Category Archives: Black & White & Other Colors

There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

It’s true.

Anyone, even you or I, can now cuss on the grounds of the historic old Alamance County Courthouse, in downtown Graham NC. You could even do it right on the courthouse steps.

Right there. In front of God & everybody — everybody including Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Yes, even him. The Raleigh News & Observer  (or ”N&O” in local parlance) broke this big  story on Monday Continue reading There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others.  We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.Zarembka -Book Cover

Besides some personal contact, I learned most about Dave from his book A Peace of Africa. Here’s part of that context from my review: Continue reading David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.

I’m stunned.

I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77,  a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March  23, 2021;  David  died on April 1.

Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:

David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch

I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.

In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.

My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.

If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.

My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep. Continue reading Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

For several years I’ve been keeping track of the books I read. In 2020, I did pretty well, kicking it off with an enormous biography of Beethoven, byJan Swafford.

I don’t look for takedowns in biographies; but spare me the hagiography. I’m an American who lived through the second half of the twentieth century; I’m used to flawed real-life heroes.

Thus I didn’t mind learning more about what a flop Ludwig was with women and, as I suspected, that he couldn’t manage money. It was actually amusing to find that, amid penning all the masterpieces, Beethoven found time (& need) to do plenty of hack work, like arranging a hundred-plus Scottish folksongs, just to keep up with those Vienna rents.

My book reading has slowed a lot this year; not sure why overall.
But I know when. In early December,  I started David Blight’s excellent biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom.

It won the Pulitzer for biography, and deserved it. Unfortunately, the book’s very excellence has worked against my finishing it. Continue reading My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

Going Postal

One day, deep in the pit of my midlife angst, I saw a job notice on a bulletin board at the Merrifield postal facility. It was for a part-time EEO Investigator.

It was 1990, and for five years I had been moving mail in this enormous mail processing  center in the DC Virginia suburbs.

I was told, and I believe it, that every day six million pieces of mail came in at one end of the block-long-hangarlike facility, and that same day six million pieces needed to go out the other end. There were seasons of the mail, but like the nearby Potomac River, it never stopped.

The post office was good money and honest work, but I was desperate to get out. I wanted to write stuff about and for Quakers,  organize events, stir the pot. It was a harmless enough ambition, assuredly obscure; but it was mine.  Unfortunately, nobody was hiring for that.

The EEO gig would be a step up. At least it called on my civil rights experience from the Sixties. This would not be marches or jail, rather  the humdrum nitty gritty of their aftermath, making the legal progress work. (If it did.) Continue reading Going Postal

An Apology (not quite) to Senator Richard Burr

Yes, I admit it. I have often called North Carolina Senator Richard Burr a lazy & unresponsive legislator.

I mean, don’t you remember the landmark Burr Act to clean up hog waste & coal pollution in the state?

Me neither. Because there is no such thing.

I used to think that Burr’s main ”landmark” on Capitol Hill, from which he says he’s retiring next year, would be his effort to prevent the Senate Intelligence Committee from investigating the shameful & illegal U. S. torture program from the “War on Terror” years. When he failed in that, he later exerted himself to kill the finished report: no luck there either, though he did delay its full release.

Otherwise, I thought, Burr’s “career” would be remembered mainly for avoiding town hall meetings with actual citizens (as distinct from private  & profitable huddles with lobbyists). That and diligently growing his personal stock portfolio while in office in ways that hinted broadly of misuse of inside information.

If there’s ever a historic marker put up in Burr’s memory, the curious will have to search for it, and it will have plentiful blank space.

But despite all my “elite” blogger’s disdain, I have now been shown up as having grossly underestimated Burr’s legislative work ethic and its impact. The crushing exposé came in a report in  the New York Times on March 22, 2021.  

It turns out that Burr is quite capable of working like a dog, by golly a determined attack dog at that. The Times even has the paperwork covered with bite marks to prove it.

I apologize for the error.

Of course, it had to be just the right burning, moral, lives-are-at-stake issue to get Burr to jump the leash and put down the stock market reports.

But three years ago, he found  it, sho nuff. Continue reading An Apology (not quite) to Senator Richard Burr

That N-Word. I’m Going to Say It. Right Now. It’s time.

Negro.

There. I said it.

You were expecting that other N-word? The unspeakable?

Nope. But it’s timely to take note of this one.

Over time, words change meaning & status. Ninety-one years ago, on March 7, 1930, Negro became a thing. Or rather, a proper noun.

