08 Feb

Sidney Moncrief and Ron Watson Partner to Reduce Arkansas’s Drop-Out Rates

As the cliche goes, it’s a small world. In Arkansas circles, of course, it is smaller still.

This point was hammered home today when I got a phone call from Ron Watson, a Little Rock entrepreneur* to whom I’d last talked years ago when doing a Sync story on his cousin Darren McFadden. Watson and I got to talking about his non-profit organization, Had2, which promotes life skills among teens and young adults, and I quickly found out that, lo and behold, he’s partnered with Sidney Moncrief.

Moncrief and I have been talking lately in advance of a panel we’ll do February 28 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It will be centered on the theme of my book African-American Athletes in Arkansas, which highlights the athletic heritage of the state before and during integration with a focus on race relations. Moncrief’s head coach at LR Hall, Oliver Elders, will join us. I look forward to their sharing of memories, given how important both these men are in the annals of Arkansas (and national) sports history.

That night will be all about honoring the past up through the present. But what of the future?

That’s the focus of the non-profit organizations Watson and Moncrief have launched, and why the two men are now partnering. Watson’s Had2 organization aims to increase the graduation rate of Arkansas youths and reduce violent crime through motivational messaging and educational events which promote the development of professional skills (e.g. “interview skills” like making eye contact, clear enunciation, a firm handshake). Moncrief’s Game Changers organization, meanwhile, includes in its mission statement the teaching of similar “soft skills” as part of training for leadership and career advancement.

Part of the two organizations’ joint mission will be to teach the following:

  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Personal Habits
  • Customer Service
  • Cognitive or Emotional Empathy
  • Sales Skills
  • Agility
  • Humility
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Flexibility

Learn more through the below interview, which provides details on the duo’s career readiness tour this February through April covering Little Rock, Fort Smith, Milwaukee, Fort Smith, Springdale, Jonesboro, Helena and Texarkana.

Watson and Moncrief are expending considerable efforts on empowering today’s youth with these skills. I can empathize. I see my book as much more than a simple sports history text — I envision it as a springboard for inspiring Arkansan youths who don’t intrinsically care about history (or even reading) but do care about sports.

To that end, I’ve developed lesson plans based on African-American Athletes in Arkansas which central Arkansas school districts are starting to use this year. I hope this groundbreaking, interdisciplinary approach to education inspires some students and educators to go beyond, out of the world of sports and into public history. Every all-black high school which existed in Arkansas pre-integration has a heritage through its surviving alumni, the stories they pass down and the memorabilia (e.g. yearbooks, sports trophies, photographs) which they safeguard.

Unfortunately, these “gatekeepers” to the past are only getting older and every year dying off. Unless there is a concerted effort to preserve their memories (e.g. making digital scans for uploading to a Website), then a large part of our state’s past will perish forever when their generation passes. I have heard that some of the gatekeepers’ own children would rather throw away the memorabilia than mess with keeping it.

So I’m partnering with the Butler Center on a digital history project with a dual focus: the state’s African-American sports heritage and the overall heritage of its all-black schools. I’m building a master list now of all the schools we will chronicle while simultaneously reaching out to alumni associations and county historical association presidents across the state.

Watson and Moncrief are invested in helping the next generation of Arkansas adults be successful in their working years, while I’m mainly focused on shining a spotlight on the retirees whose working days are long past.

Still, I like to believe the wisdom and experience of the elders can serve our state’s future down the line. Contact me at info@heritageofsports.com if you’re interested in the project.


*It seems Watson knows just about everybody in the sports world.

Here’s a picture, taken from Had2.com, of Kobe Bryant rocking one of the organization’s shirts:

And click here to see Had2.com videos promoting high school education with Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate and Razorback basketball great  U.S. Reed. Anthony Anderson, the star of the hit TV series Black-ish, is thrown in for good measure.

26 Jan

Oliver Elders: Sidney Moncrief’s Mentor and Racial Pioneer

Oliver Elders, who coached Razorback superstar Sidney Moncrief, began his career at all-black schools

To most Razorback fans, Oliver Elders is known as the first in a line of great Little Rock Hall High basketball coaches. He coached future Hogs like Sidney Moncrief and Allie Freeman while winning four state titles.

