The Race Card Project

Michele Norris

race card projectThe Race Card Project began with a simple-sounding yet challenging premise.

“In 2010, journalist Michele Norris began inviting people to distill their thoughts on the word race to only six words. Printing 200 postcards and issuing a call to action, Norris and her team were unsure of what – if anything – would result. What took root was a groundswell. With just a small footprint, it was clear Norris created a vehicle for expression and voice for which it seemed many were longing.”

You are invited to make your own Race Card. “Race Cards can be thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger, and shimmering with hope. Some make you smile. Others might make you squirm. You just might wonder why some of the more prickly submissions deserve a place on this website’s Race Card Wall?

“Here’s the answer: The intention is to use these cards to get a peek at America’s honest views about Race, so I must try to honor those people who offer up candor, even if what they share is unsavory or unacceptable in some people’s eyes.”

“The Race Card Project received a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in electronic communications for turning a pejorative phrase into a productive and far-reaching dialogue on a difficult topic. It began as a small experiment encouraging people to talk about race by sharing Six Word essays on their personal experiences or observations. The Six-Word Stories that poured into the mailbox and the online inbox became the basis for a series of reports on NPR’s morning edition, exploring identity, prejudice, pride, and equality.”


I  became aware of the site from this piece on CBS Mornings on July 8, 2022. A study finds a correlation between race demographic shifts and the January 6 Capitol riot. It discovered “that the uniting characteristic of people arrested for the January 6th Capitol riot was that they came from counties that saw a substantial decrease in the white population. Tony Dokoupil visits Allentown, Pennsylvania – a community that saw that decline – and talks to residents about how they feel about it.”

Allentown was over 95% non-Hispanic white in 1970. Now only 31% are in that demographic, with the plurality of the area Hispanic. The oldtimers often are nostalgic for the way things used to be. Of course, the people of Allentown in the 1880s likely said the same thing about the influx of Italians and other groups.

Check out the website and the video.

Binghamton, Albany: looking back at the places I’ve lived

Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in Albany in 1928!

McLeansI have said before that I’m not much for nostalgia. Yet, this year, I have joined two Facebook groups that are looking back at people and places from the cities’ past.

One group is I AM FROM BINGHAMTON, NY. The group was created in 2008.

This picture is of McLean’s department store in downtown Binghamton, one of two stores – the other was Fowler’s – that anchored downtown Binghamton for decades. McLean’s was located on Court Street at the corner of Chenango Street, across from City Hall.

My mother worked at McLean’s, first as an elevator operator, then as a bookkeeper for many years. My sisters and would go downtown, often walking from home, to visit her, or to walk up Chenango Street to eat at some restaurant called the Olympia (?) Tea Room, or to see a movie at the Strand or the Riviera.

Later, my mom worked at Columbia Gas as a bookkeeper, also on that first block on Chenango. Most of the place mentioned are long gone. There’s a Boscov’s where Fowler’s was, but it is possibly the rattiest looking store in the chain. How can I have forgotten that the CVS drug store, was once Hamlin’s before it got bought out?

Closer to my home, we went to the G&H Diner frequently because my mother had neither the time, the inclination, or the talent to cook; how did I forget that place on the corner of Front and Franklin Streets? On the other hand, I never knew about Binghamton’s Buried Stream of the First Ward, MY old neighborhood.

Ross Park Zoo is still around, and still with a carousel. But I had forgotten that it used to have a train to ride around.

I WAS able to add to the discussion. As a Cub Scout, I discovered, on a tour of Crowley’s, the dairy producer. that one building was linked to the building across Conklin Avenue underneath the road. When I was eight, this was exceedingly cool.

When I was a kid, I appeared a couple local daily TV shows in Binghamton on WNBF-TV, Channel 12, maybe TV RANCH CLUB or OFFICER BILL. Or possibly, both. Here’s a LINK to an INTERVIEW with BILL PARKER, the host of those two shows and much more. My buddy John notes that his “VOICE still resonates the same after all these years!” (November 7th 2014, 46 minutes).

This is WAY cool: an amazing historical view of downtown Binghamton from 1950 that itemizes all of the business on a street map of the center of the city. Incidentally, there are two rivers in Binghamton, the Chenango, running north/south, and the Susquehanna, running east/west. The house numbers start from the river they are perpendicular to.

Of course, there is sometimes a tendency to idealize the past. This is a picture of a Ku Klux Klan rally from the mid-1920s, in front of Binghamton City Hall, which is right across from McLean’s. From one participant’s information, they tried to re-market themselves as a “service organization” to attract new members and downplayed their racial motives. They were still anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant as well as anti-black, and tried to form a boycott of Endicott Johnson shoe manufacturers if George F Johnson didn’t fire his immigrant work force; George F ignored them.

This is a piece of local history I had heard about, second-hand. But to actually SEE it on streets I have walked was astonishing. The fiction that the Klan existed/exists only in the southern US. From the Wikipedia: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.” Reportedly, from 1923 to 1928, Binghamton was the NYS headquarters for the KKK.

(Unfortunately, the KKK thread, which was quite civilized, was removed from the page by the administrator, presumably as too controversial.)

Also, in 1948, Binghamton had a comic books burning.

I got the picture below from my friend Carol of the remains of the school I attended from K-9, 1958-1968, Daniel Dickinson, taken May of 1973, when I was away at college at New Paltz. I was unaware this was about to take place until long after it was razed, and it broke my heart. The area is now apartments.

