The Sun Inside the Rain

I cannot remember a time that music was not center stage in my life. We never had much money when I was growing up, but my father had a small record collection that he played over and over again. From his adolescence in the 1950s, Daddy had 45s, so-called because they played at 45 revolutions per minute, unlike the vinyl albums that we have today which are played at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. Forty-fives were smaller, two-song recordings with the hit single (if the artist was lucky) on the “A” side, and usually a filler song on the “B side” or “the flip side”. Daddy collected some rousing Black gospel and records as well as his favorite pop tunes. When he played them, my sister Lisa and I knew all the words and would sing them together at the top of our lungs.

Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls
Champagne, sables and such
I never cared much for diamonds and pearls
But honestly honey, they just cost money
Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way
Give me your shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or gray give me your heart to rely on . . .

Little things mean a lot.

Carl Stutz / Edith Lindeman, Songwriters; Singer Kitty Kallen

The songs taught us what was important, that simple kindness and love were more important than diamonds and pearls, as in “Little Things Mean A Lot”, Kitty Kallen’s big hit in 1954. That people were important than things. And Daddy told us stories about being one of the few white guys sticking out like a sore thumb when he went to see his favorite Black group, the Platters, when they came to town.

As I got older, I continued in my father’s footsteps. Many of my favorite singers were African or African-American fusion artists who wove disparate musical traditions together, Johnny Clegg (who was white) and his group Savuka (who were Black) from South Africa. As Savuka’s Wikipedia page says:

Johnny Clegg photographed with his son for the cover of his “Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World” album, 1989.

Savuka’s music blended traditional Zulu musical influences with Celtic music and rock music that had a cross-racial appeal in South Africa. Their lyrics were often bilingual in English and Zulu and they wrote several politically charged songs, particularly related to apartheid

Savuka, from Wikipedia

When Johnny started playing music with his Black countrymen, he lived under South Africa’s apartheid rules which among a host of other things, forbade Johnny, a young white man, from playing music with Blacks. He ignored his country’s institutionalized racism and segregation and continued to play music with his Zulu friends. He learned their tribal dances and their music that was so joyous even when the lyrics were full of longing for better days.

They say that four walls do not a prison make
I’m trying to find a way out but there seems no escape
When I feel the hidden power that lies inside your sound
Like the ghost inside the atom that spins it round and round
There’s magic in some words, some things you can’t explain
That conjures up that feeling of the sun inside the rain

From “I Call Your Name”, Johnny Clegg, 1988

I was mesmerized by Sade Adu who is Nigerian and British, and Americans Roberta Flack, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone. Somehow songs from the Black experience have always resonated with me, perhaps because I have always felt like an outsider, and I love the passion in their music.

And although she is not Black, I discovered Loreena McKennitt in the early 1990s. Loreena is a Canadian singer, songwriter, musician who combines Celtic and Middle Eastern musical traditions. Early on she was inspired by the Celts who show up in many places around the world.

Why does combining different racial and cultural backgrounds threaten so many of my fellow white people today in America and Europe as it did white people living under the apartheid system of South Africa? And the Germans before World War II?

From the Oregon Holocaust in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Kurt Weiss

Similarly why did the Board of Education members in McMinn County, here in my home state of Tennessee, feel so threatened by Maus, a graphic novel depicting the Holocaust, that they voted earlier this month to remove it from their curriculum? The book, created by Art Spiegelman from the experiences of his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and remains the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer. Maus depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats. The McMinn County Board of Education said they were offended by a handful of curse words and a depiction of a”nude” mouse.

Is the world just a little too rough for some people in McMinn County, Tennessee? Should unpleasant truths be scrubbed clean? Truths such as the systematic murder of 6 million Jews and perhaps just as many other people the Germans found inferior or threatening in any way: Polish people, gypsies, intellectuals, homosexuals, people with disabilities, prisoners of war, Serbians, and anyone who tried to help the oppressed people who were being slaughtered.

