Dear old dad in Newspapers.com

the Ongleys

When I was on my genealogical journey for my father’s biological male parent, I got a subscription to Newspapers.com. You know, memory is a peculiar thing. I took a deep dive into the records that mentioned Les Green. There were over 300 items in the Binghamton, NY newspapers, most before 1974.

The earliest may have a picture of Les and his stepfather McKinley in 1942 with other Boy Scouts and their dads. I discovered that he was involved in the 1960s as a leader in scouting at the Interracial Center on 45 Carroll Street. Yet in my brief tenure as a Cub Scout, I never got the sense that dad was interested in scouting at all.

I remember that my father was the production chairman of the Civic Theater, the community performance troupe. Specifically, I recall his involvement with the 1960 production of Guys and Dolls, which was very successful. Even then, I thought the show, starting with the title, was rather old-fashioned. (Sidebar: my wife saw Bob Hoskins perform as Nathan Detroit in London in the early 1980s, so she’s more favorably inclined.)

The previous Civic Theater production was Separate Tables by Terrence Rattigan. What I didn’t know was that Helen Foley, speech and drama instructor at Binghamton Central HS was the director. She was my public speaking teacher a decade later, but neither my father nor la Foley ever mentioned to me that they knew each other. Helen Foley, BTW, was also the favorite teacher of Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, back in the early 1940s.

BTW, the costumes for Separate Tables were done by my grandmother Agatha and “Mrs. George Ongley.” George Ongley was Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. My family visited their family for a time at the Ongley home in suburban Vestal. They had a couple kids if I’m remembering correctly.

Fighting for justice

Unsurprisingly, most of the clippings in the papers of dad were of him singing and playing the guitar. I knew my father performed at the Binghamton State Hospital, the “first institution designed and constructed to treat alcoholism as a mental disorder in the United States,” several times. But I didn’t know he was President of the hospital’s volunteer council c. November 1963. I wonder why he was so invested in that institution.

He was involved in a variety of civil rights organizations, such as the William L. Moore chapter of CORE. Once, his white colleagues sent me into the local Woolworth’s to see if I, like other black kids, would be harassed by the employees or the police. I was not on that day.

Dad headed the Binghamton-Broome Council of the NYS Division of Human Rights head by 1969. Interestingly, the formation of this body was rejected by the Binghamton city council five years earlier. That action generated a third of a page petition in the paper. “There is not a single day when a Negro does not suffer the indignity… of discrimination” in the city. It was signed by my mother, father, and McKinley, as well as over 230 other adults, many of whom I knew.

My father was Chair of the Human Rights Advisory Council in 1972. Yet I did not recall that he claimed that he was denied entrance to a public billiards parlor in Binghamton because of his race in July 1968, taking his complaint to the state Division of Human Rights in September of that year. I don’t know what the resolution of the case was.

Finally, he was Director for Joint Apprenticeship and Training for the Associated Building Contractors in August 1972. When he lost that position, he ended up moving to Charlotte, NC in 1974. Les Green was rather remarkable when I was growing up. Happy Father’s Day.

Paul Robeson, Negro singer

“Golden Age”?

Paul Robeson
Alston drawing from the National Archives
On page 13 of the Binghamton (NY) Press from Wednesday, May 5, 1926 is this headline: BASS-BARITONE TO SING SPIRITUALS. But it’s the subhead that caught my attention. “Paul Robeson, Negro, Will Be Hear In Concert Friday Night.”

He was to appear at Binghamton Central High School, my alma mater. The article extensively quotes the March 3 New Republic. “A sort of sublimation of what the negro may be in the Golden Age hangs about him and imparts to his appearances an atmosphere of affection and delight that is seldom felt in an American audience.”

This is hardly the first I’ve read about the “Negro” X recently. The “Negro girl,” the “Negro pastor” show up in articles about Raymond Cone and my grandmother, Agatha Walker, e.g. It is a reflection of a time when being white was normative. Anyone not described as a “Negro” or whatever they called Native Americans (likely Indians) and Asians (Oriental?) were assumed to be white.

But what the heck was the New Republic alluding to in terms of the “Golden Age”? Is it a reference to the Harlem Renaissance? Or perhaps the Golden Age of Black Business, when “leading black capitalists . . . reflected their success within a black economy, which developed in response to the nation’s rise of two worlds of race.”

Red Summer

This in spite of the white-on-black violence of 1919’s Red Summer, which most people, a century later never heard about. Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs. So “Golden age”… hmmm.

Incidentally, I was not looking for the Paul Robeson article. It sits just above a piece I was interested in. “A.M.E. Church Seeking $2,000 for Parsonage.” It described the three-day bazaar to be held to raise funds for the dwelling of one Rev. Raymond Cone. “Mayor Clarence J. Cook will the opening address.”

I have learned a great deal this past year about cultural norms by reading old newspapers. The listing of almost every church service, wedding and funeral, with the name of the preacher and often performers of special music. It would be as easy to fall down the rabbit hole on Newspapers.com as it would to overdo on Instagram or Facebook.

Bernie Massar, Barnyard (1953-2019)

The Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs.

Bernard Massar.Jan KostyunKaren, Carol, Lois, Diane, Irene, Bill, Bernie and I all started kindergarten together at Daniel S. Dickinson, where we did K-9, and graduated from Binghamton (NY) Central High School together.

Because Bernie Massar lived in the opposite direction from most of us, down Clinton Street rather than up Mygatt Street, I spent less time with him outside of school than I did with most of the others. I’m not sure if I had even been to his house.

But he’d been to mine at least once. I had a birthday party when I was eight or nine. I don’t know if it was poor communication or something else, but only two people showed up, my Cub Scout buddy and classmate Ray, and Bernie.

