Monthly Archives: January 2017

Ms. Edith Savage-Jennings

I found her! The woman I wrote about as “Elder Sister” is introduced below by the Women’s March in New Jersey website:

“Legendary NJ Civil Rights icon Edith Savage-Jennings needs no introduction but she gets one anyway for her boundless contributions to a better, fairer America. Edith has been the guest to the White House under every President of the United States since Franklin Roosevelt. At age ten, she met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she was selected to hand the First Lady flowers on behalf of the NJ State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Although told not to speak, Savage thanked Mrs. Roosevelt which led to the two becoming pen pals for the remainder of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. At twelve years old Edith joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) At only 13 years old Edith helped to integrate the Capital Theater in Trenton, New Jersey when she refused to sit in the balcony which was the designated seating area for blacks. Her first job was in the sheriff’s office where she continued to speak out against discrimination. Edith Savage-Jennings has received over 100 awards and honors for her work in Civil Rights. In 2016 she was inducted into the New Jersey Women’s Hall of Fame. The city of Trenton proclaimed February 19, 2016 Edith Savage-Jennings Day.”

There are prophets among us! Picture from Wikipedia, taken one week ago in Trenton.

https://sites.google.com/view/womensmarchonnewjersey/home

Women's March on New Jersey 1 21 17 - 31640308853.jpg

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Women’s March in Trenton (2)

If you read my previous post, you know why I passed on the big marches in DC and Philadelphia… Another reason to go to Trenton was to help out a friend who is currently “mobility impaired”. We decided to attend the rally in front of the State House.

When we arrived, I missed most of what the speaker was saying, due to the quirks of the microphone in the open air. We moved forward a little before the next speaker, an African American woman, began. I wish I could tell you her name. I’ll take the liberty of calling her Elder Sister. I believe she was 90+ years old. Elder Sister spoke about her experiences in Trenton as a young teenager. She integrated two businesses by refusing to cooperate with segregated arrangements. One was a hotdog stand, the other a movie theater. It was good to hear her recount her successes. She offered encouragement to continue the struggle for equality and justice. I wish the setting had offered a chance for us to learn more about her life.

I was reminded of another account by a young woman fighting against racism. This account comes from the writings of Maya Angelou, probably from her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m giving you this from memory, having read the book within a few years of its publication in 1969. Maya Angelou went to live with her Grandmother in the deep South, and resented how meanly the white women in that town treated their hired housekeepers. One day she spoke up, told a woman she was unfair and that she wouldn’t work at that house any more. She returned home and, perhaps with pride (?), recounted the incident. Maya Angelou’s Grandmother took her immediately, before dark, to the train station and sent her away, back up north, for her safety.

Elder Sister and Maya Angelou were born around the same time. Their accounts differ, but I strongly suspect Trenton also resisted integration and other social changes. Maybe not as harshly as the rural South, but change can’t always have been as easy as Elder Sister’s brief discussion made it sound.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these two women could have met, shared their experiences, poured out more advice for the younger generations! Maya Angelou, sadly, died in 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem NC. Wikipedia, in a LONG article, describes her as “…poet, memoirist and civil rights activist”. She recited poetry at the Presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, received numerous prizes and was commemorated by the US Postal Service on a stamp.

What about Elder Sister? I don’t know! An account of her life story would be such a treasure. I expect she deserves awards and honors. All I can do is say THANK YOU here.

What a blessing to us all when wise women share their stories!

Women’s Protest March (Trenton, NJ) and protest memories

Everyone else is weighing in, why not me? I’ve looked at very little of the social media since the march yesterday. My perspective may change…

I’ll start by saying that street protest isn’t my thing. It gives me cold anxiety. I’ve got baggage, in the form of ugly memories.

One memory is of a protest that “went wrong”. It may have left no historical traces… Around April 30, 1970, the United States bombed Cambodia and American campuses exploded. There was a protest march from my campus (I was a junior at Michigan State University) to the state capitol in Lansing. I joined the march, which seemed to have a good collection of marshals and other volunteers, and reasonable police cooperation. We’d been warned about tear gas, etc., and were a little jumpy. We walked along one lane of the main street between East Lansing and Lansing.

