Peaches

 

The cardboard box is marked “Southern Peaches” and made to hold ten ripening peaches.  Now empty of  its delicious fruit, it sits on the floor below a side table holding whichever of our five cats gets in it to sleep, a purpose for which it was not intended, but our cats do not know that, nor did any of them savor the sweetness of its contents.

I waited. Each morning I surveyed the ten in the bowl where Mary Ann my wife had placed them. My patience weakened as the peaches turned redder and softer. After a few days my wait ended, and I removed one from its resting place. I washed it and carried it to the round oak breakfast table in a paper towel. Setting it on the table, style down, I removed the peduncle and using my thumbs opened it to reveal a seed coat surrounded by pink mesocarp overflowing with sweet juice. The seed and its coat came out easily, and I  took my first summer’s taste of a South Carolina  peach. Only a peach, with its juice flowing between my fingers and onto the paper towel, it stirred memory.

We lived poor but for our mother. The little, green house where our mother reared my five siblings and me had an outhouse at the end of its long, sloping yard. It was a bare house. Mother’s wage hemming washcloths in the local cotton mill was not enough for many things, but she persevered, and we learned in her shadow.

By the time I began to eat the second half of that sweet peach, I was hearing mother’s voice over sixty years ago as she would almost sing to her six, young children, “Just wait, the South Carolina peaches will be here soon. We’ll get some.” She then would explain how she had arranged for a coworker in the mill to bring us a bushel basket of fresh peaches.  Then for days on end she would tell us to be patient, that soon the peaches would  arrive. And they did, almost like the manna from heaven. Finishing the second half of the peach, I sorrowfully wiped the juice from my hands and threw the seed away. Washing my hands, I thought of my mother’s struggle in rearing us six. No car. Living away from town. Low wages. A divorced woman during the 1950’s in a southern town. Religious. Aware.

Finished, I sat quietly and tried to image, once again,  my mother’s life. But that, as I had discovered numerous times before, was not possible. Her struggles and accomplishments were above me, but some things, like the soon-to-arrive peaches, I finally came to understand in my adult years, or least I thought I had. You  see, our mother knew the bareness of our life, but she gave us hope every chance she could. And she taught us to anticipate the good from life. South Carolina peaches were one way that she had to give us something special, and she did. Somehow.

Truth or Myth in History

Cult of Glory, The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

Doug J. Swanson

Viking, 410 pages, 2020

Penguinrandomhouse.com

$28.00

 

 

America still struggles with slavery and its legacy. We furiously argue the presence of statues on public grounds that celebrate slavery’s defenders. Even statues of slave owing Founding Fathers are under attack, as well as other monuments that glorify past leaders who do not fit today’s cultural or political standards. For example, when the removal of the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park is mentioned, the cry of re-writing history or destroying heritage rears its voice. However, is the removal from public lands of such statues a re-writing of history or instead a re-examination of the integrity involved when such a tribute is placed on public land? Is it possible that, by removing such statues, we are not re-writing history but being more honest about the person receiving such homage?

Washington National Airport, through the work of certain members of Congress, was renamed in 1998 to honor Ronald Reagan who mass fired 11,000 workers in order to break an air traffic controllers’ strike. How ironic that a man who fired so many workers was honored by his name being added to Washington National Airport. Although airport workers, citizen groups, and others objected (as did I), the honoring of Reagan was accomplished. For me, I imagine that I would have felt the same betrayal to values had I been present at the unveiling of a southern traitor’s statue to glorify the lost cause.  Our obsession with naming to honor is a strange and sometimes dishonest business.

As a boy during the 1950’s in North Carolina, I longed to grow up and fight  a just cause like John Wayne, Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood, and other heroes. Each week I watched on television as the Lone Ranger and Tonto served justice. No other role could match that of being a fighter saving settlers from Comanches, rustlers, and vicious outlaws. I grew believing that the Texas Rangers were everything America stood for.  I believed the myth, just as others have embraced the myth of “heritage not hate.”

