“Robert Penn Warren described the merger of the personal with the political – the individual with history – as ‘identifying with fate.’” Diane McWhorter, “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution”
victims of "Bull" Connor's water hoses; Life photo by Charles Moore
Best known for the novel “All the Kings Men” (1946), based on the life of populist Louisiana governor Huey P. Long, Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), was also a poet, literary critic, and oral historian of the civil rights movement. His book “Who Speaks for the Negro” (1965) contained interviews with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and other black leaders. A chapter entitled “The Young” contained the views of Lucy Thornton, Jean Wheeler, and Ruth Turner, as well as students from Tougaloo and Jackson State College. Thousands of ordinary folk risked their lives during the 1963 Birmingham Crusade, underscoring Robert Penn Warren’s point about identifying with fate. “Personal Politics” (1975) by Sara M. Evans examined the roots of women’s liberation in the civil rights movement.
The closest I came to making an imprint on history, other than by my pen, was participating in antiwar demonstrations in Washington, D.C., between 1966 and 1970, working unsuccessfully in Lake County, Indiana, to elect George McGovern president in 1972, and becoming active in the Bailly Alliance, which foiled NIPSCO’s scheme to construct a nuclear power plant on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Two friends are presently out of state registering voters to help stop Trump, 63 year-old volunteer Marla Gee and 19 year-old Brady Wade (below, top left).
Prior to Toni and I hosting our monthly bridge club, we all dined at Wagner’s Ribs in Porter. I prefer my rack Texas-style with sauce on the side. For an extra three bucks I could order a second entry, delicious steak kabob perfectly seasoned, which I consumed next day at halftime of the Bears loss. I was rooting for Chicago but wanted my Fantasy players Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to have big games, and they did.
Scott Cvelbar and Blues Project participants
At Valparaiso University Benjamin Franklin middle school history teacher Scott Cvelbar’s spoke to an appreciative VOLTS (Valparaiso Organization for Learning and Teaching Seniors) audience on “Keeping the Blues Alive.” During Black History month, Scott explains the genre’s origins in slave field hollers, chain gang work songs, and biblical spirituals and has each student research and report on a particular number. He also directs a student Blues troupe that over the summer performed at Taltree Arboretum and Legends in Chicago. The one-stringed diddley bow, I learned, derived from a West African instrument and consisted of wire nailed to a board, cigar box or even a wall. The fiddle could be a glass bottle or any number of things. Audience members peppered Cvelbar with so many questions that I didn’t get the opportunity to ask about female Blues legends who predated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
Big Bill Broonzy
Cvelbar showed YouTube excerpts of Big Bill Broonzy’s “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” to demonstrate common Blues elements of improvisation and machismo. Born Lee Conley Bradley and one of 17 children, Broonzy moved from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago in 1920, took up the guitar, and played at rent parties and other social gatherings while holding down various day jobs. One crowd pleaser was “Saturday Night Rub.” Part of the postwar folk music revival, Big Bill toured with a troupe that included Chicago raconteur Studs Terkel. In 1954 Broonzy and Pete Seeger wowed a crowd at Circle Pines Center, a Michigan commune. The chorus to his “Black, Brown, and White” goes: “If you're white, that's all right, if you're brown, stick around, but if you're black, oh brother get back, get back, get back.”
The signature riff of Rock legend Bo Diddley (1928-2008), born Ellas Otha Bates, is familiar to and in the repertoire of virtually every electric guitarist. On the flip side of his number 1 hit “Bo Diddley” was “I’m a Man.” In 1963 Diddley toured Great Britain with Little Richard and the Everly Bothers; the Rolling Stones were on the bill as a warm-up act and in awe of him. Several women were in his band, including lead guitarist Peggy Jones, nicknamed Lady Bo. In 1980 Gary promoter Henry Farag booked Diddley for a “Let the Good Times Roll” concert at Notre Dame. At the time Bo was a full-time sheriff in Florida. When Farag overpaid him by $500, Diddley refunded the money, a rare gesture in the cutthroat music business. When the house band’s drummer staggered off the stage drunk, Diddley sat in, then closed the show in style, as Farag noted in “The Signal”:
Bo Diddley was Bo Diddley. One of a kind. With his wide-brimmed hat and slung guitar, he moved the people with his pioneering “I’m a Man, Hey, Bo Diddley, and other blues-tinged Chess [Records] classics.
Jeff Manes, Judy Lennon, and John Cain at South Shore Arts program
Jeff Manes spoke to a standing room only crowd in Munster as part of a series sponsored by South Shore Arts. Hope my talk on Vivian Carter and Vee-Jay Records next month generates as much enthusiasm. Executive director John Cain assumed the role of Crown Point’s Denny Bruckman, who sacked groceries for 40 years, and Vietnam veteran Patrick O’Donnell was on hand to recite his moving interview with Jeff, which appears in the latest volume of “All Worth Their SALT.”
Caught on tape 11 years ago bragging about groping women’s pussies, Trump claimed that it was merely “locker room talk” and promised that if elected, Hillary would end up in jail. Fortunately, American presidents don’t have the power his buddy Vladimir Putin has. Republican establishment types are jumping ship, especially those up for re-election. About time. Just as the Washington Post drove “Tricky Dick” Nixon from office with investigatory journalism, the newspaper is exposing the repulsive Trump as the con artist he truly is. Conservative columnist George Will has called trump a “venomous charlatan.”
I rehashed the Presidential debate with Ray Smock. When moderator Martha Raddatz asked Hillary about a speech to Goldman Sachs executives leaked by Russians, where she said that politicians sometimes have conflicting public and private positions, she referred to when Abraham Lincoln used different arguments to persuade various members of Congress to approve the Thirteenth Amendment. Trump seemed oblivious to the cogent analogy and ranted: “She lied. Now he’s blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe never lied.” Poppycock! Attorney Joseph N. Welch’s admonition to Senator Joseph McCarthy on June 9, 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings applies to Trump: “Have you no sense of decency?” Commenting on Trump’s smear tactics, Smock, former House historian, wrote:
There is something very out of sync in our election process when bombshells from hacked documents, leaked by a guy in hiding in a foreign embassy are lobbed from Russia into an American political campaign and that people in this country swallow it without any critical thinking at all about its veracity. It is more than out of sync, it is a complete and utter disaster, when it is the GOP candidate for president who is using this stuff. Trump acts like an agent of a foreign country spreading propaganda from the largest megaphone there is. This is very close to criminal behavior. It is every bit as bad, if not more so, than Trump's admitted sex crimes.
With a new Facebook profile picture taken during a family trip to Kansas, Anne Balay wrote about making progress on a manuscript about lesbian and transgender truckers: “I have drafted three chapters since fall semester began. They are raggedy, and I don't care. I love them. I love everything. When I grow up, I'm going to be a writer.” I offered proofreading services. Anne added: “It’s National Coming Out Day, and I’d like to report: I’m still gay.” She’s at an Oral History Association conference in Long Beach, which Toni and I attended 30 years ago on the Queen Mary, a.m. and posted this nice message:
Here at the Oral History Association meeting, they're giving away free copies of the Oral History Review containing TWO pieces of my writing. Which makes me want to thank James Lane for getting me hooked on this crazy, delicious methodology.
Dave and I stayed up till 1:45 watching the Cubs bow to the Giants in 13 innings. So did Arts and Sciences administrative assistant Debi Qualls, who quipped that 6 o’clock came very quick. On the Giants were former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence and former Cub pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Next evening the Cubbies staged a miracle comeback, erasing a 5-2 deficit with four runs in the ninth to advance to the National League championship series on Saturday. The unlikely series MVP: infielder Javier Baez (below).