languid fashion. He was without coat or vest. His shirt-sleeves were rolled back above his elbows, revealing strongly muscled dark brown arms. His face was of the same richly coloured brown. His mouth was sensitively shaped with evenly matched strong white teeth. The eyes too were brown, usually sober and serious, but flashing into a broad and friendly smile when there was occasion for it. Brushed straight back from the broad forehead was a mass of wavy hair, brown also but of a deeper shade, almost black. The chin was well shaped.
As he lounged in the chair and looked around the reception room, he appeared to be of medium height, rather well-proportioned, almost stocky. Three years of baseball and football, and nearly two years of army life with all its hardships, had thickened up the once rather slender figure and had given to the face a more mature appearance, different from the youthful, almost callow look he had worn when his diploma had been handed him at the end of his college course.
The reception room was as pleasing to him as he sat there as had been the private office. There were three or four more chairs like the one in which he
sat. There was a couch to match. The wall-paper was a subdued tan, serving as an excellent background for four brightly coloured reproductions of good pictures. Their brightness was matched by a vase of deep blue that stood on the table. Beside the vase were two rows of magazines placed there for perusal by his patients as they waited admittance to the more austere room beyond. It was comfortable. It was in good taste—almost too good taste, Kenneth thought, for a place like Central City in a section like the southernmost part of Georgia. Some of the country folks and even those in town would probably say it was too plain—didn't have enough colour about it. Oh, well, that wouldn’t matter, Kenneth thought. They wouldn't have to live there. Most of them would hardly notice it, if they paid any attention at all to relatively minor and unimportant things like colour schemes.
Kenneth felt that he had good reason to feel content with the present outlook. He lighted a cigarette and settled himself more comfortably in the deep chair and let his mind wander over the long trail he had covered. He thought of the eight happy years he had spent at Atlanta University—four of high school and four of college. He remembered gratefully the hours of companionship with those men and women who had left comfortable homes and friends in the North to give their lives to the education of coloured boys and girls in Georgia. They were so human—so sincere—so genuinely anxious to help. It wasn't easy for them to do it, either, for
it meant ostracism and all its attendant unpleasantnesses to teach coloured children in Georgia anything other than industrial courses. And they were so different from the white folks he knew in Central City. Here he had always been made to feel that because he was a “nigger” he was predestined to inferiority. But there at Atlanta they had treated him like a human being. He was glad he had gone to Atlanta University. It had made him realize that all white folks weren't bad—that there were decent ones, after all.
And then medical school in the North! How eagerly he had looked forward to it! The bustle, the air of alert and eager determination, the lovely old ivied walls of the buildings where he attended classes. He laughed softly to himself as he remembered how terribly lonesome he had been that first day when as an ignorant country boy he found himself really at a Northern school. That had been a hard night to get through. Everybody had seemed so intent on doing something that was interesting, going so rapidly towards the places where those interesting things were to take place, greeting old friends and acquaintances affectionately and with all the boisterous bonhomie that only youth, and college youth at that, seem to be able to master. It had been a bitter pill for him to swallow that he alone of all that seething, noisy, tremendous mass of students, was alone—without friend or acquaintance—the one lonely figure of the thousands around him.
That hadn't lasted long though. Good old Bill
Van Vleet! That's what having family and money and prestige behind you did for a fellow! It was a mighty welcome thing when old Bill came to him there as he sat dejectedly that second morning on the campus and roused him out of his gloom. And then the four years when Bill had been his closest friend. He had been one wonderful free soul that knew no line of caste or race.
His friendship with Van Vleet seemed to Kenneth now almost like the memory of a pleasant dream on awaking. Even then it had often seemed but a fleeting, evanescent experience—a wholly temporary arrangement that was intended to last only through the four years of medical school. Those times when Bill had invited him to spend Christmas holidays at his home—they had been hard invitations to get out of. Bill had been sincere enough, no doubt of that. But Bill's father—his mother—their friends—would they—old Pennsylvania Dutch family that they were —would they be as glad to welcome a Negro into their home? He had always been afraid to take the chance of finding that they wouldn't. Decent enough had they been when Bill introduced him to them on one of their visits to Philadelphia. But—and this was a big “but”—there was a real difference between being nice to a coloured friend of Bill's at school and treating that same fellow decently in their own home. Kenneth was conscious of a vague feeling even now that he had not treated them fairly in judging them by the white people of Central City. Yet, white folks were white folks—and that’s that! Hadn't his
father always told him that the best way to get along with white people was to stay away from them and let them alone as much as possible?
