Friday, April 1, 2016

Old Prophet

“Prophets and poets lead us into a new world, beyond simply yelling at the old one.”  Shane Claiborne, “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”

Hoping I might participate in an upcoming celebration, Kathy Malone sent me information about the hundredth anniversary of St. Paul Baptist Church at 2300 Grant St. in Gary, which I wrote about in “Gary’s First Hundred Years” in connection with civil rights pioneer Rev. Lester Kendel Jackson. Interviewing “The Old Prophet” 42 years ago, I recall spying dozens of hats in his hall closet.  Still a little wet behind the ears as an oral historian, I shrank from asking him to turn off the TV, and it almost ruined the audiotape.  I had read that Jackson had invited Red Scare victim Paul Robeson to speak and perform at St. Paul’s when the Gary school board forbade him the use of Roosevelt auditorium and that he participated in the 1949 Beachhead for Democracy caravan in an attempt to desegregate Marquette Park in Miller.  What I didn’t know beforehand was that L.K. Jackson was virtually a one-man civil rights movement upon arriving at St. Paul Baptist in 1943.  Reared in Clay County, Georgia, and having worked with Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., on a boycott of the New York regional transit authority, Jackson proclaimed himself the “Hell-Raiser from the East” in his initial sermon.   His first crusade was to pressure the Gary Transit Company into hiring African-American drivers.  Next he persuaded the YMCA into desegregating its facilities.  Boycott threats resulted in job opportunities for African Americans as downtown department store clerks and bank tellers.  He even talked Post-Tribune publisher H.B. Snyder into hiring a black reporter.  When the subject of qualifications came up, the “Old Prophet” pledged to find competent applicants.

From the pulpit and in letters-to-the-editor signed “The Servant of the Lord’s Servants,” Reverend Jackson frequently railed against Gary’s corrupt Democratic machine that was in cahoots with vice elements.  After a suspicious fire on May 2, 1963,destroyed his church at 1938 Adams Street, “The Old Prophet” lay the blame squarely at the feet of his political enemies, charging, “They burned our church to the ground less than half a block from the fire department.”  A new house of worship at 2300 Grant Street opened on January 15, 1966, in time for the congregation’s Golden Jubilee. The Post-Tribune’s Jerry Davich wrote:
If church walls could talk, what would they say?
The historic walls of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Gary – which turned 100 this year – could preach about its countless weddings, funerals and worship services. About serving as a shelter from the storm of the Great Depression. About its steely efforts to racially integrate the city. And about its influential role in Northwest Indiana's civil rights movement.
“And so much more,” said 86-year-old Goldie Richards, the church's longest continuing member. “We've fed the hungry, clothed the poor, offered Sunday school, too. This congregation has been assembling ourselves together for longer than I've been alive.”
 above, Goldie Richards; below, L.K.Jackson (seventh from left) with Ike
At the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Change in Atlanta are four letters L.K. Jackson sent to Dr. King as well as replies from the civil rights leader.  In 1962 Jackson wrote: “I left Georgia 46 years ago in revolt against fifth class citizenship and since then have used every moral, spiritual, and legal weapon at my disposal to emancipate my people.” On May 29, 1963, Jackson informed Dr. King of St. Paul’s burning to the ground and added that he’d been in bedridden ever since.  Dr. King replied with a check for 50 dollars toward reconstruction of the church.  Also in the King Center archives are copies of telegrams Jackson sent to President John F. Kennedy during Dr. King’s 1963 Birmingham Crusade.  The first criticized the federal government for failing to protect nonviolent demonstrators. Jackson wrote:
    How can you sit idly by and see thousands of law-abiding, democracy loving, liberty seeking Negroes thrown in filthy jails and have high-powered water hoses turned upon them and ravaged by vicious police dogs in open defiant violation of the Constitution.  With all other groups in America except the Negro, when the Supreme Court hands down a decision, it automatically becomes the law of the land, but with the Negro the law enforcement agencies dilly-dally and shilly-shally and make a thousand excuses for not enforcing it.
Jackson’s second correspondence congratulated Kennedy for responding to the crisis in Alabama and stated: “The civilized world will applaud you and unborn generations will rise up and call you blessed for using the authority that is already yours to bring an end to the disgraceful barbarity that is sweeping the South.”

