Just In Time

A Review of the film, “Loving”

loving-film-posterIn June 2011, joined by my two nieces, we traveled to  Caroline County, Virginia hoping to locate the grave of Great Grandmother, Ellen Allen. We learned that Ellen is buried in a cemetery in the small Virginia town of Milford.  We searched  several cemeteries, traveling many of the lazy roads where occasionally the landscape of fields and farms has rarely changed over the last hundred years. We failed to find her grave but vowed to return.

We knew little of Ellen’s life  except that she may have been an indentured slave. She bore two children–my grandmother Marissa and her brother, Uncle Willy. The birth of Ellen’s two children continue to be part of our family’s ancestral lore: Their strong Caucasian features verify that Ellen was probably impregnated by a white man.

Then a few months after our sojourn to Virginia, Caroline County came back into my life when in early 2012 HBO broadcast a documentary called “The Loving Story”. Directed by Nancy Buirski it would become the basis of a new film released in 2016 simply called “Loving” currently showing at the County Theater in Doylestown. By strong coincidence the couple in the documentary, Richard–a Caucasian and Mildred Loving–African American/Native American and Caucasian also lived in Caroline County. Caroline County has a significant population of this tri-racial mix.

This past Sunday December 4, there was a special showing of “Loving” at the County, followed by a Q&A with one of the actors in the film: Christopher Mann who plays the role of Theoliver Jeter, Mildred’s father. The film depicts Mildred Jeter and her marriage to Richard Loving in 1958. It brings to the screen a dramatic interpretation of their struggle that resulted in the June 27, 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning Virginia’s law that banned interracial marriage. The actor Ruth Negga slips into the soul of Mildred, bringing to the screen a quiet woman who shortly after their illegal marriage is briefly jailed, causing both of them to move to Washington, DC. It is the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1964 that opens the way for their legal challenge that ultimately reaches the Supreme  Court. Played by actor Joel Edgerton, Richard holds on to a tempered demeanor that never waivers as he sticks to Mildred like glue.

The Loving family

The Loving family

Mildred and Richard bore three children. The Life magazine photographer, Grey Villet (played by Michael Shannon). Villet visits the family and his photographs that ultimately appear in the magazine portray exceptional images of a family that is surviving even as their lives are cascading around them. Bernard S. Cohen, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the first on board the lawsuit later joined in the case by Philip J. Hirschkop. Don’t expect a lot of court room drama. This is a subdued interpretation of an event where I felt as if I was right there with the Lovings. Filmed in Caroline County, the scenes brought back memories to me of rolling through this part of Virginia where rustic clapboard houses are dotted among newly planted fields.

Chris Mann, who plays Theoliver Jeter, is a local actor whose home is Chester Pennsylvania.

Chris Mann

Chris Mann

His film history includes stints in The Wire, Michael Clayton and our own The North Star written and directed by Doylestownian Philip Thomas. When Mann was asked how he grasped the role of Theoliver Jeter–Mildred’s father–he spoke about his family that was originally from North Carolina where he often visited. This gave him a foundation to play that steady patriarch Theoliver. He shared that while on the set of “Loving” he often listened to a four-hour tape recording of his grandmother who described her life as a North Carolinian African-American. It helped him “… get into character.”

Another questioner asked him to offer his reflections on the timing of “Loving” considering the current divisive political climate. Mann was born in 1964 just as the Civil Rights movement was taking place but knew of its importance from what he heard growing up. “My focus was to play the father” adding that it should not be discounted that there is relevancy “… with the film’s release” at this time.

Both Lovings are dead but the legacy they left remains: In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled allowing same sex marriage.

“Loving” is scheduled at the County until this Thursday. It has hit the big screen Just In Time.

 

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A love song to America

"The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it ... History is literally present in all that we do."

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it … History is literally present in all that we do.”  James Baldwin — 8/2/1924 to 12/1/1987

It’s after 7 a.m. on Saturday May 23 when my sister Judith and I travel with my niece Leigh, from her home in Olney, Maryland. We are on our way to witness the celebratory opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), that documents my ancestors’ struggle to Freedom. The words of James Baldwin, one of our most prolific Black writers of the 20th Century are engraved inside the museum, capturing the essence of the African American experience. His words and those of other men and women Black writers are spoken by Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith during a poetry slam that thrilled everyone of us.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

David Adyaye of Ghanain-British heritage, is the 50 year-old architect and lead designer of the museum.

