29 December 2011

William Monroe Trotter

In Boston's black community of Roxbury the name Trotter pops up now and again on schools and community centers. Who was Trotter? No one I asked seemed to know much about the person who bore the ubiquitous name. It may have been Muriel Snowden or her husband, Otto, directors of Freedom House, a Roxbury civic center, who told me. Muriel and Otto were faithful keepers of black community lore.

William Monroe Trotter was born in Ohio in 1872. He grew up in Boston, attended Harvard, and graduated magna cum laude in 1895, becoming in the process the first black student ever elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1901 he launched a Boston newspaper, the Guardian, whose motto was "For every right, with all they might." A relentless foe of the accommodationist Booker T. Washington, Trotter once spent a month in jail for disrupting a Booker T. speech. Trotter also got into a White House shouting match with President Woodrow Wilson, who had on one occasion described African-Americans as "sick of work, covetous of pleasure--a host of dusky children untimely put out of school." In 1915 the indefatigable Trotter was arrested, tried, and acquitted for leading a demonstration against the local screening of Birth of a Nation.

Until arriving in Boston, I'd never heard of William Monroe Trotter. Shouldn't I have? Shouldn't African-Americans generally have had a glimmer? I knew about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, didn't I? Trotter might have fared better by history had the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa done a little soft-shoe with Shirley Temple.

Randall Robinson, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, pp.66-67

28 December 2011

El Sombrerero

Sonó el teléfono, escuché la voz cascada: un error así, no puedo creer, óigame bien, yo no hablo por hablar, que una equivocación vaya y pase, a cualquiera le sucede, pero un error así...

Me quedé mudo. Me vi venir lo peor. Yo acababa de publicar un libro sobre fútbol en un país, mi país, donde todos son doctores en la materia. Cerré los ojos y acepté mi condenación:
--El Mundial del 30--acusó la voz, gastada pero implacable.
--Fue en julio.
--¿Y cómo es el tiempo en julio, en Montevideo?
--Muy frío--corrigió la voz, y atacó:
--¡Y usted escribió que en el estadio había un mar de sombreros de paja! ¿De paja?--se indignó--. ¡De fieltro! De fieltro, eran!

La voz bajó de tono, evocó:
--Yo estaba allí, aquella tarde. 4 a 2 ganamos, lo estoy viendo. Pero no se lo digo por eso. Se lo digo porque yo soy sombrerero, siempre fui, y muchos de aquellos sombreros...los hice yo.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo. p.137

[The Hat-Maker

The telephone rang. I heard the cracked voice: there's been a mistake, I can't believe it, listen to me, I'm not talking just to talk, mistakes are part of life, they can happen to anyone, but there's been a mistake...

I stayed silent. I saw the worst coming my way. I had just published a book about soccer in a country, my country, where everybody is a Ph.D. in the subject. I closed my eyes and accepted my judgement:
--The 1930 World Cup--accused the voice, worn out but relentless.
--Yes--I muttered.
--It was in July.
--And what's the weather like in July, in Montevideo?
--Very cold--corrected the voice, and attacked:
--And you wrote that in the stadium there was a sea of straw hats! Straw?--He exploded. Felt! They were felt!

The voice lowered, described the scene:
--I was there that afternoon. We won 4-2. I can see it now. But I'm not telling you all this because of that. I'm telling you because I am a hat-maker--I always have been--and many of those hats...I made them.

Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time, p.137]

09 December 2011

Pym's Publicity

"How should anything be sacred to an advertiser?" demanded Ingleby, helping himself to four lumps of sugar. "We spend our whole time asking intimate questions of perfect strangers and it naturally blunts our finer feelings. 'Mother, has your Child Learnt Regular Habits?' 'Are you Troubled with Fullness after Eating?' 'Are you satisfied about your Drains?' 'Are you Sure that your Toilet-Paper is Germ-free?' 'Your most Intimate Friends dare not Ask you this question.' 'Do you Suffer from Superfluous Hair?' 'Do you Like them to Look at your Hands?' 'Do you ever ask yourself about Body-Odour?' 'If anything Happened to You, would your Loved Ones be Safe?' 'Why Spend so much Time in the Kitchen?' 'You think that Carpet is Clean--but is it?' 'Are you a Martyr to Dandruff?' Upon my soul, I sometimes wonder why the long-suffering public doesn't rise up and slay us."

Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise, p.63

06 December 2011

Hiroshima in the White House

Lyndon Johnson rarely referred to Hiroshima. On one dramatic occasion he consciously tried to avoid it, but Hiroshima came to the White House, anyway.

The year was 1965. Johnson invited a wide range of painters, sculptors, and writers to the White House for a one-day festival of the arts. Five authors and poets were asked to read from their works. The poet Robert Lowell, protesting the Vietnam War, declined the invitation, explaining that the U.S. "may even be drifting on our way to the last nuclear ruin." But a decision by one of the other writers, who opposed the war but elected to attend the festival, caused just as much anguish at the White House. John Hersey, invited as a novelist, announced that he would read instead from Hiroshima, and he planned to update his account with statistics on the destructive power of existing nuclear weapons.

After discussing the matter with her husband, an enraged Lady Bird Johnson summoned the festival organizer, historian Eric Goldman (then a consultant to LBJ), to the White House. She recited one of the passages Hersey intended to read, which described Truman's announcement of the Hiroshima bombing. "The president is very close to President Truman," she explained icily. "He can't have people coming to the White House and talking about President Truman's brandishing atomic bombs." Then, coming to the point, she complained that her husband was being criticized "as a bloody warmonger. He can't have writers coming here and denouncing him, in his own house, as a man who wants to use nuclear bombs." Goldman explained that Hersey did not believe that Johnson wanted to use nuclear weapons, only that in the nuclear era any war was extremely dangerous. She replied: "The President and I do not want this man to come here and read this." Twice more he objected and twice more she responded with the same words.

Goldman refused to tell Hersey what to do, and the invitation stood. President Johnson, meanwhile, ordered a media blackout of the festival. He also requested FBI background checks on some of the guests.

When Hersey appeared behind the podium at the White House, Lady Bird Johnson was right there in the third row. Hersey prefaced his reading from Hiroshima with the following statement: "We cannot for a moment forget the truly terminal dangers, in these times, of miscalculations, of arrogance, of accident, of reliance not on moral strength but on mere military power. Wars have a way of getting out of hand." Occasionally he lifted his eyes from his text and looked at Lady Bird for emphasis. When Hersey finished, he was greeted by vigorous applause. "The First Lady, who clapped for all other readings, sat motionless," Goldman later reported. And when the president heard about Hersey's reading (and some other activities he viewed as hostile) he cut short his appearance at his own festival.

Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, pp.217-218

01 December 2011

The World's Full of Stories....

The world's full of stories....All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you'll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you're going, but the rest works itself out in the telling.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.118