Category Archives: Black & White & Other Colors

Four New Views of Robert E. Lee: History Comes to Richmond

On a road trip with daughter Molly. She too is a history buff.  When we went to Richmond on Oct. 14, I was most eager to drive down fabled Monument Avenue, where a new history is overtaking a former one.

Stonewall Jackson, blood-spattered and bereft.

For more than a century, Monument Avenue was famous for a parade of mounted Confederate leaders, deemed “Heroes of The Lost Cause” by those who planted them. They seemed likely to hover forever above those who passed, permanently secure on huge granite pedestals.

But change has come to Richmond: all the figures in this procession, save one, are gone now. In their places are monuments of a very different kind. Many are almost blank, the lettering engraved on their sides nearly invisible.

Yet on one in particular, new texts & images abound. The current authorities have worked to hem in these new words, and obscure them within a circle of high tight fencing.

The traffic circle where Robert E. Lee stood since 1890 is tightly fenced in. But not tight enough to stop my camera.

Some of the new words are rude and profane. Their colors are strong and garish. The new artists did not, as far as I could tell, sign their work.

Lee’s statue was so big, its base had four sides, each of which became an oversized canvas & billboard.

Fortunately, my camera is small, and fit into many of the narrow gaps between the posts linking the fence’s dozens of sections together. Still, the messages are clear enough, if haphazardly arranged.

 

Only one statue on Monument Avenue stood undisturbed when we were there, that of tennis great Arthur Ashe, which went up in 1996, more than a century after the others. Ashe was born & raised there in the city’s rigidly segregated years.


Ashe is the only person of color among them and, as a writer for Sports Illustrated recently noted, the only winner in the pretentious parade. On the bronze visage, his arm is raised, but he brandishes  neither rifle nor sword but a tennis racket.

The image of the designated demigod of this doomed pantheon, Robert E. Lee, was the last to come down, on September 8, 2021, and it drew the most attention from the protest artists.

It stood in the center of its own traffic circle, and the massive pedestal remains. For how long, who can say?

But it is a monument still, covered with key texts of a new, and hotly contested “historical narrative.”  Here are my glimpses of it, through the fence, on all four sides.

How long, I wonder, will it stand?

A Tale of Two Bridges: Selma, 1965. Del Rio 2021.

Del Rio,Texas, September 2021. A U. S. Border Patrol agent snatches a Haitian refugee. Planeloads of such refugees, crowded under a nearby bridge, are being deported to Haiti. Their Caribbean homeland has been rocked by the assassination of the president, a major destructive earthquake, and generations of corruption and poverty.
March 1965: An Alabama state trooper stands over the body of civil rights activist Mrs. Amelia Boynton, who had been knocked unconscious during an attack on marchers demanding equal voting rights for Black Americans.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, being crossed by marchers, including the late John Lewis, who was also beaten in the 1965 attack.
2021: The Del Rio Ciudad Acuña International Bridge. Thousands of Haitians, some of whom have been refugees for tears, are gathering there, seeking refuge and safety. The U. S. Government wants to be rid of them.
2021: A U. S. Trooper stands guard over Haitian refugees under the Del Rio bridge. Food and sanitary facilities are in short supply.
2021: The Selma attack resulted in passage of the Voting Rights Act, or VRA. For almost fifty years, the VRA helped millions of previously excluded citizens to vote. But beginning in 2013, the increasingly rightwing U. S. Supreme Court dismantled it. By 2021, the law was all but dead. State actions to suppress votes by citizens of color were again rampant, and spreading like a pandemic.
What will happen to America next? “Quien sabe?” But today. I believe, somewhere, John Lewis is weeping.

 

 

Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

“Predictions are hard,” said the sage yogi Berra, “especially about the future.”

Yet sometimes there are exceptions — predictions that are easy.

Like this one: Continue reading Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

My fickle finger of fate, lit up for the big MRI

So: I went in for a thorough cardio checkup, a long  overnight at Duke Med. As the capstone of the process they stuck me in this MRI machine for a long hour of lying stock still on my back, eyes closed and hands slowly going numb under the barrage of whanging and zapping aimed at discovering what if anything functional was left in my upper torso.

In cardio terms, the MRI was a success: they said my heart was pretty much okay for a guy my age: go home, take the pills, and keep in touch.

But an hour later, when I clicked the news on the iPad, I got an eerie sinking feeling: maybe there had been more to that big machine than just a very noisy electronic stethoscope. What if it was also a reverse time machine, doubtless part of the CIA’s vast secret UFO research: when they rolled me in, it was 2021. When I came back out into the light, in much of America it was 1964, or maybe 1953.

Not that I was younger, or anything good was back from those days (big Hershey bars for a nickel, Cokes for a dime, and Elvis on the juke box). Instead, 56 years of civil rights history was gone. While I was in that light beige reverse birth canal, the Voting Rights Act disappeared. Continue reading For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

U. S. Black History: 1619, 1776, or What? How About 1962?

Let’s see: Racism & U. S. History. 1776 or 1619? The New York Times, or Trump’s “Patriotic Education” commission? The truth is rising, or the sky is falling?