But I was not alone in believing the Texas Ranger myth. In 1961 the famed Texas Ranger statue that bears the inscription, “One Riot-One Ranger”, was unveiled at Dallas’ Love Field. Sergeant E.J. “Jay” Banks served as the model of  the statue honoring the Texas Rangers. The inscription was from a comment made to assure a local official that only one ranger was needed to quell a riot. Banks’ reputation and myth grew out of a riot at Rusk State Hospital in April of 1955 when some eighty inmates seized control of their unit housing the criminally insane. Described as “crazed negroes” by a reporter, the group captured three workers and was led by a muscular Ben Riley. The unit was one of filth, strong antipsychotic drug use for controlling inmates, electronic shock treatments, and some frontal lobotomies. One investigator wrote that the men “would just sit like cigar-store Indians.” The riot drew attention and Banks walked in to negotiate with Riley who was convinced that he  would be given a fair hearing and to surrender. He did. But Riley’s fair hearing was constant solitary confinement, strong antipsychotic drugs, and regular electronic shocks. Banks emerged wrapped in a mythical robe that he would wear later in other riots.

When the NAACP tried to integrate Mansfield High School, Governor Shivers sent in Ranger Banks, who was instructed to arrest any black student who tried to enter Mansfield High School. Banks positioned himself outside the school where a effigy hung from over the main entrance. Banks and his co-Ranger, Captain Crowder did not remove the effigy, nor did they arrest any white protestors. However, Banks did notice a man distributing “pro-integration literature.” Banks saw the flyers as “inflammatory literature” and after seizing all of it, literally booted the man from the area. When the Reverend  D.W. Clark spoke to the white mob and its members began shouting at Clark, Banks saw Clark as “inciting the anger of the crowd when he attempted to preach to them, criticizing their actions.” Instead of dealing with the angry mob, Banks took Clark by the arm and suggested that he go home, leaving the disturbance to the experts. A Ranger. A well published news photograph of Banks during the Mansfield High School failed integration shows him leaning against a tree, foot propped against it, Stetson pushed back on his head, and the effigy hanging above the school’s entrance in the background. Banks did even more to protect the white mobs when in September 1956 two black students arrived to integrate Texarkana Junior College. When the angry, white mob physically attacked her male counterpart, Jessalyn Gray pleaded to Banks, the ranking law enforcement officer on duty,  for protection. Not only did he refuse to protect her, he threatened to arrest her if she tired to enroll. The Rangers, according to Banks, were there to maintain order, and her integrating the college would cause civil unrest.

The history of  the Texas Rangers is one of violence, often against innocent Mexicans, settlers, or anyone who a Ranger saw as not a true Texan. There is no shortage of vengeful acts by Rangers, sometimes against peaceful persons, such as the massacre at Porvenir in 1918. Any Mexican who roused suspicion was in grave danger because as Ranger C.B. Hudspeth said, “You have to kill these Mexicans when you find them, or they will kill you.” Hudspeth County, Texas honors such a Ranger by its name. Swanson’s finely researched and documented book shows how we can get caught up with emotion that overrides our senses.

Naming is a fine way to honor any person. It is  done worldwide. However, it seems to me that America has named too much to honor too little. We have holidays, streets, parks, towns, and more named to honor. Okay, fine. But let us be certain that the person being so honored, while not perfect, fills most of the space that defines extraordinary, heroic, or heads above all of us. Let’s be certain that we honor out of fact not myth.

Views of the Pandemic

 

“This is America. Ain’t no stupid virus gonna’ shut us down.”

Our local TV station ran a story about an owner of an open market in Lincolnton, NC who was cited for violations of Governor Cooper’s recent mandate requiring the wearing of masks. Part of the story was a brief interview of a woman standing in the parking lot of the market as she spoke the above quoted words to the reporter.

This pandemic has elicited many reactions from citizens around the world. Fear, anger, denial, distrust of leaders regarding the pandemic, and other opinions have been expressed by actions or words. One man selling vegetables in an open market of  Mexico City responded to a reporter’s question about his precautions concerning COVID-19, “Fear is better than hunger.”

As George Orwell wrote, our  words reveal our thinking, and both of  these quotations tell us how each speaker see her and his situation. The vendor in Mexico City states a sad truth for him-he must fear the virus in order to feed his family. He does not make that choice but is forced by his economic circumstances to work selling vegetables in an open-air market. He can only hope that he does not contact the COVID-19. His fear of suffering a possible death from suffocation is less than his fear of his family not eating. A choice? Yes, but one no person should be forced to make, but one that many people across the  globe must make, even in America.