Elders took over at Hall High in 1971. He was one of the state’s first African-American head coaches of a previously all-white basketball athletic program. At least two other coaches precede him:

In 1970, Marianna’s James Banks left all-black Strong High School (previously known as Moton High) to take over at Lee High School. Not far away, in Helena, Ron Taylor, left previously all-black Eliza Millar High to take over Helena High. Click the below clip to read more about the integration of that team:

Eliza Miller High

Oliver Elders’ career, especially at the all-black schools where he played and coached before Hall, is highlighted in Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. In that anthology, former Democrat-Gazette reporter Darren Ivy provided some details about:

Elders’ Time as a Star Basketball Player at J.C. Corbin High in Pine Bluff

Elders, who stood a half inch under six feet, led the team to the 1949 state championship, preventing North Little Rock’s Scipio Jones High School from repeating. “He was excellent,” said Clay Wisham, who played for Jones. “He had a good set shot, and could handle the ball. He was a good all-around ballplayer.”

[More information about Elders’ prep days is provided in a July 8, 1968 Gazette article. Elders told Gerald Jordan “I went out for basketball in my 10th grade year, but I didn’t make the first team until my senior year.” That year, though, he made All-State.]

More publishing soon…

24 Dec
African-American Athletes

Some lesson plans to use with the groundbreaking “African-American Athletes in Arkansas” in your classroom

I’m pleased to announce that Little Rock School District social studies teachers at the high school and middle school levels plan to incorporate lesson plans based off of African-American Athletes in Arkansas starting in January 2018. As an alum of the district (Jefferson, Pulaski Heights, Central), this means a lot to me. It is a significant first step in the public history mission that inspired me to write the anthology—the first of its kind for any state— in the first place.

Educator Dustin Seaton has written four lesson plans for my book. The first of them is available below, with another lesson plan available here. If you need any help with these, or want me to send you the files separately, contact me at info@heritageofsports.com.

LESSON PLAN 

Created by Dustin Seaton, GT Specialist, NWA ESC

  

  1. Descriptive Data

Teacher: __________________________ Date: _____________________________

Subject Area: _Social Studies/AR History Grade Level: _______7th-12th __________

Unit Title: _AR History/African-American History Lesson Title: Record Keeping vs. Recording History:

Integrate the Record Books

  1. Standards, Goals, & Objectives (National Middle School Association Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) Standards (list local, state, or national standards which will be met upon completion of this lesson): 

Lesson Goal(s):

  • Engage students in jigsaw presentations to read African-American Athletes in Arkansas
  • Challenge students to present their chapter in a fun and creative way to share with classmates

Lesson Objective(s): AR History (7/8th Grade)

H.7.AH.7-8.8: Analyze social, economic, and political effects of the Civil Rights Movement on various regions in Arkansas from multiple perspectives (e.g., integration, state legislation)

AR History (9-12th Grade)

Era5.5.AH.9-12.4: Analyze the social, economic, and political effects of the Civil Rights Movement in various regions of Arkansas using primary and secondary sources from multiple perspectives

(e.g., segregation; voting; integration of Fayetteville, Hoxie, and Little Rock School Districts; federal and state legislation)

Era6.6.AH.9-12.4: Analyze ways that Arkansans addressed a variety of public issues by using or challenging local, state, national, and international laws

African-American History (9-12)

IE.6.AAH.2: Examine the various influences of African Americans on social change using primary and secondary sources from multiple perspectives (e.g., migration, feminism, military, social organizations)

JU.7.AAH.2: Identify unresolved social, economic, and political challenges for African American men and women from 1970 to the present using a variety of sources representing multiple perspectives

  1. Procedure

Grouping for lesson: ____ whole group __X___ small group __X__ individual

African-American Athletes in Arkansas

Divide the 18 short chapters among individual students. Try giving the longest chapter (“Ali in Arkansas, chapter 18) to a few students. Compare and contrast the summaries of students reading the same chapters independently.

(2_ minutes) SET:

  1. Today, we are going to read an entire book together as a class, but in pieces. You will each play a role in piecing the entire book together similar to a jigsaw puzzle.

(2-3 class periods) Activity: 

  1. Allow students to review the chapters of the book African-American Athletes in Arkansas by Evin Demirel (see attach chart breaking down the chapters into four categories: Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Other

 Students will then choose a chapter to read and present the highlights to the class

based on his/her interest.

  1. Optional: You can also read the “Introduction” as a class as a set. 
  2. Encourage students to be creative in their presentation of their chapter. Students may choose to present as a handout, PowerPoint, speech, photo-montage, etc. Presentations should be 5-10 minutes maximum.

