My mother and father walked everywhere; neither one of them drove a car. My family has its share of dancers, actors and athletes whose bodies are the tools of their trades. Yet on the downside, that same family has been ravaged by the devastating consequences of hypertension and heart disease. At the risk of sounding morbid, we’re all going to die of something. But too many of my relatives’ lives were cut short too early by strokes and heart attacks. So I am literally running with the clock. As I say in this video, I think I’ve found what works for me.
My father would be 117 years old today. Eighty years ago his birthday wish was for a typewriter with the same configuration of keys as a Linotype machine. I wonder what he would think of our writing implements and communications platforms today. A dear friend recently gave me a bracelet made of typewriter keys. I’m wearing in honor of my Daddy’s birthday today.
Reposting this in honor of the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s hard to believe that I wrote that Boston Globe editorial 25 years ago.
Regular readers of this blog know that the legacy of singer Marian Anderson looms large in my consciousness. My mother held her up as a hero. My sister was named for her. My father, a contemporary, was apparently smitten with her.
One of the first assignments as an editorial writer for the Boston Globe was to write a piece in honor of the 50th anniversary of Anderson’s concert on the Lincoln Memorial, Easter Sunday 1939.
In that first Globe editorial, published on April 9, 1989, I wrote:
“Fifty years ago today, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 awed spectators and offered up her brilliant operatic contralto.
The concert was a triumph in an era of legal and customary segregation. Anderson, by then an accomplished performer in the US, Europe and South America, had hoped to perform at Washington’s Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform there because she was black. Amid protests from musicians and public figures, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR, and with her help, the show went on at the Lincoln Memorial.
Since then, Anderson has been a symbol of pride and achievement. Introducing her at the Lincoln Memorial that Easter Sunday in 1939, Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes said: “Genius knows no color line. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such a voice as lifts any individual above his fellows as a matter of exulted pride to any race.”
Unbeknownst to me then, my father had written about that concert in 1939:
“‘Whereas only about four thousand persons usually listen to her concert, seventy-five thousand persons in a visible audience and millions in an invisible audience heard Marian Anderson sing her program of triumph on Easter Sunday afternoon in the Lincoln Memorial Park within striking distance of the Capitol’s dome.
Miss Anderson’s unusually large audience was swept to her on the wings of bigotry and racial intolerance. Since a couple of nations in Europe seem to vie with each other in acts of racial persecution, it seems to be Uncle Sam’s serious ambition today to be on the right side of the pale – a sort of see-how-good-I-am attitude.
America’s escutcheon is well blotched with racial intolerance, discrimination and persecution. Up to now it’s the Negro who is borne the brunt, if not all, of this form of treatment. Lynching, ruthless lynchings, the Scottsboro Boys are inerasable marks. Scoldings, however, from within and jeers without are gradually bringing about actual efforts to earn herself a cleaner slate.
The old Devils of the American Revolution ran true to the Old America and cried ‘color’ to Miss Anderson. . . . But seeking no ally with Nazism and Fascism, official America loaned Miss Anderson the Lincoln Memorial Park and facilities for a worldwide audience. “
Coincidentally, Anderson died on April 8, 1993, almost exactly 54 years to the day after her triumphant concert. In another Globe editorial, I wrote that to my mother Anderson “represented a triumph over segregation and a counterweight to Aunt Jemima images.”
“As a youngster, Anderson was denied admission to a Philadelphia music school because she was black. She was given the keys to Atlantic City, but was not allowed to stay in a hotel there. When she sang in segregated concert halls, she demanded that seats be allotted to black ticket buyers in every section of the auditorium. . . Anderson often referred to herself with modest detachment. But for several generations of black women in America such modesty is unnecessary. Marian Anderson’s name and her memory are synonymous with the magnificence of her voice.”
My father walked off a boat in 1923 and checked in at Ellis Island. He was a black man. His path to citizenship couldn’t have been easy. But he wasn’t forced to hide in the shadows, worrying that he might be deported to Barbados. He was able to pursue his dream and become an American journalist.
Alejandro Morales, Ola Kaso, Jose Patino and Erika Andiola have not enjoyed that privilege. They came with their families as children to the United States, the only country they know as home. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. They’ve been good citizens, great family members and excellent students. Yet their dreams have been deferred by an America that refuses to fully embrace them.
Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola are the subjects of a new documentary The Dream is Now, which chronicles these young people’s efforts to earn their citizenship.
Morales has wanted to be a Marine since eighth grade, but he can’t without a Social Security number.
Patino, who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, works low-skilled construction jobs because he can’t get hired as an engineer.
Kaso wants to become an oncologist and was accepted to the University of Michigan, but her future was put on hold while her family’s status was reviewed. During a routine meeting with immigration officials, she was handcuffed to a chair in a basement hallway of a detention center for several hours.
Andiola, who has met with everybody from Sen. John McCain to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett as an advocate for the Dream Act, was granted permission to work, but her mother was put on a bus headed for Mexico — in chains.
