Monday, July 28, 2014

The International Peace Garden

Last week I visited the International Peace Garden, a 2,000+ acre park that was established in 1932 on the 49th Parallel (the border between the United States and Canada) near Dunseith, North Dakota. Some of the most significant features of the park are two 120 foot tall "Twin" Peace Towers, a sculptural arrangement ("in the ironic shadows" of the Peace Towers...) of several girders from the NYC 9-11 Twin Tower Attacks, the International Music Camp, over 250,000 annual and perennial flowers, and a Peace Chapel...the park exudes beauty, serenity, and peace and causes one to consider the symbolism and stark contradiction of a "world full of hate."

    The Peace Chapel (the only building on the grounds that straddles the international border) stands at the western end of the contains dozens of "peace quotes" etched in the limestone walls.

U Thant

One of the most poignant quotes that I read was from U Thant, a Burmese diplomat who was the Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961-1971...

with violence in the streets of American cities...venomous hatred toward immigrants...apathy toward starvation, orphans, genocide...war in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, etc...internal family strife... 

 Maybe we should learn to better appreciate and live with each other in the short time we have to walk on this earth!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adam Clayton Powell Meets Fannie Lou Hamer

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP-founding members were Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Robert Moses) was formed by African-American Mississippians to challenge the legitimacy of the "White Only" Democratic Party of Mississippi. 

Listen to an excerpt of Miss Hamer's Testimony...

They sought representation from the "Credentials Committee" at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City...the most amazing part of the nationally televised testimony came from a Mississippi Sharecropper, Fannie Lou Hamer...

Ultimately, President Johnson with the help of Hubert Humphrey offered a "compromise" solution...they offered the MFDP two seats in the delegation. They even "used" powerful African-American politician Adam Clayton Powell of New York to try and convince the Mississippians to agree to the compromise.

Adam Clayton Powell: "You don't know who I am, do you?"

Fannie Lou Hamer:  "Yeah, I know who you are. You are Adam Clayton Powell...But, how many bales of cotton have you picked? How many beatings have you taken?"

Powell could say nothing and walked away...

Hamer:  "We didn't come all this way for no two seats...cause all of us is tired."


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Joe Polis and Langston Hughes

 As I enter my 30th year of teaching, I am thankful for Summer "Vacation" gives me an opportunity to reflect on the previous year, read and research countless books, poems, etc. related to U.S. History, ponder how I will challenge my students to think critically and pursue truth on a deeper level in 2014-15, and once again ask myself the question, "why are you teaching?"

To help answer this question, I want to share with you 2 examples from my summer reading that may help me articulate why I teach...and why ultimately, we are all students.

 Joe Polis

Example #1: Joe Polis was a Penobscot Indian who helped guide Henry David Thoreau through the "wilderness" of Maine while Thoreau was writing "The Maine Woods". A classic book of essays that focused on Native American culture in the 1840's. When Thoreau pondered his relation to Polis he wrote,

"I told him that in this voyage I would tell him all I knew,
and he should tell me all he knew."

The essays are an intriguing look into the metamorphosis of Thoreau's thinking in regard to Native Culture...although in my opinion, Thoreau never quite gets to the point of realizing that "the wilderness" he describes is actually "the home and wonderful reality" of the Native Americans (but, I digress).

Langston Hughes

Example #2: The great poet, Langston Hughes shares a poem he published in 1949 (100 years after Thoreau!) that further helps illustrate "why I teach"..."Theme for English B".  

I believe Hughes would've greatly "challenged" Thoreau to a deeper level of understanding.
 The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free. 

This is my page for English B. 

Henry David Thoreau

During his voyage, Thoreau writes...

"I have much to learn of the Indian..."

Oh, we have much to learn of and from each other!!!

And that is "why I teach".  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

MLB All-Time All-Star Game

 Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is being held tonight in Minneapolis, Minnesota at beautiful Target Field...and I began to imagine (very subjectively) an All-Star Game between the greatest players (IMO) of all time.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a baseball purist and hate the Designated Hitter Rule, Inter-league Play, Wild Card Playoff teams, aluminum bats...this (especially the DH) "may" cloud my imaginary outcome of the game!

