Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Muhlenberg Campus Community Meeting:Thursday, April 24 in the Fourth Ward--7 PM at Clinton Elementary School

I want to remind everyone that the next community meeting to discuss the future of the Muhlenberg Campus is scheduled for Thursday, April 24, at 7:00 PM at Clinton Community School, located in the Fourth Ward, 1302 West Fourth Street, at Clinton Avenue.

The hope is that having the meeting in the local neighborhoods near the schools will make it easier for parents, residents, and other stakeholders to make it to the meetings. When I was out in the Fourth Ward canvassing, Muhlenberg was one of the top issues that our citizens were concerned about (the other issues were public safety, jobs, quality of life issues, and PMUA rates--especially for the senior citizen homeowners on fixed incomes). 

So, the fact that this meeting is in the heart of the Fourth Ward should encourage everyone there who is concerned about keeping medical services in our city to come out. I would add, though, that it is imperative that residents from ALL OVER our city come out to provide input to the consultant hired by the City Council on what you want for that campus.

You know that there are forces at work which are determined to force their agenda (and make megabucks off so-called "luxury" apartments) onto the people of Plainfield. JFK proposes to provide an upgraded emergency room here--and maybe put in an X-Ray machine or something, and at the same time add 660 luxury residential units on the campus. How does it make any sense to take away hospital services and add upward of 1200-1500 new residents? Imagine the additional burden that would be placed on our already-strained resources!

 Interestingly, when we (the City Council) were looking at the proposed budget deliberation schedule the other day, I saw that a budget discussion was scheduled for the same night as the community meeting. I suggested to my colleagues that we not have our budget talk on the same night as this very important community meeting, as it was not in the interest of our residents to be forced to choose between these two meetings, which focus on the future of Plainfield.

Councilman Reid then stated that he didn't see why the council should have to change the schedule because one councilperson (me) wanted to go to the community meeting on Muhlenberg--he ignored the fact that Councilman Cory Storch was at the first meeting at Plainfield High School. 

What was interesting was that Reid seemed to be implying that no one else from the governing body would be attending these very important community meetings--which had been scheduled prior to any budget scheduling. I made a comment as to why he presumed to know what the other councilors would want to do. Ignoring me, as usual, Reid made it pretty clear that these community hearings are not important to him--I find that highly problematic.

We, as councilors, hired the consultant, and we are YOUR representatives. I think it's important to hear from my constituents--I consider it my obligation as the person YOU PAY to represent your interests to hear what you have to say regarding this and other issues important to our city. That said, the council will not be having a budget deliberation on that day, and I will be at the Thursday, April 24th Community Meeting to hear from those of you who perhaps could not make it to the first one. 

Today's Courier-News published an article on the new, $30 million emergency room that JFK has just unveiled. Read that article by clicking here: JFK Medical Center in Edison unveils New Emergency Room.  

Please let your neighbors know to come to the Thursday, April 24 meeting. We will be spreading the word in other municipalities as well--remember, Muhlenberg was a regional medical center, used by the people of North Plainfield, South Plainfield, Edison, Fanwood, and Scotch Plains, as well as Plainfield. The Plainfield City Council wants to hear from you. I would also urge those of you who cannot make it to the meetings to write or email us to let us know your thoughts.

All best,



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Illustrating Prostitution in Antebellum New York: "Loathsome Spectacles"

On Friday, April 4, I went down to the 2014 Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) Conference in Pennsylvania to preside over a panel I developed titled “Race, Sex, Class, and Bawdy-House Life in 19th Century America.” The panel examined American life during the 19th century, focusing on increased anxieties about race, sex, class, immigration, expansion, urbanization, and industrialization as reflected in novels, short stories, newspapers, and illustrated magazines.

In the 19th century, population growth led by immigration and westward expansion created rapid development of cities in the East and in the West. With this influx came a surge in building construction as well as rooming-house living. Further, additional inducements for the new city dwellers included easier access to drugs, prostitution, gambling, and other temptations. The panel explored 19th century print culture to show how it reflected, as well as responded to, the eras anxieties about race, sexuality, and class.

My paper, “Illustrating Prostitution in Antebellum New York: ‘Loathsome Spectacles,’” to try to frame the ongoing critical conversation about urban anxieties and ambivalence regarding the foregoing. This idea of the “loathsome spectacle” was utilized to describe all those who transgressed the paradigms of virtue and respectability promoted by conduct manuals and religious tracts of the time. Drunkards were viewed with contempt, and prostitutes, whose trade was certainly plied amidst the respectable middle class, including, of course, newspapermen, were similarly and hypocritically scorned.

