The Great Dying in the Americas after 1492


Great DyingI had heard of the Great Dying in the Americas after 1492. Still, it was a shocking headline in my newsfeed. 56 MILLION. This is the “estimated number of Indigenous Americans killed by violence, famine, and disease due to European colonization from 1492 to 1600. That’s a 90% drop in the Indigenous population – a decline so rapid it caused the earth’s temperature to cool.”.

“We know the story. Or, at least, we think we do: In 1621, a shared feast between Pilgrims and Indigenous Americans in Massachusetts to give thanks for the harvest and survival of Plymouth colonists created a 400-year tradition Americans mark annually.

“Most of us know that tale is, in large measure, a lie

“That story exists in part to obfuscate the quite bloody reality of how the nation was actually claimed by the colonists who arrived here,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist, activist, and advisory board member for The Emancipator.”

When facts such as these are shared, I hear so many non-Indigenous people complain, “Why are they ruining the best holiday?” I understand. Hey, I grew up with the myth as well. It was such an affirming, positive story that one wanted it to be true.


“So how do Indigenous people in America mark Thanksgiving? The ways are as diverse and complex as the communities themselves. They do mourn the atrocities their ancestors suffered. But Indigenous culture is also firmly rooted in the tradition of giving thanks. They find a way to do both.

“One of NoiseCat’s traditions is attending Sunrise Ceremonies at Alcatraz Island, the Indigenous land that became the now-shuttered prison, to commemorate a 19-month occupation that began in 1969. Bay Area Native American activists sought to reclaim the island under the terms of a 19th-century treaty.”

The article is from Unbound, a newsletter from The Emancipator, published by the Boston Globe. In each issue, “Kimberly Atkins Stohr, senior columnist for The Emancipator and The Boston Globe, explores past to present-day themes centered on antiracism and democracy.” She examines “some of the most urgent conversations on racial justice infused with context, news, and perspective.

The statistical citation is from Quarternary Science Reviews’ 2019 study Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492 by Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark M. Maslin and Simon L. Lewis. You can hear Koch on the Last Born In The Wilderness podcast.

Les Green: a very important person

Binghamton’s finest

Les leadersOne of my sisters sent me this newspaper clipping from 1970. There’s Les Green, a very important person, in Binghamton, NY with city and county leaders, state legislative representatives, and others.

If I’m reading my Les Green history correctly, this took place largely over a 15-year period. It was roughly from 1959, when he first started singing and playing his guitar publicly, until 1974, when he, my mother, and my baby sister moved to Charlotte, NC.

And it wasn’t because he was a civil rights leader or a singer of folk songs. It was that he was those things AND a tremendous arranger of flowers AND a painter of signs AND a set designer for the Civic Theater. He was very active in his church, from running the mimeograph machine that produced the weekly bulletin to singing in the choir to leading the MAZET singers, the youth choir which included my sister Leslie and me. Also, he was an advocate for those with mental illness at Binghamton State Hospital; I do wonder what was his special affinity for that place was.

Moreover, he and his wife bought their first house in 1972, after living in a property owned by his mother-in-law for all of his married life. After I wrote about my dad a few years back, an acquaintance seriously suggested that there should have been a statue of Les Green in Binghamton.


So, on the anniversary of his death in 2000, I’ve been musing about how he felt about the move to Charlotte. Surely, he took time to find his bearings. When he first came down there, he referred to it as a “big country town.” And he wasn’t wrong, though it become more civilized over time, with a real mass transit system, not the abomination it used when I lived down there at the beginning of 1977.

The family had a rental house and they took time before discovering the right church for them. He did important work there. His job, where he became a Vice-President of J.A. Jones probably generated more income than any other job he had. He was very involved in his church, with music but also a breakfast program.

But he was always out looking for the financial rainbow, starting so many little businesses that neither my mother nor their accountant knew how many. He regularly came to me in the latter stages of his life wondering how he could get rich on this new World Wide Web thing. (The brutal truth is that he couldn’t because he was lousy at recordkeeping or even giving his wife or the accountant his receipts. Being online wouldn’t have helped.)

When he moved the Charlotte, he was sure that he couldn’t find a market for his music in the South. I was not convinced he was correct. He did start writing poetry; I have a massive manuscript in this very room.

