Sunday September 15, 1963

Sunday September 15, 1963…I doubt I paid much attention to the happenings in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  I probably paid more attention on Monday when Walter brought the CBS Nightly News as the family gathered around the black and white TV, chewing soggy TV dinner fried chicken and cardboard mac and cheese. 

I pay more attention now. The past can be painful. Ignoring the past can be moreso. Four young girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14, born April 18, 1949); Carol Denise McNair (age 11, born November 17, 1951); Carole Rosanond Robertson (age 14, born April 24, 1949); and Cynthia Dionne Wesley (age 14, born April 30, 1949), were killed in the attack as they attended Sunday school…Sunday school. Addie Mae’s sister, 12 year old Sarah, had twenty-one shards of glass embedded in her face. She was blinded in one eye. Fourteen others were injured and there was another death. Some nineteen or more casualties to the war that was Civil Rights.

1963: Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
Sarah Collins recovering from the attack. Photograph by Dawoud Bey.

I do not know what I thought.  I do not know what my family thought.  We were not the types to sit around the dinner table discussing Civil Rights, race relations, and the deaths of four young girls in the city that became known as “Bombingham.” I honestly don’t know where my parents stood on racism and Civil Rights. Considering all possibilities I guess that is not a bad thing.

I don’t know for sure what my classmates thought during school that Monday morning. There was no discussion of the travesty that had occured in my eighth grade civics class…my all white class in my all white little school.

I was thirteen. Just about the ages of the girls killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I wonder what I thought.  I am sure I was more concerned about the pennant race in the National League than four deaths in Alabama.  The Dodgers were battling it out with the Cardinals and held a one game lead.  On September sixteenth they would begin a series with the Dodgers one game up.  In the American League the Yankees had run away and hid in 1963.  I knew baseball standings, but I didn’t know the names of the girls now gone.

It is not that I was unfeeling, I was thirteen, probably an immature thirteen.  I was more concerned about baseball and the Playboy magazine I had snuck into my bedroom.  There was that little blond-haired girl that stirred feelings and reactions I simply did not understand.  Alabama was a place far, far away and the lives lost unknown to me.

Occasionally thoughts would enter my teenage mind.  “How is this right?”  I was not ready to go marching with Martin Luther King but images of burning buses, fire hoses, and now rubble were having an effect…a lasting effect.

My grandmother had taught the Golden Rule. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t treating these people the way we wished to be treated.  Why were people so angry and why did they all look like me? Why didn’t I have the guts to act?

I couldn’t understand the lack of empathy from friends either…as I can’t understand now.

The last of the three bombers died in prison this past June.  I will not speak his name. He was eighty-two.  He was not brought to justice until 2001…none were brought to justice in 1963, not because their identities were unknown, because of the system that was in place…a system that is still hanging on in many places.  The three freely lived their lives as if nothing had happened, one for thirty-seven years.  He lived freely thrice as long as the little girls whose lives he helped to take. 

I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was in 1963.  I was a child of the time and carried my racism with me well into my adulthood.  My change occurred over time, there was no sudden flipped switch.  It was the realization that what I saw and heard was at odds with what I had learned despite my grandmother’s best teachings.

I still have my moments.  I still carry my racism. Thoughts I wish I didn’t have, thoughts I pray forgiveness for.  I pray for understanding, pray for peace among all God’s children.  Prayers that don’t include forgetting but do include forgiveness.  Prayers for taking the first step toward healing which is the recognition and acceptance for our sins. 

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bothers him so. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0C336Kj_qD1fHk40ybRg8b7CHHd6f8KYcGIC44-qIqsbZJGjv0WdXaeKI

  

Heroes

I watched Black Panther last night and the tribute to Chadwick Boseman that followed, the young man from Anderson, South Carolina who died much too young from colon cancer.  A movie star some have called heroic.

The news of his death at forty-three struck a discordant note and triggered my own memories of young men gone to soon.  Over the last decade I have lost two former players to colon cancer, one in his early thirties, the other in his early forties. 

I watched their deterioration and the devastation the disease wreaked upon their families.  I witnessed firsthand the bravery they displayed as the sands ran too quickly from their hourglass. It seems Chadwick fought his battle silently and worked nearly up to the end. Like my players I’m sure he fought heroically and at his age could have easily been one of my students or players.

