Black History Month — Maya Angelou

This post is a reprisal of one I wrote last year about a great lady whose voice is still so relevant today and will likely be so long into the future.

Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928 … her given name was Marguerite, but her older brother nicknamed her “Maya”, derived from “Mya Sister”.  Her parents divorced when Maya was just three years old, and when she was eight, she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend.  She told her brother, her brother told the rest of the family, and the man, whose last name was Freeman, was arrested.  But, though Freeman was found guilty, he was freed after only one day in jail.  Incensed, an uncle or uncles, it is unclear whether it was one or more, beat and kicked Mr. Freeman to death.  Says Maya …

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.”

And she spoke not a word for nearly the next five years.  Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors who would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.

maya-angelouDuring World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, California. There she won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School. During this time, Angelou became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco.

During the 1960s, Maya and her son spent several years in Ghana, where she became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana.  It was in Ghana that she met and became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s.  Angelou returned to the U.S. in 1965 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward.

Maya remained a civil rights activist, and in 1968 Martin Luther King asked Angelou to help organize a march.  She agreed, but before the plan could reach fruition, Martin Luther King was assassinated – on Maya’s 40th birthday, as it happened.  For many years thereafter, Maya refused to celebrate her birthday, but sent flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, on that day. maya-angelou-2Maya Angelou went on to become one of the greatest writers and poets of our time. Despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans’ African heritage, and what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS.  Also in 1968, she wrote her first of seven autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This brought her international recognition and acclaim.Maya-caged-birdIn 1993, Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

I came across this quote by Maya regarding writing …

“I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music. I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears, and over my face.”

And now I know what I’ve been doing wrong all this time — I must wear a hat from now on when I write!!!maya-angelou-4There is so much more I could tell you about Maya Angelou, who died in 2014, but there are many, many great books both by and about her.  What I do want to share with you, though, is one of her most famous poems, Still I Rise.  Just as with Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, I cannot listen to her recite this without a tear coming to my eyes. In this, she writes about racism and slavery,  about rising above hatred – something that is just as relevant today as it was when she first published it in 1978.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86.  Among other, former President Bill Clinton and then-First Lady Michelle Obama both spoke at her funeral.

“And then she developed the greatest voice on the planet. God loaned her His voice. She had the voice of God, and He decided he wanted it back for awhile.” — President Bill Clinton

“For me that was the power of Maya Angelou’s words, words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House.” — First Lady Michelle Obama

During her lifetime, she won Grammy Awards for three spoken-word albums, was a civil rights activist, streetcar conductor, Calypso singer, dancer, movie director and playwright.  She left behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.maya-4

A Few Tidbits …

R.I.P. Tom Moore

Tom-MooreI start today’s post on a sad note.  You’ll remember that I’ve written about Captain Tom Moore, the UK veteran raised tens of millions of pounds for Britain’s health workers by walking 100 laps of his garden last spring.  Sadly, he died this morning after being treated for pneumonia and then testing positive for the coronavirus last month. 

Mr. Moore’s own words of optimism come back to us at this time …

“We will get through it in the end but it might take time, but at the end of the day we shall all be OK again… the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”

Reading of Tom Moore’s death first thing this morning brought a tear to my eye.  He was one of the good people and will be long remembered.  Thank you, Captain Tom Moore, for a lifetime of being a good man … the world needs many more like you.  R.I.P.

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The price for a conscience …

Representative Liz Cheney from Wyoming was one of ten Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach Donald Trump late last year, and now she is paying a high price.  The people of her state are turning against her, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be meeting with her this week, possibly planning to strip her of her committee assignments and her position as House Republican Conference Chair, the third highest ranking position in the House Republican leadership.

This is ridiculous!  The woman voted her conscience, saying that Trump “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”   She also called his incitement “the greatest betrayal by a president of the United States of his office.” She was correct on both counts, and yet she is likely to be asked to apologize for both her words and her vote.  Why?  Because the entire Republican Party is populated by cowards who are afraid of the ‘man’ who is no longer in the Oval Office. 

