CHOCOLATE – VANILLA ICE CREAM and ORANGE POPSICLES

(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

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“This is what Democracy looks like!”

That message was shouted by hundreds of citizens at rallies held on the Doylestown Court House lawn. The former guy is gone but he dropped a trail of destruction after his four years in office when he nearly shredded the U.S. Constitution.

On April 6, 2016 I posted “The Power of Voting” on my blog The Bucks Underground Railroad. In the five years since then, much has changed. That post had referenced the book, “BOUND for CANAAN” by Fergus M. Bordewich—an author of several nonfiction books about 17th 18th and 19th Century America.

Near the end of “BOUND… “, Bordewich wrote about the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Canada–a community of fugitive slaves. By the 1860s this sanctuary–established by the Presbyterian Synod—had settled mostly Blacks who had fled the oppression of America for a new “home”. No longer chattel, they were Canadian citizens with all the Rights of Freed men. They worked their own land or earned a living in their shops.

White Canadians in Buxton opposed the Blacks in their country. They circulated a petition describing Blacks as “…a distinct species of the Human Family … far inferior to that of the European.”

Edwin Larwill, publisher of the local newspaper and Canadian Parliament member, announced his candidacy for office on a platform to establish a poll tax. But Reverend William King—a co-founder of the Elgin Settlement—reached out to every fugitive slave eligible to vote after he learned of Larwill’s plans, which included sending the fugitive slaves back to America. Rev. King then registered these new Canadian citizens to vote. It resulted in Edwin Larwill losing and the descendants of the freed slaves who had arrived in Buxton in 1849–still there to this day.

NOW:  THIS is what white Privilege looks like!

The threat of Free and Fair Elections in America is here. According to a June 10, 2021 article in “Mother Jones”, 24 new laws in 14 states have been created to suppress the Right to Vote, pushed by the zealous supporters of #45. Unable to accept defeat, they’ve ripped off their superior blinders and discovered America’s New Map.

America has become a bowl of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. When mixed together, America is now a delicious taste to the palate.

I can’t wrap my head around the men and women whose allegiance to the US Constitution  Protect and Preserve has morphed into bowing down to a dangerously unbalanced man. Truth be told, the pale faces sitting silent in the U.S. Congress and state legislative bodies across America, have sucked up too many creamsicles.

ALL of them are suffering from brain freeze.

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That poison plant is gone from the White House

Californians traveling their Freeways whizz past decorated foliage thriving along road dividers. I still remember, when living in that state, how attractive it was to view these lovely green-rich shrubs of brilliant pink or red blossoms. Oleander (nerium oleander) is a native from the Mediterranean, brought to California because they thrive in environments where vehicle exhaust or drought conditions exist. But their leaves are extremely poisonous.

Oleander on Freeway
nerium oleander

While lounging in the White House, the former guy watched television, dismantled government programs or golfed on my tax dollars. He also lied every day, as if the poisonous leaves from oleander bushes destroyed any lingering common sense remaining in the brain cells of the lemmings who followed him. The former guy’s only success after four years was a legacy of destruction.

The January 6 assault on the Capitol threatened the end of Freedom in America. When I published Siege Against Democracy on February 17, I wrongly believed that there would be a Major Investigation as who-why-how the insurrection had happened. We came thisclose to flipping America into a dictatorship.

A faux “investigation” of the insurrection was just released by the Senate. My voice is hoarse from screaming at Senator Mitch McConnell when his announcement amounted to Nothing To See Here. Yeah, Mitch.

Tell that IN PERSON to the Capitol Police, Senate and House staff and essential workers who every day revisit the trauma they had experienced from that violence.

Now’s the time for us to burn up the phone lines to each of our state and federal elected people, a lot of them who believe that this is over, that we “… must move on.”

Nope. Not me.

Counting backwards to Jelly Beans

Doreen Stratton Photo

“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot but there are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting…”

–remarks by former President Barack Obama’s eulogy at the late Congressman     John Lewis’ funeral last July 2020

The Jim Crow tactic of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar was a popular voter suppression tactic even after the 15th Amendment allowed people of color to vote. Instead, jelly beans in a jar and other suppressive methods succeeded in denying people that look like me the Right to Vote.