(10-20 minutes) Closure: Individually, ask students to reflect on their own presentation and how they could improve upon it if they were asked to present it again to another class. Likewise, ask students to write a response on what five facts they learned from other student presentations as well as strategies and/or techniques other student presentations utilized to teach their chapter that was creative and memorable.

  1. Assessment of Student Learning

Teacher observation, student feedback, & questions & answers from closure activity.

  1. Modifications for special needs and/or gifted

Student choice in selecting chapters to jigsaw, reading prompt aloud as a class, cooperative learning, open-ended creativity encouraged during presentation format.

  1. Materials & Equipment Needed

Book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks, & Other Forgotten Stories by Evin Demirel (ISBN: 978-0-9990083-1-7)

  1. Lesson Extension & Reflection

Ask students to discover ways the book could be jig-sawed together in other ways (i.e. high school, college, and professional breakdowns). Provide bonus points for students who are extra creative in how they present their chapter to the class and/or do additional chapters not covered by a classmate. Students could even be charged with writing a twentieth chapter of another story not included in the book as an extension of this lesson. In other words, researching and writing another chapter of an African-American biography or storyline not already covered in the book.

For a sports-specific extra chapter writing exercise, ask students to think about sports they and their friends play. Are there underrepresented (e.g. not discussed much in media, few videos/stories chronicling the athletes) and/or underfunded athletes or sports today? (Possible responses: hockey (at least in Arkansas), swimming, soccer*, girls sports vs boys [basketball, softball], cheerleading, skateboarding).

Ask “Why do you think this sport is underrepresented?” Write a chapter 20 about one of these sports and some of the socioeconomic and gender/race issues around it.

*Soccer, given its popularity among Latinos, opens up opportunities to discuss socioeconomic/   public history issues as it pertains to the athletic heritage of Hispanics in Arkansas.

12 Dec

The Elliot Ness-Inspired Gang Which Frequented LR Mann Games

Mann football

Arkadelphia-Warren saw one of the most bizarre endings in Arkansas prep football history. Good thing “The Untouchables” weren’t involved…

This Saturday, Arkadelphia High beat Warren High to win its first state title in 30 years in one of the most bizarre endings Arkansan football fans have ever seen. Warren, the defending Class 4A state champion, was down 28-27 in the waning minutes but drove the ball to Arkadelphia’s 8-yard-line with  a few seconds left in the game.

Then, after Warren attempted to spike the football to stop the clock after a run by Treylon Burks, a 16-year-old fan from Warren’s student section ran onto the field from the west side of War Memorial Stadium. The student gave a thumbs down gesture toward the Arkadelphia fans on the east side of the stadium, the Democrat-Gazette’s Jeremy Muck reported, before being promptly tackled by two Little Rock Police Department officers and an Arkansas State Parks ranger at the 25-yard line.

Before the fan’s intervention, Warren sophomore Jesus Tinoco was lining up to attempt a 25-yard field goal. But, because of the fan, the officials penalized the team a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, backing the Lumberjacks up to the Arkadelphia 23 yard line. On second and goal from the Arkadelphia 23, Warren ran another play instead of attempting a 40-yard field goal, Muck reported. With four seconds remaining, junior quarterback J’malachi Kinnard’s pass was intercepted in the end zone.

Afterward, Warren head coach Bo Hembree said the officials “hurt our kids. They weren’t helping our kids. Was that helping kids? I’ve never seen that in college,” he added. “But it’s sad when you work 15 weeks to get here and you let something like that take it away from a group of kids who worked their tail off all year. How do I go talk to them?”

This ending will go down as one of the most controversial and chaotic in recent memory. At least nobody was actually hurt, though. Things were different in some parts of the Arkansas state football scene in the 1960s—especially at Little Rock’s Mann High School.

The trouble stemmed from a street gang known as “The Untouchables” who frequented Mann High football games. According to graduates of the school* from the 1960s , these teenagers wore long trenchcoats and often carried sawed-off shotguns in an homage to law enforcement legend Eliot Ness and his federal agents who fought against gangsters in the Prohibition Era.

Ness’ autobiography The Untouchables, which published in 1957, inspired television shows, movies and, apparently, the name for street gangs in bigger cities. Members of the Little Rock version committed crimes in southeast Little Rock, but were not responsible for the homicides which would become so prevalent when big cities gangs like the Bloods and Crips emerged in the area more than two decades later. The Untouchables, it appears, were motivated primarily by defending turf and didn’t frequently engage in homicidal gun fights which sparked retaliation killings. With the infiltration of drug money, the monetary stakes would become higher during the bloodier 1980s/1990s “gangbangers” era in Little Rock.

