It was 7:45pm and Candy only had 15 minutes before Nessa and Moses arrived. She knew they wouldn’t dare be a minute late and thought they might actually arrive early. She had brushed her red hair into long silky perfection. It draped down her back and laid on her dark blue dress, every strand moving in unison with the turns of her head. Ernie was tying his black tie that he was wearing with his black suit and soon began brushing what remained of his hair.
At 7:49 the doorbell rang and Candy went to answer it. She had sent all of the servants home. Being that all of her servants were Afro-American she didn’t want Moses or Nessa to feel uncomfortable being served by them and she didn’t want them to see two Afro-Americans with a much better life than theirs.
She told the children – Tim, 15, Edward, 12, and Mary, 16 – to sleep over at her sister’s house and come home on Saturday. She didn’t want any distractions while she assessed Nessa and Moses.
She decided to entertain them in her living room and not the sitting room. Her living room was her oasis filled with her prized figurines, vases, and plants. The carpet and furniture were all white and it was time for the rooms’ yearly cleaning, which she would do a few days after Nessa and Moses’s visit.
Candy was happy to see that Nessa dressed in all white. She noticed the beautiful white hat Nessa wore and wondered if they could really afford such a luxury. Moses had on a simple brown suit. His shoes were shiny as if just shined but there were still noticeable scuffs.
In the midst of making her initial assessment of Nessa and Moses she didn’t realize that Ernie was standing beside her ushering them into the living room.
“Would you like some tea or coffee? I know that usually comes after dinner but I figured we could have some now.” Candy said this to ease the tension. Moses and Nessa sat on the couch with barely an inch between them and Candy saw Moses touch Nessa’s knee as if to settle her.
“I’ll have some tea.” Nessa said in the most high-pitched voice Candy had ever heard from an Afro-American woman.
“I’ll have some coffee.” Moses chimed in it seemed only to be polite.
“Candy, you can bring me some coffee.” Ernie sat in the loveseat and watched Candy disappear into the kitchen.
“Nessa, it’s good to meet you. I wish I could say I’ve heard a lot about you but Moses and I haven’t been talking about much besides work and sports.”
“Oh, well, I haven’t heard much about you either because Moses hardly ever talks about work. He’s not a big talker. More the silent type.”
“Oh, so it’s not just me?”
At that point Candy came into the room carrying a tray with four cups. She handed the tea to Nessa and the coffee to Moses, sat on the loveseat with two cups of coffee and handed one to Ernie.
“It’s not just you what, dear?”
“It’s not just me that Moses doesn’t speak to. He’s not much of a talker.”
“I talk when I need to, speak when spoken to or of.” He turned his face towards Nessa but she looked away from him at Candy.
“Thank you for inviting us to your home.” Nessa knew they would not have been invited if Candy did not want to meet them.
“Well, I’m so glad you could come. Did you find the place alright?
“Yea, well, Moses can figure out how to get anywhere in New York. That’s part of the reason he’s such a good cop.”
“Well, good. I know he must be very good to have ended up with my Ernie as his partner. When Ernie told me that Moses would be his new partner I knew Moses had to be one of the best officers in the precinct.”
“I won’t argue with you Mrs. Avery. I’m certain you speak the truth.”
Candy was delighted Moses accepted the compliment. She thought he’d make a fine partner for her husband – agreeable. People hiding ambition reject flattery.
Candy turned to Ernie and smiled. “Well, how about we go into the dining room and I’ll bring out the food. You can bring your tea and coffee in there.”
Moses and Nessa took their cups into the dining room. There was a long square table with two place settings on one side and two place settings on the direct opposite. Moses thought it strange that Candy and Ernie decided not to sit at the ends of the table. Even Nessa thought it weird that they would sit facing one another like equals. Candy brought out whole baked chicken legs, asparagus, and mashed potatoes.
“You can serve yourselves.” Candy took her spot next to Ernie right across from Nessa.
Moses placed a chicken leg on Nessa’s plate before placing one on his and Ernie did as he saw Moses do and placed a chicken leg on Candy’s plate. Nessa put some mashed potatoes on her plate. She was not sure what the long green stem looking thing was but she knew she had to try it. She took three stems and placed them on her plate. She thought that was enough to seem polite.
“So, Moses, now that you’ve been a patrolman for a bit how do you like it? What is your most favorite thing about it?” Candy wanted to get right to the point of the invitation.
