“I think of my images as bricks that, when placed in context with each other, reveal shapes and meanings within these often neglected urban communities. Through photography, I have become a builder of virtual cities,” Camilo Vergara
Vergara receiving 2012 National Humanities Award
Corey Hagelberg and I went to an apartment on South Shore Drive in Chicago to collect the dozen prints of murals photographed by Camilo Vergara. Cultural historian Tim Samuelson left them with a guard in the lobby, who let me in and handed me a package containing them nicely flattened (they’d arrived at his place in a tube). On the Skyway and Indiana Toll Road only machines were collecting money, a process that, Corey complained, took much longer than the old fashioned method that provided workers a livelihood. Score another pyrrhic victory for antiunion Republican governors, just like with public school teachers and social workers at the welfare office.
Corey installed the 20 by 30-inch prints using tiny pins since tape takes paint off the Gardner Center walls. We tested to make certain my “Eyes on the Prize” DVD covering Birmingham and the March on Washington worked. Samuel Love showed up for a meeting and was impressed with the display. About half the murals had other personages, such as Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and former Chicago mayor Harold Washington, as well as Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela and Mexican “Founding Father” Benito Juarez. One from Los Angeles had a Tuskegee Airman next to Stevie Wonder and Sojourner Truth beside Barry White. A Chicago mural had Donna Summer next to Frederick Douglass and Michael Jackson and Ray Charles flanking JFK.
On a whim I drove past the Hoosier house at 337 Jay Street where we lived for five years four decades ago. The trees looked bigger, the yard where Phil, Dave and I played wiffleball and football smaller. The basement flooded about once a year where we played countless games of ping pong and hockey with tennis balls despite the numerous posts. At midnight during New Year’s Eve party a neighbor fired off gunshots. We once found his teenage daughter rifling through bedroom drawers when we came home unexpectedly; our other next-door neighbor’s daughter liked to call our phone number at night and then hang up when we reached the phone. Across the street were the Blandos, whose sons were tennis aces, and the Arellanos, whose German shepherd barked ferociously when someone walked nearby but never left their property. Serbian landlord Mike Lukovic was so thankful we paid our rent on time, unlike previous deadbeat renters, that when home repair was needed, he’d tell us just to deduct the costs fro next month’s rent. Still we were in Miller, close to friends and not far from the beach.
Ann Fritz suggested using foam boards and binder clips when installing the Camilo Vergara prints in Savannah Center lobby next week. Ann and Scott Fulk are lending me the foam boards, and I rounded up binder clips from Steve McShane and Vickie Milenkowski.
The latest “Newsroom” deals with a flawed report that Special Forces troops used sarin to rescue two soldiers in Afghanistan in danger of being beheaded. Anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) notes that eight months before Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery for refusing to move to the back of the bus, the same thing happened to Claudette Colvin, a pregnant teenager. Civil rights groups decided to wait for a more “respectable” victim. Had Claudette not been pregnant, the bus boycott would have started before Martin Luther King arrived in Montgomery and he might not have become such an iconic figure.
Jerry Davich’s article about Martin Luther King and my Gardner Center event was the Post-Tribune’s cover story. The headline: “Is King’s dream still relevant today, 50 years later?” I told him that the speech was directed toward all Americans because everyone would benefit from an open, integrated society. He quoted me as saying: “We remember King as this lovable man when in fact he was a freedom fighter.”
Vernon Smith, photo by Stephanie Dowell; below, Alberta Burnett
Lisa DeNeal interviewed people inspired by King’s speech. Rep. Charlie Brown, a teacher in 1963, warned: “Today, states are stifling people’s right to vote, and instead of the KKK we have to deal with the Tea Party and the continuous fighting from the Republican Party.” Rep. Vernon Smith recalled being mesmerized by how many people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and deeply moved by King’s oration. Danielle Patterson recalled that her grandmother, Alberta Burnett, a member of the NAACP Women’s Auxiliary, helped organize a caravan to attend the March. She later told Danielle that during King’s speech she cried, cheered, and cried some more. She even saw tears in the eyes of police officers.
About 80 people showed up for the Gardner Center program. About half were East Chicago Central students that Dave brought, including photographer Denzel Smith, whose images might find their way into Camilo’s website. They especially liked trying to identify people in the various murals. Camilo had identified a boxer as Joe Louis, but some thought it Muhammad Ali. Chaka Khan a couple people thought was Tina Turner. Speculation was that one of the three “unknowns” were Otis Redding, Lou Rawls, and Lionel Ritchie.
Chancellor Lowe and IUN’s new School of Education dean, Lara Bailey, attended; the exhibit, I told both, will be on display next week in the Savannah Student Center lobby prior to being moved to where the Central District Organizing Project’s Midtown Community Block Party is taking place at Twenty-fourth and Massachusetts. A CDOP representative was there with flyers advertising the event, promising food, games, DJmusic, arts and culture, and back to school giveaways. The Post-Trib’s Lisa DeNeal was on hand, as was a reporter from the Gary Crusader.