Because he was from South Carolina, I had heard a great deal about Chadwick. I followed his career but Black Panther was the first movie I saw despite having been impressed with excerpts from 42 and with the interviews I had watched. I had been too self-absorbed and lazy to actually go to a movie theater. 

2020 has been tough on role models.  Kobe Bryant and John Lewis passed before Boseman, all prominent African Americans in their respective fields, athletics, Civil Rights, and film.  Joining them today, as I write this, was legendary Georgetown coach, John Thompson. 

There are others who have passed, of all races and many different fields.  People who were important to other people whether they knew them or not.  Many who were role models and heroes in their own right. Still, I could not help myself, I wondered, “Why had Chadwick Boseman been elevated to ‘Superhero Role Model’?”

I knew the answer but as I read reactions to his death, responses to media presentations, and the final straw for fragile, triggered, white folks from his home state, the lowering of the flags to half-mast that fly over our state capital.  Small fire fights raged over social media to the point I shut my computer down to put them out.

I was surprised at the negative comments.  “He is an actor, not a hero. He is playing a part”, “It’s just because he’s black”, “It’s the liberal media’s agenda”, “It’s all about politics.”  Those were not the worst of the comments.

I decided to do a bit of introspection.  After my self-study, the answer swimming around in my mind had not changed.  I had stayed silent when certain people enumerated the failings of Kobe Bryant and John Lewis, trying to make them seem less heroic and more human. I’m not going to be silent today.

People need heroes.  We always have needed them, whether they were actors playing a part or athletes playing a game or living heroic figures.  I had mine, from John Wayne’s ‘Whistling’ Dan Roman in the movie The High and the Mighty to Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson to JFK.  All were important to me.

They were heroic figures for a young white boy named Donnie.  They were also flawed humans…discovered to be flawed by the adult named Don.  When I was the child we did not seem to have the need to tear our heroes down as we do now.  Heroes were heroes, villains were villains. You could tell the good guys by their white hats unless your hero was Hopalong Cassidy.

Today, we elevate normal humans to godly status just before doing our best to explode our idols by exposing the failings that make them human.  Hero worship to hero bashing.  Why?

I do not have an answer to why…except that it is 2020 and for the previous decade our capacity for hatred has steadily expanded.  I guess we have always mined for veins of corrosion in someone else’s hero’s armor.  As far as the comments about Chadwick Boseman, it seems much darker.

I restate, “People need heroes.”  For Black Americans and other hyphenated Americans, heroes have been few and far between.  Not because they were not any, there were plenty, but because heroes of color were whitewashed by the “White European” history we taught…I taught into the present century. 

The Thurgood Marshalls and Jackie Robinsons were relegated to “footnotes” during the Civil Rights Era while others were crammed into the shortest month of the year, “Black History Month.” 

Chadwick Boseman helped bring those historical figures to life for a new generation of Black kids.  Chadwick Boseman gave little black youngsters a hero…even if he was playing James Brown or The Black Panther.  Chadwick Boseman gave an entire race a sense of pride that had been rendered almost invisible in many history books. 

Before you question me, I know I am correct because I taught United States History off and on for forty-one years and I only realized the errors of my ways late in my career.  I am sorely sorry for that.  In God I trust but I now know I should not have trusted my “Lost Cause” education or the textbooks I taught from.  It appears I did a good job of teaching as the propaganda I taught is often regurgitated back into my face. 

Please understand, my failings went far past presenting Black Americans in the shadows.  My shortcomings included Native Americans, Spanish speaking Americans, Asian Americans, and women of all races.  

I taught a sanitized version of history, as most of us did.  I taught the good instead of adding the bad and the ugly.  I now believe if we do not confront our history, we truly are doomed to repeat it.  We needed Chadwick Boseman along with actors and actresses like him to bring that history to life…and provide a bit of escapism too.

Is Chadwick Boseman a hero? I think we throw the term around too easily and too often.  He is a positive role model, not just for black kids but for all kids in general.  From a small Southern town, to college, to Oxford, to a pinnacle of stages and red carpets.  More than an actor in a role, a good man, an intelligent man, a humanitarian, and philanthropist.  Maybe not a hero in the heroic sense but a culture hero for sure and the best of role models.    