“Well, honestly Mrs. Avery, the best part about it is having a partner. Ernie and I don’t talk much but I think we suit one another pretty well.”
“I think we’ll do just fine Moses.”
Candy knew that was the end of her questioning. Ernie had decided he liked Moses and they would remain partners. And Candy had to admit that she was impressed by them. They were very clean, polite, respectable people which was more than she could say about some White people.
The conversation turned to what Ernie and Moses often talked about – sports and weather. Candy decided not to have a side chat with Nessa. There was nothing they needed to discuss. She would not invite them over again. She was certain Ernie and Moses’s partnership would last and when she said goodnight to Moses and Nessa and watched them walk to their car she saw them growing old together as she would grow old with Ernie.
When Ernie accepted the assignment to work with Moses, the first Afro-American patrolman, he did not concern himself with what other White officers thought of him. He knew there were officers who had refused but he felt, as one of the older officers, that he could lead by example. Ernie imagined if Moses did well there would be other Afro-American patrolmen and he honestly felt that integration was the best thing for the entire police force.
Ernie knew of Moses long before they became partners. Ernie used to see Moses at the station each morning before he went out. When his old partner announced his retirement and Moses was promoted Ernie honestly looked forward to getting to know someone of the opposite race. He’d spoke to Afro-Americans before but with Moses as his partner he would have to place his life and his trust in Moses’s hand.
Ernie felt a bit at ease because he believed Moses could handle any physical altercation he could handle. From a physical perspective Moses and Ernie were equals. Both were over six feet tall, two hundred pounds with thinning hair and a prominent nose.
When they walked through East New York together people could tell they were partners from a distance. That’s why Ernie didn’t understand why so many of the Afro-Americans who lived in East New York questioned Moses’s authority. He thought the people in the community would have been happy to have someone who looked like them in authority but the attitude he received while walking with Moses was much worse than the attitude he ever received when he was with his former White partner.
Ernie picked up on the attitude after his first day walking the beat with Moses. A couple of weeks had passed and he hadn’t said anything to Moses. But as the mid-day August heat built up around Ernie and Moses making their uniforms feel a bit heavier shortly after searching two young Afro-American boys, one of whom had called Moses an Uncle Tom, Ernie knew they had to learn to communicate better.
They sat in the squad car eating their lunches – lunch meat and biscuits for Moses and ham and cheese on wheat for Ernie. Typically they sat in a comfortable silence but that day the tension filled the car like the heat coming in through the windows.
“What do you think they did with the wallet?” Ernie asked.
Moses turned his head to face Ernie and Ernie turned his head to the passenger side so that he could look Moses in the eye.
“I’m not quite sure.” Moses turned away from Ernie’s gaze and looked in front of him. “Maybe I didn’t see things right. It might not have been a wallet.” Ernie turned his gaze forward and away from Moses as he did not want to make him feel too uncomfortable.
“It’s ok. I just want to understand. If you tell me you saw something I’ll believe you and if you tell me you might have made a mistake I’ll believe that too. But let’s work on that – telling each other what we’re thinking. I think that’ll make this easier. Don’t you?” Ernie wanted to reach a point when he did not have to wonder what Moses was thinking. That was the point he was at with his old partner. It would take time and trial and error but they had to think like a unit or one of them would definitely get hurt.
“I agree with you.” Moses answered without averting his eyes from an imaginary spot it seemed only he could see through the windshield.
“Why don’t you and Nessa come over to the house for dinner? You’ve been to Manhattan right?” Moses was so surprised he turned to examine Ernie to gauge his sincerity. It seemed to him that Ernie wanted things to work out between them just as much as Moses did.
“Yes, I’ve been to Manhattan.” But he’d never been to the part of Manhattan where Ernie lived. Ernie lived in his in-law’s old house and his father-in-law had been a lawyer. There were still many parts of the North Afro-Americans didn’t dare to go.
“Candy will cook dinner.” Candace, Ernie’s wife, had told Ernie she wanted to meet Moses. She said she’d feel better if she looked Moses in the eye and knew he would protect Ernie at all costs.
“When?” Moses knew he would be there no matter what day he was told.
“Next Friday. Can you make it?” Ernie knew Candy would be happy with that day.
“We’ll be there.” Moses knew Nessa would be nervous but excited to go into the city.
They finished their food in silence, got out of the car, and began to walk their beat again. In the week they would work together before the dinner, Moses would be more hesitant about the things he mentioned to Ernie, and Ernie would try to come up with small talk to keep them going while hoping their wives could fill the silence during dinner.
