Friday, August 28, 2015

Heroes and Villains


“There’s a lot of things wrong with this country, but one of the few things still right with it is that a man can steer clear of the organized bullshit if he really wants to. It’s a goddamned luxury, and if I were you, I’d take advantage of it while you can.”  Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976”
Amelia Boyton Robinson as young woman and in 2015 holding Obama's hand
Social scientists often debunk the practice of examining society through the depiction of heroes and villains, but on the thirty-second anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and as civil rights veterans mourn the passing of 104 year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson, I think it is applicable in rare cases.  A leader in the Dallas County Voters League, Amelia Boynton Robinson helped convince King to concern himself with events in Selma, Alabama, and she was gassed and beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965.  Praising her dedication, courage and indomitable spirit, President Obama said: To honor the legacy of an American hero like Amelia Boynton requires only that we follow her example – that all of us fight to protect everyone’s right to vote.”

Jonathyne Briggs invited me to attend his seminar on “1968: Chicago and the World.”  After the Democratic National Convention some referred to that city as Czechago as a way of comparing police brutality towards protestors to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that ousted reformer Alexander Dubcek.  Jonathyne asked students whether they’ve been to Europe, and evidently none have.  The furthest I got overseas in the 1960s was Hawaii.  I very much admired the Peace Corps but stayed in college throughout the decade, working summers, in part to avoid the draft.  While those years for me were like an extended period of adolescence, most IUN students need to work while attending college and will still end up much more in debt than was the case with me.
 Fred Hampton
After Jon explained why college campuses were fertile nurseries of protest against various forms of authority, I used Tom Wolfe’s phrase “Probation Generation” to describe the police tactic of busting demonstrators and those caught smoking pot and then holding arrest records over their heads because a second offense could result in lengthy jail time. Red Squads began infiltrating antiwar and Black Power organizations in order to sow dissension, prosecute their leaders in court, and in some cases, assassinate them, as happened to 21 year-old Fred Hampton while asleep in his apartment.  At his funeral, attended by 5,000 people, Jesse Jackson said: “When Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere.”


In Nicole Anslover’s class I’ll talk about the 1945 Froebel School Strike.  During the World War II Gary’s black population rapidly increased, but the city remained thoroughly segregated in terms of housing patterns and public places.  The only school not segregated was Froebel, the so-called “immigrant school,” but even there African Americans were treated as second-class citizens.  After the 1943 Detroit Race Riot Gary civic leaders feared the same thing could happen in their city unless race-relations improved.  Froebel principal Richard Nuzum made attempts to end some of the humiliating practices, which produced a white backlash.  On September 15 a fight erupted at a football game between Horace Mann and Froebel.  Angry that their school was treated differently than all-white Horace Mann and tired of being called “nigger lovers,” several hundred white Froebel students decided to boycott classes, demanding that African Americans be transferred elsewhere and that Principal Nuzum be fired.  After a brief interlude, during which time Nuzum was put on leave, a second walkout occurred when disaffected students failed to get their demands met and Nuzum was reinstated.  Strike leader Leonard Levenda explained: “He old us he was boss and the first thing he intends to do is open the girls’ pool to Negroes.” 
In the midst of this crisis, members of the Anselm Forum invited crooner Frank Sinatra to participate in a Tolerance Concert at Memorial Auditorium.  Cancelling a $10,000 gig, Sinatra came and from the stage declared that the strike was “the most shameful incident in the history of American education.”  He blamed prejudiced parents for fomenting the trouble and sang “The House I Live In,” which included the line, “All races and religions - that’s America to me.”  Ten days later the boycott officially ended.  The following January, with another strike iminent, Urban League director Joseph Chapman brought black and white student leaders together, and after both sides aired their beefs, they agreed that all Gary schools should be treated the same.  Subsequently the board of education passed a neighborhood school policy that officially terminated segregation at other schools although its effect was negligible due to segregated housing patterns.

I’ll intersperse my talk with quotes from Froebel grad Garrett Cope, strike leader Leonard Levenda, Tolerance Concert attendee Lois Mollick, and Urban league director Joseph Chapman.  Then after students read reminiscences from people interviewed for my Postwar Steel Shavings, if time permits I’ll talk about two Gary Roosevelt grads, heroes in my book, IU football star George Taliaferro and Vee-Jay records founder Vivian Carter.

With the steel industry contract due to expire on September 1, Chesterton Tribune reporter Kevin Nevers outlined four possible immediate consequences if labor and management cannot come to terms: The union and company could agree to extend the contract while bargaining continues; the union could strike; it could work without a contract; or the company could implement a lockout.”  If negotiations fail, union leaders are planning a “massive solidarity event” on September 1 at Local 6787 headquarters.  In a press release the United Steelworkers declared:
  This is a challenging time for us and our families.  The uncertainty of the bargaining process, especially in the face of concessionary proposals from ArcelorMittal, can be incredibly stressful. But our union has faced serious fights throughout our history and we’ve always fought back. We have won by standing together, supporting each other, and remaining disciplined.

Accompanying a Post-Trib article entitled “Dunes State Park celebrating 90th” was a photograph of Governor Edward Jackson handing over a $32,000 check to Edgewater pioneer John Bowers for 107 acres of land.  Reporter Teresa Auch Schultz also credited ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles with spawning scientific interest in Indiana’s dunelands.

Anne Balay shared Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” about finding solace among nature at night.  The poem concludes:
         I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Berry wrote “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” (1996), a critique of agribusiness driving out family farming and the subsequent destruction of nature by corporate forces interested first and foremost in profits rather than the good health of the land.  As Berry poetically put it: The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

above, Jerry Davich and Karen Barluga Walker selfie; below, Eve Bottando
Plugging his “Casual Fridays” guest Eve Bottando, who is teaching about selfies in an IUN “Mass Communication and Culture” class Jerry Davich asked: Why do we take silly or embarrassing selfies? What does our pose or backdrop or props say about our personality? And what does this phenomenon say about our society's pop culture these days?”  Eve revealed she grew up in Gary’s Glen Ryan subdivision and compared selfies to artists’ portraiture.  On the first day of class students identified themselves using selfies, most in groups with friends as a way of self-identification.  Not the first professor to offer such a course, Eve stated that it gives her a way to discuss legal and ethical issues of mass communication in a way interesting and relevant to students.

Playing classical guitar at a Brauer Museum reception at Valpo University was my friend Peter Aglinskas, ensconced in front of works by Ed Paschke (“Strano”) and Andy Warhol (Campbell’s Onion Soup).  The most interesting exhibition, curated by Terry Kita, was “The Sun Shines for Us All: The Friendship Dolls from Japan.”  I couldn’t help but think of the erotic Japanese dolls (when you turned them over) I saw at the Kinsey Institute or the Shunga pillow books that were a type of sex manual for young brides.  I chatted with museum director Gregg Hertslieb about the 2016 Sand and Steel exhibit in Munster tha we’re both involved with thanks to John Cain, executive director of South Shore Arts.  In attendance was longtime curator and director Richard H.W. Brauer, for whom the museum is named.