Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Freethinkers

“There's one thing I want to know: What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?”  Elvis Costello
        Kirsten (second from left) at Circle City Indiana Pride event
Kirsten Bayer-Petras emailed: “I’m sitting here listening to the Clash and Elvis Costello thinking of you. Thank you for my musical education. Love ya like my dad.” Kirsten lived with us part of her Wirt H.S. senior year after her parents moved to Vermont; she is like a daughter to us. I responded that my favorite Clash song was “Clampdown” and my favorite Elvis Costello song was “Veronica,” supposedly written about a lady with dementia “who used to have a devilish eye” until she lost her lover:
Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I would have
sworn that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica
Elvis Costello album cover
“Clampdown,” from “London Calling” and written by Joe Strummer, is about oppressive leaders to cracking down on freethinkers:
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers
    . . .
Yeah, I'm working in Harrisburg
Working hard in Petersburg
working for the clampdown
Beggin' to be melted down
Scary stuff in view of recent events.
Robert Ingersoll 

The most prominent nineteenth-century American freethinker was Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), a lawyer, Civil War veteran, politician, agnostic, and orator who lectured on such myriad subjects as Shakespeare, women’s rights, freethought, humanism, and Reconstruction.  He made Peoria, Illinois, his home and founded the American Secular Union.  Poet Walt Whitman said of Ingersoll: “I see in Bob the noblest specimen – American flavored – pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.”

The current issue of Indiana Magazine of History (IMH) contains a delightful article by James H. Madison about visiting the recently opened Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.  Representing Hoosier history are imaginative exhibits on the free black community of Lyles Station, beauty products entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, and teenagers Tom Smith and Abe Shipp, who died in 1930 at the hands of a Marion lynch mob. Madison noted that exhibits about Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher and the 1972 West Side National Black Political Convention “exemplify responses to changing forms of racism from the later civil rights era.”  Madison added: “Curators have focused a great deal of space on entertainment, particularly music.  Jackson 5 artifacts are there, not far from Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac.” (below)
In my review of Stephen Meyer’s “Manhood on the Line: Working-Class Masculinities in the American Heartland” (published in the same IMH issue) I, like James Madison, concentrated on information pertaining to Indiana; one wishes David Morgan’s review of “Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation” by Leigh Eric Schmidt had done the same. There were plenty of such freethinkers in Indiana, as pointed out by Robert M Taylor, Jr., in the 1983 IMH article “The Light of Reason: Hoosier Freethought and the Indiana Rationalist Association, 1909-1913.”  One member: Clemmons Vonnegut, an Indianapolis hardware company proprietor. Village atheists resided in such disparate Indiana communities as Philomath (Jonathan Kidwell), Monroe (Jasper Roland), Muncie (George H. Koons), and pioneer Gary, whose first mayor, Tom Knotts, hobnobbed with self-proclaimed agnostic Clarence Darrow.

In his IMH review of “Land Too Good for Indians: Northern Indian Removal” by John P. Bowes, Daniel P. Barr summarized the author’s conclusion that Indian removal was “a steady, sustained, and altogether messy process, . . . as aggressive westward-moving settlers, voracious land speculators, and unsympathetic political leaders utilized any means necessary.”   Characterizing Indian removal as “an act of all-encompassing violence,” Bowes described the process, which Potawatomi tribes faced in the 1830s, as a continuation of 18th-century policies “that attacked indigenous religions, subsistence patterns, and landholding practices.”
 Terry Bauer and Dottie Hart

Karen and John Fieldhouse

At bridge in Chesterton I gave Dottie Hart and John and Karen Fieldhouse copies of Barb Walczak’s Newsletter that contains their photos.  Dottie, with regular partner Terry Bauer, received congratulations for scoring a rare 71.88 percent recently.  Bauer told Walczak: “I have always been amazed when others have reached that level and just hoped to accomplish it at least once some day – now we have done it!  Dottie was my first regular partner at Chesterton and always made me feel welcome and comfortable at the bridge table.”  Dottie told Barb: “Being Terry’s partner is a blessing, as he continues to put up with me.  The 71-88 game?  WOW!!!” Regarding the Fieldhouses, who met Barb at a Monday game in Highland, the newsletter stated: “They’re snowbirds with a winter home in Naples, where they find all kinds of bridge going on.  They have a combined total of 380 masterpoints but play the game as though they have many times that amount.”

