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Saturday, October 04, 2003

Just read back through recent posts and noticed ...

a mention of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Little did I know when I first heard his fiery oratory at that Hotel Windemere luncheon in Chicago during the Sixties, that some years later I would serve as co-chair of his Northern California campaign for the presidency. The other co-chair was Mayor Gus Newport of Berkeley.

We own a commercial building in South Berkeley where our small family business (Reid's) is located. South Berkeley at that time was predominantly an African American community, and mainly very low income. By donating the second floor of my building for the Jackson campaign headquarters, there was suddenly some added importance to the area and the community rose to the occasion. We covered the building with banners, and the windows with posters. There was a constant flow of political activists from everywhere in the nation going in and and out of that small building. The nation had come to South Berkeley, for at least a little while.

That was the year when the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco, and that brought the national figures in to move among us. There were not only big name politicians, but musicians and performing artists, as well, all responding to the excitement of having a man of color -- finally a serious candidate for the highest office in the land. It was unprecedented.

I recall being asked at the time by white news reporter, "...isn't it unrealistic to expect that Rev. Jackson could ever be elected, and isn't that discouraging to those working so hard here?" "Nope," said I. "We've already won. Jesse Jackson doesn't need to be president. He has already opened the door to the possibility, and raised the hopes of young black kids in every ghetto in the country. There's really nothing more that he needs to do in order to claim success." We all knew that. We were realists. I still believe that this was his greatest contribution.

I remember watching his great speech at the convention that year -- he pulled out all the stops -- it was brilliant! He was equal to that other great orator, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and was ours. Watched the convention activities on television not only with the volunteer precinct walkers and phone bankers of every race, but with a group of young black student activists from U.C. Berkeley, Cal State at Hayward, and S.F. State., with a significant number of street kids (whom I knew were the local drug dealers) sprinkled in among them. The wistfulness and pride in that room was palpable. Jesse had won long before election day. The presidency was not the prize we were seeking. Though it was rarely voiced, everyone of us knew it.

Our little building had long since become an institution in that community, but after the experience of hosting the Jackson Northern California campaign, it was hallowed ground. It no longer belonged to us, but had taken on a life of its own, and became the place where minor miracles could be expected as routine. It was guarded by the young men on the street. Not only did they not loiter in front of it, but graffiti was almost unheard of. From time to time I would arrive to find plant cuttings carefully wrapped in wet papers towels and placed at the front door for our small patch of earth along the fence. On one day it was a well-worn doormat placed at the entrance from the street with a note that read, "the rains are comin' and you don't want folks trackin' mud all over your floor, Miss Betty." It was from Fred, rarely sober black veteran of the bombing of Pearl Harbor who lived in a tiny shack in the back yard of the house beyond the fence, at the back of the store.

Have since that time watched the career of Jesse Jackson wax and wane. I remember first meeting him as the charismatic leader of Chicago's Operation Breadbasket and later Operation Push, having just returned from the south where he'd been with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This was before the assassination. Somewhere among my letters and papers, there is one written about that first impression. Hope it hasn't been lost. It was published in the magazine of the UU Layman's League, I believe, and wish I'd had the sense to value such items. But then, that was before I realized that I might live long enough to BE Black History!

Friday, October 03, 2003

Met the camera crew and the NPS people at the memorial as planned ... .

There were a few nervous moments, but the edginess passed quickly. Spoke to Rick Smith of the national park service as we were walking toward the memorial, "...I do appreciate the fact that you and Judy Hart continue to seek me out when I'm such a wild card, and you never are sure what I'll say or do." He laughed and said reassuringly, "that's why we call you."

That removed any sense that I would be expected to spout the company line. After all, I knew absolutely nothing about the Ford Company grant, had only heard of it yesterday and knew none of the details. However, Ford was sponsoring this nationwide campaign, and surely had the right to put their imprint on it. It would be interesting to see how this balance would be worked out. Needn't have worried. Judy signaled with a subtle frown and ever so slight shake of the head to ignore any pressure that might rise, and it was freeing.

