Saturday, July 23, 2005

I Hope to Shout

This post is about my dear,late cousin Henria who died a few years ago. She was quite an interesting character. The only black square dancer I have ever heard of, she lived in Idaho, where she taught, and was in Milwaukee living with her mother, my cousin Cottie. The experience meeting her was one that stays with me with such permanence because of A. the events that took place and B. the fact that she died that next summer.

It was Thanksgiving when we drove from Chicago to Milwaukee so that my grandmother and my aunt Earnestine could see their cousin, whom they had not seen in more than half a century. My aunt Earnestine maintained a correspondence with Cousin Cottie, and occassionally there were phone calls exchanged between the three. Cottie, who is about the same age as Aunt Earnestine, which would make her now about 88, moved away in the late 40s with her Lutheran minister husband, never to return to the South. There is a story there and I will get to it later.

My mother and Henria, who had known each other briefly as children, bonded immediately and hit it off so well it was like two sisters connecting with one another. Henria would do my mother's hair and they would talk and talk and talk, and take us for long walks around the parsonage where she stayed with Cousin Cottie and the Reverend, who was ill. At that time,Henria wanted to know from my mother two things-A. Was her mother's father a white man and B. What was the deep dark secret that her mother was keeping and that had kept her from going south or telling her Children anything about their family and heritage. My mother, knowledgeable about all of these things (as were the rest of us who were there in the house, except Henria-- and the little children) told her that yes her mother had a secret, but that it wasnt her place to tell her. She also told her that yes, her mother's father was a white man. (Cousin Cottie is soo fair she is almost transparent. She is one of those that is whiter than white people, and you can tell that they are mixed, although others might mistake them for white, if they don't know any better.

My cousin Cottie left the South to escape her nebulous heritage( especially with the tale tale of her color and the fact that people in the community knew who she was)as well as to escape something else. The deep dark secret that she never told her daughters and that really was the reason that she left the South is that her first cousin (also my Grandmother's first cousin), I suppose I need to stop using names, but anyway, her cousin left home and went to Florida where Cottie was living with her husband, Reverend Grigsby.

After a while, Cottie was ready for her to leave. She didn't. Little did she know, this cousin of hers and her husband, the reverend, were having an affair. She wrote endless letters to her aunt to call for this girl to come home, but she didn't leave until she came up pregnant. The child she had now lives in Colorado and does well for herself. She also, this cousin, sort cleaned up the situation by passing the child off as her later husband's( who just happens to be my grandmother's other first cousin, on her mother's side). Well, that sure made for some uncomfortable situations and also was the reason why Cottie never told her children anything about where she came from or who her people were. Alas, I am quite sure that there was some tension and some held breaths back in the mid 80s when cousin Cottie dared to go to a family reunion and who just happened to climb into the elevator with Cottie and one of her other daughters, but Cousin X and her daughter, the other daughter of the Reverend Grigsby. I find it quite sad that Henria went to her grave wondering about those things. It all does seem a bit foolish.

Alas, another situation to arise out of this quagmire occurred back in the early seventies when the other daughter of Grigsby was just out of college, had moved to Chicago to get her start and my grandmother was recruited to show her around and help her get comfortable. What happened, do you guess? Not long after that moved, the other daughter found out that Uncle Amos was not her daddy and that Reverend Grigsby was. Cousin L hit the roof and called my grandmother and blessed her out. My grandmother was bawling. My aunt Johnnie ( the vixen that she was, and that's a good thing) picked up the phone and called Cousin L and gave her a few choice words. Who might have told the big secret? Cousin L's sister, my cousin Fannie ( who is fabulous and runs the People's History Museum in Prattville Alabama. She is still going at 84 years old). What a little mess that was.

Anyway, I don't know why I blogged about this, but I was thinking about Henria. She used to have this phrase, "I hope to shout," that she would say all of the time. She was a beautiful creature. Definitely an interesting presence in the world.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Poor Eleanor Clift, she always has to fight to speak on the Maclaughclin group. ( I know I didnt spell that right).