I am reminded of another Tennessean who courageously took another kind of stand: Roddie Edmonds, an enlisted man in World War II, who hailed from South Knoxville where I grew up.

Roddie arrived in Europe in December 1944, only five days before the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise German winter assault, in which around 20,000 American soldiers were taken prisoner. Edmonds, a Master Sergeant, was captured along with more than a thousand other American enlisted men, and they were eventually sent to a POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.

Roderick W. “Roddie” Edmonds, born in 1919 in Knoxville, Tennessee.He grew up in South Knoxville, graduated from Knoxville High School in 1938, and s erved his country in World War II and the Korean War.

As a Master Sergeant, Edmonds was the highest ranking non-commissioned officer at the POW camp which held 1,275 American soldiers. On January 27, 1945, their first morning there, the German commandant, Major Siegmann, ordered Edmonds to have all the American Jews appear the next morning outside their barracks. Instead the next morning, all 1,275 American soldiers stood at attention outside the barracks behind Roddie Edmonds.

Furious, Major Siegmann shouted, “They cannot all be Jews!” To which Roddie Edmonds of South Knoxville responded, “We are all Jews.”

The German drew his sidearm and aimed it at Edmonds, but Roddie would not back down. Instead he reminded the German officer that under the Geneva Convention’s armed conflict protocols all he was obliged to tell the enemy was his name, rank, and serial number. Edmonds said, “If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” The German commandant backed down and 200 to 300 Jewish Americans were saved that day. Edmonds spent a further 100 days as a prisoner of war, then went back home to Tennessee, and did not speak about his brush with death, not even to his family.

Edmonds died in 1985 and never received any recognition for his courageous stand, but others recalled his bravery. Thirty years after his death, in 2015, Roddie Edmonds was selected to receive the Righteous Among the Nations award, Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. And President Obama spoke about Edmonds’ heroism and human decency during the Righteous Among the Nations ceremony of 2016.

From the Oregon Holocaust Memorial, Portland, Oregon. Photo: Kurt Weiss

Would we have the courage of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds?I know your dad said he was just doing his job, but he went above and beyond the call of duty, and so did all those who joined in that line. Faced with a choice of giving up his fellow soldiers or saving his own life, Roddie looked evil in the eye and dared a Nazi to shoot. His moral compass never wavered. He was true to his faith, and he saved some 200 Jewish American soldiers as a consequence. It’s an instructive lesson, by the way, for those of us Christians. I cannot imagine a greater expression of Christianity than to say, I, too, am a Jew.

Remarks by President Barack Obama at the Righteous Among All Nations Ceremony, at the Embassy of Israel, Washington, DC, January 27, 2016

“We are all Jews.” Roddie Edmonds’ words ring down through the ages. We are all Jews. He took a stand and saved lives. Some estimates of the number of people who died in World War II have reached 75 million. Why did 75 million civilians and soldiers die? Because Adolph Hitler was not a good enough painter. Oh, if only he had been a better, less frustrated artist! Instead Hitler saw a way to achieve ultimate power by manipulating the simmering hatred and jealousy in the hearts of his fellow men and women. He rode that crazy horse all the way to Armageddon and 75 million people died. Do we want to whitewash that history and say that Hitler did not really kill 6 million Jews? And another 5 or 6 million people that he found undesirable? And what about the other 63 million people who died during the Second World War? Yes, the Nazis were racist. Yes, they were White Supremacists. Yes, they were Fascists. And they were Anti-semitic. And young men around the world fought to defeat them.

Roddie Edmonds made a difference in the lives of 200 to 300 Jewish American soldiers, and he inspired many people who have heard the story since 1945. He saw the common humanity in people who did not share his religious background. Although he was a Christian, he put his life on the line and said, “We are all Jews.”

//Anna ~ 1/31/2022

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Courage, Ideas, Knoxville, Op/Ed Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Sun Inside the Rain

  1. Mary says:

    Anna, I never had heard of Roddie Edmonds. I’m glad to learn this bit of history. Thanks for sharing it.

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