7/10/2015 – Heritage and Hate

WHY BLACK LIVES MATTER (TOO) me

Why would an old…well… “seasoned”, Southern, white guy come out in support of Black Lives Matter? Shouldn’t I be the “flag waving” rebel who really ain’t racist because I once knew a black guy back in the eighth grade. After spending my life trying to fly under “the radar” of controversy why would I risk alienation of friends, family and racist of all walks of life? “BLM is more racist than the KKK!” after all. Because it is time to “poop” or get off of the can and admit to my own cognitive dissonance.

I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy flying under the radar, comfortably settling into retirement and confident that I wasn’t a racist…at least not overtly. I didn’t laugh at racist jokes…but I didn’t take people to task over them either. I just made a point to distance myself from the offender…but I kept quiet. If “white folk” commented that President Obama had done more to disunify the nation I snickered under my breath and thought “Yeah right, only because he is the first Black President and exactly what was more?” When a former teaching friend, former as in teaching and friend, shared a meme depicting a nude, strung out prostitute as President Obama mother, I was both appalled and silent. I am ashamed that we didn’t part company at that moment instead of later when I alienated him over another post…one I had made defending the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from our statehouse grounds and the original impetus behind my quest for awareness.

The deaths of nine innocents at Mother Emmanuel hit me on a personal level and the firestorm over the flag removal made me recognize the huge riff still existing between races. It became apparent “our racism” had simply been covered in the same way my kitty covers her business in her litter box. Most importantly it made me ask myself questions and search for the truth. THE TRUTH, not your truth or my truth but the actual truth. It would appear real truth is quite elusive.

I was a history and science teacher. I was not a historian any more than I was a scientist but the love for both spurred me to look for truth. The pain I was feeling over Mother Emmanuel and the flag spurred me to write about it and the history teacher in me wrote from a historical perspective. The following will probably be included in the second chapter of a short compilation of I hope to publish on the anniversary of the massacre.

7/10/2015 – Heritage and Hate

Word came to me that our General Assembly had voted to remove the flag from the capitol grounds and place it in the Confederate Relic Room with its own area for those who believe in its heritage can give it the reverence they think it deserves. For those who believed that it flew in the “face” of a large portion of the population and represented hate and racism, kidnapped or not, it is out of sight, if not out of mind. That short journey began at 10:10 this morning and, thankfully, was over in the blink of an eye, although what it all means will continue to be debated ad nauseam, including, I hope, this set of stories.

In the year 2000 I felt the flag should have been removed but, unlike now, I was too timid to say so. Despite feeling one wrong has been righted, I am thankful those who want to celebrate their heritage still have the opportunity to do so…in any way they so desire, provided it is not illegal and doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Infringement on rights might be the fly in the ointment or, maybe worse, the “Baby Ruth” in the swimming pool.

I have always questioned where my rights ended and others began. You want to play your music loud, louder and loudest and employ woofers that could create a sonic wave strong enough to knock a fighter jet out of the sky. At what point do I get to ask you to turn it down? More to my point – as I have viewed and read the comments on social media or had discussions with friends, I have been both shocked and appalled at some people’s venom when it comes to OTHER people’s rights. “Some people,” along with everyone else, have those pesky First Amendment rights whether we agree with the “connerie” people might be spouting or not. They have the right to say anything hurtful short of “Fire” in a crowded theater, I guess. They do have the right to call me a stupid asshole just like I have the right to unfriend them on social media which I didn’t but probably should have. One question I have not answered is why if you have the same rights as I have, why does it remove my rights if you are insured of your rights?

As the debate over “rights” raged, I am thankful for the grace shown by the families of the “Emmanuel Nine” and for most of South Carolina. Dylann Roof was definitely one of those “Baby Ruths” in the pool. He has given us an opportunity to examine how dirty and polluted the “societal” water was before he climbed into the pool. I hope it will give us the opportunity to drain his pool and fill it with clear and pure water. I would settle for just potable.
It is true that the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia did not pull the trigger that took those nine lives. Dylann Roof killed them and we do not need to place the blame on “that flag” nor should we place it on the gun he did it with or the fact that gays have the right to a civil marriage or that I must have the right to go deer hunting with an AK47. (Sorry, I could not help myself!) We do, however, need to place the blame on those who hijacked the Battle Flag and turned it into a symbol of hate and created a fertile garden of prejudice and racism for Roof to grow in. That would be people just like me.

