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As a Brit, my two Emmett Tills

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — honoring the Civil Rights movement ]
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I’m truly sorry, but these two photos tell a mother’s tale — Emmett Till as his mother knew and loved him, and Emmett Till as she found him, when she ordered his coffin opened…

There’s a documentary now released — Hope and Fury: MLK, the Movement and the Media — which features Emmett Till‘s image as revealed in photographs taken when his coffin was opened, and exploring how that image radicalized Americas’s awareness of the lynching mentality, sending a shock wave amplifying the emergent Civil Rights movement.

America is remembering — and I as a Brit have two Emmett Tills to remember: Hugh Masekela, — and Medgar Evers.

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Hugh Masekela:

Hugh Masekela, the great jazz trumpeter whom my own mentor, Fr Trevor Huddleston mentored and gifted:

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Medgar Evers:

Medgar Evers, first, because Bob Dylan recorded Only a Pawn in their Game:

which acquainted me, forcibly, with Medgar Evers’ name — and next because I knew his son, Darrell, for a few years:

That’s a pretty extraordinary interview, and the video itself wound up on the Eyes on the Prize cutting room floor.

Darrell’s description of his father’s pooled blood — Darrell being an artist — was seared into my mind by association with the painter’s term crimson lake.. a private association, surely, but no less forceful for that.

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In those two names, their holders themselves both now deceased, I honor the civil rights movement in the US — our equivalent in the UK was the anti-apartheid movement, of which Fr Trevor was for many years the president.

Heroes, all — may they rest in peace.

Kneeling for the Anthem to protest lynchings

Friday, February 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — with a tip if the hat to John Gary Messer ]
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We’re all aware of the widely publicized NFL “kneeling” protests against black deaths at the hands of police and other matters, which President Trump felt did injury to the National Anthem and all that it stands for — in the upper panel below, members of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the National Anthem, 2017 —

Beyond the photo itself and its title, White Baseball Players Kneel in the 50’s to protest Black Lynching, the article from which this photo was taken doesn’t have much to say:

Archival photos reveal several white baseball players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the lynching of innocent negroes and Jim Crow laws. The practice was quickly ended when the players realized that most of their fans were either KKK members or sympathizers.

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Somone tying today’s protests back to their historical antecedent would shed an interesting light on thr current controversy, giving today’s protesters a definitive “moral high ground” precedent.. Meat for a fascinating thesis?

Something to chew on.

A counterpoint in buildings, statues, ideas

Monday, June 26th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Dylann Roof’s trial, the New Yorker, and the scorable music of opposing voices ]
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On the way to taking us Inside the Trial of Dylann Roof, Jelani Cobb makes an observation that interests me, describing the architectural features surrounding the trial asa point-counter-point in ideas:

Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, traces its roots to 1816. It was a center of clandestine anti-slavery activity and, in 1822, when city officials discovered that congregants were planning a slave revolt, they burned the church to the ground. The current building was erected in 1891, on Calhoun Street, named for Vice-President John C. Calhoun, the intellectual progenitor of secession. The Calhoun monument, a column eighty feet high, topped by a statue of the statesman, is half a block away. The monument and the church, which came to play a central role in the Southern civil-rights movement, stand like a statement and its rebuttal.

Counterpooint — the musical technique whereby two or more melodies are juxtaposed, now clashing, now harmonizing, but with their melodic integrity uncompromised — is a technique which I believe has application beyond music, in verbal thought.

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Different voices, offering different opinions and perspectives — now clashing, now harmonizing, but with their conceptual integrity uncompromised — are precisely what we find at the heart of all debate, from town hall meetings and parliamentary procedues to maritalspats and the conversations of genius — the letters of Max Born and Albert Einstein come to mind, as does the film My Dinner with Andre.

My gambit, borrowing from the brilliant game that lies at the heart of Hermann Hesse‘s novel The Glass Bead Game, is to suggest that we take Johann Sebastian Bach‘s use of melodic counterpoint and adapt it to its conceptual equivalent — thus opening the way to (a) thinking many contrasting thoughts as a single conceptual music, and (b) developing fresh means to score such a polyphony — or multitude of voices.

