The race for the jobs

But the South!

race-and-ethnicity-main-imageIn the many jobs that I’ve had, I never thought my race was a factor. Some of them were affected by previous relationships. Being a page at Binghamton Public Library, doing bookkeeping at the Schenectady Arts Council, managing at FantaCo, for instance. In each case, there were people I knew, one black, two white, who undoubtedly helped me secure employment.

Then there was a slew of jobs where the employer just wanted a competent person for the position. my two stints as a janitor qualify. And BTW, I was pretty good at it, especially in Binghamton City Hall in 1975.

I graduated from library school in May 1992 and applied for several positions. The State Library offered me an interview in July of that year, but I was unsuccessful. Then I heard about this job at the New York Small Business Development Center. My friend Jennifer was interning there. They had just gotten a grant to provide library reference services, not just for the NYSBDC but for the whole country.

Michele, who had started the library as a half-time position became the director. Jennifer was the second librarian hired for what was dubbed the Research Network. I was interviewed and became the third librarian on October 19. Lynne was hired on October 22 and was the fourth. Since the program ostensibly began on October 1, we had a lot of work to do from the get-go, including getting the materials from the Georgia SBDC, which had the gig before New York.

How would they deal with it?

It was only five or seven years later that a person who would be in the know and impeccably reputable told me a story I found rather unsettling. I shan’t reveal who they are except to say they were most definitely in the know.

I had interviewed well enough. But apparently, there were one or more persons on the committee who were concerned about my race. Specifically, the job required that the librarian in that position create liaisons with the state directors and other staff in the other states’ lead centers. Many of them were in the South, of course. The search committee was afraid that these folks wouldn’t cotton to working to a black person. So I was rejected for that reason.

Then, someone up the State University of New York food chain told them, “You can’t do that!” SUNY is the host institution of the NY SBDC. I ended up getting the job after all.

The news, a half dozen years after the fact, was initially jaw-dropping. Then, thinking back on who was on the search committee, not so much. If a certain party hadn’t intervened, I would not have gotten the job. I would not have known why, either.

Of course, it got me to wonder about all the other people who didn’t get the job because of bias. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, I have no doubt that racism has crept into the employment mix.

August 28 is just one of those dates

the next MLK

Emmett Till
Emmett Till
August 28 is a momentous date in US history. I was thinking about a question someone asked me earlier his year. It was whether someone – Bryan Stevenson, specifically, but it doesn’t matter – was the “new Martin Luther King, Jr.”

A couple of minutes later, I realized it was the wrong question. King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on this date in 1963. While he may have been a singularly gifted orator, HE wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement. There were a quarter of a million people at that demonstration alone. They all struggled to create racial justice back at home.

Millions have fought the fight since before the founding of the United States and still do so today. Most of them have names we don’t know. Some we’re familiar with because of the abuse they suffered. John Lewis, who was the youngest speaker on this date in 1963 in Washington, is recognized because he survived violence on several occasions, notably in Selma on March 7, 1965.

Others we know, probably better because they were killed. The deaths of Medgar Evers (1963) and James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (1964) are seared in my memory. But so are the murders of Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, both in March 1965 in Alabama. Malcolm X’s 1965 death is being reinvestigated in 2020.

NMAAHC

Emmett Till was murdered on August 28, 1955, in Mississippi. I’ve mentioned him more than once here. He might have been just another black kid killed by bigotry. But his mom had the courage to let his beaten corpse be shown to the world. My daughter went to the National Museum for African American History and Culture in February 2020 with a bunch of church folk. One of her friends was stunned by the inhumanity of his death.

Obviously, we haven’t achieved that “post-racial” nirvana some people – not I – predicted after Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. BTW, he accepted the Democratic nomination on August 28 of that year. But it’s not going to be an Obama or a King or the mother of Emmitt Till who will change the world. It’ll just have to be all of us.

“Get in good trouble” – John Lewis

“necessary trouble”

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis, who died July 17, tweeted that in 2018. But he used the term “good trouble” a lot. I heard him recite it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart back in 2015. In fact, there’s a new documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble. It has been streaming since July 3, though I’ve not seen it yet.

I HAVE read March, Books 1-3, a series of graphic novels with Lewis as a co-author. It covers his life up to the twin victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Then it fast-forwards to the inauguration of one Barack Obama.

A casual reading would suggest that Rosa Park refused to stand, Martin Luther King gave a speech, Obama was elected, and voila! We HAVE overcome. Of course, this was not true for a variety of reasons, including the mass incarceration fueled by the drug wars.

The war on voting

Worse, there has been a real retrenchment of voting rights. In 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated a key provision of the VRA. Section 5 of the law required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain approval before changing voting rules.

The Court held in Shelby County v. Holder “since the coverage formula was last modified in 1975, the country ‘has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.'” In other words, IMO, the Court decided that America was post-racial.

Just this week, SCOTUS allowed limits on felon voting in Florida. This action was taken in spite of the wishes of a majority of Sunshine State voters.

Google voter suppression 2020. In Rolling Stone, read The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election. The Minnesota Daily reminds us that in 2018, “gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s Secretary of State, was blocking 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia,” and essentially stole the election.

Wisconsin voters in 2020 were forced to cast their ballots in the midst of a pandemic. Long voter lines, often in communities of color, are the result of selectively closing polling booths. It’s critical to continue to fight for the right to vote and run for office.

I just sent some money to FairFight.com. Also, I’m supporting the HEROES Act to safeguard our elections regardless of the pandemic. This will allow millions of voters to vote safely this November. Related, support the United States Postal Service from someone’s personal animosity.

As someone once said, “If voting weren’t important, they wouldn’t spend so much time keeping us from doing so.”

Fortunately…

Right now, there are groups of people recognizing the systemic injustices that continue to take place in the United States. Many are young, though there are a few gray hairs among them. They are every racial and ethnic grouping you can imagine. The timing couldn’t be better. I’m sure they’ll easily be able to find their own issues to address.

As friend Arthur wrote: “To really honour the man, the country should rededicate itself to finishing Lewis’ life’s work. That’s not just the good and right thing to do, but a moral imperative, too.”

In his 2017 memoir, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, John Lewis wrote something we need to remember about the struggle. “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

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.

Book review: March, Book Three

An interesting aspect of the book is the appearance of one Barack Obama.

march-book-three-coverBack when Jon Stewart was hosting The Daily Show, he had on Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), the lion of the civil rights movement. He was plugging March, Book Two, which continued the description of the “historic events he participated in as a leader of the civil rights movement,” sharing “his desire to inspire the next generation of activists with his graphic novel trilogy.” I said, “I should get that,” but did not.

Recently, Lewis returned to The Daily Show, now hosted by Trevor Noah, promoting March, Book Three. So when I got a chance to review that book, I took it.

If you saw the movies Continue reading “Book review: March, Book Three”