Three depictions of Yoruba crowns

Three depictions of Yoruba crowns

In an interview published in the September 26, 2016 edition of “The Last Magazine”, he describes his   concept ” … to express history that began with enslavement and moved, slowly towards freedom.” It was a Yoruba sculpture that embraced  his vision  of “… a two-tiered, crown-like structure … open to the sky, riddled with sunlight.”

Sketches of African Americans--male and female--whose Black lives once mattered, now gone.

Sketches of African Americans–male and female–whose Black lives once mattered, now gone.

It’s near 8:30 when we arrive in DC and walk the several blocks along 17th Street before entering into the public viewing area. Hawkers are setting up on the sidewalks to sell their wares of T-shirts, buttons, caps and even sketches of Black Lives lost, from Trayvon Martin to Terence Crutcher. Now inside the Mall’s expansive grounds we scope out a spot, plant our feet and for the next 4 hours don’t move until its over. The crowds of mostly African Americans also include Caucasians and Asians. Numerous people are wearing African garb while elsewhere Black Lives Matter T-shirts and logos from colleges and universities near and far cover the backs of others.

The FREEDOM SOUNDS program of music and poetry share the day with remarks from Smithsonian Museum representatives including founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III, Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis, prominent entertainers and former President George W. Bush who signed the legislation to build this museum. When President Obama reaches the podium everybody stands and shouts and cell phone cameras rise in the air. Lots of love is given to the most popular President in decades.

Our President. I will sure miss him. His remarks were a love song for Americans.

Our President. I will miss him. His remarks were a love song for America

“This is the place to understand how protest and love of country don’t merely coexist but inform each other…hopefully this museum can help us talk to each other … listen to each other … see each other. Black and White and Latino and Native American and Asian America.” from remarks by President Barack Obama

"... on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand feet ..."

“… on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand feet …” President Obama

In the belly of the museum, 70 feet below ground is the somber chronicle that begins in the 15th Century when Europeans invade the Motherland. Then the diaspora across the sea from Africa to countries around the globe. The Colonial America experience of the plantation with beatings and family separations are enhanced by a collection of valuable artifacts in displays of photographs, yellowed letters and shackles authenticating the treatment of human beings as if they were livestock.

As we journey upward through the different levels we see the rising of the African American: The Civil rights Act–the movement toward the push for equality. We are treated to the accomplishments of Blacks in the arts, entertainment, athletics, government and education.

John Carlos and Tommy Edwards on the medal stand at the 1964 Olympic Games

John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal stand at the 1964 Olympic Games

dsc_2908At its highest level, the vision of David Adyaye is realized. Light flows throughout rooms where paintings and sculptures by African American artists fill each of the galleries.

It is a powerful experience and I encourage every race, color or creed, the young and old, and the rich and poor to visit this museum. Timed entries to the museum are booked through January 2017 but there may still  be  some available open slots. Go to their website at NMAAHC.SI.EDU.

I’m returning next year for a second visit. One visit is not enough.

Much still lost

During the past two years I’ve spoken to audiences large and small about the painful journey my African ancestors began in 1619 when they were first snatched from the Motherland.  They survived the Atlantic crossing, slavery and flights to Freedom. With the passing of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, my ancestors were granted citizenship. Or so they believed.

Although the 13th Amendment granted “Freedom” many of my ancestors chose to stay in their cabins on the plantation. It offered shelter and the opportunity for them to seek extra income in nearby towns or villages. This decision often resulted in their arrest for “loitering” and then jail. Slavery was abolished but chain gangs were born. Plantations that “lost” their field labor were now able to get it back. For free.

250 years later the prison industrial complex as we now know it flourishes. According to the 2016 Pennsylvania League of Women Voters Criminal Justice Study, statistics of 2010 noted that 40% of the incarcerated in prison are African American–this while we are only 13% of the nation’s population. Not much has changed since then.

Now comes presidential nominee Donald Trump, pandering to my Brothers and Sisters to vote for him. He’s a huckster selling snake oil out of the back of a horse drawn wagon. “What have you got to lose?”, so he says.

You can’t lose what you’ve never completely gained.

