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AMERICAN STORIES - Mr. Black: The Last Brickmaker in America

作者:Charles Kuralt 发布日期:1-8-2011

IMPORTANT: This transcript of the story was dictated by VAN ALLEN, the chief editor and the founder of www.unsv.com.

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Now, the VOA Special English program -- AMERICAN STORIES.

A Life on the Road by Charles Kuraltf
A Life on the Road by Charles Kuralt

Our story today is called "Mr. Black". It was written by American reporter Charles Kuralt. It is from his book "A life on the Road". For many years, Charles Kuralt traveled across the United States telling interesting stories about Americans. His stories were broadcasted on the CBS Television Network. Later, some were published in books. Here is Shep O'Neal with Mr. Kuralt's story called "Mr. Black".

(MUSIC)

George Black was a brickmaker. He mixed dirt and water, poured the mixture into forms and heated the forms until the mixture was hard. During his life, many structures were built with his hand-made bricks. George Black became a pretty good diplomat for the American State Department too. But that part of his story comes later.

George Black's father died in eighteen eighty-nine. George was eleven years old. His brother was fourteen. "We will not be able to go to school," his brother said, "we are going to have to work for a living. If we work hard and make men out of ourselves, even if we do not know the difference between A and B, people will call us Mr. Black someday." George repeated his brother's words proudly more than eighty years later. By then he was a very old man, everybody called him "Mr. Black".

(MUSIC)

The two little boys, George and his brother, set out on their own in eighteen eighty-nine. They walked forty miles from their village in North Carolina to the nearest big city Winston-Salem. They worked for a brickmaker for a while. After they learned how to make bricks, they started their own business.

By the time I met George Black, he had been making bricks for a very long time. He still used the same method. He tied a mule to what he called a "mud mill". The mule walked slowly in a circle turning the mill. The mill mixed dirt and water creating the wet mud from which bricks are made. Mr. Black gathered up the mud in his big hands and put just the right amount in each form. It was then ready to be heated in a hot fire. Each form made six bricks.

"How many bricks do you think you have made in your life?" I asked him.

"Oh," he said, "I do not know, I would be afraid to know. I made a million bricks one year. Mr. R. J. Reynolds wanted to build a tobacco factory. He asked me if I thought I could make a million bricks. I studied and said, 'yes I could.' I did too. You can go see them if you want to. That building is still there. They are all my bricks. Yes, sir."

I found myself filled with great respect for this man. He was standing in a hole in the ground covered in mud. He had made a life of earth and water and fire. He had made the building blocks of a city. The next day, Mr. Black put on his best cloth and we walked around Winston-Salem.

"These bricks we are walking on," he said, "I made these only about forty years ago." He pointed with his walking stick. "I made the bricks for that church over there. I made the bricks for that wall." Wherever we walked, he pointed out the work of his own hands. When we reached the huge tobacco factory, he spoke again.

"I believe I told you wrong about this job. It was not a million bricks. It was a million and a half. Made them six at a time for a dollar and half a day. I was a good payee in those days. Yes sir, made all these bricks six at a time and I am going to make some more yet."

(MUSIC)

I told the story of George Black on television. The day after, I found myself talking about him again. An official with the United States Agency for International Development was interested.

"I hear you had a story about a brickmaker last night," the official Harvey Withered said.

"Yep," I answered.

"Oh gosh," he said, "I have been looking all over this country for a brickmaker who still does the job by hand. I did not think there were any left. You see, the government of Guyana has a plan to rebuild the country. It does not want a big brick factory. It wants somebody to go from village to village to teach the people how to make bricks for themselves."

"Well," I said, "I know the right man for the job. But remember that he is ninety-two years old."

"I do not care how old he is," Harvey Withered said, "he must be the last person in America to make bricks by hand. Give me his address and telephone number. Mr. Kuralt, you have made my day!"

Movie: The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)
Movie: The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)

I called Mr. Black to warn him what was going to happen. He said he had already received the call from Washington. "Where is Guyana?" he asked.

"It is in South America." I said. "My-my," he said.

The very next day, Harvey Withered flew from Washington to Winston-Salem. He and Mr. Black liked each other immediately and quickly reached an agreement. Mr. Black would go to Guyana for ten days. He would take his granddaughter. She also knew how to make bricks. A young boy would go to help them. Mr. Black would be paid 100 dollars a day. Harvey Withered said, "this is a wonderful thing you are going to do, Mr. Black, we, in Washington, thank you very much." Mr. Black said simply, "I believe you have chosen the best man to do the job for the U.S.A."

(MUSIC)

Harvey Withered knew what had to be done. He prepared a detailed proposal. He developed a plan and an emergency plan. He organized every hour of Mr. Black's trip -- every visit to every village -- every meal. He completed all the necessary documents. He was unbelievably excited. His big project was moving along smoothly.

Mr. Black was excited, too. He had never been far from home. Now he was about to travel to a foreign land as an official representative of the United States of America.

I was excited myself. I had visited Guyana as a reporter a number of times in the past. I would now be going back again to report on Mr. Black's trip.

As I waited to hear when we would leave -- disaster struck. A high official with the Agency for International Development read the proposal. Something, he decided, was not acceptable. He canceled everything. Harvey Withered called me almost in tears. "They say Mr. Black is too old." It did not seem fair for Harvey's big idea to die this way. I did my best to make him feel better.

"Too bad," I said.

"Yeah, too bad." he said, "it was over -- that is, it would have been over."

Right then, however, we learned how one part of the government does not always know what another part is doing."

Mr. Black naturally had told a lot of people about his trip. Someone at a newspaper in Winston-Salem heard about it and said, "that is a good story." And the story appeared on page one of the paper. Next, someone at a national news service read the Winston-Salem paper and said "that is a good story." And they sent it to newspapers all over the country. Then, someone at the White House read about it, then said, "that is a good story. It would be wonderful if the president could see Mr. Black before he goes to Guyana." So on exactly the same day that the government official was canceling Mr. Black's trip, a White House official was inviting him to come to Washington to meet the president. The project became of top importance. All the wheels of government that hours before had rolled backward to a halt, now started rolling forward again.

(MUSIC)

So, George Black got to meet the president. He got to go to Guyana, too. There, he taught brick-making with such energy that everyone around him was tired. One of them was probably the government official who said he was too old for the trip.

I have not collected many objects from all the years I was on the road as a reporter, but from the story of George Black I have two. The first is one of his bricks. It is solid and strong like the man who made it. The second is a photograph of President Nixon in the Oval Office, surrounded by Mr. Black and his family. In a corner of this photograph is the small face of a man wearing an expression of victory that day. It's the face of Harvey Withered.

(MUSIC)

You have just heard the story "Mr. Black" by Charles Kuralt. It's from his book "A Life on the Road" published in nineteen ninety by G.P. Putname's Sons. The story is copyrighted, all rights reserved. It was adapted for Special English by Christine Johnson. Our narrator was Shep O'Neal. This is Shirley Griffith.

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