A Story of Bridging a Racial Divide

by Bishop Eugene Sutton

July 25, 2020

It was summer of 1971, as I recall.  Four high school guys from Coolidge High School in Washington, DC – including my good friend, the founding director of the Bishop Walker School for Boys, and I – had formed a rock/soul band.

We weren’t very good, but what we lacked in talent was more than made up for by playing very loudly!  

We had a gig one Saturday evening to play at a wedding in the small town of Cambridge on Maryland’s eastern shore. The couple paid us in cash – about $50, which was a huge sum for broke high school guys at that time – which we promptly spent down completely on gas and food at a local restaurant.

What we forgot was that we still had to get back to DC via the Bay Bridge. That required paying the toll (one or two dollars at that time) which we didn’t have.

We had a bright idea: we would just go to one of those farmhouses before you get to the bridge and ask to borrow a couple of bucks so that we could get home.

Picture it:  four big, tall black guys from DC, knocking on the door of a farmhouse near Grasonville, Maryland, in the middle of the night, asking for money . . . no problem, right?

Looking back on it, I don’t know why that white farmer even opened the door.  But he did; his wife and he looked us up and down with some apprehension – and heard our strange story of having no money to get over the bridge.

By society’s standards, they should have drawn the shades and called the state police.  But maybe it was something about us – our voice, our fear of not making it home, our desperation, our need – that made them not look at us a threat, not as black beggars, but as human beings that were giving them an opportunity to extend a helping hand.

They gave us five dollars. If you were them, wouldn’t you have done the same?  We thanked them, got their address and promised to pay it back.  

We did.  In fact, each of us in our own way, have paid their kindness forward with lives dedicated to serving others in need.

If you were us, wouldn’t you have done the same?

Editor’s Note: This story, which I heard in person at the Bishop Walker School for Boys Dinner in March 2020, right as the COVID-19 crisis hit, was told by Eugene Taylor Sutton (Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland) where Bishop Sutton was honoring his life-long friend, James Woody, who retired as Director of the BWS this past spring. It is appearing here, in print, for the first time. While a true story, it is also a powerful parable that raises important questions about race, faith, gratitude and service, that are especially relevant in this present time of racial struggle.  Like any good parable, it challenges each of us in different ways, depending on where we see ourselves in the story.  DBW