Unarmed Black men continue to be targets for death by law enforcement. It’s obvious that Trump is clueless about the thousands of African Americans whose Right to Vote was denied or stolen: Redistricting, photo voter ID and limited polling sites are at the top of  crushing my people’s Right To Vote. And don’t get me started about the African Americans who were denied housing in Trump buildings in 1963 after the Civil Rights Law was passed.

Today one media outlet stated that polling now reported 30% of my people are planning to vote for him!

African American Museum, Washington DC

African American Museum, Washington DC

This weekend in Washington, DC the African American Museum will formally open. I will be there along with some of my relatives, who like me embrace our African ancestral roots.

To those 30% bamboozled by the lies spewing out of Trump’s mouth, I hope you will visit this building that embodies our pain, our struggles and our spirit.

Souls of September 11

Seward Johnson Center Hamilton, New Jersey

Seward Johnson Center Hamilton, New Jersey

In August, Starz Cable programmed two films about the World Trade Center that brought memories of where I was when the Towers were destroyed.

The 2008 documentary–Man on Wire–brought to the screen Phillippe Petit’s journey of his determination to walk on a wire between the roofs of the two World Trade Towers. The film received 45 awards, one being a 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

The second film was The Walk, a 2015 docudrama starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as Petit, retelling the wire walker’s life story that began when he was a young street juggler in Paris. After Petit reads an article in a French newspaper about construction of the two towers, he is determined to attach a wire between the roofs and walk from one building to the other. His dream came to fruition on August 7, 1974.

Shortly after 8:30 on the morning of September 11, I’m driving along the Doylestown Bypass for an appointment with my broker. I’m running late and amused while listening to the morning sports talk radio guys 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.”

Right then I’m asking myself, How does a “… plane … crash” into a World Trade Center building?

Now in the conference room surrounded by documents and with a television newscaster’s words drifting from the next office, it’s confirmed that two jets crashed into each of the World Trade Towers. The broker returns to the conference room and tells us, “They just hit the Pentagon.”

The third attack is aborted over the skies of Somerset County in western Pennsylvania . This time  passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 learn that something tragic has happened in New York City and Washington DC.  They overpower the hijackers and the jet drops and crashes onto a field, stopping a destruction that was aimed at our Heart of Democracy.

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.  Among that number are 18 Bucks County residents who are memorialized at The Garden of Remembrance, located at 1950 Woodside Road in Yardley. Their website announces this year’s annual ceremony to happen this Sunday, September 11.

Seward Johnson Center Hamilton, New jersey

Seward Johnson Center
Hamilton, New jersey

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. Once described as “two filing cabinets” said offhandedly by  a character  in The Walk, after Petit’s unbelievable feat two other characters tell him, “You have given The Towers Soul.” Another says, “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 at us 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 a few weeks ago I watched a Hollywood film that flashed the buildings’ images on my television screen. And once more, it was like discovering a photo of a long lost friend: The souls of September 11. Always remembered.

 

Additional thoughts on Naturalization Ceremonies

On Thursday July 29,  I attended my second Naturalization Ceremony, this time at Bucks County’s Historic Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. It’s apparent these ceremonies that bring new citizens in to America, are distinctively unique: Pennsbury’s was different from the one I attended last month in Lancaster County as posted on my July 14, 2016 blog: —The American Fabric.

I was looking forward to the Naturalization ceremony at Pennsbury Manor. Here there DSC_2789were rows of chairs lined between two majestic columns of towering Maple trees. With the Delaware River flowing lazily behind them and a back drop of William  Penn’s Manor in front of them, 46 candidates for citizenship from 21 countries filled the seats with their families or friends sitting next to them. All nations of many shades of skin from many different countries–just as I’d seen at my first Naturalization Ceremony–were prepared to become new citizens of America. Because I’d  traveled to Ghana, Egypt and Kenya I was drawn to candidates from that  Continent and decided to interview someone from the Motherland: Hassane Yarra.

DSC_2817Formerly from Mali, West Africa Hassane arrived in America in 1999. I was able to speak with him after the ceremony when Pennsbury re-enactors gathered around him, the tallest of all the candidates with his rich dark skin and corn rows sprouting from the crown of his head. Interviewing him was an opportunity to share with my followers another story of an immigrant who chose America as his Home.

After Hassane graduated from high school he entered college in 2012 on two scholarships–Soccer and  a second one for Track and Field. He is currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania for his Masters in Finance. Hassane described  how voting happens in his former country of Mali. A paper ballot, printed only with the name of the President requires the voter to place a YES or NO in the respective block. With election ‘officials’ watching the voter, “if an X is marked in the NO box that person may disappear and never be seen again.”