The events in Birmingham that Reverend L.K. Jackson spoke of took place on the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  To celebrate that centennial the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had asked historian John Hope Franklin, author of “From Slavery to Freedom,” to write a history of civil rights progress since 1863 but rejected his manuscript as too negative, causing Franklin to retort, “I am afraid I cannot ‘tidy up’ the history that Americans themselves have made.”  In New York Review of Books Drew Gilpin Faust called on historians to emulate John Hope Franklin, who received an honorary degree from the University of Maryland in 1970 at the ceremony where I received my PhD.  Faust wrote:
  Are we as historians committed – and prepared – to seize this responsibility to extend history beyond the academy?  Are we as a nation at last ready to welcome the truth that can lead to reconciliation?  If so, it is in no small part because of the kind of history John Hope franklin dared to write and the ideals he represented as he walked the “tightrope” between engagement and objectivity, as he struggled to unite history with policy and meaningful change, as he sought truths to save us all.
 U. of Maryland honorary degree recipients Julie Andrews and John Hope Franklin; 
below, Archives volunteers, Maurice Yancy,left
For Steve McShane’s class Miranda White interviewed Maurice Yancy, 76, an Archives volunteer who has traveled to 43 countries and knows several languages.  She wrote: “This is an amazing life story, told to me.”
I was born in East Chicago in 1939, the ninth of 11 children. Luckily my father, an electrician who had his own business, was a great provider.  I went to Gary Roosevelt from kindergarten through 12th grade.  As a 6 year-old kid I admired the football players.  I did not know they wore shoulder pads; I thought those were real muscles.  My parents protected me from a lot of prejudice.  Back then, there were stores where we could not try on clothes. I did not know that until I started making my own money - shining shoes, washing windows, cutting grass - and went shopping by myself and was not allowed to try on shirts and pants.  It was a rude awakening, but everybody seemed to accept the situation.
I was not a very good student; for one thing, I had a speech impairment.  I stuttered and got teased, so I fought a lot and became in others’ eyes a discipline problem.  One teacher explained that my brain worked faster then my mouth and that I wasn’t stupid. She told me to concentrate on my assignments and that I didn’t have to read out loud in class. My grades start shooting up, and gradually I stopped stuttering.  In fact, I joined the drama club and sought to get on stage where I could command attention without having to act a fool. I flunked only one class, biology.  We had to collect insects in the summer and then label them with the scientific names. I was about 13, had a crush on a young lady, gave her all my insects, and that's why I failed biology.
Like a lot of classmates I joined the army after high school. I had one brother in the Navy and another in the Air Force.  I wanted to get away and see what I was capable of doing.  I enlisted in November of 1957.  A month later they gave me money to go home for Christmas and get back.  In my infinite young wisdom I spent all my money.  A couple days before I had to go back, I asked my father for ten dollars.  He refused and said, you left my home; I did not put you out. It taught me a lesson, that if you are grown, you are responsible for yourself, not your parents.  You learn from your failures; you don’t learn from your success.
In the army I became an interpreter in South Korea for a little over a year.  Then, because I had taken French for 4 years in high school, to my delight I was assigned to go overseas to Paris. I stayed in France for 3 years and traveled all over Europe.  Because I looked young for my age, people wondered, who is the teenage sergeant walking around like he's got the best job in the world?  I chalked it up to the luck of draw. I took college correspondence courses; they were challenging, sometimes fun, and kept me out of trouble. I began thinking about life after the army.
In 1962, after five and a half years in the military, I started working in the steel mills and enrolled in a training program to learn computers. I remained a steelworker for 4 years while in college.  Then when my girlfriend moved to Chicago, I transferred to IIT. I was majoring in computer science and got a job at Time magazine that lasted 32 years until I suffered what doctors called it a stroke or brain attack.
Over the years I wrote poetry and took up photography.  I go to quite a few plays, even when I was in the army. I prefer them to movies, just as I prefer radio to television, which takes away one’s imagination. I think a person should be well rounded. If you don't have a hobby then you'll go crazy.  I'm not bragging, but I don't drink, don't smoke, and have never done drugs. I was previously married to the wrong person and realized it immediately and got an annulment.  I have a girlfriend, but she will not marry me.  She's a very strong, determined woman who raised two children and has a Masters degree. I've been very fortunate: I've never had a crazy ex-girlfriend or any of those problems.  I think a lot of it has to do with treating women with respect rather than leading them on dishonestly.
One brother asked me, “What do you think mom would say to everything you did in life?” She would not be surprised, I think, and she would not be ashamed. It doesn't mean that everything I did was right because everyone has human frailties.
Four of my siblings are still living.  I have 17 nieces and 16 nephews. A brother who when he was an air force officer was asked how was going to deal with different ethnic groups. He answered, well, if I can deal with all my brothers and sisters, then I can deal with anybody else. My oldest brother, who was in the navy during World War II, is 14 years my senior, he’s been through stuff that I know nothing about, and I have been through things that he knows nothing about. But there’s mutual respect.  I have little use for those who engage in what I call “pity parties” rather than appreciate what they have compared to so many people in the world.  I have been very fortunate and have no complaints.
Melvin Shelton (l) and Maurice Yancy at 55th reunion; below, Mark A. Chancey
Southern Methodist University Religious Studies professor Mark A. Chancey spent two days in the Calumet Regional Archives perusing the William A, Wirt papers for a book project on public schools and religious education.  Under Superintendent Wirt Gary pioneered the practice, later adopted by many other school districts, of releasing students to receive religious instruction.  Chancey had read “City of the Century,” but I gave him a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”  Later in the day Ron Cohen, author of “Children of the Mill,” had a long talk with him.  Chancey’s present research is a far cry from previous books he has authored, including “Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus” and (with Eric M. Meyers) “Alexander to Constantine” Archaeology of the Land of the Bible.”

