Recalling Sophisticated Lady from Charleston to Tuskegee at 92

I called my grandmother, Jane Draine (nee Jackson, Jones), yesterday. At 92, I could hear the surprise and delight that I had called her at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning.

At one point, she used a sentence of appreciation that I had called, signaling that she was wrapping up our call. In those few minutes, Grandmother told me about her health, had humored herself and me about the quality of food that institutions serve our elders and grandparents and remarked about her memory and my mobility. But, I wasn’t done talking since I had more questions for her. I had called to hear her voice as well as pose select questions to her. The mastery of asking questions is increasingly become a tool from the abyss of my soul where I forge history and family.

I asked her about the time and her and Grandfather Hooks’ decisions revolving around my father in the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. In 1960, my grandparents moved from Denver back to Tuskegee. I asked how much Emmett Till factored into her thoughts, heart and soul as she readied to move from integrated Colorado to Jim Crow Alabama. I have been reading about Emmett Louis Till in James H. Cone’s “The Cross and The Lynching Tree” (published by Orbis Books in 2011) this week. When Cone reminded me of Till’s barbaric mutilation and how his mother’s choice to “not let her baby die in vain” was an inflection point for Black America. As Cone says himself, and quotes John Lewis as saying, Emmett Till made them and countless other black boys realize “it could have been me.” It was 1955, when my father would have just turned 12 years old. It turns out that my dad and Emmett share the same birthday, Till born two years earlier.

In 1960, my dad would be 17 when his parents moved to Tuskegee. I read Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Sons” a month ago, which reminded me on the barbarism of lynching, schooled me on sharecropping, and illustrated how widespread the brutality pushing Blacks out of the South was. Wilkerson makes the case that the Great Migration of six million African Americans between 1910-1970 was one of the (if not the) greatest historical events of the 20th Century US. This was a tide that my grandparents went against as they returned in 1960.

As Grandmother recounted to me over the phone, she and Grandfather chose to send my dad to Charleston, West Virginia, during his senior year to live with Buddy and Grandad Jackson, his maternal grandparents. Grandmother mentioned how the people at the Tuskegee Institute advised them that the high school was not as good.

53 years later, I cannot know how much of it was the pull of better educational options in Charleston or the push of the possibility of lynching and Jim Crow reality. My father would have been young, black and on the verge of manhood. Perceived as a young adult, yet carrying the simple not-knowingness of childhood in a body that was getting bigger and stronger. He would have been coming into a culture, setting and interpersonal dynamics of Tuskegee far different from the Denver he knew as a youth and teenager.

I asked more questions, about decades earlier when Grandmother’s parents hosted Duke whenever he came to Charleston, WV. She said how they held “all of the social activities” whenever he was in town. I asked her if that meant any meals and down time that Duke and his band were not performing. Yes, she said.

Grandmother mentioned how he began writing “Sophisticated Lady” one time he was in their home. Duke first came when she was 7, 8 or 9 years old. She cannot remember when it was the last time she saw him (as he passed in May 1974), though it was in New York. Grandfather approached “Duke” to let him know that they were there and how Duke affectionately recalled “Janie” from Charleston.

I asked her if she was excited during his visits, which she seemed nonchalant about when he was there. Yet, Grandmother recalled how she attempted to learn some of Duke’s songs, including Sophisticated Lady, on a few instruments she had as a child.

All of this family, legacy and lore in a sweet sixteen minutes on a Sunday morning.

the other approach is justice

There are a couple of approaches to poverty. One is what you would call charity. Mother Teresa chose to pick the babies our of the gutter, to do direct service with God’s most vulnerable. The other is called justice. It has to be both-and. It can’t be either-or.

– Sister Florence Deacon, on pg 12 of the NYT Magazine, October 28, 2012. Sister Deacon is a part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

inexperience + ignorance + isolation = racism’s 3 I’s

Racism comes from the 3 Is: inexperience. ignorance. isolation.

“When you combine those three I’s, what you get is people who are incapable of participating in and contributing in an inclusive society. everytime that i turn around, it is one of those I’s that people’s behavior is so off-track.

“Wealth has isolated him. as a result of that, and his own volition, had no real experience with a diversity of folks. he proved that he is ignorant or untruthful. or it may be both.

“That is what has happened, and what has been a focus — diversity and inclusion — has been a focus of my career.”

Credit + Access, a Marley fable (aka access to credit)

There are two memorable moments (among oh-so many) in the 2012 documentary, Marley. The two that my mind/heart/soul has linked are from two very different phases of Bob Marley’s life and career. He certainly lived as a musician, but I was reminded how he was and is a spiritual figure and global icon for love, nonviolence, and freedom. Freedom of nations, of people, and of our souls. Now, for the two moments, which have to do with credit.