How fortunate are we!

Three Judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania presided over the Pennsbury Manor ceremony. They shared stories of their ancestors who arrived in America in the late 1800s and 1900s and each of them encouraged the new citizens to engage in the civic responsibilities of voting and serving on a jury.

 From left to right: Honorable Mitchell S. Goldberg; Honorable Cynthia M. Rufe; Linda A. Caracappa


From left to right: Honorable Mitchell S. Goldberg; Honorable Cynthia M. Rufe; Honorable  Linda A. Caracappa

If you are able to attend a future Naturalization Ceremony, do so. It will renew your respect and pride for America.

Hussane Yarra completing his Voters' Registration form

Hussane Yarra completing his Voters’ Registration form

The League of Women Voters of Bucks County had set up tables for the new citizens to fill out voter registration applications. Hassane was one of over two dozen new Americans who took the time to complete the application. Still others carried the forms home with them.

The last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Tuesday October 11. For more information contact the League of Women Voters, Bucks County at 215.230.9986. Every vote matters, especially in this Presidential election.

Vote in Every Election. Still matters, always matters.

The American Fabric

Citizen Esther Lemaiyan and Common Pleas Judge of Lancaster County Leslie Garby

Citizen Esther Lemaiyan with Lancaster County Common Pleas Judge Leslie Garby

On Friday June 17, 2016 I attended my first Naturalization ceremony inside the Lancaster County Court House. Along with my colleagues from the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP) we witnessed the naturalization of Esther Lemaiyan, a Maasai from Kenya, East Africa. Esther first traveled to America in 2003 while working for Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), the NGO in Kenya that partners with MCEP.

Joining us was Esther’s sister Mildred, who had arrived in Lancaster last year. Mildred has begun her naturalization path toward American citizenship and is currently attending Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) as she studies for her RN degree. We were seven people of nearly a hundred others who traveled to the Court House to witness the naturalization ceremony of family members or friends. Although we were on time, it was nearly an hour before we were able to enter the court room and be seated. We learned afterwards that this wait occurred because the documents of each candidate had to be verified before the ceremony could begin.

It is an impressive room we are in: a high ceiling with portraits of former judges displayed on all the walls. There was a center aisle separating the spectators from the 50 candidates for citizenship–people of varying shades of skin and ages from 26 previous countries. Lancaster County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Gorbey was seated at her bench; below her at the attorney tables were several staff from the Prothonotary Office. Standing at a dais facing us was RoseMarie S. Sallemi, Naturalization Officer from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office of Homeland Security. She welcomed everyone and described how the ceremony would proceed.

Asking the candidates to repeat after her, Judge Gorbey read The Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to United States of America. That was followed by everyone standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Taking our seats, we were privileged to hear the Judge’s remarks to our newest citizens. I can only describe her words as a lullaby singing praises of “…the promise of equality, opportunity, freedom of speech, and liberty”.  Sharing that she is the child of immigrants, she spoke of the Love of country and patriotism …”the feeling of pride … and the renewed appreciation of what this country means.”

The Judge  encouraged the new citizens to register and vote because “… this presidential election gives you a front row seat for some interesting times.”  She reminded them that “The United States is complex –it may be bigoted or shallow but opens its arms to allow you to express your ideas.”  The Judge added, “Don’t reject your heritage because it is part of you and enriches the rest of us to no end. You have traveled here from many lands for the Freedom to worship and to speak without the threat of imprisonment.”

Judge Gorbey’s message had sewn a powerful thread into the fabric of these 50 new Americans. Stepping down from the bench she, along with a representative from the Prothonotary Office presented the Naturalization Certificates to each of the new citizens.

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Mildred Timando takes a selfie with her sister, Esther Lemaiyan

In 2004 Esther attended the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as one of the representatives from SIMOO. With hope for a better future and being able to support her family back home, she thought of pursuing her education. She was hosted by Maasai friends in New Jersey and in 2005 enrolled at Mercer County Community College where she received an Associate’s Degree in International Studies.

In 2010 Esther settled in Lancaster, PA where she continued her studies, eventually receiving her LPN from Chester County Practical Nursing Program. She’s currently working towards her RN at Harrisburg Area Community College. She chose nursing because at age 11, her grandfather was suffering from a long illness. After 6 months he was diagnosed with throat cancer. “Over the months as he was battling the disease he had wonderful caregivers.”