I was born in South Carolina in 1950 and was taught both the heritage and the hate. I was born just two years after Strom Thurmond’s bid for the presidency running as a Dixiecrat, the party of segregation. The Dixiecrats might have been the first to hijack the flag as they rallied round the Battle Flag while playing “Dixie” during their convention. Prior to that time, for over eighty years, the Battle Flag had rarely been seen, used only at parades or memorials and the like, in other words, just as it should have been, the way Robert E. Lee would have wanted and not a symbol of racial hatred. After 1948 it became much more than a symbol of heritage and I lived through it all, seeing the efforts to keep African-Americans segregated after Brown replaced Plessey in 1954. I saw it all on my little black and white with Walter Cronkite. I heard it in church and in school but, fortunately, I did not hear it at my parent’s knee. I saw it in “Whites Only” restaurants or restrooms. I saw the burning of crosses and Freedom Rider buses, The Little Rock Nine, The Greensboro Four, “Bombingham,” fire hoses and police dogs in Selma and an assassination or ten.

Thankfully none of this occurred in my part of South Carolina but then I might just be suffering from the disease of cranial rectitus that goes with the color of my skin. I do remember being taught that one did not call “coloreds” mister, “birds of a feather flock together” so much so you never expect to see redbirds with crows. In a history class I learned that the familiar statement “All men are created equal” was not true because you had those people born “lame, retarded and colored.” Unfortunately, too many times these occurrences were accompanied by both Confederate and US flags and none of my friends or family attempted to rescue them. We simply must recognize what our Southern history stood for and admit to ourselves that it was as much about hate as it was about heritage.

On a Sunday afternoon in 1970 I stopped in a small upstate “nameless” town on my way back to Newberry for a milkshake that was, in fact, vanilla. As I sat at a concrete picnic table I heard cheers and yelling from behind a stand of trees and privet hedge. Being of a curious nature I decided to wander down a path and see what was going on. As I broke into the clearing the smell of kerosene became strong as a six-foot-tall cross burst into flames with a gigantic “Whoosh!” It was a small cross but there were plenty of white sheets and Confederate flags to go with the fifty or so people in attendance who were cheering the festivities on and shouting about the n@$$%^& bucks who would be raping our daughters during the upcoming school year. Looking a little like a Jewish banker, I remembered that “Curiosity killed the cat!” and made a hasty retreat instead of rescuing the flags.

Activities such as this or the Klan rally that took place on the statehouse grounds after the flag removal should not define our culture as Southerners in general nor should it define South Carolinians specifically. It also doesn’t explain racism and prejudice in other parts of our land or why we think certain groups of people should just “get over it.” We must accept that our racism is as much a part of our heritage as the flag. So are the heritages of the others who live here and don’t look like me. I applaud our diversity and love it. Dutch Fork BBQ, Blues and Blue Grass, Shrimp and Grits, Sea grass baskets, the Gullah language, Catawba pottery, the people who created them along with an Indian-American governor named Haley – just to name a few things that came from someone else’s culture. I also thank the people who made my re-education possible – those teachers, parents and students whose cultures were different than mine…and yet the same.

WHY BLACK LIVES MATTER (TOO) A Revolutionary Call to Action will be on sale June 19th. All proceeds will benefit The Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform. Our gift to the organization will support their efforts to promote reforms in sentencing policy, address unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocate for alternatives to incarceration.

Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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I AM NOT A RACIST…AM I?

I understand “white fragility” and now understand I have it. Because of my “white privilege” I did not even know I had it. I know other people who refuse to recognize their “white privilege” or that white privilege actually exists. I guess they, like me, have an excuse although not a good one. You see for sixty-five years I have been white and have no desire to change who I am. I just want to change the way I think about certain issues such as race. I do not apologize for the fact I am white or that I view the world through white eyes. I just want to learn and understand…and be a better person because of it. For the first twenty-three years of my life I swam in a culture awash with “whiteness.” Schools, textbooks and what little media there was, were all presented from a white viewpoint. In most cases I “feel” little has changed. Back then, in the fog of my youth, African-Americans were on the fringe of my peripheral vision or in some distant city, seen only through the screen of my black and white television. It would be impossible for me to view the world any other way. But…I do have a brain and a desire to change the way that I look at the world.