I thought for two hours and fifteen minutes Sunday night Chadwick Boseman was heroic, the same way John Wayne was heroic in the movie In Harms Way or The Horse Soldiers. There were certainly creases, maybe huge dents and rends in John’s armor and yet I still tune in everytime those movies are on.

We need heroes even if they are playing a part or a sport. We need heroes even if they are human with human failings. Boseman’s heroism went much further than just the screen of my TV.

Don Miller’s author page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1eQLwKCHwi-dJ92ECz70HcFU6lwIeP6pKv8-4vBA_gJEqpQiGtI3Ic1H8

The image of Chadwick Boseman was mined from the New York Times.

Shut up and Listen

 

It’s time for white folk to just shut up.  We are not listening.  We are shouting down the message.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick peacefully took a knee and we (White Folk) shouted him down.  Athletes who joined him were called sons of bitches and threatened with firings.  A blonde-haired news pundit told an athlete to “shut up and dribble.” Conservative radio wrapped their racism and white nationalism with the US Flag and made it about disrespect instead of listening.  Award winners who dared to use their medium as a platform were told to just accept their award and shut up.  Be quiet so we don’t have to listen.

Why? It’s easier to be tone-deaf if you don’t have to listen.  You can be happy and secure with your head stuck where the sun never shines.

Four years later, what has changed?  I’m being kind, I could have asked twenty years later? Or thirty….  Nothing.  Systemic and institutional racism is still in place along with the double standard that is our justice system…and white people are still attempting to shout down those who are affected the most.

You dare to question this great country?  Just shut up and sit down, or move.  “Don’t like it here, go back to your shithole country.”  If we shout long enough maybe a bigger story will come along during the next news cycle to make people forget.  People do forget…white people.

White folk needs to shut up and listen.  Violent protest is not constructive…you are preaching to the choir if preaching to me.  It ain’t about me.  The white folks who have the most to lose are using it to drown out the message.

Our forefathers put the system into place, and we have guarded the fire of discrimination as if our lives depended upon it.  Not all, I believe the loudest shouters are in the minority and are the ones guarding and fanning the flame of racism and intolerance.

It is time for the silent majority to shut out the shouts of the minority haters and decide what we believe in.  We can’t afford to sit on a fence that may burn down from under us.  Shit or get off the pot because it is not the responsibility of people of color to destroy an oppressive system.  A system, we, as in whites, put into being…and have maintained since the end of the Civil War.  We must be the ones who dismantle discrimination and we can’t do that without listening.  We have to make dialog possible…by shutting up and listening.

“But things are better aren’t they?”  I don’t know.  I’m an old white guy.  Maybe you should go ask a friend of color…and listen quietly and intently.

I don’t believe white people get to make up the rules for acceptable protest.  We don’t get to share cute memes of MLK’s nonviolence without also sharing his quote “Riot is the language of the unheard.”  To do so is as hypocritical as “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” when we have a system that openly disparages, marginalizes, and discriminates.  

Before we shout about violence, we need to accept our own.  My lifetime memories are full of scenes I’d like to forget.  As a student of history, I am aware our history books are full of glossed over white initiated violence in the name of expansion, manifest destiny, imperialism, and racism.  Glossed to the point it doesn’t exist.

King’s peaceful protests were met with burning buses, police dogs, and water hoses. King’s belief in non-violence got him killed.  Murdered by a white man with a gun, trying to maintain the flame of white supremacy.

“Oh, but that was long ago, people just need to get over it.”  People can begin to get over “it” when we admit and accept our sins and the sins of our forefathers.  I don’t believe we’ve done that.  I think we have done nothing but shout our excuses and what-about- isms.

The riots from the Nineties disappeared from our rose-colored sight and out of mind…and little was accomplished. The same with protests from more recent history.

I’m an old white guy who doesn’t understand how burning down your neighbor’s house because you are pissed is positive.  I won’t ever understand it.   My time and energy, and yours, would be better spent listening with an open mind and attempting to understand why there is so much anger and frustration.

If you find it easier to believe in leftwing plots, led by George Soros or Bill Gates, the Democratic Party, Antifa or the Illuminati…if you believe it is a rightwing plot, led by Donald Trump, the KKK, The Church of QAnon or other far-right groups, you are part of the problem because you would rather face made up problems than real ones.  The real one is too painful.

