Confronting the History of Racism

September 4, 2018

Responding to In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu (New York: Viking, 2018)

Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans,tells two stories in this memoir. One gives the book its title—the removal of four monuments in New Orleans that were erected some years after the Civil War ended to perpetuate false understandings of that war and the racist culture that had made it necessary. The second story contains key passages in Landrieu’s life that formed his character and led him to remove these civil war statues as the culminating action near the end of his eight years as mayor.

He describes his boyhood in New Orleans, education in Catholic schools, and political career in Louisiana prior to becoming mayor of his home city. Landrieu devotes a chapter to David Duke’s brief political career in Louisiana, pointing to the similarities between Duke’s techniques and those of Donald Trump.

The context for two chapters is Katrina and its devastating, lingering impact upon New Orleans. During the storm itself, Landrieu was lieutenant governor of Louisiana and, more than anyone else, responsible for managing rescue and relief activities and the rebuilding of the city. During the storm and its immediate aftermath, “the nation suddenly found a mirror, and we did not like what we saw. How could there still be such poverty and desperation—in America the superpower?” Clearly visible were the results of the century that “had passed between the Civil War and the civil rights movement, a century of disenfranchisement, political and economic” (p. 111).

Although Katrina had impacted people of all classes and colors, those least able to respond were the poor, and most of the poor were black. He concludes the Katrina chapter with a statement of what he and the nation learned during that time of distress. “Katrina taught us that while we had come a long way in civil rights, the inequities that still existed were a result of the lingering shadow of Jim Crow. Race was an issue we’d have to confront directly if we were ever going to move our city and country forward” (p. 123).

In a chapter entitled “Rebuilding and Mourning in NOLA,” Landrieu describes his work during two terms as mayor of the city. He began his time in that office during the disaster caused by the explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf and Mexico. He inherited a city government in shambles, much in debt, and in desperate need of reform in order to undertake the radical reconstruction of the city that had to take place if it were to resume its well-being. His primary challenge, he writes, “was to rebuild public trust, to restore credibility, and to heal a city that was broken—economically, spiritually, racially” (p. 135).

Landrieu devotes nearly half of this chapter to what he calls “the shadow story of my city’s stirring comeback”—”the horrific loss of human life through gun violence, most of which erupts in the poorest parts of town” (p. 143). These pages, perhaps the most heart-rending of the book, bear directly upon Landrieu’s decision to remove the Civil War monuments. Some of the people opposing his intention to remove the monuments insisted that he should focus on stopping the murders rather than upon the statues. None of them, however, helped him in his fights against murder, and his “record on murder reduction is unlike any other administration” (149). His conclusion leads inexorably to the climax of the book.

“Murder and violence are the poisonous fruit grown from the soil of injustice, racism, and inequality—fertilized by guns, drugs, alcohol, and disintegrated families. Hope fades, hate grows, people feel they have nothing to lose. To those who say it has always been this way, I answer: We made this problem by neglect; we can be proactive and fix it. All of this happens in the shadows of statues whose message has always been, as Terence Blanchard said: ‘African Americans are less than’” (pp. 153-4). Read more. . . In the Shadow of Statues

 


Aftermath of Emancipation: A Chapter in Indiana History

July 27, 2018

Since Emancipation: A Short History of Indiana Negroes, 1863–1963, by Emma Lou Thornbrough (Indiana Division American Negro Emancipation Centennial Authority, 1963)

Emma Lou Thornbrough (1913–1994), taught history at Butler University from 1946 until her retirement in 1994. Beginning with her doctoral thesis at the University of Michigan (“Negro Slavery in the North: Its Legal and Constitutional Aspects”), and continuing throughout the rest of her life, her major area of interest was black history, especially in Indiana. The Negro in Indiana before 1900, published in 1957, established the pattern for her work. It gives a fully documented exposition, based on a wide range of government documents (both federal and state), newspapers from across the state, diaries (published and unpublished), and monographs and books. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (published posthumously in 2000) continues in this same mode.

Since Emancipation, as its subtitle indicates, bridges the two comprehensive studies, covering thirty-seven years of the nineteenth century and sixty-three years of the twentieth. Thornbrough characterizes it as “a mere summary” of her earlier book, “covering trends and developments which I consider most important” (vii). Including the bibliographical note, this monograph is only ninety-eight pages long, and it was written specifically for Indiana’s participation in a nationwide celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Indiana State Library has a full collection of materials from the year-long celebration.