I told the assembled group that I could not have pulled off the exhibit without Corey Hagelberg, who, when plans got derailed, assured me that things would work out and that this was the most important cultural event the Gardner Center has hosted. I thanked Karren Lee, on hand despite having broken bones in both arms in a bicycle accident, for sharing Corey’s vision of transforming Miller Beach into an arts haven. I mentioned that similar happenings involving Camilo Vergara’s photographs were occurring on this day all over the country at such disparate venues as a homeless shelter in L.A, an independent bookstore in NYC, Baltimore City Hall, and the Bagley Grille in Detroit. I provided information about Vergara’s background and context concerning the South in 1963. Despite audio glitches for the “Eyes on the Prize” segment, the program was a success. Dave gathered the EC Central students together for a group photo, and several Miller residents stayed around afterwards to examine the murals and talk with us. Local artist Malachi Moore inquired about showing his work at the next Pop Up Art event.
Ron Cohen brought along the current issue of The Nation. An essay by Camilo Vergara entitled “How the Streets Honor MLK” was subtitled, “In America’s inner cities, he’s represented as a statesman, hero and martyr.” In addition to providing glimpses into the beliefs of ghetto residents, the murals, Camilo asserted, “serve many purposes, from helping to sell merchandise, to making businesses more secure against vandalism and crime, to encouraging a sense of pride in poor communities.” In Hispanic neighborhoods, Vergara discovered, it was not uncommon to find King depicted with Mexican-Indian features. In Detroit’s Chinatown was a mural where King had Asian features. Vergara wrote: “I value these street images of King in all their earnest misrepresentations because of the hopes they embody.” Unfortunately, most quickly fade, so Vergara’s photos will be the only permanent record of a priceless historical resource. I’m going to push for IU Northwest to award Camilo an honorary degree.
Before bowling I had a charcoal grilled burger at the recently re-opened Redhawk Café. The Engineers won five of seven points against a team called Legends, who left loads of ten-pins and had trouble converting them into spares. I rolled a 191 and two 146s, which, two years ago, would have been right around my average but which matches the best I’ve bowled in nearly a year. Melvin and I each had a 483 series, but I won the pot since his average is higher. Since Frank is still golfing, affable African-American Tony Forbes subbed for him and had a 630 series. Bobby McCann’s wife had on a Rob Zombie t-shirt from his Dead City tour.
statue of Father Marquette at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
According to Jerry Davich, a Portage woman found a cement block under brush behind her house. On it is the image of someone looking to be a French voyageur, perhaps Joseph Bailly, or possibly even Father Marquette. The previous property owner was active in the Knights of Columbus, so it may be a Catholic prelate active in that centuries old organization.
Nicole Anslover invited to talk to her Sixties students about the civil rights movement in Gary. I might start sitting in like I did for her spring Film class. She’s doing Vietnam in mid-September, around the time I return from California, so I might give out copies of my Vietnam Shavings.
Sad news: Mark Sulich, a classmate of Dave’s at Portage, died, struck by a truck after getting out of his car on 80/94. His mother Hilda and sisters Tracy and Tina were excellent soccer players. Mark liked sports as well and worked on a pit crew at Illiana Speedway.
Mike Certa dropped off a revised copy of his memoirs, which contains more info on his “progenitors.” After graduating from Hammond Tech, Mike wrote, Frank “lived at home, paying rent, until one night when he had an argument with his father over a card game. He promptly moved out of his parent’s house and found a room close to where he was working. What he missed most was his mother’s cooking. He took his meals at a diner near his new place, but nearly got thrown out of there because of an argument with the quick order cook over how to fix fried eggs. Dad wanted the cook to put salt and pepper on them while they were being cooked. The cook didn’t want to bother; he figured people would salt and pepper the eggs for themselves when they were served. Dad finally got the cook to do it his way when cooking for him.” Mike’s parents, Frank and Mae, met while working at American Steel Foundry.
I encouraged Mike Certa to add photos, which he had assembled for a previous DVD project. He wants me to meet Jackie Taylor, director of the Black Ensemble Theatre in Chicago, who is interested in Vivian Carter and Vee-Jay Records. I saw their production of “The Jackie Wilson Story” at East Chicago Central because the star of the show taught there. Taylor’s group recently staged a critically acclaimed production about Howling Wolf called “Ain’t No Cryin’ the Blues.”
My Thursday lunch companions, Anne Balay and Jon Briggs returned, now that Fall semester has begun. Anne is excited to be teaching a Literature course on Science Fiction for the first time. Jon has 45 students in an online Western Civilization survey. He agreed to teach it after only two people signed up for his on-campus offering. Evidently professors have no control over ceilings on the numbers of students who can register. Nontraditional students seem to prefer staying at home to live interaction with instructors. Sad.
Ray Smock posted an article by George Kenney about the folly of bombing Syria, which would certainly increase the suffering of innocent civilians. I responded by saying I shudder every time a pundit or a [politician uses the word credibility. Ray responded: “Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We are about to see if our national leaders are insane. Will they attempt "limited" military action without "boots on the ground" to control a foreign civil war? I do not expect sanity to break out anytime soon.”
Anna gave me my first haircut since mid-June. The eyebrows had gotten wild and the sideburns impossibly shaggy. Other barbers come and go, but Anna has been with Quick Cut for 21 years and is the only one I trust to do the job right without my having to giver a long explanation of how I want it.
Phil, Josh, Alissa, and Tori, off to a Tigers game at Comerica Park in Detroit.