Essentially, the ability to think in counterpoint is the ability to hold in mind another voice beside one’s own — the capacity, if you will, to listen as well as to think. Seen thus, it is the basic skill necessary for us to make progress away from the terrible divisiveness of our times, and into a more convivial and ecumenical future.

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I watched my son come into this world and I watched my son leave this world.

This sentence, uttered by the other of one of Roof’s victims, gains power from its closely observed parallelism between birth and death, womb and tomb.

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Forgiveness as a consequence iof counterpoint:

The Civil War began in Charleston. The Ordinance of Secession was signed in Institute Hall, on Meeting Street, in December, 1860; the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, in the harbor, a few months later. The reaction of many Charlestonians to the extraordinary moment, at a bond hearing the day after Roof’s arrest, when, one by one, family members stood and forgave him, was an outgrowth of the city’s relationship to that past. Forgiveness was not just an example of how to metabolize hatred directed at you, or just a demonstration of Christian faith, though it was both of those things. It stood for a broader redemption, an exoneration from history itself.

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A counterpoint in statuary:

Herb Frazier, a black journalist who grew up in the city and has attended Emanuel since childhood, told me that black Charlestonians have always hated the Calhoun monument. “He looks down with this scowl on his face,” he said. Then, in 1999, Charleston’s Holocaust Memorial was erected just fifty feet from the base of Calhoun’s column. That proximity suggests either a wishful denial of Calhoun’s legacy or a level of irony not typically found among municipal planners.

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A counterpoint of races and ethical stances:

Those moral calculations, as with everything else associated with the case, were refracted through the lens of race. In a statewide poll, two-thirds of African-Americans favored sentencing Roof to life in prison, while sixty-four per cent of whites believed that the death penalty was warranted. That result mirrored the general division between blacks and whites on the issue of capital punishment, which is driven, at least in part, by the fact that it has disproportionately been used against black defendants.

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A counterpoint in colors and sentences:

For David Bruck, Roof’s case represented another chance to address the unjust imposition of the death penalty. At certain moments in the trial, though, his belief that he could diminish a racist practice by saving the life of a white supremacist appeared idealistic to a fault. During his cross-examination of Joseph Hamski, the F.B.I.’s lead investigator in the case, Bruck asked, “What became of Denmark Vesey?” Vesey, a slave who had bought his freedom and become a carpenter, was the lead plotter of the 1822 revolt at the church. “He was hung,” Hamski replied. Bruck was suggesting that the death penalty is irrevocably tainted by racism, but he had seemed to equate Vesey, a man who was prepared to kill for the cause of black freedom, with Roof, a man who had killed because he thought that blacks were too free. The families murmured uneasily at the comparison.

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Black and white, crime and punishment, death penalty and life sentence, good and evil, forgiveness and justice, even Union and Confederacy — these binaries rise in counterpoint in the trial and sentencing of Dylann Roof.. offering us a mappable display of cognitions past and present, normative and extreme.

The Champ: knockouts, protests, sufism and the man

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Muhammad Ali ]
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The knockout:

Obviously, the champ was a knockout — and this photo is almost certainly the loveliest photo of a sporting event I have ever seen — victory and defeat in perfect symmetry:

Ali mandala of victory
Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images via The Guardian

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The protestor

quote-there-is-one-hell-of-a-difference-between-fighting-in-the-ring-and-going-to-war-in-vietnam-muhammad-ali

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The sufi:

How did your dad come to embrace Sufi Islam, and what attracts him to it?

My father has a collection of books by a man named Hazrat Inayat Khan. They’re Sufi teachings. He read them front to cover. They’re old and yellow and the pages are torn. They’re amazing. He always says they’re the best books in the world.

My father is very spiritual — more spiritual now than he is religious. It was important for him to be very religious and take the stands he did in earlier years. It was a different time. He still tries to convert people to Islam, but it’s not the same. His health and his spirituality have changed, and it’s not so much about being religious, but about going out and making people happy, doing charity, and supporting people and causes.

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The man:

How Ali wld like to be remembered

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May he cross the bridge and attain the lake.


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