I was a young professor at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis at that time, but I have no recollection of the multi-faceted celebration that took place during that year. The preface to Since Emancipation lists eleven activities in Indiana’s celebration of the anniversary, including an Emancipation Day Mass Meeting at St. John’s Baptist Church in Indianapolis, a state-wide church day observance of the Emancipation Centennial, speeches at many organizations including churches and colleges, and special programs “depicting the contribution of the Negro in Music, featuring Spirituals, Jazz, and Classics” (p. iv).

For some readers, the first chapter, “Aftermath of Emancipation—Attainment of Citizenship and Political Rights,” will be the most important part of the book. In eleven pages, Thornbrough describes the historic hostility experienced by black people in Indiana.

“The men who wrote the state constitution were determined to abolish slavery but beyond that they showed no concern for the rights of colored persons. Among the white population of the state as a whole there were strong racial antipathies which were reflected in legislation which denied Negroes within the state the same rights as whites and which attempted to prevent Negroes from coming into the state. No northern state except Illinois enacted as severe Black Laws as did Indiana. These extreme measures are remarkable in view of the fact that negroes constituted only about one per cent of the population of the state” (p. 2). Read more. . .Since Emancipation

 


Learning how to bicycle farther and faster

July 5, 2018

Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling, by Simon Jobson and Dominic Irvine (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017)

I became aware of this book when I saw it on display at the public library near my downtown apartment. It is slightly oversize (7.5 by 9 inches) with high-gloss paper and magnificent photos. Although the text is double-columned with small type, the format is reader-friendly.

On the back cover, the publisher states that “this definitive guide provides riders with everything they need to ride longer and faster, and to excel at ultra-distance cycling events.” The book is premised on the fact that “what once was elite is now common place, and today thousands of dedicated riders cycle up to and over 100 miles on ultra-distance rides every week.”

Until picking up this book, I had always associated ultra-distance cycling with events like El Tour de France and Race Across America. The closest I’ve come to that kind of cycling was in 1987 when I rode BAM (Bicycle Across Missouri), 540 miles from St. Louis to Kansas City and back, in 58 hours, sleeping about two hours on each of the two nights. Much easier was RAIN (Ride Across Indiana), a 160-mile ride from Terre Haute on Indiana’s western border to Richmond on the eastern border, which I rode during daylight hours on a Saturday in 1994.

The authors of Ultra-Distance Cycling, however, set the entry line much lower. They include cyclists determined to ride “a very long way, fast,” and able to do at least 160 kilometres (all measurements in the book are given in metric measure), which converts to 100 miles, over a 24-hour period. Across the nation, thousands of ordinary cyclists are able to ride that way, which is demonstrated by the large number of festive century rides that take place every weekend during the cycling season.

Although this book is pitched for cyclists who can ride the much longer, usually competitive events, six of the nine chapters discuss topics that are important even to  the 100-miles per day ultra-riders: (1) Riding Technique; (2) In Balance: Life, Work and Cycling; (3) Diet and Hydration; (4) Equipment; (5) Fitness; and (6) Approach: Developing an Ultra-distance mindset. Three chapters are for the long-distance, competitive cyclists: (7) Sponsorship and PR; (8) Teamwork; and (9) Putting it All Together.

“It is anticipated,” the authors write, “that the reader will dip in and out of the book, trying out the ideas and suggestions made, and then coming back to experiment a bit more.” That’s the way I’m reading it, and at this point have given primary attention to the chapters on riding technique, fitness, and diet and hydration. Much of what the authors say is similar to principles I have worked with across the years. The authors, however, update the information and discuss topics that are becoming the new orthodoxy, such as the conclusion that wider tires with lower pressure are faster than the narrow, very high pressure tires that used to be standard for most “serious” cyclists.

Simon Jobson, the primary writer, is a professor in sport and exercise physiology at the University of Winchester, in the United Kingdom. Dominic Irvine is a competitive cyclist who trained with Jobson and with a partner set a new tandem record for the UK’s “End-to-End” race, 1,365km (848 miles) from Land’s End to John of Groats, riding it in 45 hours, 11 minutes.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this book is that it is written in clear, straight-forward language, with none of the clever, sometimes off-putting descriptions of cyclists other than those to whom the book is addressed. Sometimes, the authors use playful common sense language to state their case.

