Key Issues Explored in Gather at the Table
Gather at the Table is the true story of a militant black woman from Chicago’s Southside and a Kumbaya white man from rural Oregon who committed to confront America’s “race problem” together.
Over a three year period, Sharon Morgan and Tom DeWolf traveled thousands of miles through twenty-seven states and overseas together, building an improbable relationship. With genealogy as an undercurrent, they visited each other’s families, ancestral towns, court houses, sites of racial terror, cemeteries, plantations and antebellum mansions, seeking to come to terms with the history out of which racism evolved. Their journey offers hope to all who aspire to right the wrongs of the past and forge a more just and peaceful future.
National Politics: The 2012 election is a spectacle of vitriolic excess. “Race-baiting” and “racial code words” remain a huge factor. Some people are not so subtle. Gather at the Table opens with “F**k that dumbass Obama!” words shouted at Sharon by a white man shortly after Obama’s 2008 election.
Gone With The Wind: Sharon wanted to visit Southern plantations and antebellum homes. Tom had no desire to visit such places of horror. Their conflicting perspectives, on many issues, highlight the wide gulf that continues to separate black from white.
Hard Conversations: Tom looks for ways to facilitate difficult conversations about race without scaring off most white people. Sharon resents that things always need to be framed so white people feel comfortable. “My people were enslaved! Why should you feel safe?”
Paranoia: Driving through California farm country, Sharon is paranoid. She’s the only black person for miles around. This moment screams out against every admonition she ever received. Always know exactly where you’re going. Have a plan of escape. Maintain control of every situation; especially when it involves white people. Tom laughs at her concerns, until he recalls being lost in Harlem two decades earlier; surrounded only by black people.
Concentration Camps: Tom was shocked when Sharon said she feared that black people in Chicago could be herded into concentration camps. He was speechless when a friend of his agreed with her.
Genealogy Supremacy: While researching in a Kentucky courthouse, Sharon gets pissed off because, unlike hers, Tom’s records are so easy to find, and like most white people he takes that for granted. For him, there was even a century-old, hand-written note waiting for him in the marriage register.
Skin Color: Sharon had two white grandmothers, both of whom were accepted fully into her all-black community. Growing up, these were only white people Sharon did not fear.
Mafia Connection: Sharon’s family benefited from close connections to the notorious gangster Al Capone. Her great grandmother and Capone’s mother grew up together in Italy. Capone set her grandfather up in the bootlegging business in Chicago.
Pushed to the Brink: The journey almost ended at a hotel in Mississippi when the stress of what they were doing pushed Sharon and Tom to the breaking point. “I am so sick of Tom. I have felt manipulated since the very beginning.” “Sharon is driving me crazy. I don’t know what her agenda is, but it’s sure different from mine.” How do you talk about something so difficult after centuries of pain and mistrust?
Ripples on a Pond: Is it possible to shift the national paradigm with one changed relationship? Sharon is more optimistic as a result of their journey. Tom is less so.
GATHER AT THE TABLE