I grew up in an area and in a family neither racist nor prejudiced…overtly. Now I realize there were covert lessons to be learned and I learned them well…even though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I went off to an all-white college the lessons became more overt. The fight song was officially “Hail to the Redskins,” racist in its own way, but we played “Dixie,” much more. I hate to admit that the de facto anthem of the Confederacy still causes chills to run up my arm. I CAN admit it because it is my “Southern white privilege” to do so. My first collegiate history course was taught by a disciple of the “Lost Cause” history of the Civil War although I would not realize this fact until I heard him speak at a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting…the only one I ever attended. I decided, on my own, that despite their claims to the contrary, they were, in fact, racist…as am I. It was the only class I took under Dr. “White Supremacist” and I was fortunate to have a “damn Yankee” husband and wife team for most of my American History courses. They did not believe in the “Lost Cause.” As I have been too slow to realize, I don’t either.

The first time I came into contact with large groups of non-white races was in the teaching setting…students, players and teaching peers. I studied all of my new black friends and students…and Asian or Hispanics. I also studied my white friends and I had an impossible time reconciling what I was hearing about groups of people with the people I knew. The group “stereotypes” did not fit with the individuals I had gotten to know. The stereotypes could not be correct. For me this was an epiphany, not caused by a lightning strike on the Damascus Road, but rather a realization that occurred over time. Much like Job, I attempted to avoid being called to a cause and admit to having been a “closet non-racist” racist for too many years. I also admit to continuing to think of the “stereotypes” when I looked at groups of people I don’t really know. I believe many of us, of all races, continue to express this view and can’t seem to admit to the creation of a “system” which, in itself, is racist.

We sit back in our “Ivory Towers” declaring how non-racist we are and wring our hands over what is happening in cities like Chicago. We rail about how the “liberals” or “thugs” have destroyed the city and make jokes about turning the presidential “rallies” into “job fairs” to keep the protestors away. We are blinded by our own “whiteness” and refuse to admit that those of us at the top of the racial strata have caused the problems not only in Chicago but in cities throughout the country, despite the money we believe has been thrown at the problem.

After the “Great Migration” of Southern blacks to Northern and Western industrial centers to escape Southern Jim Crow, “we non-Southerners” defended our “birthright” with violence, intimidation and legal maneuvering that included mortgage discrimination and restrictive covenants in order to restrict where people of color could live, work and chase the “American Dream.” Later, in the Seventies, cities underwent what was called “White Flight” as whites with means fled to the “burbs” and a better life “away from those people.” So why didn’t the people of color just leave the decaying inner cities for better opportunities? I am reminded of a Chris Rock standup routine bringing attention to starvation in Sub-Saharan Africa: “Why don’t you just take them to the food?” I posed that question to a group of ninth graders in a geography class and was not surprised to find their answers to be quite mature. “Lack of resources to move, unfamiliarity with the new area, not wanting to leave families behind, fear of the unknown, civil and religious wars, and people did not want to accept them.” I would say most of those statements are true about Oakland, Atlanta, Baltimore, or any of the other areas “we white folk” proclaim to be bastions of free loading and democratic liberalism, along with the thought “Why should they have to leave.” More to the point “These people” are right where “the system” wants them and “these people” are angry about it…something we racist can’t see or understand.

I have been fortunate to make contact, through social media, with many former students. Some are very conservative, others very liberal and they represent a broad spectrum of races and religions. I read some of their post and am shocked and appalled at their thinking. Recently I made contact with Dr. Mary Ann Canty Merrill. I remember her as a pretty little black girl with a big smile who sat very quietly in a ninth grade class many years ago. She went by the name Mary Canty back then. Today she is a beautiful and capable woman who is anything but quiet. Among her titles, which includes psychologist, teacher, life strategist, author and humanitarian, are the descriptors warrior and provocateur. I would add activist. She is ACTIVELY involved in a WAR over the way people view and think about race. The term provocateur is defined as someone who provokes and she has certainly provoked me into thinking differently about my past life and what I want to do with the years I have left. She has also provoked me to re-edit a dozen or so “essays” I had written about “Heritage and Hate” as it relates my home state and the Confederate flag issue. Oh well, it’s just time.

Mary is not a “thug” looking for a “handout” as many of “these” people are being “wrongfully” portrayed. She is actually a “white bigots” worst nightmare. A successful, intelligent black woman who is not going to sit quietly on her hands. That sure goes against the stereotype presented by “certain” people. All of my friends of color go against the stereotype I see advertised by “certain” people. My friends and acquaintances are educated, black home owners, with families, who go to work every day and pay their taxes…just like me. Despite their successes and their hard work to realize them, they too are pissed off at the “system” that I believe “we white folk” have created and maintained for the past one hundred and fifty years. I cannot imagine how people who have spent decades without resources are feeling.