Thinking about you, dear old Dad, as you liked to be called.

Mom died on Groundhog’s Day 2011

It was a Wednesday

Roger and Trudy
March 7, 2005

My mom died on Groundhog’s Day. It was 11 years ago, in 2011. Now, it’s 2022. A lot of repeating numbers. It was a Wednesday. Today is Wednesday.

On one hand, of course, her passing is a singular event. Looking back at my blog posts from February 2011, specifically 2, 3, 6, 9, 16, and 27, and subsequently, I had the need to write more about that time than possibly any other. The death of my dad in 2000, before the start of this blog, has been discussed, but retrospectively.

The day before, I had arrived in Charlotte, NC. Leslie was already there and Marcia lived there. They said that mom was doing better than she had been since she entered the hospital the previous Friday. I had heard that people often seem to rally a bit before they die, but I saw no reason to mention that to my sisters.

I slept in a chair, or maybe two, in my mother’s room. About an hour after she had awakened, she sounded as though she were suffocating. So I buzzed the nurse and this army of folks descended on the room. Someone noted to me in a scolding tone that she had a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate. Yes, I knew that.

I wasn’t trying to get her rescued, just to make she wasn’t uncomfortable. To myself, but not to the medical personnel, I muttered, “Sorry, I am not savvy on the stages just before death. This is my first one.”


And, in fact, when she did pass away, I was unaware until someone told me. My sisters were en route, so there was no point in calling them. When they arrived about ten minutes later, one noted that she looked peaceful and comfortable. I got to break the news. I signed some paperwork, as I did for dad. Then there seemed to be this rush for us to identify a funeral home to send her body to. This made me cranky too.

I can recall my emotions to the response to my February 2 post. I had written about four days earlier that I was going to Take The Train To Charlotte after my mother’s stroke. So the early comments were of the “I hope your mom gets better” variety. But after I told Denise Nesbitt via email that Mom had passed, she clearly circulated the news. If I want to cry Right Now, I can just read the later comments.

Now, I feel like an Orphaned Adult but that happened and is now just IS. Life post-parents have allowed my siblings and me to have more honest conversations about the ‘rents.

So when Mom died on Groundhog’s Day, it was a long time ago. And it was last week. One of those funeral parlor quotes, which I suppose I’d normally find overly sentimentalized, I somehow like right now. “There is a link death cannot sever. Love and remembrance last forever.”

Cicely Tyson; Hank Aaron; Hal Holbrook; Cloris Leachman

Also, Larry King

The first time I ever saw the very brilliant performer Cicely Tyson, it was opposite George C. Scott in East Side/West Side back in 1963. Her work was always mesmerizing. I wrote about her here in 2013.

Ms. Tyson was the first Black woman to win a leading actress Emmy for the 1974 TV movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She received a Tony for A Trip to Bountiful n 2013 at age 88, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Variety called her a Pioneering Hollywood Icon.

The CNN piece noted that she “embodied African American women who demanded attention — and more than that, respect.” She was “bringing a sense of depth, nobility, and grace to every character.”

Cicely Tyson was highlighted in How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement, a 2013 book turned into a segment of American Masters on PBS in January 2021.

She had just released “Just as I Am: A Memoir” on Jan. 26. Here’s an interview with Gayle King, which you should watch if you can. It was taped on January 22, and she still had plans for the future.

Hammerin’ Hank

You may have heard about all of the hate mail Henry Aaron received, a black man pursuing Babe Ruth’s home run record, which he eclipsed in April 1974.

I only heard recently about a member of his security detail who wondered if the people running onto the field when Hank hit number 715 were exuberant fans or folks out to do the slugger harm. Would he have to shoot someone to protect the ballplayer?

And Hank had to put up with a lot of crap in his relatively brief minor league career, as explained here. “The Deep South circuit’s eight teams rigidly adhered to Jim Crow segregation laws; racist abuse from fans and exclusionary business practices were commonplace.” Yet he always dealt with this stress with dignity.

After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including as a senior vice president. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. I wrote about him in 2015.

Hank Aaron still holds the MLB records for runs batted in, extra-base hits, and total bases, and is second in home runs. He got into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote. Who were the nine sportswriters who left him off the ballot?

He was one of the greatest players of all time, possibly undervalued because he started playing in relatively small market Milwaukee when Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were working in New York City.

