Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Black Harry" Hoosier

    Myrna Fleener: A basketball hero around here is treated like a god. I don’t want this to be the high point of Jimmy’s life.
    Coach Norman Dale: Most people would kill to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.
         “Hoosiers” (1986)

Indiana Magazine of History’s Bicentennial issue is devoted to the subject “What is a Hoosier?” The eight articles represent a century of research published in past issues during which time theories have abounded over its derivation, from pioneers saying a variation of “who’s there?” to a wild and wooly Scottish tribe by that name. In 1833 John Finley’s poem “The Hoosier’s Nest” contains these lines:
I’m told, in riding somewhere West
A stranger found a Hoosier’s Nest
In other words, a buckeye cabin
Just big enough to hide Queen Mab in.
Its situation, low but airy
Was on the borders of a prairie.
James Madison’s “Hoosiers” (2014) contains this anecdote attributed to poet James Whitcomb Riley:
  After a brawl in a pioneer tavern that included eye gouging, hair pulling, and biting, a bystander reached down to the sawdust-covered floor and picked up a mangled piece of flesh.  “Whose ear?” he called out.

Recent research has led scholars to focus on a black evangelist  named Harry Hoosier, born around 1760, who lived on a plantation near Baltimore.  After he gained his freedom, Hoosier became a charismatic Methodist preacher despite being illiterate. Dr. Benjamin Rush claimed that “Black Harry,” as he was nicknamed, was “the greatest orator in America.”  Historian William D. Piersen suggests that the word “Hoosier” was first used pejoratively, to characterize “frontier backwoodsmen as primitive followers of Black Harry Hoosier and his mixed-race, antislavery Methodist frontier democrats.”  Piersen adds: “As the white people of the frontier adopted the nickname for themselves, the term lost its original racial connotations and came to mean simply an illiterate, ignorant, and uncouth yahoo.”

Stephen H. Webb, Professor of Religion at Wabash College, wrote:
  Working the itinerant trail from New England to the Carolinas, Hoosier played an important role in Methodism’s appeal to the unchurched.  Much of the movement’s early growth came from blacks.  Indeed from 1790 to 1810, one fifth of Methodist membership was comprised of African Americans.  Hoosier preached to both whites and blacks, and many whites found this integration of the races to be profoundly disturbing.  It is probably no coincidence that the derogatory use of the term Hoosier begins to appear at the time of Hoosier’s ministry.  His congregations were rural and unsophisticated, and they mixed the races, two characteristics that would have prompted hostility and ridicule.

How ironic that “Hoosier” would become a badge of pride connoting both rugged individualism and neighborliness.  As Jonathan Clark Smith explained in “Not Southern Scorn but Local Pride: The Origin of the Word Hoosier and Indiana’s River Culture,” the designation became associated with the free and independent lives of Indiana pioneer farmers and boatsmen, as captured in the George Caleb Bingham painting “The Jolly Flatboatmen” (1846).
George Chacharis third from left; Mayor Pete Mandich on right

Jerry Davich has begun posting excerpts from his forthcoming book “Crooked Politicians of Northwest Indiana: Tall Tales and Short Sentences,” which I fear will be a misleading portrait that exaggerates the degree of corruption among Lake County Democrats.  Writing about the first political fundraiser he attended ten years ago – for John E. Petalas, whom, he says, “seems like a nice man, an honest man” – Davich quotes then Gary mayor Rudy Clay as claiming that God is a Democrat.  The column contains no revelations of corruption, just innuendoes.  Without explanation Davich uses a photo from 60 years ago showing Boss George Chacharis with his loyall allies.  Even though the feds would go after Chacharis due to pressure from Post-Tribune publisher H. B. Snyder and other Republican businessmen and he would go to prison to protect his friends as part of a plea bargain, Chacharis was a popular, dedicated public servant who refused to kowtow to U.S. Steel. That, in fact, was what really did him in.  The column ends with this pronouncement:
    Well, it’s been ten years since I attended that political fundraiser. I’ve since been to many more of them for various candidates. David Gilyan, the Hobart attorney who now lives in Las Vegas, was right. They’re all alike, just like in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
    Same purpose, same unspoken rules, same political chit-chat under the guise of polite conversation. Only the faces change. And sometimes the hair styles. Sometimes not. Attending these never-ending affairs – designed to fill campaign coffers and make new political connections – is often like walking into a time capsule. Without much effort, it’s easy to pretend these events are being held in, say, 2006 or 1986 or 1956. Only the fashion changes.
    In Lake County, Indiana, it’s always fashionable to be seen at these fundraisers because these “pols” know damn well it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Knights Templar, I learned in Dave Parnell’s Crusades class, originally were warrior-monks (a new phenomenon) who took vows of poverty and chastity and pledged to protect Christians on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Parnell mentioned the 1119 Battle of the Field of Blood in which Muslim forces annihilated a Frankish army of 700 knights and 3,000 foot soldiers near Aleppo.  It was the first time the concept of jihad, or holy struggle, began to be used with frequency.  When Parnell read a flattering, almost erotic description of Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch, from Anna Comnena’s “The Alexiad,” a student who specializes in references to “Star Trek,” “The Simpsons,” and superheroes brought up Kevin Sorbo, who once played Hercules.  David immediately knew the reference – impressive.
Kevin Sorbo
After class I got a haircut ($13.50 plus $2.50 tip) and my toenails cut ($7.00 plus 3 bucks tip).  Angie and the grandkids were over, and Toni made spaghetti and meatballs with radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes from neighbor Gina’s garden.
In “A Lonesome Death Remembered,” a chapter in “Hogs Wild” (2016)” Ian Frazier wrote about the incident behind the 1963 Bob Dylan classic “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Carroll was a Baltimore hotel barmaid at a charity fundraiser at a when a drunken William Zantzinger (Dylan left off the “t”) struck her with a cane when she didn’t serve him fast enough to suit him.  Previously he had assaulted other employees.  Carroll subsequently died of a brain hemorrhage.  He was indicted for manslaughter and received a six-month sentence. Zantzinger was a slum landlord and con man who later ran into trouble with the law.  The tragedy was that none of the society folks intervened to halt the bigoted behavior.  Hattie Carroll was alone among uncaring strangers.  Forty years later, Frazier interviewed parishioners at Baltimore’s Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, located in the lower-middle-class black neighborhood of Cherry Hill and wrote:

  People at the church remember Hattie Carroll as a quiet, well-dressed woman, tall and poised, with good taste in hats.  She sang in the church’s over-45 choir and was a member of the Flower Guild.  Away from work, at least, Hattie Carroll seems not to have fit the picture of the lowly person Dylan described.

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