There have been many characters in African and African American
literature and folk tales that have influenced my view of what it means to be a man in
difficult circumstances. The characters include: Dan Freeman in The Spook Who Sat By
The Door by Sam Greenlee, Max Reddick in The Man Who Cried I Am by John A.
Williams and Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. In the folk
tales there are the characters High John The Conqueror, Stackolee and - of course - Shine.
Characters such as Shine have been humorous antidotes to Europeans and European Americans
distortions of the African personality from the plays of Shakespeare through the modern
writings that raised up Step N Fetchit, J. J. of Good Times, Martin and the army of pimps,
hustlers, thugs, OGs and petty crooks that are the staple characters of television, videos
and movies. There have been many versions of the story of Shine and the sinking of the
Titanic told on street corners and porches or around the fireplace in the Black community
since 1912. I have four humorously coarse published versions of "Shine" and it
occurred to me to write my own sanitized version given the ongoing hype surrounding the
latest movie about the Titanic and the current perilous condition of the American
"ship of state." I dont know of another version that extends the story as
mine does in the last stanza.
The Sinking Of Titanic And The Rising Of Shine
When the ship Titanic set sail in May, Only Black on board was Shine
that day. Shoveling coal was Shines job for the trip, Deep down in the boiler room
of the big ship. In 1912 it was the best he could get, Black man shoveling before sun rise
Mid-Atlantic night, a shudder and a sound, The great Titanic was going down. The rising
water touched his toe. Shine dropped his shovel and started to go. Ran up from the boiler
room floor. Stairs two at a time and out the door.
Shine spotted the Captain who was calm as could be. Shine told him now was the time to
Captain told Shine, "Go back down! Ive got 20 pumps to pump the water
down." Shine went down a frown on his face And found the water up to his waist.
Shine ran three at a time back up the stairs. Found Captain rearranging deck chairs. Shine
told Captain things looked bad. "Go on back down!" Captain said. "Ive
got 40 more pumps to pump the water down." Shine went back but afraid hed
drown. Shine found the water was up to his neck. Knew it was time to remain on deck.
Captain told Shine, "Get back down the stairs." Shine told Captain to say his
prayers. Shine kicked off his shoes and dived in the sea. Looked back and shouted,
"Swim like me!" When Shine jumped from the mighty Titanic the Captain and
passengers began to panic. Captain shouted, "Save me Shine! Ill give you money.
All thats mine."
Shine said, "Your moneys no good down in the sea.
Jump in the water and swim like me." The Captains daughter came on deck. Skirt
cut high and diamonds on her neck. She shouted, "Oh Shine come back and save poor me
And Ill give you everything you see." Shine said, "Coming back isnt
within my plan. You better jump in the water and swim if you can."
Captains wife then made her appeal. Told Shine shed give him a very special
deal. Shine was stroking through the sea. He paid no attention to her plea. Captain,
daughter and wife began to cry
As Shine in the distance called out, "Bye."
Over the horizon and heading West Shine was steady stroking. Land was his quest.
A Great White Shark took up his trail Looking to dine if Shine should fail. Shine said,
"You are king of the ocean and the sea But got a crippled crab on crutches chance to
take a bite of me."
Shine swam so fast across the ocean That he hit New Yorks shore with a running
Sunrise in Harlem and papers brought the news of the sinking of Titanic on its maiden
As word of the sinking spread about Shine was on 125th street checking life out. As years
passed and Shine The Elder grew gray
He taught the young ones the lesson learned that day. "No matter how low they try to
send you down Your destiny is not to drown. Jump in the ocean and swim like I did. And
tell your sisters and brothers thats what Shine said."