Now with Mildred’s arrival, Esther said it was “the best thing that has happened to me. After ten years of being alone in America I have a family member with me.”

Congratulations, Esther.

 

The “Conversation”

On those occasions when African Americans described the horrific conditions of slavery in America, noises of refusal drowned and shouted, ‘Get Over It!’

How slavery began and became a part of America’s history should not be ignored; it’s part of the fabric of our Nation–including intolerance that often rears its ugly head against Black Americans.

In 1619 Europeans invaded Africa then shipped less than two dozen captive Africans to America — they were considered Indentured Slaves. After that shipment, history records that throughout the next two centuries, four million Africans were snatched from the Motherland and shipped to America. Squeezed like sardines in the belly of ships, my ancestors struggled to stay alive as they floundered amongst human waste and often the  dead. After a journey that usually took three-to-four months, when these ships reached America, the stench drifting from their vessels was so overwhelming that people on the shore could smell the odorous cargo a mile or more before the ship reached the landing dock.

“Black people are dirty and smelly and lazy”

Indentured no more, Africans were slaves–property–branded like livestock with a hot iron that identified the owner that became their ‘work horse’.

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 it was Freedom for slaves. No longer tied to their masters’ power many Free Blacks remained in their plantation cabins to begin a life to uplift their families. Yet there also were Free Black Men with no means to make money.  They wandered throughout their towns and villages, ultimately jailed for vagrancy. These Freed Black Men became chain gang prisoners laboring in the fields of their former masters.

Being Black in America is a challenge

Media reports of Blacks stopped by law enforcement only make the news whenever a killing is attached to that incident. No stats are kept, nor stats kept on the number of gun deaths in America. Hearing the stories of Black men getting stopped by police are incidents that’ve been happening for a long time. They’re no stranger to my family.

In the 40s and 50s my father was often pulled over by police. It was during this period when as the leader of his four-piece band he often played gigs in Philadelphia. That meant traveling north from the city taking Route 611  to Doylestown. It became a ‘given’ for him to be stopped a few miles just outside of town by the same policeman who always asked him for the same information:

Name? Driver’s license & registration? Where are you coming from? Where are you going?

One day Daddy sat us down–me, my two sisters and three brothers and we listened as he shared his Driving While Black Conversation:

“Behave yourselves . . .  Always. Don’t act or say anything that’ll cause trouble for you.”

The technology of camera phones is now capturing people behaving badly. It also has brought to light just how often police over-react with African Americans. Two recent incidents have now initiated a different Conversation:

On July 5, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Alton Sterling–age 37–died from a police officer’s revolver;

… and a day later on July 6, 2016 a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota caused the death of Philando Castile–age 32–also from a police officer’s revolver.

Then … On July 7, 2016 we witnessed the shooting deaths of five Dallas, Texas police officers by a racist Black man during a gathering of citizens seeking Peace.

These pieces of our history opens a beginning for a new Conversation about race relations in our Nation. I’m sensing empathy and understanding coming from our elected officials, the media and the public. I’m sensing that people of different colors will begin speaking TO each other instead of AT each other.

For hundreds of years Ignorance and Racism have been the promoters parterning Intolerance.

It’s Time for a New Conversation

We must peel away those layers of prejudice and scattered them in the wind, never to return again.

Black Lives DO Matter.

 

Chaos in our Classrooms

Back in the day, growing up in Doylestown and attending Central Bucks High School, our classrooms had a reputation of being sanctuaries for learning Civics: The three branches of government, the cabinet names and the importance of presidential elections. At each cycle of the presidential election, one of those now extinct-dependable lever voting machines was rolled into the lobby where  we experienced civic responsibility by voting for our choice.

While there has been recurring news coverage of physical and verbal confrontations between anti-Trump and pro-Trump supporters, our main stream media has failed to report on how this presidential election has affected students in our nation’s schools, from Kindergarten through 12th Grade.

Several days ago a special 16 page report from SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance landed in my mailbox. On the cover is an angry image of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, captured in one of his all too familiar moments with his mouth contorted into a mercurial circle.  I can almost hear the hurtful, divisive and racist statements spewing from his lips.

