My dad did what? Said what?

labor relations and safety coordination

Les Green.age 5I’ve mentioned that I’ve been pouring over my 1972 diaries. Mostly, I’ve noted my foibles. But now and then, I say, “My dad did what?”

Tuesday, August 1: Premiere of Compendium on CV7 (I assume public access cable) at 10 pm. “Barbara and Dad were hosts.” Surely, Barbara was the very active Barbara Oldwine, who died in 2014. the topic was The Black Family. I have ZERO recollection of this.

Friday, August 4: In the presence of his friends John and April, who had come over for dinner, he announced he would run for mayor of Binghamton in 1973. Three young black men from Highland Falls, Orange County, came over. Nope, don’t remember that either. And since he had JUST moved to Johnson City, I don’t know HOW he could run. Ultimately, he did not.

Checking Newspapers.com

One of my sisters suggested I look up Newspapers.com to see if he ever made any overtures toward the political office. I searched for him on Newspapers.com for 1972 and 1973. He was elected to a couple of boards involving the Broome County’s Red Cross and a group involved with housing for children.

He became the labor relations and compliance officer and safety coordinator for Edward L. Nezelek, Inc. around 9 Jan 1973.

Several articles about difficulties between the State Division of Human Rights and its Binghamton-Broome advisory committee, chaired by Les Green, were reported. By 17 March 1973, things were getting better. Dad was one of those “trusted voices” asked to comment on whatever racial tension occurring in Binghamton.

The house fire in August 1973 at 29 Ackley Avenue in Johnson City was reported. My sister Marcia’s name is misspelled as Marsha. The fire marshall said a “cigarette from an ashtray emptied into a trash basket next to the stove may have caused the fire.” There was damage to the kitchen, bathroom, attic, and roof.

No mention of political ambition. But what’s this? Here’s a classified ad for 28 July through 1 August 1973: “GOOD SLIGHTLY USED folk guitar, price negotiable.” He was going to sell his beloved 1958 Gibson guitar? THIS shocked me. As it turned out, he didn’t sell it but took it to Charlotte, NC, when he, mom, and Marcia moved, and it stayed with him until his death. My sister Leslie now owns it.

The picture

This is a picture of my father, approximately at age five, in Binghamton, NY, circa 1932. I had never seen the photo until February 2022. It is the earliest pic I have seen of him by about a decade. But I don’t know where it is except for the word Calvary. A church? A daycare?

There is a Calvary Baptist on Chenango St, which had a kids program. But what’s with the outfits? Christian service brigade and/or pioneer club? Binghamton history folks: do you have any thoughts? He was probably living at 339 Court St at the time; he was there two years earlier. Or he could have been at 10 Tudor St, off of Susquehanna St.

BTW, tomorrow, my father would have been 96.

Book review: We Return Fighting

Shaping African American identity.

We Return FightingWe Return Fighting: World War I and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity is a physically beautiful book. It was published by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in 2019. It was a century after black soldiers returned from the war overseas only to fight a different type of battle at home.

One of the ongoing themes in the tome is the fact that black soldiers served the United States, in part, to try to prove yet again their worthiness as citizens. As in most previous conflicts, black soldiers were assigned to segregated units. They were often relegated to support duties rather than direct combat, at least at first. Given the opportunity, though, they often shone as warriors, even underequipped.

Specifically, in WWI, blacks in the military received the respect they deserved from French allies but not their US comrades. This disconnect incentivized them to return to the states and continue the fight for their rights. Black soldiers and black citizens on the home worked to lay the framework for advances in the civil rights movement.

There are scads of photos and illustrations of significant people and artifacts. In other words, it is the history of the black soldier from the Civil War forward. We read also about the horrific Red Summer of 1919 when black veterans were particularly targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist entities. The war and its aftermath shaped African American identity.

Over There

An interesting paradox for me: the book discussed World War I broadly far more than I expected or was especially interested in. Yet I learned a great deal about the great world war. Notably, it was the event that first made the United States a world power.

The book appears to be an outgrowth of the We Return Fighting exhibit at the NMAAH that closed on September 6, 2020. But you can still see elements of that show. I am a founding contributor to this museum, and I hope to visit it someday. My daughter, BTW, has been there twice.

Incidentally, there was a 2002 book called We Return Fighting: The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age by Mark Robert Schneider. I have not seen it.

 

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. Something that I really like about my jobs is that usually they gave me a work uniform in this way I do not have to worry about buying cloth. 

In all the jobs I have been, the companies have used free background check to make sure that candidate is suitable for the position. 

Background checks save you from hiring any dangerous or unsavory individuals. Reduce your company’s liability – Your company can lower insurance costs and avoid unnecessary lawsuits by only hiring people who clear a pre-employment screening. Avoid bad hires – Hiring the wrong person is costly and frustrating.  This also ensures any kind of legal liability and harm to the organization in future. Some of the major issues that could be avoided by performing proper Pre Employment Background Checks are: Any Sexual Harassment and Workplace Violations. Any Criminal Intention and harm to the organization. You can also find more about the using tools like these reverse phone lookup services you can get for free at the link. 

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 with 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.”

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