The film is part of a movement of the same name launched by Laurene Powell Jobs and her organization, the Emerson Collective. Produced by award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, The Dream is Now, also places their struggles in an historical context. It’s the next battle in the civil rights movement.
Recently, the Associated Press changed its stylebook to include this proviso: “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.”
I appreciate the spirit of the AP’s decision. Words have power, and that’s the point. But what I would appreciate even more is for America to stop criminalizing our children.
And yes, Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola and other “Dreamers” are our children.
Watch the film. Join their movement.
I spent most of Friday, Dec. 28, which would have been my mother, Mary Ray’s 93rd birthday, reading letters like this one.
I missed her too. Even those times when I would be called upon to help her find her misplaced dentures.
Most of my mother’s notes were chronicles of her life as an empty nester, her reviews of cultural events, her updates on neighbors, friends and relatives and her travels.
“Wish you could’ve been at Uncle James’ on Sunday past. It was beautiful,” she wrote in a card dated Aug. 23, 1977. Then she listed the relatives whom I’d missed during her trip from Pittsburgh to New Jersey.
“Cousin Mollie said she had a magnificent time. Diane and her daughter were there; John, Jr. and Larry and family. Peanut [my cousin Robert] has a son named Lyle – looks just like him.” [It’s actually Kyle; we’re now Facebook friends.]
“All of Aunt Evie’s sisters and some of their families were there.” She referred to my cousin David as “The Lover,” and mentioned my cousin Michelle, whose eldest son was just a “fat baby boy of 10 months,” back then.
She loved her grandchildren: “You wouldn’t believe that my little Xmas tree is still up,” she wrote on Jan. 24, 1978. “Waiting for a visit from Chano and Lamman. They didn’t get over for the holidays, but boy did they enjoy the toys everyone sent them.”
“Today is M’Balia’s birthday, so they’re all here,” she wrote on Aug. 30, 1976.
In each letter she shared her worries. “Ellen will need some rest!!!” she scribbled along the side of a note dated Sept. 18, 1976. (I believe she was referring to the fact that my sister Ellen-Marie had just returned from a trip to Tanzania.)
“They’re trying to work out their difficulties. I’ve suggested a professional counselor,” she wrote about another relative and her husband.
Then there was my mother’s love life: “Uncle Fred has his house almost completely painted outside and wants me to select new furnishings, drapes and carpeting,” she wrote in one letter. In another: “He went on a Northwest trek with the AAAs from Western Pa. “Timing was bad for me, so was the cost, and he couldn’t afford it for us both.”
She never ended a note without dispensing some advice: “Glad the job is shaping up,” she wrote shortly after I’d taken my first job in Boston. “Don’t make any hasty moves until you thoroughly investigate any situation. Some sorority sisters might help.” [I assume she was referring to my search for housing.]
On her troubles with high blood pressure, she wrote: “It’s something that runs in the family. We seem to be victims of stress. Please watch it!”
She also was generous with her praise:
“Your March article in Essence is excellent. Keep up the good work.”
“So very happy for you, (Always) but particularly now as you join the Boston Globe staff.
But to her, being a good friend was as important as any professional accomplishment.
“I’m so proud of you, particularly as a very caring person. Pam and others are lucky to have you as a friend!” she wrote in May of 1988. “Continue to care about others and to render assistance in some small way when you can. Sharing our knowledge and comfort with our fellow man is truly our purpose for living on this universe or any other. You will be blessed manifold!”
It was as if she was talking to me from the grave, setting the stage for my New Year’s resolutions.
“I’d like for you and Ellen to keep the family home for a while. Daddy worked hard to acquire it. It took all his savings for a down payment. You may find it worth your while one day,” she wrote. She ended that same note with, “P.S. Don’t mourn for me. I enjoyed life and living and loved my family dearly! Mom!”
That note was not dated, but based on its other contents, it was written in the 1970s. She definitely got a lot more living and loving in before she died in 2002.
Well, ok, then Mom. I hope you are resting well, dispensing your wisdom and comfort from whatever “universe” you happen to be on.
Happy New Year to all, and here’s to “manifold” blessings in 2013.
My father plagiarized himself frequently, most notably in his Thanksgiving columns. In 1934, 1936 and 1938, he wrote about the Pilgrim fathers, who in 1623 faced “their second winter of hunger, cold and peril” until, after a day of prayer, sighted “a ship loaded with friends and supplies.” He ended every one of these columns with the question of whether “Negroes” should be thankful. He would give a nod to the Scottsboro Boys, who were incarcerated in Alabama. A favorite refrain was that the “Negro’s winter is still on” and the ideals of safety and happiness continued to elude American blacks.
In 1939 his column still included these elements, but had a more optimistic tone. That year, President Franklin Roosevelt decided that Thanksgiving should be celebrated the next to the last Thursday of the month, rather than the last Thursday, which had been American tradition dating back to the end of the Civil War.
“Now, in the year of 1939, Americans find themselves sandwiched between two Thanksgiving Days,” Ebenezer wrote. According to my father about half of the nation’s bosses “preferred to adhere to the traditional (Lincoln’s). . .”