The woman in Lincolnton offers a view full of arrogance based on ignorance-ignorance concerning COVID-19, her country, and what it means to be an American. She, like too many Americas, has made the virus a a political issue. She has done what Jon Meachum feared many would do, she has made the virus a  red/blue issue. She sees it as a political ruse that “her” government can easily conquer. Hers is a statement of denial of the virus’ danger, its sweeping presence, and how America needs to combat it. Her statement shows that she has little, if any, understanding of American history. If she knew of George Washington’s mandates made to keep smallpox from infecting his soldiers during the Revolutionary War, she would not stand in a public place without  wearing a  mask as mandated by Governor Cooper. If she  knew this and more of American history, she would be helping combat this deadly virus by following mandates aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19  and not showing a willful ignorance of our history like Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell demonstrated when he wrote,  “As your Sheriff, it is not only my duty to enforce the laws enacted by our legislature, but to also protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. I firmly believe that the order mandating face coverings is not only unconstitutional but unenforceable. In closing, to be perfectly clear, we have no intention of enforcing this order.” Campbell, too, has made the virus  a red/blue issue by thinking mandates made in the interest of public safety are a Constitutional issue. Sheriff, mandates are made for your safety and that of others, and to say the mask mandate is unenforceable is like saying, since not all speeders can be ticketed, why bother with any enforcement of speeding.

The Mexican vendor does not, sadly, have a choice. He must earn a living and support his family. He has no network to rely on, so his fear of the virus is less than the ache of hunger. He and his family may “dodge” the virus, but hunger is a certainty for them unless he sells vegetables.

The Lincolnton woman is correct one way, this is America and we have our wealth, history, Constitution, and leaders. We have riches, resources, means. Yes,  unlike the Mexican vendor we do  not have to learn to live with the virus as the White House will soon tell us to do. We know how to help control COVID-19, but to do so we must become purple and see the battle as an opportunity to defeat a deadly enemy. Our mis-guided interpretations of America and her Constitution will not help us win this battle, but our combined wills will.

 

 

Hearing and Learning

In April of 1963 as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. languished in the Birmingham jail, eight local clergymen published a letter in local newspapers in which they denounced Dr. King as “an outside agitator”, and they ended their appeal with these words: “We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.” Their advertisement prompted Dr. King to pen his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” in which he explained why waiting for racial justice any longer was not an option.

 

In 2006 and ’07, Joe Bageant, a resident of Winchester, wrote Deer Hunting with Jesus. Several  years ago when a good friend loaned me his copy, he said, “If you want to understand many people of the Shenandoah Valley, read this book.” I did, and I have just finished my second reading of this fine examination of class in America.

Bageant, who is deceased, returned to his native Winchester, Virginia in 1999 after a thirty-year absence. He moved to the North End where he had grown up, and he found it as it was in his youth–”the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the $20,000-a-year laborer and the $14,000-a-year fast-food worker.”  He continues, “It didn’t take too many visits to the old neighborhood tavern or to the shabby church I attended as a child to discover that here in this neighborhood in the richest nation on earth folks are having a hard go of it. And it is getting harder.” With that, he began listening to what he referred to as “my people”, and they trusted him to tell their stories with empathy, not pity, and brutally honest as when he writes, “…my people are a little seedier than most;…” He quickly sees that the preferred avenues of escape for his people are alcohol, Jesus, or overeating.

Writing before “the crash” of 2008, Bageant sends a warning as he writes about American Serfs, Republicans by Default, The Deep-Fried, Double-Wide -Lifestyle, and more. He goes to the guts of the working class of the North End where two in five of residents have no high school diploma. He writes of his childhood friend who carries seven credit cards in order to “build up my credit” so that he can buy a double-wide trailer that will decrease in value before he parks it on a rented lot. He writes of “Dottie”, his favorite karaoke singer who lives in Romney, West Virginia. Disabled, Dot lives on her Social Security Disability Insurance, uses an oxygen tank and wheelchair, and is forceful in the way she deals with her doctors. She tells Bageant, “I learned that damned towel-head doctor of mine has only four years of college someplace in South America.” Bageant goes on to explain, “No doubt you [the reader] are wincing at the racist term towelhead.  But people do talk that way, and if we use it as an excuse not to listen, we rule out listening to half of America.”

For me, those words about Dot’s vocabulary are the message of Deer Hunting with Jesus, which is sub-titled, Dispatches from America’s Class Wars. He is telling us, long before Trump and his evil appeared, that there is an entire class of people who are poorly educated, poorly prepared with soft skills, have poor health, possess no or little health insurance, and have children which will continue the cycle of their lives.  Bageant pulls no punches in faulting political leaders locally and nationally,  mortgage companies, our health care system, and others for the condition of “my people.” But, most of all he blames their poor education for their plight. Having escaped the North End, he attended college, fought in Vietnam, traveled, and wrote before returning home. He knows the value of education and knows that a good one will give “his people” a door to walk through.

