Friday, May 9, 2014


“Sometimes I just
Wanna go back to my home town
Though I know it’ll never be the same.”
    Joe Jackson, “Hometown”

Will Anne Balay be forced to leave her Miller Beach home in Gary, a community she has come to love that has been so welcoming?  I fear so but sense an unease and resentment by women faculty and staff against IUN’s “old boy” system that exerts a stranglehold on the tenure and promotion process.  The embryonic signs of revolt may be too late to help win justice for her.

Rain threatened to put a damper on Indiana Historical Bureau’s dedication of a historical marker commemorating Froebel School at the park where Gary’s “immigrant school” once stood.  Minutes before the ceremony the sun broke through.  Representative Vernon Smith mentioned that it took two years to win approval of the marker and thanked me and Steve McShane of the Calumet Regional Archives for our help in providing documentation.  After Froebel closed, an effort to preserve the building, perhaps as a museum, came to naught.  The marker includes this text, curiously bereft of such articles as “the” and “a”:

Froebel opened here, 1912, as many European immigrants and southern blacks moved to Gary for jobs in steel mills.  An experiment in progressive education, it served students of diverse backgrounds and the local community.  Despite early status as integrated school, black students were excluded from many extracurricular activities and facilities into 1940s.  Closed 1977.  After WW II, Froebel made national headlines when hundreds of white students walked out protesting “integration experiment” there.  “Hate strikes” lasted several weeks in 1945 and reflected growing racial tension in North.  In 1946, Gary school board adopted desegregation policy, but discrimination continued.  Indiana state law desegregating public schools passed 1949.
above, Virgie Thorton and Vernon Smith; below, Alma Smith White & Shirley Perryman Millard
back of marker (and me in red); all photos by Carole Carlson
Ronald Cohen’s “Children of the Mill” described Froebel when it opened in 1912: “The building included a large auditorium, two swimming pools, numerous academic and vocational classrooms, spacious playground and gardening areas, and even a miniature three-room apartment for practice homemaking.  Planned to accommodate grades K-12 – the unique unit concept Wirt instituted in all of the major schools – it was perhaps the finest school in the country.”

In “City of the Century” I wrote about Japanese educators visiting Froebel to study School Superintendent William A. Wirt’s work-study-play curriculum and about its football program under Coach Johnny Kyle.  My 1998 Steel Shavings, “Froebel Daughters of Penelope,” featured five Greek-American graduates – Constance Pannos Bikos Girasin, Anatasia Tsoutsousis Polite, Helen Kremizes Polite, Peggy Kougoufas Terzes, and “H.J.C.” 

1946 Froebel grad Garrett Cope recalled: “I was not allowed to be in plays.  My white locker partner once suggested I try out for a play.  I said, ‘No, I don’t want to.’  I didn’t want to admit that I’d asked and been told no.  Black kids at Froebel could not be in band, and there was a white choir and a black choir.  In gym Tuesday and Thursday were swimming days.  While the white kids swam, we went up to the balcony or walked around the track.  The worst was the prom.  The white prom was in the crystal ballroom of the Hotel Gary while ours was in the girls’ gym.  We dressed up in tuxedos and evening dresses, but it was pretty horrible.”

By the mid-1950s Froebel’s student body was predominantly black.  Facilities were so overcrowded, the lower grades were on half-day shifts, some held in portable, World War II Quonset huts.  Betty Balanoff recalled: “My second grader was in a class with 45 students, and the same teacher who taught all their subjects in the morning had another group of similar size in the afternoon.”  Froebel children couldn’t take their books home because they were needed for both groups.

In “The Price of Inequality” Joseph Stiglitz, Horace Mann 1960 class valedictorian. stated that growing up in Gary, the industrial heartland, he witnessed firsthand “inequality, discrimination, unemployment, and recessions.”  At age ten he wondered “why the kindly woman who took care of me much of the day had only a sixth grade education, in this country that seemed so affluent, and I wondered why she was taking care of me, rather than her own children.”  

The Froebel dedication got me to thinking about Fort Washington, PA, my hometown.  There are two historical markers on Bethlehem Pike, Hope Lodge and Whitemarsh, where George Washington and his troops stayed in 1777.  Several area markers acknowledge African American settlements but not the cluster of houses on Fort Washington Avenue three blocks from where I grew up.  Classmates Bernard Johnson and Charles Gaskins lived there, as well as our cleaning woman Ada Jenkins.  I never thought to ask how long the tiny community existed.  When on the school safety patrol, I was assigned a nearby corner.  My first encounter with racism was in fourth grade when the principal left Gaskins off the school softball team despite his being a superb player.

“Lawrence in Arabia” author Scott Anderson believes that the love of Lawrence’s life was young Salim Ali, called Dahoum, meaning “little dark one,” with whom he shared quarters for three years.  They met in 1909 when Dahoum was 12 and a water boy for an archaeological dig near Dahoum’s hometown of Jerablus.  The ancient city, conquered by Hittite King Suppiluliuma in 1350 BC during the late Bronze Age, lies on the Euphrates River near the border between Syria and Turkey.  Dahoum taught Lawrence Arabic and learned English from him.  Dahoum’s death from typhus in 1916 was a devastating blow from which Lawrence never recovered.  He dedicated “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” to “S.A.” (Salim Ali) with these words:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
And wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillered worthy house,
That your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.”

In 1917 Turks took 28 year-old Lawrence captive by Turks and gang-raped him, awakening masochistic tendencies begun when his mother flogged him on the least excuse.  During the 1920s, according to Richard Norton’s “My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries,” Lawrence had a protégé flog him until he ejaculated.  Arab tribes lacked unity and political clout, and imperial greed doomed T.E. Lawrence’s dream of an independent Arabia, which he ardently believed would be in Great Britain’s best interests.  In this he was prescient.  Instead, following World War I the British conceded Syria to the French in return for control over Iraq.  Prior to his  fatal motorcycle accident in 1935 at age 46, Lawrence had changed his name twice, never enjoyed an intimate relationship with a woman, become somewhat of a recluse, and wrote an acquaintance: “I imagine leaves must feel like this after they have fallen from their tree.” 
Right before the NFL draft Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  posted a selfie that inadvertently revealed a joint on the couch.  Oops!  Ha Ha, the jokes on you.  Speaking of weird names, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan seems impotent in the face of the terrorist group Boko Hamam kidnapping schoolgirls.

90 year-old Hoosier WW II veteran Leo Sharp, convicted for hauling a ton of cocaine, got three years despite guidelines calling for a minimum of 14.  On the other hand, a father of four was sentenced to six years after hiding his cellphone in his bathroom clothes hamper to record a 12 year-old neighbor girl masturbating.  He claimed that he wanted to confront her so she’d stop doing it but accepted a plea bargain to avoid the charge of child molesting.  The judge had no mercy for his fateful error in judgment.  Rapists often get less jail time.

Instead of just pizza, James’s bowling banquet featured hot dogs and hot beef sandwiches.  He received two trophies and a bobble head figure.  Becca, meanwhile, was at a school dance.  John English announced he had a special award for “most dramatic bowler,” that went to his son Andrew.  Anthony Forbes, whose daughter won a $150 scholarship, described how his Legends took all seven points against The Big Hurt to finish first in my Wednesday league.  Inexplicably, his rivals moved their lead-off bowler to clean-up and in the first game he threw a gutter bowl instead of converting a 4-7 spare.  Things went downhill from there.

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