I spoke about three cases that came to public attention in 1836. The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed, published in January of that year, was a sensational story—a lurid exposé of nuns forced into sex with priests, pregnant nuns whose babies were birthed, baptized, and then strangled and buried in a lime pit in the basement of the convent hospital. This notorious text fueled already strong anti-Catholic sentiment, even when Monk’s “disclosures” were proven to be untrue. I also touched on the case of Helen Jewett, a sex worker who was murdered in April of 1836 by a client/paramour named Richard Robinson (later acquitted), in one of the most sensational and, of course, widely illustrated stories of the time.
The other part of my presentation focused on the story of Peter Sewally, a black, transgender prostitute, whose case excited both the derision and the fascination of the public, and where race, sex, and class intersected in a spectacular way. In June of 1836, in Greenwich Village, Sewally, wearing women’s clothing and using one of his many aliases (Mary Jones), had stolen money from a client—a white laborer named Robert Haslem—after a sexual assignation.
Sewally is arrested for grand larceny, and during a body search, it is discovered that he is not biologically female. The ensuing trial provided even more sensational fodder for the newspapers. It turns out that Sewally had created a makeshift vagina from two pieces of meat, which she held between her thighs under her dress, and which fooled clients into thinking they were having sex with a woman. Her nickname during the trial was “Beefsteak Pete!”

In addition, Sewally defiantly and proudly attended his trial in women’s clothing, explaining that he was “induced” to dress in female attire by other prostitutes. After the trial, he was convicted and sentenced to five years at Sing Sing. In The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory, Tavia Nyong’o writes of the acceptance that this black, transgender prostitute found in his community—among other sex workers as well as his own black community.

Peter Sewally was called a “Man-Monster” in the famous lithograph that was sold during the trial, and which I have reproduced here. On the contrary, this is no monster—Peter Sewally looks quite fetching!

The other panelists, Theresa Vara Dannen (“Women as a Force for Social Change: Interracial Marriages in 19th Century Connecticut”), Hannah Ruehl (“The Industrial Age Amateur in Life in the Iron Mills: A Reprimand”) and William Mark Poteet (, “Huck Finn Returns: The Influence of Lighting Out for the Territory on Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware”) presented wonderful work as well—it was an exciting evening! 



Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm Voting for Rebecca!

My team and I will be filing our petitions to run for Plainfield City Council on Monday, March 31, the official launch day of our campaign. We will be knocking on doors and calling you to enlist your support with our grassroots efforts to keep Plainfield moving forward. I will continue to bring you the independent, transparent, thoughtful, honest, and ethical leadership that you have come to depend on from me as your council representative! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sanctified Transparency

Come, saints and sinners/
Sanctified transparency/
Beheld through stained glass.

Harlem Church and Glass Shop, by Van Vechten, 1940.

I love this image--I have posted on it in the past.--Rebecca

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Of "Carpetbaggers" and Coded Language

The term "carpetbagger" recently has been used here in Plainfield by an appointed councilwoman to denigrate the hiring of individuals who reside outside the city boundaries of Plainfield and yet who work here, as if they are not entitled to have a job in our city if they are qualified. I have heard her use this word several times in public statements. See Plainfield Today's post on this here.

Historically, the word was used in the aftermath of the Civil War to define Northerners who went South during the Reconstruction era to profit from the rebuilding efforts and to expose them as individuals who were out to exploit a community for economic gain--it connotes exploitation, greed, opportunism, and rapaciousness. The other day, this code word was used yet again by someone who, herself, "carpetbagged" an education career in another city and county and who was paid from the tax base of that city. In terms of describing our city employees, I view this word, "carpetbagger," as a deliberate and inaccurate use of the term. Perhaps someone ought to pull her coat about it.

Are the young Plainfielders who work at the Watchung Square Mall carpetbaggers? The Plainfielders who used to work at Muhlenberg but who were forced to find jobs at other hospitals in the state because of the closure of our local hospital--are they carpetbaggers? 

I work in Newark, as a professor at Essex County College--am I a carpetbagger? Are the county workers who commute to Elizabeth carpetbaggers? All the other residents who live in Plainfield but commute to jobs in neighboring towns, in New York City, and elsewhere--are they, too, carpetbaggers in those communities? You see what I am getting at.

To make foolish and loaded statements about the motives of individuals who work in our city government and yet who may live in other towns when one's own career was based in another city and was paid from the tax base of that city is the height of hypocrisy. 

The hypocrisy continues when, at the same time, a "pass" is given to a local individual (her friend, Malcolm Dunn) who engineered a more than $1 million dollar gift from the PMUA ratepayers to two retired executives in a backroom deal that forced furloughs of front-line workers and others. If we examine the earlier definition I provided of "carpetbagger"--one who exploits the community for economic gain, one whose motives are driven by greed, opportunism, and rapaciousness--in the context of this backroom deal, um...never mind. 

What I really see here is a smokescreen for a peculiar sort of nativism (which we see, on a national scale, directed toward President Obama by the right wing) that has long been a part of American culture. Nativism (and its close cousins, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and racism) opposes by its very nature the diversity, growth, and continued development of a city like Plainfield, just as it fanned the flames of national division in the past. 

We need to reject this type of thinking in our city. We need to reject the political motivations of individuals who embrace the past, with its corruption, cronyism, and stagnation. We need to think about, and plan for, the FUTURE!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The "Undisputed Dignity" of Anna Julia Cooper

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Anna Julia Cooper, the great scholar and leader. She lived to be 105 years old.
"Only the BLACK WOMAN can say, ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.'" --Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964)

Here is the link to the Cooper Project: The Cooper Project
Because she claimed our/
"Undisputed dignity"/
We entered with her.