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teaches us all
When I was a boy growing up in the 1950s our neighborhood swimming pool was segregated. When the first black girl was elected queen of my high school a few years after I graduated in 1962 there was a near riot. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, not Columbus, Georgia.
With the Civil Rights Movement beginning to sizzle in America in the early 1960, I learned about James Baldwin for the first time. Novelist, playwright, poet, and essayist, Baldwin helped focus my eyes on the racial and social issues that bedeviled and continue to bedevil this country…
on civil disobedience
I’m old enough to remember a time when metro Atlanta had gotten big enough to be a serious obstacle in the way of getting myself and my young sons from where we lived in Alabama to the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia or North Carolina. Also big enough to have what had to be if not the biggest the very best independent bookstore on the planet, Oxford Books in Buckhead (d. 1997). But small enough to be usable. You could get in and out in one day and have a not too stressful metropolitan good time without a police escort…
Last week in Charleston a large mural of Rev. Clementa Pinckney was unveiled. It was done by 28-year-old Columbia artist Tripp Barnes. It is big and colorful and covers the whole outside wall of a building on St. Phillips Street, a few blocks from my house and from Emanuel AME Church.
In addition to his likeness, the mural also has a short but powerful quote by Clem: “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history – we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”
Until a month ago I was a mobile phone virgin. I’d fooled around a little but my inexperience showed. In constant fear of making mistakes, I was timid, not in control. When we lived in the same town my son had given me a primitive mobile phone in an effort to keep in touch. Every few months when he or his wife needed to get hold of me to invite me for lunch or pick up a grandchild, the phone was invariably flat, turned off, in another handbag or glove compartment; frustrating for them.
keeping our kids safe
Vehicles passing stopped school buses is much more of a problem than most of us realize. At least where I live, Gwinnett’s school system is taking steps to address this situation, at no cost to your school tax bill. But only about 10 school systems in Georgia are participating in a new technology which improves school bus safety.
Gwinnett is partnering with Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Ariz. in having traffic cameras on its buses.
hyperventilating over bathrooms
North Carolina’s HB 2, aka the “bathroom law,” has provoked outrage and ridicule in equal measure. The feeble defense the law’s supporters are putting up invites speculation about their real agenda. Unless safety concerns track religious belief for some hitherto unnoticed reason, it’s worth wondering why faith-based organizations in particular have been so vocal in raising alarms about the depredations this law is supposed to spare everybody.
Red and yellow, black and white
The summer I was fifteen, my goal in life was to get a good tan. In those days, you were nobody if your skin wasn’t bronzed beyond belief. That was before we knew how much the sun harmed our skin. Everyday at the public pool or in my own backyard, I’d slather up with a mixture of baby oil and iodine – trying to encourage the maximum exposure. No wonder my skin looks like sandpaper now and probably explains why, last Mother’s Day, my daughter looked at my arm in a sleeveless dress and said, “You look like a lizard.” What more could a mother want?
something of a dilettante
Forty-five years ago today (1971), I was graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a Ph.D. in English (Dissertation: Dickens’ Use of Language for Protest). I am grateful for the counsel which Professor James McMillan, then chair of the department, gave me in the hall after I had defended my dissertation: “Up until this point you have been rewarded mainly by writing what experts know. Hereafter, to be taken seriously, you must write what you know which experts have not yet discovered…
brought it on ourselves
You must admit that social media has been a mighty contributor to this 2016 political season.
In another way of saying this: look what we have done to ourselves.
We couldn’t get enough of Trump, or Bernie, and every so often, some of the other presidential candidates. So we turned inward, creating more bizarre buzzing for the political year.
Sometimes, in the still of the night, I think I hear the American culture coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it’s the popping of a stitch. Other times it’s an alarming rip. But the culture is definitely showing signs of strain. I don’t think this is normal wear and tear. I think the culprit is zeal connected to bad ideology, zeal fueled by ignorance often masquerading as enlightenment.
A moment’s thought, for instance, reveals that Political Correctness undermines the most precious provision of the Bill of Rights: free speech.
money is the enemy of peace
The Beyond War movement in the 80s used to cite several “illusions” that perpetuate our drift toward what Einstein called, unparalleled catastrophe – a nuclear war. The illusion I have in mind is the belief that we can continue to war and survive. If we in fact do continue to war we will, sooner or later, have a nuclear war. The nuclear winter, radiation poisoning, and physical damage that would follow such an event would make the survivors envy those tens of millions killed in the immediate explosions…
bigotry still king
I’m planning a road trip to see America with two of my sons. We are mapping out an itinerary circling the country and finding well-known, quirky, and interesting destinations. The hardest thing so far has been planning the trip without passing through states that have jumped on the deny people’s rights to get elected bandwagon.
I know Tennessee recently passed legislation making the Bible the state book, but the governor vetoed it. Georgia is waffling on their version of discrimination in the name of religious liberty and safe restrooms after several major businesses in the Peach State protested.
beast in the darkness
Sacrifice zone: a geographic zone that has been permanently impaired by environmental damage or economic disinvestment. These zones are commonly found in low-income and minority communities. (Wikipedia)
I grew up in the shadow of Appalachia. My hometown, Bluefield, wasn’t Appalachia, but you could see it from there. Just twelve miles from home the coalfields began: Pocahontas, VA; then Anawalt, Gary, and Coalwood, WV, in rapid succession, the latter made famous by native son Homer Hickam in his trilogy Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way, and Sky of Stone.
doing ignoble things
Which party do you think of when you hear the phrase, “defender of the Constitution”? I would wager that members of both parties would immediately think of the Republican Party, because they are the ones who most loudly proclaim their deep allegiance to our founding document.