Presently, we were stopped, told to move to the sidewalk (?), told to sit, warned that we would hear sirens. Told “they’re on our side”. They came and went, without much fuss. We walked on. Then we saw the car that had been driven intentionally across the line of march. Two or three people had been taken to the hospital. The driver had been protected by marshals and/or police, and taken away for arrest. The car was smashed. It looked like it had been shot up. But there had been no gunfire. Marchers carrying umbrellas (it was rainy) had vented their anger on the windshield, which was punctured. We walked past, on the broken glass. I can’t remember anything about the rally at the capitol in Lansing. Could I hear a word anyone said? I can’t remember how I got home. Did they tell us there would be buses? Direct us onto city buses? Maybe I walked back. I’m also unable to remember with whom I marched. Perhaps I was alone.

Then came the shootings at Kent State in Ohio on May 4, 1970, when four students died and nine more were injured by the Ohio National Guard. (Wikipedia calls it a “massacre”.) It was a dark time. My roommate had nightmares. Our campus was in a state of civil disorder. No one could count on going to classes if they wanted to.

Michigan State (like many colleges) cancelled classes and encouraged students to go home. I spent the weekend on a farm near Kalamazoo, where it was so quiet we could hear the corn grow. We found that people away from the campus perceived more danger and disorder than we had actually experienced. But everyone worried and fretted.

And what did I do next? I escaped! Left the country! My application to the Exchange for Technical Experience was approved, and I was offered a summer job in the Netherlands! Off I went, for a summer of fun. What a relief!

This wasn’t what I meant to write. So… I don’t like demonstrations, and have barely participated since that time. Letter writers and citizen lobbyists are needed. And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS vote, in everything from primaries and school board races to national elections. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about the Women’s March in Trenton.

Blue Colony Diner, Newtown, CT

A few weeks ago (January 2, 2017), I insulted the great State of Connecticut because it has so few diners. Then from the depths of memory this story surfaced…

Years ago I was on my way to Connecticut for a reunion of my high school class, accompanied by my husband and my high school BF Marian, who settled in New Jersey like me. We crossed into Connecticut, got on Route 84 and decided it was time for dinner. There’s not much between Danbury and Waterbury. We settled, by default, on the Blue Colony Diner, figuring a diner would have something for everyone. And it did – no problem accommodating the vegetarian in the group.

We knew absolutely nothing about the area, but our waitress, who had the appearance of a diner veteran, warned us that Friday night in Newton was high school football night, and pretty much the whole town was going to show up at the diner when the game ended. Okay.

During our meal, the waitress made a point of asking us to order coffee and dessert promptly. “I’m going to be busy!” People started to come in – recognizable types – a table full of jocks, parents, couples, single sex clusters… We thought things were getting busy, but suddenly the dam broke. Our waitress slapped down the check and yelled “Run for your lives!!” We fled, laughing, and gazed in astonishment at the traffic jam in the parking lot. So we got a good meal, and more fun than we expected. But honestly, I’ve only EVER seen one other diner in Connecticut, and it was pretty weird.

Reading with a cold – 2017: R P Evans (new to me) and Janet Evanovich (again!)

Once again, the January cold. I’m pleased to say it was not as severe as last year (see January 4, 2016), when I lost a whole week to coughing and general misery. Judicious use of OTC medications got me back on my feet promptly.

But I did some therapeutic reading, of course! Janet Evanovich came through with her 23rd Stephanie Plum novel. The usual lightweight plot, but, hey, the characters are old friends and Trenton is still Trenton. Keep it up, my friend!

A random grab at the public library yielded up “The Mistletoe Inn” by Richard Paul Evans. A Christmas romance was just the right thing! The setting (a writers conference) was fun but the romancing couple took off to Bethlehem PA, which actually sounded like a European Christmas market. Maybe I need to check out Bethlehem one of these years! (Or Europe in December, for that matter.) Our heroine had suffered a run of selfish sweeties, so it was great to see her find love and marriage with a man who appreciated her. This book is part of a series, so maybe I’ll try another next year.

