Tag Archives: recent American history

Peace Pilgrim – Another Chapter

See my previous post about Peace Pilgrim, dated April 21, 2014. Peace Pilgrim’s life (1908 – 1981) is documented in several books and a decent Wikipedia entry.

Two or three years ago, a group of peace activists got involved in an effort to put Peace Pilgrim into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, posthumously.

Why not? It’s a platform, and a way to promote interest in Peace Pilgrim’s life and (much more importantly) her message of peace and personal responsibility. The first time Peace Pilgrim was nominated, she didn’t get enough votes. But in 2016, she was selected! (I think I voted both times.)

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Peace Pilgrim’s life was that she maintained two identities, and kept them separated for about thirty years. On the road, she was Peace Pilgrim, and refused to offer any other name or personal history. She wanted the emphasis to be on her message, not her “self”. Over time, Peace Pilgrim developed a mystique and unarguable dignity. How many people could keep this up for decades?

Those who, after her death, undertook to preserve her memory respected her wishes, and the dual structure created during her life was preserved after her death. Nothing linked Peace Pilgrim to Mildred Lisette Norman of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, until a local movement emerged in the 1990’s opened the door. IMHO, the time was right.

It wouldn’t work in the year 2017, in the age of instantaneous communication via social media. America’s only “wandering holy woman” would have been picked apart by gossip and criticism. I’m glad this didn’t happen.

For the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Peace Pilgrim was represented by her sister, Helene Young, now age 102. Helene is my neighbor. At age 100, she was still out on the road bicycling almost daily, despite being legally blind. The years have now caught up with her, physically. Her mobility is limited. Mentally, she seems little changed, and is very good company.

I worried about the rigors of the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, but Helene’s family and friends smoothed the way. She had to arrive in Asbury Park hours before the event, submit not just to getting dressed up but to wearing MAKE UP, and be available to the press. She wisely agreed to use a wheelchair, but walked across the stage to the podium with a little help. Seeing her at a distance, under harsh stage lighting, I was shocked by her aged appearance, but when she spoke, her voice was clear, strong and distinctive. What fortitude! I was delighted to be present as her friend and supporter. Yes, she went home tired. But I visited a few days later and found her largely recovered, and happy to chat.

What on earth would Peace Pilgrim think of the New Jersey Hall of Fame?! In many ways, it seems so totally contrary to the peace and simplicity she advocated. But life is complicated…so I am willing to accept the argument that she would have utilized almost any forum where she could deliver her urgent message:

“Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

Each of us can find a different path towards this goal. We can all appreciate and celebrate the beauty of Peace Pilgrim’s life.

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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

“Peace Pilgrim – Her Life and Work in Her Own Words”

It’s time to tell this story, which is a small part of a strange and wonderful item of local history…

In 1993, I moved to Cologne, New Jersey. Cologne is an unofficial neighborhood, with a post office but no boundaries, located in sprawling Galloway Township. I moved to a small farm, on a street with more woods than houses, and rather little traffic. The nearest town is Egg Harbor City, three miles away.

One evening a woman bicycled into my driveway and introduced herself as Helene Young, representing the March of Dimes. We had a pleasant chat about the neighborhood, and the changes she had seen in the decades since she started collecting for the March of Dimes.

Helene wore a t-shirt bearing the name and logo of what I recognized as a “radical” film company. This was unusual in conservative Cologne, and I was curious. I asked about it. Helene replied, “They came to make a documentary about my sister. My sister was known as Peace Pilgrim. Did you ever hear of her?” 

Indeed I had! I had heard of a woman who travelled on foot and refused to identify herself except as Peace Pilgrim. She would show up, talk to people and groups about the importance of inner peace, stay in people’s homes, and then walk away. She carried no money and no possessions. You couldn’t contact her. If you were lucky, you might meet her. She was a mystery, a wandering “holy woman” or extreme eccentric. One of a kind…

That was all that happened at the time. Helene left on her charitable rounds. I wrote down her name and noticed her small house near the post office. I found and read the book Peace Pilgrim – Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, and recommended it to a few friends. 

