By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
After what I considered to be a promising career as a second grade singing sensation came to a close, the only other time that I sang at a school function was during an assembly just prior to the end of my freshman year. It wasn’t the kind of a thing that would make it into a yearbook photo, but it was something that I remember now as vividly as though it was happening right now.
I can’t remember why the event organizers asked me to sing the national anthem. It was OK though. I knew the words and felt comfortable singing to an audience with or without amplification. The school usually played a recorded version of the national anthem when the band wasn’t available, so it was unusual for me to get called upon to sing. What wasn’t unusual was that Troy Fields, by far the best singer in our school, was also on the program.
Troy and I had been schoolmates since our days together as sixth-grade students at East-West Finley School. We worked together as a team in dodge ball and pitched pennies together. I made enough money flipping pennies that fall to purchase a leather sling for my .22 rifle before the start of squirrel season. Those were good times, back then.
Troy worked in his father’s refuse-hauling business along with the rest of his family. I always heard that his oldest brother sang with the famous Ink Spots, but I knew personally that Troy had one powerful voice. His favorite song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” That evening when I sang the National Anthem, students applauded politely. But when Troy sang, all of the students swayed and clapped together. I sang church songs in church, but Troy was a gospel singer from a gospel singing family.
An adult welcomed the students, introduced me to sing the “Star-spangled Banner,” and introduced another adult who offered the invocation. Troy and I had a few moments together on the back of the stage where I experienced the joy of completing my performance without messing up, and Troy prepared to sing his heart out in praise to the Lord. My joy and Troy’s anxious anticipation blended together for one very special moment.
For that one moment, singing was such a personal possession for both of us. He went out, stood on the stage and sang the best version of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” that I ever heard him sing. Troy left school before the end of our sophomore year. I assumed he went to work, but part of me hoped that he landed a singing contract and was experiencing great success in the music world.
I knew Troy’s dad and mom and I liked them. We never thought about things in terms of race. Troy and I both grew up learning from parents who truly believed in the “Golden Rule” and the words contained in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Those words rang with such clarity to me that I believed that I could understand them as well as the very intelligent students in my high school. I believed that, based on the statements in the Declaration of Independence, that I was equal to everyone else regardless of wealth, status, birthright or faith. When I memorized President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” to recite in 10th grade, Lincoln used the same words: “That all men are created equal.” Those words reinforced my personal beliefs that I can stand tall anywhere because that is the central belief that guides the nation that God blessed me to be born in.
I was a foolish child and I made many mistakes — huge mistakes — in my life, but even in the darkest times I can recall, the promise and the words: “That all men are created equal,” gave me the strength to overcome my personal failings and to move forward to the path that God would have me walk. I don’t think for a moment that those words only apply to me. To the contrary, I truly believe those words apply to every soul — man, woman and child — even to those who were not blessed like me to be born free in a free country.
As a newspaper guy, I get the opportunity to exalt in those words every day, and to work with other like-minded freedom lovers to make sure that the laws that breathe freedom into our nation, breathe that freedom equally and without respect to status, station or circumstances. I don’t think that everyone should think like me. I think people should think for themselves, but do so in the context of our nation’s central belief in the equality of all people.
Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.