As it turned out, most of the questions were generic, of the kind that one might expect. Didn't feel particularly sparkling in my answers, but did feel at least adequate. But -- you should have been around for the Betty-to-Betty repartee on the drive home. I was brilliant! Isn't that always the way? Cameras and mikes were gone and the party was over, but brain was deeply involved in instant replay, complete with the benefit of appropriate editing.

This evening I attended a party hosted by a member of the Richmond City Council, interesting man with a deep respect for historic preservation. Learned from Judy Morgan, Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, that the pieces taped today will be edited and aired nationally on November 11th. She told me that they will be used to invite Rosie's all across the country to participate in the collection of oral histories on an interactive website. Interesting project. I am surely only the first of many who will be interviewed over the coming year.

It pleases me that the nation will get to see the Rosie memorial, a wonderful structure celebrating the woman of the home front workforce. It was designed by two San Francisco women. The work is 400 feet long; the approximate length of a victory ship. But you'll see it when the piece airs in November. This may be the first national exposure, and I can't wait for that to happen.

Second thoughts? Of course.

When asked why I believe that the Ford work is important, my answer is something I can't recall -- even these few hours later.

But, on the freeway:
"...it is important because this work gives us a chance to revisit a time when racial bigotry was rampant, but to now revisit that history with a sensitivity informed by all of the events that followed -- the desegregation of the armed forces, the March on Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Selma, the Voting Rights Act -- Birmingham, Freedom Summer of '64, Medgar Evers, two dead Kennedys, Vietnam and the international peace movement it spawned, the birth of the United Nations. Richmond was the starting place for a great social experiment that drastically changed the lives of women, and it's still going on. What happened here may have served to jump-start the new revolution, or at least helped to shape the future that we're now living in. This new park and the old Ford Plant mark the birthplace of that dramatic social change."

Wish I'd thought of all that this afternoon. But isn't that always the way?

Wasn't completely honest last night.

While it's quite true that I was feeling not quite earth-anchored, the reason was being withheld. Not sure why, except that -- as with so many aspects of my life -- the truth feels so "over-the-top."

Received a call at my office yesterday from Superintendent Judy Hart of the Rosie The Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park (a mouthful!), announcing that there had been an award made by the Ford Motor Company to the park-in-progress and that someone was arriving from Washington, D.C., today from the National Park Service for that presentation. Also, someone else was flying up from Los Angeles from a public relations firm to "cover things." They will create public service announcements, an article for Working Mothers Magazine, something for Time Magazine, and, and, and, and, "...would you meet us at the memorial tomorrow for an interview and some photos?" And, we'll need you there from 1:40 until about 2:00!

It's clear that the event will be for the purpose of doing "Rosie as Icon," and that the articles will be about the generosity of the Ford Motor Company, of course. I'll be but a blip on the screen (just how much life can one crowd into a 20 minute interview, after all), and in some ways it's little more than an ego boost, and for a minute there I felt all of the giddiness that goes with such adventures.

Like the day that my live-in niece, Gail, came home from work to the McNeill-Leherer News Hour show in our den video-taping. We were already sure that the world bisected right through my kitchen. She quietly went about making tea for the crew as if there was nothing extraordinary going on at all.

I suspected that my neighbors (I was relatively new to community) -- from the number of media trucks lined up in front of our home -- and the amount of equipment moving in and out -- they probably figured that the nice little ole lady may be sheltering a drug lab and it would all turn up on the evening news. Not so, they were simply there to tape a segment about seniors online. I was only one of several members of Seniornet who were paving the way toward this new world of cyberspace communities. We were some of the earliest of those who helped to pioneer the brave new world.

When I reached home last night, the glow had worn off, I wasn't all that sure that I should be doing this at all. And there is a familiar ring to it ... .After all, there's African American Rosie, Mary "Peace" Head who still has her hard hat (which she now decorates with sequins and artificial flowers). Mary is a legitimate veteran of the home front wars and was a welder, I believe. She still attends parades and city festivals in full regalia whenever the occasions demand it.

