Saturday, September 16, 2017

It's official ... Amazon has the book listed ... .

... and I can hardly believe it.  I'm the author of a first book! Still, here's the cover, and the copyeditors at Hay House New York are completing their work, the photos are being selected, the book jacket in the design stage, and a release date of February 6, 2018 is the date.  It is being held for Black History Month.

This will mean, of course, a major course correction in my life -- with some changes under consideration -- after all, gotta stretch these final years in all ways possible.  Feel, sometimes, like it has needed the elasticity of a rubber band to accommodate all that I've been adding-on in this final decade.

Need to be realistic, though, life is now viewed mostly in my rear view mirror, and any sense of future has vanished.  Living with all of the turmoil of a normal life now added to by a strong and urgent  determination to continue my work with the National Park Service while needing to make room for an expanded schedule to accommodate what is now new and untested.

That work will continue to be the anchor around which all else will have to fit.

That little Berkeley store Mel and I started back in June of 1945 -- and that is still standing after all these years under the guidance of our son, David -- will host the launching of my book.  Reid's Records has been limping along for all these years -- mostly on fumes from the pride of ownership and legacy -- in a time when "records" are now back there stored with gas lanterns and the old drip coffee makers, and the awesome power of a behemoth of a mega-company, Amazon, with which to compete.  Impossible?  Nah.  Try tellin' that to David.  Some dreams take more than one generation to crush, even modest ones. For the sake of family, we're thinking of a book signing somewhere in Berkeley or Oakland.  We'll just ignore the existence of Bezos and his Amazon!  Family comes first.  (Reids Records, 3101 Sacramento Street, Berkeley, CA 94702 - 510.843.7282, email - reidsrecords@yahoo.com.)

We'll  invite Tavis,  of course, because it was he who made this book possible.  It grew out of the PBS interview a year or so ago.

After that we'll fulfill the book-signing schedule that I've agreed to in my contract with the publisher, and let whatever future is left fend for itself!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Open letter to Antifa (antifascist) because I don’t know how else to speak to you ... .

Your hearts are in the right place, folks, but your use of violence is a misguided strategy that begs correction before you do any more harm to the cause of freedom.

Know, first of all, that there is nothing new in these times; those vile chants, hurtful words, shameful taunts being heard from the Far Right are painfully familiar and almost archaic to most of us.  The only thing new is that the whole world is hearing that hurtful and vitriolic rhetoric for the first time — those voices have been amplified by social media and have become embarrassing to most ordinary folks of whatever race or ethnicity, many of whom were born after the dreadful struggles of the last quarter of the 20th century.

We should be grateful that the masks and dreaded hoods are down and the white sheets have been set aside in a new Era, and that those misguided souls are now neatly packaged and properly labeled under Alt-Right, KKK, Neo-Nazis, Militiamen, White Supremicists, etc., and are no longer hidden in plain sight — hidden in the pin-striped 3-piece suit of the local banker, the starched white apron of the admitting nurse, the insurance salesman, my children’s teachers, the local librarian, the Beat Cop, the gas station attendant, that bartender, and the social worker, all silently barring the way into the normal pathways that defined our lives in hostile white communities throughout the country.  They've become brash, audible, and unapologetic.  They are by now often armed and dangerous.  But they've become visible!

Those dissonant voices must not be driven back underground.  We’re all safer for their being out where they can be heard and countered with voices of Truth.

Grant them their Freedom of Speech.  Attend their meetings in peace.  Listen to what may, hopefully, be the last gasps of the Confederacy.  This is our history, and it needs to be processed if we’re to grow past the centuries of shame of it.

Attend, listen until you can no longer do so with dignity — then, and only then, stand, turn your back, and leave quietly.

If you do this successfully, and if my suspicions are right, by the time their program ends the hall will be empty.

It would be so sad if we’ve only replaced those dreadful white hoods and sheets with black masks and hoodies.  What a step backward that would represent!

I’m so aware that I’m now living in the future that I, and countless and nameless others, paid for through unbelievable pain and suffering in the tumultuous Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.  I’m living in that future right this moment, with the full realization that I helped to create it!  My basic human rights have been affirmed and I can now join others in the fight to protect and defend our Freedom of Speech.  That’s progress in the never-ending struggle to form that more perfect Union.

Democracy will always be a work in progress.

We so outnumber the Fascists at this point in history, that their effect upon public opinion has been hopelessly blunted.  We must seize every opportunity to continue the work toward full equality and justice for all.  We can do this, but not with you skulking in the shadows.