Yet in recent years, the leaders of the GOP have engaged in an assault on our constitutional system in ways unprecedented in American history…
communion of saints
April 28th, 2016 was the 111th anniversary of Dad’s birth, in Goodwater, Alabama. I’ve spent much time thinking about him — how close we were; how far apart; how we struggled; how we admired each other; how I picked up some of his worst traits and some of his best; how much more I looked like him last summer when I was 78 (on far left below) than I did when I stood at his left in 1981, when he was 76 and I was 44. I was born in Anniston, Alabama in 1936. I was an only child and close to both parents, but genuinely a mama’s boy…
part three of lilian's wish
Emmett never let go of his dislike of dogs. He showed it with muffled and incomprehensible grumbles about Bobbie. He never forgave her for growling at him when they first met. He said he would rather have a snake in the house than a dog. And no damn dog had better ever climb up on his sofa if they managed to get inside his house. Bobbie was a big ungainly soul who had been Lilian’s companion. She was used to having full reign of my house. Emmett never had a clue that she was much cleaner than he was…
love and friendship
A little voice broke the silence and asked: Papa, why are you so sad? I replied that I was not sad but happy. The voice said: Well, why do you have tears in your eyes? They are happy tears, I said, Happy that I am here and with you today. It was April 25, the one day each year we remember and honor those brave men and women, relatives, friends and all of the others who gave their lives so we could be free to live and enjoy an open democratic country. We also remember those whose lives were irrevocably and permanently changed by the many wars…
Many of Chomsky’s recent books are more or less transcriptions of interviews by David Barsamian. They explore questions such as, Why does the radical right oppose social security, both today and at its birth?, and public education, the most recent strategy being charter schools? Chomsky’s take is that these social functions create solidarity, they contribute to community and so undermine the notion, favored by the right, that we’re on our own, isolated individuals looking out for number one!..
satire on the campaign trail
Texas Senator Ted Cruz bucked all political convention Wednesday by naming Carly Fiorina as his running mate instead of one of the five women he’s run around with on the extramarital sex circuit, according to rumors reported in The National Enquirer.
“You figure they had leg up on Fiorina,” quipped one Cruz source. “Turns out maybe Ted isn’t as big a leg man as everybody thought.”
Indeed, according to another source close to Cruz, the conservative evangelical Christian senator chose Fiorina to quash rumors of his extramarital sexual escapades by “picking a woman nobody in America could imagine even Ted Cruz would have sex with.
important first step
The rise of Donald Trump means that the American political system, already sick, could be degraded still further. But – if Trump does become the Republican nominee for president, which looks probable – this danger also presents an opportunity to restore the health of American politics to levels not seen in years.
But seizing that opportunity will take more than defeating Trump because the political pathologies that he represents – such as a Republican base ready to support a proto-fascist candidate…
part two of lilian's wish
Emmett had made his grand entrance into my house in January. By the time spring had arrived, he’d started showing up at my doorstep whenever he felt like it and would blow his horn from the driveway rather than come up to the door. At first, I thought something might be wrong, but he would tell me later that he was just an old man who didn’t walk well so he thought I should come to him. He didn’t vary his greeting much and usually said, “Hey, young fella, where you been? It’s hot out here…
Moving is about more than selling one house and buying another, booking your move and deciding where to put your furniture in the new place. It’s challenge enough to move from one State to another, processing changes of address, telephone, utilities, medical care and all related paperwork, deciding what to give away or dump, misplacing things in the process, but an international move rocks your entire center of gravity.
part one of lilian's wish
Retaining her sense of humor to the end, she asked to be buried in Montreal for several reasons. First, she had developed a keener sense of family, and her uncle and most of her aunts and cousins live in that beautiful city. Secondly, she said she wanted her husband and daughter to pay a proper pilgrimage to see her rather than just pop in occasionally at a more convenient local cemetery. Thirdly, she recognized that Montreal was a European city and after all she was at heart a European. And finally, to all who knew and loved her and would have enjoyed her reasoning, it added to her mystery.
on the surface
I don’t understand race. An anthropologist colleague says, “Louie, race doesn’t exist as a scientific category. At best a race is just ‘a breeding community with unstable boundaries’; and you and Ernest knock the hell out of that one, don’t you!” I see what she means.
Yet racial categories so pervade my life that I cannot hope to understand myself, much less the world, without sensitive and difficult vigilance regarding pitfalls and opportunities.
In honor of extra tax days
Daily green dots appear in the withered brown grass…
“How about getting me a pencil, please? Better not start with a pen. And will you fix me a cup of Earl Gray, with some of those little sesame cookies?”
Bulbs planted confidently months earlier explode in bright colors.
“Where’s that list of interest payments I told you to get? Gosh! We paid that much in interest? Thank God it’s deductible!”
live a creative life
Driving home, I couldn’t help but keep thinking how that poor lady dealt with reaching into her grief box and tossing out a rose thorn every time she had a pretty good day and didn’t think all the time about the loss of her 20-year-old daughter who had taken her own life. Michael, a woodworking instructor, had told our class earlier the story of a special box he had made and given to this lady. The woman was a dear friend deep into grieving over her schizophrenic daughter who let herself be taken from this world for reasons no one really knew…
sweating the sermon
On March 22, I journeyed across Georgialina to Washington, Georgia, to speak to the Kiwanis Club. Prior to speaking, Mr. Steve Blackmon gave me a tour of seven historic homes that had something unique in common. All had been moved in total or in part to their current location. Expect a column on that soon.
Steve reads my columns and he knows that I often write about things that are no more, and so he gave me six unique gifts: vintage handheld fans that had been used long ago in my hometown. You just don’t see fans in church anymore…