Cover of special report by 'Teaching Tolerance' on Presidential Primary Civics in the Classroom

Cover of SPLC special report
published by ‘Teaching Tolerance’

Compiled by Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen B. Costello, the report is an insightful  exmination of the impact of how the 2016 presidential campaign is affecting students in our nation’s schools. It summarizes the opinions from a survey completed by nearly 2,000 educators from across America. Their responses were  accompanied with over 5,000 comments. More information about this survey with the  questions asked is available online at splcenter.org/trump-effect.

In Costello’s Introduction, she writes how immigrant students or children of immigrants and Muslims “… expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.”  This national increase in uncivil political discourse and anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment has become a concern to teachers.

Most sadly, “… 40%” of teachers were hesitant to teach about the election. The report is then broken down into two categories: Impact on Students and Impact on Teaching. Various instances of teachers’ responses described how students were “terrified” that the outcome would change their lives.  Beyond immigrants and children of immigrants, these students included Muslims, African Americans and children of color. Although their ancestors arrived here as slaves before the American Revolution, African-American students were fearful that they would be deported back to Africa.

Here are two quotes from teachers lifted from Impact on Students:

My fifth-graders got in a fist fight on the playground yesterday … when one of the boys quoted Donald Trump.”

“… ‘dirty Mexican’ has become a common insult. Before… it was never heard.”

The other section, Impact on Teachers overflows with comments ranging from frustration to disappointment to hope to determined responsibility. Teachers are between a rock and a hard place as they tiptoe in the classrooms each time students voice their preferences for a presidential candidate. Many teachers expressed how pleased they were to see their students engaged in research and writing about the primary system and the candidates. Although some teachers have stayed neutral still others chose to stay completely away from this time honored Civics lesson. Even then one teacher wrote:

“I have thrown caution into the wind and have spoken out against certain candidates which I have NEVER done …but I feel it’s my duty to speak out against ignorance!”

Since the inception of SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance, its mission of promoting peace and diversity instead of bullying and racism was a classroom success.  A teacher in Edmonds, Washington commented that for his students this election ” … stands out for modeling the worst kind of behavior … I hope they don’t walk away thinking this is what politics is all about.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the chosen presumptive presidential nominees. I wonder… Just what conversations are  happening inside the homes where the youth of our next generation live? School will soon be out for the summer … What will happen on our playgrounds or at local swimming pools or on the fields of competition?

Teach Tolerance

Teach Tolerance

 

Letter from the Civil War

JB's stone

Memorial Day is here again.

Our family’s research includes ancestors who proudly wore military uniforms throughout our Nation’s history. In addition to cousins, uncles and siblings, we discovered a paternal Great Uncle who served in the Merchant Marines. There also was our Maternal Grandfather who served in the Navy during the Spanish American War, and his father who served with the U.S. Army in Texas during the Indian Wars. And finally–Joseph B. Stratton, our paternal Grandfather who served in the Civil War.

We family members always refer to my Grandfather by initials “JB”. Every year after the annual Memorial Day Ceremony inside Doylestown Cemetery I visit my Grandfather’s marker in the Veterans’ section where he rests. In 1864 – 1865, JB served in the Union Navy. I always make it my mission to stop at his marker, tap twice on the top and whisper my greeting: “Hi JB”. My father was less than 3 months old when JB died but when he spoke of my grandfather it planted a seed that ultimately encouraged us to search deep into our ancestral heritage.

JB was a Landsman on the USS Calypso, a vessel that roamed the southern east coast where their mission was to blockade supplies from reaching the Confederate army. Although JB’s marker denotes service on the USS Daylight, that was a brief final assignment before he ended his Naval service.

We’re gifted with an original letter written by JB to his sister on April 16, 1864 after the USS Calypso “… came near being lost while coming around Cape Hatteras the worst place on the coast of America …” . Neatly written line by line with few misspellings and near perfect grammar, his letter records a moment in our Nation’s Civil War history that includes his thoughts on being a Black Man fighting for ” … Father Abraham”. My sister Judith presents a lecture of our family’s genealogy that includes JB’s life as we’ve so far learned. Each time she reads the letter at these presentations, the attendees are carried 152 years into the past where one man’s words leap with a fragment from America’s Civil War Naval History:

Should Providence spare me I will settle down and let my bruised arms hang up as monuments of this holy Struggle for Freedom. … God blefs (sic) old Abe and Mrs. United States and the union …”

We’ve since learned through our research that JB also wrote letters dictated to him from his USS Calyso shipmates. Judith’s diligent goal is to discover other Americans who are descendants of relatives that served on the USS Calypso and may possess letters that match JB’s expressive style.

