Rev. Joshua Smith, Sr.--a black evangelist in his eighties, tenuously holding onto life after a series of strokes--experiences a day in which memory opens out to him like a dark, starry night. He goes over the patterns of his life: his childhood sharecropping, on the same ex-plantation where his father had been a slave (the father, also a minister, had gone to drink); his boyhood discovery of his own calling for preaching and, more electrifyingly, for healing as well; and, above all, his complementary talents for speaking or singing. . . and for dignified self-abasement. (""Nobody knew how many times he'd sung for sheriffs in how many southern towns. Nobody knew how many times he'd gone to the superindentent of schools or the Board of Education, his hat in his hand, a grin on his face, and a song on his lips, to persuade them to hire another colored teacher, or to put a new roof on the shack that was called a school."") Lester's theme here is the enormous brave dignity, the unreckonable humiliation, that an older black generation was gifted with and subject to. So finally, when Rev. Smith sees his two sons grow up--one, hostile, leaves the South; the other becomes a civil-rights worker with Dr. King, later marrying a wealthy white woman and living in bourgeois comfort--he is assailed with this half-bitter thought: ""A new song was being sung and its melody was freedom. Was he the only one who would remember the simple melody of survival?"" Thoughtful, artful treatment of an important theme--the reclamation of black generations, styles of survival--with a delicately touching story and an immensely attractive character in Reverend Smith.