"When I was growing up during the great Depression, I often marveled at the road which connected us with the rest of the world, and which brought us friends and strangers. The road afforded us our isolation, and at the same time provided a link wth the rapidly changing cities. Here on Waltons Mountain there was a "Y" in the road, where a fateful decision was to be made by a new friend, a decision that was to involve the entire family".
A man runs across Walton’s Mountain as the kids play catch in the front yard with Jodie Foster. Verdie and Olivia walk outside after Verdie gives Olivia some jam. Verdie tells Olivia that Harley will be gone for a week or so. After the Fosters leave, Olivia tells Jim Bob and Jason to go and help their father. Reckless is sleeping outside the sawmill while John and Grandpa work. John-Boy and Grandpa stare at Reckless, wondering what he is dreaming about. Grandpa sings, “Old Shep he has gone, Where the good doggies go, And no more with old Shep will I roam, But if dogs have a heaven, There's one thing I know, Old Shep has a wonderful home.” John doesn’t think he’ll get any work out of anybody today. Suddenly, Reckless barks at a stranger running up to the house. The man gentles the dog, saying that there are plenty of mean dogs in Richmond.
The man introduces himself as James Trevis Clark, saying he saw the notice at the store (“Help Wanted – Hard Work”) and asked Ike for directions to the house. James says he wants hard work. When John says he’d rather hire a local, because drifters never stay, James says he wants to stay in the area. John agrees to try him out for a day, at two dollars. After seeing how quickly and hardily James works, John presents James with two dollars, and offers him another day’s work. James says he would rather have room and keep, saying the barn looks fine. John-Boy tells James that he enjoys his work for someone who has his mind elsewhere.
The next morning, James shadow boxes and runs along the countryside with Reckless. He runs back to the house as Olivia and Grandma gather eggs. The children later see him jumping rope. Jason makes up a song on his guitar while getting the beat of the rope. Elizabeth and Jim Bob try to jump rope but John-Boy has to “break” them up as they fight over it. With the children gone, John-Boy wonders if “break” is the correct word to use when the bell rings. In the kitchen John-Boy announces that James is a fighter. Grandpa explains, “a fist fighter, a pugilist” The women don’t think he sets a good example for the children. But, Grandpa remembers the times he got into fights, mostly over Esther. Olivia confronts John with James, but John only says that he is a good worker who lightens the load for everyone. John-Boy thinks that he could write a good story about James.
John-Boy asks James if he could write a story on him for the Jefferson County News, wondering why a good-natured man turns to fighting. James tells about growing up with 55,000 of his people in the slums of Richmond. James says he wants to use sports to escape from the slums, like Jesse Owens and Joe Lewis. He explains, “I’ve got dynamite in me!” With a fight a week from Friday, James is looking for a manager and a stool and bucket man. After fighting from Baltimore to Washington D.C. he is hoping he’ll get a fair fight in his hometown.
The kids and Jodie play baseball with James as he tells them different techniques. Grandma and Olivia don’t like it when James tells them about women playing softball in Richmond. James pitches, and Elizabeth hits a single. Later, John-Boy tells Grandpa that James’ fight will be broadcast. Grandpa remembers the night the boys listened to the Lewis-Barr fight. Jason plays his Tattoo Blues that he created from James’ footwork, but Olivia doesn’t like his switch of music. Jim Bob looks in a catalog for boxing gloves, telling everybody he wants to be a fighter, not a pilot. Olivia suddenly erupts in anger, quoting from the Bible. She insists that John fire James. John goes out to the barn, followed by Olivia, to find James preaching to Chance and Old Blue. Olivia talks with James, and tells the family that he has the call to preach. Grandma can’t believe it! John-Boy doesn’t understand how she got more information from him than what he did. Elizabeth says that she doesn’t like church much, because the kids must sit up front and the preacher talks over their heads. Olivia asks John-Boy to take James into Richmond to find a manager.
Verdie finds her son Jodie taking fighting lessons from James. She is totally against fighting. When Olivia tells her that James is fighting so he can build a black church in the area, she won’t listen, and tells Olivia that she won’t accept blood money in the name of the Lord.
