The goal of nonviolent direct action, according to King, is to lovingly prick the conscience and to win the friendship of the opponent, beginning by inducing shame but ending with brotherly reconciliation. The stresses of black-white relations, under conditions of segregation and in the face of protests, raise difficult challenges also for decent whites, not least about their own strengths of character and identity. In this disturbing story (1996) by novelist, short story writer and professor of creative writing at Ohio State University, Lee Martin (b. 1955), we see what happens to both father and son of a New Hampshire family that has relocated to Nashville, Tennessee during the time of the lunch counter sit-ins (1960). Richard, the father, changing his identity to avoid recognition for previous disgrace, takes the name of Thibodeaux (“bold among people” or “bold people”), and he with the help of his son Edward, the story’s narrator, help prepare the black students at Fisk University for the insults and torments they are sure to face during the stormy days ahead. Meanwhile, Edward’s mother produces eggshell miniature art, in the hope of beautifying the chaotic world around her. All their efforts are for naught, as they find that they cannot handle the racial trouble that erupts.
Collecting as many details from the story as you can, describe all the characters in the story, and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. How do you explain Edward’s shameful conduct at the sit-in? Is the problem a lack of courage, doubts about his own identity, or latent racial prejudice? Are the sins of the father visited on the son? What does Edward finally learn about his father? About himself? What light does this story shed on black-white relations, and especially on the causes of the behavior of whites? What might this story imply about the usefulness of shame as a means to effecting racial reconciliation? What is the meaning of the title, “The Welcome Table”?