When I finally got up to Riverside Church, I knew immediately I had not come early enough. Ossie was loved, deeply loved by so many people. As I walked from the front of the church, around the corner, down the entire block packed with people, around another corner, down another block, I took in the faces of thousands of Black people. Many were old as Ossie was, moving slowly and emphatically with their canes, standing in line for hours in the cold to say good bye. Many families had come out altogether, kids wandering off as their parents told them, "You're gonna remember this for your life, being at the funeral of Ossie Davis." By the time I reached the end of the line, which continued to grow and stretch out behind me, I was overwhelmed and choked with emotion. It says a lot about the man Ossie was that he called forth such an outpouring.
I was happy so many were there, even though I cried when I learned that I wasn't going to get on the inside. I wanted to hear the stories, the little anecdotes and the personal, incidental things that come out when someone is being remembered.
Ossie learned to love Shakespeare during the Depression, when things were bleak everywhere around him. When he was even younger he saw his father, a professional, educated Black man in the South, receive death threats from the white folks in town. When he got out of high school, his mother sewed ten dollars into his underwear and he hitch-hiked cross-country to go strike out anew, staying with some relatives in the DC area.
There was a procession that went from the Abyssinian Church up in the heart of Harlem, down to Riverside where the service was held. When it arrived, there was a crowd of a few hundred drumming and dancing through the streets, chanting "Ossie Davis." It was appropriate - spanning the scope of Ossie's love, straddling different worlds in a way that is constantly undercut from everything about the way this society and this system works.
Burt Reynolds, a friend who got inside told me, said that Ossie Davis "took the bad part of the South out of me." It says as much that Ossie could do this, as it does that he would do this. He neither dismissed people narrowly, nor shut up and accepted injustices which surrounded him. He was able to bridge Harlem with all it concentrates as a hub of Black culture and a concentration of oppression Black people continue to face and Riverside and all the progressive and public and artistic life that concentrates.
Some of my friends have been constantly reciting his lines from "Do the Right Thing" all week:
DA MAYOR: Doctor, always try to do the right thing.
MOOKIE: That's it?
DA MAYOR: That's it.
MOOKIE: I got it.
---------------you got it? still missing Ossie Davis.