Finding Freedom in Postwar Europe

Less then a month before my father, Les Green, died in August 2000, he started talking about his childhood. It seems that his grandmother had a boarding house. He advised that there was a father and child there and that they only ate if they had something to put in the pot. He advised that he always had food and never went hungry. He said that when he was in Belgium, serving post-World War II, he was at a woman’s home who reminded him of the days with his grandmother and always ate well there.

After he died, of course we went through his materials. One of the things he held onto was an article from a September 16, 1946 issue of Newsweek, Racial: Maedchen and Negro, about black soldiers in post-WW II Germany. The Newsweek piece was initiated by a much longer piece in the October 1946 Ebony.

The thrust, particularly of the Ebony piece, was that the black soldier felt freer in Berlin, capital of the formerly Nazi nation, than he did in Birmingham or on Broadway.

A July 2009 article in Stars & Stripes confirms this: “In the words of retired Gen. Colin Powell, postwar Germany was ‘a breath of freedom’ for black soldiers, especially those out of the South: ‘[They could] go where they wanted, eat where they wanted, and date, whom they wanted, just like other people.'”

There is a great website, the Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs and Germany, which contains some original research on this topic. The NAACP presented its Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award for 2009 to Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC / Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg) for the project.

But, of course, this doesn’t address why my father held onto that article for 54 years. Was he merely interested in the topic? Did he know someone who was pictured? Was HE one of the people in the pictures? There is a guy who remind my sisters and me of my dad. While my father said he was in Belgium, his records show that he was in the European theater from February to November 1946, so perhaps he was in Germany as well. Ms. Höhn, who I have e-mailed, confirms that there were black soldiers in both countries.

I may never know why Leslie H. “Bing” Green held onto that article for so many years.

ROG

The Walkers


My father’s first cousin Ruth was going through some old pictures at her mom Jessie’s house and I received this old picture from before I was born, even before my parents were married, circa 1948. She sent the pic to one of my sisters, and she forwarded it to me.

The men in the picture are Ruth’s father Earl Walker, my father’s eldest uncle; Morris Walker, uncle to both Ruth and my father; their aunt Jessie’s “friend”, Dick Wallace; and my father, Les Green.

Earl’s wife Jessie was called “Earl’s Jessie”, to distinguish her from Earl’s (and Morris’ and my grandmother Agatha’s) sister Jessie. I remember Earl quite well and Morris a fair amount, but Dick died before I was born.

From my sister Marcia’s collection:

My father (center) with his mother, Agatha (right). She was my first Sunday school teacher, and she taught me how to play canasta. She died when I was about 10. I have no idea who the others are, though the boy surely looks like a Walker.

This is the day before the date my father would have turned 83, and really, that’s all I’ve got.

ROG

That scene in Field of Dreams always makes me cry

Even before my father died on August 10, 2000, there was a scene in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams where the Kevin Costner character is playing catch with his dad – you know, this one – that always got to me. My father and I didn’t play catch that much, but he did take me to minor league games in Binghamton (the Triplets – farm team at various times of the Kansas City A’s, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves) and explained the intricacies of the sport.

As I noted here, the evening before my father died, when he was in a comatose state, “I turned on a baseball game, and explained the action to my father. I think the sound was down, so I was doing a play-by-play for a couple innings. I told him about Jason Giambi, the long-haired player for the Oakland A’s who had ‘graced’ the cover of Sports Illustrated within the previous year.”

So baseball – and music, card playing and football – were shorthand ways for my father and me to deal with each other when other paths were not available.

Here’s a couple pictures that my sister came across only last month of my father as an MP at the end of, and after World War II, either in Texas or somewhere in western Europe, sometime in 1945 or 1946:

ROG

Pete Seeger is 90


I’ve seen Pete Seeger sing about 32 times. This is no exaggeration; it may be an undercount. He would appear at various antiwar and anti-nuke campaigns in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. One of the first times I saw him was at a George McGovern rally in New Paltz, my college town, in 1972. Once, I went on the Clearwater, where he performed.

When a number of people protested the Springboks, the South African rugby team, playing in Albany, Pete was there singing in the rain. The one time I actually saw Pete in concert was April 4, 1982 at Page Hall in the downtown SUNY Albany campus.