I delivered a free copy of Steel Shavings to realtor Gene Ayers, whose wife Judy’s musings are featured prominently.  He has sold homes to several people in it, including Mark McPhail and Anne Balay.  Spotting Claude Taliaferro’s photo on the cover, he told me that the Gary Roosevelt coach and teacher was related to accomplished saxophonist, percussionist, and vocalist Crystal Taliefero, a 1981 Wirt graduate who studied music a IU and has toured with John Mellencamp, the Bee Gees, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen.  There is disagreement over both the spelling and pronunciation of Taliaferro.  Educator Booker T. Washington, for instance, pronounced his middle name “Tolliver.”
 above, Crystal Taliefero with Bruce Springsteen; below, Samuel A. Love at Marquette Park spring burning; along Lake St.
Dave being on spring break, we got in four board games with Tom Wade; I prevailed in the two close ones before the others each captured easy wins.  After being cited in the Rob Tucker Seniors League bulletin for fourth highest handicap game last week (263, behind Ed De St. Jean’s 275, Faye Thomas’ 274, and Lorenzo Rodriguez’s 266), I sucked terribly; still, thanks to Mel Nelson 500+ series, Engineers took five of seven points from Hot Shots.

Ray Smock posted:
It was on this day in 1789 that the U. S. House of Representatives achieved its very first quorum. A cynic, or just a comic, would say that Congress began on Fool's Day. But those early "fools" were men of experience who were working to build a nation and a strong government. Today's "fools" do not seem to believe government is necessary and that no experience is needed to run whatever government we have.

Granddaughter Alissa pranked me for April Fools Day, concocting a story about her family meeting Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, at Universal Studios in Orlando.  Years ago, while she was living with us, I reduced Alissa to tears when I told her I had cut down a mulberry tree, so she has been getting even ever since.  Alissa also announced (no joke) that she had booked her flight to Tanzania.
Lanes in Florida

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