#1 — As Bob, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are first embarking as an independent three-man band in Kingston of the early 1960s, the documentary recounts the story, told by a distant cousin, of how Bob went to see some of his extended family asking for some support or a loan. The Wailers wanted/needed the capital to buy a car that they could use to independently distribute to clubs, and radio stations across Kingston. Yet, the white Marleys wanted nothing to do with this mulatto son of one of their deceased members. (note: I had not known that Bob had a white father, nevermind one who was so much older than his mother, until watching the movie) Despite their tremendous wealth and plenty of assets that would have made a car loan an insignificant amount, Bob was turned away from the Marley Construction Company empty-handed. The Wailers had to find other means to distribute their newly recorded singles.

#2 — Years later, Bob is cash rich. So much so, that when a Zimbabwean delegation visit him to ask him to perform at their independence concert and ceremony in 1980, Marley is keen. So eager to do so that he/the band cover all of the $80,000 in 1980 dollars (which is approximately $208,888 in 2010 dollars) to ship their instruments and sound equipment from Kingston to Harare.

The Zimbabwean delegation did not have the cash. But that did not stop the Wailers from being at a national liberation concert on the Mother Continent. It is ironic and tragic to see a much younger Robert Mugabe, circa 1980, proclaiming freedom, independence and democracy; how much can change in three decades.

