Several people I interviewed for “The Class of ’65” died before it came out. The passing that hit closest to home was that of Joseph Logan, one of Greg Wittkamper’s classmates, who plays a central role in the story and is pictured on the cover (middle of the second row). Last week marked a year since Joseph died, so I thought I should say something about him and the courage it took for him to speak with me so candidly.
Joseph was co-captain of the football team during his senior year at Americus High School and was dead set against Greg and Koinonia, the communal farm he came from, because they supported integration. Joseph never attacked Greg, but he was part of the crowd that ambushed him after school in the fall of 1964, and he cheered when one of his football teammates punched him in the face. Joseph never forgot the way Greg literally turned the other cheek and refused to fight back. Years later, teaching a Methodist Sunday school class, Joseph used the scene as a real-life example of the New Testament in action.
I first spoke with Joseph in 2006 when I did a story about the Class of ’65’s 40th reunion for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We reconnected as I started working on the book. Joseph had been teaching at Enterprise State Community College in Alabama for many years and was in declining health. We spoke over the phone several times and then met for breakfast and lunch whenever he came to Atlanta with his wife, Mary Alice, for treatment of his kidney disease and other ailments. I finally went to visit them in Enterprise, staying with them at their home. I liked them both very much.
Joseph’s intimations of mortality seemed to put him in a confessional mood. He told me things about his racial attitudes as a young person that I’m not sure he would have divulged a few years earlier. In particular, he told me about a night in the summer of 1965, during a civil rights demonstration in Americus, when he joined a pack of young men who attacked a black man on the street simply because he was black. Joseph didn’t assault the man, but he nearly did, clutching a chunk of concrete, and he regarded this brush with brutality as a turning point in his life. I’ve read that passage from the book numerous times during the talks I’ve given this year. (It starts on Page 144). Sometimes I tear up when I retell the story.
I suspect this incident was one of Joseph’s darkest memories. I’m grateful he was brave enough to relive it with me.
Joseph died late last October as I was going through the editing process. I know he was a little nervous about what I was going to write; truth is, I was a little nervous about what he would think of what I had written. I regret that he didn’t live to see the book published. I sent Mary Alice a copy and she wrote back saying that her husband would have been pleased. That meant a lot to me.
I should mention the three other people I know of that I interviewed for the book who have passed away: John Perdew, a civil rights activist in Americus who was jailed for months in 1963 for “inciting insurrection”; Vincent Harding, a clergyman and civil rights leader who counted Clarence Jordan and Martin Luther King Jr. among his friends; and Zev Aelony, another activist who was held for inciting insurrection and who lived at Koinonia off and on for several years. Zev was Jewish, but he fit right in with the community of Christians.
They were remarkable people -- Joseph and the rest of them -- and I was honored to tell part of their stories.