Facing History: Removing Statues

A statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims (1813-1883) was removed from New York City’s Central Park yesterday, after holding court for 84 years. Sims, dubbed “the father of gynecology,” performed surgical experiments on female slaves without anesthesia. His statue will be moved to a cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is buried.

The statue of the South Carolina native was the only one to be removed among several city statues under review. Theodore Roosevelt will remain in front of the Museum of Natural History; Christopher Columbus will stay in Columbus Circle, however markers noting the explorer’s mistreatment of Native Americans will be erected nearby.

New York City isn’t alone in examining the veracity of the history behind its statues, streets, and buildings. Cities and universities are weighing past relationships to slavery and changing names following many protests and debates.

Names matter. To understand why these statues have to come down, read Mitch Landrieu’s In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.

The two-term New Orleans Mayor and former Louisiana lieutenant governor tackles the issue head-on. The statues don’t honor history or heroes.

“They were created as political weapons, part of an effort to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. They helped distort history…. to distract from the terror tactics that deprived African Americans of fundamental rights from the Reconstruction years through Jim Crow until the civil rights movement and the federal court decisions of the 1960s. Institutional inequities in the economic, education, criminal justice, and housing systems exist to this very day,” writes Landrieu.

A visit to Auschwitz in 1980 left an indelible mark on the then 20-year-old college student. Like many, he’d studied the Holocaust in school.

“To read about it from afar is to get a grasp on history and that unspeakable horror. It also allows denial to creep in—That was then, this is now. It is not us. This can never happen in the United States. But when you stand in the very place where so many human beings were murdered in one of the world’s worst atrocities, you wonder how a group of people could become so cruel…”

…”And then the realization came that we had done something like this in America with slavery…”

As mayor, Landrieu, persuaded by his personal friend and New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis, set out to remove the city’s offensive statues. With the city council’s approval, the statues were removed under cover of darkness and amid protests on both sides last year.

…“We can be proud of our ancestors who served the Confederacy as men who fought courageously for a cause larger than themselves. We can also recognize that in the context of history they were wrong.”

Read the book. Pass it along to others. Mitch Landrieu gets what’s wrong with America. I bet he could fix it too.

 

 

 

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Posted in Books, Civil Rights History, commentary, Education, New York City, news, Reading, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Unfriend Facebook?

In February I posted on Facebook that I was seriously considering pulling my pages. Disgusted with the reports of election hacking made more accessible via Facebook I felt enough was enough. Facebook friends encouraged me to stay. After all, it’s been a great way to connect with high school and college friends, promote my blog and books, join like-minded political and social groups, and share news and photos of family.

Now, however, with the news that about 87 million Americans have had their accounts hacked, sending our personal information who knows where and to what use, I’m considering again.

But I really don’t want to, for all the above reasons. I’m used to FB and like using it. I don’t tweet, or use Instagram, and don’t even know what other options there are for this convenient social network. There used to be competition until FB took over.

Tim Wu’s op-ed in today’s New York Times, “Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It”  poses ideas for serious thought. Yes, we depend on social networks. We need new platforms dedicated to protecting consumer data. Facebook, in theory, has proved a game-changer. Facebook, as a corporation is so grossly mismanaged, it must be replaced.

“Now is the time for a new generation of Facebook competitors that challenge the mother ship,” writes Wu.

I put my faith in young people. They’re spearheading changes in gun laws that generations of adults haven’t been able to do. They’re tech-savvy. Please, kids, figure this out too.

Meanwhile, my friend Ronnie, who blogs at Morristown Memos, wrote about being hacked on FB and pondered whether or not to pull out.

Like her, I won’t cancel for now. I’ll be careful what I post, what I share, and will avoid silly surveys that seem to be targeted for collecting data.

To unfriend or not? That is the question.

 

 

Posted in aging, Blogging, commentary, Education, news, Technology, teenagers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I just started reading Mitch Landrieu’s  In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History. Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans since 2010 whose term ends this May, shares his personal reflections about the city’s decision to take down four Confederate monuments last April. Landrieu began pushing for the monuments’ removal in 2015 after Dylann Roof massacred nine black Charleston churchgoers. The New Orleans City Council approved the move later that year.