Some years ago VFW Post 175 of Doylestown received funds to replace the weathered JB Marker in Stratton gardenmarkers of local  men who died after serving in the Civil War. When we learned about this in an article from the paper we said, “Let’s get JB’s marker.” JB’s  marker was loaded onto Judith’s car and it now rests under the mature blue Spruce tree in our garden.

Joseph B. Stratton died on July 7, 1900 at age 68. His marker was the first local Civil War veteran to be laid in Doylestown Cemetery. My father Grayson Savoy, born May 21, 1900 was the last of JB’s eight children, all of whom went on to successful lives and careers.

Memorial Day. A time for reflection.

The Power of Voting

As Pennsylvania Primary Day approaches, this seems the perfect time to share a true story about how over a hundred years ago William King, a Presbyterian minister instilled the power of voting to freed slaves living in Canada. The story I share is one depicted in my Underground Railroad presentations–Out From Slavery.

Reverend William King

Rev. William King  1812- 1895

William King was a recent graduate from Scotland’s University of Glasgow when  in 1833, he along with his six siblings and parents sailed to America. The following year the Kings settled in Delta, Ohio.

In 1835 King accepted a teaching position in the south to children of slave owners where he met Mary Phare, the daughter of a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner. On their marriage four slaves accompanied Mary into their household. King witnessed first hand slavery’s  inhumane treatment, converting him into an  outspoken advocate against the system.

After the deaths of Mary and their two children, King returned to Scotland, completing his studies to become a Presbyterian minister. The church assigned him to Canada and after his arrival there in 1846 he learned of his father-in-law’s death that included the inheritance of 15 slaves. Traveling back to Louisiana he retrieved the slaves, granting them their freedom before journeying north to his family’s farm in Ohio. By that time the farm was a station on the Underground Railroad remaining that way until the end of the Civil War. From there King and the 15 freed slaves struck out for Canada. He was determined to establish a colony that would be safe for these freed slaves and other fugitive slaves that were now pouring over the border.

With the support of the Presbyterian Church Reverend King’s dream began to happen. Initially known as the Elgin Association–named after Governor General Lord Elgin–through an Act of the British Parliament the Elgin Settlement was formed in 1850. Located in the Canadian town of Buxton, Ontario this was just one community of a few that became havens for fugitive slaves crossing into Canada.

One of the Elgin Settlement’s founders was a Member of the British House of Commons–Thomas Powell Buxton–an abolitionist who supported the settlement and whose name was given to this community that included whites and free Blacks. These newest Canadian citizens became farmers, shop owners and created a self-sufficient community that thrives today with descendants of the original fugitive slaves.

Fergus M. Bordewich’s Underground Railroad book, Bound for Canaan includes a section about the Elgin Settlement. Bordewich describes how in 1857, when a racist Parliamentarian, Edwin Larwill, in his bid for re-election was determined to remove the freed Blacks from Canada, Reverend King “… organized the registration of hundreds of new Black voters.” As citizens in Canada, it was the former slaves first time to vote. They overwhelmingly succeeded in replacing Larwill with an abolitionist candidate.

When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion  —  Ethiopian proverb

School children of the Elgin Settlement c. 1900s

School children of the Elgin Settlement c. 1900s

Beginning in the 1700s Blacks fled slavery in search of Freedom. The Jim Crow laws supposedly banished with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The discrimination against people of color is like abnormal DNA embedded in the memory of each consecutive generation of racists. Jim  Crow laws are gone but have been replaced with either Voter Photo IDs, manipulated voting districts, closed polling sites or reduced opportunities to cast a ballot of choice.

On Tuesday April  26 thousands of first-time registered voters in Pennsylvania and a few other states will march to the polls. Joining them are disgruntled registered voters who’ve been staying away instead of exercising their rightful privilege. These dillydallying voters explained their absence with the excuse: “My vote won’t make a difference.” Among these procrastinated registered voters are 60 to 80 percent who rarely showed up for their local or regional elections. Now they’re back, energized by a contentious presidential campaign yet failing to grasp how their past absences from voting has created the frenzy currently raging throughout America.

Voting Matters. Always did, always will. Every time.