Are they organized, certainly but I don’t believe it is a Dark State plot.  Activism is not a dirty word and it is not anarchy.  Are there bad players at work  Sure, but you are allowing them to shout over the message.  You are not listening.

You are the ostrich with your head in the sand or worse if you don’t believe people of color have a reason to be mad.  You are shouting instead of listening because you don’t want to hear the truth.  You are afraid to listen to the pain, anger, and frustration of your neighbors because you might have to acknowledge we live in a racist system.  You are helping to fan the flame whether you want to or not.

In 1968, King died from an assassin’s bullet. The white shouts were almost the same as today.  The streets were burning and National Guard troops patrolled American cities. The cries were of anger, sadness, and frustration.  We didn’t listen.  We were too busy shouting about radical agitators as we watched the newsreels loop.  We wouldn’t shut up long enough to listen.  It was 1968 or is it right now?

In 1992, LA burned after four LA policemen were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King.  They were caught on camera for the nation to see.  The National Guard was on patrol again and there were the same shouts, the same excuses.  We didn’t listen.  It couldn’t be about a racist system.  It was 1992 or is it right now?

Do we repeat the same sins by drowning out people in pain or do we shut up and listen?  Are we willing to push for meaningful change or wait for the next tragedy to drown it out and return to the status quo?  Are we willing to change?

George Floyd’s death was awful, but it only cast a light on one symptom of the disease.  The disease isn’t terminal yet but it is moving swiftly in that direction.  Shut up and listen before our racism kills us.

 

***

Featured Image:  https://steemit.com/life/@domioanna/just-shut-up-and-listen

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1IWVKrQFOwlgUOn0jXI0N85XUF4AFM-IgNPqW7PE1GGK23l7PJUvho9Fs

 

Jackie and Pee Wee

Today is Jackie Robinson Day.  A day celebrated in major league baseball stadiums across our land.  A celebration that I’ve seen little hoopla about, just some passing mentions.  I don’t think anyone is ignoring it for any nefarious reason, it is tax day after all…and Tiger did win the Masters, and Notre Dame Cathedral is burning.

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago as part of a celebration for Black History Month and decided to rewrite it in honor of Jackie Robinson…and Pee Wee Reese.

Athletics in general and baseball specifically have played a very important part of my life. I coached at the middle or high school level for forty-five years, thirty-six coaching baseball, all forty-five coaching kids.

I began my coaching career at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration in the South.  The opposition to black and white kids going to school together was still high but in athletic locker rooms around the South, young people figured out a way around their prejudices…at least for a few hours daily.

I have very strong opinions about the state of race and bigotry in the United States and am sure professional baseball locker rooms of today are no different than the general population of today.  What is different, they find a way to overcome it, a way to make it work…kind of like Jackie and Pee Wee.  From two years ago….

“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 can’t use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”  A short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the big leagues to stay…with or without them.  I’m sure Leo said more, he was, after all, a man of many words…many “colorful” words.

April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since the 1880s.  The “color line” was a “gentleman’s agreement” among major league owners to not allow Blacks to play.  Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger owner, would scuttle the “gentleman’s agreement” signing Jackie Robinson and putting him on the field.  I would be remiss not to mention that Larry Doby would be the line breaker in the American League with the Cleveland Indians and for some reason flew under the media radar.

Normally a middle infielder, Robinson started at first base his first day in the “Bigs” because All-Star Eddie Stanky was playing second, and Pee Wee Reese was 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 and received Rookie of the Year honors.  Not bad considering the weight of an entire race that he carried.

I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations.  I hadn’t even been born yet and when I was born, I wasn’t much of a Dodger fan…at least that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances, a league MVP award and an election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Today I celebrate the way 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 without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Frank Robinson…you get the idea. There were a bunch of others.  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 while offering him a hand in brotherhood. One of those men became an all-time favorite of mine as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partnah”, Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the Falstaff Game of the Week with Dizzy and Pee Wee bringing 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 Dodgers, went over to Robinson.  Engaging him in conversation, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight-foot bronze statue located at the minor league, Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states as follows:

“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.”

Image result for statue of jackie robinson and pee wee reese

Simple gestures can solve major problems.

Don Miller writes on many varied subjects.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

DONALD TRUMP RACIST? STILL NOT THE PROBLEM

I wrote this piece eight months ago, well before the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I did update the post and believe my words rang true eight months ago and ring true today.