Apparently, my father thought the whole debate was silly.
“It is safe to say that the idea of giving thanks on this day has been lost in its routine acceptance. It is now rather a day of feasting. And to hear the opposition tell it, one is almost moved to believe that there IS a difference between gormandizing vittles and guzzling corn liquor on one Thursday as against another Thursday. But this is a Democracy.”
Under Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini, he asserted, the “thanksgiving edict” would have come without choice and accepted with the “clicking of the heels. Dictators’ proclamations have but one ‘alternative': yes or YES. . . Not in America. And that’s a good reason for giving thanks – any day.”
Ebenezer gave his customary nod to the Scottsboro boys. Five of the original nine were still imprisoned. “Should the question of Thanksgiving Day penetrate those prison walls, those lads could well ask: What have we to be thankful for on the 23rd or the 30th of November?” he asked. “Their oppressors quibble over trifles.”
“Quibbling over when one should give thanks is hardly productive of the spirit of gratefulness – at that. “
As for me, I’m giving thanks every day that America is changing, as evidenced by the recent election. Thankful that more Americans will have access to health care and that women will have agency over their own bodies. That race-baiting and big money don’t always prevail and that the Supreme Court’s activist slide will be slowed.
No doubt, our nation is still deeply divided between those who “want to take their country back” and those who want to move forward. But, as Ebenezer said, “This is Democracy.”
By the way, I was going to wait until tomorrow to add a photo of President Obama pardoning a turkey, but I thought this video said more about thankfulness.
I’m re-posting an entry I originally published in February of 2011, which seems like ages ago. Last Tuesday, We The People overcame voter suppression campaigns, lies, bungled debates and obscene amounts of campaign spending to reelect President Barack Obama and to put down efforts to make him a one-term president. Now that the Florida vote has been counted, I thought I would add this year’s final electoral map.
“Never before have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said of Republicans during his reelection campaign in 1936.
Sound familiar? I wish.
Perhaps President Obama will take a page from FDR as he gears up for the 2012 campaign.
After all, these fightin’ words turned out to be winning words for FDR.
In honor of Presidents’ Day, I offer a column published by my father, Ebenezer Ray, on Nov. 14, 1936, shortly after the shellacking Roosevelt doled out to his opponent, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, in 1936. Prior to the election, my father had written columns endorsing Roosevelt. But his support was not a given. His employer, The New York Age, was a traditional supporter of the Republican Party. The paper opposed the Democratic Party nationally because of its tolerance of southern segregation.
Referring to himself in typical self-deprecating fashion, Ebenezer wrote: “This newcomer and political dunce failed to be convinced (1) that President Roosevelt was not the fit and proper person to guide the destiny of this country for the next four years and (2) that the Republican candidate was the better man.
. . . With his avalanche of votes in favor of the New Deal went the Negro vote, local and national, despite the fact that President Roosevelt represents the Party which disenfranchises the Negro in the South. Wherefore the Negro vote?
According to the man in the street, in the barbershop, in the restaurant and other proletariat among whom this writer moves, prosperity is the paramount issue. Up to 1929, they contend there was discrimination in the South, but we also had prosperity. Since 1929, and especially during the last Republican regime, there was still discrimination in the South but NO prosperity. In President Roosevelt is seen the capability of bringing prosperity from around that elusive corner, made popular by Mr. Hoover.”
To illustrate his community’s support of the New Deal, Ebenezer described the changing atmosphere in the bank at the corner of 135th Street and Seventh Ave.
“In these premises, until president Roosevelt’s bank holiday, was situated the unlamented Chelsea Bank. During its declining months one could easily race a bull about the premises without harming a depositor. Nowadays, occupied by the Dunbar National Bank, during business hours the premises resemble a market rather than a bank. Of great concern to the poor man is the knowledge that whatever part of his earnings he is privileged to save is SAFE.
The great majority has reelected Roosevelt. ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God,'” Ebenezer concluded.
Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton Administration, who is now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote a column before the midterm election last fall, titled “Why Obama should learn the lesson of 1936, not 1996,” In it, Reich said: “The relevant political lesson isn’t Bill Clinton in 1996, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.”
Reich continued:”By the election of 1936 the Great Depression was entering its eighth year. Roosevelt had already been president for four of them. Yet he won the biggest electoral victory since the start of the two-party system in the 1850s.” Reich wrote that while the key to Clinton’s victory was a booming economy, the key to Roosevelt’s was setting himself apart from the greed of the Republicans and their financiers and standing up for and with everyday people.
Back to Ebenezer’s column: At the end he offers a brief review of the theater adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here, about a Hitler type character who attempts to dominate the United States:
“The capacity crowd which attended the Adelphi Theatre on West 54th Street Thursday evening last . . . is better testimony to the entertainment value of It Can’t Happen Here than any reviewer can write. For, after all, ‘It is the guest who is the judge of the meat,'” Ebenezer wrote.