But his impact on my life long preceded seeing him perform. My father owned his “We Shall Overcome” album; it was as pivotal in my appreciation of music as any Beatles or other pop album; my review of the expanded CD release is here My father was a singer of folk songs, performing regionally in the Binghamton, NY area, and he often sang songs that Pete, or friends of his such as Woody Guthrie, had popularized. And I saw him perform “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968, which helped crystallize my opposition to the Vietnam war.

I think Pete’s taken some unfair criticism. About Dylan going electric, Pete is quoted as saying, “There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the ’65 Newport Folk festival, but that’s wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing ‘Maggie’s Farm’ and you couldn’t understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, ‘Fix the sound, it’s terrible!’ The guy said ‘No, that’s how they want it.’ And I did say that if I had an axe I’d cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn’t mind him going electric.”

And the late Phil Ochs castigated him, unfairly, in this couplet from Love Me, I’m a Liberal:
“I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs.”

I’m happy that Bruce Springsteen has spread the gospel of Seeger in a couple of his recent albums. In fact, the first time I heard Springsteen do Seeger was on the Where Have All The Flowers Gone compilation which came out in 1998 and I bouught 3 or 4 years later; recommended.

Some have suggested that Pete Seeger deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and I wouldn’t argue with them. I was thrilled to watch him at the pre-inaugural bash in DC.

A couple recent Pete Seeger collections I’ve seen, but have not yet purchased: American Favorite Ballads Volumes 1-5 [Box] [4/21/09] and Rainbow Race/ Now/ Young Vs. Old [4/21/09].

Happy birthday, Pete.

ROG

2009: A life odyssey

I’ve never been that big on resolutions. Sure I’ll work on losing weight, but I think (know) I need more…fun challenges.

Thus and therefore, I resolve:
*to play more backgammon. I’ve been playing online quite a bit in 2008. But I have an actual board with actual pieces in my cubicle, and I haven’t touched it, except to dust it off, in the nearly three years we’ve been in cuby land. This MUST change. I have one opponent lined up, and a date for next Tuesdayand a novice ready to learn.
* to play more cards, specifically hearts. I may have played once in 2008. Not acceptable.
* to see more movies. The wife and I may have to go to the virtual date plan, where one of us sees the 1 pm movie while the other watches the child, then the other sees the 4 pm movie while the first watches the child, then discuss later. It’s not optimal, but neither is seeing five movies/year.
* to play more racquetball. Actually, more correctly, to continue to play racquetball. This year, the daughter goes to kindergarten. There appears to be no preschool at her school. Since the wife can’t take her to school because of timing, it would default to me. But that would mean that I’d almost NEVER play racquetball, which might, quite literally, kill me, since it is both my primary form of exercise – especially in the winter, when I don’t ride the bike – and something with which the competition provides a joie de vivre that riding on a stationary bike or running around a track simply doesn’t generate for me. To that end, we’re investigating hiring someone to get Lydia up, dressed, fed and taken to school, perhaps a student from a nearby college. We’re paying for daycare now, so that’d be the source of the payments.
Oh, jeez, I almost forgot: come spring, I need to BUY a bike to replace the one that was stolen.
*read more books. I’ve started literally dozens that I simply never finish.
*listen to more music at home. This will be facilitated by the fact that the daughter got a boom box for Christmas. This means that the other boom box, which technically belongs to the wife – my matching one got stolen from my office a few years ago – can reside in the living room. My stereo, specifically the CD player, has ceased to work, despite taking it into the shop. So until I buy a new one, the boombox will be the primary form of entertainment in the living quarters.

I think that’s enough.

Do YOU have any resolutions that you’d like to share?

Oh, and I had one of those reminders why I do the blog this past week. My mother, sister and niece made an impromptu visit to the Salisbury National Cemetery where my father was buried, but they couldn’t find the grave site. They knew they were close, but lots of folks have been buried there in the past eight years. So my sister calls me on her cellphone; did I have a record of where he was buried? I went to my trusty blog and found the citation, section 8, grave 358. Yet another notation that while I like to provide the best of the psychodrama in my head for your entertainment, I have to do the blog for ME.


ROG