But Bageant could have been writing of the eight clergymen of Birmingham that I quoted above. We still have people like them who want to proceed slowly in any cause, especially in the area of racial equality . We still have subtle and overt racist.  We still have Dots. Right here among us we have extremes, and it seems to me that we must find a way to hear what is being said from those extremes.

Bageant sees the lack of  education as the biggest obstacle for “his people.” But, the clergymen from  1963, by their plea, show a lack of education concerning what Dr. King was trying to achieve. If they had had a better education concerning the plight of blacks in the Jim Crow South, they would not have written their pathetic letter. If they had had an education on this topic, they would have developed understanding and empathy. Yet they, like Dot, are voices that need to be heard because they tell us what we need to change. We cannot use their language as an excuse to not listen to them.

On the surface we are an educated society. We have degrees. Yet, too often we refuse to educate ourselves regarding topics or issues we find uncomfortable. I often think of Robert Kennedy who in May, 1963 asked James Baldwin to organize a meeting at his New York City apartment with black and white activists.  The meeting lasted about two hours as the invited guests attempted to explain to Kennedy the plight of blacks and other disenfranchised people. The meeting did not go well, but Kennedy had heard some things because he soon became a champion for all disenfranchised Americans. He got himself an education concerning racial inequalities in America, and he began working  for change. But he first had to sit in that meeting, hearing words that undoubtedly made him uncomfortable.

Like Kennedy, we must listen to each other—the plodders, activists, the uneducated, the educated-all must be heard. In doing so we will work to create a country of purple by blending our red and blue. If we refuse to, we will have a divided house and lose it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Niner Logo

 

 

Today’s local Charlotte paper carries a front-page article of its sports section announcing,  “rebranding goes deeper than new logo.” Above the fold are nine photographs showing the new logos for the University of  North Carolina at Charlotte, the 49ers. One of the illustrations is of the new logo on a basketball court, one shows a Niners logo, three show men’s basketball tops, the other four are football related. The article points out that the most visible athletic programs, football and men’s basketball, “had resurgent seasons” in 2019. Athletic director Mike Hill says, “The whole concept, the whole design is to evoke an image of strength and boldness. That we’re embracing momentum.” The momentum Hill refers to is the first ever bowl appearance of the 2019 football team and the men’s basketball record of 16-13, the program’s first winning season since 2013-14.

UNCC plays eighteen sports in D-1’s Conference USA Sports: Basketball, Soccer, Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Track & Field, Cross Country, Softball, Volleyball, and Football. While only two of those sports warranted being discussed in the article,  women’s basketball coach Cara Consuegra garners a brief quotation. But no female uniforms were illustrated.

This entire announcement seeps with elitism, but like many elitists it is suspect. For instance, it is true that the football team played in its first bowl game, but it was the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl game that was played in a 15,000-seat soccer stadium in Nassau, Bahamas. Charlotte played Buffalo, both with 7-5 records. And the other program that, according to Hill, had a “resurgent season, was 16-13. How does an honest winning season carry13 loss?

In the midst of this pandemic, UNCC, a state funded college, unrolls this offensive announcement. And it is an awful one that glorifies two sports and ignores the others because they are not “resurgent.” Hill says the new logo will resonate with student-athletes and all future students “so that our university and athletics program is seen as an exciting choice for them.”  Maybe? As long as they are only interested in supporting two sports.

 

 

Dream City Dreams

 

At the peak of Dream City Church’s roof sits a gleaming cross, that symbol of Christianity. The mission statement of Dream City Church is: “At Dream City Church, our mission is to lead people into a fully-devoted relationship with Jesus Christ by loving people, cultivating community, and inspiring hope.” On June 12, 2020 the church released this statement:  “Dream City Church confirms it will be renting its facilities to Turning Point Action for their Phoenix event. Turning Point Action contacted Dream City regarding use of its facilities for a student event. Dream City prayerfully considered and then agreed. Turning Point Action subsequently informed Dream City that the President planned to speak at the event. Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters. Each facility rental is a means to generate funds so that Dream City may continue to carry out its outreach vision – to reach the hurting and needy in the community for Jesus Christ.”

Both the Dream City Church’s mission statement and cross on its roof are symbols unless supported by action. The cross is an empty symbol when left on a roof or steeple or when worn around a neck. Until it is brought to the midst of humanity and used for good, it remains an empty symbol. The same applies to the quoted mission statement professing love, cultivation, and inspiration. All three of those words are useless when used as nouns and in order to do the work of Jesus, they must become verbs. Action is required.

