- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

Many thanks to all those readers across the country who tried to help me find the old inspirational essay, "Don't Die on Third" and thanks especially to the anonymous reader who e-mailed it to me in its entirety. That essay meant a lot to me because of when and where I first read it.
I was 17 years old, had left home and was on my own for the first time. I had not finished high school indeed, had not finished the 10th grade, in part due to illness, and had no one to turn to.
You can imagine how much demand there was for a black teenager with no skills, no experience and little education. I ended up working as a delivery boy in New York's garment district, and was living in a tiny rented room, not large enough for a 9x12 rug. A nail on the back of the door substituted for a closet and it was an adequate substitute, given the size of my wardrobe at the time.
Although I had done well in school before dropping out, now it looked very much as if I was going nowhere, as if I was going to die on third. That was when I read the essay, "Don't Die on Third."
"No time for self-applause on third," it said, "many a promising run has died there." The essay recalled a baseball game, decades earlier, when George Moriarty of the Detroit Tigers found himself on third base with two out in the last of the ninth inning of a tied ball game.
"There he stood, alert in every nerve, his powerful running legs, his quick eye and quicker brain holding the hazard of the game." Moriarty shrewdly assessed the situation and his chances, drawing on his knowledge and experience on the baseball diamond to plot his next move. "Luck might lie in the lap of the gods, but preparation, knowledge, judgment and initiative were with the player.
At just the right moment, Moriarty broke for home, arriving in a cloud of dust, with the umpire standing over the plate "with hands extended, palms down." Moriarty had scored the winning run by stealing home. "It was just a run made in the course of a baseball game; but it has been saying to us these many years Don't die on third."
It was an inspiration to me, at a time when I needed all the inspiration I could get. Today, we may think we are too sophisticated for inspirational writings. Besides, our schools are more likely to focus young people's attentions on grievances, injustices and excuses, rather than on inspiration.
Yet all sorts of things have inspired all sorts of people. When black students went to the newly built Dunbar High School in Washington in 1916, they found on the walls a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, for whom the school was named. Its first verse said:
Keep a-pluggin' away.
Perseverance still is king,
Time its sure reward will bring.
Work and wait, unwearying.
Keep a-pluggin' away.

Can you imagine saying such a thing to black students in 1916 in a racially segregated school, in a racially segregated city, at a time when jobs for blacks were being cut back in the federal government under Woodrow Wilson, and the Ku Klux Klan was resurgent?
The poem was a symptom of a mindset that pervaded the school. The track record of the students who saw that message, in a school that lived that philosophy, compares very favorably with that of later black students who have been generously supplied with bitterness and excuses by black "leaders" and white "friends."
Over the period from 1870 to 1955, most of the students who graduated from Dunbar High School called the M Street School in earlier years went on to college. Most white students didn't go on to college in those years. During World War II, when black military officers were rare as hen's teeth, more than 20 Dunbar alumni held ranks ranging from major to brigadier general.
They kept pluggin' away and it paid off. They didn't die on third. Too many die on third today, and too many others don't even get that far.


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