Day 23 - Saturday, July 15, 1995 - The element of fire asserted itself again. Temperatures soared across most of the nation. Old records for this date melted away in Philadelphia as the thermometer climbed to an official 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
The newspapers are full of reports about the staggering, record-breaking heat around the world, especially in Chicago, Illinois, where the temperatures reached 106 degrees, with city pavement and pollution making the conditions all the more miserable. The heat wave is being reported as one of the worst weather-related disasters in Illinois history with approximately 600 deaths over a 5-day period.
As described by Eric Klinenberg in his book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (2002), "the heat made the city's roads buckle. Train rails warped, causing long commuter and freight delays. City workers watered bridges to prevent them from locking when the plates expanded...Hundreds of young people were hospitalized with heat-related illnesses. But the elderly, and especially the elderly who lived alone, were most vulnerable to the heat wave."
The walkers participated in a multicultural festival in their honor at Independence National Park in downtown Philadelphia, near the Liberty Bell. Kyle Chelius, organizer of the festival, set it up beautifully. There were flags in the Four Directions, representinging four colors of human beings: black, red, white, yellow.
Legend holds that the Liberty Bell cracked while tolling the death of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835. Marshall was the last man standing in the way of President Andrew Jackson and the forcible eviction ofthe Cherokee people from their homeland in the southeast of Turtle Island to walk the cruel and infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.
Although Justice Marshall made a sincere effort to halt the official government theft of Cherokee and Creek land and lives, greed prevailed. He was unable to stop the land grabbers.
Turnout for the Sunbow 5 event in Philadelphia was low; still, Tom declared it to a success. "We are not concerned about numbers. That's not important. We are concerned about heart and spirit. That is what is important. And that is what was beautiful and successful about this gathering."
Visitors from several community groups came to the Sunbow festival to share. Jeannie Osayande, of the African-American Dunya Performing Arts Co., taught all the participants a special dance ritual for greeting someone who comes into a community bearing a healing message or prophecy. After learning the ritual, the people danced the ancient dance together. Jeannie then honored the walkers by presenting them with a special belt, decorated with cowry shells. She told them the belt would identify them as spiritual messengers as they passed through Black communities that lie ahead on the route across Turtle Island.
Members of Philadelphia’s Chinese community spoke words of welcome to the walkers, and demonstrated the healing potential of various martial arts. A Native drum group sounded the heartbeat of the Earth Mother. Storytellers and musicians from several cultures entertained through the afternoon.
"We really enjoyed the welcome we received here, but we will be happy when we finally walk beyond the congested corridor of cities along the East Coast of Turtle Island," Tom said. "It's tough walking through the cities and along the busy roads. We are ready for forests and nature, but it’s going to be a while before we get there."
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 24 - Odyssey of the 8th Fire