Col. Clifford Worthy asks, ‘Are Americans’ Bindings Breaking?’

A PROPHET OF UNITY—Like the ancient prophets, retired Col. Clifford Worthy has used his life to call for a return to the values that unite us as Americans, including a strong focus on the men, women and children among us who require special care. When his memoir was launched, a huge crowd gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit to celebrate Worthy’s long life and his influential storytelling in The Black Knight.


EDITOR’s NOTE—As we move through a week of anxiety in America that none of us have experienced at least since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks two decades ago, we are offering an eloquent appeal—you might think of it as a classic Psalm crying out for help and hope—from one of America’s true heroes: retired Col. Clifford Worthy, the oldest living Black graduate of West Point at age 92.

“I’ve been writing poetry for years—sometimes just to have fun about something that amuses me and sometimes to express much more serious concerns about what’s happening in our world,” Col. Worthy told me this week. He was describing a remarkable 3-ring binder that he sent to my home—a folder that held dozens of his poems, which he invited us to share occasionally in ReadTheSpirit magazine. On the very first page of that binder was this new poem he wrote as a personal appeal to Americans to remember our deepest values.

Col. Worthy has faced fear many times in his life, whether confronting dire crises in his own family or warfare in the deadly jungles of Vietnam. He never wavered, as he described in his memoir The Black Knight. His courage stems from his laser focus on values that were engrained in him at West Point—duty, honor and country—all resting on a bedrock Christian faith that has sustained his family through generations of life-and-death challenges.

“I can’t think of a more timely poem to share with readers in this election week,” I told him, then I asked, “Col. Worthy, when you end this poem reminding us of the ‘Glory Road,’ how do you hope readers will understand that phrase?”

He replied that anyone from his faith tradition will know he is pointing to values taught by Jesus—”a road that leads toward fulfillment as we follow the sometimes very difficult path laid out for humanity by Jesus. I like that phrase we’ve used for so long—the ‘Glory Road.’ It’s where we live out these values together. I think we need to be reminded that we share deeper values like this. We’ve got to stop attacking each other. We’ve got to find a way to come together again.”

And here is Col. Worthy’s poem for America—

Or, as Col. Worthy lays out these themes in his poetry, here is:


Are Americans’ bindings breaking?


Author of The Black Knight

Why are Americans’ bindings breaking?

Why does the national character writhe in dishonorable pursuit?

Why is the hope-sump hemorrhaging?

The political spectra refracts into blinding bitterness.
The American Tories tout exclusion by hawking establishmentarianism to justify loveless fences.
Shamelessly they front Jesus as a prop for political footings.
The East corner of their lips eulogizes family values
Even as the West side of those lips embraces spewers of hate.

Rightist religionists rightfully proclaim, “God is Love!”
On Sunday.
While venomously attacking God’s creatures on Monday through Saturday—
Belying the compassion they had just expressed.

Promotion of self-serving labels assigning good and evil and drawing lines:
Lawbreakers wax into heroes.
Money wins no matter the pain.
Ignoble legality muddies moral waters.

Racism in the halls
Racism in the boardrooms
Racism in the cities
Racism in the cemetery—
Racism leaches the land.


Partisan effrontery:
Dizzying the truth.
Invasively abusing the guaranteed freedom.
Thumbing noses at the greater good.

Inept leadership in highest places is endorsed by smirking scalawags—
And the people suffer.

Folk of every making have forgotten how to blush.
Making mockery of One Nation Under God.

All trade beauty for ashes.

Jesus knock is unheeded.

Who still travels the Glory Road?



Care to learn more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Get a copy of Col. Worthy’s life story, The Black Knight, for yourself—and order more copies for friends and loved ones on your holiday shopping list who are especially interested in stories from our U.S. armed forces. There are many themes in this illustrated memoir, including the challenges Col. Worthy and his wife faced raising a special needs son in an era when professional help for such families was in its infancy.

Clifford Worthy, the great grandson of slaves, was one of the few African-American men of his generation who was accepted and excelled as a Black Knight of the Hudson, a traditional nickname for West Point cadets. Col. Worthy describes his journey to West Point, the many challenges he overcame both in his family and in the U.S. Army, including service in the front lines of Vietnam.

Rick Forzano, former Head Coach of the Detroit Lions praises Col. Worthy’s memoir and his example to all of us. “He has fought his way through virtually every stage in life with his faith in God giving him the necessary strength and courage,” Forzano writes.

And more?

GET IN TOUCH! At 92 and with the distinction of being the oldest living Black graduate of West Point, Col. Worthy receives many requests to appear on podcasts, plus radio, TV and newspaper interviews. He considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so his voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Col. Worthy to make such a request? Email us at [email protected] 

Still more?

Col. Worthy’s life, his memoir The Black Knight and his poetry are rich in references to African American traditions in family and faith—including essential shared experiences like The Great Migration and centuries of Black church and family reunions. If you are not an African-American reader, you will experience his writing at a deeper level if you also have a copy of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions and Answers about African Americans.



Clifford Worthy: Why we love to worship together—making a joyful noise!

Author of The Black Knight

At this difficult time when all of us miss our churches, I want to share this description I wrote about a memorable gathering at church—in the hope that it will resonate with so many readers who are longing to return to worship, especially at Easter.

