Friday, June 12, 2015

Thinking, That's All

“Play your hand.
Don't play it off.
Don't play that game.
Out of touch.
There is no pride in seconds lost.”
         “Thnking, That’s All,” Jimmy Eat World

“Thinking, That’s All” leads off the 1996 Jimmy Eat World CD “Static Prevails.”  The Mesa, Arizona, power pop band’s most successful album was “Bleed American,” released, ironically, just weeks before the 200 the World Trade Center attack.  DreamWorks, the record label, changed the title to “Salt Sweat Sugar.”The first two lines go: “I’m not alone cause the TV’s on.  I’m not crazy cause I take the right pills every day.”

Michael Boos, executive director of the Association for the Wolf Lake Initiative, invited me to speak next April about “steel makers in Gary and East Chicago” at a monthly forum called CALUMET REVISITED.  I told him I’d be honored and, like Hoosier humorist Jean Shepherd prior to a 1995 luncheon speech on the day he was to receive an IU honorary degree, asked how many minutes I had.  I have no delusions of matching Shep’s wit but vow to keep it lively.   Because Boos suggested that I discuss personal experiences and interactions, I’ll mention Staughton Lynd’s labor history workshop, held during the early 1970s in a Glen Park storefront.  There, listening to rank-and-file activists, I became convinced that industrial unions lost their way and became top-heavy bureaucracies after they purged militants during the postwar Red Scare and stripped locals of the right to strike and ratify contracts.  I’ll discuss folklorist Richard Dorson’s “Land of the Millrats,” the 1974 Consent Decree, the District 31 Women’s Caucus, and conclude with remarks about Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.”
Robert Sherill’s “First Amendment Felon: The Story of Frank Wilkinson, His 132,000-page FBI File, and His Epic Fight for Civil Rights and Liberties” (2005) contains a section on 1958 HUAC hearings held in Gary council chambers for two days as hundreds looked on, including Lew Wallace seniors.  With some hyperbole Wilkinson claimed that during a visit to Gary he revived the dormant ACLU Calumet chapter, raised $1,200 for a full-page Post-Tribune anti-HUAC ad, and met secretly with subpoenaed steelworkers to develop a strategy of refusing to answer certain questions based on First Amendment free speech guarantees. U.S. Steel had vowed to fire and employee who pleaded the Fifth Amendment granting individuals protection against self-incrimination.  Most of the alleged communists, including two I subsequently knew, Joe Norrick and Al Samter, summoned before the grandstanding Congressmen, followed Wilkinson’s advice.  Sherill quotes Wilkinson describing the aftermath of the Gary hearings:
  Everyone felt wonderful.  The subpoenaed people got together with the liberal people who placed the ad – the ACLU people – and everyone was so happy they’d taken on HUAC.  As it turned out, the government, apparently sensing it had a very weak case, agreed to select one of the men as a “test” and give him only a few months in prison – and let the others go free.  I felt there was  a touch of humor in the outcome; it could be said that HUAC – and U.S. Steel – saved nine “First Amendment Communists.”

HUAC committee members seemed bent on making a case that “colonizers” with college degrees had moved to Northwest Indiana seeking jobs as steelworkers in order to proselytize their anti-capitalist agenda.  While that was certainly true, so what?  Don’t we live in a free country?  Not then.  Wilkinson himself had been called before HUAC, had refused to answer questions, citing the First Amendment, and was cited for contempt of Congress.  He appealed to the Supreme Court, lost, 5-4, and in 1961 was imprisoned in Lewisburg, PA.  I was at Bucknell then and played a softball game with the federal prison inmates.  In 1975, the year HUAC was finally abolished, Wilkinson quit the Communist Party after 33 years.
NPR hostess Diane Rehm apologized for a false comment she made about guest Bernie Sanders having dual citizenship with Israel, something that was untrue, as the Vermont Senator pointed out.  A Facebook listener had made the assertion.  The following day, Reym stated: “I apologize to Senator Sanders and to you for having made an erroneous statement.  However, I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.”  I’m still for Hillary, but friends lining up behind Bernie include Beamer Pickert, Oz, Jonathan Rix, and Michael Bayer.  Mike’s dad, an old-style commie, would have termed Sanders, a democratic socialist, a “half-ass socialist,” as he once called me.