Through his mind passed memories of the many conversations he had had with his father on that subject. Especially that talk together before he had gone away to medical school. He didn’t know then it was the last time he would see his father alive. He had had no way of knowing that his father, always so rugged, so buoyantly healthy, so uncomplaining, would die of appendicitis while he, Kenneth, was in France. If he had only been at home! He’d have known it wasn't a case of plain cramps, as that old fossil, Dr. Bennett, had called it. What was the exact way in which his father had put his philosophy of life in the South during that last talk they had had together? It had run like this: Any Negro can get along without trouble in the South if he only attends to his own business. It was unfortunate, mighty unpleasant and uncomfortable at times, that coloured people, no matter what their standing, had to ride in Jim Crow cars, couldn't vote, couldn't use the public libraries and all those other things. Lynching, too, was bad. But only bad Negroes ever got lynched. And, after all, those things weren't all of life. Booker Washington was right. And the others who were always howling about rights were wrong. Get a trade or a profession. Get a home. Get some property. Get a bank account. Do something! Be somebody! And then, when enough Negroes had reached that stage, the ballot and all the
other things now denied them would come. White folks then would see that the Negro was deserving of those rights and privileges and would freely, gladly give them to him without his asking for them. That was the way he felt. When Bill Van Vleet had urged him to go with him to dinners or the theatre, he had had always some excuse that Bill had to accept whether he had believed it or not. Good Old Bill! They never knew during those more or less happy days what was in store for them both. Neither of them had known that the German Army was going to sweep down through Belgium. Nor did they know that Bill was fated to end his short but brilliant career as an aviator in a blazing, spectacular descent behind the German lines, the lucky shot of a German anti-aircraft gun.
Graduation. The diploma which gave him the right to call himself “Dr. Kenneth B. Harper.” And then that stormy, yet advantageous year in New York at Bellevue. Hadn't they raised sand at his, a Negro's presumption in seeking that interneship at Bellevue! He'd almost lost out. No Negro interne had ever been there before. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Cox, to whom he had had a letter of introduction from his old professor of pathology at school, he never would have got the chance. But it had been worth it.
enneth lighted another cigarette and draped his legs over the arm of the chair. It wasn’t bad at all to think of the things he had gone through—now that they were over. Especially the army. Out of Belle-
vue one week when the chance came to go to the Negro officers’ training-camp at Des Moines. First lieutenant's bars in the medical corps. Then the long months of training and hard work at Camp Upton, relieved by occasional pleasant trips to New York. Lucky he’d been assigned to the 367th of the 92nd Division. Good to be near a real town like New York.
That had been some exciting ride across. And then the Meuse, the Argonne, then Metz. God, but that was a terrible nightmarel Right back of the lines had he been assigned. Men with arms and legs shot off. Some torn to pieces by shrapnel. Some burned horribly by mustard gas. The worse night had been when the Germans made that sudden attack at the Meuse. For five days they had been fighting and working. That night he had almost broken down. How he had cursed war! And those who made war. And the civilization that permitted war–even made it necessary. Never again for him! Seemed like a horrible dream—a nightmare worse than any he had ever known as a boy when he'd eaten green apples or too much mince pie.
That awful experience he had soon relegated to the background of his mind. Especially when he was spending those blessed six months at the Sorbonne. That had been another hard job to put over. They didn't want any Negroes staying in France. They’d howled and they’d brought up miles of red tape. But he had ignored the howls and unwound the red tape.
And now, Central City again. It was good to get back. Four—eight—sixteen years had he spent in preparation. Now he was all ready to get to work at his profession. For a time he'd have to do general practising. Had to make money. Then he’d specialize in surgery—major surgery. Soon’s he got enough money ahead, he'd build a sanitarium. Make of it as modern a hospital as he could afford. He'd draw on all of South Georgia for his patients. Nearest one now is Atlanta. All South Georgia—most of Florida—even from Alabama. Ten years from now he'd have a place known and patronized by all the coloured people in the South. Something like the Mayo Brothers up in Rochester, Minnesota!
“Pretty nifty, eh, Ken?”
