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February 99 Message
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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 don’t 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 Shine’s 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 past set.
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 flee.
Captain told Shine, "Go back down! I’ve 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. "I’ve got 40 more pumps to pump the water down." Shine went back but afraid he’d 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! I’ll give you money. All that’s mine."
Shine said, "Your money’s no good down in the sea.
Jump in the water and swim like me." The Captain’s daughter came on deck. Skirt cut high and diamonds on her neck. She shouted, "Oh Shine come back and save poor me And I’ll give you everything you see." Shine said, "Coming back isn’t within my plan. You better jump in the water and swim if you can."
Captain’s wife then made her appeal. Told Shine she’d 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 York’s shore with a running motion.
Sunrise in Harlem and papers brought the news of the sinking of Titanic on its maiden cruise.
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 that’s what Shine said."



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Last modified: September 9, 1999