In an October 30, 2020 article by Paducah KY Journalist Chris Yu of NBC Affiliate WPSD, he referenced an 1895 copy of a poll receipt provided to him from Brent Taylor, an Associate Professor of History at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The receipt–for $2.50–was the amount many Blacks were required to pay before they could vote at their polling place.

Registering to vote was yet another hurdle often denied Blacks. In the same article Yu interviewed a Washington, DC artist who shared the experience his father had endured in a 1940 Tuskeege, Alabama literacy test. The question the applicant must correctly answer: How many windows are there in the White House?

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature, as if not terrified enough of losing their seats by carving Legislative Districts that look like Rorschach tests, has proposed 14 separate bills designed to eliminate our Right to Vote.

Published on the Brennan Center for Justice website is a comprehensive report titled, “Voting Laws Roundup: February 2021”. Among the proposed assault on our Right to Vote, Pennsylvania’s list of 14 includes eliminating no excuse mail voting; eliminating permanent early voting lists; prohibiting ballot drop boxes; and the rejection of absentee ballots.

Dear Republicans Legislators in Harrisburg: How many jelly beans are in THIS jar? (HINT: 5″ tall; 3″ in diameter)

Doreen Stratton Photo

Difficult, right?

 

Siege Against Democracy

My high school class trip to Washington DC had bussed us around to historical landmarks, but it wasn’t until as an adult, when a return to the District presented me with the thrill of walking around these sights.

In December 1980 my cousin Lynda and I had packed our bags for a week-end getaway. We drove south on I-95, our destination Carrollton, Maryland which is just outside Washington, DC. We settled in the home of relatives Leon and Margie–hanging out, listening to music, gabbing incessantly, while sampling foodies washed down with our special beverages. This and other subsequent weekend getaways to Maryland often included spontaneous Midnight Drives around DC’s streets—empty and silent.

Leon was a DC police officer, and as our guide he was aware of the quickest routes through the city. Staring out the window from my back seat, whenever we passed government buildings, I sensed an energy in the air, as if the pulse of the Nation’s business of that day had hunkered together in anticipation of the next day’s challenge.

This midnight drive was a stop and walk  at the Lincoln and then the Jefferson monuments. Approaching them at night, there’s no comparison if a visit had happened during daylight. At night floodlights caress the monuments, radiating the historical command of these two former Presidents: Lincoln through his brooding face; Jefferson standing in that egotistic pose.

Between 1983 and 1987, traveling to the Capital had opened another sojourn. Then I was employed in the Congressional District Office of former Congressman Democrat Peter H. Kostmayer.  When the DC office became overwhelmed with a large volume of  tasks requiring quick results, we traveled to Washington and helped them in their efforts.

Anyone reading this who’d ever walked along the halls of the Congressional or Senate Office Buildings, or recognized names etched on plaques outside their offices, or took the elevator down to the tunnel and ate in the cafeteria, or peeked into a committee hearing room, or stood in the middle of Statuary Hall, or gazed up at the art in the Rotunda ceiling, would know that any of those experiences were unforgettable.

(Doreen Stratton Photo from the 2017  Women’s March)

The Capitol is our National Treasure;  and on January 6, 2021 our Government was violated by people consumed with ignorance and hate,  intent on destroying  Democracy.

Hypnotized in front of my television, I watched in horror when goons—encouraged by cult leader Trump–marched from the ellipse to the Capitol. A flood of bodies trampling across the grounds toward the Capitol. Surely, I thought these people would not dare climb the steps; that they would stop at the bottom and scream their rage, bluster and flag waving.

They charged up those steps as if shot from a cannon. They smashed glass and crawled through windows, then roamed the halls hunting for elected public servants to kill. It was horrible

They rampaged throughout the Capitol splashing their ignorant, ugly, crude, vile, racism everywhere.

Five people are dead and 140 or more are suffering from severe bodily injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

AMERICA’S NEW NORMAL

The siege on the Capitol brought an American New Normal. A 7-foot fence topped by concertina wire now surrounds the Capitol with National Guard troops patrol the outside perimeter while stationed inside the building.

