52 Poems, Week 42: The Latest Decalogue (Arthur Hugh Clough)
52 Poems, Week 43: Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (Carl Sandburg)

Sunday Night Journal, October 21, 2018

Several weekends ago my wife and I went to the opening at the Mobile Medical Museum of an exhibit which featured Dr. James A. Franklin, Sr., and his work: "Dreaming at Dawn: African Americans and Health Care, 1865-1945." This rather inadequate photo is of the portrait of him displayed in that exhibit:

JamesAFranklin

 This is a photo of the placard accompanying the portrait:

JamesAFranklinText

I don't know whether you'll be able to read it or not, so I'll give you the high points. James A. Franklin, Sr., was born in Chattanooga. In 1914 he became the first African-American to receive a medical degree from the University of Michigan. Instead of escaping permanently from the segregated South, he wanted to return there "because he wanted to be closer to his people and felt that there would be more of a demand for his services." (That last part was probably an understatement.) He landed in Evergreen, Alabama, a small town a hundred miles or so north of Mobile. During the 1918 influenza epidemic a local white farmer asked him to treat his wife. Franklin did--successfully, we were told at the opening--but then was forced to leave town under threat of being lynched for touching a white woman. He moved to the Mobile area and established a very successful medical practice, so successful that he was written up in Ebony magazine as "The Richest Doctor in the South."

I would not have known this was happening except that my wife is the archivist for the Mobile Archdiocese, and she had provided several photographs from the archives for the exhibit. This was one of them:

StMartinDePorresHospitalIn case you can't read that card under the photo, the picture is of a ward in the St. Martin de Porres hospital, a Mobile hospital for African-Americans, established by the Archdiocese in 1947 and run (I think) by the Sisters of Mercy.

The opening was very simple affair but a somewhat moving one for me. A couple of prominent members of the black community gave brief speeches. I didn't catch the name of one (well, okay, I missed it altogether, because we were a little late), but the other was Karlos Finley, a well-known local lawyer/politician who is, if I understood correctly, the son of Dora Finley, who for many years was the regular Sunday morning lector at the Cathedral and whose father was Dr. Franklin. Also present were several teenagers, Karlos Finley's children, Dr. Franklin's great-grandchildren, which I found particularly touching.

I was moved both by Franklin's story, by what he did in the face of racial hatred, and also by the distance we've come in removing racial barriers and hostility. Sometimes, reading the national news, and even more reading national opinion, I feel despair about the racial situation in this country, and fear that we are heading in a direction that can only lead to more and worse conflict. There are a lot of people, or at least some very loud and prominent ones, who seem intent on inflaming racial hostility and grievance rather than working for harmony. In a strange twist, the loudest, most prominent and prestigious of these are now on the left, where for many the comprehensive racialization of almost everything seems to have mostly replaced the old liberal ideal that race shouldn't matter. In an even stranger twist, many of these are white people vilifying other white people--but then that's basically just another front in the culture war, another reason to hate the enemy whom you would hate in any case.

I think some of this is fueled by people who see our existing problems and despair. And I also think most of these are too young to understand just how much things have changed for the better, and might not despair if they did understand it. No one under sixty or so can have much personal memory of it; for younger people, segregation and the civil rights movement are just things in history books. But I saw them both, up close, and I remember it very well, and I know that the change has been vast.

I'm encouraged by the fact that the vitriol that emanates from the most politically vocal, and the conflict that seems to exist in some places, mainly the big cities, just don't seem to be major factors in everyday life where I live. I would certainly not claim that the Mobile, Alabama area is a paradise of racial harmony. Tensions exist. De facto segregation very much exists. I'm sure old-time hard-core racism still exists, though it isn't respectable.

Yet I don't have the sense of intense and furious conflict, of outright hatred at work, that I get from activists and the media. People get along tolerably well. They are reasonably courteous in public spaces, they work together, go to school together, shop together, eat at the same restaurants, cheer the same football teams, which are often predominantly black but no less loved by white fans. Social interaction is less common but it certainly happens. Inter-racial dating and marriage happen. Black politicians can get elected with a fair share, in some cases a majority, of the white vote. Fairhope, where I live, is a predominantly white town which had a black police chief until he retired a couple of months ago.

My local grandchildren started attending a "magnet" school this fall--a predominantly black school, in a less-than-upscale area of town, which emphasizes academics in an effort to attract white students and achieve more racial balance. My wife and I went to Grandparents' Day there a couple of weeks ago. We found neat and orderly classrooms full of bright and eager children, teachers who struck me as sharp and engaged, and a lot of very attentive parents and grandparents. My grandsons are in the minority there, but at least at this point (middle school and high school may be a different matter) I'm not worried about them. (I mean, about their schooling. I'm plenty worried about a lot of other dangers they face in these times.)

And so on. In short, the problems are real, and I emphasize that I'm not denying them. But they don't seem apocalyptic. 

*

On Tuesday night I went to see Dylan at the Saenger in Mobile. I hadn't planned to go, as the tickets were expensive and I've seen him three times before, but the mother of the two aforementioned grandchildren talked me into it. "It may be the last time he ever tours!" And it may very well be, as he's 77.  I was glad I went. You don't go to a Dylan concert to hear a reprise of his greatest hits of days gone by, as you might with some old band of the '60s or '70s (or '80s or '90s) which hasn't done anything very interesting for a quarter of a century or more. You go to hear him rework those old songs, and some new ones, with the help of a really fine band. For the most part the songs are unrecognizable until or unless you make out some of the words. And the results are often really effective, in spite of the fact that I'm not sure Dylan's vocalizing now should even be called singing. My only real complaint was that they were too loud for the space, so that the sound bounced all around and muddied everything up. I was sorry I hadn't brought earplugs, not to protect my ears--it wasn't that loud--but to suppress the sludge and clarify the sound. 