I'm remembering now that -- when the HUAC (House UnAmerican Activities Committee) hearings were being conducted in San Francisco -- there were those disturbing scenes of protesters being hosed down the steps of the federal building. There were also the protests involving the razing of the old International Hotel. I was living in the suburbs at that time, far away from the black community and the field of action. But by that time I'd become a magnet for the more politically liberal members of the community and was looked to for explanations of what was happening beyond the hills that divided and protected us all from the action.

At first I used to puzzle at just why I was being asked to explain the actions of political situations I had no part in? In time it became clear that there was a legitimate role to play as a middle-class African American. I found a new meaning in middle-class black power. Since it was I who was being asked the questions, it seemed that there was a responsibility to get out there and find some answers; to act as a bridge in order to become a conduit for power. Consequently, I marched for Peoples' Park in Berkeley, stood vigil by slowing huge trucks with the Quakers at roadside in Port Chicago, demonstrated at the Oakland Induction Center, raised money for the Panther Party, and wrote and performed songs about it all.

No one, at that time, was going to give power to a black brotha standing on the corner with a brick in his hand, but I was experiencing a surge of power I would never have dreamed possible. I was a young wife and mother, attractive, bright and politically aware, and by that time had become an active member of the just-forming Unitarian-Universalist Church where I was surrounded by enthusiastic politically-wise social activists. It was safe to be "democratic" at me. The mayor of our town, Doug Page, was a member of our church, as were the head of the mental health association and my Kaiser pediatrician. I now felt cushioned against the pain that our family had endured only a short time before. It was up to me to get into my wood-paneled station-wagon, into some comfortable shoes, mentally fix my hard hat at the right angle, and become educated. And I did.

If it was I who lived in close proximity to those who made the rules, then it was I who needed to try to influence how those rules were going to be made. Maybe I'm still doing just that.

This afternoon I'll slip back into Thirty-Something Betty for a rationale for doing "Rosie." Just as there were no guarantees that anyone would have established cross-racial relationships strong enough to allow for the asking of the important questions of others in the Fifties -- this may still be true. I still speak truth as I know it, and to anyone who will ask. Maybe that's enough reason to accept the mantle. Maybe this is still a legitimate use of me. And maybe I'll never really know the why of it. And ... maybe it's time to just settle for the fun and the ego-satisfaction of it all.

Maybe the real question is just why the Mary Peace Heads of the world are still not being asked the important questions, directly? (And, yes, yesterday I did suggest that she might be more appropriate.) Guess we're just not quite there yet. And until then ... .

Thursday, October 02, 2003

It took an endless number of games ...

of Solitaire to get myself to write tonight. Nothing seems important enough to share... Like one of those days with many starts and few endings. As if I'm somewhere in the middle of something not yet defined ... and I won't know what of the many little things I engaged in today will have any meaning tomorrow -- or the next day... . The kind of day that causes you to feel tired and suspended in space ... listening to silence as if expecting ... what? Not sure. Maybe the next phone call will ground me. The last was from Dorian -- and there's always an unfinished quality to those.

Not sure that I've told you that Dorian lives quite independently in her own apartment across town, about 30 minutes away by car. She is a client (I believe the new PC word is "consumer") of the Regional Center, with a case manager and ongoing services that makes it possible for her to live on her own. She travels on public transportation to a job in a "sheltered" situation -- a few hours at small pay, but with a sense of service.

Over the years she's had a series of such positions. She is assigned a job coach from one of the many nonprofits in the area. This has enabled her at different times to be trained as a dog groomer, collater at a local print shop, a soft-drink-machine-filler-upper, a stock girl at Long's Drugs, etc. Two days a week she spends in a marvelous program called NIAD, a comprehensive arts studio where she can dabble in any of the visual arts and does well at it. At the moment she's involved in block printing, but she has a number of cat portraits in tempura in the gallery.

She goes skiing in winter, is an enthusiastic Special Olympics athlete with medals in almost every sport (but so does everybody else). She goes camping in summer and has taken at least one cruise to Ensenada. All such activities are with people of her community and with capable staff to run interference. Over the years she's grown less and less dependent upon me, but thoroughly participates in and enjoys all family holiday activities. We shop together several times a month and go together to do ladies stuff at the beauty salon now and then.