I am not a fan of Liz Cheney, but she followed the dictates of her conscience, something the rest of the slime in the Republican Party cannot do because they traded their consciences for a box of Cracker Jacks long ago.  She does not deserve to be censured or otherwise punished, and the people of Wyoming need to wake up and realize that Trump was the biggest threat this nation was facing until just 13 days ago!


And on the other hand …

On the other hand, there is Marjorie Taylor Greene, the pistol-packing idiot from Georgia who now sits in the House of Representatives.  I’ve written before about Greene, so I don’t need to repeat what I’ve already said, but she, like Ms. Cheney, will be having a one-on-one meeting with Kevin McCarthy sometime this week for her racist comments, for supporting the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, for saying she wished death upon some of her fellow members of Congress, and other behaviours not acceptable for a member of Congress.

She is likely to receive a slap on the wrist for her horrendous words and actions, though she could lose her committee assignments.  While I definitely hope she loses her committee assignments, one of which is the Education & Labour Committee … she belongs nowhere near those who make decisions concerning our children’s education!  She would likely demand that firearms training be included in every school’s curriculum! 

If McCarthy doesn’t strip her of her committee assignments, the Democrats are likely to do so.  She sits on the following committees …

  • Judiciary
  • Education and Labor
  • Energy and Commerce
  • Financial Services
  • Foreign Affairs
  • House Administration
  • Oversight and Reform
  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Ways and Means

She has no relevant education or experience in any one of these areas, so I’m not sure where the logic in determining her assignments was. 

But what I would really like to see is her expulsion from Congress.  It can and should be done before she causes a disaster, either by shooting someone within the Capitol (she has said she would like to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a bullet in her head), or by turning the House of Representatives into a three-ring circus. 

The United States Constitution (Article I, Section 5, Clause 2) provides that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

It would, however, require 70 Republicans to find a conscience and vote to expel Ms. Greene, and we all know there aren’t 70 republicans with courage & conscience in the entire Congress.  Sigh.

Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

I had planned to write a tribute post to baseball’s legendary Henry (Hank) Aaron this afternoon, but as often happens when great minds think alike, Keith was on the same page, only he beat me to the punch and did it every bit as well as I could have. Thank you, Keith, for this lovely tribute to a man who was not only a great baseball player, but also a great human being.

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A great baseball player passed away yesterday. His name was Henry Aaron, but he went by Hank. He was a very quiet man growing up in the south in the middle of the Jim Crow era. But, arguably he is on a very short list of the greatest baseball players ever.

Rather than bore non-baseball fans with endless statistics indicating how great he was, let me focus on how poorly this African-American was treated as he chased records set by white ball players. He received multiple death threats and family kidnapping threats and was openly called the N word both aloud and within the many letters of vicious hate mail.

Like Jackie Robinson before him, he took all of this with quiet dignity and a heavy dose of quiet strength. Racism and bigotry was dumped on this man like garbage. But, he stood strong.

When he chased the greatest of…

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Honouring Dr. Martin Luther King …

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday in the United States.  I first wrote this tribute to Dr. King in 2017, and each year I reprise it, with slight changes or minor additions, for I find that it still says exactly what I wish to say.  Given the increase in racism in the United States over the past four years, and particularly last year with the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and with peaceful Black Lives Matter protests being assaulted by law enforcement and white supremacists, I think the above quote seems more apt today than ever before.  So please, take just a minute to, if nothing else, listen once again to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In these troubled times, it is good to be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 92 years old last Wednesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL people, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2021.  Dr. King’s fight lives on, for we have moved further away than before from his dream.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Stepen Bantu Biko, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past four years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to inhumanely separating children from families seeking to enter the country.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.


  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.


  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.


  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.


  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped

Note:  Our friend TokyoSand has written a post with ideas for how each of us can help carry on Dr. King’s legacy … I hope you’ll pay her a visit!

Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Our friend Keith pays tribute to two ‘good people’, people who had hearts of gold and left an everlasting legacy to this world. Thank you, Keith!

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Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as…

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11 September 2020 … Memories

With the exception of 2018, I have published this post each year since 2015 on September 11th, sharing memories of that day in 2001 when life changed, my thoughts and reflections.  I planned to write a new one this year, but as I read over it, I realized that I cannot say it any better today than I said it five years ago, and frankly, amidst the rubble of chaos, turmoil and divisiveness in our nation today, inspiration simply did not come to me.   I’ve come to realize that not only did we not learn the lessons of that day, but that in every way imaginable, the United States has become a much crueler, harsher, less respected and less respectable nation today than it was in 2001.  I skipped my 9/11 post in 2018, for I felt that amidst the chaos and divisiveness of this nation, it had lost its relevance.  I was wrong … we need to remember … we must not forget, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we have learned anything in the 19 years since our world turned upside down in a matter of 102 minutes.


Humanity

911-cover-4Nineteen years ago.  It seems so much longer … another lifetime.  And yet … and yet, it seems like such a short time ago. I remember the morning well.  A key staff member was on vacation and I had to cover, so I arrived at work well before dawn, but I stepped outside sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 for a smoke break.  The sky was the bluest I could recall ever seeing it and I thought it must be the most perfect day ever.  Within a half-hour, I would be left in tears, cursing the day, hoping to awaken from this nightmare.

911-cover-9I went back inside from my smoke-break, and an employee, Susie, came up to me and asked if I had heard about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.  If the building I worked in then had not since been demolished, I could show you the exact tile I was standing on at that moment, just as I could tell you that when we received news of the assassination of JFK, I was at home plate with bat in hand, waiting for the pitch that would never come.  Just as my grandfather often told exactly where he was and what he was doing when the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour came over ‘the wireless’. You think it is a literary trick when an author says “time stood still”?  Well, I can tell you … for me, time did stand still, as I must have also.  I seemed to have lost all feeling, all senses shut down … I could not hear nor see.  After that, it all blurs into a series of news updates … a 2nd plane, then the Pentagon, then a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the name Usama bin Laden.  A gathering in the cafeteria, a television rolled into another room where we all gathered.  Financial statements, payroll, printing presses and the like forgotten for the moment.  Tearful phone calls home to the girls.  Then day after day, glued to the television every waking moment.  In my household, we had a then-6-year-old and finally had to turn to Nickelodeon, but the images remained in our eyelids, in our hearts, in our souls. And the tears never stopped.

911-cover-2Today we mark the 19th memorial of that awful day.  We do so in many ways, but the saddest thing for me is that we did not learn the lessons we needed to learn from that tragedy.  Today, our nation is more divided than ever.  In the days and weeks that followed what would become known simply as 9/11, it seemed we were on the right path.  People from all over the nation and Canada traveled to Ground Zero to help with search and rescue, and eventually cleanup operations.  Shopkeepers gave out free food and water.  People helped neighbors, friends and strangers.  We all empathized with each other, treated each other a little kinder, gave a bit more freely of our hugs and kind words.

Compare and contrast to today, when we are a nation divided by hatred, divided by a lack of understanding for those who do not look, act or think like us.  And there are many who blame today’s vitriolic environment on 9/11, those who decided to hate all who share a religion with the plotters and perpetrators of the horrific acts of 9/11.  But it doesn’t stop there … our nation has renewed its call for racial discrimination, religious intolerance, and hatred of those who are perceived as ‘different’ in one way or another.  We have lost our way.


Commercialism

That which “we will never forget” has already been forgotten by some, it would seem.  A mattress company releases the following ad:

“Right now, you can get any sized mattress for a twin price!” says a grinning woman flanked by two employees in the 20-second spot. She flings her arms out and the men tumble backwards, knocking over two tall piles of mattresses. The woman screams “Oh my God!” in mock panic, then immediately recovers her composure and adds, with a half-smile: “We’ll never forget.”  It quickly attracted local, then national outrage. The ad was taken down, and Mike Bonanno, the owner of Miracle Mattress, issued the following statement:  “I say this unequivocally, with sincere regret: the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11.” 

