Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SOCIAL (04/07/16)
- TITLE: The Dam Bodies
By Bill Price
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Ulysses Abraham felt uneasy. A son of mixed race parents, the 40-year-old bureaucrat leaned back in his borrowed chair in the King County Commission hearing room. He was an outsider from eastern Illinois summoned to the deep south to settle a dam dispute.
Sitting to Ulysses’ right were overdressed white officials who lived up river from the dam. To his left stood a very black skinned Luther Williams with his eldest son, Martin.
What’s this really about, Lord?
“It’s the dam’s fault,” accused the farmer who lived below the dam. The African American landowner stood in worn work boots before the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers attorney. “We got to have water. I don’t know who watched them build the dam, but someone should’ve. There’s something wrong, sinfully wrong. It’s blocking the flow of our progress, livelihood and social...”
King County Power Company President, Zachary Davis, interrupted Mr. Williams. He spoke in a thick, slow Ge-or-gia accent, “Excuse me Mr. Abraham, how can a dam be faulted? It was built over one hundred-sixty years ago by my great, great, great grandfather. That dam provides our power, without it we’d all have nothing.”
“Thank you for the history lesson,” quipped Mr. Abraham, “as much as I enjoy your accent and how proud you are of your ancestors, I’m listening to Mr. Williams right now.” Ulysses turned back toward the landowner.
But it was the junior Williams who spoke, “Sir.” Martin was a sophomore attending nearby State College in Progress City. “If I may?”
Mr. Abraham nodded. Zachary Davis sighed in syrupy southern drawl.
Martin continued, “One would think, a dam built to produce electricity would need water passing through it.”
No, he said power, the dam provided their power. Ulysses recalled to himself.
Martin’s young voice sounded like a cross between a preacher and an attorney, “Then I ask, why isn’t there water continuously rushing through it?” Martin continued, “There is no flood risk. We have high banks. Why does the river just trickle, especially in the summer when the remains of spring rain have long disappeared? The river above the dam is swollen rich. I question why can’t this dam be opened and set our water free?”
Zachary Davis interrupted again. “Excuse me, is he kidding? ‘Set our water free?’ Does he have a, dream, to share next? I am sorry Mr. Abraham, but the reality is the King County Power Company...”
Ulysses lifted up his right palm toward Mr. Davis. He envisioned the Williams’ standing below the towering dam shaking fists at echoes of their own protests.
Yes, Lord, but you heard them.
“The only dream happening, Mr. Davis, is you assuming I drove here to rubber stamp your point of view. That is not the case. I am going to hear this young man out,” he nodded toward Martin.
“Like I said, I don’t understand why so little water comes through the dam, unless.” Martin took a deep breath, “Unless there is something hidden.”
“I object,” exclaimed Mr. Davis who abruptly stood.
“You cannot object, Sir, now sit down so I can hear what I was sent to hear,” Ulysses directed.
Martin’s eyes began to tear, “The dam was built by black men, Sir, almost a thousand. And the story goes over one hundred black men went missing who built the dam. Their bodies were never found. It is my opinion the dam is becoming weak. The power company does not want to repair the dam fearing the discovery of dead men’s bones buried in its midsection.” Martin bowed his head.
Attorney Abraham spoke sternly, “Don’t even get up, Mr. Davis. I represent the Army Corp of Engineers. And we are going to check the dam’s structural integrity. Part of that check will be internal. I will also be contacting the F.B.I. if we find anything we should not. In the meantime, do not say anything else.”
Ulysses concluded, “I am not passing judgement on what may have happened, but I do speak for today. And because you are such a fan of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Davis, I end this hearing with his quote:
‘Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.’
“And that is why I do what I do. Hearing adjourned.”
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