Florence, South Carolina, Fall-Winter 1960-61
The chill of December filled the air as Julian and Harold walked home from school. They had just left the Wilson High School grounds and were now walking along an unpaved street lined with narrow houses with brick chimneys and wide front porches. The trees were mere skeletons, leaves gone. Julian was a senior looking forward to graduating and going to college. Harold was a junior with a keen interest in physics and cinema.
"What books have you read lately?" Julian asked, pushing his black horn-rimmed glasses up higher on his nose.
"I read a book called Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It talks about the colonization of Mars. Mars is tempting, but I guess we have to get to the moon first. What about you?"
"I read a book by George Gamow called 123 Infinity. It explained in understandable language many of the current theories in physics and astronomy."
"That sounds pretty cool."
"It was a challenge to understand some of Einstein's concepts such as space-time being four dimensions where time is the fourth coordinate. Gravity is defined as a geometric property of space-time, where the curvature of space-time could result from the presence of the gravity of a massive object like the sun. The sun's gravity can bend the light of stars. This is Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. I had to reread it a few times, but a lot of what the book was talking about made sense after a while.”
"Science is an excellent subject from the sheer immensity of it all. The universe is the mother lode of this vastness." Harold said.
"Let's just say science is a mother, full stop."
The two students reached the downtown area of Florence and passed by the small retail shops, the local five and dime store called Kress, the local cinema, and a photography studio.
"Do you remember a few months ago when some students in Greensboro got arrested for trying to integrate the lunch counters at Woolworths?” Julian said.
"Yeah, I remember. They were very brave considering the Jim Crow laws they were breaking."
"I’ve been thinking about books and how important it is to have access to knowledge. I think that’s more important than black people gaining access to lunch counters. The main library in Florence has so many amazing books." Julian said.
"Too bad they don't allow us black folks to go there.”
"Well, why don't we do what they did in Greensboro and attempt to integrate the library? Keep in mind Dr. Martin Luther King was successful in integrating the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama after organizing a long boycott," Julian said.
"I could go for attempting to integrate the library. Let's do it." Harold said.
There is a risk to doing this, are you sure you want to do this?
Julian and Harold began walking toward the main library on Irby Street. After several blocks, they reached the library which was a large red brick building with white arched window over the main entrance out front. They looked up and read the name: Florence Public Library.
"I wonder if the public in library is accurate and includes us. Let's go in and see," Julian said.
Nervously, they climbed the steps and opened the heavy wooden front door. Inside they saw wide hardwood tables and four large chandeliers. In the rear, the librarians sat behind a long desk. Behind the librarians and to their sides were the stacks which held an extensive collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and microfilm.
"Let's go pick out some books and take them up to the desk to check out," Julian said.
The ladies behind the desk stopped what they were doing and checked out the unwanted visitors from across town. Among the shelves of books, Julian found about five that piqued his interest. He joined up with Harold and walked deliberately to the librarian.
"We are students at Wilson high, and we would like to check out these books," Julian said.
"I'm sorry, but you need a library card to check out books," the librarian responded.
"Can we apply for a card now?" Harold asked.
"If you want these books we will reserve them and send them to the library connected to your school. That is the library for Colored people in Florence."
"Why can't we just get them now and have regular use of this library. This library has a much larger collection than the one next to our school."
"I'm sorry boys," she said.
"Wouldn't it be more ethical and also based on the US constitution for the library to give us a card? We are citizens of this country also. Thomas Jefferson said we are all created equal."
The librarian thought for a minute wondering how to answer; then she turned to consult her nearby colleagues who had been watching the encounter.
Harold turned to Julian and whispered, "Let's take these books and sit down to read them here in the library."
They sat down at the table nearest the door with their stack of books between them and began reading. Their thirst for knowledge was quenched as they enjoyed the public library for the first time. They read for about two hours until nearly six o’clock.
"Boys, the library's closed you have to leave now," the librarian said.
"Can we check out the books?" Julian asked.
"I explained to you earlier that you cannot check out books from this library. We are closing now."