Such changes are often mysterious.  Supreme Court rulings don’t make them. Congress doesn’t pass on them. They don’t come down from Sinai on stone tablets.

Though in the case of Negro, almost.

How do I know Negro arrived today in 1930? Easy:
The New York Times told me so.

There was a lot going on in 1930. The “Great” Depression had thrown millions out of work. Its impact fed labor unrest and political radicalism, some violent. Herbert Hoover was under siege in the White House. In India, the British Empire was too.

In the U. S. that year, there was a sudden increase in lynchings, which had previously been in decline: 21 were recorded, and 20  of the victims were black.  Late that year 26 southern white women created the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, which they kept segregated because, “only white women could persuade other white women” to join them . . . .”

Withal, the Times nevertheless took a moment to update its style book.

The notice is right there, in the March 7 issue, on page 20. In the fifth column of a six-column layout, halfway down. Not exactly a ticker tape parade with elaborate floats and ranks of blaring trumpets. But official enough.

The notice continues: “certain popular and social traditions have resisted this tendency. Races have their capitalized distinction, as have nationalities, sects and cults, tribes and clans. It therefore seems reasonable that a people who had once a proud designation, such as Ethiopians, reaching back into the dawn of history, having come up out of the slavery to which men of English speech subjected them, should now have such recognition as the lifting of the name from the lower case into the upper can give them. Major

Of course, there’s a back story here.

Pauli Murray, who is just now gaining some long overdue recognition for her amazing career and life, was then a militant advocate of the change. She wrote later:

I was born during the era when “Colored” was the prevalent usage, along with the ignominious lowercase “negro,” which I passionately hated because the absence of capitalization conveyed the status of a thing and not a person.

During my  college days in the early 1930s I routinely went through my textbooks, using a fountain pen to change the small n to capital N wherever I  encountered the  term “negro.”

Pauli Murray (1910-1985), from a public mural in her hometown of Durham NC.

My generation of activists was part of a long struggle  to  elevate the designation to its  capitalized  form, so that “Negro” became a mark  of dignity  and  respect.

The Times didn’t notice or heed Murray, who in 1930, was an unknown, impoverished, but brilliant student at Hunter College. But the paper did notice the man who was regarded (by elite whites) as the official spokesman of “his people”. That was Major:

All this is very high-minded; but I suspect there is more to the back story. Consider:

In those days, black voters were few, especially in the South, but in a national election they were not irrelevant. In 1928, Moton had supported Republican Herbert Hoover for president; most black voters, remembering Lincoln and emancipation, were Republicans.

Hoover had promised to include more blacks in his administration, and in particular to bring aid to black flood refugees trapped in a levee camp after disastrous 1927 floods in Mississippi. But once elected, Hoover double-crossed Moton and the refugees.

Moton got even, though. In 1932 he switched parties and backed Franklin Roosevelt, who beat Hoover decisively. Moton’s biographer asserts his switch marked the beginning of a move by back voters en masse into the Democratic camp, where they remain pillars today.

The Times had long backed Democratic presidential candidates. Was their openness to Moton’s request part of the courtship that drew him away from the old GOP allegiance?

In any event the Times was ready  to do what Moton recommended:

Pauli Murray was among those who was gratified:

“That struggle was finally won when textbook writers and newspapers adopted uppercase “Negro” in the late 1930s, and official government publications followed suit in the middle and late 1940s.”

“Negro”with a capital N had a pretty good run, about thirty years. Another “Negro leader” who considered it an advance was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who proudly used it until his death in 1968.

Not only that, even many white southern politicians, including the notorious George Wallace of Alabama, learned (with obvious effort) to pronounce “Knee-grow” clearly enough to make linguistic space between it and the cognate slurs they had been repeating for decades.

But as we said at the beginning, language and usages change, and not by any orderly or fair, process. By the time Dr. King was buried, “Negro” was under pressure, not from segregationists, but from a new generation of militants for whom it was a term for fuddy-duddies and an over-the-hill black establishment.

One of the many targets of this younger impatient militance was a now older militant, who had overcome many obstacles to make it through law school, and then do outstanding work on the historic 1954 Brown school desegregation case, and raised pioneering hell on many other issues (too many to do justice to here), who was now teaching civil rights courses at Brandeis University, Pauli Murray:

Symbolic of the heightened racial consciousness that invaded the class­ room was an exchange with one of the . . . students which threatened to disrupt my class on my first day of teaching. I was outlining the content of the course when a young man interrupted me with the question, “Why do you keep saying ‘Knee-grows’ when you’re talking about black peo­ple?”