Kenneth, aroused suddenly from his retrospection and day-dreams, jumped at the unexpected voice behind him. It was his younger brother, Bob. He laughed a little shamefacedly at his having been startled. Without waiting for a reply, Bob entered the room and sat on the edge of the table facing Kenneth.
“Yep! Things are shaping up rather nicely. Everything's here now but the patients. And those'll be coming along pretty soon, I believe,” replied Kenneth confidently. He went on talking enthusiastically of the castles in the air he had been building when Bob entered the room—of the hospital he was going to erect—how he planned attending the State Medical Convention every year to form contracts with other coloured doctors of Georgia—how he was in-
tending to visit during the coming year all the coloured physicians within a radius of a hundred miles of Central City to enlist their support. He discussed the question of a name for the hospital. How would Harper's Sanitarium sound? Or would the Central City Infirmary be better? Or the Hospital of South Georgia?
On and on Kenneth rambled, talking half to Bob, half in audible continuation of his reverie before Bob had entered. But Bob wasn’t listening to him. On his face was the usual half-moody, half-discontented expression which Kenneth knew so well. Bob was looking down the dusty expanse of the road which bore rather poorly the imposing title of State Street. The house was located at the corner of Lee and State Streets. It was set back about fifty feet from the streets, and the yard outside showed the work of one who loved flowers. There was an expanse of smooth lawn, dotted here and there with flowering beds of pansies, of nasturtiums. There were several abundantly laden rose-bushes and two of “cape jessamine” that filled the air with an intoxicating, almost cloying sweetness.
Though it was a balmy October afternoon, the air languorous and caressing, Bob shared none of the atmosphere's lazy contentment. All this riot of colours and odours served in no manner to remove from his face the dissatisfied look that covered it. He listened to Kenneth's rhapsodies of what he intended accomplishing with what was almost a grimace of distaste. He was taller than Kenneth, of slighter
build, but of the same rich colouring of skin and with the same hair and features.
In spite of these physical resemblances between the two brothers, there was a more intangible difference which clearly distinguished the two. Kenneth was more phlegmatic, more of a philosophic turn of mind, more content with his lot, able to forget himself in his work, and when that was finished, in his books. Bob, on the other hand, was of a highly sensitized nature, more analytical of mind, more easily roused to passion and anger. This tendency had been developed since the death of his father just before he completed his freshman year at Atlanta. The death had necessitated his leaving school and returning to Central City to act as administrator of his father's estate. His experiences in accomplishing this task had not been pleasant ones. He had been forced to deal with the tricksters that infested the town. He had come in contact with all the chicanery, the petty thievery, the padded accounts, that only petty minds can devise. The utter impotence he had felt in having no legal redress as a Negro had embittered him. Joe Harper, their father, had been exceedingly careful in keeping account of all bills owed and due him. Yet Bob had been forced to pay a number of bills of which he could find no record in his father's neatly kept papers. These had aggregated somewhere between three and four thousand dollars. Various white merchants of the town claimed that Joe Harper, his father, owed them. Bob knew they were lying. Yet he could do nothing. No court in South Georgia
would have listened to his side of the story or paid more than perfunctory attention to him. It was a case of a white man's word against a Negro's, and a verdict against the Negro was sure even before the case was opened.
Kenneth, on the other hand, had been a favourite of their quiet, almost taciturn father. Always filled with ambition for his children, Joe Harper had furnished Kenneth, as liberally as he could afford, the money necessary for him to get the medical education he wanted. He had not been a rich man but he had been comfortably fixed financially. Starting out as a carpenter doing odd jobs around Central City, he had gradually expanded his activities to the building of small houses and later to larger homes and business buildings. Most of the two-story buildings that lined Lee Street in the business section of Central City had been built by him. White and coloured alike knew that when Joe Harper took a con- tract, it would be done right. Aided by a frugal and economical wife, he had purchased real estate and, though the profits had been slow and small, had managed with his wife to accumulate during their thirty-five years of married life between twenty and twenty-five thousand dollars which he left at his death to his wife and three children.
Kenneth had been furnished with the best that his father could afford, while Bob, some ten years younger than his brother, had had to wait until Kenneth finished school before he could begin his course. Bob felt no jealousy of his favoured brother, yet
the experiences that had been his in Central City while Kenneth was away had tended towards a bitterness which frequently found expression on his face. He was the natural rebel, revolt was a part of his creed. Kenneth was the natural pacifist—he never bothered trouble until trouble bothered him. Even then, if he could avoid it, he always did. It was not strange, therefore, that he should have come home believing implicitly that his father was right when he had said Kenneth could get along without trouble in Central City as long as he attended to his own business.