In its statement explaining the rental to Turning Point Action, the church states that it “prayerfully considered” before agreeing to rent its space to TPA. Only after agreeing was the church told President Trump would be speaking at the event. But the church only rents its space to generate funds to carry out its outreach vision.

All of this may cause Christians to believe that Dream City Church will “prayerfully consider” any request to rent its space because the generated funds will help it in its mission of loving, cultivating, and inspiring. And we are assured that “Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters” which is good because the TPA crowd and its main speaker roiled the sanctuary with racist chants.

I have gone online to the church’s website but have yet, on the afternoon following the event, to see a  posted apology for what occurred in its sanctuary.  Until I do, I will believe that Dream City Church is pleased with its thirty pieces of silver and the rants full of hate. And the dream that that hate engenders.

 

 

 

“What’s In a Name?”

 

 

Often whenever the topic of memorials to the Confederacy is being discussed, “heritage”  will be used as the reason not to move a statue or to rename a building or institution. Also, the defenders will charge that some people are trying to “re-write history.”

Heritage is anyone’s choice. If a person chooses to identify with a person who studied at West Point and then used those skills to try and defeat the very county that had educated him in the art of war, that is his or her choice. The same freedom applies to identifying with an ancestor who owned people and used them as laborers to build family empires.

Defenders of the Confederacy also say that the men who fought against America are part of our history and that cannot be re-written. That is correct, but “history” was re-written long ago when the statues and other memorial were erected. In order to get them erected, the very history of the “deserving warrior” had to be re-written because the truth would have prevented them from being honored. For example, let’s look at Fort Bragg in southeastern North Carolina.

In 1918 during WWI, General William J. Snow sought an area suitable for field artillery training. The vast area he found had good terrain, water, rail, and climate for what he, the Chief of Field Artillery, needed. Thus, on September 4, 1918 Camp Bragg was named for Braxton Bragg, native of Warrenton, North Carolina and hero for his actions during the Mexican-American War.

Bragg, number five of fifty cadets in his West Point class, joined the command of General Zachary Taylor in Texas. When war with Mexico erupted one year later, Bragg served with distinction at the Battles of Fort Brown, Monterey, and Buena Vista. During the latter battle, in 1847, Santa Anna launched a ferocious charge on a wing of Taylor’s army. He positioned Bragg’s artillery battery to defend the U.S. Army and told his to hold the position at all costs. The Mexican charge was furious, but Bragg’s unit held, and the battle won. Bragg became an American hero, resigned his commission, married a wealthy widow who owned a large sugar cane plantation in Louisiana where he lived until Fort Sumter changed his life. He joined the CSA and, unlike his previous war experience, became a despised and pitiful leader of the western theatre during the Civil War.

But in 1918, when General Snow and the U.S. Army were trying to build support for the “war to end all wars”, naming the new artillery camp after an artillery officer born in the same state seemed okay. But General Snow and the Army forgot to view all of Bragg’s history and to grasp his utter failures in the revolt against the United States. Whether by ignorance or willingness, Bragg’s history as a slave owner and poor military leader during the War of Treason was ignored. It has been suggested that the naming of Camp Bragg was seen as a way of mending feelings between the South and the North. If so, it did not work.

I have visited many Civil War battlefields and appreciate the  preservation of history they conduct. More than once I  have stood below the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg and tried to imagine preparing to run across the mile of open country, sprinting to get to The Angle amidst the smoke, dust, and cries of pain from friends. This spot and so many others of battles should be walked and reverently studied because they are a part of our history, but a history that needs to be accurately told. Standing under the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg will help you understand the folly of Lee’s order. In my view, battlefields are the place for monuments and their honest teaching.

Slavery marks us and the mean ignorance that leads to racism continues. It is a battle that we will always face, but we must confront it. However, we do not need to have statues and other memorials on common public spaces to those who fought against us to perpetuate “the pecular institution.”

 

 

 

Do It This Way

 

 

Pastor Clarence Jordan showed us how.

In November 1942 he and Martin England, a Baptist missionary to Burma, placed a $2,500 down payment on a run-down farm eight miles southwest of Americus, Georgia. They named the scarred and eroded acres Koinonia Farm and began living the Sermon on the Mount as they worked to turn their purchase into a place guided by Jesus’ message in Matthew 5-7.

