Wednesday, October 25, 2017

'At one point, you felt terribly sad, but then you felt a closeness ... a love for each other ...'


Author's Note: Five days after the plane crash, a group of about 50-55 people representing Black United Students of Marshall University rode a chartered bus on a five-day trip that covered more than 1,500 miles. They attended a wake and three funerals at Bluefield, West Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Greenwood, South Carolina. This trip enabled these college students to say their good-byes to seven of the ten black football players who died. In my memoir, there's an entire chapter that goes into detail about that memorable journey.

Getting fifty seats on the chartered bus filled was not a problem. There was a strong sense of obligation to go on this trip. Folks had a burning desire to pay their final respects. Nobody ever said it, but all of us knew it was the appropriate thing to do. Whites were not barred from the caravan. It just turned out that no white folks signed up to go. The school made sure that Marshall would be represented at every player’s funeral by assigning various faculty and staff members to attend designated services.

Book excerpt: 
'Homegoing Caravan'

Several campus organizations held memorial services for all the crash victims. But among the blacks at Marshall, there was a unique affinity because of skin color and culture. Call it a sign of the times. It was a time in which blacks were the small minority on white college campuses, but were very vocal in helping to pave the way for blacks’ inclusion into every facet of student life.

Marshall was no different. Back then, the black pride movement was at its peak. The soul hit “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown became an anthem for blackness back in the day.

Widespread devastation

“Marshall was a very small community,” said Angela Dodson. “There were only a few us (black students). To lose ten at one time was a big dent. In the midst of all the confusion and shock, we needed to do something active or proactive to try to process all that had happened and be part of it.”

The most unique aspect of this trip was the kaleidoscope of emotions experienced by the passengers as they traveled from one funeral site to another. There were upbeat moments accompanied by laughter and horseplay—and always lots of spontaneous singing. By the end of the journey, it’s safe to say that there were few on board who didn’t know at least one stanza of the black church hymn “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”

Emotional roller coaster

All during the trip, caravan passengers sang spirit-lifting songs that reinforced a message of hope that some way, somehow, everything was going to be all
right. Audience participation on the bus trip didn’t end with song. As a means of coping, the passengers—one by one—got out of their seats and shared their fondest memories of the players who died. These testimonial-style presentations helped everyone on the bus to learn more about the human side of these deceased athletes.

Melancholy moments were to be expected. Every time the bus would get within forty to forty-five minutes of arriving at the next funeral stop, the mood would change dramatically. Bus riders went from being jovial to being in mourning. At those times, silence gripped the atmosphere. With the exception of some quiet chatter here and there, the only sound was the barely audible hum of the engine as the bus motored down the highway.

Long stretches of silence during the bus ride

This aura of quietness remained when passengers boarded the bus after attending a homegoing. The silence would last for as long as an hour or two. At times, the stillness was so obvious that you could hear a mosquito breathe.

These extremes in shifting emotions played out time after time over the course of this trip. “At one point, you felt terribly sad,” said Bundy. “But then you felt a closeness, a togetherness, a love for each other; and you felt how everybody was holding up everybody else.”

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