A February 5, 2021 article in “The Hill” reported 42 GOP members had sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that the fencing come down. No decision has been made,

On February 13, 2021 the second Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, the Senate voted NOT GUILTY for his January 6, invitation to destroy Democracy.

With Trump’s latest *Get Out of Jail* card, the barbarians remain emboldened. Talks continue for an Independent Commission to Investigate the Siege on the Capital.

Make it happen.

A Stratton Christmas Open House

The pungent aroma of enamel paint recalls memories of Mom touching up the baseboards and sills throughout the house. It was a pre-holiday task—the first of many–she began soon after Thanksgiving, that culminated in our annual Christmas Eve open house when friends and relatives dropped in for season’s cheer.

As teenagers we attended Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; however, only my older siblings were “allowed to stay up” and mingle with family and friends who dropped by for holiday cheer. Awake upstairs in bed, my sister Judith and I listened as each doorbell chime welcomed more people gathering around the dining room table, nibbling Mom’s hors d’ oeuvres and sipping Daddy’s potent eggnog while carrying on multiple conversations.

One Christmas a Lionel Train set with transformer, tracks and cars was gifted from Frank and Lillian Ely, owners of a reputable women’s and men’s shop in Doylestown. They employed Daddy as a driver when required; and on weekdays Mom prepared their lunch and dinner. The Lionel train became a standard addition every Christmas, relegating the eggnog punch bowl, cups and goodies to the buffet server.

Too young for eggnog and other spirits, the chatter mixed with the Lionel train whizzing around the track, were the sounds drifting upstairs into our bedroom. The distinct voice of Uncle Sheridan—a Philly cop whose off-color jokes were better than any stand-up comedian—was commanding laughter from the adults collected around the dining room table.

Our patience gone, we’d creep down to the landing and look across the living room to the stockings tacked on the fireplace.

(Doreen Stratton Photo)

We’d holler, “Did Santa get here?”

“No!”, a chorus of adults hollered back from the dining room. “Go back to bed!”

It’s December 2020; this year there will only be three of us. We’ll continue our Stratton Christmas without an open house. Judith will again conjure Daddy’s eggnog recipe and bake dozens of fancy cookies. Decorations will adorn the mantle, shelves and the outdoor front entrance. But the chatter from friends or family will be absent, a silence throughout the rooms and walls of our home where our ancestors always celebrated the holidays.

The Covid-19 virus is the Evil Grinch who’s stolen Christmas from people we know and for hundreds upon thousands of others whom we do not. I’m an optimist praying America’s nightmare of struggle and agony and grief and sorrow and pain and loss will dissipate.

Please be safe this holiday season so all of us will be here next Christmas.

(Doreen Stratton Photo)

Grieving for Notorious RBG

(All photographs by Doreen Stratton)

This past Saturday night at least 400 citizens filled the entrance sidewalk of the Bucks County Administration building to grieve the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died on Friday September 18 after years of struggle against debilitating illnesses that for others, would have ended their lives sooner. She was truly Notorious.

Many could feel her presence.

The Welcome is offered by Marlene Pray, Director and Founder of Doylestown’s Rainbow Room

The Jewish ritual of leaving a stone at a deceased grave was explained. Many came forward to take a stone.

Rest In Peace Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Walking home after the gathering, when I passed the parking garage at Court and Broad Streets it brought memories of the Borough School that once stood on that ground. The building was destroyed by fire in February 1973. Constructed in 1889 with stone,  some of my ancestors attended the school in the early 1920s; and also where I had received the first six years of my education. It was also for many years the polling site for our precinct. I remember when still a child, my parents allowed me to tag along as they walked to the polls to cast their vote. Since then Voting has always been a part of my DNA.

Just as Education is Power, so is Voting. Listening to the young citizens that spoke at the RBG gathering gives me Hope. Like many of my age who’ve been active for progressive causes, our shoulders remain strong enough for this next generation to stand on. The last speaker spoke the message loud and clear: On November 3rd, EVERYBODY Must Vote.

When NPR reported  the death of Justice Ginsberg, they added that days before her death she had dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera. The Justice had said her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

The squatter in the White House is stealing our Democracy’s most present jewel: The Vote. As soon as your Vote By Mail ballot arrives, fill in all those little circles right away. When mine arrives, I’m filling it out and walking to my Court House and personally handing my ballot into the Board of Elections office.