The young man’s querulous inquiry caught me off guard. I was having my usual first-day jitters, meeting a strange class in a new setting, and in a combative manner embarrassed me. I explained that “Negro” was a legitimate usage, a proper noun adopted by scholars and official government publications, and was preferred by many people, including me.

The young militant was unmoved. Pauli Murray stuck to her convictions, but she was clearly on the losing side of that usage struggle. She died in 1985, content, it’s reported, but not for that reason. And she was preserved thereby from reading releases like this one, from January 2008:

UNCF Adopts New Brand Identity, Without the Word ‘Negro’

In its new logo unveiled Thursday, the United Negro College Fund has dropped its full name, opting to go as UNCF as part of a branding strategy that conveys the organization as a contemporary and progressive advocate of Blacks in higher education while also maintaining its heritage.

During the four-year effort to update its logo, UNCF officials heard suggestions that it change its name, Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, said during a press conference at Spelman College to announce the new brand identity.

“One of the issues in the full name, African-Americans don’t view themselves as Negros,” Lomax said, recounting a conversation in which editors and writers at VIBE magazine told him the name is not “speaking to the hip-hop generation.”

“For most young people, it is a barrier,” Lomax said. “We’ve found the happy medium.”

About the only consolation Pauli Murray and the other champions of “Negro with a Capital N” can take is that history shows that the wheel of language usage keeps on turning, so who knows if or when it might be back.

Oh, and by the way, it’s good thing the Times acknowledged it was late to the “Negro” party, even in 1930.

The issue shows elsewhere that the paper was hardly a pioneer. Indeed, the Times didn’t hire a Negro/Black/African American reporter until 1966. His name was Thomas Johnson.

What’s In a Name (Change)??

A pre-revolutionary Washington, with William Lee, one of his enslaved servants. In his will, Washington freed Lee and a hundred other enslaved people. Not good enough to keep his name on a public school?

“May I be boiled in oil,
And fried in Crisco,
If I ever call
San Francisco, Frisco.”

–Ogden Nash

All right, let’s stipulate that some of those San Francisco schools SHOULD be renamed. But some other cases are, well, complicated.

I mean, if living in an independent country has any value for us, the bad news that George Washington was a slaveowner can’t be the end of discussion about him; dammit, he and his ragtag army did win the revolution.

Then he declined to celebrate by taking on the crown his victory had displaced.

That’s a gesture which some of us have just re-learned is definitely not chopped liver. (Tho some of us evidently just haven’t.)

Ditto for the fact that Lincoln was a stone segregationist who hoped slaves would be freed so they could all be shipped to Central America.

Terrible “optics, in politico-speak. And a completely  cockamamie idea; but then Abe still got woke enough to end legal slavery. And he gave some boffo speeches, huuugely better than, say, “The carnage stops here.” There’s a whole lot of reckoning yet to be done there.

Two Roosevelts. Toss a coin to toss one?

Instead, tho, according to numerous press reports, the  SF renaming process turned into a contender for the worst imitation of a bad SNL cold open that ever made comedy writers spew their coffee.

The renamers even voted to toss Roosevelt Middle School, tho they couldn’t seem to be bothered to figure out which Roosevelt it was, FDR or Teddy, to whom they were giving the boot. (But who cares? They were both dead white males.)

Well, anyway. Looks like becoming a laughingstock finally got under somebody’s skin there, and the renaming is now toast.

But it really ought not to be. Some of the names probably should go. Plus there are definitely new names that need recognition. (Looking at you, Harriet Tubman. And my sentimental Sixties favorite, Wavy Gravy.)

Besides, the reexamination of all 44 could be a Golden Gate into substantive educational experiences involving the students too. (Students? What a concept.)

Well, Frisco school folks, you gave yourselves a big load of lemons.

So now get busy, catch up on that history homework you skipped, and make your city some serious educational lemonade, meringue pies and (gluten free) pound cake already.

Sacramento Bee: Plan to rename 44 San Francisco schools during pandemic on hold.

‘Mistakes were made’
BY DON SWEENEY — FEBRUARY 22, 2021
Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco will be among 44 schools which was to have their names changed following a 6-1 vote by the school board. Those plans are now on hold, school officials say.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s disappearance has also been stayed.

Gabriela Lopez

Gabriela Lopez, newly elected as president of the school board, said in a statement Sunday that school officials must focus on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Reopening will be our only focus until our children and young people are back in school,” Lopez wrote. She canceled further hearings by a renaming committee.