The statues were removed at night; the contractors doing the work had to wear flak jackets and many received death threats. Landrieu recalls his difficulty in securing a crane – despite the prevalence of them throughout the city. Protests and celebrations both for and against the removal ensued.

In the prologue, Landrieu writes: “Race is America’s most traumatic issue, one that we have not nearly worked through. The true measure of a great county is the quality of justice it affords to all. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insisted, “True peace…is the presence of justice.” It is a long rugged road for all people to find that peace, and our job is to stay on that path, even as we make progress.”

On this 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, let’s return to his words and vision for a country that truly believes in justice for all.

Here are my other posts about this day:

Thoughts on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial

March on Washington: My Father’s Reflections

 

 

Posted in Books, Civil Rights History, commentary, Education, Family, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dog Love

When we put down our nearly 16-year-old yellow lab, Willy, nine years ago, I said we’d never get another dog. He was the dog the three kids grew up with. The dog that went camping, hiking, and swam in the lake. The dog that ate the food passed under the table that the kids didn’t, like swordfish from my daughter. The dog that dragged an entire plate of freshly roasted chicken to the floor and ate a whole berry pie. The dog that chewed a couple library books. The dog that provided unconditional love to all who needed a cuddle.

I worked full-time teaching and a neighbor would walk the dog during the day. We got Willy in May and were heading to the Outer Banks, NC in the summer for a beach vacation. My husband and I visited a local kennel, and the owner could tell we’d never boarded a dog before.

Then I answered an ad in the local paper; someone offering to dog sit. When Mrs. Stettmeirer came to the door, she looked and sounded like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. A retired German schoolteacher and resident of Manhattan, Mrs. S. had several friends in the area and often house-sat. A dog-lover, she missed having her own dogs. She became our regular sitter, staying with Willie in winter and summer. I’d pick her up at the train station after she’d done some food shopping. She’d wear a fur coat in winter and light jacket in summer, and always carried a small handbag. When she arrived at our house, she’d produce a large bone from her purse, give it to Willy, and he obediently followed her upstairs. My neighbor would report that Mrs. S. would sit outside and read Willy the New York Times and sing opera to him.

When Willy died, we started road biking. We travel with our bikes on vacation and also can spend a long day on the weekend on the bike. Another dog wasn’t in the cards.

Our daughter adopted a rescue dog and we’ve enjoyed taking care of him when she travels. We had the benefit of having a dog and not owning one.

Then, our son mentioned that his daughter wanted a dog and they had started looking. Yet he was ambivalent—he’s working hard establishing himself in his career and wasn’t sure he needed another “organism” as he put it to care for. His three children are young.

Suddenly, I felt the pull to get another dog. I started looking at rescue sites, focusing on labs/lab mix breeds, and adults not puppies.

Last Friday, we visited an adoption day sponsored by a nearby rescue shelter, Home for Good Dog,  completely unaware how this worked. You don’t see a dog and wait a few weeks. You see a dog and you adopt.

And we found a dog. A long, thin, strong and friendly, two-year-old lab mix. A perfect companion for hiking and swimming, and reportedly great with kids and other dogs.

Over the course of the weekend, we completed the application and brought home Moses, who we renamed in honor of getting him on Passover.

He’s already enamored himself to us and family members and has met a small army of people who will help walk and dog sit.

It’s our year of the Dog.

Posted in aging, Family, Grandchildren | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Grandma Diary: Pancakes & Coins

After my husband cleaned out his closet and dresser a couple days ago, he handed me a mug full of coins, amassed from emptying his pockets. US currency and foreign coins, from overseas travel, filled the cup.

My eldest son and his children came yesterday for breakfast, giving their mother a chance to prepare for Passover. I’d made two kinds of pancakes—blueberry and banana to satisfy the varying tastes. After eating, I brought out the coins, offering that if they sorted, they could keep the change. I added a large coin-filled coffee can that their father had used as a piggy bank years ago and had been sitting on the shelf, giving them more work to do and more money to earn.

My grandson, 8, and his sister, 6,  called the foreign coins, “fake money,” and gave those to their four-year-old brother, who none the wiser, dropped them in an empty coffee can, happy to create a percussion instrument to shake and make loud noises. We laughed, noting they wouldn’t be able to pull that con much longer.

The sorting began in earnest. They piled pennies, in batches of 100, stacked nickels by 20s, dimes by 10s and quarters by four. When they turned up short of a particular coin, they’d  ask me to find them another one or two to even things up.