We have nothing to hide.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lest you are left with the impression that it was all pain and suffering ...

This photo was taken while on a family trip to Yosemite, with Bob standing above, and the third reason for facing into that violent political storm of those years, Dorian, being introduced to pollywogs.   In looking back, she has attained so much over time, and today has achieved a level of independence hardly dreamed possible back then.

Because we've had the good fortune of living into the future that our cruel sacrifices at that time were helping to produce, and to have done it consciously and with a purpose, looking back has detoxified so much of what we lived through that those experiences have formed the basis of my work at the Visitor Center.  For reasons unknown, I've been able to transform the inner rage into revealed Truth, and through that process, am pretty much at peace in a nation still at war with itself.

Little did we know that I would spend these end years as a national parks ranger.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Our home in the Diablo Valley
Feels like I've been to hell and back ... .and I've survived to tell about it ... !

I'm not certain what I expected on Sunday -- as I waited to be picked up by a volunteer driver from Indivisible Berkeley.  I'd watched the gatherings being staged earlier in the day at Civic Center Park, and admit to some apprehension while watching the violence that began to mount, the arrests, the multiple units of  police from not only Berkeley, but borrowed from surrounding cities.  This was going to be momentous.  Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement of the Sixties, was now the center of this latest onset of the Alt-Right, KKK, the Militia Men, madness, and I was as caught up in the anxiety it produced as anyone else.

What on earth could I say at this Indivisible Berkeley gathering?  I knew that the mid-day events would be where the greatest actions would happen, and for that I was quietly grateful.  Even my track shoes -- when you're approaching 96 years -- are no guarantee of safety!  I'd done all this back in the Sixties and Seventies, and was far more fit then, though at 116 pounds dripping wet, I can pretty well hold my own, even now.  But our event was being held in a church from 5:00 'til 9:00.  I figured everyone would be pretty much heading home by then and there was little need to worry.

Upon arrival I was ushered into a large meeting room where there were many whom I recognized from an earlier time of political actions.  They were greyed and maybe a bit  more rotund now, but these were the stalwarts who'd spent the past years since we last met sending out thousands of postcards, stamping envelopes, scanning lists and completing thousands of phone calls related to various elections cycles, they were still here, still working hard to bring justice and equality to this nation.

I was assigned to a front row seat reserved for speakers and it was only a few minutes before it all seemed all too familiar.  The faces.  The subject.  The potluck dinner laid out in disposable aluminum trays on long tables out in the hallway.  All of it now a blast from the past!  It was hard to smother the grin that kept threatening to spread inappropriately over my attempting-to-be sober face at the thought that any moment now we would all burst into Kumbyah and I would find myself once again among like-minded folks like me, all feeling righteously placed together in the here and now.  Even the subject  - unclear until this very moment -- which remained unclear as my name was announced and I joined a youngish Rabbi (openly Gay) with a cause of his own,  but who seemed willing to ad lib whatever might be required of us, as was I.  Together we approached the platform to begin our panel. The surprise for me was that I'd been here before.  There was really nothing new here.  I'd lived all of it long ago.  I've lived long enough to have entered re-runs!

Not one vile thing being shouted over past weeks by the Alt-Right was new for me.  The thing that changed was that the last time I'd seen this kind of poison being spewed publicly was back in 1953 at a time when I dared to confront the ugliness full-faced and found myself in a situation where I was defending a young black couple who were trying to move into a housing development in Pleasant Hill, California, and attended a meeting of the Improvement Association -- sat among them for an interminable period of time as they spewed bile that was so vicious -- all because they hadn't recognized me as one of the "undesirables" (niggers) they were attempting to keep out because my skin color is ambiguous.  Just two miles away, my family had been living under threat for two years as "... those niggers on the corner of Warren Road and Boulevard Way, yet here I was not recognized.  I was there (in my innocence) to tell them that I understood their feelings, but that this would soon pass and they could not prevent those two young people from assuming their civil rights.

I interrupted one of the most vile statements I'd ever heard, "... if we can't get them out any other way, we can use the health department on the basis of the filthy diseases they will bring in!"  It was at that point that I stood up and walked to the front of the room, seized the microphone, and spoke for about ten minutes before breaking into tears  and running out to the parking lot to my car.

I've written that experience here in this blog (available if you'll type in that little white search bar at the top left corner, Pleasant Hill.  It should pop up.

