Saturday, June 22, 2013

Octavia E. Butler, American Author

"I have a huge and savage conscience that won't let me get away with things." 

Octavia E. Butler (June 22,1947- February 24, 2006).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Remembering Anne Frank, Diarist, Born on June 12

Anne Frank, one of the seminal influences on my life as a young girl, was given a diary on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday. The published version of that diary is one of the most important works of the 20th century, and it resonates deeply still. I wrote about Anne three years ago (April 12, 2010) on this blog as part of a larger post on the Holocaust Days of Remembrance. I am reprinting that blog post below. 

Holocaust Days of Remembrance: Honoring the Victims and Survivors

This week marks the Days of Remembrance, commemorating the Holocaust. Today, April 12th, is Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day. I observe this day in a very personal way—I remember Mrs. Pearl and Miss Rosencrantz.
When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Pearl, introduced us to the story of Anne Frank, whose World War II memoir, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, was part of our curriculum. Since many of the girls in our class kept diaries, we identified with young Anne’s adolescent struggles. Mrs. Pearl provided us with the broader historical frame of the Holocaust to contextualize Anne’s story.
As we read the diary, Mrs. Pearl would have us imagine what is what like to live in a space for over two years, having to live in utter silence all day, always fearful of being discovered. I remember clearly the images from the camps that accompanied our reading, the awful devastation and unspeakable suffering.
I identified deeply with Anne, especially as she grew older, and the entries began reflecting challenges that I knew I soon would be facing as an adolescent. Anne also wanted to be a writer, which was my future goal as well. I still remember reading the final entry of the diary, dated August 1, 1944:
Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with aspirin and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.

Yours, Anne M. Frank

Of course, we now know that this final entry was written three days before the Frank family (along with the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer) was betrayed by someone who knew they were hiding in the attic space at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. They were arrested by the German police, and all perished in the Nazi death camps except for Otto Frank, Anne’s father.
The summer after I read the diary, my mother took my brother and me to Europe. We arrived in Amsterdam late in the evening, and I remember my mother asking the hotel clerk where Anne Frank House, meaning 263 Prinsengracht, was located. It was within walking distance. The next day, we began our journey. We headed through the streets, which I believe were cobblestoned. I recall feeling a sense of apprehension when we turned onto Prinsengracht.
When we arrived at the house, I was struck by how nondescript it was. When I got inside, however, I saw everything preserved/restored as it would have looked when Anne was there. I looked out the window and saw the tree she wrote about; I scrutinized the wall where Anne had plastered the photos of famous movie stars—it was just as I had read in the book.
Many other people in the room, men as well as women, were in tears—as a 12 year-old, I was unused to seeing adults cry—it was disconcerting. And I remember staring hard at everything so that I would not cry. When I returned home later that summer, I read the diary again—this time, every line seemed to take on a profound significance. I had been to the house—I could see Anne’s life in the annex unfold in high relief.
Two years later, when I was in high school, I had another English teacher, Miss Rosencrantz, a somewhat intense and serious woman in her forties who always wore dark-colored clothing with long sleeves. I viewed myself as a wit back then (Read: occasionally amusing, but more likely just obnoxious), and I liked to verbally spar with my teachers.
One day, when we were studying The Iliad, she asked us a question about modern day products we could associate with Greek mythology. Ever the smart aleck, I called out “Trojan condoms.”  As my classmates snickered, Miss Rosencrantz looked at me as if she were giving serious consideration to my answer. She then said, deadpan, “Hmmm…I wonder about that. The Trojans failed.”
The class laughed hard—Miss Rosencrantz had, for the first time, made them laugh—they were laughing at me and, although I was red-faced, I had to laugh, too. She smiled at all of us, and even at me, a warm, wise smile. She then raised her arm to write down my answer on the blackboard, and that is when I noticed the numbers inked into her forearm.
I was stunned and deeply unsettled, because I knew what those numbers meant. She had been in the Auschwitz death camp. I stared at Miss Rosencrantz for a long time, trying to imagine how she could be standing before us, teaching us, given what she had been through as a young girl. I became quiet in her classroom after that day. I never made another joke. Today, when I reflect on that day, I still cannot articulate that feeling, that emotion—it remains beyond my ability to process.
So, during this week, part of my observance will be to remember Mrs. Pearl and Miss Rosencrantz, two teachers who helped to shape my understanding of the world around me.
For more information on Anne Frank House, click here: Anne Frank House
For more on the Days of Remembrance, as well as on how you can assist in preventing genocide, click here: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
All best, 


In Memoriam: Medgar Evers, Murdered on June 12, 1963

Medgar Evers was murdered 50 years ago today.

Medgar Evers, July 2, 1925 - June 12, 1963

“Only a Pawn in Their Game”

Myrlie Evers and children
A bullet from the back of a bush
took Medgar Evers’ blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Myrlie Evers and son Darrell Kenyatta Evers
A South politician preaches
to the poor white man,
“You got more than the blacks,
don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born
with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Bob Dylan with civil rights workers in Greenwood, MS, July 1963.
The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame

He’s only a pawn in their game.
From the poverty shacks, he looks
from the cracks to the tracks,
And the hoof beats pound in his brain.

And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from
the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

                              --Bob Dylan 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Let's make Tuesday, June 4, a "Lovely Day!"

Do the right thing. 
Make Tuesday, June 4 a "Lovely Day."
Elect Adrian Mapp as Mayor of Plainfield!

Polls are open from 6:00 am - 8:00 pm.