With nine couples competing, Chuck and Marcy Tomes finished second to the Fieldhouses, who finished with 70.83 percent.  In a hand against us, Dottie opened a Spade, and I responded 2 Hearts, holding Ace, King, Queen and two others, plus a Queen of Clubs.  John doubled, and after Dottie bid 2 Spades, Karen bid Diamonds.  I bid 3 Hearts, everyone passed, and I took all but one trick.  I should have gone straight to game in Spades (Dottie had indicated she had six of them, and I had the ten and three), but John’s double threw me off and got them high board.

On the last hand of the evening, Chuck Tomes bid 1 No Trump over my opening 1 Heart and ended up in a 3 No Trump contract, holding the Ace, Queen, spot of Hearts over my King, 9,8,6,3.  Dottie led the Jack of Hearts, which he took with his Queen.  After Dottie got in again when a Club finesse failed, she led the ten of Hearts, I played my King, knowing that if Chuck didn’t cover the ten, Dottie lacked a third Heart to lead.  Chuck took the trick, but when I got in with one of my two Aces, I had three good Hearts.  Chuck went down two, and the low board probably cost them a chance at catching the Fieldhouses.

Jeff Manes invited former IUN secretary Dorothy Mokry and me to do readings of his interviews with us and others when he makes a Portage Historical Society appearance.  Despite bad memories of sparse attendance when I addressed the group, I agreed, heeding Toni’s advice that even if only a single person attends, it will be worth it if he learns something.  Actually, a good crowd showed up, and Jeff sold 28 books.  Legendary Portage football coach showed up and was a big hit.   Dorothy Mokry refused to stay on script but was entertaining and Jeff made the best of it.  He has been writing a history of the Kankakee Marsh. He is one of my favorite characters and always puts on a good show.  Anne Koehler, who arranged for Jeff’s appearance, played the ghost of Alice Mabel Gray (aka Diana of the Dunes) in a fictitious interview Jeff published one Halloween.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville


“When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. The devil changes you,” Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer, quoting an old saying in the wake of Heather Heyer’s death at the hands of a racist in a reference to Trump’s political flirtation with the alt-right

Beginning in the fall of 1964, I spent four months in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a student at Virginia Law School before deciding to attend graduate school in History at the University of Hawaii.  My impression then was that Charlottesville was a genteel college town whose civic leaders played lip service to the Cavalier Ideal of honor and chivalry, but I seldom left campus except to walk to a nearby commercial block to visit book stores that sold outlines of law professors’ lectures and past exams and a smoke shop that specialized in pipe tobacco and smelled terrific.  On football weekends, Southern gentlemen would come onto campus, immaculately dressed and often drunk by game’s end. In a Virginia Cavaliers game against Navy, I recall, the Virginia QB threw an incomplete backward pass and a Midshipmen picked it up and waltzed in for a TD.  The only African American I recall seeing was a maid who cleaned a suite of rooms I shared with three others.  Other law school memories: playing bridge on Saturday nights while drinking beer and eating Fritos, having to wear a coat and tie to the cafeteria; being shocked when a dorm mate committed suicide. On a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, a few miles from campus, there was no trace of the former slave quarters.  A guide claimed that, using a telescope, the nation’s third president could keep an eye on how construction was progressing at the university he founded.

Tragedy came to Charlottesville over the weekend, culminating in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, when a 20-year-old white racist drove his car into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators.  They were protesting the appearance of white nationalist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, in their city for what was billed as a “Unite the Right Rally.”  The racists’ avowed purpose was to protest the possible removal from Emancipation Park (formerly named for Robert E. Lee) of a Robert E. Lee statue commissioned exactly one hundred years ago. The previous night, white nationalists with lit tiki torches invaded the University of Virginia campus shouting slogans such as “White Lives Matter” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us.”  They surrounded a group that had gathered near a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and a brawl ensued.  On the scene, former Klan member David Duke claimed that the event was fulfilling the promises of President Trump. 

Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence” but then added without explanation “on many sides.” He refused to condemn the hate groups who had assembled in Charlottesville.  In contrast, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. Finally, on Monday, bowing to pressure, Trump issued this statement: Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
 

On Vogue’s website Lynn Yaeger described assassination victim Heather Heyer:
She was 32 years old: A former bartender, and a waitress, she was now working as paralegal and taking classes at night. According to those who knew her best, she was often moved to tears by the injustices in the world. On Saturday morning, she got up, left her Chihuahua, Violet, at home, met up with friends, and went out to protest the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Klan members who were congregating in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lived.
How do we not give in to despair in times like these, when the simplest, most innocent acts of resistance can be extinguished by a deed of almost unimaginable evil?
The last Facebook post Heyer wrote was, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”


Charlottesville is home to novelist John Grisham, actress Sissy Spacek, members of the Dave Mathews Band and others of good will no doubt horrified by the weekend invasion of alt-right Neanderthals.  Valid arguments can be made, however, for, as well as against, Lee’s statue remaining in Emancipation Park, which some want to name in Heather Heyer’s honor.  Although a slaveholder, Lee was a reluctant secessionist who felt a stronger loyalty to Virginia than the Union.  If the survival of ancient statues depended on contemporary political correctness (and I hate that pejorative phrase), few would remain, certainly not that of my distant uncle James Buchanan in New York City.  But this should be a matter for the good people of Charlottesville, not the vandals who used the statue as a pretense for savagery.

In his latest egregious statement equating white supremacists with what he called alt-left protestors, Trump made an issue of vandals destroying a statue of a Confederate soldier in Durham, North Carolina.  What’s next, he jeered, statues of slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?  The difference, of course, is Washington and Jefferson were Founding Fathers while Robert E. Lee and Confederate soldiers warred against the Union they had helped create.  Ray Smock wrote:
Phyllis and Ray Smock at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads joined to complete the transcontinental rail system in 1869.  Photo by Matt Simek
    We have all heard the excuse from those who display and honor the Confederate flag and march under its banner at rallies that it is not hate it is heritage. That is a hollow slogan and a complete misreading of history. The Civil War still grips us. The armies stopped fighting in 1865 because Robert E. Lee could no longer field an army. So, he surrendered. Most American people and government officials did not push hard for the Confederate leaders to be tried for treason even though those who lead the Confederacy were clearly traitors. They took up arms against the United States. This is treason. Despite the treasonous acts, the sentiment that prevailed after the war was that of the martyred President Lincoln who urged the nation to end of the war “with malice toward none, with charity for all…” He called for healing the wounds of war. 
    While the armies stopped fighting, the Confederate states never stopped the fight against racial equality. The Confederacy had to agree to the 13th and 14th Amendments which abolished slavery and gave black males the right to vote. This was the central Constitutional requirement of Reconstruction. Blacks participated in local, state, and federal politics for the first time during Reconstruction. This was a bitter pill for the white supremacists who hated blacks and could not accept them as political equals or equals as human beings. The “bottom rung of the ladder was on top” was a common expression in the South. Society was upside down. Blacks were elected sheriffs, they served in state legislatures, and a few made it to the U.S. Congress.
    The KKK and similar American terrorist groups with a variety of names such as the Knights of the White Camelia, rose to make America white again. Through decades of murder, lynching, and intimidation, the white supremacist groups sought to win through terrorism what they could not win on the battlefield. President Grant eventually sent troops to stop the terrorist groups and to outlaw the Klan. But the great tragedy of American history is that while the Confederate army lost the war, the leaders of that war and many of the Confederate troops and many who never fought in the war, managed to make white supremacy work in the politics and culture of the South. Blacks may have become citizens, but few could exercise the franchise. For a hundred years from the 1860s to the 1960s, blacks in the South, and often in the North, lived in a totalitarian system of oppression and racial hatred.
    And here we are in August of 2017, where the hate groups of white supremacy, the KKK and the neo-Nazis have made such an ugly, primordially brutal showing in Charlottesville. An innocent young woman who was protesting their hatred, their violence, and their blind bigotry, was murdered by a demented racist. He was only 20 years old. Where in God’s name did he learn so fast how to hate so deeply?
    To add additional woe to this unfolding tragedy of hate, we have a president who cannot make up his mind if he should condemn white supremacists or not.  who has no understanding of any of this history, and who has personally used racism to make money in real estate by discriminating against blacks, and who more recently rose to political prominence by smearing our first black President for being illegal and unfit to be president. The old Reconstruction fear of the bottom rung of the ladder being on top became a reality with Barack Obama in the White House. The Presidential election of 2016 was the most racially motivated in 100 years. Donald Trump did not invent this race hatred, but he used it to rise to the highest office in the land. It is almost as if the Civil Rights Movement never happened. The president has allowed and encouraged this hatred to come out of the shadows and back into the mainstream of American politics and American culture. Donald Trump is an evil and dangerous man, either on purpose, or because he truly is the most amoral, insensitive, and poorly educated person ever to hold this formerly distinguished office. 
    What can we do to turn this around? How do we stop the hate? We all need to work on this or we could face another civil war. This one, given all the other forces in the world today, could be the end of the Great American Experiment in Government that we call the United States. Even our name is becoming a joke, for we are not United, and we have a Grand Divider as president.
 Doreen Carey