That might have been the full extent of it, but one evening I walked up my street to Germania Cemetery and wandered around reading the gravestones, which carry many familiar local names. And there I found Peace Pilgrim’s grave, marked with both of her names! I was moved by it, because the mystique surrounding her hidden identity was so powerful. I stood there for a while, looking around, wanting to be sure I could find the grave again.

I decided to bring the children from my Quaker congregation to see Peace Pilgrim’s grave. One sunny day we met at the Cemetery, a dozen or so kids and adults. We read from the Peace Pilgrim book, talked about her unusual ministry and ate a picnic lunch. Someone produced paper and crayons and made a rubbing of the grave marker. It was a happy outing!

After that, events took on their own momentum. Barbara R, one of the picnickers, was especially impressed by Peace Pilgrim’s life and message, and she struck up a friendship with Helene Young. Steps were taken to preserve the clippings and other documentation of Peace Pilgrim’s travels.

Barbara decided it was wrong for Peace Pilgrim to be unknown in Egg Harbor City, the town where she was grew up. Now there is a park dedicated in her name, and annual events celebrate her life and message.

Helene Young, now almost 100 years old, continues to ride her bike along my street and up to the Cemetery where her sister and other family members rest. Her circle of friends includes many who are fascinated by Peace Pilgrim and her message. I count myself lucky to be Helene’s friend and neighbor.

What about the book? By all means, read it! It is not a “polished” offering. You can also find several web sites to fill out detail, and form your own opinion of Peace Pilgrim’s unique life and message.

John F Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library (Boston, MA)

I spent Christmas in Boston, and on December 26 I diverged from family and went (by myself) to the JFK Presidential Museum and Library. First, the location… Easily accessible by public transit. Whenever the Library is open, a free shuttle bus takes visitors to and from the Transit stop (named JFK/UMass, so you can’t miss it) to the Museum. 

So what’s in the Museum? In the waiting area for the introductory film, videos of Kennedy’s funeral play continuously. The casket, the riderless black horse, Jackie and her children… Real tearjerker moments. But the rest of the Museum isn’t like that.

The introductory film discusses Kennedy’s family and major life events. His assassination is downplayed. After a set of roughly chronological displays, visitors pass under a sign that says “November 22, 1963”. In a dimly lighted corridor, TV screens play two videotapes over and over – Walter Cronkite’s announcement of the President’s death, and a bumpy, grainy, chaotic video of the motorcade in the first minute after the shooting. That’s it. Nothing about Lee Harvey Oswald. Nothing about conspiracy theories. I was relieved.

The next room is a brightly lighted display about the heritage of the JFK years. Computers are available if you want to browse the archives.

I was interested in the special exhibit about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember watching the President address the nation on October 22, 1962. I was frightened. Nuclear annihilation felt like a real possibility.

So how close did we come? REALLY, REALLY CLOSE. Several of Kennedy’s advisors advocated unannounced bombing of the missile sites and the Cuban bases housing Russian “military advisors”. Others said that would be as dishonorable as Pearl Harbor. But Kennedy had accepted military advice that led to the earlier Bay of Pigs Invasion, an embarrassing failure. This time he chose the most modest possible response, a naval blockade. Khrushchev continued to threaten, then reversed himself and “caved in”. Castro was furious. At one point, a Russian submarine armed a nuclear weapon, but, following orders, did not launch it.

During the two weeks of the crisis, communications between Kennedy and Khrushchev suffered from a 12 hour delay. The famous “red phones” came later. Much of the special Cuban Missile Crisis museum exhibit was based on tapes made by Kennedy without the knowledge of his advisors. I heard Curtis Lemay advocating for bombing and possible invasion. 

Other important things were taking place during the short Kennedy years, especially concerning civil rights. 

I recommend the Museum highly. Presidential decision making is important to all of us.