How did he not realize how “tasteless” it was before it aired?

9-11One Wal-Mart, in conjunction with Coca-Cola, erected a display to “commemorate” the 9/11 anniversary.  It was taken down after much criticism.  And other companies have also tried to use 9/11 for sales and profit.  It is not a commercial holiday. We do not celebrate with hot dogs and beer. It is a day of national mourning.  It is a day of solemnity.  Commercialism has no place on this day, no right to use it as a gimmick.  Can you imagine Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy being commercialized?  There was one commercial ad that truly was a tribute to the day.  It aired only once, in 2002.  I still find it to be a beautiful tribute and it still brings tears.  Please take just one minute to watch it.

Before airing the commercial, Anheuser-Busch sought and received approval from Congress, as well as then-mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. There is no company logo until the end, and since it aired only once, given the cost of producing the ad, the company made no profit from it, nor did they intend to. It truly feels like a tribute rather than a cheap shot. It was tasteful … respectful.


Positive, Encouraging, Hopeful Messages

In 2016, in a rare display of partisanship, 200 members of Congress stood on the steps beneath the recently restored Capitol dome and prayed, observed a moment’s silence and, accompanied by a marine band, sang God Bless America to mark the imminent anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The remembrance ceremony, with Democrats and Republicans standing side by side, was heartening, though it would have been much more so had all 535 members of Congress participated.  Will we see that repeated this year?  I doubt it.

I understand that Donald Trump and Joe Biden both plan to attend a 9/11 memorial held at the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania today.  In my opinion, politics has no place in this ceremony or others, and Trump only desecrates the day with falsehoods, as I can never forget that after the towers fell, he bragged that now his was the tallest building in the city.


I end where I began, by saying that we have lost our way, we have failed to learn from this, and to some extent we have failed to keep our promise to “never forget”.  The nation is more bitterly divided, more everything-phobic today than it was prior to 11 September 2001.  Rather than embracing our differences, we are using them as an excuse for hatred.  Rather than loving our fellow man, we are killing him.  Unless we learn to unite and work together for the sake of not only our nation, but of humanity, we are doomed to repeat the past. I would ask the readers of this blog to do this one thing:  be kind today, do not put anyone down, offer a smile to any you see, and hug your family just a little tighter today … just for today. Below are just a few pictures I would like to share, to remind us all of that day.

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911-4

911-dust-lady

Marcy Borders, the ‘dust lady’, sadly died 25 August 2015 of cancer related to 9/11

ground zero

twin-towers

John Lewis: The Last Of The True Heroes

Last night, right around midnight, as I had just finished writing and scheduling my Saturday Surprise post and was in the process of responding to comments, a breaking news flash crossed my screen that took my breath, caused me to utter aloud, “NO!”, and broke my heart.  Congressman John Lewis had died.

John-Lewis-quoteThere are few people alive today who deserve the title ‘hero’ in every sense of the word.  John Lewis was one such person.

When President Obama awarded John Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011, he said …

“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

obama-lewis John Robert Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, on Feb. 21, 1940, one of 10 children of Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. According to “March,” his three-part autobiography in graphic novel form, he dreamed from a young age of being a preacher. He was in charge of taking care of his family’s chickens and would practice sermons on them: “I preached to my chickens just about every night.”  But life had other plans for young John Lewis.

John Lewis was the last of the most relevant civil rights leaders from the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, and, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott (led by King) began later that year, Lewis closely followed the news about it. Lewis would later meet Rosa Parks when he was 17 and met King for the first time when he was 18.  By the time he came of age, his path was chosen.

I could not possibly list all of Mr. Lewis’ accomplishments in this single post, but I would like to highlight a few.