“The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime” by Bryan Glyn Williams

Copyright 2013, includes maps and notes. A follow-up on my post of December 27, 2016.

This is an unusual book about an unusual person. The book is unusual because it’s rare for a biographer to be able to interview a warlord from “another world”. Dostum (born in 1954) was raised under conditions that were medieval, speaking a language that was not “recognized” by any government, part of an ethnic tribe (the Uzbek) then split by the national border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. What is a warlord, anyway? What does it mean to be part of a “tribe”, as opposed to a community, state, or religion?

It seems all I can do here is ask questions. What is the relationship between modernization and religion? Is modernity inherently secular?

What does Williams’ biography tell us about Dostum? His name was Abdul Rashid. “Dostum” was added by his followers, and means “friend”. He was educated to about age 12, trained in the sports important to Afghan men (horseback riding and wrestling), then worked in the gas and oil industry. He served in the Afghan army 1974 – 1976, then signed up with the Afghan Communist army in 1978, in order to prevent his brother from being drafted. “By the mid-1980s he commanded around 20,000 militia men and controlled the northern provinces of Afghanistan”. (Wikipedia) What?? How?! This is where Dostum’s history strains the credulity of the reader. It sounds impossible. Dostum’s militia was initially mostly mounted on horseback, armed with rifles. Who fought that way, in the 1980s? How did it work? Williams gives us Dostum’s version of the story. Dostum’s assistance to the US military after 9/11 critically facilitated the downfall of the Taliban. Unfortunately, some Americans thought further intervention in the Middle East was going to be similarly “easy” in terms of American investment in lives and troops. “Light footprint” warfare has not become the norm.

I looked for current information. Dostum is now Vice President of Afghanistan. As of April of 2016, he is barred from entry into the United States. He has been accused of war crimes. Some details are provided in Williams’ book. His personality is described as “volatile”.

Dostum now has accounts on Facebook, Twitter and U-Tube. He has traveled from the distant past to 2017 in sixty years. If nothing else, he is possessed of astonishing adaptability and leadership. I hope he will continue to contribute to the fight against extreme religious fundamentalism. His social orientation is primarily secular, and his attitude towards women is modern.

Williams is an academic. He describes his sources as “wonderful storytellers”, but not fact-oriented linear thinkers. His field work was performed under stressful conditions, and complicated by of the number of languages involved. “The Last Warlord” is important reading if you want to understand international geopolitics. But you can also read it as a wild tale of adventure!

“The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman

I’m creating a new category for this book, which I read about 15 years ago, long before I had this blog. The category is

ADULT BOOKS THAT TURN OUT WILDLY POPULAR WITH KIDS!

Certainly Mark Salzman’s first book, the nonfiction Iron and Silk, an account of his time in China, was intended for adults. So when I came across his novel The Laughing Sutra, I expected the same. And initially, it was adult fiction. In fact, kind of scary. We witness a murder. But that was just a prologue… As I read on, and got to know the characters, I was amused and entertained, and wondered what my eleven year old son would think.

Hsun-ching and Colonel Sun are an unlikely pair of adventurers. Hsun-ching is a orphan, raised by an quiet, old monk. Colonel Sun is confused, wild, strong and lives for excitement. They join forces to seek a sutra (religious poem) wanted by the old monk.

When these two make it to the USA, the intercultural confusion blossoms into hilarity.

I started reading this book to my 11 year old, but the six year old was also captivated! We cackled our way through to the amazing climax, when Hsun-ching and the Colonel try to re-enter mainland China. (At that time, no one re-entered China. The border guards weren’t ready…) Colonel Sun became part of our family repertoire, like the characters in “Ghostbusters” and other favorites. He was at least as real to us as Superman or Johnny Appleseed. Who wouldn’t want Colonel Sun for a companion? I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you the source of the Colonel’s amazing powers.

So read “The Laughing Sutra”. I also liked Salzman’s next (and entirely entirely different) novel, “The Soloist”. I hope he keeps writing.

So far, I haven’t been able to think of another adult book that worked so well with kids. Any nominations for my new genre? I’m curious.