There's some sadness in her life and an unrequited love, (maybe that should be unreturned love) that causes her (and mom) pain from time to time, but what woman doesn't go through that experience throughout her life? He's also mentally disabled and despite all, I often feel that they have compatible neuroses -- at least to the extent that she's earth mother and he needs one. Like all mom's, I want far more for her than life can deliver. Guess we want that for all those we love, and for ourselves as well.



Wrote this after my first marriage ended, and some time before divorce and remarriage:

Alone Dream


Wishing to be alone ... far from the world I've known,
a candle for lighting ... taking delight in
daring to be my own ... all my own
I'll wish me a cloud to fly, and maybe a moon to sky
I'll wish me a world within a world where there can be
a love with his own dream to share this alone dream with me
I've many a wine to taste and precious few hours to waste
So I must build me a world within a world where there can be
a man with his own dream to share this alone dream with me.
There's an interesting thing going on in my head when I'm remembering these lyrics. Each song comes back whole. The music remains etched without change -- note upon note -- as composed many years ago. A few made it to tape, but many are simply in my head, still, complete. Fascinating.

I wonder how many more are waiting to be revealed to me?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The caption reads, “Driver, bicyclist shot near Richmond Park ... .”

This would be 4th Street Park in the heart of the Iron Triangle. If the time of the incident is correct, I visited that park within two hours after the police and emergency helicopter had gone away. I went there to find one of the players I’d like to involve in a new plan to begin to build an infrastructure upon which a new Barbara Alexander Academy can rise. He was not in the community center as I’d been led to believe, so I climbed back into my car and returned to my office in El Cerrito, totally unaware of the drama that had taken place only hours before. I also realized – as I read this morning’s front page -- that this has become so commonplace in my life and in the lives of this community, that it is almost a non-event. Lives are snuffed out so casually in this culture of violence that we’ve trained ourselves to ignore the body count in order to maintain any semblance of sanity.

I read further:

“…This is bad, and it’s not going to stop here, either. ‘You shoot my cousin, well, I’m going to shoot you.’ And it’s over nothing,” Evans said. Maybe Friday night there will be another shooting, maybe later tonight, maybe the night after that. You never know. I don’t understand it… .”

Closed my eyes and remembered other places, other times. That cold February in Chicago where I met for the first time a contingent of the Blackstone Rangers. It was a meeting of the National Black Caucus at the Hotel Windemere. Young Jessye Jackson, head of Operation Breadbasket, was the inspiring lunchtime speaker and he’d brought along a group of these young men as a kind of honor guard. These were young men with a purpose. They were clearly proud young black nationalists. They wore the uniform and walked the walk. They were brought in from the streets by a caring community of elders at a critical time in their development

Thought of the Black Panthers, a group I was more familiar with, and had some affiliation with from time to time. They, too, were young people with a purpose. They, too, were proud black nationalists who wore the uniform and walked the walk.

Also realized today that most ordinary folks might not really see any differences between those earlier groups and what’s occurring on the streets of today. The differences are monumental. Those kids came out of a culture of hope, and they had the audacity to create their own opportunities for bringing change and against all odds.

What we have now – and what is being perceived as “crime in the streets” is in reality a leaderless revolution born of hopelessness and despair.

Written on the plane coming home from Chicago way back when:
Little Boy Black

Little Boy Black, Little Boy Black
City streets callin’ my little boy back
Once ‘roun’ the trashcan, twice 'roun' the pole
A foot in the gutter, a look down a hole
Little Boy... Little Boy Black

Little Boy Black, Little Boy Black
Evenin’s a’comin’ , will momma get back?
Another long day of being unseen
A momma too weary to fuss, “where you been?”
You’re such a little boy,
Little Boy Black

Little Boy Black, Little Boy Black
When will the judge let your daddy come back?
Once ‘roun’ the bottle, twice 'roun' the drunk
Asleep in the gutter rolled by a spunky little boy
Naughty Boy Black!

