May 27, 2010
I was taking a break from posting, but not history, I realized, as I read a book my son gave me called Coming of Age in Mississippi. It is assigned reading for him as a Junior at Arcata High, and he thought I might find it interesting. It is. Appalling, actually. I literally had to stop reading the other night, as I was in a public place and crying…
Anne Moody wrote this autobiography about growing up in the 40s and 50s in rural Mississippi, and coming of age during the birth of the civil rights movement. The incident that brought me to tears was her experience at a lunch counter in Woolworth’s. I remember the Woolworth’s in Eureka, and the lunch counter, though I don’t know that I ever ate there. By the seventies there wouldn’t have been a “white” section, but I wonder, was there ?
Anne participated in a “sit-in” at the Woolworth’s in Mississippi about fifty years ago, sitting in the white section instead of in the back with the other “negroes” as she called them. She sat there all day, waiting for service that never came. She sat there as fellow students and other sympathizers came and went. As she and her peers were mocked, and threatened, and one was thrown to the floor and repeatedly kicked in the head. Through it all, her and her friends persisted, simply waiting to be recognized.
Later, local, white, high school students entered the store… and
“Some old man in the crowd ordered the students to take us off the stools. “Which one should I get first?” a big husky boy said.
“That white nigger,” the old man replied.
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October 21, 2009
Sleepy Lagoon Murder Defendants
I was called for jury duty yesterday and wanted to post something today about how it felt to be a part of that process, that history. Instead I ran across a photo of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants and followed my curiosity. I googled Sleepy Lagoon and learned about the Zoot Suit Riots (Until today, I would have sworn that “Zoot Suit Riots” was a song…)
The Zoot Suit Riots are summarized as follows thanks to PBS:
May 1943, Zoot Suit Riot. For the better part of a week, sailors and other servicemen dragged (Mexican and African American) kids off streetcars, from restaurants, and out of movie theaters. The boys were beaten and often stripped of their zoot suits. Thousands of white civilians cheered them on and helped the sailors. As the riot progressed, Mexican American boys moved to defend their neighborhoods, setting traps for sailors and assaulting them in their cars. The L.A.P.D. let the riot continue for the better part of a week. After the riot ended, the Los Angeles City Council banned the wearing of zoot suits on Los Angeles streets.
Oh yes, and the Sleepy Lagoon Murder., for those who are interested.
This is also a great site about the history of the Los Angeles area with more info about the Zoot Suit and riots- as well as this very graphic reminder that blatent prejudice existed not so long ago.
I noticed that I neglected to even describe a Zoot Suit (or let wikipedia do it for me). According to Wikipeida
A zoot suit has high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed pegged trousers (Spanish: tramas), and a long coat (Spanish: carlango) with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. Often zoot suiters wear a felt hat with a long feather (Spanish: tapa or tanda) and pointy, French-style shoes (Spanish: calcos). A young Malcolm X described the zoot suit as: “a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell”. Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket.
Zoot suits were for special occasions, such as a dance or a birthday party. The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort. This extravagance during wartime was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.
September 3, 2009
There has been much discussion of the treatment of Native Americans during the settlement period, and if present day folks really have a right to judge the settlers for their actions when we can’t truly understand their experience. (Ernie’s Blog is a good place to read some different perspectives on the topic).
I have been following the discussion with the unspoken conviction that there were good people here during the settlement period. People that recognized the inhumanity of the treatment of the natives and did what they could to help. When I first found Carpenter’s article, Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago,
published in the Overland Monthly, by Bret Harte, I thought I’d found a progressive thinker and I was thankful that someone had provided us with such a vivid and sympathetic picture of the settlement period and the experience of children kidnapped and indentured.
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