Monday, December 8, 2014

Realizing the Dream

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 

Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 

Does it stink like rotten meat? 

Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
            Langston Hughes, “A Dream Deferred"

About 70 guests were on hand at Valparaiso University’s Harre Union “Brown and Gold Room” for “Realizing the Dream in Northwest Indiana: Civil Rights in the Age of Ferguson.”  The event showcased work done by students in historian Heath Carter’s Race-Relations seminar.  Anne Balay went with me, and IUN’s James Wallace also attended.  It was fun hearing students whom I had met in Carter’s class and who had done research at the Calumet Regional Archives discuss their projects.  Guests were encouraged to contribute to a 30-foot long civil rights timeline; someone had already mentioned Gary mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher’s 1967 election victory, so I added his being elected to Gary City Council four years earlier.  At our table on my left was Queen Ella Washington, a West Side history teacher who’d taken my survey course ten years ago after a 20-year career in the navy.  On my right was Reverend John E. Jackson of Trinity United Church of Christ, who came with Carolyn McCrady and Dena Holland-Neal (below), the daughter of Gary’s former deputy mayor Jim Holland (NWI Times photo by Andy Lavalley). 

In his welcome remarks Carter quoted from Marin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and added that King’s vision included economic justice as well an integrated society.  The evening program was a prelude to February’s Martin Luther King Week events that will include a panel discussion featuring Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.  Speakers then will include Joanne Bland (a participant in the 1965 Selma March) and Sierre Leone native Ishmael Beah (author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”).  Carter showed an image of a website that featured a photo of Hatcher speaking at the 1972 West Side National Black Political Convention with Jesse Jackson, Amiri Baraka and other black leaders in the background. Thousands of delegates attended from all over the country, many staying in residents’ homes.  Rev. John E. Jackson lamented that there is not so much as a plaque at West Side commemorating the transformative event.
 below, Delphina Hopkins-Gillispie and Heath Carter across from Queen Ella Washington; NWI Times photo by Andy Lavalley

Students spoke briefly about their seminar projects; topics ranged from forced Mexican Repatriation during the 1930s to a 1964 VU student petition demanding that the university do more to attract a more diverse student body.  Christina Crawley talked about Roosevelt School’s proud tradition and Lucas Phillips described tensions in Gary on election day 1967.  Tommy Morrison mentioned Rev. Norman Brandt, liberal pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, whose adopted daughter Rebecca, an African American, went to the same alternative school in Glen Park as Phil and Dave. 

After dinner (delicious chicken, lasagna, rolls and salad) each table, led by a student facilitator (in our case, Christina), discussed the legacy of Region race relations and what needs to be done in the future.  When Reverend Jackson brought up the impediment of systemic racism, I brought up the willingness in 1968 of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration to fund War on Poverty programs.   He proliferation of urban riots had scared government officials and liberal foundations into encouraging black leaders willing to work within the political system.  Subsequent presidents, beginning with Richard M. Nixon, have neglected rustbelt cities, even recent Democratic chief executives.  Perhaps the current protests will wake up Washington.  Or not.
Protest in East Chicago; photo by Samuel A. Love

I noted that Bulls guard Derrick Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirt referring to the last words of Eric Garner, NYC victim of a police choke hold and brought up a Times column by Doug Ross entitled, “Could NWI become another Ferguson?”  IUN professor Monica Solinas-Saunders provided Ross with statistics concerning the disparity in arrest rates in suburban communities such as Hobart and Munster, where the presence of a black male is an immediate cause of suspicion.  Ronald Mullins of the Hammond Human Relations Commission urged police to reside within the communities they serve (a state law forbids cities to mandate that, an example of the absence of home rule hamstringing local officials).  I mentioned that when a Hammond policeman recently stopped an African American women for driving without a seatbelt and smashed a window, then tasered a passenger in the passenger seat who exercised his legal right to remain in the car, the story became national news after a youngster in the back seat caught it on video.  Protests have occurred in 170 cities, and in Gary on the corner of Ridge and Broadway.  Further examples of police brutality locally could ignite a veritable powder keg.

Heath Carter mentioned feeling somewhat disconnected, living in Valpo, from the nationwide protests.  Anne Balay added that when she lived in Chicago she almost never interacted with common folks, but in Gary it is virtually a daily experience to be asked, for instance, while at a stop sign for a ride to the South Shore station.  She contrasted the progressive role steelworkers traditionally played in the life of industrial cities such as Gary and East Chicago with their near invisibility today.  In 1964 thousands of Gary mill workers spent their money at local stores, bars, movie theaters, diners, and bowling alleys.  They were a major part of the lifeblood of the city politically, economically and socially, campaigning for candidates and agitating for economic justice and social change.  Now, even though the mills produce as much steel as ever, the blue-collar aura is almost gone.  