Little Boy Black, beautiful black!
All grown up now, to war and back
A lifetime now of being unseen
Not even a country to ask, “where you been?”
You’re such a lonely boy,
Lonely Boy Black

Little Boy Black, Little Boy Black
Angry, they call you! A militant Black.
Quick! Down the alley, duck behind the trees!
Dead in the gutter by the guns of police …
Bloody Boy!
Bloody Boy Black!

Little Boy Black, Little Boy Black
City streets callin’ my little boy back
Once ‘roun’ the headstone, twice 'roun' the grave
Hate may avenge you but only lovin’ can save
All the little boys,
Boys Black.


Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Thinking a lot today about California Proposition #54,

Regent Ward Connerly's controversial initiative that would remove race as a factor and move us all toward his hoped-for "colorblind society." I'm hopeful that it will be roundly defeated, but am certain that confusion reigns among people of good will. Like many state propositions, this one borrows heavily from the language of civil rights, and will surely lead many down the primrose path of deception.

My physical appearance is racially ambiguous. One might assume that there would be some relief in finally being able to opt out of "checking the boxes" of identification. Did that years ago. Upon entering the workforce at the university back in the Seventies, I made the decision to just check all those little boxes, including "other" and let it go at that. When the interviewer asked about it I just told her to take a look at me ... she laughed!

It was probably at that point that I decided that race -- at some point in successive racial intermarriages -- becomes a political choice. And, in time, I made that political choice unconditionally. I am African American. When I choose to break it down, I can identify Spanish (Islenos), French, Choctaw, Shoshone, Creole, English, African on both sides. Almost any African American would find such mixtures in their backgrounds, with few exceptions. It just proves that we come from a long line of people who loved enough to cross a lot of unimportant lines of separation. No big deal.

Through my marriage, my children added to that mix, German, Jewish (their paternal grandmother, Reba Whitelaw Reid, wasn't too sure since she was a foundling from New York); Seminole; and David's wife and their children's mother is from the Philippines. His four children moved those "lines of separation" even farther out than before.

I remember that I was told by the Womens' Health Initiative (longevity study) that African Americans were less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than whites. For just a minute there it felt comforting. Then I laughed when a crazy thought crossed my mind, "...wonder if my genes know?"

Back to Prop. 54: Do you recall in the recent past when it was acknowledged far and wide that African Americans were the largest minority group in the general population? That was before there was a critical policy decision just before the last census, to allow those of us of mixed races to so specify. Clever ploy, that. At that time there was such a thing as "the black vote.

Where I had earlier refused to be classified out of sheer stubbornness, now I could see clearly the underlying strategy. (I wonder if Ward Connerly picked that up?)

Only a few months after the census was taken, it was publicly announced far and wide that the Black population was now the second largest minority group in the nation. Surprise, surprise! We had been surpassed by the Latinos!

We were the same people. If anything, under the former "one drop rule" our numbers were growing exponentially. In fact, our population was exploding -- and someone had surely noticed and worked out a way to deal with it. We lost significant political power in the process.

Regent Connerly joined the game, perhaps in innocence. Perhaps by design. Perhaps what we have here is a simple case of paranoia on my part. Maybe ... .

Anyway, in the way that history has of repeating its lessons, another song comes to mind.
It was written during the stormy Sixties when I was being tossed between worlds -- Black and White -- active nationally in the Black Revolution while living in white suburbia in California with all of the trappings of the "good life." I was experiencing being not quite black enough in one world, and not quite white enough in the other. After a period of feeling as if I were nothing, I wrote this song as testimony to the fact that I was really everything.

To Each of Me
To each of me
to love within the reach of me
and if this love could teach to me
why each of me, in turn,
should torture so the soul of me
and tear apart the whole of me
within life's play -- each role of me
must speak to me
must learn

that blackness and the white of me
are just the day and night of me
are not the wrong or right of me
can't you see -- there's got to be

some answer to this planet's pain
my microcosmic world -- insane!
if only I could make you see
it's here to see -- just look at me
there is within me all of you
from distant lands, the whole of you
the dreams, the heart, the soul of you
if only you would see ...
that black and white are part of it
my brown is at the heart of it
and blending was the start of it
and someday it shall be
that blackness and the white of us
will be the day and night of us
and not the wrong or right of us
the weak or might of us

then we'll be free!


