Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
Graphic Witness home page

Hugo Gellert: Comrade Gulliver

page title


A TELEGRAM from Mr. Keen's mother announced her coming from California. I accompanied Mr. Keen to the railroad station to meet her. She seemed far too young for Mr. Keen's mother, in spite of her snow-white hair. She was a matronly woman, pleasant enough, and I was very glad to make her acquaintance.

She brought a lot of luggage and we helped to load it into a hand truck, manned by a Negro worker who wore a red cap. The worker lifted one of the heavy leather trunks and, in the effort, the button of his coat snapped off, disclosing a little jewel, pinned to his vest. It caught Mr. Keen's attention.

"Where did you get that pin?" he asked.

"Worked for it," was the simple answer. I recognized three letters of the Greek alphabet on the pin -- Phi, Beta, Kappa.

"What did you major in?" asked Mr. Keen.

"Mathematics," and his white teeth flashed in a broad smile.

" Is this the best job you could get?"

"What else is there open for a Negro?" he said. " I had hoped to teach -- occupy a chair at the University of Harvard perhaps. Can't you just see me?'' And he burst into mirthless laughter.

As we left him, Mr. Keen explained that the ornament the Negro wore is an insignia of a fraternal organization of university students. Only the most brilliant scholars are eligible for membership in that organization.

America is a strange place indeed. They can spare scientists for the most menial tasks. They can afford to utilize mathematicians as carriers of luggage!