Some of the LR Untouchables were Mann High students, and they attended road football games. Jackie Paradise**, who played football for Mann in 1960-1962, recalled one game in which an Untouchable shot at someone in or near the stadium of Langston High School (Hot Springs). He doesn’t recall the specifics, such as to what extent anybody was injured, but he recalls the event happening after the game.

The event, apparently, inspired a legend in which not only did a shooting happen, but the opposing was shot during the game itself—while running into the end zone. It’s unknown whether such an incident has ever happened anywhere in Arkansas.

The Untouchables intimidated opposing players in other ways, Merrill High alum Larry Williams told me. Williams, now 70 years old, was a Merrill High football player who visited Mann around 1967. During the game, the Untouchables beat up members of Merrill High’s band. Afterward, the Merrill High football team always needed a police escort by its bus to help make sure it back on the road back to Pine Bluff, Williams added.

Fortunately, things have simmered down significantly since that wild era. As aggravating as Warren’s state title game loss surely is for Lumberjack fans, nobody—not even the 16-year-old numbskull whom the police tackled—was seriously injured.

Mann High football


*Fun factoid: I took an advanced math class at UALR with Chelsea Clinton in the early 1990s. She ended up attending Little Rock Mann, by then a junior high, as her last in-state school before heading to Washington with her newly elected president dad.

**In case you didn’t notice, this guy’s name is Jackie Paradise. I vote this in as one of the Top 10 coolest last names in state prep sports history — and the best possible title for a Quentin Tarantino movie made on the topic.

28 Nov

The Razorback Fan Who’s More Hardcore Than 99.999% Of Y’all

Razorback tattoo

What drives a man to such porcine pride?

How far would you go for your favorite team? Chances are, not as far as Shane, whom I met yesterday in front of the salsa bar at a Taco Bueno in Fayetteville.

Arkansas tattoo Razorback tattoo

Shane, as anyone with even a sliver of sight can see, straight up got a Razorback and the word “Arkansas” tattooed on his skull. The northwest Arkansas native did that a year ago, and he added the  football program’s struggles since then haven’t dinted his passion in the least.

Indeed, he may take his inky zeal to yet another proverbial level. Shane is considering getting an aerial shot tattoo of Razorback stadium, he proudly said, softly touching the top of his noggin.

Shane’s a rare bird. Below are the only two instances the Internet knows about folks doing something like this, and I’m pretty sure the bottom one has something to do more with eastern Europeanized wild boar love than the kind of Hog love Arkansans know.

Razorback tattoo Hog tattoo

Shane builds bridges for a living. Here’s to hoping that whoever the U of A hires to fill the AD and head coaching vacancies can do the same with Razorback Nation.

PS: If you’re also considering getting a Razorback tattoo and want to do something not too boring, check out these boars for inspiration.


 

Black Razorbacks

Preview African-American Athletes in Arkansas on Amazon.com.

19 Nov

Jerry Franklin Speaking on a Sports & Social Justice Panel

Jerry Franklin

The Arkansas football legend to discuss the intersection of sports and civil rights with a philosopher and law school professor.

Well, they don’t get much more unique than this.

This afternoon, former All-SEC linebacker Jerry Franklin will speak on a diverse panel touching on first amendment rights and sports as an agent for social justice movements. I’m sure they will touch on the  ongoing national anthem protests in the NFL, as well as the ramifications of last year’s “Kneeling Razorbacks” protest at Bud Walton Arena. I highly recommend anyone interested in these issues to watch this clip, which Krystal Beachum of Student-Athletes Unite helped produce:

Most the student-athletes interviewed here are still in school. Their identities are masked for their protection.

The panel takes place at 3 p.m. at the ALLPS School of Innovation just off of Interstate 49 Exit 62 in Fayetteville:

ALLPS

Here are some brief bios on the panelists:

Jerry Franklin

Franklin was one of Arkansas’s best defensive players in the Bobby Petrino era, helping the Hogs reach the Sugar Bowl in 2011. He played about five years in the NFL, and now works in the logistics industry in Lowell. He and I recently spent a good couple of hours catching up  for this OnlyInArk.com feature.

Bobby Howard

A PhD philosophy student at the University of Arkansas who as an undergraduate majored in political science with minors in history and religious studies. Also works as a writer, editor and consultant for a Christian publishing label.

Angela Courage

A corporate consultant with BA in Human Resource Development, an MA in Communication with emphasis in Intercultural/Interracial and Organizational Communication, and a Doctorate in Higher Education with emphasis in College Teaching and Faculty Leadership. Also works as an assistant director of institutional research at Ecclesia College, and instructor at the UA.