Kenneth talked on and on, unfolding the plans he had made for the extending of the influence of his hospital throughout the South. Bob, occupied with his own thoughts, heard but little of it. Suddenly he interrupted Kenneth with a sharply put question.
“Ken, why did you come back to Central City?” he asked. He went on without waiting for a reply. “If I had had your chances of studying up North and in France, and living where you don't have to be afraid of getting into trouble with Crackers all the time, I’d rather’ve done anything else than to come back to this rotten place to live the rest of my life.”
Kenneth laughed easily, almost as though a five-year-old had asked some exceedingly foolish question.
“Why did I come back?” he repeated. “That's easy. I came back because I can make more money here than anywhere else.”
“But that isn’t the most important thing in life Bob exclaimed.
“Maybe not the most important,” Kenneth laughed, “but a mighty convenient article to have lying around. I came back here where the bulk of coloured people live and where they make money off their crops and where there won't be much trouble for me to build up a big practice.”
“That’s an old argument,” retorted Bob. “Nearly a million coloured people went North during the war and they’re making money there hand over fist. You could make just as much money, if not more, in a city like Detroit or Cleveland or New York, and you wouldn't have to be always afraid you’ve given offence to some of these damned ignorant Crackers down here.”
“Oh, I suppose I could've made money there. Dr. Cox at Bellevue told me I ought to stay there in New York and practise in Harlem, but I wanted to come back home. I can do more good here, both for myself and for the coloured people, than I could up there.” He paused and then asserted confidently: “And I don’t think I'll have any trouble down here. Papa got along all right here in this town for more than fifty years, and I reckon I can do it too.”
“But, Ken,” Bob protested, “the way things were when he came along are a lot different from the way they are now. Just yesterday Old Man Mygatt down to the bank got mad and told me I was an ‘impudent young nigger that needed to be taught my place’ be-
cause I called his hand on a note he claimed papa owed the bank. He knew I knew he was lying, and that's what made him so mad. They're already saying I’m not a ‘good nigger' like papa was and that education has spoiled me into thinking I’m as good as they are. Good Lord, if I wasn't any better than these ignorant Crackers in this town, I’d go out and jump in the river.”
Bob was working himself into a temper. Kenneth interrupted him with a good-natured smile as he said: “Bob, you’re getting too pessimistic. You've been reading too many of these coloured newspapers published in New York and Chicago and these societies that’re always playing up some lynching or other trouble down here—”
“What if I have? I don’t need to read them to know that things are much worse to-day than they were a few years back. You haven’t lived down here for nearly nine years and you don't know how things are changed.”
“It’s you who have changed—not conditions so much!” Kenneth answered. “What if there are mean white folks? There are lots of other white people who want to see the Negro succeed. Only this morning Dr. Bennett told mamma he was glad I came back and he'd do what he could to help me. And there’re lots more like—”
“That's nice of Dr. Bennett,” interjected Bob. “He can afford to talk big—he's got the practice of this town sewed up. And, most of all, he's a white man. Suppose some of these poor whites get it into
their heads to make trouble because you're getting too prosperous—what then? Dr. Bennett and all the rest of the good white folks around here can't help you!”
“Oh, yes, they can,” Kenneth observed with the same confident smile. “Judge Stevenson and Roy Ewing and Mr. Baird at the Bank of Central City and a lot others run this town and they aren't going to let any decent coloured man be bothered. Why, I’ll have a cinch around this part of Georgia! There aren't more than half a dozen coloured doctors in all this part of the country who’ve had a decent medical education and training. All they know is ladling out pills and fake panaceas. In a few years I’ll be able to give up general practising and give all my time to major surgery. I’ll handle pretty nearly everything in this part of the State. And then you’ll see I’m right!”
“Have it your own way,” retorted Bob. “But I'm telling you again, you haven't been living down here for eight or nine years and you don't know. When all these Negroes were going North, some of these same ‘good white folks' you're depending on started talking about ‘putting niggers in their place’ when they couldn't get servants and field hands. You'll find things a lot different from the way they were when you went up North to school.”
“What’re you boys fussing about? What's the trouble?”