Lopez called the school renaming issue “one of many distracting debates,” noting the process began before anyone anticipated a pandemic shutting down in-person schooling.

“I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” Lopez wrote.

When the renaming project reopens, district leaders will seek a “more deliberative” process involving historians along with parents and educators, Lopez wrote.

The school board voted 6-1 Jan. 26 to strip the names, now considered offensive, from 44 San Francisco schools, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“It’s a message to our families, our students and our community,” said trustee Mark Sanchez at the time, according to the publication. “It’s not just symbolic. It’s a moral message.”

Parents and teachers at each school would have had until April to propose new names to be approved by the board, Courthouse News reported. The renaming project was expected to cost $440,000.

School names honoring Paul Revere, Francis Scott Key, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, Father Junipero Serra and Robert Louis Stevenson were also among those scheduled to be changed, according to a district list.

The renaming committee faulted Washington for owning slaves, Lincoln for the hangings of Native Americans and Feinstein for reports she once ordered the replacement of a Confederate flag torn down by protesters.

Other names to be changed include those of conquistadors who explored California and notable San Francisco residents, including a former superintendent, who held racist views.

The board also voted to rename Roosevelt Middle School despite confusion over whether it was originally named for Theodore or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fox News reported.

A committee studied the proposed name changes for two years before the decision was made, according to a presentation from the San Francisco Unified School District.

The presentation says involvement in colonization, slavery, genocide, exploitation of workers, oppression, racism and other human rights abuses are reasons to remove someone’s name from a school.

Some of the criteria for possible replacement names included a grounding in social or economic justice, local rather than national figures and those who bring “joy and healing to the world.”

The proposed name changes generated national commentary, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed criticized the proposals in October, KGO reported.

“The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school,” Breed said, according to the station.

Another personal favorite for a new school monicker: political whiz Stacey Abrams. Okay, so she’s not from California. Well, lots of the others weren’t either.

Former President Donald Trump posted to Twitter about the proposal in December, calling it “so ridiculous and unfair,” The Hill reported.

Critics of the name changes argued that historical figures should be judged in historical context of all their efforts, not dismissed for individual questionable actions, Courthouse News reported.

Coping with General PTSD

Just about every day, Facebook pops up on my personal page a post & photo from this date some year in the past, as a memory.

What happens in Vegas–piling on a napping Grandpa February 2020. Happy anniversary?

The other day, a photo came up on FB of me,  taking nap recliner, while mischievous granddaughter, seven, piling stuffed animals and stuff on my torso to see how much she could  stack up on me before the weight woke me up.

This happened one year ago during a family reunion over an extended weekend in Las Vegas, where my daughter works as a nurse. It was silly scene, but showed we were having a fine time, so it was worth a passing remembrance.

Then I realized something else about it. That trip and gathering marked the end of the world.

Well, not the end of THE world, but surely the end of A world: the pre-pandemic world, the demise of what can be called the Good Old Days. And so that silly photo of me asleep with odds and ends piled on my belly in late February 2020, also marked the anniversary – better say the first anniversary — of the era of Covid.

After that family weekend, within just a few weeks, schools were closed, unemployment swept through us like a tornado, markets crashed, toilet paper disappeared and lockdowns were coming, and the last time I was able to worship in person at our meetinghouse until – when?

And on this unwelcome anniversary, I realized a couple other things: one is that it’s not over; far from it. The other is a strong suspicion, that even when it’s declared to be over, it may be impossible to go “back to normal.”  At least not entirely.

Surely there’s no going back for the 484,000 Americans dead from it as of the third weekend in February, 2021; or for many of their families. Continue reading Coping with General PTSD

Frederick Douglass, on Lincoln as a White Man’s President & the Memory of Emancipation

February is not only Black History Month, it’s also Lincoln’s month: birthday (the 12th); holiday (the 15th, tho he currently shares it with some old  & about-to-be-canceled slaveholder named Washington).

Lincoln is an endlessly fascinating and enigmatic character. (And speaking of canceling, he just got tossed as namesake of  San Francisco high school by a “progressive” school board.) And I’ve been learning some more about him recently from historian David Blight.

Lincoln is a major figure in the middle section of Blight’s Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography last year, and deserved it.

The book is deeply researched, consistently insightful, splendidly written, and blessed with an endlessly quotable  subject.  Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to finish it.

Not yet, that is.

Author David Blight, and his Frederick Douglass biography

Continue reading Frederick Douglass, on Lincoln as a White Man’s President & the Memory of Emancipation