By contrast, the Facebook page Albany… the way it was, run by Al Quaglieri, whose byline I remember from Metroland, the arts weekly, involves discoveries of things I never knew. Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in 1928! Even Albany before dozens of homes were razed, and the Empire State Plaza was built was new to me, since I didn’t move here until 1979.

I was able to participate in one recent conversation. Al doesn’t always remember some of the places that have come and gone. But I remember, fondly, the Shades of Green vegetarian restaurant on Lark Street, around the corner from Washington Avenue. I went there a lot when I worked at FantaCo in the 1980s.

You should check out the Albany group archive, a “gigantic photo library – over 10,000 images that you can search.”

So these pages provide me an interesting convergence of history and memory, and, yes, perhaps nostalgia.
Daniel Dickinson
Pronounce This: Upstate New York

The day they knocked down the Palais

Around 1987-1989, I was living in this nifty apartment in the West Hill section of Albany. I loved this building.

I’m listening to the Kinks recently, not surprising since Ray Davies’ birthday was June 23. The song Come Dancing came on, and, oddly, I got all melancholy.

The lyrics begin:
They put a parking lot on a piece of land
Where the supermarket used to stand.
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local Palais.

It reminded me of things as they once were, which are not anymore. My elementary/junior high school, where I spent ten years of my life, was torn down years ago to build some housing that just didn’t mesh with the character of the neighborhood. My grandmother’s house, a few blocks away, where I came home for lunch every day for a decade, is also long gone. My high school merged with the other public high school; I get these nostalgia solicitations to remind me that I went to Binghamton High School. Except that I didn’t; until 1982, it was Binghamton CENTRAL, the Bulldogs, not the Patriots. There are actually a LOT of those places that used to be in my hometown, replaced by highways, or nothing at all.

But what triggered this nostalgic wave occurred considerably later, around 1987-1989, when I was living in this nifty two-family apartment in the West Hill section of Albany. I loved this building. It had two apartments, and when I walked down the hall and inside, I was in the kitchen! The bedroom was next to it. The living room, and the spare room, where I kept my comic books at the time, were in the front of the building. The best thing, though, is when I moved in, I could put all my books and records on the enclosed back porch, taking my time to unpack them without having to trip over them. The landlord, Steve, was pretty OK, too, now that I remember. It was my favorite place living by myself for a lot of reasons.

I’ve been riding my bicycle partway home, and I always ride down North Lake Avenue, but I decided to veer off to pass by the old homestead. It was all boarded up, with the grass around it all overgrown. My heart sank a bit. I know the neighborhood had deteriorated since I was there; still, this made me more than a bit sad. I suppose I could buy it for $31,300, but I fear what renovation would be required.

And that Kinks song, imperfect match though it was, ran through my head. Though I was in my thirties by then, it was as though “Part of my childhood died.” It was, if not my best self, a period when I was quite contented.

Listen to Come Dancing by the Kinks.

N is for Nostalgia

Strange, but I found even then that people have a greater recollection of things that I allegedly said and did than I do.

At some level, I’m not a very nostalgic guy. As Billy Joel put it in Keeping the Faith, and I quote, The good old days weren’t always good. It seems as though, in the US, there are dreams of the 1950s being the “good old days”, represented by TV shows such as Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best, with dad out working all day, with mom home raising the kids and wearing pearls when her husband came home for dinner. It was never MY experience.

The 1950s were a period of the cold war paranoia of “duck and cover”, and an unsettling racial climate; I’ve written before how the death of Emmett Till affected me deeply.

And it’s not just the 1950s. I went to my 10th high school reunion back in 1981 and I found it quite disturbing, so annoying, still fighting the same fights that should have been over a decade before. Or lots of conversations about “remember when so-and-so did such-and-such”; well, either the answer is yes, and so what, or no, and so what. It’s like the Springsteen song from Born in the USA, Glory Days:
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days.

Strange, but I found even then that people have a greater recollection of things that I allegedly said and did than I do.

Therefore I was quite interested in this story I saw on CBS Sunday Morning last year, Nostalgia: Power of the “Good Old Days”

But you might be surprised to learn that nostalgia – which is all about the past – has a notorious past of its own. For centuries it was considered a disease and a form of depression. Soldiers even feared it as homesickness and thought it could kill them.
I could almost believe that.

But it is not so, apparently. In fact:
Reliving good times can be a critical tool for surviving these bad times.

“If right now everything is terrible and bleak if you’re out of work and you can’t pay your mortgage and you’ve been evicted and you think, ‘there’s nowhere for me to turn,’ it is actually healthy to look to the past and to say, ‘What else have I survived before?'”
(l-r, Carol, Lois, Karen, Roger, Bill)

Now I DID agree to go to my 35th high school reunion a few years ago, but there was only one reason. There were a group of my oldest friends that were going to be there. When I say “oldest”, I mean that we all went to kindergarten together at Daniel Dickinson school in Binghamton, NY, and all graduated together from 12th grade at Binghamton Central High School. The thing about THESE friends is that we had known each other for SO long that we didn’t NEED to rehash old stuff, just needed to catch up on things.

We didn’t say, “Oh remember in second grade when we danced to the Minuet in G?” (I danced with Carol, Bill with Karen, Bernie with Lois.) Well, they do or they don’t and it doesn’t matter. “Do you remember going to Carol’s parents’ summer place in northern Pennsylvania?” Of course they do; no need to ask. There’s a certain shorthand you develop when you’ve known people a long time, even when you haven’t seen them in many years.

Still, I try to be a proponent of Carly Simon’s Anticipation, specifically the last line: “THESE are the good old days.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

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