Some YouTube user called Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands has posted a lot of audio-only recordings of recent Dylan concerts.  They sound very much like the one I heard, with very similar set lists. Here's one from just a couple of weeks ago, in Tucson. Click on "Show More" and you'll see a set list with links which will take you to specific songs. Try a couple that you know well and you'll see what I mean.

By the way Dylan never so much as touched a guitar during the performance. He was behind a piano except for two songs where he stepped out and sang at a standalone microphone. 

Comments

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This is good and I have things to say about it, but I have stuff to take care of first.

AMDG

Good. I guess I'll leave it up then. I was thinking about taking it down because as a privileged white guy I'm not supposed to talk about race.:-/

Seriously: my wife pointed out a mistake in this, not that it matters much to anyone reading this: Karlos Finley is actually Dora's brother, not her son.

Also, more significantly, she thought people might misunderstand the significance of the Martin de Porres hospital. It existed not to keep black people out of white hospitals, but because they were kept out--i.e. to provide a service that was otherwise difficult or impossible for them to get.

That never crossed my mind about the hospital, but I suppose some people might think that way. I would have been sorry if you had taken it down.

AMDG

No, it didn't cross my mind, either, but I can see how they might. I wasn't seriously considering taking down the post btw.

I knew you weren't but I can see how some people might think you were.

AMDG

Dylan was on Wednesday, Mac! :)

Argh

I have been trying to respond to this for a couple of days but have been having a terrible time writing what I want to say.

Anyway, here goes in parts:

I was never opposed to inter-racial marriage, except that I worried that mixed-race children would have to fight the Civil War every day of their lives. It's getting to be so common now though, that in a generation or two most people with have them in their families.

At my old job, the receptionist was Mexican and had a black grandson, and my boss was black and had a white granddaughter, and I have Hispanic great-grandchildren.

AMDG

The Protestant seminary where I worked was the first white seminary to admit a black student, which might mean it was the first accredited seminary to have a black student. The seminary is very oriented toward Civil Rights. The older black faculty members would complain because the younger black people did not know or care what things had been like--they were just interested with getting on with things.

I just went to Grandparents' Lunch with my granddaughter, and saw the same thing you describe at your grandsons' school. All my granddaughter's friends are black, and the difference doesn't even seem to exist for them. This may change when they are older, but I don't know.

There is this, though. When I am with black friends, I see things that white people don't always see. For instance, once I was at my black neighbor’s house, and a workman came to the door. When she answered the door, he looked right past her and started talking to me. I’ve been in similar situations twice recently. Sunday, something like that happened again, and I mentioned it to the woman, she said, “It happens to me all the time.”

AMDG

Sunday on the way home from Mass, we were listening to The Moth Radio Hour. The man speaking, a Pakistani Muslim, was talking about what it was like to move to a small town in rural Missouri. He talked about the difficulties they face, but he also talked a lot about how he grew to love living there. He said that the people who lived there were so kind and generous, even though they might have been racist. They were good people.

It is this paradox that strikes me all the time living in rural Mississippi. They would do anything for you if you needed help, and I am pretty sure that they would help black people in a crisis too. They don't dislike black people. There is just this deep-seated, generations old sense of superiority. But in every other way, they are good people. It's hard to understand, really.

I'm not sure that if someone from another planet showed up at Walmart, they would think there was any racial tension at all.

AMDG

:-) (about the Walmart remark)

Well, I could say about as much in response to your comments as you did in response to my post. That paradox is indeed interesting. I think anyone who grew up in the South is probably aware of it, especially those of us who are older. It's a little like a remark C.S. Lewis makes about English country people--that they would rant and threaten horrible things against the Germans, but help a downed German pilot.

I once knew someone who habitually used the n-word and did not in general think well of black people. But he had a position of responsibility in which he managed a large staff, many of whom were black, and felt honor-bound to treat everyone the same.

My wife tells a story of when she was a teenager (late '60s) shocking her family by saying that intermarriage was the obvious solution to racial friction. Just mix us all up and there won't be any obvious lines to draw. As you note, there's a lot of that happening, and it's actually having that effect.

A year or so ago I was talking to a guy I'd hired to do some minor electrical work. He was someone who would be generally described as a redneck, and he probably wouldn't mind. Somehow or other we got onto the subject of race and he mentioned a friend who was somewhat racist, and believed that it's wrong for the races to intermarry. But his son married a black woman, and he loves his mixed-race grandchildren as much as any grandfather does.

That's funny. I have said for years that if I were the boss of everybody I would make a law that everybody had to marry somebody of a different race.

It takes a hard-hearted person to resist those grandchildren whatever they are like.

AMDG

There is this, though. When I am with black friends, I see things that white people don't always see. For instance, once I was at my black neighbor’s house, and a workman came to the door. When she answered the door, he looked right past her and started talking to me. I’ve been in similar situations twice recently. Sunday, something like that happened again, and I mentioned it to the woman, she said, “It happens to me all the time.”

I've been a few times in social situations where someone has deliberately ignored me and, boy, did it ever rankle. Can't imagine what it must be like to have that happen all the time, and because of my race.

There was something else. It's driving me crazy.

I speculate that in the situations you describe the workman is assuming that the white lady is the person in charge. I think men do that to women fairly often--if there's a couple, talk to him instead of her. Not necessarily a conscious snub but I'm sure very irritating.

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