Danielle Weatherby 

A UA law professor who researches First Amendment jurisprudence and its impact on student speech, hot-button school law issues, and emerging legal protections for transgender individuals. Serves on the AALS Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law’s Executive Board.

***

NB: Before the kneeling Razorbacks, other Arkansans played large roles in using sports social justice protests. At the height of the Vietnam War era, Sparkman, AR  native Fred Milton sparked freedom of expression protests within the Oregon State football team.  And Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore helped do the same at the University of Wyoming. Moore’s story is one I feature in African-American Athletes in Arkansas:Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories. John Kirk, the director of UALR’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, recently highlighted my Moore chapter on public radio.

Ivie Moore

Finally, below is one last relevant video to the issues at hand. It involves the  Cynthia Nance Chapter of the Black Law Student Association at the UA School of Law, along with The Sam M. Walton College of Business and UA’s African and African American Studies Department:

07 Nov

Sports & The Arkansas Public History Gap

Arkansas public history

Looking at how past inequities shape the Arkansas public history terrain of today with Tara Carr of KDIV (98.7FM).

Tara Carr, the host of “Tara Talks” KDIV 98.7 FM in Fayetteville, was kind enough to have me on her show recently to discuss some what compels me to dig so deeply into local African-American history through the context of sports. In the interview below, I discuss how inequalities in the early-mid 1900s—namely, the state gave far less money to public all-black schools than public all-white schools—have shaped much of what today’s generations know, and don’t know, of their past.

For example, better funding meant all-white schools could more consistently print annual yearbooks whereas all-black schools could only afford to produce them during certain years—if at all. This is one small reason the heritage of all-black schools is relatively well-chronicled, while huge gaps exist in the public history of black communities.

I want my book and interviews like these (and my talk at the Clinton School of Public Service) to help spur the launching of a public history project chronicling the heritage of all-black schools. This wouldn’t be sports-centric. It would start out as a simple online locator map of every all-black high school in the state with some basic info, and slowly fill in with details as we crowdsource material (e.g. scanned images of the schools themselves, pages from yearbooks, newspaper snippets). The Butler Center’s George West is very interested in coordinating with his Arkansas History Hub on this front, so we’ll see if we can make that happen.

For more info, reach out to me at evindemirel@gmail.com.

 

 

26 Oct

Hiram McBeth: Little-Known Black Razorback Pioneer

Razorback B-Team

While Darrell Brown and Jon Richardson are more well known, did you know Pine Bluff’s Hiram McBeth was the first African-American to play in a varsity-level football game? He did so in the red-white game in the spring of 1969, a few months before Little Rock’s Jon Richardson arrived on campus as a heralded freshman (and the first scholarship black Razorback in football) from what was then Mann High School.

Here’s a snippet on McBeth (in the right paragraph) from Orville Henry’s column in the April 27, 1969 Arkansas Gazette:

Hiram McBeth

And here’s a follow up from the September 9, 1969 Arkansas Democrat, by which time the Richardson had made it to campus:

Jon Richardson

Notice there is a third African-American mentioned: Jesse Kearney. According to McBeth, Jesse Kearney enrolled as a freshman in September 1969. Like McBeth, he too walked on. He never played varsity ball. Both McBeth and Kearney are now practicing attorneys, McBeth in Dallas and Kearney in Pine Bluff.

Finally, below is a nice retrospect by the late Rick Joslin which ran in the old Pine Bluff News. If you’re interested in seeing more of it, just call/text me at 501.554.5039 or info@heritageofsports.com.

Black Razorbacks

***

Read more about race relations, state heritage and sports  in my new book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories.

14 Aug

Why 40 Black University of Arkansas Students Barricaded the UA’s Journalism Building

Black Americans for Democracy

The story of the first organized form of protest by University of Arkansas African-American students.

In my last post, I discussed how the first student strike in UA history came as a result of strong disagreement with the standards of the student newspaper. Nearly 60 years after that “X-ray” strike, another student uprising followed conflict with their newspaper’s editors. This time around, about 40 black students blockaded the journalism building as part of a protest that gave rise to a UA organization called Black Americans for Democracy (now called the Black Students Association).

The assassination of Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968 was a major catalyst in black UA students banding together to address an on-campus situation which had become “unbearable,” according to Mordean Taylor Moore, a UA graduate student in his 1972 dissertation “Black Student Unrest at the University of Arkansas: A Case Study.”