After a solid hour of counting and sorting, the task, interrupted only by a visit to a local park, was done. They asked me to divide it. Each ended up with $16, and left physically fed and financially fortified.

Posted in aging, coin collecting, food, Grandchildren, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

OUTAGE OUTRAGE

 

Thundersnow?? Snow Bomb? We’ve had our share of winter extremes, the most recent, Winter Storm Quinn,  this past Wednesday, March 7. Just last Friday, March 2, we had an unnamed nor’easter. I was expecting friends for dinner and all the trains from New York City were delayed or canceled. They got here, via Path train and then an over-priced Uber ride and we celebrated Purim, (reciting my updated megillah to include today’s political Hamans.

By Tuesday, Quinn was predicted and by 4 pm Wednesday,  we lost power. After Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and losing power for five days, we invested in a generator and were well prepared for the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Friends stayed with us and others availed themselves of offers to shower or charge their devices. The generator covers heat and hot water, the refrigerator and freezer so we don’t need to rush to grill all our meat or eat all the ice cream; and a couple lights and a few outlets. It’s not the whole house; if we were to lose power in the summer, we’d be without air-conditioning.

Schools are closed. People aren’t going to work. Wires crisscross roads, felled by trees and broken utility poles. The recording from our electric company says power should be restored by March 14th. That’s a week. If. I’ve seen a few trucks out—a crew from West Virginia. By three pm yesterday, they’d disappeared and I saw none today.

As a kid, growing up in rural Connecticut, we’d lose power infrequently, often due to ice storms. We’d fill the bathtub with water to use for the toilet, and lots of bowls and big pots for brushing our teeth. My father would make a huge fire in the fireplace and we’d camp overnight in front of it. I don’t remember being without power for extended periods and remember these episodes as adventures. School wasn’t canceled and life seemed to continue. I remember playing in the snow and enjoying distinct seasons; snow yielding to spring, to summer, to fall.

Weather now is more extreme. Rarely does the snow last long enough to play in. One of my grandsons loves winter and had hoped for a sledding birthday party back in December. Instead, the temperature was over 50 degrees and they played in the park. He invented “indoor” sledding, using cushions as a toboggan to slide down the stairs, landing softly on a pile of pillows.

These extremes are examples of climate change. Of how we’ve polluted the earth and seas, how we rely on fossil fuels, how we dump toxins, how we warm our air and sea temperatures with our negligence. Earth Day dates to 1970, and yet we continue our bad behavior, passing it along to the next generation.

Yet, we pride ourselves on our education system and our technology. Certainly, a country that produces computers, electric cars, solar and wind power, can find the innovation to combat global warming and still provide the electricity communities need to remain vibrant.

Among the many admirable attributes of the movie, Black Panther is the country Wakanda’s inspiring technology in transportation and communication. I’m sure its leaders have planned for potential natural disasters to avert a complete shutdown of the grid.

The fact is we have power. We have the power to challenge the climate change deniers; the politicians who have been coerced by business interests to continue the status quo, who refuse to acknowledge that global warming is real and coming for us.

I went to a local library to use its Internet. Every table was filled with families and business people working, seeking refuge from their unheated, powerless homes and offices. I’m luckier than most, I admit, with my “glamping” situation. I have to return to the library to post this blog, and to write to elected officials that I’m outraged about the outage.
I hope you are too.

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Posted in commentary, environment, Family, Grandchildren, Nature, news, Trees, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

California Teachers Divest Funds from Gun Makers

Reposting this blog in light of the call to arm teachers.

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Teachers in California, resisting calls that they should be armed in the classroom with something more than their lesson plans, are taking a stand against guns by  aiming one of their most potent weapons—their wallets.

The California State Teachers Retirement System, known as Calstrs, voted last week to divest itself of firearms holdings.  Teachers don’t want their retirement funds linked to companies that manufacture guns, including The Freedom Group, the maker of the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle used to kill 26 children and adults in Newton, CT.

California teachers pulled their pensions from tobacco stocks in 2008, and while the amount going to guns is small relative to the entire portfolio– $12 million out of a total $154 billion, the move sets an example for other states and allows teachers to take an active part in reducing access to guns.

As a college student in the late l970’s, I remember…

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