James hits the punching bag as John-Boy and Bennie Rafferty discuss the boxing match that Bennie has arranged between James and the Comet Kid. Sam Mumford says he’ll be his manager, but when Bennie takes them to his office they learn that the fight is fixed. James refuses to go along, and Mumford backs off, saying the last time a fighter didn’t take a fall the manager and the fighter were both beaten up. Back home John-Boy explains the he is James’ manager. Grandma exclaims, “Good Lord!”
James enters the house to tell John-Boy that he doesn’t really need a manger. But, John-Boy insists he’ll be there. When John and Grandpa learn that violence might happen, they decide to be ringside, along with Ike and Zack Roswell. Grandpa grasps his arm, saying his “gallopin’ gout has caught up with his rheumatism”, but he’ll be ready on fight night. Jim Bob gives James a blanket on a night that looks to be a “two dog night”. Since Joe Lewis had a nickname, the “Brown Bomber”, Jim Bob wants to call James “Boom Boom”, because he likes to use his one-two punch. But James wants to use his real name. John-Boy finds James reading a children’s book of Bible stories that he wrote for Elizabeth. In the morning, John-Boy finds him still reading the book, and wonders how much sleep he got. James says that he thought he had power in his fists, but now realizes that there is ‘Power in Words’.
At the Richmond Arena, the 10-round fight is announced. The radio announcer, Howling Harvey Slocum announces that the Comet Kid is ill, and is being replaced by Iron Make McCoy, the Pennsylvania state champion from Pittsburgh. McCoy announces James as weighing 161 pounds, with the nickname of “The Ebony Flash”. James fights a courageous fight, but is overmatched by the heavier and more experienced fighter.
That night, Grandma makes her wild herb poultice for the injured fighter. But Grandpa says his pride is hurt more. Verdie arrives to help, taking over for Olivia. John-Boy wonders what life is like on the other side of the fence. John-Boy tells Olivia that James showed courage, and asks about the dreamer mentioned in Genesis. Olivia says, “Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Black members of the community walk up to where John-Boy, John, Olivia, and Verdie stand. An elder says they have collected money for a church. John agrees to provide the supplies, and they will provide the labor. They work to build the church (The Walton’s Mountain Church), while James heals. One Sunday after James has healed enough to walk, they take him to the church where the congregation is singing “Shall We Gather at the River?” James preaches his first sermon, not using the Bible, but one of John-Boy’s stories, and talks to the children.
"That Sunday and for several months to follow, this was the only church that James was to have. When a suitable replacement was found, James Trevis Clark insisted on moving on, for as much as he longed to be in the country, he returned to the streets from which he had fled. Working with youngsters, he was to live his religion on the playgrounds he established. Hundreds of boys and girls, both black and white, would turn to James Trevis Clark for leadership".
Olivia: Yes Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: When people get the call, and they're baptised in the Rockfish River, are their sins really washed away?
Olivia: Yes honey, they're really washed away.
Elizabeth: Where does all the water go?
Grandpa: Rockfish River empties into the James River at Howardsville, goes to Fort Union, Short Pump, Richmond, and empties into Hamptonrhodes harbour at Jamestown.
Elizabeth: And all those sins end up in the sea?
Olivia: That's right!
Elizabeth: Is that fair to the fish?
Olivia: Goodnight, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth: Goodnight, Mama.
Grandpa sings Ole Shep. Its lyrics appear at: http://www.oleshep.com/lyrics.htm.
Olivia quotes: Genesis Chapter 27, verse 19-20: “And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” The words can be found at: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/gen/37.html.
The lyrics for Shall We Gather at the River? can be found at: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/w/swgatriv.htm.
Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Mrs. Verdie Foster (Lynn Hamilton); Jody Foster (Erin Blunt); Zack Roswell (James Gammon); James Trevis Clark (Cleavon Little); Ben Rafferty (Zachary A. Charles); Sam Mumford (Dave Shelley); Ring Announcer (Russ Grieve); Church Elder (Martin St. Judge); Radio Announcer (Brett Hadley); Iron Mike McCoy (Jim Nickerson); The Comet Kid (Gary McLargy); Sparring Partner (Charles Picerni).