But Not Their Faith

A small boy in New York goes out to play. His mother tells him not to leave the park. But he is disobedient–he constantly visits his neighborhood firehouse. Despite constant punishment, he returns over and over to stare at the shiny red fire trucks and coils of hose. He announces to his mother that he is going to be a fireman when he grows up.

A common dream. Maybe. But for Leon Smith it became a reality. What made his completion of his dream unusual was that he was an African-American who joined the New York City Fire Department–a status that only 2.7 percent of the firefighters in the Big Apple share.

On September 11, 2001, Leon joined an even more rarefied fraternity–he was one of twelve black firemen who perished in the maelstrom of flames, smoke and pulverized stone in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

A thirty-minute documentary film, “All Our Sons,”? attempts to memorialize the passions and drives that propelled these twelve souls to join a department that for years forced black firefighters in a station house to sleep in designated beds.

Produced by Lillian Benson, and narrated by award-winning actress Alfre Woodard, the film attempt in a short time to simultaneously isolate and congeal the remembrances of the mothers and fathers of the fallen firefighters. It will be aired in the New York City area on Saturday, September11 at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Channel 13. Other selected screenings in other parts of the country may be researched by checking the website www.alloursons.com.

The mothers and fathers have a predictably wide range of emotions to their sons’ passings. One mother simply could not believe that her son would be required to enter the World Trade Center since he was the driver of the vehicle. Another woman resigned herself immediately to her son’s demise when she saw the towers fall. One mother still says of her son: “he’s just away.”?

But there is one dominant emotion that permeates the tears on the cheeks of the parents when they speak of their offspring: pride. Their sons shared with them the racial slights they endured as they climbed ladders not only to rescue citizens from flames but walked one step at a time to gain promotions.

The families share the concerns echoed by Captain Paul Washington of the Vulcan Society, a black firefighters fraternal organization, that other black firefighters fill the vacancies created by the many openings in the Fire Department after 9/11, thus creating a bond between the departed and their new brothers in bravery.

FREDERICK B. HUDSON is a columnist for A Good Black Man. He can be reached at: FHdsn@aol.com