Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of June 1, 2006

Hey Joe: What do you think about The Da Vinci Code?

Rev. James A. Buckels Sr., Madison, Illinois

Every positive story has a moral. Remember The Andy Griffith Show — the town of Mayberry, Aunt Bea, Opie and the rest? For each episode, there was a moral. Opie grew up in Hollywood (supposedly a land of fantasy), but Mayberry epitomized America in its portrayal of lily-whiteness. If there was ever an American idol, it has to be Opie, loved by both blacks and whites. Ron Howard's Opie was the child genius who brightened American hearts in his constant quest for truth. And Sheriff Andy Taylor, his TV father, always provided answers.

Now an adult, Howard is a film director and producer. His latest work, The Da Vinci Code, is based upon portions of the Bible that many feel have been depicted wrongfully. It has drawn much criticism from a group of so-called Christians. More directly, it's based on a mystery novel written by author Dan Brown. We live in a capitalistic society, and a capitalistic society is one without conscience. The bottom line is money. So a best-selling book such as this usually winds up on the screen. Ron Howard just happens to be an entrepreneur.

Not too long ago, professed Christians expressed much dissatisfaction over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. But it is no secret that the screen, whether TV or movie, deals mostly with illusions. Such was the case with The Andy Griffith Show. But although the roles of Opie and Andy were designed for the script, they reflected a genuine portrait of love — the kind that God sent Christ to teach on earth and also the kind that is never spiritually conveyed in church by so-called disciples. Many find solace in bashing Hollywood without thinking that there is so much good in the bad of us, and so much bad in the good of us — and that it behooves none of us to talk about the rest of us.

Though a child sensation, Ron Howard might have inadvertently challenged the authenticity of America's professed Christianity because of two other motion pictures: The Ten Commandments and Roots. According to the Bible, the former stemmed from the Book of Exodus, after God delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt and did away with Pharaoh. The latter stemmed from a novel written by Alex Haley and concerned slavery, which is in direct conflict with the Bible. In fact, slavery breaks all the commandments. Although both films are based upon truth, most so-called clergymen have avoided pointing out the differences between the two relative to sin. And seemingly, church members aren't serious truth-seekers like Opie Taylor, because there aren't many Sheriff Taylors available to give the answers. Preachers black and white alike have joined forces to further smother truth. Ours is a capitalistic society, and a capitalistic society is one without conscience. The bottom line is money.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.