Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Jim Crow

“The criminal justice system is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” Michelle Alexander

At IUN’s gymnasium a large crowd gathered to hear Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”  Beforehand, a choir from Hammond Morton performed several songs, including an African number, “Dubula,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the “Negro National Anthem.”  When Richard Hatcher was mayor, Gary audiences would sing it at events.  Nobody in the gym stood and joined in, although I’m certain it occurred to others.  Chancellor Lowe’s welcoming remarks emphasized IUN’s commitment to diversity.

Ms. Alexander did not disappoint.  Reiterating points from her book, she blamed those who concocted and implemented the War on Drugs for the extraordinary amount of jailed African Americans, in particular the selective enforcement of punitive laws in a discriminatory manner. Prisons have become a source of windfall profit for greedy capitalists.  Alexander praised Martin Luther King and those who demonstrated over the police killings in Ferguson and New York City.  The following quote from “The New Jim Crow” summarized Alexander’s thesis:

  In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

A man in the audience, moved by Alexander’s impassioned remarks, kept up a constant chatter of “Amen,” “Uh Huh,” and “That’s Right,” sometimes breaking into applause, even in the middle of sentences and getting louder and louder as he found his voice.  At first it added to the ambience, but at times he overdid it.  When Alexander finished her prepared remarks, the man walked up to the stage, took a couple pictures, and departed before the Q and A.

Two microphones became available for questioners, and a line formed behind each.  Former Labor Studies professor Ruth Needleman was about eighth in line.  The questions often took the form of long, heartfelt narratives, which Alexander honored with lengthy replies.  Students at IUPUI had heard the talk on a live feed, and mediator Crystal Shannon relayed several questions from them.  When I left near the end in order to speak in Steve McShane’s class, Ruth’s line still had hardly moved.  There with union activist Robin Rich, she assuredly would have asked about the necessary role for organized labor could play in what clearly is in part a class struggle.
 Samuel A. Love gets Michelle Alexander to smile during book signing

Talking to Indiana History students about Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and the Battle of Petit Fort, I stressed that what little we know is due to primary sources.  It’s the same with Joseph and Marie Bailly, who in 1822 built an inn and trading post near the Little Calumet River in present-day Porter.  At the time there were no other permanent settlers in the Calumet Region.  Marie’s father was French and mother from an Ottawa tribe and called “aunt” by Indians who often camped on their property. She sought to convert many of them to Catholicism.  What historians know about them comes mainly from the reminiscences of granddaughter Frances Howe and a woman, Elizabeth Baird, who knew them when they lived on Mackinac Island.  I urged students to include reminiscences in heir journals.

I told the class that on Martin Luther King Day someone defaced the six-foot statue of du Sable, considered to be the founder of Chicago, by Erik Blome.  A donation from Chicago’s Haitian-American community, it is located on the east side of Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River.  A vandal painted a black mask across the face.  It took a graffiti removal company several hours to clean the statue, using turpentine, acetone, and wax.

Wondering if I were a relative, Michael Bayer sent me a clipping about Henry Smith Lane, who served just two days as Indiana governor in 1861 before resigning to become a United States Senator.  As part of a prearranged plan, Oliver Morton replaced him and governed Indiana until 1867. Lane (not a relative) was strongly pro-Union and friends with Abraham Lincoln, who once joked: “Here comes an uglier man than I am.”
 Purdue teammates Jake Eisen and Willie Merriweather

  Former Gary Roosevelt basketball star Wilson “Jake” Eisen, 78, passed away. In the 1955 Indiana state championship game against Crispus Attacks he scored 31 points in the title game and became Gary’s first “Mr. Basketball.”  Led by Oscar Robertson, Attacks won 97 to 74.  Eisen was an All-American at Purdue, served in Vietnam, became a steelworker at Gary Tube Works for 25 years, and then a Gary physical education teacher for another quarter century.

Times columnist Al Hamnik called Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch a bum for not talking to the press and for grabbing his crotch after scoring TDs.  During he playoffs he answered every question, “Thanks for asking.”  At Superbowl Media day he switched to, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”  After the required 4 and one half minutes, he blew kisses to reporters and left.  What a contrast to the beloved Ernie Banks, who passed away a few days ago and whose statue is on display at Chicago’s Daley Plaza.

Studying about the deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Nicole Anslover’s class learned that 19 year-old Clara Lemlich’s rousing speech to garment workers at a Cooper Union meeting led to the so-called “Uprising of the 20,000.”  Born in the Ukraine, her family fled to America during a pogrom when Clara was 13.  Prior to her speech, police had arrested her several times and broken several of her ribs with batons.  She brought audience to their feet when she shouted out, “I have no further patience for talk as I am one of those who feels and suffers from the things pictured.  I move that we go on to a general strike now!”  After the successful strike vote, Clara led women with raised arms in this traditional Yiddish oath: “If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise.” A suffragette and lifelong socialist, Lemlich, while living at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, persuaded the authorities to respect a United Farm Workers grape boycott and organized orderlies into a union.
IUN Medical School students honor cadaver donors; Post-Trib photos by Jim Karczewski

IUN’s Medical School held a program honoring those who donated their bodies for use in the Cadaver Prosection Program.  One of the six was Lydia Grady, an army nurse during World War II who received military burial honors. Medical school students sang “Amazing Grace” and extinguished candles resting atop Grady’s coffin after which her daughter Klari Neuwelt was presented with a large American flag.  Lydia was one of the sweetest women I ever met, as well as, like Clara Lemlich, one of the most committed fighters for civil rights and social justice.  Class-conscious Marxists, Grady and Lemlich realized that only strong unions could keep industrial buccaneers at bay.

On at Chesterton’s Westchester Library’s “Free Books” shelf I came across “The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics” (1999). The editors were Larry Gross and Lillian Faderman (author of “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers”).  An article by Erica Goode and Betsy Wagner pointed out that during the Victorian Era, prior to sexology and Freud, “intimate friendships” between women were not stigmatized.  President Grover Cleveland’s sister Rose could write Evangeline Whipple in 1890: “Ah, how I love you.  It makes me heavy with emotion.  All my being leans out to you.  I dare not think of your arms.”  They exchanged passionate letters and lived together for the last eight years of Rose’s life.

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