The major difference between then and now is the fact that -- like many other brave young black families across the country we were paying a heavy price for daring to defy the naysayers and cross those barriers, exposing our children to what was then the "Alt-Right" of our times.  We were doing this, each alone and isolated, finding our way painfully but with determination toward an America that we knew underneath it all, existed, and was changeable.  And we are no long alone and isolated.  Our numbers have increased immeasurably, and growing with each day.

Arrival at the Miami Airport - 1972
Social change was happening so fast in the Bay Area that the same community that forced our little family to live under threat of life and limb, 20 years later sent me to represent them as a McGovern delegate to the Democratic Convention in Miami in 1972.

The only thing that was different on Sunday was the fact that those awful words are now being heard throughout the country through social media, and everyone is now able to hear them  There's nothing new for us stalwarts who survived through those painful years.  Nothing could be more damaging to the body politic than for us to drive those voices back underground.  They must stay out in the open where they can be confronted with Truth.

The issue is less racial equality at this point for those of us who served as the vanguards for change, it is Freedom of Speech, which must be protected for us all.  We've moved past our personal struggles for basic human rights to this more abstract level of principle.  Those marchers in our streets are of every race and ethnicity known to man. That's a kind of progress we don't seem to have recognized yet. I want those dreadful words to get wide coverage so that everyone can, experientially, gain the knowledge that only a few of us were struggling through over that painful past.

We are paying for the mis-education of white folks who truly believe in white supremacy, and have never been more threatened than in these times when such beliefs are almost impossible to defend.  The numbers of the enlightened have grown so far and so fast while their numbers are diminishing -- the fears must be devastating!

Sons, Bob and David, 2 of the 4 reasons for facing 
directly into the storm.

I say, not only allow those voices to be heard, but attend -- silently -- listen to them attentively (as I did in the Fifties) then -- when you can no longer endure it, walk out with your back to the awfulness back into the light.

I'm strongly considering the possibility of attending the upcoming Ann Coulter gathering on the UC Campus.  I suspect that I was inoculated against her kind of corrupted thinking long ago.

On Sunday it all became clear for me.  My generation did it's best with much to celebrate, but what we failed  to do was to leave a clear pathway to the future we were wanting to see.  We left a void that Antifa has begun to fill in.  Those young people's hearts are in the right place, but the only way to counter this particular brand of poison is with more speech, not violence.  Violence is always counterproductive.  We don't need it.

The work must go on.

Wish I could convince them that there were lessons learned, and that the changes we've been working so hard for have already happened.  And, yes, even after that long and traumatic struggle to overcome without losing my soul, this I still believe.

Look around you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

If you're not feeling fear and uncertainty this day  ... .

you're just not paying attention.  And less because of what we're seeing, but for what is being left out.
I'm hearing the pundits speaking of the "two presidents" as if the one who alternately appears before  his audiences  seeming "unhinged," and fearsome, as if we aren't instead seeing the war between the speechwriters and a president who refuses to be harnessed by custom or prior "presidential" expectations.  The speechwriters are losing out to the Disrupter in Chief, and nothing on earth can save them, or us, from his ego-serving antics.  
Make no mistake.  There is only one president, and this is the one who appeared in Arizona two nights ago.  The other (the speechwriters) tried again to gain a foothold in Nevada this morning, but turned out to be just a weak imitation that is by now over-shadowed to an alarming degree.  
My fears are based not as much in this presidency, but upon that which has been unleashed throughout the nation through an unwillingness to listen and learn that which lies beyond the base to the rest of us who did not support his candidacy, and feared precisely what we're now seeing emanating from the White House.  
To those of us who have reason to dread those words, "...let's make American great again," because we cannot imagine a time before recent administrations when the fears were not greater, I say you're not alone.  We are the many who are quite comfortable in whatever skins we're in, and ready to defend the gains so valiantly fought for over decades of struggles for justice and equality.
I am feeling less and less a part of the WE, as THEY begin to move out of the shadows into their former roles of faux supremacy in an increasingly flawed system of governance.  That must not be allowed to happen.
This weekend I will participate in the gathering of Indivisible Berkeley as a private citizen exercising my right to do so.  I will add my voice to those of others with whom I've probably marched in many a demonstration in times past.  Together we will, peacefully, try to set an example for others by giving voice to restoring calm, but not at the expense of our right to counter the repressive antics of the Alt-Right who is expecting to gather in downtown Berkeley to test our resolve and challenge our intent.  Our nation's future may well depend upon our ability to do so without adding to the promised chaos they hope to bring to our area.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Six degrees of separation ... ?

