“All Means All”

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January 16, 2023- The process tends to loop around in circles, sometimes spiraling forward and other times heading back the other way.

April, 1959- A tough-looking boy, a bit older than me, rode up on his bike as I was walking back from the south side of town. He said his name was Richard; that he was a Creole from New Orleans and that I looked like a money man. I was eight, Richard was probably ten. I showed my empty pockets and he sniffed and rode off. “Next time, Money Man!” I didn’t see him again until we were in Junior High. He was into other things by then, and never bothered me. I later learned, from another Black child, that Richard no one in his life, except his Grandma, who was a custodian at the high school.

June, 1963- A seasoned jazz saxophonist, named Wilton Felder, sat down and recorded a re-arrangement of “Lullaby by JS Brahms”. It was nothing close to a lullaby, when he was finished. Mr. Felder was expressing his rage-at the murder, in 1956, of Emmett Till; at the murder, a few days before the recording, of Medgar Evers; at the many instances of cruelty towards people who looked like him . He was in no mood to offer gentle comfort-and so he made the piece soar to the heavens-loud and angry. The performance was terribly prescient. Three months later, four young girls, dressed in their Sunday finest, were blown to bits by a crazed bomber, as they waited in a Birmingham church.

April, 1968- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a group of sanitation workers and others who were gathered in their support. He remarked that the people were “headed to the Promised Land”, and that he “may not get there with you”. That night, as he took in the night air of a Memphis spring, he was sent to the hereafter. Far to the north, in the mostly white town where I was coming of age, a few of my friends mused aloud, about going over to a black neighbourhood in the next town, and stirring things up. The father who overheard those remarks forbade his son from taking part-as my father would have, if I had even wanted to be part of such a thing. As it was, I only wanted to see black people treated fairly and my heart was broken. I went on home.

June, 1969- Communication was not my strong suit, as I entered Basic Training in the U.S. Army. Having had little direct experience with African-Americans, I found that I had committed a few faux pas. Lavern was already a beaten-down, world-weary soul, at age 19. He desperately wanted to be understood, and had a hard time expressing the ways in which people like me had hurt him. A sharp-eyed friend advised me that some other black trainees were talking with Lavern, and looking my way. I spoke with a mutual friend, who was also black; the two of us sat down with Lavern, and got things amicably settled.

September, 1969- One cold morning, at Advanced Individual Training, in Indianapolis, I was having a hard time waking up and must have had a sour expression on my face, as we gathered at the latrine sinks, to shave our faces. Wayne was spring-loaded and outspoken. He thought my scowl was directed at him-and put me on notice that this was not acceptable. A more even-tempered black colleague explained that this was how African-American men communicated with one another-direct, full-in-the-face. In this way, I was being let inside. I had no further issues with Wayne, or with any other person of colour, the rest of the time I was in the Army. Direct, and to the point, always worked.

July, 1995- I was getting ready to cross a busy street, in St. Louis, with my wife, son and our hosts. Of a sudden, a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back-just as a car came speeding along in the inside lane. The man who saved me had appeared to be on drugs-but he was aware enough to keep a stranger safe. This gave the lie to our hosts’ musings about black people being worthless. There was no further racist talk coming out of their mouths during our visit.

All these years later, one of the main speakers at today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service asked, among other things, how many friends of colour each of us had. It was a rhetorical query, intended to get us thinking. My unspoken answer is, “Many, but nowhere near enough”. The keynote speaker then underscored this question, saying that ALL people’s lives indeed mattered. To that African-American, female pastor, everyone was due respect and accordance of dignity-even if they act despicably.

All people means all people.

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The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 98: Looking Back At Baton Rouge- Part 1

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September 6, 2020-

Today presented itself, back at Home Base, with a few responsibilities right off the bat- two Zoom calls and two loads of laundry. Mostly, though, I had plenty of time to ease back into the routine that occupies me here.

It’s apropos to note a couple of subjects that derive from the day or so that I spent in Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital ha,s at times, languished in the shadow of its Big Easy sister to the southeast. New Orleans was, in fact, offered me as a place from which to fly homeward, yet, with a guaranteed ride to BR and none to NOLA, I politely declined the offer.

The free day, that resulted from my catching a ride to Baton Rouge, provided a chance to get a look at a preserved plantation property: Magnolia Mound. It was medium-sized, even its heyday-with 80 enslaved people working the property, at maximum, primarily for sugar cane production. There were a series of thirteen owners, between 1797 and 1905, the latter owner running the place as a sharecropping enterprise, after a brief period (1863-7) in which the freedmen remained on the property and ran it as their own business, in a time of confusion as to the whereabouts of the owner. In the mid-1960’s, the property was purchased by the City of Baton Rouge, as a park, in order to preserve the French Creole architecture and artifacts.

I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the Historic House (manor) from a delightful young lady, named Cat, with encyclopedic knowledge of the various aspects of the grounds and buildings. No photography is allowed INSIDE the Historic House, but here are some scenes of other parts of the park.

Magnolia Mound Visitors Center
Hart House, the home of a post-Emancipation owner of Magnolia Mound, who had his mother live in the mansion, though without running water. Nice guy, Mr. Hart.
The magnolia is one of two dominant trees on the property.
La Grange Pavilion is a former barn, now used as an event center.
The Live Oak is the other dominant tree on the property.
This is an external view of a Slave Cabin. Each cabin housed five people. There were at least sixteen such cabins on the property, at the height of its operation. The cabins were destroyed by a tornado in 1871. This structure is similar to those destroyed, but was itself brought from another plantation.
This shows the sleeping area of an enslaved person’s cabin. There were likely two or three other beds in the room, as well.
Looms were a critical tool of the enslaved women who worked in the Main House. They tended to all matters involving the property owner’s family, as well as making their own clothes.
This is the Overseer’s House. Overseers were, generally, just a notch above the enslaved- and could have been anyone from a poor Scotch-Irish farmer to a freed African-American. They were, however, not enslaved.
Here is the open hearth of the outdoor kitchen for the Plantation House. Enslaved women prepared all the meals here.
Here is a view of the front to the Plantation (Historic) House. The construction is a blend of Spanish, Creole and Caribbean archtiecture.

Enslavement has always bothered me, especially as an institution. That it was deemed necessary to build our nation’s economy is particularly odious. The story, though, ought not be erased or canceled. It needs to remain as part of the larger cautionary tale, lest it ever happen again.

Next: Louisiana’s State Capitol