The Roberts Nomination

What I have observed with the Roberts nomination is that, with Bush's nomination of Roberts, he went with his ideology and his home base instead of embracing the choice that Liberals (god forbid) and others would have been more comfortable with, Gonzalez. I think it says something.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What I learned today/ Indiana Isn't that Bad

From a conversation I had today, I discovered that Shirley Graham Dubois, the wife of W.E.B. DuBois, is from Indianapolis. Quite interesting. Indiana is not all that bad,especially where white folks are NOT of concern. I am aware and have known that there was (and perhaps is?) quite a scene in this state. Haki Madhabuti is in Gary, the Black Panthers were in Gary and Indianapolis, Nikki Giovanni was in Kokomo, and one of Lena Horne's uncle's published a Black newspaper out of Indianapolis. The National Black Caucus was here ( with Jesse, et al) back in the late 70s, and one cannot fail to mention the history of the Mennonites, the Quakers, and other progressives in this state.
I thought it would be most magnificent, and quite a positive thing to do, to make a list of the people whom I feel are important, progressive people that if not known by all, should be. I will just list names and perhaps a little bit about them, as I dont feel like doing much right now, but I will probably do more later.

Dr. John Henrik Clarke, professor
Angela Davis, professor, activist
Barbra Streisand, singer, activist, leftist fundraiser
June Jordan, poet, major castrator
Nikki Giovanni, poet, major castrator
Amiri Baraka, poet, revolutionary activist
Haki Madhibuti (Don L. Lee), poet
Maya Angelou, poet, activist, advisor to the black billionare Oprah ( go girl)
Jane Fonda, actress, activist, humanitarian
Bettina Aptheker, professor, activist, daughter of Herbert Aptheker and friend of Angela Davis
Hanan Ashwari, Palestinian activist and politician
bell hooks, academic, intellectual, radical progressive
Elaine Brown, former Chairwoman of the Black Panther party, academic, author
Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party,intellectual
Stokely Carmichael, SNCC leader, Black Panther, intellectual, Revolutionary
Martin Luther King, progressive,Nobel Prize recipient, in his later days radical thinker
Bayard Rustin, activist
Josephine Baker, singer, activist, progressive radical thinker
Nina Simone, singer, activist, major castrator
Lorraine Hansberry, radically progressive playwright
Howard Zinn, historian, author, public speaker, radical progressive
Alice Walker, Zinn's student, author, radical progressive
Assata Shakur, activist, author, former political prisoner persecuted by the U.S.
George Jackson, prisoner, political activist, author, radical progressive, assassinated by American racists.
Aime Cesaire, author, progressive
Franz Fanon, author, radical progressive
Toni Morrison, author
Derrick Jensen, radical progressive, professor
Sonia Sanchez, poet, radical progressive
Al Sharpton, former presidential candidate, radical progressive
Jesse Jackson, former presidential candidate, progressive, powerful public voice
Ntzoke Shange, playwright
Paul Robeson, actor, singer, writer, political activist, radical progressive
Cesar Chavez, activist, progressive
Che Guevara, political philosopher, revolutionary
Gloria Steinem,journalist, progressive radical
Langston Hughes, poet, social activist
There are more to come.

The World I Want

Why can't Angela Davis be the secretary of state? The world would be so wonderful if it were run by( and in that case, I think they would not operate along the lines of "running" anything) Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Barbra Streisand, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Steinem. They would have a very large cabinet too. It is amazing and I still intend to write a paper about how two complete and total people such as Angela Davis and Condoleeza Rice could come from the same place, just about ten years a part from each other, and be who they are today. One, a progressive, the other serving as a face for evil ( Black people should be scared that now people can identify a black woman's face with this country's machinations). Oh what a world it would be though.... It puts in my mind a song I love so much "Everything," by Barbra

I want to learn what life is for
I don't want much, I just want more
Ask what I want and I will sing
I want everything,everything.

I'd cure the cold and the traffic jam
If there were floods I'd give a damn
I'd never sleep, I'd only sing,
let me do everything, everything.