During the Nineties -- shortly after acquiring my first MAC -- I caught the genealogy bug and dived into creating my family history.  It was all-consuming, and gratifying, and there was so much to learn through that process.  (See the Charbonnet Pages in the links in the Archives on the left, for paternal line and California Black Pioneers for maternal records.)

Started with my maternal line, with my great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen.  She had been the mainstay of my family since it was in her little house beside the levee of the great Mississippi that my mother, her siblings, most of her aunts and uncles for several generations had their beginnings.  My mother's mother, Julia LaRose, died there when my mother was but 7 months old.  She was raised by my great-grandmother, as were her three half-brothers and a sister.  Mamma figured heavily in my childhood and adolescence.  She died when I was 27 years-old, married with children of my own.

One learns early in the search that names can be problematic.  Not only is this complicated by the fact that slaves generally took on the surnames of their owners, or the plantations upon which they'd spent  much of their lives before freedom came, but because of a lesser-known reason:  During the 1800s through the early 1900s most ordinary folks were pre-literate.  This means that schooling was not widely attainable, and less so for non-whites.  For enslaved black folks, to learn to read had to be a deeply-held secret punishable by the lash if discovered.

Therefore Leontine, born into slavery in 1846, and enslaved until freed by the Emancipation Proclamation at 19, spoke only a patois of French, and (as far as I can tell) never learned to read or write.

Public records such as the Census were conducted by scribes who had to be literate, but who were strongly dependent upon oral data in order to fulfill their requirements.  Many of those records were kept through the Catholic Diocese, and I'm grateful for that since in Louisiana, those church records go further back into American history than the public records of some States.  The Church was central to the lives of all, and those diocesan records at Baton Rouge are filled with history.  They held the dates and places of most of the people's rites and celebrations, and could be the most powerful sources for opening into hidden family histories otherwise unattainable.
Marriage certificate of slave-owner, Eduoard Breaux
to Leontine's mother, Celestine "of no last name",
dated  1963, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation

Since the people of the times were pre-literate, those records reflect the countries of origin of the scribes, and Louisiana had seen a successions of rulers from other nations over its colorful history.  It was settled by the French under Napoleon, taken over by the Spanish for a time, became the reflection of "the known World," long before this became a country.  New Orleans, Louisiana, and St. Augustine, Florida, were established cities long before we became a country, long before the Revolutionary War of 1776.

For instance, my maternal line started out in Loudon, France, when Vincent Brault departed for the new world and landed in Nova Scotia for a few generations,  when his first descendants traveled to Maryland, then -- with the consent of the Spanish governor of Louisiana -- landed in St. James Parish, Louisiana, where the Breaux settled for all time.  These were the Acadians, now called "Cajuns."

Those scribes -- collecting their census data each decade from pre-literate villagers -- entered those names as they could, phonetically.  One is warned that Breaux, for instance, might appear in census records as Bro, Braud, Brau, Breau, Brault, Breaux, etc., depending upon the native language of the scribe. (Bro, Spanish; Braud, German; Brau, German; Breaux, French, etc.).  This turns out to have been an important thing to know in building my family history, since -- depending upon which years I was tracing, our family surnames varied accordingly.
Imagine how surreal it became as I peered through the looking glass of my life down this rabbit hole when valiant star-crossed young Heather Heyer met her death fighting for her cause in Charlottesville last weekend, and I found myself staring into the face of her mother, Susan Bro, on the small screen of the television set in my Richmond, California, bedroom!

I know ... .

Full circle?


... surreal, but mostly because -- after hearing Susan's brief, uncompromising but prideful response to the tragic loss of Heather -- lovely and so dedicated to her cause of supporting "liberty and justice for all" -- it was clear that the two of us could easily sit down over a cup 'o tea and start our conversation somewhere in the middle of the 14th paragraph, probably the number of generations twixt Heather's and mine!

Were this another time, I might just glide over this coincidence muttering under my breath about "small worlds," but at 96 I've no time to waste, and with the last item now completed on my old bucket list, connecting with Susan Bro tops the new one.  I want to touch lives, somehow, with this amazing, courageous, and wonderfully giving woman on the chance that we are cousins but 6 degrees of separation apart, if that would serve the purpose of providing some comfort in this time of great sorrow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Every time these cyclical periods of chaos arise, the opportunity to re-define Democracy rises with it ... ."  
It is then that we gain access to the re-set buttons, and the time comes when the platform is re-created upon which the next generation of newly-minted Americans will stand as they assume the responsibility of forming that "more perfect Union."  