If you’re voting in person: Just Do It!

 

Remembering 9/11

(This edited from a post first published on September 10, 2016)

(Doreen Stratton photo from Seward Johnson Center in Hamilton, NJ)

Everybody remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. Shortly after 8:30 on that morning I’m driving along the Doylestown Bypass for an appointment with my broker. While listening to the morning talk radio sports hosts joke about some athlete’s faux pas, suddenly one says, “Oh–we just got a bulletin that a plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.”

I ask myself, How does a “… plane … crash” into a World Trade Center building?

I’m in the conference room, a television newscaster’s words drift from the next office, confirming that two jets crashed into each of the World Trade Towers. Then the broker returns to the conference room and announces, “They just hit the Pentagon.”

The third attack is aborted over the skies of Somerset County in western Pennsylvania. This time the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 after learning the tragedies in New York and Washington DC, overpower the hijackers and the jet crashes on an empty field.

For the next few weeks like many other Americans I sit in front of my television, mesmerized by the images on the screen. People begin gathering at sites near the destroyed Towers posting pictures and messages for their lost loved ones. There are faces upon faces of photos of people who were in those two buildings and are now missing or possibly dead. Media coverage of interviews with relatives, friends or coworkers describe the lives of the missing–where they lived, who they married, their families and where they worked inside the Towers.

The number of Twin Tower deaths eventually reaches 2,606 with an additional 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority Police Officers, 23 Police Officers, and 2 Paramedics. All total, nearly 3,000 people died from the three airline hijackings; in the World Trade Towers; and inside the Pentagon. Since 9/11, a September 10, 2018 ABC News article reported deaths an additional 156 police officers and 182 firefighters.

The number of Bucks County residents killed on 9/11 are memorialized at The Garden of Remembrance, located at 1950 Woodside Road in Yardley where every September, a ceremony is held.

In September 2016 I posted a blog about 9/11 that featured two films connected to the World Trade Twin Towers:

  • Man on Wire. This 2008 documentary featured Phillippe Petit’s journey of his determination to become the only man that walked on a wire between the roofs of the two World Trade Towers.
  • The Walk. This 2015 docudrama with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Petit, retells the wire walker’s life when as a young street juggler in Paris he reads an article about construction of the two towers. From then he is determined to walk a wire from the roof of one building to the other. His dream came to fruition on August 7, 1974.

The history of the two Towers reaches back decades. The first tenants moved into the North Tower during December 1970. In September 1971, tenants began moving into the South Tower. A character in The Walk offhandedly described the towers as “two filing cabinets”; but after Petit’s unbelievable feat two of his friends tell him, “You have given The Towers Soul!” Another adds, “They’re different now, because you walked up there.”

There’ve been many films on our small and large screens with images of the Towers, either with the sun bouncing off the gleaming walls or lights peeking out from the night sky. Whenever the Towers briefly appear in films, the words spoken by the characters in The Walk are absolute:  They are truly “different”.

Just last week I caught a glimpse of the Towers on my television screen. And once more, it was like rediscovering two long-lost souls of September 11.

Always remembered.

Democracy on a Death Watch

It usta be . . . you could walk 3 blocks in any direction and a mailbox would be on the corner. . . OR

. . . your mail always arrived between 1 and 2 every day. Now it usually arrives between 4:30 and 6:00. Every day.

And then there’s that familiar question all of us utter:

. . . “Is the mail here yet?’”

This past Monday Democracy was on a Death Watch. There was USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tap-dancing around questions asked by members of the US House  Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Listening as DeJoy responded to questions with “I’m not aware” or “I don’t understand” or admitting he didn’t know the cost of a 3rd Class piece of mail caused me multiple screams at my television. He also admitted that mail boxes and mail sorter machines will not be returned to post offices.

DeJoy is yet another Trump Toadie who paid his way into the USPS position with his half a million dollars of donations to Trump and Republican office holders or candidates.

Oh… and his wife was appointed Ambassador to Canada.