The ensuing concert and historic occasion — of Zimbabwe’s independence and of a free Bob Marley and the Wailers concert for a newly independent nation, that is no longer colonized, and no longer Rhodesia — is also an instance of spiritual transcendence. At least, that is how it seems to me, witnessing history through the movie’s storytelling.

~~~~

The trajectory of Bob, who is one of the rare humans who is on a first name (or single names) basis with much of the globe (along with Madiba, Evita or Barack), was marked by his access to capital, and to the other means of production. Those means of production being land, labor and capital. The Wailers’ rise within Jamaica’s domestic music scene took longer because of the bottlenecks and constraints that a young, independent band faced.

Conversely, the people of Zimbabwe would not have had the enduring joy of Bob’s only live performance in 1980, had he been cash poor or debt-strapped.

I am inspired by the story of how even a global phenomenon such as the Wailers faced obstacles such as lacking a car, and the gasoline to distribute their music. The status quo had wanted to control the distribution, release and promotion of Kingston’s musical acts. Much like the 20th Century industry titans who want to impede the innovative people, ideas and companies that nurture the creative destruction today that will hasten the demise of the old ideas of yesteryear, and yester-century.

Ultimately, limited and constrained access to capital is a norm in our economy (and in capitalism). Too few lending dollars provided to small ventures and enterprising individuals. As a result, a bias towards that results in any loans considered being lent to the bigger entities who can either point to previous financial records or who already have the assets that serve as collateral. As a result, those with existing assets have the access to capital. Capital that makes it much easier to grow, or experiment on a new idea. Ideas that can be business or cultural and art ventures such as The Wailers.

Some may suggest that the status quo demands that musicians or entrepreneurs have to show grit, hustle and finesse needed to persevere. Yet, an uneven playing field means that the very subjective nature of lending is not done evenly. It is subjective because lending is, after all, one person making a subjective decision about another person. Instances where a new venture may not have the financial records to demonstrate the return, or safety of such an investment. The current set-up squashes dreams and aspirations when capital is so hard to come by. When the pools of who has access continue to be so dependent on the Old Boy Network.

Armchair Elder

I saw her seated to the far right of the third row. Who was this white-haired woman glaring at me as I strolled down the aisle. I asked to enter the third row, seated just next to this elderly woman, with my mind using a single verb to describe her as she glared at me. I took my seat on my Southwest flight home. I had a story coursing through my head howt his white woman was fixated on my brown skin. As it turned out, she happened to be a curious, storytelling, fellow traveler.

It began when she asked me how the buckle of her seat belt worked. I learned two further data points within minutes, which were this was an 85 year old woman who was on an airplane for the second time in her life. The previous flight was two weeks earlier when she’d flown to RDU from MDW. Meanwhile, I have been on planes regularly. My first flights began at age six (nearly three decades earlier than the octogenarian seated to my left). One of the few questions that she asked me was if my other airplane rides were bumpier than our shared springtime flight from North Carolina to Illinois. I told her that, yes, they could get bumpy.

We shared an armrest, and she shared countless stories. For the next 80 minutes, I had a history tutorial courtesy of Mrs. Marilois Anderson of Morocco, Indiana.

Marilois lives in a duplex. She was a nurse until age 60 in a tiny Indiana town across the stateline from Chicago. At four, her parents moved from southern Indiana to Morocco, as her father got work for the telephone company. Her mother worked for Ma Bell, too, working the switchboard from their home. One time, Marilois placed the mouthpiece in her mouth, getting an electric shock that made the line go dead. Her father had been to war, too. He was a medic and driver. My young mind was curious about which war it had been. It was one of oodles of questions that I can not know a definite answer to.

Mrs. Anderson’s maiden name is Carter. She married in her early 20s, and had three children – one of whom lived in North Carolina, the nudge she needed to get on an airplane in her mid-80s. I got a glimpse of memory, the mind’s work, and the moment-by-moment nature of life when I asked her husband’s name. In the long pausing presence, I noted that she was unable to recall the name of a partner who died six years ago. She pulled her wallet out for a second time out from one of her two handbags. Her eyes searched for an ID with his name on it. Not on the credit card, nothing on her Medicare card. Then she did find a membership card for the World War II Memorial. Her eyes scanned the colors and images, and I read the name aloud: Mrs. Milton Anderson. I had a great uncle named Milt, too. My uncle Milt had fought in some war decades before I was born. For the 20-some years of overlap, I heard few stories of his service and his life.

Thanks to history, my ancestors and their stories, there were so many reasons that made Marilois’ memories of Morocco so familiar to me. She even said to me how she wanted me to meet her son, Jack, when I come through Morocco.

Multiple times during our flight, Ms. Anderson said that the airplane felt like we were “just sitting here.” It was magic when she peered out from her window seat. She remarked at how incredible it was that we were flying at 30,000 feet. When the floor of the clouds opened, she said, “I can see something.” I got a glimpse of how curiosity and adventure can live on. Can live in us. In her bike rides, her love of the public library, where the librarians of Newton County let her borrow knowing that some day, Mrs. Anderson, won’t bring her two books back.

3 questions when exiting

Got this three-part advice in my inbox this morning — To ask these three questions:
1) Can you tell me what happened for you?
2) What could I have done differently?
3) What do you need to feel complete?

[source: Heart of Business, by Mark Silver]

This third one stumps me as I cannot fathom how to answer it in an exiting conversation. Though, I am keen to learn and experience it in the realm of interpersonal relations.

Primary sources, found freely online

An excerpt from 1970, found online today:

But many … have become disillusioned after a time by their experiences with liberation groups.  More often than not these groups never get beond [sic] the level of therapy sessions; rather than aiding the political development of [those involved] and building a revolutionary movement, they often enourage escape from political struggle.

All this in the second paragraph of an article titled, “What is the Revolutionary Potential of Women’s Liberation?” I removed the references to women and women’s movements and women’s rights to make the passage applicable to numerous oppressed populations. It is applicable to sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and xenophobia.

Therapy is critical. And this suggests that it alone is insufficient to sustain, or continue to nourish the souls and liberation of those involved. The clarity of mentioning political development and political education is a clear second step after one has taken the first stage of deep healing. In order to grapple with the inner injury, there has to be an external system to grapple with.

Politics is a use of power.

In my own experience, revolutionary groups with only the therapy stage lose those who have been a part of them once they have healed. When there is a lack of new engagement, new opportunities, new levels of discourse then the initial emphasis of “therapy sessions” is insufficient.

On the other hand, the on-going presence of the initial stage of healing and a second track can create a dynamism and interplay between the two tracks.

 

****

There are passages that demonstrate how significantly times have changed:

 

As well as what remains the same:

Many of the characteristics which one needs in order to become respected in the movement — like the ability to argue loud and fast and aggressively and to excell in the “I’m more revolutionary than you” style of debate — are traits which in our society consistently cultivates in men and discourages in women from childhood.  But these traits are neither inherently male nor universally human; rather, they are particularly appropriate to a brutally competitive capitalist society.

The authenticity fixation has reached its limit in certain circles, and is pervasive in others. It may be perishing, but it has a long, slow death.

***

Eleanor Holmes Norton describes the intersection crash of race + family, in the Black Women’s Manifesto, writing:

With black family life so clearly undermined in the American environment, blacks must remake the family unit, not imitate it. Indeed, this task is central to black liberation. The black male will not be returned to his historic strength – the foremost task of the black struggle today – if we do not recreate the strong family unit that was a part of our African heritage before it was dismembered by the slave-owning class in America. But it will be impossible to reconstruct the black family if its central characters are to be crepe paper copies acting out the old white family melodrama. In that failing production, the characters seem set upon a course precisely opposite to ours. White men in search of endless financial security have sold their spirits to that goal and begun a steady emasculation in which the fiscal needs of wife and family determine life’s values and goals. Their now ungrateful wives have begun to see the fraud of this way of life, even while eagerly devouring its fruits. Their even more ungrateful children are in bitter rejection of all that this sort of life signifies and produces. White family life in America today is less than a poor model for blacks. White family life is disintegrating at the moment when we must reforge the black family unit. The whole business of the white family – its softened men, its frustrated women, its angry children – is in a state of great mess.

Dukan sees where food + politics/Econ/society mix

Article in the UK Guardian about the Dukan Diet. Addresses obesity as culture, obesity as economic model, obesity as product of economic growth (and capitalism’s mktg + advertising)

“the economic model of the west is based on obesity” — food companies, pharma.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2012/jan/07/saturday-interview-pierre-dukan-diet

Later he says, “[US and UK] are addicted to sweetness.” differing cultures — on food, meals, flavors.

Later, “obesity … corresponds with economic growth. You can see it in China now. A lot of processed food with sugar, salt and fat combined with advertising and marketing. People don’t move so much.”