"We’re not leaving until we’re allowed to check out these books," Julian said defiantly. He could feel his heart banging in his chest as he stood his ground.
Harold said, "We are prepared to stay here overnight."
"In that case, I have no recourse other than to call the police," she said and turned on her heel to make the call.
In about five minutes the blinking lights of a police car pulled up in front of the library. Moments later three burly policemen stood over Julian and Harold.
"Boys the library is closed. You have to leave now," one of the policemen said. The two boys remained silent and continued sitting at the table.
"Boys this is the last time I will ask you to leave. If you refuse, we have to put you under arrest and take you to jail," the other policeman said.
"We want to check out these books here on the table. After that we will be happy to leave," Julian said while getting up to go to the other side of the table to huddle with Harold.
"Should we let ourselves get arrested or should we leave," Harold asked, his voice low.
"Instead of getting arrested maybe we should leave and come back again tomorrow," Julian said.
The police were noticeably impatient, but they let the two boys talk.
Without any further discussion, Harold and Julian got up and left. They calmed down from the tension of the police encounter as they walked home.
"We can continue tomorrow with the protest," Julian said.
The next day they returned, and the door had a sign saying, "closed for renovation."
"I don't see any renovation work going on," Harold said.
"No there is no renovation happening. They have closed the library because we challenged the system yesterday."
"Let's try again tomorrow."
They returned several days in succession and found the same sign but saw no visible renovation work. They stopped checking for two months. On February 22, 1961, they returned.
"The library is open," Julian said.
They both rushed in to see what would happen. After collecting books from the stacks, they went to check them out.
"We would like to check out these books," Julian said.
"First you have to fill out these applications for cards," the librarian said.
She handed both of them an application, and they quickly filled them out. Cards were issued, and the library checked out the books. Julian put his books in his backpack with a wide smile.
As they walked home, Julian said, "I feel great Harold. We succeeded in checking out books for the first time in our hometown library. More importantly, we have opened up this treasure trove of books to the rest of the black community in Florence, forever."
"Our strategy worked of coming back until they relented and gave us a card," Harold said.
Knowledge is power. Did you notice the librarian's politeness when giving us the card? It was as if we were freeing her mind of bigotry as was said of whites also being freed when Lincoln freed the slaves," Julian said.
"So Julian Jr. that's my memory of how my friend Harold and I opened up the Florence public library to all the residents of the city. Black people were excluded from using this library from the time of its founding on November 3, 1925, until February 22, 1961. I was about your age when this happened. The mission of the library in 2015 now states, and I quote:
The Florence County Library System provides library materials, services, and programs to all citizens of Florence County, to assist them in obtaining information to meet their diverse educational, cultural, recreational, and professional needs.
"Wow, that's a great story. I never thought about how important books are," Julian Jr. said.
Julian Sr.’s story of integrating the library made an indelible imprint on Julian Jr.’s thinking and ambition. Julian Jr. pursued computer science books in his college studies and later focused his research on artificial intelligence.
Great Rift Valley, East Africa 74,000 Years Ago
In the distance, the ashes of a super-volcano darkened the sky of an ancient East African dawn. The rising sun was muted before it could illuminate the tall grasslands. All the animals were startled and turned to gaze at this unusual display of nature’s power.
This was the great Toba Event, the largest volcanic eruption in the past two million years. This mega-eruption from a Pacific island spread an ash cloud that covered the Indian subcontinent in a blanket fifteen meters deep. Some volcanic ash reached Africa and eventually circled the globe in the stratosphere creating a devastating volcanic winter.
A small band of humans crouched in a tight circle to protect themselves from the wrath of nature. As the morning turned to afternoon, the sun disappeared behind the enormous ash cloud. Soon, great quantities of ash fell from the sky like a spring rain and covered the landscape.
“What does this mean?” Kyo asked her nearby mate.
“This is the omen of disaster that our ancestors told us about many moons ago,” replied Arion.
“What does the omen mean?” Kyo asked.
