Sam Blackston, 53, his black curls long since turned to salt-and-pepper gray, took a job with the post office here after World War II. There was not much meaningful work to be found among the shrimpers on the Georgia coast where he grew up. And it was difficult for a 21-year-old black man who had risen to the rank of sergeant in the Army to go home again to a place where young Negro males were not generally considered promising young men.
Sam Blackston was reminded of all this Wednesday night as he moved his taxi through the crowded streets of Washington, where he began driving a taxi about 20 years ago - moonlighting to put his sons through school.
A couple of years ago, when he noticed a lot of folks from back home suddenly riding in his cab, he didn't know what to make of it, so he shrugged it off to coincidence and drove on. But last night, he picked up a fare of four Georgians going to an inaugural party, and Sam Blackston began to reflect on what it was all about.
"I used to drive a lot of people from Atlanta. They were Redskins fans and they would come up on the bus or take the train to see the games. They all considered the Redskins a southern team. But now they've got their own team . . .
"Do you remember the County Training School?" the driver asked the middle-aged woman in the mink coat who happened to be from his hometown, Brunswick, Ga. "I used to play basketball there . . . wasn't anyplace else to play . . ."
"It's the County High School now, she said. "Everyone plays there."
The Metroliner whizzed by on the tracks overhead and Blackston nosed the taxi under a bridge and headed for the Armory, where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, the 39th President and his First Lady for just a few hours now, would soon be dancing cheek-to-cheek to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. "That's been a lot of time getting built," said Blackston. "If they ever finish it, it will, ease traffic a lot. But no one knows when it will be finished. Any change comes slow."
"Hey," he said. "Whatever happened to the guy who used to be Governor? What was his name? Ellis Arnall, I think it was . . . ."
The taxi driver was told that Arnall had faded into the political horizon, just sort of melted away into history.
"Too bad," he said. "I remember him as a good man. Just didn't make it, huh? But Lester Maddox was in the limelight for a long time." Blackston chuckled. "He made everyone think Georgians were Jackasses . . . ."
The women in the mink coat who was married to the farmer in the back seat said, "I saw Rosalynn on the Dinah Shore Show during the campaign, and she was asked if it bothered her when people said bad things about Jimmy. And she said, 'No, that Lester Maddox had said things for years.'"
The farmer laughed, "Lester helped make Jimmy famous," he said. The farmer was a south Georgia county commissioner who happened to grow soybeans and peanuts. Not long ago the farmer took a crowd of Russian exchange students visiting the United States to study soybean production on a tour of his farm. None seemed too interested in soybeans, he said. "All they asked about was peanuts," said the farmer.
"Did you know Jim Brown, the football player, grew up in Brunswick, Georgia?" asked the taxi driver. "But he was sent off to live with relatives in New York. That's how he got into Syracuse and became a famous football player."
"No, I didn't know that," said the farmer.
There was more talk of people who once were just plain folks back home, yet had gone on to become someone. Bobby Jones, Gene Talmadge, Hank Aaron, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph McGill, Jimmy Carter . . . .
"I'm really happy," said Blackston after a silence. "It's all made me think about home. I've never lived there, but I still consider it home. And I'm proud the President comes from my home state. A few of the old folks still live there, and I have a cousin who grew up in Brunswick and was just elected to the city council."
The farmer knew of Blackston's cousin and told the taxi driver his cousin was a fine man. So many curious things happened over the years, but outsiders rarely asked about them, said the farmer. "We just picked up a baby doctor from New York," he boasted. "We had doctors before, but no baby doctors. Our babies were having to get delivered in another city."