In honor of MLK day this past Monday, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about dedicating this entry to Betty Reid Soskin. I have to admit, though, it’s been difficult to get going, and as I began pulling quotes and details to share, I finally realized why it’s been hard. She is damn intimidating!
A five foot three, soft-spoken 97-year-old might not seem particularly overwhelming. For those lucky enough to have heard her speak, you know also that she is extremely approachable and willing to share both her thoughts and listen to yours. But what she has accomplished in her life makes clear that this woman is a force of nature. What she lacks in height, she has made up for with a lifetime of copious activism and the promotion of American ideals of liberty and equal opportunity.
Chock Full O’ History
Here are just a few portions of her remarkable life story. She comes from Cajun, Creole, Spanish, and African ancestors, with a great-grandmother born into slavery and an ancestry that stretches from the time of witches to Dred Scott through the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. She came to California from New Orleans and served in a segregated Jim Crow union hall in Richmond California during World War II. Opening a gospel-themed record store in Berkeley with her husband, she raised a family, experiencing redlining in Berkeley and both subtle and overt racism in the suburbs of Walnut Creek. Continue reading “Betty Reid Soskin: Social Justice Ninja Warrior”
This may not seem like a holiday-themed post, but in the theater of mad decorating that took place at our house last week, listening to Christmas carols led to all sorts of topics. One of my favorite carols popped into the mix: “What Child is This?” played by Vince Guaraldi on The Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Naturally, the song led to a discussion of “Greensleeves” which naturally led to… anyone? anyone? Henry the Eighth… which naturally reminded of something I recently learned about syphilis.
The Earworm Virus of “Greensleeves”
The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written as a poem by William Chatterton Dix, who mused on what the magi might have said besides, “Where the Holiday Inn?” Dix was an English insurance company manager whose near death illness invoked a spark of divine inspiration so intense that he began writing poems like “The Manger Throne.” At some point, when a hymnal was later created in 1865, his poem was set to the ‘borrowed’ tune from “Greensleeves.”
The little ballad, played by strolling bards at Renaissance festivals and the more famous pick-up lute quartets, had been around for nearly three centuries. The song has long been attributed to Henry, and the legend goes that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn as she was rejecting his advances. Continue reading “The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis”
Or, to say it more properly, Martin Luther and the Reformation Christians were the ones who turned the dead into the bloodcurdling beings that inhabit today’s stories. Halloween stories being an appropriate topic for today’s blog, I was reading about the history of horror, and I wondered how medieval societies felt about ghosts. When I read about the Dance of the Dead and the role of Martin Luther, it all sort of clicked into place.
In the medieval period, the dead were considered simply another age group. The blessed dead who were consecrated as saints became part of daily ritual life and were expected to intervene to support the community. Families offered commemorative prayers to their ancestors, whose names were written in “Books of Hours,” prayer books that guided daily devotion at home. —[Emphasis mine] from “How the Dead Danced with the Living in Medieval Society,” theconversation.com
Just Another Age Group
Prior to the Reformation, medieval societies had a more platonic relationship with the dead. Maybe not platonic–how about balanced? The dead represented ancestors who could be either blessed or just normal ol’ ghosts. Some spirits intended harm, like demons or tricksters, but not all of the walking dead were malicious. Hence, many medieval paintings, particularly murals, showed the dead dancing among the living. The dance was part of the transition of life as one aged and eventually crossed the line into that other state of being. Continue reading “The Demise of Ghosts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated”
Today’s prompt: discuss three well-known innovators. You might immediately think of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs. The high-tech pantheon goes on; there’s Sergei Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Bill Gates of Microsoft. Along with changing how the world functions, they all have another thing in common: misjudgment and hubris. Microsoft is as synonymous with “doesn’t work” as it is with “everyone’s software.” Google is how we gather most of our information, including how Google misleads us in biased search rankings, which we can learn about, by googling. Facebook was vulnerable to foreign agent interference into our political process.
However, American arrogance from American inventors isn’t something high-tech leaders invented. In my trip through the Midwest, I had a chance to dive deep into the stories of three well-known American pioneers: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Each in their own way let the genie out of the bottle, changing how we live. Each in their own way also left behind a spotted legacy as well.
Assembly Line Cars, Assembly Line People
Take Henry Ford for starters. He didn’t invent the automobile or the assembly line, but by putting them together, he created the ability to mass produce autos at a cost that made them affordable. He didn’t personally design the Model T, but with the right team of creative engineers, he spearheaded creation of a car that was easy to build, operate, and maintain on the rough roads of the early 20th century. Continue reading “American Invention, American Arrogance”
Korczak, the sculptor, slung his drill over his back and climbed over 900 steps for almost 40 years. He blasted bits out of the granite mountain, day after day, grinding down the 563 -foot side to lay out room for a long pointing arm. If ever there was a visual definition of the word “surmount”–to mount upon, to prevail over–this must be it.
One man, one drill, one mountain.
He hadn’t gotten especially far by 1973, when I first saw the Statue-To-Be, driving across South Dakota on our cross-country trip moving from Detroit to Sacramento. Now, returning back to visit some of my old haunts in Michigan, the memorial was the first big stop on our trip through the heartland, this pink-tinged grassland of our country’s center. Korczak’s grandchildren are now in charge, and the crew is slowly but surely pulling the image of the proud warrior out of the granite. Continue reading “Heartland I: The Carving Climbing Out of the Mountain”