Pick your side, get in line, join the Culture War’s latest rehearsal for Armageddon.

Really?

As some once-legendary movie mogul once said of another sketchy deal, “Include me out.”

It’s not that I think the spat is irrelevant or of no consequence.

Oh, no.

What it is for me, at least, is old hat. Yesterday’s news. Dumpster ware.

I’ve been here before.

In fact, when I first heard about it, a toddler named Barack Obama was just three years old. Maybe still in training underpants.

That would be 1964. Continue reading U. S. Black History: 1619, 1776, or What? How About 1962?

The “Spirit of Harriet Tubman” is Ready to speak Again

[Details on a live performance of “The Spirit of Harriet Tubman” 0n June 27 are below. Spread the word!]

During much of the 1850s, Harriet Tubman, felt almost like a prisoner. She lived in Canada, just a few miles west of the U. S. border at Niagara Falls. She was safe there, but itchy to help more enslaved people to escape.

Diane Faison as Harriet Tubman

And today, Diane Faison of Winston-Salem, NC, knows something of how Harriet felt.

Tubman, the Ace of the Underground Railroad, was a hunted woman. Southern slavecatchers wanted her dead or alive. She had secretly returned to the state to aid others several more times.

Diane Faison’s journey with Harriet started 140 years later, when she knocked  a book off a library shelf. Continue reading The “Spirit of Harriet Tubman” is Ready to speak Again

A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton: A Biographical Sketch & several poems; from local sources

George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton (1797-1893) could rightly be called North Carolina’s first professional poet.

George Moses Horton,

Born enslaved by  Chatham County yeoman farmer William Horton, young George Moses Horton loved the rhyming sounds of hymns, and yearned to be able to read. As teaching slaves to read was illegal, Horton secretly taught himself, hiding in fields on Sundays. He used an old speller, a copy of the Methodist hymnal, and stray pages from the Bible, although he was grown before he learned to write. Especially fascinated with poetry, he was soon composing psalm-meter verses in his head and committing them to memory.

Young Horton was often sent to Chapel Hill by his then-master, James Horton, to sell produce at the farmer’s market. There his unusually sophisticated vocabulary soon caught the attention of the university students, who encouraged his orations, and ultimately, the recitation of his own verse.

His reputation spread, and by the 1820s, he began to sell poems for students to send to their sweethearts, charging extra for including acrostics in them based on the young ladies’ names. Continue reading A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton

SAYMA 2021: The Post-Mortem

Bob McGahey, the Clerk of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), saw what was coming at last week’s 2021 annual sessions.

What did he see? Trouble & woe.

How do I know?

Because he said so, in a Clerk’s letter sent out as the group was gathering (mostly in Zoom) last week.

The key passage:

Unfortunately, as we approach SAYMA yearly sessions, there are those among us who would enforce their deeply held convictions through pressuring, judging, and threatening behavior. One plenary speaker and two workshops have been challenged and threatened with disruption. One of those workshops has been cancelled, and the leader of the second feels genuinely threatened by escalating attacks, asking for protection. As an open religious society, our protection comes from the divine, which resides deep within each of us, acting from within the body, not from a hierarchy of leaders.

He was mistaken about that last item: protection, especially in SAYMA, comes from leaders and staunch Friends with resolve to uphold good Quaker order, or it will not come at all.

Both were essentially absent from SAYMA’s annual sessions. Continue reading SAYMA 2021: The Post-Mortem

Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?

To: Jesus, or his Rep out West

From: Chuck Fager

Re: Need  some Leads

Brown Jesus
Hey, I’m listening . . .

Look, JC, I know you’re busy, but this: I heard from a nice young family in one of the big cities out there, one of those  in the middle of the desert.

It’s a familiar story: she’s creamy, he’s dark chocolate, they have un bébé très joli et très café au lait! Plus more of the usual: they’re short on money, work, and a community.

So they’re kind of struggling, but they say they had a good break a week or so ago: they went to church.

Now in theory, I’m all for that: a welcoming & supportive community would be just the thing.

Except they said it was a mega-church, where the management brought on a comedian to warm up the crowd or something.

A comedian? But wait, I thought. With all their issues, don’t these kids at least know how to laugh?

Un bébé très joli et très café au lait!

Maybe I’m kind of old school, I guess, but . . . you know: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” not “come unto my shtick.” [I like that Bible quote, as long as it’s from a version where “suffer” means “welcome,”  and not the one I remember from church in my own, kidhood: “Make those kids suffer, like you did . . . .”

Anyway, maybe this is just more old school.

And I can’t help but riff on this, JC, so bear with me:

I think folks who go to church do so because, besides community & support — because they’re also looking for some  kind of encounter with —and this is one of those points where good words are hard to find, but let’s try — they want an encounter with something sacred; something transcendent; something —  okay I’ll say it plain, holy. Continue reading Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?

Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs.  I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.

The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael  Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:

One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”

“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”

Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.

Continue reading Memorial Day for Those Who Said No