This former student has certainly become the teacher and the new student has become a rapt and uncomfortable learner. After being allowed to join Mary’s website “Voices for Equality,” I have found myself shocked, appalled and quite uncomfortable with the anger I found. I also find myself being “educated” as to why there is anger. Like Saul on the Damascus Roads, the scales have fallen from my eyes but the landscape, bathed in bright sunlight, causes me to squint and cock my head to the side in wonder. “How did we get ourselves in this hot mess?” My conclusion is that the “system” has always been a hot mess, now suddenly uncovered and stinky. Because of my comfortable “white privilege” I had been able to ignore it.

I say these things because I am still learning, still evolving as a person, an “old dog” attempting to learn new tricks…something I wish the rest of my generation might emulate instead of sitting back and being comfortable looking through their “white eyes.” I have been told repeatedly that people are flocking to a certain presidential candidate because they are unhappy. Shouldn’t we also recognize that the unhappiness spans all races and our history? Shouldn’t we ask the question “Why?” There is an answer somewhere if you are willing to allow yourself the opportunity to find it. You might start by asking a black friend…or making a black friend.

I salute you Dr. Merrill. This is Women’s History Month and you are carrying forward the same traditions of women who have passed before you. Thank you for carrying on with the standard.

From your racist student.

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If you are interested in reading more by Don Miller go to http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY-PEPSI COLA

This is an excerpt from the book PATHWAYS entitled “Pepsi Cola.” Because of “Separate but equal” and “With all deliberate speed” I had very few opportunities to interact with African-Americans until I graduated from college. Pepsi Cola would be the first African-American adult male that I would have the opportunity to meet and observe. I have heard it said that it was easy to fear what you don’t understand, meeting Pepsi Cola would provide the opportunity for one of those first steps toward understanding. Please note, I attempted to write this from the stand point of an eight-year old mind and in the language of the period.

“While I had seen African-American males I would not meet my first African- American adult male until the very late fifties when we remodeled our house. A black brick mason with the interesting name of “Pepsi Cola” Mobley was hired to add the brick veneer to our original home along with the two new rooms added onto each end. Not only would he add layers of brick to my home, he would add layers to my thinking and understanding.

“Pepsi Cola” was impressive, as were his two sons who served as helpers and apprentice brick layers. It was their responsibility to carry the bricks and “mud” to their father as he did the placing of the brick runs. I found the whole endeavor to be interesting but not nearly as interesting as the “colored” folk who were carrying out the tasks. The acorns did not fall far from the tree! Close-cropped “steel wool” hair over clear ebony skin; they possessed the whitest of stereotypical teeth below broad flat noses and wide cheekbones. They looked nothing like my friend Maw, who, though tall, had an almost delicate look compared to them. All three were powerfully built with muscles bulging and glistening with sweat from handling and placing the bricks. “Pepsi Cola’s” decades of brick work had given him shoulders so wide I doubted his ability to walk through a door without turning sideways along with hands beaten, scarred and as rough as the slabs on the side of my grandparent’s barn. All three started the day in tattered yet clean tees and denim pants that had patches patched over patches. As the heat of the day intensified, shirts would be discarded exposing broad, powerful chests that were covered in tight black curly hair. Curiously, whenever my grandmother or mother stepped outside, there was a bit of a scramble to put their shirts back on. “Pepsi” was gregarious, singing Negro hymns and laughing his way through the day or “holding court” for anyone nearby, which was usually the eight or nine-year old “little man” that was me. I found him to have the most interesting accent to go along with a lot of words that began with “dees” and ended in “esses.” His sons were the exact opposite – quiet and, I would say, somewhat sullen. In hindsight, my guess is that there was little way to wedge a word in edgewise with “Pepsi Cola” around.

I learned a lesson of the times during the course of the remodeling. Sent to carry a jug of water out to the workers, I asked Mr. Mobley, “Mr. Mobley, would you like some water?” “Eyes do, Eyes do, indeeds, Little Man,” he answered with his best grin. In turn, I gave the sons water and returned to my grandmother who informed me of my grievous faux pas, “You don’t refer to ‘coloreds’ by mister unless you use their first name.” Okay, “Mister Pepsi Cola!” “

If you would be interested in reading the complete selection “Pepsi Cola” and the book Pathways, you may purchase a paperback or downloaded a version using the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY: 1951 SAN FRANCISCO DON’S FOOTBALL TEAM

I was motivated to do a bit of research on the 1951 San Francisco Don’s football team after seeing a piece on CBS prior to the Super Bowl. It was as good as the game was bad so I decided to share.