Samuel Clemens

Hal Holbrook has played John Adams, Abraham Lincoln (more than once), and the guy who helped bring down Nixon – Deep Throat – in All The President’s Men.

Of course, he was best known for playing Mark Twain for so long that he didn’t need the makeup in later years. Here’s a short video of Mr. Holbrook with actor James Karen. 

I watched him in Everything from Designing Women to Evening Shade. But my first favorite role of his was as the title character in The Bold Ones: The Senator, one of those rotating NBC shows in 1970-71 that lasted only one season, which was eight episodes. Yet it won five Emmys, including one for Hal.

Phyllis Lindstrom

Cloris Leachman won a best-supporting actress Oscar for The Last Picture Show, which I probably saw close to its 1971 release. She also was in arguably my favorite movie comedy, Young Frankenstein; here’s a clip.

Cloris won a total of seven Emmys, including two for Malcolm in the Middle, and a pair for appearing in one of my favorite TV shows of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was a voice actor on Phineas and Ferb. And most recently, I saw her on the Mad About You reboot in 2019. My wife would note that, at age 82, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars (2005).

Gregory Sierra  I knew from SOAP, Sanford And Son, and Murder, She Wrote. But mostly from playing Chano on Barney Miller, another of my favorite shows.

I tended to watch Larry King only when he was interviewing folks I was really interested in. While that was a small percentage of his prodigious output, that turned out to be several dozen times. Here are some highlights.

Ken Levine remembers baseball’s Don Sutton and The Mary Tyler Moore Show co-creator Allan Burns

I’m working on more pieces about death. Oh, joy…

Music producer Phil Spector has died

art v artist

Phil SpectorEvery December, I listen to the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono. Why December? Because his birthday was on Boxing Day. There are three discs of music he had produced from 1958-1969 by such artists as the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and the Righteous Brothers. The fourth disc is the amazing album A Christmas Gift For You.

And yet it was increasingly clear that Phil Spector was a really awful individual. “In her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette,” his ex-wife Ronnie “depicted Spector as an abusive husband prone to eccentric if not outright insane behavior.” He notoriously enjoyed playing with guns. Notably, a drugged Spector fired a gun in a recording control room, inches from former Beatle John Lennon’s ear in the early 1970s.

In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead at Spector’s mansion from a gunshot wound. “Despite telling his chauffeur that ‘I think I just shot her,’ as the chauffeur told police in an affidavit, Spector later recanted this.” Spector told police, and said “in interviews that Clarkson ‘may have accidentally taken her own life.’”

There was a hung jury in the first trial, ending in 2007. But he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009. He died in a California prison on January 16, 2021.

Little Steven quote

How does one describe a certain musical magician who was so fundamentally flawed as a human being? The  BBC blew it initially. The first version of the breaking news story on the BBC News website carried the headline: “Talented but flawed producer Phil Spector dies aged 81”. Flawed? “The BBC said the headline ‘did not meet our editorial standards’. The text was quickly changed to: ‘Pop producer jailed for murder dies at 81.'”

Stevie Van Zandt wrote on Twitter, “A genius irredeemably conflicted, he was the ultimate example of the Art always being better than the Artist, having made some of the greatest records in history based on the salvation of love while remaining incapable of giving or receiving love his whole life.”

There are so many examples of the Art better than the Artist, and it is always a source of conflict for people with moral centers. Shall I watch X’s movies? Or read Y’s books?

Some songs

And more links in the Rolling Stone article.

Spanish Harlem –Ben E. King, #10 pop, #15 RB in 1961
Da Doo Ron Ron –The Crystals, #3 pop, #5 RB in 1963
A Fine, Fine Boy –Darlene Love, #29 RB, #53 pop in 1963
Unchained Melody –The Righteous Brothers, #4 pop, #6 RB in 1965; #13 pop in 1990

River Deep, Mountain High  –Ike and Tina Turner, #88 pop in 1966; #112 pop in 1969. “The baroque pop epic he considered his masterpiece… stalled… in the U.S. (though it would hit Number Three in the U.K.) A resentful Spector secluded himself in his Hollywood mansion for two years.”
Black Pearl –Sonny Charles And The Checkmates Ltd., #8 RB, #13 pop in 1969

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