Monday, February 22, 2010

Betty on Channel 10 about Port Chicago

This is a link to the unedited raw footage of my interview that was used in the making of a segment of the evening news produced by Channel 10 out of Sacramento, California. It is the work of photojournalist, Rodney Speed, in recognition of Black History Month.

Once at the website, look over to the right hand side of the screen to "related videos" and you'll find the complete segment as it was aired on the evening news. Its title is "Port Chicago Remembered." Scroll down the list to bring it up. Only about two sentences were used in the final product (which is the way these things work).

However, in addition to mine, there are two others worth viewing; the complete interview of Rep. George Miller, whose hard work and dedication both created then moved Port Chicago from designation as a monument to full status as the 392nd unit of the National Park System; and that of Dr. Robert L. Allen of the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "The Port Chicago Mutiny." He tells the human story of the event in his own words. Though unplanned, my interview provides context for the others. Together these give a fairly complete story of those 320 young lives lost, and of all that followed in the wake of that great tragedy. Ranger Thaddeus Shay and Historian John Keibel are also featured on camera.

(Fine work, Mr. Speed!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Well, that didn't last long ...

Fell asleep last night with my radio on and went through the process of wakening so slowly that it was difficult to distinguish dream from reality.

My little clock radio was tuned to NPR and in the transition between sleep and wakefulness came a story about Winchester College in Salt Lake City, Utah. The college has a large contingent of athletes in the Olympics this year, largely in snowboarding competitions.

Narrator: "Winchester recruits from all over the country with
scholarships -- $23,000/yr -- for those who can maintain high
academic grades while pursuing excellence in the sport."

This year 41 such students were accepted into this small school's ice sports programs.

The next story was about today being the anniversary of the shameful internment of 120,000 Japanese during WWII, 70,000 of whom were American citizens.

Narrator: "Apologies have since been extended to those
unfairly incarcerated over the years of the war --
and reparations amounting to over 1 billion
dollars has been paid to those families effected."

Before opening my eyes I thought of my greatgrandmother, "Mammå," Leontine Breaux Allen, who was born into slavery in 1846 and served as the matriarch of our family until her death in 1948.

African Americans were brought in chains into the Americas during the 1600's and lived as less than human for the next 300 years; until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln. During those years it was illegal to educate the enslaved. Leontine spoke only French, but could neither read nor write in any language. Her entire life was spent on a plantation in St. James Parish, Louisiana, then in a tiny cabin beside the Mississippi after her marriage to Civil War veteran, George Allen, who fought with the Louisiana Colored Troops on the side of the North. It was there that, mostly as a widow, she raised her large family, including my mother.

Nonetheless, one of her grandchildren (only two generations out of slavery), George Allen, served as president of Texas Southern University; one of her daughters, Aunt Alice, created the first school for black children in St. James Parish and served as its principal until her death during my lifetime. Generations of Breaux and Allen children and grandchildren have been major contributors to mainstream America in all areas of economic and cultural life.

African Americans have only been "free" (since 1865), for far less time than those years spent under the cruel system of slavery. And, freedom has only existed in theory. Since emancipation we've experienced; legal racial segregation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynchings, "Separate but Equal", Dred Scott, Brown vs. the Board of Education; Sit-ins and bus burnings, church bombings, and a long succession of neglected and ignored legislated promises left unfulfilled.

But, unlike our nation's dealings with the ill-treated Japanese Americans of WWII, there has been no apology to those whose lives were so degraded over the course of the nation's past -- nor have reparations ever been offered for over 300 years of involuntary servitude; for existing as chattel; and for being bought and sold by others. And only in the recent past has there been recognition of the fact that the country was built on the backs of those enslaved and maltreated over centuries.

How are these stories related?

In those early morning musings before becoming fully awakened into my day it was all very clear. It would not take very long (judging from the speed with which George Allen reached his pinnacle of achievement) for many African Americans to escape the chains of poverty and despair if reparations in the form of a free education up to and including graduate schools were granted as entitlements to every qualified descendant of slavery.

If we can do it for snowboarders and the children of the nation's elite, why not for those to whom the country owes so much and for centuries of continuing hopelessness and today's abandonment into an underground economy fueled by illegal drugs? (As I recall, we named it Welfare Reform.)

But now it's almost eleven o'clock and I'm fully awake and these answers feel a bit less realistic -- but maybe worth thinking about as I watch the Olympics this afternoon at the nursing home with Dorian.

And, yes, the post that precedes this one was a spasm of temporary contentment, and was fleeting. But it did carry the promise of change -- and that may be enough to help me to continue to lean into the winds of positive change with unknown others who are doing the same -- on pure faith in our presumed humanity.

I have several speaking engagements upcoming this week for Black History Month. That fact is surely having an effect upon my thoughts today. Too bad we've accepted this month-long observance rather than continuing to struggle to have black history recognized as American history -- the narrative of an upstart young nation that has yet to come to terms with its beginnings, or, the unspeakable brutality of a Civil War whose mission of ending slavery has never been fully realized. A nation that has yet to process its troubled past, and must, before attempting to move into its place as the undisputed leader of the free world.

Our destiny may be all gnarled up in promises of democracy unfulfilled.
Finally free of the lifelong rage?

Drove to the Oakland Museum yesterday for that oral history interview which meant revisiting the awfulness of racism of the '50's, and noted on the way home that there was an element missing ... the long-simmering and highly-controlled fury that has played in the background of my life, throughout. Talking into a microphone about those years no longer reactivates the pain of rejection. Wonder when it was dissipated, and just how it happened? Is it over now, or will it return full-blown through some negative experience but get expressed in some new form?

Is this the effect of my day-to-day work with the National Park Service -- the ongoing research aspects of having to deal with my personal history objectively that has brought change?

There's a vague familiarity about the feeling -- like sitting in a frozen metal chair in 17 degree weather in front of the nation's Capitol watching the Inauguration ... yes! That's it.

Could it be that I'm finally feeling "heard," in the world because I've been handed a megaphone? It's as if the silence has broken around generations of injustice leaving space now for reconciliation. And -- why does this bring to mind the image of melting massive glaciers -- with the deafening cracking sounds and rising sea levels ...


What do you suppose comes next?

Is this what it feels like to have "processed" one's history? This can't be a singular experience, but suggests that I'm not alone -- that my life may have fallen within the bounds of a change generation. I suspect that humankind has moved through the ages with pulsations like the one I seem to be experiencing; those occasional and unpredicted thrusts that moves humanity inevitably toward -- I know not what ... and that this feeling of social well-being will be short-lived, lasting only until the next outrage occurs ... .

Maybe I can blow it apart by turning on CSPAN for a few hours.

That should do it.

But in the meantime ... .