After 40 years of football mediocracy, the 1951 San Francisco Dons finished their season 9-0. The team would produce four NFL hall of famers, Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair, Ollie Matson and their sports information director Pete Rozelle who would spend thirty years as the Commissioner of the NFL despite never actually playing it. The Dons were considered for bowl bids to the Sugar, Orange and Gator Bowls and offered by the Orange but only if they left their African-American players Matson and Bob Toler at home. This of course was due to the prevailing attitude of segregation that existed in the South during those days. Despite being in severe financial straits and needing the bowl money badly, the team refused to participate without their team mates. Because of their financial situation it would be USF’s last year as a Division I program. They would eventually discontinue football totally in 1982 after participating as a Division II school.

Matson would go on to win a bronze medal in the 400 meters during the 1952 Olympics and have a very successful NFL career as a running back. He would be selected to the Pro Bowl six times and was named an All-Pro five times. Ollie Matson would be named to the NFL All Decade team for the 1950s before being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

Toler, an offensive lineman, could have join Matson in the NFL had he not injured a knee. He would instead give up playing football totally and complete his degree in science and become the first African-American game official in the NFL.

The 2008 Fiesta Bowl honored the Dons and they were a subject of the documentary “’51 DONS.”

TODAY IN BLACK HISTORY: HENRY “HANK” AARON

Henry Aaron was born today, eighty-two years ago in Mobile, Alabama. Known forever as the man who broke Babe Ruth’s career homerun record, a record he held for thirty-three years and a record I believe he would still hold had baseball not entered a period of illegal steroid use. He was much more that a homerun hitter or a baseball player for that matter. In addition to his career seven hundred and fifty-five home runs, he finished his career with over three thousand hits, a career .305 batting average, and major league records in runs-batted-in, extra base hits and total bases. He is also very proud of three Gold Gloves earned playing right field. In 1963, Henry came within a “whisker” of winning a Triple Crown. He led the league in homeruns (44), runs-batted-in (130) but finished third in batting average, hitting .323. Henry also became only the third person to hit over thirty homeruns and steal thirty bases.

Henry was much more than a baseball player. He was a great ambassador for his sport, his race and “human-kind.” Quiet to the point of being stoic, Henry was only known as “Hank” or “Hammering Hank” to the media or “Bad Henry” to opposing pitchers. For a man squarely in the limelight, it was illumination that he did not want. He only wanted to play the game well, something he did for nearly a quarter of a century. In 1973 and early 1974 no one other than Jackie Robinson had come under more racial pressure in sports than Henry Aaron as he approached Babe Ruth’s career homerun record. Henry broke it early in 1974.

Henry received a plaque from the US Postal Service for receiving nearly one million pieces of mail in 1973. Unfortunately, much of it was hate mail as a black man neared a white man’s record. There were also verbal taunts and death threats. Outwardly, Henry was a rock, mostly calm and quiet. Internally I’m sure he seethed. Sometimes it is what you don’t say that tells a story. In a 1974 interview, a visibly tired Aaron said, “I can’t recall a day, this year or last, when I did not hear the name Babe Ruth.”

Late in his career, I went to Fulton County Stadium to take in a double header. The woefully bad Braves were playing the woefully bad Mets but I didn’t care. I would see “Hammering Hank” and another Hall of Famer to be, “Say Hey” Willie Mays. Except I didn’t. Both Aaron and Mays got the day off and the only homeruns were hit by pitchers. “Story of my life!” At least Mays got to pinch hit late in the game. Happy Birthday Henry.

CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY: JACKIE AND PEE WEE

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” Short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the “Bigs” to stay…with or without them.

April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since 1880. Normally a middle infielder, he started at first base that day because of All Stars Eddie Stanky playing second and Pee Wee Reese playing shortstop. While not getting a hit he did walk and scored a run. Facing ALMOST universal racial prejudice, Jackie finished his initial season hitting .297 in one hundred and fifty-one games.

I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations. Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances and a league MVP award. Today I celebrate the manner in which he revolutionized the game and the trail he blazed for the stars of my own youth and for those who followed. I cannot fathom what baseball might have been like without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith…you get the idea. Today I am also aware of his many trials and tribulations.

When I said almost universal prejudice there were a few opposing players and teammates who came to Robinson’s defense. One who did became one of my all-time favorites as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partner” Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the CBS Game of the Week with Dizzy and Ree Wee bring the play-by-play. During the trailblazing 1947 season Reese was quoted as saying, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” Pretty profound for a white guy from Kentucky in 1947. During the Dodgers first road trip as Robinson was being heckled during pre-game infield, Reese, the captain of the team, went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight foot bronze statue located at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states:

“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”

Sometimes a bit of kindness and understanding will overcome hate…a lesson we should all learn and attempt to apply.