As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, Lewis first became a part of the Civil Rights Movement, organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters that eventually led to the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.

John-Lewis-lunch-counter-sit-in

Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the nonviolent movement to desegregate the downtown area of the city. He was also instrumental in organizing bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality.

John-Lewis-early-arrest

In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation.  The Freedom Ride was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional.

In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. At 21 years old, Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson.

“We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back.”

Lewis was also imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.  But John Lewis was not a quitter.

In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate.

“It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious.”

In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied in a Greyhound station during a Freedom Ride, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.

In 1963, Lewis was named one of the “Big Six” leaders who were organizing the March on Washington, the occasion of Dr. King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis also spoke at the March. Discussing the occasion, historian Howard Zinn wrote:

“At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: ‘Which side is the federal government on?’ That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence.”

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettus-Bridge

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettis-BridgeIn 1965, at age 25, Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, and was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, where he was beaten by police and knocked unconscious.  When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis’s skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement’s headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama.  Lewis still bore the scars on his head from the incident.

John-Lewis-CongressIn 1986, John Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia’s fifth district, a seat he would win and hold until his death last night.  He was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. He ran unopposed in 1996, from 2004 to 2008, in 2014, and again in 2018.

Throughout his 34 years in Congress he fought for human rights, for civil rights … for your rights and mine … for our children’s and grandchildren’s.  He spoke out loud and clear in favour of LGBT rights, national health insurance, gun regulation, and has often been called “the conscience of Congress.”

“My overarching duty as I declared during that 1986 campaign and during every campaign since then, has been to uphold and apply to our entire society the principles which formed the foundation of the movement to which I have devoted my entire life.”

Coming from another, that might be considered just political rhetoric, but from John Lewis, truer words were never spoken.  He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk for his entire life.  The world is a little darker place today without John Lewis in it.  RIP John Lewis … you are missed already.

 

♫ The Devil Went Down To Georgia ♫

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, I am not a fan of country music.  However, when a legend dies, no matter his field, he deserves to be honoured.  Charlie Daniels was a country music legend best known for his award-winning country hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Daniels was active as a singer and musician since the 1950s. He was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame in 2002, the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Daniels won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1979 for The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1979. The following year, “Devil” became a major crossover success on rock radio stations after its inclusion on the soundtrack for the hit movie Urban Cowboy, in which he made an onscreen appearance. The song still receives regular airplay on U.S. classic rock and country stations.

Although Daniels had a number of hits subsequent to The Devil Went Down to Georgia, this is the only one of his songs that I am familiar with, not being a country music aficionado.  And even though I am not a fan of the genre, I am in awe of the fiddle-playing in this song!

Daniels said that the idea for this song came from a poem he read in high school called “The Mountain Whippoorwill” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Said Daniels:

“We had gone in and rehearsed, written, and recorded the music for our Million Mile Reflections album, and all of a sudden we said, ‘We don’t have a fiddle song.’ I don’t know why we didn’t discover that, but we went out and we took a couple of days’ break from the recording studio, went into a rehearsal studio and I just had this idea: ‘The Devil went down to Georgia.’ The idea may have come from an old poem that Stephen Vincent Benet wrote many, many years ago. He didn’t use that line, but I just started, and the band started playing, and first thing you know we had it down.”

In this song, Satan himself pays a visit to Georgia and challenges a boy named Johnny to a fiddle duel: If Johnny can play the fiddle better than the devil, he gets a golden fiddle, but if he loses, the devil gets his soul.  It was Daniels who played the fiddle for both the Devil and Johnny, and it was also Daniels who dreamed up what they both would sound like.

