Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander - “Remembering Fred Montgomery”

Posted on July 20, 2006

On July 12, Fred Montgomery, the best boyhood friend of author Alex Haley, died at the age of 89. To borrow a phrase from Alex Haley, Fred Montgomery's death “is like a library burning down.” Fred was the careful keeper of the Alex Haley museum in Henning, Tennessee. Although their great-grandparents were born slaves, Fred grew up to be mayor of Henning and Alex won a Pulitzer Prize for “Roots.” On July 4, 1994, in the midst of deciding whether or not to run for president in 1996, I began an 8,800-mile drive across America with an overnight visit at the home of Mayor Fred Montgomery in Henning. Before I went to sleep that night, I made sure I had saved in a safe place the scrap of paper on which I had scribbled the words of the blessing that Fred Montgomery had said that evening before we ate our supper: “No matter how your ancestors arrived here, no matter what color your skin, no matter what language your grandparents spoke, we are all here. We are all Americans. And with all her faults, America is still the greatest place in this world to live. Cherish your country. Cherish your freedom and hold on to your dreams.” I’ve thought of that visit and those words several times over the past week since I learned of Fred’s death. I wrote about my visit to Fred’s home in Chapter 1 of my book, “We Know What to Do.” I named the chapter, “The Most Important Things,” and that’s what comes to mind when I think about my visit with Fred 12 years ago, and his death last week – the most important things. I will always treasure the night I spent at the Montgomery home in Henning on July Fourth, 1994, and I will miss Fred's wisdom and his friendship. ###