We're now at another such time; a time of generational change.  They've been occurring rhythmically since 1776, and each such period has led to a higher rung on the upward spiral of this ladder of the great American Experiment.

I'm awed by the newly-emerging young people now surfacing courageously and defiantly.  They're turning up everywhere and in some of the most unlikely places.  Some of them have found their places where it counts -- in the media, in government, in the legal professions, as educators, and they're eloquent and daring.

And, it is We who are the Leaders we've been waiting for; those who have lived long enough to be able to bear witness to a past of earlier victories in the long struggle against injustices and inequities. Look around you.  We're here.  We may not look like the image in our heads of what leadership should look like; we're old and infirm in some cases, but were still kickin’, still viable.  

There’s nothing new here, guys.  

We're wearing whatever the skins we're in proudly, and without apology.  We're scruffy and denim-clad (but that's now been usurped by the invaders who've come out from under their sheets), and so varied in racial identity by now that our race is fast-becoming little more than a political choice, but that's less important with each day that dawns.  Some of us even find ourselves among the unlikely class of the "privileged," and who'd have ever believed that?  It would not surprise me to run into those I met at Telluride at the MountainFilms Festival last year, those with the time and the financial resources to bring to the great changes now needed by the rest of us.  Everything's up for grabs.  The Democracy is on the move, again, and this time we're taking giant leaps toward a more ethical and moral future made possible through advanced technology.

The animated debates are being conducted -- not on Public Television -- but on the cable news channels, in the unlikely voices of folks like James Murdock, owner of the Fox News Channel -- arguing against the presidential outrages, and for the taking down of statues of the defenders of the Confederacy!  Those unscripted panels responding to the outrageous pronouncements emanating from the White House are unprecedented in their candor.  The masks are off.  The painful and formerly ill-formed festering boil of centuries-old White Supremacy was finally lanced indelicately in full public view and now we have only to wait to see if the poisons can be contained before their destructive diseases have the power to destroys us all. 

I say, there's little that's new here, except for social media.  Those of us who have been marginalized for centuries, whose stories have been muted, expropriated, or silenced altogether, have lived into a time when the masks have been pulled down and the awfulness has become visible to all.  There's no place left to hide.   And we've lived into a time when the price paid for those omissions in our history books have produced a generation of Americans who truly believe that this nation was formed by and for them -- the White Christian -- and there has been little evidence to tote out to refute their claims.  They've been allowed to believe that "Humankind" is generically white, and that the rest of us are exotic,  "sumthin' else", to be related to custodially.  

This defines the fundamental failure of our system of public education.

There is still denial from high places such as that displayed in the voices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in all their uniformed and be-medaled glory expressing outrage with the words, "... our values were firmly established in the year 1775, and ..." without including the fact that those Armed forces resisted racial integration until the year 1948!   Or any recognition that among those defiantly and proudly marching in that Tiki-torch parade chanting"Jews will not replace us!," were many returned veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan!  Until we've begun to exhibit a willingness to share our complete history, there will be lingering skirmishes to get through, ... but one day at a time ... .  

Every sign that I've seen over the past several days would suggest that we far outnumber the Neo Nazis, and that their desperation -- so clearly evidenced by their armed presence in our midst -- is going to be defeated.  Their obvious motivation is based in fear and hatred, the last dying gasps of the Confederacy are being heard in angry shouts, but also in tragic and petulant whining ... "so sad." Is there a more perfect way to describe His Orange-ness?

We cannot hate them out of it.  That's a loss cause.  We can only make them irrelevant by refusing to allow ourselves to waste energy fighting against bad ideas.  We must replace what they're expressing with better ideas.  Meet across town in huge numbers in Unity Festivals!  Have our artists, poets, musicians, orators, come together and raise their voices in Love and Hope.  We've done it before.  We brought down a failed presidency and ended an unpopular War in another surge of change.  We can do it again.    

We must not be cowed nor discouraged by this last gasp of what history will someday define as the feckless Age of White Supremacy.  Humanity cannot be sustained under such an erroneous assumption, because that will take us all into the planetary realities that can no longer be denied, but that must be faced now for the sake of human survival.

I will join with others (in civvies, of course) over this coming weekend in Berkeley, San Francisco, Richmond, and wherever else another voice is needed against this most recent threat to our country.

See you at the Festival! 

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