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Thursday September 21, 2017
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The Belford Lawson Mystery



"So maybe the idea of taking me back to Michigan was associated in the minds of my father's generation with: 'He might find out something about what it was like to live under extreme segregation.' He might have thought that if I started to find out information about the twenties and how black students lived and where they lived and where they ate, it might be traumatic. And it wouldn't have been just preventing me from finding out about the harshness of life in segregation, but preventing me from finding out about the emotional difficulty of enduring the ambiguity."

With his father gone, Belford Lawson III can only wonder about those long-ago seasons. What seems most likely is that his father--unquestionably a highly accomplished man in every other part of his life--did what countless fathers have done before and since: he told his son a few tall tales of past athletic glory then dodged a situation in which he might have been forced to admit that those few stories were more fiction than fact.

But even if that is so, Belford Lawson Jr. was not quite the same as the average father making up stories to impress a son. He was making up stories about what really might have been, had it not been for the racism of his time and place. Perhaps, as he told his son those tales, he was for a few moments escaping the necessity, as his son put it, of "enduring the ambiguity" of being accepted yet not accepted, good enough yet not good enough.

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