Steve introduced me to his Indiana History class as “the great Professor Jim Lane.”  “Well, maybe near-great,” I quipped.  I should have replied, “At least, not the late, great.” I gave tips on doing oral history: be familiar with your recording device equipment, know your objective and convey it clearly to the subject, be a good listener, and, if possible, research the person beforehand.  The class currently is studying Gary’s pioneer years, so I told about interviewing Montenegrin immigrant Nikola Tarailo, who helped build  one of the first open hearths and project engineer Louis Howsen, who helped bring water to Gary from Lake Michigan.  I also mentioned interviewing Gary’s first athletic hero, Johnny Kyle, who went on to play professional football while coaching at Froebel, Gary’s “immigrant school.” What I didn’t know at the time was that during the 1945 Froebel School Strike, Kyle, whom everyone respected, was acting principal when Richard A. Nuzum was temporarily relieved of his duties.
above, Nikola Tarailo; below, Jovo Krstovich
I told the class about learning of Serbian grocer Jovo Krstovich from his son George at his law office on Ridge Road.  The hard-nosed attorney would get emotional talking about his old man – how he had huge, scarred hands from pouring concrete in winter without benefit of gloves, how he stared down robbers armed with Thompson machine guns, how he carried customers during the Great Depression at Kirk Yard Market until poor health forced him to retire at age 83.  Once nicknamed “Hurry Up, John” because of his nonstop pace, he’d yell at customers who’d shop at chain stores and then bring him the empties for refund. 

People of all ages, including young kids, are capable of conducting oral histories of family members, so the assignment might have practical use to Education majors.  One regret: I didn’t talk to my father more about his background.  Born in McKeesport, PA, he worked in the steel mills while in college. 

 “Lost Gary” fan Eileen Polk Cordova, who hopes that other opportunities await the “Magic Industrial City” if heavy industry proves a thing of the past, recalled:
  I lived in Gary for a short time in the late 1960s, and my son was born in Methodist Hospital in 1968. Gary was my first experience with urban living. I was raised in a rural area in the southwest, and came to Gary to marry my husband. It was his hometown and he was extremely proud of it...and of being a "Hunky."
I remember shopping in downtown Gary, and walked many of the streets as a U.S.P.S. letter carrier for a short time. I remember driving through neighborhoods with green trees and lawns, lovely well-cared-for homes and friendly people. I fondly recall how my husband loved to visit a neighborhood park on weekends to buy lamb being roasted at a Croatian picnic.
I, too, recall aesthetically pleasing Glen Park neighborhoods and attending lamb roasts at St. Sava’s on Forty-Ninth and pierogi nights at the Slovak Club at Eleventh and Harrison.  White ethnic neighborhood enclaves with all their vices and virtues are pretty much a thing of the past.
 Slovak Club, Eleventh and Harrison in Gary
Women columnists are taking pot shots at Caitlyn Jenner, bemoaning her publicity-seeking Vanity Fair photo shoot.  Ellen Goodman asked: “Why Caitlyn couldn’t come out as a 65 year-old woman rather than a 25 year-old starlet?”  Others took her to task for keeping her male sex organ – as if she’s got a future in porn if her reality TV show flops.  Jon Stewart on the Daily Show made fun of catty remarks about how good she looked - for her age and with the aid of modern make-up.

After reading Steel Shavings volume 44, former student Terry Helton, like Fred McColly before him, is chomping at the bit to protest IUN forbidding me to use a 40 year-old account.  Well, I’m pleased to report that the problem is apparently about to be resolved.  I’ve told Arts and Sciences dean Mark Hoyert that the next volume will include journals from Steve McShane’s spring, summer, and fall students.  After meeting with CISTL director Chris Young, I’ve agreed to publish excerpts of papers presented at annual Arts and Sciences conferences.  I’m hoping, as Chris considers offerings on Antebellum Indiana, that we might co-edit a volume on the Calumet Region during the Nineteenth Century.

I wore my “Stand Up for Steel” t-shirt as Congress debated whether to authorize Obama to negotiate a trade deal with 11 Pacific countries.  Most Democrats, including Congressman Peter Visclosky opposed the bill, while most Republicans supported it.  Like union leaders, I fear it will increase the ability of foreign countries to drive American steel mills out of business.

1 comment:

  1. well...pleased as i am that the ossified bureaucrats and humorless bean counters have seen the light and things are moving forward i have to admit to a bit of disappointment,,,i have been honing that particular rant for a number of months...i have hopes of retooling it for application to presidential politics though...that effort may hold some promise.