Miller Market had a Latin flavor Sunday as the group Rumba de la Region was playing Cuban drum music.  This will be the final week I will be able to order tacos from Bienvenides.  I recall my disappointment a year ago upon discovering my favorite vendor gone.  The stated reason: school is soon back in session.  I ran into Dorreen Carey, a Grand Calumet Task Force mainstay, and asked whether hubby Bill is still brewing beer.  This year he grew his own hops and is not certain how well they’ll do, she replied.  I volunteered to be a sampler.
above, Josh, Alissa, Anthony, Miranda; below, Becca and James


Alissa posted photos from Niagara Falls.  We took Alissa there when she was a little kid, and she fearlessly stood on the deck of the Maid of the Mist, singing “Sailing, Sailing” despite being sprayed with water. We also stopped at the Falls with grandkids on the way back from Jackie Okomski’s high school graduation party.

At Chesterton library, I found “Trajectory,” a collection of four stories by favorite writer Richard Russo.  “Horseman” is about English professor Janet Moore, whose marriage is unraveling and who can’t stop thinking about lines to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Windy Nights,” which husband Robbie recites every night to autistic son Marcus:
Whenever the moon and stars are set, 
Whenever the wind is high, 
All night long in the dark and wet, 
A man goes riding by. 
Marcus was named for a black professor both Janet and Robbie had known in grad school.  Once, after a night drinking, the professor recited “Windy Nights” and declared it to be a great poem.  When asked to explain why, he replied, “Because when I speak those words aloud, my father’s alive again.”  Faced with dealing with a plagiarized paper, Janet Moore ruminated on sexism on campus in ways that former IUN professors Anne Balay and Julie Peller could identify with:
  It angered her, and rightly so, that students were more likely to cheat in her classes than those of her male colleagues, or be tardier, to openly question her authority, to give out mediocre evaluations at the end of the term.  Worse still, that they held her to a higher standard was actually unwitting.  Had anyone asked if they were prejudiced against female professors, not one would answer yes.  Hook them up to a lie detector, and every last one would pass.

Historian and Hammond Gavit grad Anthony Zaragoza spent a day at the Calumet Regional Archives talking with me and using material relating to deindustrialization in Northwest Indiana.  He teaches at Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington, and was looking for ways to involve students in community research. He was particularly interested in the 20-year tenure of mayor Richard Hatcher.  Ove the weekend he met with VU Flight Paths” project directors Allison Schuette and Liz Wuerffel, and I’m sorry he’ll be leaving the area before I could put him in contact with Gary community organizer Samuel A. Love. His best friend from high school owns a juice bar in Valpo and filled him in on protests over polluters in East Chicago and the proposed immigrant detention center in Gary.