In the darkness of the early morning Nessa heard the snores of her husband and children fill the house. She had thirty minutes before Moses woke up and then only an additional fifteen minutes before all of the kids were stretching and heading towards the kitchen.
She fried the bacon and sausage together in the large black iron skillet she’d inherited from her mother while she whipped half a dozen eggs with salt, pepper, and a bit of milk in a medium sized glass bowl. She’d put the dough together for the biscuits the night before so they sat in the oven waiting to become the perfect golden brown on top and bottom. She cut off pieces of bread from the loaf to be eaten with the meal so there would be biscuits left for the kids and her husband to carry for lunch.
Moses even liked to take a few strips of bacon with him to go after eating his full share of everything. Richard, the oldest at 17, ate the second most but Edmond, 15, and Tyrone, 12, put in a good effort to beat him. Naomi, 9, the youngest girl, would only eat cereal and Bobbi, the oldest girl at 14, barely ate at all.
When Moses sat in his chair at the head of the table all of the food was laid out on the table ready for his pickings. The children soon followed and they engulfed the food while she started on the dishes. Luckily she ate a bit as she cooked so by the time the frenzy started her belly was full enough.
As she washed the dishes her mind began to drift to her trip into Manhattan a few days ago. She went into the city to pick up material for her church to make new choir robes for the church’s 20th Anniversary. They could have bought cheaper cloth in Brooklyn but a 20th Anniversary only happened once. The members agreed to work together to raise the money not only for new robes but also for decorations, food, and a small gift for the pastor.
She was looking forward to the Anniversary celebration because her church family was just an extension of her actual family. She was an active member of the church ensuring that her children were there every Sunday and attended every Bible study course. The only person she didn’t have a hold on was Moses. He used his job as an excuse as often as possible but never chastised her for all the time she spent there.
As she washed the large black skillet she thought of the conversation she’d had with Moses the night after she came home from the city. Moses had the same routine for morning and evening so Nessa knew bringing something up shortly after he put on his pajamas caught Moses in his most relaxed state when he was most likely to agree to something.
“So I was in the city today.” She wanted him to be aware of her comings and goings so she often told him exactly where she went everyday.
“Why?” She didn’t often go into the city. Brooklyn had just about everything the city had and they couldn’t really afford to buy anything in the city so he was always a bit suspicious when Nessa mentioned going there.
“I had to pick up the new cloth for the choir robes for the 20th Anniversary celebration. You know the colors are white and gold. We have all the decorations and the food will be taken care of. So now that we have the material for the robes we’re just about set.” She paused to see if he was really interested and his brown eyes fixed on her lips so she knew he was.
“I made my dress already. It’s all white with a little lace on the trim at the bottom. I didn’t have to spend any money on new cloth. I had everything I needed right in my closet.”
“That’s good.” He was thinking that she was going to ask for money for new cloth but before his relief was fully realized Nessa continued.
“The only thing is that I don’t have a white hat and you know I don’t know how to make hats.”
“How much is it?”
“The hat. How much is it?” Moses already knew he was going to give her the money before he asked but he wanted to know just how hard he had to work to get it.
“It’s $2. But it’s perfect – white with a bit of lace. Being that I’m on the usher board I could were it every Sunday. The money will not go to waste.”
“Let me think about it.” Nessa knew that “I’ll think about it” probably meant he would give her money but the only way to be certain was to never bring it up again. He didn’t like feeling coerced. The decision had to be his own.
In the kitchen that morning Nessa was so engrossed in her own thoughts time passed by and she didn’t realize that all the food she’d made was gone. Moses stood in front of her, reached into his pocket, pulled out two dollars, cupped the money in his hand so the children wouldn’t see, took Nessa’s hand, kissed her goodbye and effortlessly transferred the money to her.
She didn’t have time to say thank you. And she couldn’t show any change of expression that would attract the attention of the children.
At 6:30am she sat in the living room and took a deep breath before starting the laundry. She wondered how she could show Moses how much she appreciated him. She felt his love knew no bounds and she had to do something more than prepare one of his favorite meals to assure him that she felt the same way.
On Monday morning, several weeks after beginning his new role as patrolman, Moses got up, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and looked in the mirror as he slicked back the few strands of hair that covered his head. In the midst of his daily routine he took a moment to be thankful for how well his life was turning out. He was born into slavery and walked from North Carolina to New York City. He went from running from the law that would have taken him back into slavery to becoming the law in the North. Initially the North was not the land of opportunity that others seemed to think it would be. When he took the exam to become a police officer he did not know if they would actually accept him but when the letter came he could see his future clearly. He would work as a police officer until he retired and enjoy his old age with his pension.