Having worked that through, I could then go back to being my black self in celebration of the uniqueness of being a one-of-a-kind person. Maybe it's all in being allowed to make one's own choices. Maybe identity can't be imposed from outside.

Just maybe...

Monday, September 29, 2003

Slavery is not an abstraction to me, but visceral, nor is the thought of reparations irrelevant ... .

My slave ancestor, Leontine Breaux Allen, died when I was a 27 years-old mother of two. She was born into slavery in 1846 and died in 1948 at the age of 102. She raised my mother, Lottie (born in the year 1894), along with her own children and many grandchildren, in a little house beside the Mississippi in Welcome, St. James Parish, Louisiana. I knew her.  I got to meet her during a visit to New Orleans when I was about sixteen. Her mother was Celestine "of no last name",  the wife of Eduoard Breaux, Cajun landowner. Among my papers is the marriage certificate retrieved from the Catholic Diocese in Baton Rouge. It is written in French, bearing his signature and her "X." The date of the marriage was 1865, one month after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Leontine was 19 at the time of her parents' marriage. Freedom came for both Leontine and her mother, but not before the day of the proclamation.


My mother lived to be 101. Miscegenation clearly does not foul the gene pool.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

It's been a lazy Sunday afternoon ... .

The house is still with only the sounds of an occasional skateboarder passing through the carport ... I enjoy the sounds of young people at play.

Thinking about that 20-24 year-old Betty who was daunted by that interview and that's beginning to become clearer.

That period in history was a time when our world got completely turned on its head and evolved into a ten-year period of redefinition -- not only for me -- but for all of my relatives and friends. You might imagine what it would have been like for those of us who had lived in the pre-segregation West. While we'd grown up with full knowledge of the curse of racial bigotry, we lived above it all, in what might be called affinity groups (affinity communities, I suppose) in much the same way that Italian-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc., lived their lives. We shared cultural celebrations in our various neighborhoods, but had our own African-American Creole-based rich culture to identify with.

There were clearly differences, but I certainly had the feeling that we were together by choice, and -- though our parents were -- for the large part -- the service workers of the times, and fully aware of "their place," my generation enjoyed a rich social life well controlled by our parents, who planned our activities and guarded us from harm to the extent that they could.

There were coming out parties (quite formal), tennis tournaments that brought out the opposing teams from Southern California, beauty contests and picnics and skating parties. Public events such as big band concerts brought everyone out to dance to Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Jazz Festivals. As a young teen I traveled to San Pablo Park in Berkeley with Papa George to watch the traveling colored baseball teams play to packed stands. The campuses (San Jose State, U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State, Sacramento State) all had very active fraternities and sororities that added to our academic and social lives.

At that time there were no more than about 17,000 African Americans in the entire northern part of the state, including Sacramento, with several families as far away as Guinda and Marysville to the North, and Seaside and San Mateo to the south and west of us. We were spread throughout the East Bay and San Francisco, with many families having arrived in California around the turn of the century.

When World War II began and the great migration brought over 100,000 southern whites and blacks into the Bay Area almost overnight, we were simply buried under.  Everything changed. "Gentlemen's Agreements" with respect to housing became formalized, and Jim Crow restrictions -- once only covert -- became the prevailing systems of operation.

To that point, other than the time when my high school drama teacher -- after a fine reading I'd done for the part of Maria in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset -- kept me after class to explain why she couldn't give me the part because I'd have to play against a white boy ... I'd really not seen much real racial prejudice. Besides, I'd been too busy having a great time with my own friends, separate and apart from my (white) school life.

Small wonder that 20 year-old Betty didn't have the words to describe life in those years. The transitions were dramatic, and the changing context in which our lives were being lived was overwhelming. Someone once told me - much later in life -- that it was really hard to feel superior to folks who simply refused to be inferior. That would pretty well have described most of us. We were a pretty confident bunch, many of whom grew up to be the community leaders in the decades following the war. But someone had shuffled the deck, and we found ourselves co-existing and in competition with educated and accomplished African Americans from all over the country and the world who had followed in the wake of the great Black migration of war workers from southern states..