DEJA VU….

Am I the only person who sees similarities between the political division and social protest we are experiencing today and the protest and division related to the Sixties? There was unrest as African-Americans oh so slowly gained SOME Civil Rights and social justice. Protests became violent as civil rights marchers were opposed by fire hoses, police dogs and batons. Inflammatory rhetoric was spoken on all sides – the far reactionary right and radical left…AND BY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. Both the KKK or Black Panthers resorted to bombs, bank robberies, riots and assassinations in an attempt to slow down or speed up the process depending upon their particular world view. Riots in major cities were sparked by MLK’s assassination. I am sure no one of my age can forget the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Young people violently protested the Vietnam War along with other social issues. They burned draft cards or American Flags while facing down policemen in riot gear and Mayor Daily’s political machine. The drug culture of the Sixties with the “Make love not war” Hippy movement gave our parents pause to shake their heads in dismay. Appalled conservatives believed we had a real problem of lacking respect for authority and law and order.

The names of the wars have changed as have the names of the politicians who wage them and the names of the young people who are dying in their stead. Today we are not fighting over political dogmas but rather over religious beliefs…supposedly. The only people winning are those who are paid off to promote war and those who actually sell the weapons of death. It was the same in the Sixties as it is today- war mongers and arms dealers rake in the cash. Even though the weapons have become more efficiently destructive, death certainly has not changed nor has the sorrow or cost in life and devastation caused by those weapons.

We still do not have a religious, political or economic system inclusive to all. The extremists are either still battling to move things along more quickly or to insure that they move back to the way they were. Even the motion picture industry is under fire with protests and a call to boycott the Oscars over the issue of diversity. I hear the same arguments that highlighted the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties reverberating from both sides. These arguments now include lesbians and gays or Christians and Muslims or gun control. Instead of being about societal concerns, student protests seem to be more “me” oriented. I both hope and fear that my perception is one that has been packaged and perpetuated by the media “trolls” on both sides for a deeper, more ominous reason, perhaps for increasing ratings or possibly to create more unrest. With recent police-involved shootings and the “Black Lives Matter” reactions to them, I can hear the distant cries about “police brutality” and to “barbeque a pig” echoing through the fog of time. Our own population seems to be hell-bent on self-destruction …just as it seemed to be in the Sixties and for many of the same reasons.

The ’68 Presidential election experienced some of the same disunity we see in debates for the upcoming 2016 election. The leading Democratic candidate Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by a Jordanian Arab, Sirhan Sirhan, over Kennedy’s pro-Israel position. The left anti-communist, pro-civil rights liberal Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey attempted to unify a party divided over a “civil rights plank” in the party’s platform and failed to do so. Pro-segregationist and state’s rights candidate George Wallace took five Southern states in the election and many other votes away from Humphrey and helped hand “Tricky Dick” Nixon the presidency. Nixon even had his own “Southern Strategy” to pull Southern Democrats into the Republican fold, expediting the Democratic Party’s “liberalization” that began with Truman’s desegregation of the Army in the early Fifties and which gained momentum after Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier there was a “liberal” court ruling overthrowing Plessy v Ferguson for Brown v Board in 1954 that wasn’t fully implemented until the late Sixties and early Seventies. It is both interesting and disconcerting that during the past fifty years, we still haven’t moved past division caused by sectionalism, race, executive orders, liberal courts and the Middle East.

I once stood in front of a US History class and remarked that it was my belief that 1968 was the most polarizing and divisive year since the Civil War. Assassinations, Tet, riots over Civil Rights and the war all boiled over and did not conclude during the Democratic Convention. Later the massacre at Mai Lai would come to light and create more discord over the war…justified I would guess. I also remarked that, as I look back in retrospect, I am surprised we were able to survive it as a country. I don’t know if I could make the same statement today about 1968. With things as turbulent as they are right now, I can only hope that we survive until 2018 to celebrate the fifty years since 1968. The scary thought is that conditions may get worse before they get better.

As the Watergate scandal was still a few years down the road after 1968, what do we have looming in our present day world? Will we be faced with a confrontation with Iran or with Russia or with more race riots? Let us learn from history that names may change but the same thing will continue to happen again unless we have a spiritual revolution… Maybe what we really we need is another Woodstock, world-wide, to finally get people to whole-heartedly desire love and peace and harmony!

