Posts Tagged ‘Binghamton’

Right photo by Howard Petrick

I was in Binghamton, NY, my hometown in October for a work-related trip. That evening, a couple of my friends get me to go to this film about Costa Rica, which I’ve written about. It was sponsored by the local Green Party and some other activist organization. The friend of an old high school buddy of mine says he’s from The Frances Beal Society. What?

I’ve known Fran Beal pretty much all my life. She was my mom’s only female cousin on her mother’s side of the family. Fran, her late mother Charlotte Yates, and her three late brothers, Raymond, Donald and Robert all lived in Binghamton or in nearby Johnson City until 1954, when her father, Ernie Yates, my maternal grandmother’s brother, died suddenly.

Charlotte moved the family to St. Albans, Queens, New York City and the Greens visited the Yates at a minimum annually. And they visited us frequently as well. I wrote up an excerpt of this 2005 interview, the early part about her growing up in our shared hometown.

Fran grew up to be a black feminist activist icon. A couple years ago, local author Barbara Smith told me how much she admired her. I told the FBS person that my cousin’s politics are so far left that she made me feel like William F. Buckley.

So what IS the Francis Beal Society? As far as I can ascertain, it’s an entity at Binghamton University that occupied the campus administration building for a couple weeks in the spring of 2017, in part over opposition to the Blue Lights Initiative. Now, community organizations have been offered a seat at the proposed Town-Gown Advisory Board by the school administration.

I think I let Fran know about the FBS via Facebook, but I don’t know if she saw the notice. For their part, the guy from the Frances Beal Society would LOVE to have contact with the organization’s namesake. I’m not feeling a desperate need to play matchmaker.

BTW, happy birthday, cousin. It’s SOMETIME this month.

Binghamton, NY, as I’ve noted once or twice here, is my hometown. Almost every year, I go to Broome County to attend the Olin family reunion – that’s my mother-in-law’s people who can be traced in what is now the United States back to the 1680s.

Those trips, however, were to a park in Endicott, part of the Triple Cities, to be sure. (Endicott and Johnson City, though, are villages; only Binghamton is incorporated as a city.)

When I did venture to downtown Binghamton in the 1980s and 1990s and even the early part of this century, it was depressing. The anchor department stores of McLean’s, where my late mother worked as a bookkeeper, and Fowler’s, were magic to visit on Christmas Eve in 1970 and 1971. When they left, and smaller stores followed, the downtown was overrun by vacant spaces. If it weren’t for Boscov’s, in the old Fowler’s, there would have been no downtown retail to speak of.

The building of a new Route 17, which will become Interstate 86, made it easier to get through Binghamton, but the city wasn’t a place to go TO. The State University of New York isn’t even in Binghamton proper, but out on the Vestal Parkway on old Route 17/Route 434.

But an interesting thing happened:

“Downtown Binghamton, by most accounts, is in the midst of a revitalization. After years of decline, a boom spurred largely by masses of Binghamton University students leaving the dorms of the Vestal campus for the city has filled once-vacant storefronts downtown and chipped away at blight there.’

And that has spurred numerous coffee shops, tattoo parlors and the like catering to that population. I stayed in a hotel that was once the old city hall, not far from the current city hall, where I was a janitor for a few months in 1975, and there are blocks around there that have been totally transformed.

“But further away from the city’s core, other neighborhoods are waiting to see whether the ripple effect of the downtown boom will reach them.” I noticed that too, particularly in the part of town I grew up in.

Still, I felt hope that there is a chance of economic revival in my old hometown. That made me quite happy indeed.

When we were in Binghamton, NY, my sister Leslie and I went to the Orzio Salati Studio & Gallery at 204 State Street, part of a block of artist venues downtown. We went because our late father knew a guy named Charlie McGill. Charles McGill, who graduated from high school in Binghamton in 1982, must have been Charlie’s son or nephew. The statue, BTW, is a rather good likeness of the artist.

“For the 18 years [Charles] wrestled with the golf bag. He found it to be a ‘very political object due to its its historical associations with class inequality and racial injustice.” The country club had been so long the dominion of people of a certain demographics that, more than once, McGill, an avid golfer, was mistaken for a caddie.

We know all of this this because Salati, the curator, but also McGill’s friend and fellow artist, told us. He explained that McGill’s work was both a physical and mental struggle. Physical because the golf bag is generally well constructed, with leather, steel reinforcement, hard plastic form and rivets. The piece below is Tondos (from the Italian rotondo – round).

Sometimes, he didn’t deconstructed the golf bag, but amplified the message, such as the Three Kings bag with images of Martin Luther King Jr., Rodney King, and King Kong.

Unfortunately, the planned show for Charles McGill in his hometown became a memorial exhibit, as the artist died from metastasized kidney cancer in July 2017. The pieces are all on loan from various galleries.

And, as is often the case, his work was increasingly being recognized for “making a bold statement” and going for far more money than it had just months earlier. Rondos, for instance, is now going for $30,000.

The show continues through the end of October 2017, Saturday from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. and by appointment (607 772-6725).

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I went to the Olin family reunion last month. I told my sisters, who are in California and North Carolina, that I was going to our hometown of Binghamton, NY. But, for reasons of time, that proved not to really be the case. I went THROUGH Binghamton, on Route 17, heading west to Endicott, as represented in the northern portion of this map, right past my stomping grounds in the First Ward.

When I was growing up, there were houses where that highway is now located. They razed dozens of homes to build a road that would make getting to somewhere else much easier. This broke my heart.

The vast majority of my growing up Read the rest of this entry »

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