“It means we must find shelter and store food or we will surely die.”
The other clan members in this small group of thirty-one looked at each other with bewilderment through a gray mist, as their faces and skimpily clad bodies became covered in ash.
“How can we find game when the land is covered by this ash from the heavens?” Utu, a young clan member, asked.
Eto, an elder shaman, responded, “The animals we need for survival are in the same trouble we are. While they display weakness, we must display strength. May the gods shine on us and help us succeed. If not, we die of hunger. Our ancestors did tell us to look to the caves.”
The sun was too faint to heat up the day, which soon became as dark as night. The group trudged toward a small stream in the distance as the ash grew deeper and deeper, soon reaching their ankles. Visibility worsened with each and every careful step.
Over half of this group had perished in an earlier encounter with an earthquake. Survival of the other half was now in peril. When they reached the small stream, their first thought was to fill their gourds with water and press onto a distant cave for safety. They hoped that they would capture game, find some berries and hunt for meat before entering the cave.
For a thousand generations, the clan eked out a living on the plains of East Africa. The struggle for survival had always been part of their life. Periodically, the skies had darkened during the seasonal rains, but this was different. Even the clan elders could not remember anything like this.
Along the route, the clan saw wildebeest, giraffe, eland and antelope in the distance, but they were too far away to be worth the hunt. The group trekked for several hours in the direction of the mountains and encountered a herd of gazelles that seemed confused and disoriented. Two stray laggards from the herd became a natural target. The clan was always prepared to seize an opportunity to acquire food. The alternative was to perish from starvation. The spears they used were fashioned over the millennia into lethal weapons with flaked obsidian stones, and the men’s constant practice perfected their accuracy in hitting their targets.
Some of the men had blowguns with poison-tipped darts. These were used when the range was close to reaching the target. The poison wounded the animal and was effective in minimizing the time and distance of tracking.
“Prepare for an attack!” Arion spoke softly, yet his command was sharp.
The men squatted in the tall grass, waiting for Arion’s signal. When he raised his arms, the spears flew, striking both gazelles in mid-flight. The animals collapsed about fifty meters away. The men ran to their fallen prey, raised their hands high in the air and yelled, “Uhuru.”
The gazelles were mounted on parallel poles and carried through an area of heavy, dense savannah foliage. Their knowledge of this area was deep and rich from many generations traveling back and forth over the terrain searching for food and water.
“Look at the hills in the distance. We need to go there,” said Arion. The hills were silhouetted against the dark sky. Faces white with ash, the clan members carried their possessions and meager food supplies and continued to trek to their destination. Three enormous lions prowled nearby the cave complex.
“Let’s go in that direction,” Arion said pointing north. “We need to get around these beasts.” The clan moved rapidly; yet, the big cats had caught their scent and, crouching low, stalked their prey.
“We need to get out of range quickly,” said Arion.
“The children can’t keep up,” Utu responded in a panic.
Sure enough, a lion sprang from the tall grasses and grabbed a young boy. He screamed as the lion dragged him into the bush. The clan members valiantly chased to fight back but soon gave up when the screams stopped. All hope was lost. The child was gone to the ages.
“We must continue to the mountain home,” Arion said, “or we will all perish to the lions.”
They carried their meager possessions and the gazelles they killed as well as plants, berries, nuts, eggs, honey, termites and ant larvae into the cave. One of the women quickly started a friction fire using a bow, a stone socket, a fireboard and some tinder. Torches were lighted, and the gazelles were skinned and treated for preservation.
The clan settled in the cave while conditions outside became the cold, dark enemy of the living. The temperatures dropped lower than ever before as the sun’s rays were blotted out completely. The Earth was in darkness. The survival of this small human clan sheltering in an African cave would depend on collective intelligence.
“What are you doing now?” one of the children asked Urik, a hunter whose wife had died in the earthquake over three years earlier.
“I’m preserving the flesh from our recent kill by smoking and drying it over this fire.”
“What do you mean by preserving it?”