The chapter on diet and hydration, for example, “combines diet and hydration information…from academic research with advice from the authors’ experiences of ultra-distance cycling. There is, however, no substitute for trying it all out yourself, during training and non-priority cycling.” Later in the paragraph they note that “palatability is as important as the scientific complexities of the event’s nutritional demands. Sports foods are all well and good when the sun is shining and you’ve been on the road for two hours. However, when riding over a mountain top in freezing mist at 4 a. m. after 24 hours of pedalling, all you really want may be a bowl of hot porridge.”

I’ll continue using the library copy of Ultra-Distance Cycling for a few more days, but then I’ll buy a copy for my home collection to refer to in the future and share with others who want to ride farther and faster. Most important, this book will help me as I learn how to become a senior ultra-distance cyclist.


Letting my legs take over the ride

June 15, 2018

legsWith my injured leg muscles well again (thanks to my therapist’s counsel and a winter that stretched into April), it’s time to regain strength in my bicyclist’s legs. The sports medicine doctor assured me that I will be able to continue cycling the way I have done all these years: many miles per day, day after day (age-adjusted, of course).

My sister, a few years younger than I, has invited me to an aggressive ride up Hurricane Ridge Road in the Olympic National Park in celebration of her mid- August birthday. A four-day bike tour of the Columbia River Gorge earlier that month will help me resume this kind of cycling.

My training plan to get ready for these events combines advice from doctors, expert long-distance cyclists, and my own experience as aggressive open road cyclist.

Ride enough miles all year to keep good base strength. For several years, I’ve been cycling about seventy-five miles a week, including one vigorous ride of thirty to forty miles. During this winter of reduced mileage, that base has declined, and now I’m beginning to rebuild. Progress during the past month is encouraging.  

Overtraining does more harm than good. So get your rest days in. This wording comes from an article by Dr. Conan Chittick with IU Health Physicians Family and Sports Medicine. A day of reduced activity after three days of hard activity, he writes, allows muscles to restore and regenerate. At this stage in my recovery, I’m finding that one long, hard ride per week, two or three shorter but vigorous rides and at least one day with no rides at all is a pattern that works. I’m back to seventy-five miles per week and feeling better!

Ride about 10% of your miles, especially on longer rides, at close to maximum effort. This is one of the recommendations that ultra-marathon cyclist Lon Haldeman gives to cyclists who sign up for the challenging tours that he and Susan Notorangelo conduct through their company PAC Tour (Pacific Atlantic Cycle Tours). I’ve done ten of these tours  and know from experience that this guideline works. These short bursts at full power output help legs and lungs learn how to ride that way and gradually all of a cyclist’s miles become faster and overall condition improves.

I don’t keep a close count on these miles; instead, I let the road do the counting. Most routes have hilly sections, even if some are little more than highway and railroad overpasses. Rather than gearing down, I keep pushing and often can ride right through.

Hydrate more. On one of my many several stays in Claremont, California, I was cycling up an easy grade on a lower slope of Mt. Baldy. Twenty minutes into the climb, I stopped to watch a filming crew at work. Standing there, I grew so dizzy that I had to lean on my bike to keep from falling. As soon as I got home, I talked with my doctor (also an experienced road cyclist).

After examining me and finding nothing wrong, he recommended that I wear a water carrier on my back so that I could more easily keep hydrated. On long rides, especially in remote areas I do what he recommended because it is easier to keep the liquid flowing in when the drinking tube is right there by my mouth. On shorter rides, I still depend upon water bottles. The purpose is to keep drinking so that the heart more easily can keep the blood flowing.

“And don’t push so hard; it might be dangerous.” As I was leaving, my doctor added this warning, explaining that no matter how much you train your heart slows down as you grow older. It made sense, partly because on my own I had recognized that I could push too hard. Maybe thirty years earlier, I was climbing legendary Mt. Tabor Hill on the Hilly Hundred cycling event near Bloomington, Indiana. At the top, I nearly passed out and vowed to ease up a little. I also got some lower gears on my bike to help me in the effort.

A corollary to the rule: “There’s no hill too steep to walk.”

Pay attention to muscle memory. On a thirty-mile ride two weeks ago, I realized as I neared home, that my head was telling me “Slow down,” but my legs kept saying “Go!” There are times when pedaling cadence, breathing, and muscle load are in perfect balance and you can go forever, or so it seems. On two or three rides this spring that same feeling has come, and for a few minutes I quit thinking and let my legs take over the ride. The next day, of course, I sit around a lot.

