Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Saints and Sinners

“They say I am impersonal.  I want you to know I am the only candidate who said he would get rid of [FBI director] J. Edgar Hoover and that is a person.” 1968 Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy

In Jonathyne Briggs’ seminar on 1968 Youth Rebellions I discussed why so many Americans were protesting the Vietnam War, namely the atrocities committed by our “killing machine,” composed of 500,000 troops carrying out “search and destroy” missions in “free fire zones” and utilizing heinous weapons (i.e., cluster bombs, Agent Orange, and napalm) in an unwinnable conflict against people who wanted their country united and free from foreign domination.  The autocratic leaders we supported against Ho Chi Minh, the George Washington of his country, were crooks and former French collaborators.  After mentioning my participation in the October 1967 March on the Pentagon, I read from Norman Mailer’s “The Armies of the Night” about the incarceration of Quaker pacifists who refused to accept a plea bargain:                    
     Some of [the women] refused to eat or drink and were fed intravenously.    Several men at the D.C.    jail would not wear prison clothing.  Stripped of their own, naked, they were thrown in the Hole.  There they lived in cells so small not all could lie down at once to sleep.  For a day they lay naked on the floor, for many days naked with blankets and mattress on the floor.  For many days they did not eat or drink water.  Dehydration brought them near to madness.
Then Mailer wonders:
  Did they pray, these Quakers, for forgiveness of the nation?  Did they pray with tears in their eyes . . . “O Lord, bring more suffering upon me that the sins of our soldiers in Vietnam be not utterly unforgiven – they are too young to be damned forever."

“Armies of the Night” rests in a bookcase next to favorites “Breakfast of Champions” (Kurt Vonnegut), “Rabbit Is Rich” (John Updike), and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories” (Jean Shepherd).  In “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” the Mailer book the class is reading, the author tells 1968 antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy that his 1960 nominating speech on behalf of Adlai Stevenson (during which the Minnesota Senator said, “Do not reject this man who made us all proud to be called Democrats”) was the second greatest oration he’d ever witnessed.  Taking the bait, McCarthy inquired about who was better.  Vito Marcantonio, Mailer replied, in 1948 at Yankee Stadium in front of 50,000 people.  That occasion was a Progressive Party rally for anti-Cold War Presidential candidate Henry Wallace.  Like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Marcantonio was a democratic socialist.  I told Jon’s students that although McCarthy and Mailer were on the correct side of history in their views about Vietnam, neither was a saint – and, in Mailer’s case, more a sinner – a notorious bully and womanizer who on the final night of the convention unwound at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy club.

Addressing California delegates at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, An embittered McCarthy answered charges that he would be a passive President:
      Well, a little passivity in that office is all right, a kind of balance, I think.  I have never known what active compassion is.  Actually, compassion, in my mind, is to suffer with someone, not in advance of him.  Or not in public necessarily.  But I have been, whether I have been passive or not, the most active candidate in the party this year, raising issues all the way.
 above, Eugene McCarthy; below, Ethan Schmidt

Nicole Anslover was a good friend of Ethan Schmidt, the American History professor at Delta State gunned down by an apparently crazed adjunct.  Schmidt and Nicole were both grad students at the University of Kansas.  The murderer, Shannon Lamb, first killed his girlfriend and after a police chase took his own life.  According to the Daily Mail, Lamb had gotten a nasty spider bite on the cheek that caused him a great deal of anxiety. Lamb claimed he shot his girlfriend by mistake when she tried to prevent him from committing suicide. Police remain baffled about why he had wanted Schmidt dead.  The two hardly knew each other, and Schmidt was by all accounts a good family man.  David Parnell took over Nicole’s Monday class so she could attend the funeral.

Visiting the Archives was Archie Allen of Clover Lane Media in pursuit of photographs for a two-hour documentary about civil rights in Indiana.  Vernon Smith had given him a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years,” and I pulled out “Gary: A Pictorial History” plus pictorial histories of Miller Beach and Glen Park so he could compile a list for Steve McShane.