I'd like to plan a city and play a cello,
Play at Monte Carlo, play Othello
Move into the White House and paint it Yellow
Speak Portuguese and Dutch, and if it's not too much
I'd like to have the perfect twin, One who'd go out as I came in
I've got to grab the big brass ring so I'll have everything,
I'm like a child who's set free at the fun fair
Every ride invites me and it's unfair saying that I only
Get my one share doesn't seem just I could live as I must if they'd
Give me the time to turn the tide,
Give me the truth, if once I lied
Give me the strength that's gonna bring,
More of everything, More of Everything
Then I'll have Everything (Then I'll have everything)
Someone roughed Condie Rice up when she was over in the Sudan and she asked for an apology. I would have told that heifer to go to hell. My aunt should have drowned her when she was a little girl.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why is it that leftist organizations only ask for money? I believe they would be a lot more effective and get a lot more done if they asked people ot do something, other than forward emails.

Personal Blogging/ My family

I am a lot who I am today because of my family, my background, and the environment and the times in which I grew up. Over the years, there have been occassions of people trying to rule over me, manipulate me, or simply totally disrespect me and I have reacted to that in fashion that is true to myself and responsive to my learned/acquired/ and personally developed since of ethics, beliefs, and ideas concerning everything.

Indeed, I have blogged before, that one of my earliest developments of this type was to my grandmother. When I was coming along, my grandmother would recount many things, among them how my mother, when she was in high school, at St. Michael's on the northside of Chicago, was involved in an incident in a classroom in which one of the Nun's tried to tell her that the reason she was black was because that god put a curse on her. My mother refuted this Nun's statement, and, on the adverse, told the nun that quite the opposite was true, that whites were white because of a curse God had placed on them. The nun, offended and apparently disgruntled at this little negro girl refuting her assured authority as a white woman and, I guess, as a nun, told my mother to leave the school and not come back until she had found solid evidence to back up her statements.

My grandmother frantically called Alabama to her father (an expert on the Bible, as it goes) and hastily sent my mother back with some passage somewhere about whatever it was about white people being cursed. Well, anyway, this nun from that point on did not like my mother ( and alas, the nuns at the school did not like my mother) and so when time came to get ready for colleges, my mother's first choice was Kentucky State. The nun', knowing this, in some manner or fashion refused to release my mother's records to the school. My mother ended up going to Miles in Birmingham instead. When my mother got wind of this and told my grandmother of what the nun's were doing, my grandmother told her that she should have "kept her mouth shut."

I wondered why my grandmother would tell me this, as I dont see it as anything to be proud of (and alas, she also recounted how one of her friends chastised her for not doing anything about the situation). I declared then and there, upon hearing this, that 1. If it had been me I would have torn that school up and then down again and my granmother would probably be seriously hurt and 2. That I would NEVER keep my mouth shut, that I would always speak my mind and be true to myself. My self. And although I have been guilty more than once and more often than not of NOT Speaking up (which is something that afflicts most minorities, and particularly Afro-Americans- bell hooks and others address this issue quite openly and with much serious discussion, it is a principle I strive to live by.

Alas, there have been several occassions in my growing up that stand as testatment to that fact. I rememeber quite vividly, a first incident when I was in the fifth grade, it is quite funny actually, when I was in class and had been talking to some boy (who was cute). Well, I had finished talking to him and had turned around to do something else. Then he decided to start hitting my ear with a pencil. Ok. Well, I asked him to please stop. Several times. Well, then I went to the teacher and told her to make him stop.

Her response to me began "Well, if you weren't such a ---, then he wouldn't..." I dont even think I heard the rest, because her response was not what I wanted to hear (which was to make this boy leave me alone for time time being)my mouth fell open that she wouldn't stop him, so I went back to my desk mad. I got out a sheet of paper and I started writing some stuff down about her ( and mind you she wasnt talking in a kidding manner either when she stated that if I wasnt such a ---" at anyrate, I remember I wrote down that she was a pharisee, and alas, some stupid children behind me started looking over my shoulder to see what I was doing, and when they saw that I was writing stuff about the teacher they snatched the paper from me and took it up to her. Whatever I wrote apparently made her mad as hell ( and (I remember calling her a pharisee, but I dont remember what else I wrote), but she came and grabbed my arm and started dragging me, telling me she was going to take me to the office.