Near the end of the hearing he reluctantly promised to “… improve service” across the country. I don’t believe him.

What is your Plan to Vote?

 Here is information I found on the Pennsylvania Democratic Party website:

The fact is that there’s little need to worry about mail-in voting if we all act early and decisively. The postal service does have the capacity to deliver PA ballots on time, and you can help your local mail carriers fulfill that mission by following these three steps.

STEP 1: REQUEST A BALLOT NOW.
Go to PADems.com/mail right now and sign up to receive a mail-in ballot.

In doing so, you’ll give both election officials and postal workers ample time to process your ballot, and you’ll leave weeks of time to receive and return it by November 3rd.

STEP 2: MARK IT IMMEDIATELY.
Every at-home voter should plan to mark and return their ballot the very same day they receive it.

If you request your ballot via PADems.com, they will send you text and email alerts so you are up to date on your ballot’s status and well prepared once it arrives.

STEP 3: RETURN IN PERSON, IF POSSIBLE.
You don’t have to mail your ballot back in. 
Starting September 14th, every Pennsylvanian can return is/her ballot in-person at their county’s Board of Elections office.

Some counties may also have drop boxes or satellite offices as additional drop off locations. PA Democrats is working closely with local officials to support those efforts and will keep voters up to date as new options become available in their area.

TWO MORE WAYS TO VOTE
Traditional mail-in voting is only one of the three ways Pennsylvanians can cast a ballot this fall.

Starting September 14th, Pennsylvanians may also vote early in-person at their county Board of Elections. Simply find your county elections office, request a mail ballot in person, and fill it out right then and there.

And, of course, you can vote in person on November 3rd if you feel safe in doing so. Just remember to wear your mask, mind your distance, and follow CDC/local guidelines!

QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS?
Please call PA Dems’ Voter Assistance Hotline at 833-728-6837 for live support. Our team of voter advocates is standing by to help you verify your status or make a plan to vote

Remember: You can help avoid a postal crunch and ensure every vote is counted by signing up early and having a plan. Request your mail-in ballot immediately at PADems.com/mail!

(Doreen Stratton photo)

 

SANKOFA

News of police stops of African Americans in their cars brought memories of incidents my father had experienced during the mid-1930s through the early 1960s. His band played a lot of gigs in Philadelphia. Every Saturday around 5 o’clock he would gather his sheet music and the case holding his saxophone, and drive into Philadelphia where they performed at different clubs. Coming home to Doylestown, at 3 or 4 in the morning, he would be pulled over on 611 just south of home. Always by the same cop.

And always with the same interrogation: The cop asked for his driver’s license and registration. Then he’d ask where was he coming from and where was he going. He responded politely with the same answers. After I and my five brothers and sisters reached our teens, my father would caution us about behaving properly out in public: “Be respectful and never draw attention to yourself”. We failed to understand why he told us to “behave”. We always behaved.

Years later when an adult, Daddy had shared with me the police interrogations. I tried to imagine what else, as a Black man driving those country roads and city streets at night had he been subjected to? No wonder he gave us “the talk”; he was probably terrified that something like that would happen to us.

We were raised in Doylestown which in the mid1950s was a sleepy community of just over 5,000 people. It was a time when my family was called “colored”. The term “Black” was still years away, as was the ethnic term “African American”. There were only eight “colored” families in the Borough. We jokingly described ourselves as Raisins in a Sea of Rice.

As siblings of color when we stepped out the door, we walked into a milieu where our lives interacted with a majority of white friends.

I’ve often wondered how my family’s life would have been different if we had grown up in either Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas or Virginia or elsewhere. But we grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where only on rare occasions the ugliness of racism reared its head. There’s only one time I can remember being called a “N****r”. As a 10-year old tomboy I picked a fight with a boy after he called me the “N Word”. I won the battle of our fisticuffs under the merry-go-round, surrounded by shouts of kids taking sides for me or him. I was banned from the playground for a week.

Since George Floyd’s murder the loudest voice for change is recognizing education’s failure to include 400 years of African American history and culture in our public schools.

The illustrations on my 1st Grade reading primer featured Dick and Jane, Spot the dog, Mother and Father, the mailman, the police officer and the fireman. I never gave much thought that this 1949 primer showed white faces on every page. Now the current introductory readers have progressed to reflect the faces of America’s diversity.