In Steve’s class to find out how the students’ oral histories were progressing (nearly all had identified their subject), I read from Anastasia Polite’s reminiscences to give them ideas about aspects of ethnicity, including parental influences, home life, food, church, and social events.  In an interview for “Daughters of Penelope” Tasia recalled her parents insisting that she speak Greek, being served wine with meals (which she hated), and her grandmother taking her to St. Constantine’s Church.  Tasia added:
     My dad was very pro-Greek, but he hated the church.  He wouldn’t go, and my mother agreed with him, whatever he said.  He thought church was nonsense.  A fraud.  He hated the priests.  I think he had a bad experience in Greece with one of them.  His big thing was, “Never be alone with a priest.”  We’d have to go to confession, and he’d try to stop us. 
     When I was growing up, I probably went to hundreds of weddings.  People bought food for their weddings at our stores.  In those days nothing was catered.  The family cooked fried meatballs and Greek lamb in the church basement.  Everybody was welcome.  There were no formal invitations.  When somebody was getting married, we went to the weddings.  The ceremony was held in the church, of course, and the receptions were downstairs.  Later the church added a bigger hall.
     My dad was a beautiful dancer.  It seemed that dancing was when his soul came out.  There were a lot of Greek gatherings in those days.  Nearly every week a band would be playing, and we’d go to the church hall to dance.  When he got up, there would be a whisper, “Vlasie’s going to dance.”  Everybody would gather around to watch him, like in the movie “Zorba the Greek.”  Once one of the more forward, well-endowed women got up and started to dance with him.  He completely ignored her and went on with his dance, pretending she wasn’t there.

Professor Allison Schuette of Valparaiso University, co-director of the “Welcome Project,” will meet with me regarding a Gary initiative titled “Flight Paths: Mapping Our Changing Neighborhoods.”  In an interview for that project Valpo mayor Jon Costas, who grew up on Gary’s West Side in a house later purchased by Dolly Millender, asserted that the year 1967 was a “turbulent time” – a “perfect storm” - in terms of Black protest nationwide and local tension due to Richard Hatcher being elected mayor.  His family joined the “white flight” shortly after a Halloween incident.  Jon was walking home after trick-or-treating with his older brother and friends when suddenly a gang of African Americans surrounded him.  The others fled, but Jon had his candy stolen and feared for his safety until a gang member said, “Leave him alone, he’s just a kid.”
above, Mayor Jon Costas; below, Yogi Berra
New York Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Lawrence “Yogi” Berra passed away at age 90.  A hero to my dad, he famous, especially when Yankee manager, for off-the-wall “Yogi-isms,” such as, “It ain’t over till it’s over” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  He once said, “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
above, Jeff Manes; below, Union Mills Sectional champs

Jeff Manes interviewed Matt Werner, author of “Season of Upsets,” about Union Mills, the 1950 high school basketball Sectional champions who defeated Michigan City Elston, which had an enrollment of 1,000 students compared to 65 at Union Mills.  Werner told Manes that he spent about three years researching and writing the book and interviewed more than 70 people.

Is nothing sacred?  The blurb for Molly Geidel’s “Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties,” in the University of Minnesota “Critical American Studies” series, proclaims:
  The practice of development work, embodied by iconic Peace Corps volunteers, allowed U.S. policy makers to manage global inequality while assuaging their own gendered anxieties about postwar affluence.  Geidel traces how modernization theorists used the Peace Corps to craft the archetype of the heroic development worker: a ruggedly masculine figure who would inspire individuals and communities to abandon traditional lifestyles and seek integration into the global capitalist world.
 statue of Junipero Serra in San Gabriel, CA

On American soil Pope Francis canonized Spaniard Junipero Serra, an eighteenth century Franciscan monk, despite protests from 50 California Native American tribes.  Valentin Lopez declared: “We’re stunned and we’re in disbelief.”  Deborah Miranda wrote, “The missions ended up killing about 90 percent of the California Indians present at the time of missionization.”  Historian Carey McWilliams called missions “charnel houses” where victims were pressed into forced labor and infected with deadly diseases.  In The Guardian Andrew Gumbel wrote:
       When the Native Americans rebelled, which they did on at least two occasions, the rebellions were put down in brutal fashion. When Native American women were caught trying to abort babies conceived through rape, the mission fathers had them beaten for days on end, clamped them in irons, had their heads shaved and forced them to stand at the church altar every Sunday carrying a painted wooden child in their arms.

Writing from a federal prison camp in Terre Haute, George Van Til began, “Hello my friend,” While his health is still shaky, his spirit was lifted by a visit from Dana Holland Neal and Carolyn McCrady and he’s pleased at my interest in coming, adding: “I’m fortunate that I’ve had visitors every weekend – family plus friends – but as the novelty wears off, who knows?  Representative Charlie Brown came down with former State Rep. Peter Katic.”

above, Charlie Brown; below, Peter Katic

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