WORK TO BE DONE

Harry Smith, the longtime NBC journalist, presented a report this past Sunday morning recognizing the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King as we celebrate his birthday. If Harry’s intent was to get people to think he was successful in at least one case. He asked, and this is not a direct quote but what I heard, “If Dr. King was still alive today what would he think about present condition of Civil Rights in the United States?”

I grew up “white” in the Fifties and Sixties in the South. Like most preteens or teenagers, I wasn’t a particularly socially aware person and believe I was somewhat sheltered from the realities of race relations by both my family and the area I grew up in…or it could have been my own form of “white privilege” rearing its head. I have very vivid memories of the stories that played out on our black and white RCA. School desegregation in Little Rock, Freedom Rider buses burning in Anniston and nonviolent marches and protest, turning violent in far off places like Selma. I remember wondering why were the white folk so angry? One outcome was to make me wonder if I should have been angry to.

Throughout these times, filling my TV screen, Martin Luther King was quite visible and the center of much of what was going on. I remember a man with a powerful, yet soft baritone voice and a slow Southern drawl to go with it. I would not fully comprehend the full power of his voice or his personage until I watched a History Channel presentation on his “I HAVE A DREAM” speech, too many years later, as I actually tried to explain the impact and power of his words to a “lily white” US History class more than twenty years after his death. Sometimes I truly find myself quite late to the dance.

As hard as he worked to promote positive social change, I also remember the furor created when John Conyers and Edward Brooke co-authored a bill to recognize King’s birthday as a holiday. It would be fiercely opposed not only in the South, as one might expect, but also in states like Arizona. Arguments against its recognition included King’s beliefs on “Marxism or Communism” and his stance against the Viet Nam War along with personal attacks that I won’t speak to. South Carolina, my home state, would be the last to recognize it in 2000. I really don’t have to wonder why?

As I finally return to Smith’s question, I would believe Dr. King would be disappointed. He would recognize there has been some improvement in “individual” race relations but would find we still have a framework in place that is systematically discriminatory toward large numbers of our population. I believe he would say that we have lost ground overall and become less willing to cause any type of meaningful change. I also believe Dr. King would point a finger directly at our government shenanigans starting with a President who should have done more for race relations and trailing down to a Congress that would not let him. Dr. King’s biggest disappointment, however, would be would be reserved for “We the People” because we are ALL still “judged by the color of (our) skin,” (rather than) “by the content of (our) character.” I would also add judged by our creed, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and lately our political orientation. Like Harry Smith, I believe Dr. King would say “There is much more work to be done.”

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT KWANZAA?

I guess it is because the “War on Christmas” was such a dismal failure. Television specials featured Christmas song both religious and secular, not one Islamic “carol” was sung, the “Muslim” president of the United States wished us all a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday, people of different religions and cultures wished me a Merry Christmas and a coffee cup is still…a…freeking…coffee cup. With such a ringing defeat it is inevitable that the internet trolls would move on to attack something else…Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is racist. It is contrived. SOME PEOPLE are trying to replace Christmas. The founder was a 60’s black militant with ties to the Black Power Movement and not even African. Most of these arguments are made by very “hard right” publications like…well all of them.

Is St. Patrick’s Day racist? It’s no longer a religious celebration I would say. There are a lot of racist Black Irish I would think. Wait, even Irish Black Irish are white. Okay, is Cinco de Mayo racist. It celebrates a great victory over the French…in Mexico. There are dozens of other ethnocultural celebrations, mostly white celebrations, so why pick on Kwanzaa? Are our racist petticoats still showing?

Kwanzaa is contrived. All holidays are contrived. When Adam and Eve were created or our forefathers learned to walk on two feet, did they have a holiday to celebrate? I don’t think so. I don’t know when the celebration of Christmas first occurred. I do know there was no biblical mandate to celebrate the Birth of Christ at all. Does that detract from its importance? To learn about the origins of Christmas celebrations you might like to visit the following site: http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm

Again, why are we picking on Kwanzaa? If you are going to pick on a contrived holiday pick on St. Valentine’s Day. A former religious celebration it has become an observance of guilt for the purpose of lining the pockets of candy makers, jewelers, and florist. Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and ends January 1 and is not a religious celebration at all. It is a celebration of family, community, nation and race that competes not only with Christmas but with dozens of other end of year or New Year celebrations. Why not pick on them?