“Preserving means that the flesh will not take on a bad smell and become dangerous to eat.”
“Will there be enough food for us?”
“I don’t know, but we will have a little more available when I do this. Now, go back to your mother and let me finish this.”
After everyone had rested for a few hours, Arion announced, “We must go deeper into the caves for safety. Be sure to keep all torches lit as we travel in the darkness.”
The clan traveled downward through a narrow passageway until they reached a cathedral-like cavern with a high ceiling. Brilliant stalactite crystals hung from the roof like prehistoric chandeliers. On that first night, Arion gathered the people in a circle around the fire.
His clan was star worshipers, a practice that went deep into the bosom of time for thousands of years. Their ancient elders had passed the words of this proto-religion down through the generations.
“Our very survival is at stake now,” Arion began. “In the distant past, our ancestors also had to become long-term cave dwellers to survive many cycles of the moon. Like our ancestors, we take our wisdom from the almighty stars. The stars are ceaseless, immortal and all wise. Our ancestors told us that we came from those stars. Therefore, we have some of their wisdom. Let’s use that wisdom to continue to live.”
“That’s right, those who came before us were wise. They left us the most important thing, knowledge. These hardships are what to expect in life. We can embrace hardships and work through them,” Eto said.
“Yes, Eto, we saw the power of nature when the heavens darkened. We respect that power, and to flow through the river of changes that Mother Nature presents to us, we must stay calm, be patient and be ever elegant in our thinking, decision making, and our actions. We mourn the loss of one of our children as we also mourn those we lost when the land moved. We must be ever vigilant to protect everyone because we are all one, and we toil together to stay alive.”
The group listened to Arion’s message silently, and the collective body language expressed understanding and approval. Utu raised a question, “How long can we survive in this cave if the world outside remains barren?”
“We can’t say. We have to severely reduce the amount of food we eat so that it will last.” Arion said.
“I agree and share that belief,” Utu said.
Eto and the others nodded in agreement.
Kyo and Arion nestled close together, bedding down for the night in a spot against the cave wall between two large boulders. They kissed softly realizing that this crisis would only deepen their love and make them cherish each other more.
The last flicker of the campfire signaled the time to sleep for the weary band of early humans as they hunkered down to survive the great Toba eruption.
Over days and weeks, the leaves outside began to wilt from the absence of sunlight. The volcanic ash rose high into the stratosphere and circumnavigated the Earth. Photosynthesis stopped, and the food chain halted. This was the great genetic bottleneck when there were only one thousand breeding pairs of Homo sapiens alive. Human life on Earth was gravely threatened with extinction, identical to the fate earlier hominid species had suffered.
The weeks in the cave became months as darkness prevailed across the ash-strewn world.
The Awakening: 2030 AD
In 2030 Julian saw that the intelligence awakening was palpable across the globe. The massive educational advances in knowledge disseminating throughout the globe between 2024 and 2030 began to shatter old paradigms. This profound change over just six years was the result of accelerating scientific advances. The masses that had previously been illiterate and unable to contribute to societal progress were now highly intelligent, well-educated, innovative and were crafting new discoveries every day in all fields of study.
Innovations and discoveries benefitting mankind were very slow over the centuries. Stone ax tools took millennia to advance to bronze implements. Horse-drawn transportation took centuries to advance to the horseless carriage. Man’s first air flight at Kitty Hawk took decades to advance to extra-planetary moon travel with rockets. As collective human intelligence mounted, the timelines between profound discoveries shortened. Medical discoveries that took decades in the past began to occur within years, and later, within months.
In spite of all these magnificent achievements, in 2030, many problems in the world remained. Among these were poverty, human conflict, continued dependence on fossil fuels, periodic global epidemics, energy shortages, mineral resource depletion, insufficient food production and limited clean water supplies for 8.7 billion souls. The greatest problem was the inexorable rise of the seas as climate change increased the global average temperatures. This alone created more refugees than all the wars of the twentieth century. Whole islands disappeared along with enormous sections of the shoreline.