Several VU faculty members had heard of “Steel Closets” and were shocked at IUN denying Anne tenure.  Last Sunday Anne took part in a Day of Remembrance at a Portage church for transgender violence victims who died within the past year.  She’s on her way to DC for a Pride at Work twentieth-anniversary event where “Steel Closets” will be honored.

I emailed Heath: “Congratulations on putting together such an excellent program and bringing together so many interesting people, especially the students, even some from Merrillville High School.  You must be so proud of Christina, Lucas, and the others who handled speaking and facilitating with so much confidence and preparation.  I was delighted to see an article about the event on page one of the Northwest Indiana Times.  Reporter Susan Emery quoted Carter as saying, “Given everything going on around the country right now, the conversation could not be more timely.”

Asked about President Obama’s performance in a Rolling Stone interview, comedian Chris Rock stated: “As bad as George W. Bush was, he revolutionized the presidency.  He was the first president who only served the people that voted for him.  He ran the country like a cable network; he only catered to his subscribers.  Obama’s main fault is not realizing that’s kind of what people want.  That whole trying-to-make-everybody-happy thing is done.”  Concerning Gary’s own Jackson 5, Rock claimed: “Anything before them is just black misery.  So far as I’m concerned, Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie ended slavery.”  Spoken like a 49 year-old with good instincts but not much historical perspective.

According to Peter Ackroyd’s “Tudors,” the “Bloody” Catholic Queen Mary persecuted “heretics” because she believed God would otherwise punish her by keeping her barren.  In grad school I wrote a seminar paper about Hugh Latimer, chaplain to King Edward VI, which got published in the Journal of Church and State.  When in Oxford, England, I came across a marker on the site where in 1555, along with Nicholas Ridley, he allegedly uttered these last words before they were burned at the stake: “Play the man, master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”  A witness later wrote: “[Latimer] received the flame as if embracing it.  After he had stroked his face with his hands and bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died with very little pain or none.”

Queen Elizabeth evidently loved to dance, ride horseback, bed down young couriers, and attend bear-baiting events, where dogs set upon the animal in a pit.  On one occasion a raised platform collapsed, killing many spectators, which superstitious Londoners took to be an ominous omen.

Julianne Moore plays a professor afflicted with early Alzheimer’s in “Still Alive.”  A Time review quoted from the poem “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins:
“As if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
Decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of your brain
To a little fishing village where there are no phones.”

The final “Sonic Highway” episode took place in NYC (where else?) and included an interview with Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora and several Guthrie songs.  When Bob Dylan came to their house, Nora recalled, she refused to answer the door because she was watching Little Eva on “American Bandstand.”  History might have been different, she concluded, had brother Arlo not let him in the third time he knocked.  I learned that CBGB’s stands for Country, Bluegrass, and Blues although, as Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, told David Grohl, he never heard anything but punk rock there during the Seventies.

Family weekend highlights: Alissa and Josh returning from Europe; winning one of five board games (Shark) against Dave and T. Wade; garnering the most points in Fantasy football thanks to wide receivers A.J. Green and T.Y Hilton and thus advanced in the “consolation ladder.”

Ann Fritz hosted a wonderful reception featuring the artwork of ceramist Amber Ginsburg.  “The Tea Project” consisted mainly cups inspired by a guard at Guantanamo prison who noticed that detainees would carve drawings on the cups containing tea, utilizing, in most cases, their fingernails.  Most drew flowers but writings, most likely prayers or poems.  The guard was ordered to destroy the cups, but seeing them helped to understand the humanity of his captors, many in their teens and one reportedly as young as 13.  Amber has held several “Tea Party” events with IUN students that have been very spiritual.  Ann noticed a guy with a huge plastic container about to dive into the food and showed him the small plates guests were use.  He still managed three helpings without so much as glancing at the artwork.

On Atlantic’s list of the hundred most influential, Americans there are eight African Americans (led by Martin Luther King at no. 8) and ten women (highest is Elizabeth Cady Stanton at no. 30) but no Latinos or Native Americans.  I’d surely list Cesar Chavez ahead of Babe Ruth or Mary Baker Eddy.  Mormons Brigham Young and Joseph Smith made the list but no Malcolm X.  Abraham Lincoln deservedly led the list, and I can’t argue with the inclusion of business tycoons Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan.  Though reactionaries, today Ford’s wages of five dollars a day would translate into $120; and Morgan had more scruples than our generation’s Wall St. Robber Barons.
"Imagine": John Lennon, 9 October 1940 -  8 December 1980

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