He worked hard to support his family and keep the small home he was able to purchase on his police salary. It had three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen with enough room to put a table. It housed the seven people in his household. There were his three sons – Tyrone, Edmond, and Richard. There were his two daughters – Bobbi and Naomi. And then there was his wife Nessa. He’d met Nessa in the North and all of his children were born free. His children would never know what it meant to be owned by man. They would be their own people with their own rights and freedoms he had the authority to protect. Moses was proud of the fact that his wife could remain at home to care for the children. He knew that many other Afro-American women spent their time caring for White children while young Afro-American children sometimes were left to raise themselves. Moses and Nessa were a team and the success of their children was their main goal.
But this August morning in 1912, his first full year as a patrolman, Moses braced himself for a day that he hoped would be no different from the rest. He worked for the 75th precinct that serviced the East New York area of Brooklyn. He lived right on the outskirts of the neighborhood as Afro-Americans who were doing well did not live that far away from Afro-Americans who were struggling.
East New York was one of the most dangerous parts of New York City but Moses was not easily intimidated. Each day was a bit of a battle but he trusted his partner, Ernie. Moses never thought he would call a White person his partner and he was certain Ernie had his own biases but they were learning about one another, what to ask, what to expect, how much to trust. But Moses not only had to think of Ernie’s biases but he also had to recognize his own. They were both very respectful of one another and chose to stick to safe topics like sports and weather. Most of the time over the past several weeks they spent in silence which was fine with Moses as he adjusted to the community and Ernie at the same time.
When it was time to park and walk the beat they made sure to stay close to one another. Ernie scanned the periphery while Moses focused on what was right in front of them. About 70 feet ahead of where they stood Moses saw something that he thought might be a wallet lying on the ground. He was about to tell Ernie when two young boys stepped onto the sidewalk where the wallet was, bent down and picked it up. The boys were no longer facing Moses so he could not see what they were doing.
Moses turned to Ernie and pointed in the boys’ direction, “I think they just picked up a wallet.”
Ernie’s eyebrows lifted and he turned towards the boys. “You sure?”
“I’d like to find out.” The boys were clearly hiding something he just couldn’t see what.
The boys were happy with their find so they were not in a hurry to get anywhere so it was easy for Moses and Ernie to catch up with them. Pretty soon Ernie was on the right side of one boy and Moses was on the left side of the other.
“Hey, did you two find something back there?” Moses was careful not to call them boys. Even though they were boys he knew they might have taken it in a negative way and he didn’t want to provoke them. When the boy beside him looked into his brown eyes and thoroughly examined his mahogany skin he saw absolute shock turn into a bit of disgust.
“Are you a real cop?” The boy asked even though it was clear he already knew the answer.
At this point Ernie responded. He knew that part of his role was to ensure that everyone respected Moses’s authority. “We both are. You heard him. Answer his question.”
Moses could tell from the smile that crossed the boy’s face that he was going to lie. “I didn’t find anything.” He turned to his friend and asked, “Did you find something?”
The boy with him smiled the same smile as his friend and replied, “I didn’t find anything.”
“So you don’t mind if we search you?” Ernie asked because he had become suspicious of their sly smiles as well.
“What? Right here?”
“Yes, right here.” Ernie had taken complete control.
The boys knew nothing of their rights but they preferred being searched in public than taken back to a police station. Moses conducted the search. He patted down their legs, arms, the back and front of their chests, and emptied all of their pockets. Things were exactly as they should have been. They didn’t have one cent between the two of them. Ernie and Moses let the boys go.
Moses felt like his eyes must not have been as good as he thought but the boys had bent down to pick something up. He had no idea where they could have hidden it but there was a stretch of time when he could not see what they were doing. He wished he could have asked them what they did with what they found without having to arrest them. The curiosity would plague him for weeks.
As the boys walked away, the boy who had questioned his legitimacy as a police officer turned around when they were about 20 feet ahead of Ernie and Moses. He spit on the ground and spoke loud enough for them to hear but not quite loud enough for others to hear, “Uncle Tom.”
It was in that moment that Moses knew exactly what he had to face each day. He was the first Afro-American patrolman and with the honor came a bit of disdain. Moses did not flinch.