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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.

Hugh Masekela, RIP

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — I’m not particularly a jazz buff — this is mostly about my mentor Trevor Huddleston, who was also Maasekela’s mentor ]
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Hugh Masekela, jazz trumpeter extraordinaire, is no longer with us. May he rest in peace.

I was happy to read the story of Masekela’s connection with the mentor we were both ignited by, Fr Trevor Huddleston CR, in this obit for Masekela in the Guardian:

Hugh was given his own instrument when he was 14. He was then a pupil at St Peter’s, a remarkable secondary school for black children that became a centre for opponents of apartheid before being closed by the authorities. The staff included Oliver Tambo, later leader of the ANC, and Trevor Huddleston, later Archbishop Huddleston, president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. The young Masekela was always in trouble. “I was one of the worst delinquents”, he once told me, “always fighting with the teachers or going into town stealing.” He was sent to see Huddleston because “you’d be sent to him when everything else had failed”.

Masekela had wanted a trumpet, he said, after seeing the 1950 film Young Man With a Horn, and recalled that he told the priest: “If I can get a trumpet I won’t bother anyone one any more.” Huddleston managed to raise £15 (“a lot of money in those days”) to buy the instrument, found a black Salvation Army trumpeter to teach Masekela, “and then he sat outside the school making hideous noises”. Other pupils naturally wanted instruments as well, and the Huddleston Jazz Band was born. They wore black trousers and grey silk shirts, and played American rather than African music. Along with Masekela, the band featured the trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, who would also become a star.

Huddleston continued to help Masekela even after the priest had left the school and South Africa. In 1956, when he was in the US publicising his book Naught for Your Comfort, he told Masekela’s story to a journalist, who suggested that it might interest Louis Armstrong, the best known trumpeter of the day. Armstrong was fascinated and handed Huddleston one of his horns to give to Masekela. “I sent it straight to South Africa, and I have a wonderful picture of Hugh jumping for joy,” said Huddleston.

It is good to see Fr Trevor so honored.

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I talked about Fr Trevor, Masekela, the Huddleston Jazz Band, and Satchmo‘s trumpet in Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston, and while the photos there may be of interest —
especially the one where Satchmo is presenting Fr Trevor with the trumpet for Masekela — the video of Maasekela’s first record, Ndenzeni Na with the Huddleston Jazz Band has expired.

Happily, there’s another copy on Youtube for us to hear:

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Maselela goes to meet old and beloved friends, Trevor Huddleston among them.

Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]
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Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit

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Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson


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