Moore wrote: “The [UA] students reacted to the assassination of Dr. King holding memorial services and marching through the campus and downtown. Both black and white students as well as faculty members participated in these events. The expenses for three black students to attend the funeral of Dr. King In Atlanta were paid by contributions from local citizens, and before leaving Fayetteville, the students were given a letter of condolence from the University president to deliver to Mrs. King. In addition to these activities, the official day of mourning was recognized by the University with dismissal of classes.

Following these events, a white student wrote to the school newspaper complaining of all the publicity that was given to the death of Dr. King. This letter appeared In the editorial section of the school paper. However, when a black student* wrote a letter to the editor in response, the school paper failed to print it.

This act triggered the first overt form of protest by University of Arkansas black students.

The black students reacted by barricading the journalism building on campus. Reportedly, about forty black students blocked the building for several hours preventing the publication of the school paper as well as other printing done in the building. This
protest resulted into an open meeting of the board of publication and administration with, the black students.

The black students openly attacked the school newspaper for not representing the whole student body and called for an end of Its publication unless change was made in its discriminatory editorial policies. The black students stated that they felt they had to protest to such a manner because they had exhausted all official channels; a letter had been written to the editor of the school paper requesting that the list of their grievances** be printed, they had spoken to the Dean of Students concerning their dissatisfaction with their situation on campus and had requested a meeting with the board of publication. These attempts through the proper channels were to no avail.

The following fall semester, the black student organization worked hard at improving the situation of black students on campus. They held several black-white conferences on race relations on campus wherein they stated that they felt isolated on campus and [an integral part] of the university.”

* John Rowe

** According to UA archivist Amy Allen, “BAD had a list of thirteen demands, including ending discrimination in room assignments, sororities, fraternities, and athletics; enactment of policies for reporting unfair classroom treatment to a faculty-student committee; creation of a black history course; recruitment of black faculty, administrators, and staff; and banning the playing of the song ‘Dixie’ and the use of black face grease paint at official university functions.”

***BAD formed its own newspaper, initially called The Bad Times. You can read past copies in the UA’s digital archives here.

07 Jul

James Baldwin and Focusing on the Heritage of Black Athletes in America

I am not your negro

 

In coming out with a book highlighting the African-American sports heritage of the state of Arkansas, I have already been asked why I should highlight racial differences in a book about Arkansas sports history. I have a feeling that after the book publishes later next week many people will be turned off by its racial focus, and perceive I unnecessarily stress past divisions at the expense of future unity.

This isn’t the place for a full explanation of why I write so much about African Americans. This isn’t the place to get into the ramifications of the fact that the (white owned) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has produced more than 300 combined years of archived history, as a daily, while the (black owned) Arkansas State Press has about 30 years of combined history while being published only weekly.

All that will come.

For now, I only want to relay the words of James Baldwin, the renowned African-American author and civil rights activist. In 1968, he appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” and began discussing some of his experiences as an American black man who had lived abroad. Cavett brought on Dr. Paul Weiss, a Yale philosophy professor, who began expostulating on the existentialist dilemma of all men before peering into the ether and asking: “So why must we always concentrate on color?”

Baldwin, brow raised, then delivers a masterful soliloquy:

I’ll tell you this. When I left this country in 1948, I left this country for one reason only. One reason. I didn’t care where I’d go. I might’ve gone to Hong Kong, I might’ve gone to Timbuktu, I ended up in Paris with $40 in my pocket with the theory that nothing worse would happen to me there than had already happened to me here… You had to be able to turn off all the antennae with which you  live, because once you turn your back on this society, you may die. You may die.

And it’s very hard to sit at a type writer, and concentrate on that, if you’re afraid of the world around you. The years I lived in Paris did one thing for me: They made rethink that particular social turn is not the terror of my own mind, visible in the face of every cop, every boss, everybody.

I don’t know what those white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel when the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know that we have a Christian which is white, and a Christian church which is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.

Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.

I am not black. I don’t know how it feels to be black. But I have listened to many African Americans discuss race issues, and they tell me that the world they and their loved ones have experienced, and the pain they have felt, often differs from what I as a white man have experienced. That difference matters, and to me it hardly matters whether it’s “perceived” or “real.” The result is real anguish and frustration nonetheless.

The past isn’t as over as I had glibly assumed.

PS: I ran across Baldwin’s word in the stunningly good documentary I Am Not Your Negro. You can watch it for  free via Amazon Prime.