Living up to NO expectations

July 2, 2011

Sherman Institute Validictory Speech, class 1920

“…When the Indian girl or boy reaches a certain point aimed at it occurs to me that their problems are much greater than other races. The public eye is upon them, many to watch with pleasure and gratitude their success; others to look for, expect, and may we dare say, hope for the failures that will substantiate their belief that has prompted them to say, “does it pay.” So it seems to me our task is doubly hard. We must go out to meet the crude conditions of life and compete with other races who have the advantages of centuries of history-making ancestors, and upon our shoulders to a large extent rests the possibilities of schools for Indian generations.  How different is our case from that of our white brother and sister graduates.  They are under a certain obligation to their parents, the people in their community and their race in general. The Indian owes nothing in particular to his parents, nor to the members of his tribe.  No high standard of any kind has been set before him; there is no inducement but to follow the same routine that has been the custom for generations.”

I sensed at times, reading through this yearbook,  that perhaps some of the ” students’ ”  words were first suggested by their teachers and/or administrators.  These words, though, do ring true in many ways–though not necessarily as they apply to Native Americans.  

Through my job at the DA’s office I am fortunate enough to be working on a project to address homelessness.  Often I suspect that many of these folks suffer from a distinct disadvantage. Life is challenging enough and if one is raised in a low functioning family with low expectations… it takes an exceptionally strong person to recognize the possibilities and work, really work, to achieve more than is expected.  More than is even known or can be imagined.    

Though, though… I just read that yearbook excerpt to my daughter and realize how racist it is (sometimes I am so slow it scares me).  I wanted to use the quote to make a simple point regarding the challenges inherant in low expectations but this is about so much more than that.

It assumes that Native Americans in 1920, perhaps with different priorities, different values, had achieved nothing.  Just because they were different.  Though many had to give up everything they knew and loved just to live.  

They were forced to accept and grow dependent on a government that took away their freedom, their culture.

Oh boy, this is too complicated to adequately address right now. I need to think on it.


Progress can be made

May 27, 2010

Alabama, 1963

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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Zoot Suit Riots

October 21, 2009
Sleepy Lagoon Murder Defendants

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”.[4] 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.[5] This extravagance during wartime was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots.[6] Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.[6]


Where are my heroes?

September 3, 2009


Unknown subjects

Unknown subjects

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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