In my 5th Grade McGraw-Hill Geography text, the awareness of my skin color was reflected back at me from a page devoted to the African continent. The hand-drawn illustration remains embedded in my mind: An African child crouched in a hole with arms hugging his knees. Only the crown of his head is exposed. The African plain of tall grass in the distance is on fire and rages toward the boy in the hole.

The brief narrative accompanying the image explained that as the fire burned through the grass and reached the dugout protecting the boy, it singed his hair. The caption explained how Africans’ hair became “curly” as a result of the fire that raged across the African plain. My two sisters—one older and the other a year behind me, also remember that image.

During 1965 through 1975 I lived in California. Even at that time there was a diverse racial population. Often, I was asked, “What are you? Mexican? Philippine? Hawaiian? Native American? Who are you?”

This was the period of the Anti-War protests, Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement.

Not until 1999 after a journey to Ghana, a country on the West Coast of Africa, did I discover “Who” I was. When my feet touched this African country for the first time, the air embraced me with an aroma heavy with the psychic energies of Black and Brown civilizations. Three more times I would travel to Africa and each time the Motherland welcomed me with its pungent odor.

The frightened African boy hiding in a hole? Gone and replaced with my anxiety as I stepped carefully along a stone passage into the underbelly of a massive fortress built in 1653 by Swedish traders. Cape Coast Castle logged timber and mined gold before the lucrative trade of Africans, already a success in other fortresses constructed during the late 1500s.

Captured Africans were kept in a dungeon with stone walls that rose nearly 30 feet, with sunlight slipping in through one small window near the ceiling. The floor measured approximately half a basketball court. Standing near a wall, I listened as the guide described how hundreds of male Africans were crowded into this space before herded through a passageway onto the beach, then loaded on to a ship, bound for the New World.

I moved closer to the wall and ran the palm of my hand across the smooth blocks, wondering if the African DNA in me could’ve struggled for survival while cramped in this suffocating prison. I inched my fingers between two blocks and scraped granules of detritus into my hand, wrapped them in a tissue and brought them to America. They are more than what my ancestors carried when stolen from the Motherland.

It’s been 400 years since slave traders hauled human beings out of Africa. We survived the captors, the Middle Passage, bondage and the struggle for Freedom. Now is the time to sit across from one another and solve our differences.

There is a Ghanaian word spoken in the Twi dialect: Sankofa. It means “Go Back and Get It. The hen reaches back for the egg symbolizing that before knowing Who you are, you must first learn Where you came from.

Black Lives Matter

Black Dreams Matter

We grew up in a Doylestown household where the radio carried sounds of baseball games—especially after 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before we got our first television in the mid-50s, Daddy’s ear was always glued to the radio listening to Dodger games. Like many African-Americans at that time, a ‘Negro’ playing Major League Baseball was Big. After Willy Mays was signed by the NY Giants in 1951, Daddy’s baseball allegiance split between the Dodgers and the Giants.

My brother John was an exceptional pitcher for the Central Bucks High School Baseball Team. After graduating in 1958 he played semi-pro baseball in the Perkiomen Valley League, when scouts from the Phillies, Pirates, Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cardinals came to watch him pitch.

A few years ago John and one of his high school buddies sat in our living room reminiscing about the “old days”. I had joined them as we shared a bottle of wine. When the conversation turned to the tryout, there was a regretful tone in John’s voice. I realized there were parts of this story I had never known. I asked him to write it down for me.

It was 1959 when a letter arrived from the Pittsburgh Pirates inviting John to try out for their All-Rookie minor league team in Salem Virginia. Daddy was ecstatic. The scout sat in our living room and discussed the proposal with my father and John, recommending that John ask for $600 a month, a customary figure for new players.

Within a week Daddy drove John to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where he met another potential player also on his way to Virginia. Ray—an Italian-American–was an outfielder from Norristown who had played in the same league as my brother and recruited by the same scout as John. With tickets in hand both headed to Virginia dreaming of a professional baseball career.