 

 

 

 


Sermons about God in a University Church

June 5, 2018

Late in the evening of June 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary. He died the next day. Two months earlier he had consoled a mostly black assemblage in Indianapolis who were just hearing of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., earlier that evening. These murders were but two of the events during one of the most tragic years in modern American history.

They climaxed the academic year that my family and I spent in Seattle while I served as visiting minister-theologian at University Christian Church. Living and working in the vibrant, complex, controversial, and liberal university community was a life-shaping experience for me and my family. We went back to our ordinary lives in Indianapolis significantly changed.

As I remember that brief period of life half a century later, I realize that one of the most important aspects for me was learning how to present the Christian gospel to the increasingly skeptical, irreligious, anti-war, pro-personal-freedom constituencies who seemed to dominate the U-District where I spent most of my working hours during that academic year.

So, who is Jesus? And God…how can we talk seriously about a fatherly divine being in heaven above when the world that he supposedly created and cares for is in such a mess? What does the church, with its quaint ideas and fussy ceremonies, have to do with anything, anyway?

These issues consumed the mind, heart, and work of Robert A. Thomas, senior minister of the church, and in his sermons week after week he dealt seriously with the contemporary challenges to Christian faith and proclaimed its relevance to a world that seemed to be falling apart. I had never heard preaching like this before. Bob wrote his sermons in serious, declarative prose, long sentences, complete with dependent clauses. He frequently included quotations from the Bible, modern scholars, and current news sources. Dressed in his black academic gown with wide sleeves, he read the sermons word for word, standing tall in the high pulpit, full voice and animated style, his arms flailing the air.

His liberal theology had been formed during his studies in the divinity school at the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s most prestigious and influential seminaries. He believed that science, history, and the Christian faith could live together and unite in solving the social and personal crises of human life and society. Week after week, I could scarcely contain my sense of excitement as sermon time drew near.

Midway through the fall season, Bob invited three younger clergy related to the congregation to join him in planning and preaching a series of dialogue sermons during the Advent Season that would begin a few weeks later. He proposed that we choose a theme that was rooted in the Christmas story and relevant to the tempestuous world in which we lived. He invited the religion editor of one of the Seattle newspapers to join us for one or two of the planning sessions.

We agreed that Bob would begin the series on November 26, the Sunday between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. He would explain the series, announce the theme, and spend most of the sermon describing the central challenge of our time that we believed the Christian gospel could overcome. During each of the next three weeks, Bob and one of the younger clergy would describe one aspect of our human condition and point toward the Christ-centered response that the Christmas story offers. On the last Sunday of Advent, which that year was on December 24, Christmas Eve, Bob would proclaim the miracle of new life that Jesus brings to the world.

The process was exhilarating for the four of us and well-received by the congregation, enough so that early in the new year, we decided to do it again on the Sundays in Lent, beginning March 3, 1968, and reaching their climax on Easter Sunday, April 14. We gave a general title to the two sets of sermons: Dialogues on the Incarnation. The Advent series we entitled Born to Set the People Free, and the Lenten series, The Tragic Vision.

Walter Hansen, the church’s business manager, typed the scripts for us each Sunday, and my carbon-copy set has been tucked away in my files all these years. As part of this year’s remembrance of that tragic year in American life, I have transcribed these sermons—all 30,000 words—and plan to spend the summer, which will include a two-week period visiting family members who live in Seattle, studying them and reflecting upon the form and character of this experiment in preaching. I look forward to conversations with the two colleagues from long ago who have maintained connections with University Christian Church all these years.

When the time seems right, I hope to write columns that highlight leading ideas in these two sets of sermons and then offer my comments, half a century later, on these sermons about God preached in a university church.


New Life in My Old Legs

May 28, 2018

My leg hurt only when I walked, never while I was cycling, even when I was pushing hard on Skyline Boulevard along the hilly ridge west of downtown Portland. So how could cycling be the reason why I limped, even when walking a few steps from my condo door to the coffee shop at the foot of the stairs? My doctor, younger than I and an active road cyclist, named my problem. “You’ve developed an IT band syndrome.”

He showed me a couple of stretches and recommended massaging my legs on a foam roller. Although the limp eased a little, the pain was still a problem. My reading confirmed his diagnosis and his recommendations. I tried, but with little enthusiasm, to do what the experts recommended. I joined a fitness center and signed on with a personal trainer. Now and then, I enjoyed the pleasure of a massage. I tried a yoga class that a neighbor recommended, but the teacher was oriented toward middle-aged housewives rather than to an old-man bicyclist and I dropped out after half a dozen sessions.