I cannot deny that Kwanzaa’s founder, Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett) was a Sixties Black Power militant, who at the time had never set foot in Africa. He even served time on what seemed to be trumped up and politically motivated charges. He is now Dr. Karenga and teaches African Studies which I guess makes him even worse…a liberal. The Sixties were a time of social strife. Civil Rights, the War in Viet Nam, gender inequality, the Native American movement, and the Chicano movement were just some of the social issues championed by people like Cassius Clay, known to us now as Muhammad Ali, or Tommie Smith’s and Juan Carlos’s Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics. Let’s not forget that this was just two years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and just two years before the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. African-Americans might be forgiven for wanting something positive to hang on to…and still might.

To say it is not African is absurd. There are over fifty countries in Africa and some three thousand tribal units. Many of the countries did not exist at the time Africans were being shipped to the New World. Each probably has a somewhat different culture. Kwanzaa is a blending of those cultures. Many African-Americans do not have the luxury of knowing the country or tribe of their origin, so Kwanzaa is not culture-specific. Whoopty doo dah! I would say celebrate to your heart’s content.

If you would wish to learn more about Kwanzaa, History.com, connected to the History Channel, has a link: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history you might want to visit. I would say “Don’t let the facts confuse you.”

MAW-REESE an excerpt from Pathways

This EXCERPT is from the short story MAW-REESE and is a story that takes place in the Fifties. It is about how the issue of race raised its ugly head and got into the way of a friendship.

We had played together every Monday for the previous two years… every Monday when the sun was shining…regardless of temperature, since we had turned four. A lot of my memories have become muddled with the passage of time or the fact I was just four or five, but there are bits and pieces that I grab on to and, if I hold on tightly enough, they will turn into memories. My recollections of Maw are quite clear. Mondays were Nannie’s wash days and she still held on enough to the old ways that she did her wash outside even though a wringer washing machine had replaced her washboard and tin wash tub. There wasn’t enough room inside the house for the washer, especially after an indoor bathroom had been added to what was once a back porch. Water was boiled on the old gas range and carried outside to the washer. After the clothes were washed or sometimes “blued” in the old, claw foot style bathtub, they were hand cranked through two rolls called a wringer, an act that scared me to death. I was always fearful a body part might get caught up in it. The clothes were then hung out to air-dry or freeze if the temperature was too low. On days it was not in use, the washer became my personal spacecraft or tank and, despite my fear, they possessed a hand-cranked machine gun or pulsar cannon.

Miss Maggie Cureton was Nannie’s wash woman and friend even though during those days saying your friend was a “colored” wash woman was not something a white woman could admit. After Paw Paw died and Nannie moved in next door with us and our new-fangled washing machine and dryer, Miss Maggie became obsolete but was not replaced. Miss Maggie just became Nannie’s fishing buddy. I’m not sure a woman would like to be described as “thin and wiry” but it is the description I must use. Miss Maggie looked to be as tough as harness leather with strong muscles roping her thin arms. She was also as black as the end of a burned stick and always wore a kerchief around her head, unless she donned a huge straw hat given to her by my grandmother. While small, she could pull her weight and then some when lugging around baskets of water-soaked sheets or stringers loaded with fish. My fondest remembrance of her was the way she addressed me as “Honey Chile.” Her endearment was a little more loving than being referred to as one of the “you chaps” which was as close to an affectionate utterance every received from my grandmother.

One Monday morning Miss Maggie did not come alone but brought Maw and his two-year-old sister Bessy along with her. Maw’s mother, Maggie’s daughter, had found work at a church in Lancaster and would later marry a minister. Maw and Bessy were Miss Maggie’s grandchildren. While Maggie was ebony, Maw and Bessy were not. They were more the shade of the rich Luzianne coffee and cream that my grandmother drank. Their skin was shiny and seemed to glow in the morning light which accented their reddish hue. I heard them later referred to as “redbone” and was too young to understand the dynamics of someone who was bi-racial. The shine of their skin was due to the perspiration caused by their already hot and humid walk across the wide, sometimes cotton and sometimes hay field that separated their home from ours. Maw was my age, a few months older, and stood with his right foot planted firmly on the ground with his left nervously tucked, toes curled, under his instep. Both he and his sister were barefooted and dressed in hand-me-downs as was I, but I had not had to navigate the stubble and briars left behind from the last hay cutting. While only slightly older, Maw was already a half-head taller and several pounds heavier. Not intending to be stereotypical, Maw was the athlete I wished I could have been.

You may read the end of this story and others by downloading my book PATHWAYS on Kindle or purchase through Amazon at the following link: http://goo.gl/v7SdkH