At the invitation of my cousin, I attended a choir concert at her church. It is a small black church that can be found in many urban and rural areas in the United States. As I passed through the front entrance, I was anticipating a cultural revival that filled me with tip-toe anticipation.

Entering the sanctuary, I was met by a white-gloved usher. I immediately took note of the overhanging balcony occupied by mostly young people. All of the “nurses” were middle age to elderly women who wore starched, spotlessly clean white uniforms. The assigned nurse’s seats were rarely occupied; they just seemed to appear whenever anyone got “happy.”

Cardboard fans featuring the somber likeness of the local funeral director were tucked behind the hymnals in containers mounted on the rear of the pews. The center of the three aisles led directly to an elevated pulpit which was flanked on each side by bishops’ chairs. The choir pews were directly behind the pulpit. On the back wall above the last row of the choir-stand was a large mural of Jesus Christ with the words “I’m Too Close To Heaven To turn Around.” The front row facing the pulpit was reserved for the deacons and trustees.

Attendance slowly increased in preparation for a spirit filled evening of worship through music.

Suddenly, there was a sound of rhythmic organ music that has no author nor claim of ownership. It was music that arose from the soil of the soul—music that has been tempered and tried by the inner turmoil that issues from the black experience. It repeated itself over and over as if emphasizing some cyclic demands of its earthly origin. The sounds were sensuously spiritual punctuated by unpredictable but perfectly blended black-rooted visceral intonations.

My cousin led the choir procession which swayed synchronously to the left and right while advancing teasingly slow down the center aisle. The music and the truncated swagger steps of each brother and sister were perfect fits. Applause broke out immediately—applause that responded both to the choir and the jubilee mood created by the music.

Halfway down the aisle, the choir broke into song: “How I got over—”

The choir director, who had slipped in without notice and moved to the podium, now urged them on with syncopated thrusts coordinated with his mark time stepping in cadence with the music. His exhortative movements radiated an exegetical treatment of the composition equal to that of the most seasoned maestro conducting a world-class symphony orchestra.

As they moved to their appointed position on the choir stand, some maintained a demeanor of nonchalance while others could or would not suppress their audience inspired exuberance. I marveled once again at the totality of communication between choir and audience. One was completely immersed into the other.

The world outside the church was suddenly irrelevant. I experienced a “heart to heart and breast to breast” sense of community. Like water, beauty and truth seek their own level. Here was beauty, here was truth. My spirit soared as I reaffirmed the fact that beauty and truth are not the exclusive domain of privilege or scholarship. Here was irrefutable evidence that beauty and truth can rise up from the least of life when empowered by the grace of God.

With the exception of the organ, piano, and percussion, there was none of the accoutrements of the concert hall. There were no choir books or music manuscripts of any kind—not even a conductor’s baton. The pastor was first the organist, then the pianist, with others filling in as they were moved to do so. Nothing was lost in the transitioning. The choir director blended and entreated the ensemble with great flair and precision. It was immediately apparent that the repertoire of songs had been selected in part to provide a showcase for his brand of creative interpretation.

As the last choir member reached his designated position following the procession, the director frenetically signaled the first of a series of repetitive choruses that would precede a stirring finish to the first selection. The audience responded with unbridled elation.

The mistress of ceremonies now moved to the podium where she began to idiomatically review the program in a manner that assured no loss of the passion generated by the highly charged procession. She was in fact an articulate school teacher but identified with the congregation and made the elocutionary adjustments to accommodate her less fluent audience. She understood the power of carefully selected colloquialisms and black-rooted anecdotes to preserve the mood of the moment.

“How I got over” was followed by “Move mountain.” The soloist started slowly with just a hint of the intensity to follow. The last words of each stanza were personalized by a melodic, wordless excursion individually expressed but faithful to the hymn’s composition. At just the right moment the choir reinforced the soloist by weaving their voices into the melody thereby amplifying the overall impact. The climax came when the director, obviously visualizing a mystical mountain, repeatedly implored the choir:

“Move mountain!

“Move mountain!

“Mountain—get out of the way!”

Here and there a sister would rise to her feet, tilt her head slightly downward, raise her right arm with fingers extended and slowly wave approval by moving her upper arm using her elbow as a fulcrum with palm facing the choir. Others raised their arms in praise. Both of the movements were uniquely black signals that said: I identify!

This was kinship that cannot be programmed nor intentionally replicated. This was a kind of hand-me-down discipline that passes from soul to soul.

Finally, after several supercharged selections, the choir leaped into: “Ninety-nine-and-a-half won’t do.”

As the lyrics unfolded and the tempo increased, there was a divinely inspired unity of spirit that permeated the entire congregation. There was an ambience that voicelessly proclaimed: Only 100 percent will do!

Spurred by the seemingly supernatural entreaties of the director, there was a general release from any form of oppression, whatever the source, that could not be contained. Release for some was manifested by spirit filled utterances and uninhibited writhings uncensored by the constraints of a secular and hostile world. Release for others was internalized but no less real. Release was both cathartic and regenerative.

For yours truly, there was no conflict between laughter and tears.