Monday, November 19, 2012

Marcy Wong stopped by the Visitor's Center today ... .

... and was reminded of an unfulfilled item on my bucket list; that of getting Marcy Wong, Astronauts Mae Jemison and the late Sally Ride; brilliant  and feisty Rachel Maddow; courageous journalist Amy Goodman, et al, recognized as present-day successors to Rosie the Riveter.  This park must not end up dying because it became a mausoleum for women of the past.  While celebrating those of us who served our country on the home-front at a time of need is a worthy cause, the social changes that accompanied our emancipation have continued to have an impact on the nation and must be noted.  Today's young women's lives are a reflection of our on-going struggles for equality in the workplace.  Equal pay for equal work is not yet fully realized, and the Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.  Even equal representation in Congress, though growing, falls far short of the 50% that would be needed to match our percentage of the population.

Marcy is the award-winning designer/architect responsible for the restoration and reconstruction of Ford Point, the old Ford Assembly Plant at the end of Harbour Way South -- on the scenic shoreline in Richmond.

Ford Point - Craneway Pavilion
The magnificent quarter-mile long structure was designed by Albert Kahn in 1931, and built to assemble Model A autos.  About ten years later, the plant was taken over for the assembling of 43,000 tanks and jeeps for the war in the Pacific theater of WWII.

The building was almost totally destroyed by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1987, and -- for a time its continued existence was seriously threatened by those who firmly believed the property would be of  far greater value if the hopeless ruins could be dismantled and hauled away. Fortunately for us, the preservationists won out in the end and the iconic structure was saved

Visitors Education Center
Enter the dynamic developer, Eddie Orton, of the Emeryville-based Orton Development Company -- with brilliant Marcy Wong onto the scene, and not only was it restored to historic preservation standards, but its Craneway Pavilion's cathedral-like grandeur is now available for public events on a scale previously undreamed of.  Not only that, but the building is filled to capacity with green businesses, plus being included as one of the scattered sites that form the Rosie the Riveter /WWII Home Front Historical National Park.  Our Visitors Education Center now welcomes visitors from throughout the country and the world.

I mentioned this to someone yesterday, and the fact that we might want to be thinking about creating a Feminist Hall of Fame someday, a place where young women who have found their way into the workplace in non-traditional careers and occupations might be recognized and celebrated.  He reminded me that Maria Shriver had established such a place in Sacramento, and that I should look into it:

... so?  Should there be only one such site?  Does that site reflect the relationship between women entering the trades, politics, arts and culture, and corporate leadership with Rosie the Riveter's entrance into the American workforce?  If it doesn't then it's missing a critical linkage between then and now.  We can establish that connection.  Someone should.  The Women's Movement of today is but one expression of the struggle that has been going on since early in the 20th Century -- and before.  Today's young women harken back to Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, but the historic record tends to skip over the times celebrated by Rosie's era; at least until we came into being ten years ago as the omission was finally realized.  The Movement needs to double back and pick up those unlearned lessons in order to fully understand our history in order to move into the future better informed.

Maria Shriver's contribution to the cause of the women's and human rights is immeasurable.  Her televised annual conferences were/are unforgettable and profoundly effective.  That's indisputable.  But it doesn't stop there.  There's still work to do, and -- the responsibility for continuing that work falls to those of us who temporarily have the public's fickle attention.

Marcy Wong personifies a great achievement in her field, and public recognition does more than simply add to her list of personal achievements, but also serves as a model for young women whom she might inspire to follow in her footsteps.  In my imagination, her work on Ford Point and the Visitors Education Center are equal to that of Maya Lin, Kazuyo Sejima, Zaba Hadid, or Julia Morgan, and should be celebrated as such.

Sincerely dreaming,


Sunday, November 18, 2012

A fragment from the life of Leontine Breaux Allen, family matriarch for many decades ... .

My mother's younger sister, Aunt Vivian Allen-Jernigan, adored her grandmother, and loved to tell about how -- once the chores were completed in the fields, and at the end of the day,
"When I was a small child "Mammå" would sink into the living-room rocking chair and with an ever-so-slight motion with her hand would send me to a secret place beside the fireplace to bring forth a little corncob pipe and tobacco pouch from behind a loose brick.  She made me feel as if this was a secret shared between us.  She would then send me to bed while she remained seated -- silently drawing on her pipe until the house of many people would settle down for the night.  It was only then that she would climb under the mosquito netting of the big bed -- until the first morning light."

By far the most intriguing story had to do with the critical role Mammå played in the little community of St. James.  She was the town "medical assistant," serving as "intern" for the circuit-rider doctor who came through on horseback about every 3 months.  She also served as the town's midwife and delivered not only family babies, but for most of the women in their village.  I suspect that this would have been for African Americans, only, though I'm not sure about this.  After visiting the African American Historical National Park in Anacostia -- and seeing the exhibits of those women who served as midwives -- it wasn't made clear.

During the few days before the doctor's visit it was she who rode her horse through St. James calling on all those who may need medical attention.  The routine was that she'd place a white towel on the gate posts of each home where help was needed, and that this determined just where he would stop. According to Vivian's account, the doctor would confer with Mammå  on patient's aftercare, and that it was she who would be accountable for their health issues until his return months later.

Those stories made her one of my personal heroes early in life, and during the 1995 honoring ceremonies -- being named one of ten outstanding women by the National Women's History Project I had cause to wonder ... one never feels worthy, I suppose, but I came to terms with the proceedings upon realizing that I'd spent my whole life -- never seeking public office or acclaim (though surely was courted from time to time) but that, instead, I'd been completely satisfied to find fulfillment in draping symbolic "white towels" over imaginary gateposts anywhere help might be needed throughout not only my community, but as a field representative for the 14th Assembly District in later life, and, now in my role with the National Park Service.

"Children will listen,"

It is her work that provides shape and form to mine to this day, and she is cited in my commentaries at the twice-weekly theater presentations -- and with great pride and humility.  She and I are players in the great American narrative, as are so many extraordinary ordinary people.