Here are the rosters (National League players in the left column):

C- Johnny Bench/ Yogi Berra
1B- Pete Rose/ Lou Gehrig
2B- Jackie Robinson/ Roberto Alomar
SS- Honus Wagner/ Cal Ripken, Jr.
3B- Mike Schmidtt/ Brooks Robinson
NL Outfield- Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial
AL Outfield- Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb

NL Reserves- Albert Pujols, Roberto Clemente, Barry Bonds (steroids-ugh)
AL Reserves- Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, George Brett

NL Pitching Staff- Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson
AL Pitching Staff- Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, Bert Blyleven

 Hank Aaron faces Bert Blyleven...It might be, it could be, it is!!!

Final Score: NL 6 - AL 2

Highlights: NL Pitching Staff just too much for AL...Henry Aaron "goes yard" with a 3 run homer in the top of the 8th inning.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dr. Irene Dobbs Jackson: The Card Catalog

As a boy and into adulthood, the Library Card Catalog (now made obsolete by Online Public Access Catalogs) was one of my "favorite friends" in the summer...or should I say, "I was forced to read books during the summer by my mother!"  In my mind, reading during the summer was drudgery and punishment (I would've rather been outside playing baseball than searching the card catalog)...but, 1,400 miles away the card catalog was considered freedom!

On May 22, 1959, Dr. Irene Dobbs Jackson of Atlanta became the first African-American to be issued a library card from the main branch of The Atlanta Public Library system. As time passed, many African-Americans began to check out books and even use the public restroom...

a confused and perturbed librarian called the police with an "urgent" message.

"Why (am I needed)...are they destroying books?"

"No," answered the librarian.

"Are they tearing up the furniture?"


"Are they disturbing the peace?"


"Well, what are they doing?"

"They're looking in the card catalog!!!"

"A Proud Mother"

In October of 1973, Maynard Jackson became the first African-American mayor of Atlanta...he is pictured above with his wife (Burnella) and mother (Dr. Irene Dobbs Jackson).

Oh, the lessons that began at the card catalog!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Subtlety: But, Not Subtle

On Saturday, my daughter and son-in-law visited Kara Walker's latest work entitled "Subtlety"...a provocative, thought-provoking, and sometimes disturbing exhibit at the soon to be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.

It is hard to believe in this day and age (sugar at just over 50 cents per pound/ free sugar packets at McDonald's, Starbuck's, etc.) but, at one time (The Middle Ages) refined sugar was a luxury only the rich could afford or enjoy as subtleties...a form of after dinner food entertainment sculpted out of sugar and other spices. These subtleties (as they do today!) came with a price...slavery, relocation, loss of family, blood, death, etc. of men, women, and children around the world.

The Exhibit:
  • A mammoth 35' X 80' "White Sugar Sphinx Mammy" created with 40 tons of sugar.
  • 13 "Molasses Boys" carrying heavy, over-sized baskets filled with sugar cane.
  • Old sugar refining equipment "still dripping of molasses..."
  • The smell of sugar and molasses (and of deep human suffering) permeating the factory.

My reaction:
  •  A powerful reminder of the deadly history of slavery.
  • The awful effects of child labor.
  • My "simple" pleasures (coffee, sugar, juice, etc.) are sometimes the result of other peoples pain.
  • Exploitation...yesterday and today.
  • Women as sex objects...yesterday and today.
  • Were these her children? Was she proud...angry...sad?
  • The endurance, strength, and love of slaves...exploited people of yesterday and today.
  • Sweet vs. Bitter
  • Do we (taking photos with our phones, posting on Facebook, blogging, etc.) even come close to empathizing with the pain, starvation, etc.  of yesterday and today?
  • we take a few pictures and just keep on walking?   
Watch Kara Walker discuss her art...

What are your thoughts about "Subtlety"...