ANXIETY AND FIERCENESS JUST BELOW THE SURFACE

From John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America, 1962. A salute to those who want to see "constant improvement," a salute to those to who want "action now," and of course, a salute and a happy birthday to Dr. King.
  1. I picked up one more passenger between Jackson and Montgomery, a young Negro student with a sharp face and the look and feel of impatient fierceness.
  2. He carried three fountain pens in his breast pocket, and his inner pocket bulged with papers. I knew he was a student because I asked him.
  3. He was alert. License plate and speech relaxed him as much as he is ever likely to relax.
  4. We discussed the sit-ins. He had taken part in them, and in the bus boycott. I told him what I had seen in New Orleans. He had been there. He had expected what I was shocked at.
  5. Finally we spoke of Martin Luther King and his teaching of passive but unrelenting resistance.
  6. "It's too slow," he said. "It will take too long."
  7. "There's improvement, there's constant improvement. Gandhi proved it's the only weapon that can win against violence."
  8. "I know all that. I've studied it. The gains are drops of water and time is passing. I want it faster, I want action—action now."
  9. "That might defeat the whole thing."
  10. "I might be an old man before I'm a man at all. I might be dead before."
  11. "That's true. And Gandhi's dead. Are there many like you who want action?"
  12. "Yes. I mean, some—I mean, I don't know how many."
  13. We talked of many things then. He was a passionate and articulate young man with anxiety and fierceness just below the surface. But when I dropped him in Montgomery he leaned through the window of the cab and he laughed.
  14. "I'm ashamed," he said. "It's just selfishness. But I want to see it—me—not dead. Here! Me! I want to see it—soon."
  15. And then he swung around and wiped his eyes with his hand and he walked quickly away.