As a doctoral student in Greek at Louisville Seminary, Jordan did not just read the words of Jesus, but he began to use them as his guide for living each day. It was his firm  belief in those words that guided him to begin Koinonia Farm as a place for justice and equality during the days of a world war, the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Joe McCarthy, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, civil rights struggles, and more. His world, like ours, was divided. However, he remained loyal to the best sermon ever spoken and withstood attacks by the KKK and harassment by the FBI and local churches. In fact, because he brought a black man to a Christmas Eve service at his own Baptist church, the church told him not to return.

Pastor Jordan lived the words of Matthew 5:44 that tell us to love our enemies and at Koinonia Farm he showed us that it is not only possible, but better for us, to follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Koinonia Farm still operates today, and many scrumptious food items may be ordered from its website. I recommend Clarence Jordan, Essential Writings, edited by Joyce Hollyday, (Orbis publication) as a good primer on this man who showed us how to live during difficult times.

 

My School Bubble

 

The civic and medical unrest of the past months has caused me to recall my growth years in a small, North Carolina cotton mill town owned by J.W. Cannon. 1964. A.L. Brown High School; Kelley green and white; the Wonders.

The original school was built in the 1920 expansive years of Cannon Mills when Mr. Cannon donated land in East Kannapolis for it. First named for the area, Centerview, it was named in 1951 for a popular mill executive, Alfred Luther Brown.

I don’t know how or by whom the colors and mascot were chosen, but as I look back to my years there, I am thankful for a few decisions that were made then and have, in my mind, proven wiser with time. That world was not perfect (it was a segregated one, for instance), but it was not riled by so many issues high school students face today. For instance: The school was named to honor a local person who helped the local community. The colors represent growth and purity and no other school is or was ever a Wonder.

Ours was a city school, but it was the time of school consolidation. I remember large schools being built and given such names as South Rowan because it served the southern part of that county. I suppose its town location, China Grove, was not chosen for its name so as not to show favoritism and so the Raiders were born wrapped in their red and black.

The name of a school should identify it, so if named for a person it should be a person in close association with the school. To name a school after a long-lost historical figure seems false and empty, but when named after a vibrant, local person the school gains heft. The same is true if the school is named for the specific locale it serves, such as Myers Park in Charlotte, which gives the school an instant identity.

The Kelley green of my school matters, like all school colors, because Kelley green represents Ireland, growth, and lushness. The white is purity. All colors symbolize something, so they are important, but the mascot of a school really matters.

Now, ours is unique. Wonders? How do you draw that? Animal names and historical figures are convenient names to use as mascots, and easily drawn, but the latter present some potential problems like we encounter currently, such as Redskins.

These choices are important and may have repercussions, but the high school world I lived in was not attacked because it had not the name of a person whose life had become myth filled, the colors were ordinary, and its mascot was never before heard of, but a Wonder of its own.

The wonder of it all is that we have created and continue to create such a mess over our school names. We can and must do better. Our children deserve it.

 

 

The Modern Arena

 

In Black Boy, Richard Wright’s story of growing up poor and black in the Jim Crow South, he shares many of his experiences. Of the many frightening experiences he writes of, I will always remember his fight with another black boy, Harrison. Wright and Harrison are offered five dollars each to fight each other in front of their bosses. The boys secretly meet to plan a “fake fight”, but when they begin, they realize that they do not know how. The fight turns into a vicious and bloody battle between two boys who had been friends. But, the lure of $5 turned out to be too much, and they inadvertently turned on one another for the enjoyment of their white bosses.

When I see footage  of a big-time college football or basketball game, I think of Wright and Harrison fighting in front of a white crowd for $5. Examine a contemporary college crowd and the coaches and you will see that both are predominantly white. Sure, some spectators will be of color as will some members of a coaching staff, but both will be, by far, white. Now, look on the field or court and you will see mostly black athletes performing in front of white crowds who pay to watch.

I think it not a stretch to  compare Wright and Harrison’s fight with the culture we have built around some college sports. It could be argued that college athletes are not paid, but they are given the opportunity to earn a degree, but of what value is the earned degree? Is it one that will enable any star basketball player who does not use a few years to show  his  skill before turning pro to earn a good living and  have a life of  quality? What degree will the undrafted football player use to enter a life of good wage earning?

I suggest that too many colleges are enabling their “student athletes” by only paying them a chance to earn a degree of lower academic worth. A school can boast of and print its graduation rates for its athletes; but how many schools post the number of its undrafted athletes who enter graduate school to earn an advanced degree?

Not all degrees, even those from premier schools, are equal. Like Wright and Harrison, too many of our, mostly black,  youngsters are being used. Black youths used and paid poorly.