Countless people are pointing a finger, no not that finger…ok, maybe that finger…. Starting over, countless people are pointing out the racism seemingly enabled by President Donald Trump. Over a thousand documented examples of hate crimes have occurred since his election. Some people seem to believe somehow, this one man is responsible for it all. I also heard a similar argument regarding our previous executive, President Obama. “We are more racist now than ever” resounded through my social media accounts. Remember the old quote, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you?” I’m sure you do.

I believe both arguments are misplaced. I don’t know when the concepts of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, or any other -ism or -phobia de jure came into being. They may well have been around since a Neanderthal looked at a Cro-Magnon and said, “Hey man you are different.” Yes, Neanderthals had a language and could have said such although I’m sure we would have needed a translator.

I believe our bigotry, anti-Semitism, etc., etc., etc., were just covered up in the same way that a person might add a layer of fresh kitty litter to a soiled cat box. Everything appears well, might even smell well…until your favorite feline steps in and begins to cover up its leavings. The more it tries to cover, the more the unsavory stuff gets uncovered. When Felix gives up, nobody is happy including the cat.

Our racism, bigotry, etc., etc., etc. simply got uncovered. It had been just under the surface waiting to be exposed to the light of day. No amount of legislation or executive action can actually bury it until those three fingers point in some other direction. We must want to change and some of us have tried. The problem is, when the litter box gets uncovered, even those of us who are not overtly racist, anti-Semitic, etc., etc. etc., suddenly feel the need to defend ourselves with statements like “Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” or “People just need to let go of (fill in the blank)”

Just because we have a few (fill in the blank) friends doesn’t mean we are not part of the problem, so just quit trying to deflect from the problem and quit pointing fingers at Donald Trump. He is just the enabler.  The Alt-Right was there all along, they have simply embraced President Trump.  The League of the South or people like them have been there all along and they too have embraced him. Fear bred hatred of people not like us, has been there all along, President Trump’s campaign message just allowed it to uncover the litter box.

Our country has been anti-whatever since before we were a country. Until we actually believe, deep in our hearts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men (women and those unsure) are created equal” it really doesn’t matter who is in the White House. We should worry about the cleanliness of our own litter boxes (hearts) before we point out another needs cleaning.

Blog Picture from ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/US/unite-rally-virginia-sparks-counterprotests-state-emergency/story?id=49176243

More of Don Miller’s misplaced rantings may be accessed at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

REPUGNANT

I do find this meme repugnant. This might be the first time I have used the word repugnant…EVER. It is not a word I usually think of but after seeing several of these and similar memes I decided to become repugnant to those who post them. I am going to be short and only address two points of repugnancy.

Point one, the idea that all protesters should go out and find a job is…well…repugnant. I personally have five friends, that I know of, who participated in one or more of the #BlackLivesMatter protests. All are law abiding, don’t want to see our policemen shot down in sniper attacks but yet believe there is a problem with our country as it exists now and also don’t want to see people of color beaten or shot. Actually, despite SOME people’s beliefs, they don’t want to see anyone beaten or shot. All five have jobs. All five have what are called “advanced degrees.” One has Doctor in front of her name. All five have families and just want their children to grow up safe and your children to grow up safe as well. I know this goes against the vision some of you wish to believe but most #BlackLivesMatter protesters just want a better and safer America for everyone.

Second point. The United States has a long tradition of protest. It actually dates back to before the United States was the United States. Anyone remember the Boston Massacre? It began as a protest by a group of people who believed an unjust government and its “minions” was marginalizing them. Granted the protest probably began with one or five too many drinks at a local tavern but it escalated to the hurling of insults and snowballs (maybe rocks too) at British Redcoats guarding the Customs House on Kings Street in Boston. It ended with five dead colonists and was heavily used as propaganda by the likes of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. In a “no matter how much things change, they remain the same” moment, six of the soldiers were acquitted of their “crimes” and two others were given light sentences. Five dead colonist along with six wounded didn’t seem to amount to much.

Most of that I learned in school. What I didn’t learn, until I studied it on my own, Crispus Attuks, the first casualty of the so-called massacre and maybe the first casualty of the American Revolution, was the son of an African slave father and a Native American mother. I wonder what he would think about his sacrifice now? I think he would find this meme repugnant too.