This was long before the Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties, and the advent of Dr. King. And a new ethos was evolving in the black community, and many of us were hearing the "Negro National Anthem" for the very first time. It was a tumultuous period of change for us all, and in many ways, the radical changes were costly. They also brought a new reality that replaced all that had gone before.

It was in 1950, five years after the war's end, that we built our home in Walnut Creek, and tried to return to an earlier and less complicated time. That was not to be. It had never occurred to us that the term "middle-class African Americans" exists only in the minds of middle-class African Americans! A nigger is a nigger is a nigger in the minds of whites. And we became the "first black family on the block" of middle-class and upper-middle-class whites who had moved into the valley to escape the scourge of the black migration. Little did we know how much pain that would bring. And my husband's family had come to California during the Civil War. Our children were 4th generation Californians.

(See California Black Pioneers Page)

Not sure of the years, ...

but it was during the period when Bob was just out of high school and off for the summer in Big Sur country. Our mutual friend, a Universalist Unitarian minister, was building a home high above Palo Colorado Canyon with the help of several men. Bob was the youngest of these; perhaps 18 at the time.

It was a hot summer evening and a group of us were seated on the deck of the poet, Ric Masten, and his wife, Billie Barbara. The deck looked out to sea from a point high on the mountainside. Somewhere between the Masten home and the ocean -- down the steep slope -- I was aware that Bob was asleep in his sleeping bag on the site of the new foundation; among foxes, and heaven knows what all. I wondered at his fearlessness, if that's indeed what it was.

Ric and I had been trading songs all evening, he with his 12-string and me with my much-loved Martin guitar. We appeared together in concert from time to time at colleges and churches and thoroughly enjoyed sharing our latest works. It was a magical time. I was aware that night of the added accompaniment of the chorus of frogs in the background as we sang. Somewhere among my old tapes that are no longer playable, is one of that evening... .

Wrote this song for Bob (not sure he's ever heard it):


The Man Now Come to Stay

The mornin's past and noon can't last and evenin's on its way
the babe has gone, the boy moves on toward man who'll come to stay
I'll sing my song to pray him strong and bless him on his way
the mist hangs high becomes the sky and ocean's born today!
the babe has gone but boy lives on in man who'll come to stay.

the mists enshroud conceives the cloud and ocean's born today
the babe has gone, but boy lives on in man whose on his way
the man now come to stay



I believe that I was able to silently release Bob that night from the Masten's deck overlooking the Pacific, to become his own person. Which is not to say that we ever really sprang totally free of our moorings, but to the extent possible -- I was keenly aware of myself as the archer's bow from which the arrow is catapulted out into the world -- with a fervent prayer of hope that he would survive the launching.

Dorian is still caught in the bow strings, and David's lived a song of his own.

Kept waking in the night ...

thinking about Dorian's song, and that there were grammatically incorrect lines ... and wouldn't you notice?

Reminded me that a few years ago I went through a videotaped interview for the Rosie the Riveter project -- it was an oral history project of the University of California, Berkeley.

For a while the interview went fairly well. Then -- after a while -- I began to feel a resistance building and silences became more frequent. Felt the tears begin to well up behind my eyelids at one point and I asked the interviewer to please stop the cameras.

What was happening was suddenly clear to me. The interviewer was asking questions about the mindset of 20 year-old Betty on subjects about which that young woman was simply unaware. At that age my social conscience had not yet been awakened. That was to come much later. "How did you feel about things like segregation" held no relevance for me, that is, unless I borrowed generously from the much older and wiser woman I'd since become. What an impossible thing to be asked to do. It placed me in direct conflict with myself.

Once we restarted the camera with an understanding that -- if this was to have any authenticity -- I'd have to be allowed to say "I don't know" or "I can't recall" when appropriate. Everyone agreed. Since I knew that others were participating in these interviews, I've since wondered how they handled this?

It was so with "Orange-Magenta." The temptation was to take the lyrics apart and correct the lines that experience tells me are awkward. I won't do that. You'll have to know that -- when I'm speaking from Betty of an earlier time -- you'll simply have to make allowances for her innocence.

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