Mind you, at this point, and in the whole incident, I wasn't so much upset about the boy hitting me with a pencil, I was upset because this woman, who was supposed to be teacher, wasn't gonna do anything about it. What the hell. Well, we got out into the hallway and I started yelling something at the top of my lungs and yelled from her door all the way to the office and into the principal's office, which was at least a good ten minutes. So anyway, what happened was this woman finally had to admit that she was in the wrong for not doing anything about the boy sitting behind me. Now, we had gotten along great up until that point, were almost buddy buddy, me and this teacher were. Well, anyway, what happened was she admitted that she was wrong and by that time she had made me miss my bus so she had to drive me home. The incident was never mentioned again. I often see this woman a lot, as her aunt is a friend of my mother's and she is married to one of the local car dealers. We don't have much to say to each other. but she learned.

Again, when I was in high school, another incident occured. I was in french class, the worst class in the school as no one could learn anything in that room because one the teacher didnt know anything and two she couldnt control her classroom. Anyway, the teacher just happened to be absent that day and we were watching some film. A group of boys were sitting in the back of the classroom ( white boys) and decided they were going to throw pencils and crap up to the front of the room. Well, they hit me with one of them and I asked the substitute to make them stop. She replied to me that "She couldnt do anything about it." And I looked at her with a look that said "well then, what in the hell are you here for?"

So, I decided that I could. The boys got confrontational after a while and I don't remember what happened in the meantime, but I do remember that after an exchange I slapped the taste out of one them. At that point, a fight ensued and my glasses were broken and we were tussling on the floor. I decided that I was not going to fight with this person, so I walked up to the vice principal's office and told him what happened ( I was freshman,I didn't know who this man was). Well, he told me, that "he couldn't do anyhting about it except send both of us to alternative school." I looked at him and I said, " well, I know what I can do, I can call my mama."

So I picked up his phone and called my mother in my mad,frantic state (which was heard throughout the office)and I remember distinctly saying to her, " Mama, this so-called Vice Principal is sitting up here and tells me he can send me to alternative school). My mother really is a lioness about her cubs, for sure. I never had to fight, I had a mother and a sister, who were both strong enough to take on grown men, but more about that later. Well, anyway, the boy had to pay for my glasses, but I am just relaying this to say that I have never been one to shut my mouth or let anyone try to walk over me. I suppose sometimes that can make me mean, and possibly evil, but I for one, refuse.

That also leads to the other incident that my grandmother recalled to me, that I found troubling. When the white superintendent fired my grandmother, harrassed my Aunt Bertie, and demoted my Aunt Earnestine from a principal after my Uncle Fess' death as his sort of revenge on the man whom he could not stand, but could not deal with while he was alive,my grandmother refused to fight this. Alas, I do realize it was 1963 and in Alabama, but alas, I would have raised hell. And if my grandmother had had any of her brother in her, she would have done a bit more than raise hell ( I have blogged about my Uncle Lawrence before).

Perhaps I have a bit too much Goodson blood in my system for my own good. They say Morgan Goodson was the meanest man in Autauga County. It is not good to be mean, and I try not to be, really really hard, and sometimes have to catch myself ( or be reminded), and I really really want and hope to be open and loving and caring, and not hard and not mean. But I will cut your throat if I have to. It is hard to maintain a balance, to protect oneself and maintain integrity and spirit in the face of a racist, hostile society while continuing to see the humanity in people, and be loving, and trying to share the spirit with all people,embracing the world. God grant me the strength.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Interesting that at the same time that CNN reports the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, CNN runs a headline : White Alligator in Legal Limbo. These people kill me.
My grandmother is trapped in the prison of her own domesticity. I feel sorry for her.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ashley's dog cries to be let inside the house. Although he substitutes being held sometimes.
My grandmother is a poet who prefers the confines of domesticity. She is a gifted orator and writes plays and recites poetry.She could have done so much more if she had wanted.

House By The Side of the Road

They recited this poem at my aunt Bertie's funeral when I was five years old. I have always remembered it.

THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.