More of Don Miller’s non-fiction is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A YEAR LATER

This was written one month after the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

“Evil is such an elusive quality…But no matter how you slice it, the earth itself isn’t evil, and neither is the sky or the sea. Evil always begins and ends with man.”
“The Dead Play On”-Heather Graham

“Evil always begins and ends with man” …and not with a square piece of cloth.

I don’t know why I have been hit so hard by the shooting deaths of nine innocents at “Mother Emanuel” Church in Charleston. While their deaths were horrific I feel that somehow I have failed even though I never knew Dylann Roof or the “Emanuel Nine.” How does a young man fall through the cracks of the educational system of which I was a part of for over forty years? In my heart the question is probably “How many have I let fall through the cracks that I could have saved or helped in some way?” All it might have taken was a hand. I know, it “Takes a village to raise a child” but where was his village or was the water so polluted that it didn’t matter? I guess only Dylann or God can answer that.

The families of those innocents showed monumental strength and the forgiving power of the human spirit while leading the people of South Carolina through what had proven to be a volatile minefield in other parts of the nation. All it might have taken was a single spark to cause the situation to explode like Ferguson had. I have hopes that the people of South Carolina are just better than that. The sideshow that became the cry to remove the Confederate Battle Flag may have diverted attention away from the suffering and questioning that was taking place by focusing that attention on that inanimate object which had been both a symbol of heritage for one group and a symbol of hatred for the other. While people raged back and forth on the issue of the flag the Emmanuel Nine were exalted for their love and care for a person who did not look like them and then one by one laid to rest.

While watching the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, I could not help but feel pride in the way that South Carolina had handled this travesty…until the President spoke and suddenly my social media sites exploded after he mentioned gun control. So much venom was spouted and across a myriad of subjects. Do you suppose the President should go to every dead service member’s funeral? Wouldn’t it make more sense to end the war so there would be no dead service men or women? Between the murders, funerals, gun control, the flag and gay marriage it was a rough week and I suddenly wondered about my group of “friends.” I also realized that Dylann Roof may have been on his way to get what he professed to have wanted: “a race war.” Exactly one month later as I write this I have seen few assurances that this won’t happen.

We have had more death and suffering. An Islamic radical has shot and killed five Marine and Navy personnel and rather than focus on the dead and their family we seem to have more concern about whether the act is branded domestic or foreign terrorism, lone wolf or a cabal. More flag controversy has sprung up but this time it is over the tardiness of lowering the United States Flag to half-mast.

I always taught that period leading up to and including 1968 was the most divisive and dangerous period of our existence as a country since the Civil War. Civil Rights legislation, the Viet Nam War protest, Mai Lai and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy all combined for a low point in my life. I believe that we are in a much more dangerous period with ISIS, The New Black Panthers, KKK, Texas Secessionist and (fill in the blank with any wing nut hate group) have all surfaced like turds in the toilet bowl. Add to those groups the discussion on illegal aliens, gay marriage, a more militant NAACP, #BlackLivesMatter, too many Republican hopefuls, not enough Democratic hopefuls and a president who can’t poop without someone disagreeing with the time, color or texture. The word divisive just doesn’t cover the situation that we are facing.

There are other issues within our country that have to long been overlooked and as I have learned, the longer you let something tend to itself it tends to do nothing but spiral downward. To me none of that matters. It starts and ends with hate and a particularly galling aspect are the statements of history that are being bandied about that are “apologist” or “protagonist” half-truths to make each side feel better and their points more embraceable. To me they are still out and out lies or half-truths at best.

I don’t want this to be a history book. I want it more to be a series of stories that support history but I also know that I am old enough for “my wants not to hurt me” and will supply footnotes and citing’s as I need to. I will also attempt to provide humor wherever I can…and maybe, just maybe a little understanding.

POSTSCRIPT
Since originally writing this piece, divisiveness continues. Cities have erupted over seemingly unjustified police shootings, terrorists have been active all over the world including the US, the NRA battles supporters of gun control over mass shootings and now we have an uproar over transgender bathroom rights.

