Hobson would have called it foolishness and told them: go out and stir things up. Fight for statehood, for schools that teach, for human rights. Make my eulogy social change.
And that, of course, is why they came. Nine hundred people gathered in the afternoon light of All Souls Church yesterday to honor Julius Hobson Sr., the man who spent his adult life raging at them. Raging with humor, with theatrics, with a passion that even six years of cancer could not quiet.
He died on Wednesday of leukemia. In his eulogy the Rev. David Eaton told of going to Hobson's hospital room that day.
"I saw a very peaceful, sleeping person," Eaton said, "and I immediately said, 'Something must be wrong, because Julius has never been that peaceful.' And sure enough, his wife turned to me and said, 'He just died.'"
Eaton quoted from "The Shoes of The Fisherman" by Morris L. West: "It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price." Julius Hobson, Eaton said, had been such a man.
They nodded yes from the pews, all the activitists who carried picket signs with Hobson, the lawyers who defended him, the city politicians who shushed him and fought him and admired him until the day he died.
"He would not go away," said Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, even after the cancer struck. "He didn't seem to understand that life required no more of his limited energy."
To one side of the church sat the Howard D. Woodson Sr. High School male chorus and the D.C. Chorale, all in black suits or pale blue dresses, all too young to remember clearly the segregated school system Hobson battled, the rigid academic tracking system shattered by his lawsuit. They stood and came up the aisles and sang, "There Is Balm in Gilead," the voices slow, rich, resonant.
The Rev. Channing Phillips spoke of a recipe for the Hobson spirit: A blend of indignation and compassion, of anger and humor and ego and self-scrutiny. And still there would be something lacking, Phillips said, something he calls "charisma" for lack of a better word. "Julius had it," he said, "this community used it, and it is no more."
Tina Hobson, Mr. Hobson's wife, came to the pulpit and looked out at the faces in the pews.
"I already miss my friend," she said. "I miss the quiet music of his poetry. I miss his sense of humor . . . he has left me a stronger and happier person, and I hope he did for all of us."
Mrs. Hobson stepped away and extended her hand to Irma Reynolds, Mr. Hobson's mother, who still lives in Birmingham, where Hobson was born.
"Great men live," Mrs. Reynolds said, "so there will be greater men." She is very small, but her voice carried to the high windows of the church. "You are all bound to walk in his footsteps."
Then she was quiet.And the people forgot that you do not applaud in church. "Yeah," someone said, and as the aged lady from Birmingham made her way down the altar steps, everyone in the churchstood to applaud.
Julius Hobson Jr. folded his grandmother into a hug and they stood with their arms around each other, the young man bent, hiding his face.
A portrait stood at the front of the church: Hobson in mid-speech. The brows furrowed, the eyes bright, the mouth open. From a tape recorder came the familiar Alabama voice.
"If there is a Maker," said Mr. Hobson's voice, "I don't know what will happen when I meet Him. I'm sure He'll be busy as hell . . . but if I meet him and he's got any sense of justice, I'd like to talk to him."