Bob and Kenneth turned at the voice from the doorway behind them. It was their mother.
“Nothing, mamma, only Bob's got a fit of the blues today.”
Mrs. Harper came in and looked from one to the other of her sons. She was a buxom, pleasant-faced woman of fifty-odd years, her hair once brown now flecked with grey. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the corner of her apron, announcing meanwhile that supper was ready. As he rose, Kenneth continued his explanation of their conversation.
“Bob’s seeing things like a kid in the dark. He thinks I’ll not be able to do the things I came back here to accomplish. Thinks the Crackers won't let me! I’m going to solve my own problem, do as much good as I can, make as much money as I can! If every Negro in America did the same thing, there wouldn’t be any “race problem.’”
Mrs. Harper took an arm of each of her sons and led them into the dining-room where their sister Mamie was putting supper on the table.
“You’re right, Kenneth,” Mrs. Harper remarked as she sat down at the table. “Your father and I got along here together in Central City without a bit of trouble for thirty-five years, and I reckon you can do it too.”
“But, mamma,” Bob protested, “I’ve been telling Ken things are not what they were when you and papa came along. Why—”
“Let’s forget the race problem for a while,” Kenneth interrupted. “I’m too hungry and tired to talk about it now.”
“That’s right,” was Mrs. Harper's comment. “Draw your chairs up to the table. You're not goin' to have any trouble here in town, Ken, and we’re mighty glad you came back. Mrs. Amos was in this afternoon and she tells me they’re having some trouble out near Ashland between the coloured share- croppers and their landlords, but that’ll blow over— just as it's always done.”
“What’s the trouble out there?” asked Kenneth. He wasn’t much interested, for he could hear Mamie, in the kitchen beyond, singing some popular air to the accompaniment of chicken-frying.
“It’s a case where coloured farmers claim they can’t get fair settlements from their landlords for their crops at the end of the year,” explained his mother.
“Why don’t they hire a lawyer?” Kenneth asked, with little interest.
“That shows you’ve forgotten all about things in the South,” said Bob with mingled triumph and despair at his brother's ignorance. “There isn't a white lawyer in Georgia who'd take a case like this. In the first place, the courts would be against him because his client’s a Negro, and in the second place, he'd have to buck this combination of landlords, storekeepers, and bankers who are getting rich robbing Negroes. If a white lawyer took a case of a Negro share-cropper, he’d either sell out to the landlord or be scared to death before he ever got to court. And as for a Negro lawyer,” here Bob laughed sardoni- cally, “he'd be run out of town by the Ku Klux
Klan or lynched almost before he took the case!”
“Oh, I don’t know so much about that!” Kenneth replied. “There are landlords, without doubt, who rob their tenants, but after all there are only a few of them. And furthermore,” he declared as Mamie entered the room with a platter of fried chicken in one hand and a plate of hot biscuits in the other, “supper looks just a little bit more interesting to me right now than landlords, tenants, or problems of any kind.”
Mamie divested herself of her apron and sat down to the table. She was an attractive girl of twenty-two or twenty-three, more slender than Bob, and about Kenneth's height. Her hair was darker than that of either of her brothers, was parted in the middle and brushed down hard on either side. Though not a pretty girl, she had an air about her as though she was happy because of the sheer joy of living. She had graduated from Atlanta University two years before, and with two other girls had been teaching the seven grades in the little ramshackle building that served as a coloured school in the town. That hard work had not as yet begun to tell on her. She seemed filled with buoyant good health and blessed with a lively good nature. Yet she too was inclined to spells of depression like Bob's. She resembled him more nearly than Kenneth. As has every comely coloured girl in towns of the South like Central City, she had had many repulsive experiences when she had to fight with might and main to ward off unwelcome attentions—both of the men of her
own race and of white men. Especially had this been true since the death of her father. Often her face overclouded as she thought of them. She, like Bob, felt always as though they were living on top of a volcano—and never knew when it might erupt. . . .
The four sat at supper. Forgotten were problems other than the immediate one of Kenneth's in getting his practice under way. Eagerly they talked of his plans, his prospects, his ambitions. Bob said noth- ing until they began to discuss him and his plans for returning to school the following fall, now that Kenneth was back to complete the settling of the small details that remained in connection with Joe Harper's eState. . . .
It was a happy and reasonably prosperous, intelligent family group—one that can be duplicated many, many times in the South.