In the greatest measure of dissatisfaction, Donald Trump has risen to the top of the Republican heap amid controversy and protest swirling around him. He has managed to disparage almost everyone except for whites who are not members of the Republican mainstream. Trump has uncovered an ugly truth; Our government is perceived to have ceased to function for a large portion of our people and people are mad. Trump has also employed a proven method of consolidating his political power: Scapegoating groups of people to focus our hatred upon. I believe Trump is using the fear and hatred that has always been there, our bigotry and racism. Trump is a manifestation of our ugly secret.

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

GROWING UP WITH MUHAMMAD ALI

I really didn’t actually grow up with Muhammad Ali. I just grew up during his time. He was born in Kentucky, I in South Carolina but for some reason I was drawn to his charisma when he was still billed as Cassius Clay. Sometimes I was drawn to him for some not so nice reasons. I remember first seeing him on a small, fuzzy, black and white TV when he won Olympic gold in 1960. This was before he became the “brash” legend and self-proclaimed “The Greatest” who swaggered his way to the 1964 Heavyweight Championship over the “big, ugly bear” Sonny Liston. In the rural South where I lived he was not the “much loved” Muhammad Ali.

In the middle Sixties, the teenaged me was still drinking a bitter brew of white supremacy, American Exceptionalism and Cold War rhetoric that included slogans like “I’d rather be dead than red.” It would be a decade before I would come to the realization that I might be living IN a lie. I remember the disparaging remarks from my peers along with adults I knew and those I didn’t, and yes from myself. When Ali changed his name from Clay, adopted Islam, called out people about race and then nailed his coffin shut by refusing induction into the army many people were more than just a bit critical. After all, had our idol, Elvis Pressley, not seen his duty and done it? Here was this “mouthy colored boy” refusing to go fight the Reds in order to keep America safe. What a coward!

I did not have to make a decision whether to serve as I was never called up. I met an older man yesterday, my age or a little older. He was wearing a baseball cap proclaiming himself a “Viet Nam Vet.” As we stood in line to pay for what might have been the best fried shrimp I had ever eaten, I thanked him for his service and told him that “I had hidden behind my college deferment.” He was proud but still bitter about returning home and being portrayed as a “baby killer.” I don’t blame him for being bitter. As I think back, I should have paid for his meal while asking what he thought about Ali. It might have made me feel better instead of feeling that I somehow missed out on something, a coward in my own right.

I know exactly what would have happened if I had been called up. I would not have run off to Canada or gone to jail rather than serve. I would have done what thousands did, the expected no matter what my principles were. To have done otherwise would have let someone down, something I seem to have a phobia about despite doing it often. If anything it makes me respect Muhammad Ali even more. He did what was unexpected…for his principles instead of what others thought. His was a special type of bravery that didn’t involve following the “pied piper” of what is expected. Serving in Viet Nam or refusing to serve took a “special kind of guts” that I now realize were both based upon principle.

I don’t know when I began to view him differently, with the respect he deserved for doing what he thought was right. It’s not as if a light suddenly came on; it was more gradual as I became more “educated.” I knew I had found the light when I saw him lighting the Olympic torch in 1996 despite my sorrow over the body that was betraying him. His voice has given voice to other professional athletes and has somehow transcended generation, race and religion. I am truly sorry it has been silenced.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

LAUNCHING JUNE 19TH.

I am very fortunate and honored to be included in the multi-contributor anthology, “Why Black Lives Matter (Too)”!

Recognizing that the fight for social justice and equality is bigger than any one person and that there is room for diverse talents and expertise of anyone who is committed to freedom, this multi-contributor anthology comprises curated essays written by 50 social justice advocates from across the nation.

Our release date, June 19th, is set to coincide with Juneteenth—also known as Independence Day or Freedom Day—a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.

Book Summary: The Black Lives Matter movement evolved as a protest against police brutality against unarmed Black men. This book extends beyond police brutality to revolutionize the national conversation about racial injustice and inequality and advocate for freedom and justice for all Black Americans. Addressing a range of hot button issues and racial disparities that disproportionately impact the Black community, this is a call to action that will challenge you to confront your long-held values and beliefs about Black lives and confront your own white privilege and fragility as you examine racial justice and equality in a revolutionary way.

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.
-Dr. Mary Ann Canty Merrill

“Why Black Lives Matter (Too)”! can be purchased at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Black-Lives-Matter-Too/dp/1524601209/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463924577&sr=1-1&keywords=why+black+lives+matter+too