They changed trains in Washington, DC for a local that would take them into Salem. A segregated train, the conductor must’ve thought John with his “tan’ skin was white, and the two took their seats. Some children about age 8 or 9 were running up and down the aisles when one of them stopped where Ray and John sat, looked at them and hollered, “We have a ghost on the train!” John got nervous because he suspected “ghost” was another word for “colored”.

It was morning when they arrived at the Salem depot to be met by two cab drivers: one White, the other Black. When the Black cabby, with John as his passenger drove over the railroad tracks and Ray’s cab drove in a different direction, John discovered his destination was a boarding house. Greeted by a middle-aged warm and friendly Black woman, she showed him to his room which he shared with another African-American. John was one of seven players of different ethnic backgrounds: Latino. South American or Black.

After a good meal the same Black cab driver returned and drove the players to the ballpark. At the park while the players changed into uniforms, John and Ray compared their temporary living conditions–Ray at his hotel and John his boarding house. Ray said, “This isn’t right.”

With Ray trotting to the outfield, John stayed on the sideline where he was instructed to “get warmed up” before taking the pitcher’s mound. It had only been a few hours earlier that same day when they had arrived in Salem. John had just begun warming up when a potbellied tall white coach walked over to him and said, “Let me see your fastball”.

He knew pitchers needed to break a sweat before going to the mound, and a couple throws wouldn’t bring on the juices, the strength and the intelligence that flow only after the body is primed and ready to pitch.

He gave his best effort but as an athlete he sensed everything was off. He thought, This is not good. After about ten pitches, the coach said, “OK that’s enough. Go in and shower and we’ll talk.” John hadn’t broken a sweat.

When he entered the locker room Ray was already there. “They sent me in here to get showered and I didn’t even get to swing the bat”. John was speechless because having pitched to him, he knew Ray was a Mother Fucker who could sail balls out of the park.

The manager came in the locker room and said to both of them, “At this time we can’t use you.” He then asked if they wanted to stay around to see the game. They answered “No”; then the manager assured them they’d receive travel money to get home. After they left the locker room, John saw a sign in a section of stands he’d not noticed earlier.

 

COLORED ONLY

He turned to Ray and said, “Man! Look at that!”

Ray said, “Let’s get outta here.”

John commented, “If we stayed to watch the game, we wouldn’t have sat together.”

Ray responded, “That’s why we’re leaving.”

John wondered if the South was also prejudice against Italians.

Back home in Doylestown he told my father, “Daddy, I wasn’t good enough.”

That really upset my father because from an early age he had supported John’s pitching skills, attending all his games into high school and his Semi-Pro competitions. Faithful watchers of the Dodgers on television, Daddy and John always made sure the rabbit ears were pointed in the direction of New York so they could watch Jackie, Roy, Duke, Carl and Pee Wee.

John could feel his father’s disappointment for a dream that was not to happen. John began to question his ability, whether he really was good enough for the pros. He even wondered if his height of 5’6” was a liability. He recalled a pitcher in the Perkiomen Valley League he had played against. The guy was 6’3” but couldn’t break glass with his fastball. Yet in 1958 during John’s first year in the Semi-Pro League, the Cincinnati Reds signed him for $15,000.

John returned to the Semi-pro League and had a real good year. Some of the scouts who had seen him before the trip to Virginia asked in bewilderment, “Why didn’t they keep you?”

His teammates and even players from opposing teams thought he got a bad deal. Some who were ex-minor league players expressed disbelief when learning the outcome of John’s tryout. They told John the Salem Pirates were made up of rookies who had no experience in organized baseball.

My father, angry about John’s rejection of his tryout, wrote a letter to Edgar Williams, a sports writer at Lansdale’s “North Penn Reporter”. Williams then wrote a column that ripped the Pirates’ treatment of how they handled the ‘Try Out’, accusing them of racism, suggesting they should have instead sent him to one of their minor league teams in the north. The reporter’s quote in his column: “Treating a fine young man in this manner was a disgrace and the Pirate organization should be ashamed of itself.

(Doreen Stratton photo)

Final Note:  In 2008 John was inducted into the Central Bucks High School/Central Bucks High School West Hall of Fame for his athletic achievements as a pitcher on the Baseball Team.