He could be the life of the party, betraying his clean-cut look. I hadn’t seen him in a long time when he – and Karen, Carol, Lois, and Bill – attended a high school reunion c. 2006. I see this jocular fellow nicknamed Barnyard with a walrus mustache, who had been fighting fires for a living for 27 years.

Obviously, I have no current history with him. Yet however unconnected we had become, he’d show up unexpectedly in the back of my mind. Now, Bernie Massar, this guy I’d met when we were not quite five – his birthday is a couple weeks before mine, I still recall – has died at the age of 66 and I have this sense of wistfulness.

And from pancreatic cancer, making him the THIRD person I’ve known IRL who died from that dreadful disease in 2019, and the year’s not even half over.

It makes me want to donate to his designated charity, the Retired Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund, 4 Loretta Drive, Binghamton, NY 13905. It is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs, which has been doing great work, it appears.

Guide us our whole lives through

Back when I was in college, they tore down Daniel Dickinson school.

Carol’s wedding reception in 1979 with Vito, Karen, me, my friend Susan, Becky from DSD
My group from the K to 9 school Daniel S. Dickinson entered Binghamton Central in February of 1968, along with far more kids from West Junior and also MacArthur. I felt a bit overwhelmed.

But thanks in no small part to Karen, I found a whole coterie of new friends, left-of-center leaning, civil-rights-supporting, antiwar chums such as Vito, Jane, Michelle, Steve, Catherine and the two Georges.

It had been the tradition in student government that someone other than the candidate give the nominating speech. Apparently, my oratory for Karen when she ran for secretary was rip-roaring; I know it came from the heart.

The next year, they changed the rules, and candidates had to give their own speeches. Meh. I ran for student government president, gave what most thought was a mediocre speech, but won anyway. Carol was the vice-president. Dickinson rules!

But before my sister Leslie and her friend Christine, only a year and a half behind me, got to Central, they had to spend a year or two at West Junior.

The thing about old friends is that you don’t have to see them often to pick up on the relationship.

We went to our 10th high school reunion in 1981, and it wasn’t particularly interesting. But the afterparty was great. I DID get tired of Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones, however.

In 1982, Bill invited Karen, Lois, Carol and me over to his house. We stayed up nearly all night, talking. A year or two later, I went to Bill’s wedding as I had gone to Carol’s about a half decade earlier.

When I was at a low point in the fall of 1977, Karen came from the Boston area to New Paltz to proverbially kick my butt. We had some significant conversations when I’d visit her in the Boston area in the early 1980s. Though she had moved to New York City by then, she came to my 1998 taping of JEOPARDY! in Boston.

Karen has turned me on to music, always, from The Beatles to The Band to Los Lobos to latter Johnny Cash to Valerie June. She came to Albany to see Paul McCartney in 2014.

Carol lived in the Mid Hudson of New York State and I was working at FantaCo in Albany. Coming back from New York City, my colleague’s vehicle broke down on the Taconic, and Carol came to our rescue. Before she moved south, she went to one of the MidWinter’s parties I used to frequent.

When my high school class had a reunion – I want to say 32nd? – I went, primarily because Carol and Karen and Bill and Lois and Bernie were going to be there. Circa 2009, we discovered that Karen from NYC, and Carol from TX, and I from ALB would all be in Binghamton the same weekend, and of course got together.

In 2018, I’ve been in email contact with Carol and Karen. I spent two hours on the phone with Bill.

Back when I was in college, they tore down Daniel Dickinson school, which was weird because, by all accounts, it was better constructed than, for instance, Wilson.

But it was in that “bad” neighborhood. It never seemed that bad to me.

A panoply of reunion festivities

Sharkey’s is a contender to the throne of spiedie creator.

My sister Leslie decided to attend her ##th reunion from Binghamton (NY) Central High School. If MY class had one last year, I didn’t know about it, AND I’m not sure I would have gone. The last one of mine I went to be more than a decade ago, when the Daughter was very small.

Leslie flew to Albany on a Wednesday night, crashed my choir rehearsal on Thursday, then, on Friday, she drove us to the Parlor City, its old nickname, dropping me off with a high school friend and her husband, while she stayed with a grade school chum of ours.

She picked me up a couple hours later and we attended a mixer at a place called Remlick’s. It was a bit overwhelming; a few dozen people from BCHS I hadn’t seen in decades, without the benefit of name tags. But it was a pleasant time, as the cobwebs of forgotten events began to dissolve.

Sharkey’s is a “contender to the throne of spiedie creator,” and that’s where we went Saturday at lunchtime, running into six of my sister’s classmates.

Leslie had attended to Binghamton University, then called SUNY Binghamton, and it was homecoming weekend. So we went to the campus and listened to three choral groups, each performing a piece my church choir has performed. The Women’s Chorus (Zion’s Walls by Aaron Copland), The Chamber Singers (Sicut cervus desiderat by Palestrina) and Leslie’s old group, the Harpur Chorale (Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal arraigned by Alice Parker).

Onto Thirsty’s, where Leslie sees her old friends Cathy and Bobby and their family, then to a separate room, where a bunch of my First Ward chums were gathering. That was likely the high point, as I recognized several of them without assistance. I got to talk about genealogies, and libraries, and book writing, among the topics.

Round Two of the BCHS reunion was at the Holiday Inn. Now that I had seen many of these folks the day before, AND they had name tags, I was in a much more comfortable situation.

Leslie made the trip specifically for the high school reunion. That it, the First Ward reunion, AND the SUNY-B homecoming were all on the SAME DAY was astonishingly convenient, and wonderful coincidence.