About two years into this story, both legs were sore and the one on the left side began to hurt while I was cycling. Two more years, and I had to give up multi-day, long-mileage bike trips. The time had come to consult a sports medicine doctor. He listened to my tale of grief and, pushed, pulled, and thumped my legs. After watching me walk a little, he confirmed and augmented the previous diagnosis: tenderness of the left iliotibial and left piriformis muscle systems.

The good news: these conditions could be overcome and I could look forward to restored capabilities for walking and the aggressive cycling that had been my practice.

He assigned me to a physical therapist who would tell me what I needed to do and oversee my compliance. She watched me walk, studied my limp, and showed me six routines to stretch or strengthen muscles. “Do two sets each twice a day, and come back on Friday.” On the second visit, she corrected my stretches, added two more, and in a firm tone of voice gave one more instruction (perhaps command is the right word): “If you want to recover the ability to ride the way you used to, you have to cut back on your cycling now!

That’s when the serious conversation began. I explained that cycling was my primary mode of personal transportation and that I took vigorous long rides every week in order to stay in condition for aggressive open-road cycling. “I try to ride seventy-five miles a week,” I concluded.

She acknowledged that this pattern was more aggressive than she had expected, and we worked out a plan that seemed reasonable to both of us. My personal transportation rides could continue. She also agreed to my Monday ride—twenty-two miles on level city streets, with a pastry break at the Illinois Street Emporium. “But if you want your injury to heal, you have to slow down. And don’t push. Avoid hard climbs!”

Injury. This as the word that caught my attention. No one else had said that an injury was causing the pain. My mood suddenly changed, and I was willing to work with greater diligence in the healing therapy she was prescribing. A long, cold Indiana winter became my ally. Snow on the ground and nasty wind in the air all around made it easy to adhere to the limits she had imposed.

Six months later, the limp has disappeared. The chronic pain has become an occasional twitch in my left knee, especially when I twist it awkwardly while sitting at my desk or turning over during the night. It may be too early to say that the injury is healed, but my sense of well-being as a vigorous open-road cyclist is returning.

Now comes a new challenge: to develop a disciplined process of adding miles and increasing intensity. For two weeks in a row, I have logged my former average of seventy-five miles a week, and have taken days off so that the strengthening process can continue. One day last week, I felt the old push. Even when my legs were tired, something about my union with my bicycle urged me forward at a more rapid pace. I could believe that old times would soon be here again.

It will take time, perhaps all summer, for healing the injury to be completed, but I can feel it coming:

New life in my old legs! Hurray!

 


A Civilization Built on Slavery

May 18, 2018

Responding to Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, by Craig Steven Wilder (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.

In the final paragraph of the prologue to Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder makes a statement that could be looked upon as his thesis: “American colleges were not innocent or passive beneficiaries of conquest and colonial slavery. The European invasion of the Americas and the modern slave trade pulled peoples throughout the Atlantic world into each other’s lives, and colleges were among the colonial institutions that braided their histories and rendered their fates dependent and antagonistic. The academy never stood apart from American slavery—in fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on slavery” (p. 11).

The portion of the Americas that this book treats is the eastern seaboard of North America, from New England through Georgia, the West Indies, and the eastern-most sections of the country across the mountains in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The civilization discussed in the book was essentially English-speaking, Christian, Protestant (with strong rivalries between Puritan and Anglican colonies), and white. The academies included virtually all within this territory that were founded prior to the beginning of the Civil War: among them the most prestigious, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; some that became state universities, including University of Virginia and University of North Carolina; and smaller colleges such as Amherst, Dartmouth, Washington and Lee, and Transylvania.

Wiley mentions Hanover, a church college in Indiana close to the Ohio River, noting that its president was a slaveholder and that in 1836, when an antislavery association had begun meeting on campus, the trustees declared that it was “incompatible with the culture of the school [and] opposed by ‘at least nine-tenths of the students associated with the institution’” (p. 268).  The enslaved people whom Wiley discusses were primarily persons of African descent, but he gives some attention to the place of Native Americans in his historical account. He also shows that until late in the 1700s owning and working slaves was commonplace among northern and middle Atlantic academics and clergy (including John Cotton, Increase and Cotton Mather, Ezra Styles, Jonathan Edwards, and John Witherspoon).  Read more Ebony & Ivy