I actually do like this song … as I said, the fiddle playing is amazing, and it’s got a catchy, toe-tapping tune.  Politically, Charlie and I were miles apart, but that doesn’t keep me from admiring what he did, his talent, his music.  Charlie Daniels died yesterday at the age of 83.  His music will live on …

The Devil Went Down to Georgia
Charlie Daniels Band

The devil went down to Georgia
He was lookin’ for a soul to steal
He was in a bind
‘Cause he was way behind
And he was willin’ to make a deal

When he came upon this young man
Sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot
And the devil jumped
Up on a hickory stump
And said, “boy, let me tell you what

I guess you didn’t know it
But I’m a fiddle player too
And if you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you

Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy
But give the devil his due
I’ll bet a fiddle of gold
Against your soul
‘Cause I think I’m better than you”

The boy said, “my name’s Johnny
And it might be a sin
But I’ll take your bet
And you’re gonna regret
‘Cause I’m the best there’s ever been”

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard
‘Cause hell’s broke loose in Georgia, and the devil deals the cards
And if you win, you get this shiny fiddle made of gold
But if you lose, the devil gets your soul

The devil opened up his case
And he said, “I’ll start this show”
And fire flew from his fingertips
As he rosined up his bow

Then he pulled the bow across the strings
And it made an evil hiss
And a band of demons joined in
And it sounded something like this

When the devil finished
Johnny said, “well, you’re pretty good, old son
But sit down in that chair right there
And let me show you how it’s done”

He played Fire on the Mountain run boys, run
The devil’s in the House of the Rising Sun
Chicken in a bread pan pickin’ out dough
Granny, does your dog bite? No child, no

The devil bowed his head
Because he knew that he’d been beat
And he laid that golden fiddle
On the ground at Johnny’s feet

Johnny said, “Devil, just come on back
If you ever want to try again
I done told you once you son of a bitch
I’m the best that’s ever been”

He played Fire on the Mountain run boys, run
The devil’s in the House of the Rising Sun
Chicken in a bread pan pickin’ out dough
Granny, does your dog bite? No child, no

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Charles Fred Hayward / Charlie Daniels / Fred Edwards / James W. Marshall / John Crain / William J. Digregorio
The Devil Went Down to Georgia lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

♫ R.I.P. Little Richard ♫

Yesterday, the world lost another music pioneer, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard.

Born in Macon, Georgia on December 5th, 1932, he was one of twelve children.  His family listened to singers like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. Richard couldn’t find any music he liked, so he created it.  He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades, and among his nicknames were “The Innovator”, “The Originator”, and “The Architect of Rock and Roll”.  His music, dating back to the 1950s is characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laying the foundation for rock and roll. Little-RichardLittle Richard is cited as one of the first crossover black artists, reaching audiences of all races. His music and concerts broke the color line, drawing blacks and whites together despite attempts to sustain segregation. His contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, all recorded covers of his works. Taken by his music and style, and personally covering four of Little Richard’s songs on his own two breakthrough albums in 1956, Presley told him in 1969 that his music was an inspiration to him and that he was “the greatest”.

Of Little Richard, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said …

“He claims to be ‘the architect of rock and roll,’ and history would seem to bear out Little Richard’s boast. More than any other performer – save, perhaps, Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as ‘Tutti Frutti,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll.”

President Bill Clinton was always a Little Richard fan, and in 1993, Little Richard played at Clinton’s inauguration.  The same year, he was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy Award.

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously said about Little Richard …

“I had heard so much about the audience reaction that I thought there must be some exaggeration. But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy. There’s no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience. I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard on stage. He was amazing. Chuck Berry is my favorite, along with Bo (Diddley), but nobody could beat Little Richard’s stage act. Little Richard is the originator and my first idol.”

Little Richard grew up in a time and place – the American South – that could be very difficult for a black man. He never sang about racism, however, and downplayed his numerous encounters with racism, preferring to focus on the positive things that bring us together. Richard said on the subject: “We are all God’s bouquet, we all need each other the same as the birds need air.” He’s also maintained that homosexuals are equal in the eyes of God, stating: “God don’t just have Heaven for the straight man. Heaven is for all of us if we do his will.”

I have chosen just a couple of songs that I remember best from my youth as a way of paying tribute to Little Richard.