My brothers were a handful

By Jacque White Kochak

It’s been a scorching Kansas summer day, 103 degrees in the shade in the days before air conditioning. You can’t get in the car wearing shorts because the vinyl seat is too hot, and you can’t walk barefoot on asphalt or cement or you’ll be sorry. If you are out in the country, you’ll see water shimmering where the highway meets the horizon, but you know it’s a mirage.

Better to be outside than indoors, though, because in western Kansas there’s always wind, sending tumbleweeds scuttling down the side of the road. I’m not talking about a timid little breeze, flirting with the treetops. I’m talking wind, always wind, a familiar companion like a lullaby that eases me to sleep at night.


‘My twin brothers were like that, always with their fearless shenanigans. One time I came home from school at Sunnyside Elementary to learn they had shimmied up the television antenna by the side of the house, climbing as high as the porch roof.’ 


I’m alone in the backyard. I’ve used a slender tree branch to draw a circle in a patch of dirt beside the sidewalk that leads to the back porch, and I’m sitting inside the circle with my skinny legs crossed. This is my teepee, and I’m an Indian maiden. It’s getting towards suppertime, and Mother is in the kitchen cooking. Probably biscuits with dried beef gravy, because we ate a lot of that in those days.

Daddy is away, as usual, and my sister Kelly and brother Steve must be inside playing. Mother comes out on the screened back porch, pokes her head out the door, and asks, “Jacque, have you seen the twins?”

No, I haven’t, so she shakes her head as she wipes her hands on her apron. “Well, you better look for them. Those boys are going to give me gray hair,” she says.

So I unfold myself from my teepee and gallop across the yard to look behind the old outhouse. I crawl through the hole in the wire fence behind the outhouse and search around the rusty, decrepit farm equipment behind the barn. We are trained to stay away from the ramshackle chicken house and the barn’s interior, so I don’t check there. I don’t figure they’d dare go inside.

Deciding they must not be outside, I move my search indoors. I look upstairs, systematically checking each one of the four bedrooms and their closets. I return to Mother’s tiny kitchen, where Bruce and Brent have been known to race ants across the counter.

“Mama, I can’t find them,” I say tentatively, knowing I should have been watching them.

Consternation etches her pretty face, then anger. I cringe, because I know how my mother’s anger can escalate, culminating in a session with the pink plastic hairbrush, its bristles bent from contact with our bottoms and other tender parts. She’s too worried to waste time on me, though. My brothers are a handful, and there’s no telling where they’ve gotten to.

The mystery is soon solved. The doorbell rings, and a policeman looms in the front door, blocking out the bright late-afternoon sun. Bruce and Brent are in tow, their faces dirty and their bright blue eyes intent as they gaze at my flustered mother. They contentedly lick chocolate ice cream cones, with just as much ice cream dripping onto their t-shirts as makes it into their mouths.

“Mommy, wook!” says Bruce as he shows her his melting ice cream. They are about 3 years old, and their speech is a little hard to understand. In fact, they have their own language between them, a language that nobody else can understand.

The tall, kindly officer explains that the boys turned up at the drive-in restaurant located a block away and across four-lane South Second Avenue. I know he is kindly because, after the bemused owner called the law, the policeman showed up and bought my errant brothers ice cream before he brought them home. I see this as patently unfair, because they got in trouble, tempted fate by crossing a busy street, and received a reward for their daring.

My twin brothers were like that, always with their fearless shenanigans. One time I came home from school at Sunnyside Elementary to learn they had shimmied up the television antenna by the side of the house, climbing as high as the porch roof. When they were younger my mother tried attaching them to the clothesline with dog leashes, but they undid the latches.

As teenagers, Bruce and Brent often preferred to sleep on the floor, and they made their own bows and arrows from Osage orange, common on the Great Plains. The big green fruit, bigger than a softball, is known as a hedge apple because the Osage orange, like the cottonwood, is common in the windbreaks that stopped the wind from stripping the fields. The heavy, fine-grained yellow wood is prized for tool handles, fence posts—and bows. In the early 19th century, a good Osage bow was worth a horse and a blanket.

Don’t ask me how my brothers knew this, but they knew a lot of things that didn’t make sense for them to know. Once Brent told me that he and Bruce were reincarnated Indians, and I half believed him. Now, he says he doesn’t remember saying any such thing.

As the oldest child, I was usually nominally in charge when we played in the yard. Once, Kelly and Steve got into a giant ant pile, which left them screaming and crying as the ants stung them. Mother, enraged, demanded to know why I had let them get into the ant pile.

“And why did you get in the ant pile?” she also demanded to know of them. Kelly and Steve told her Bruce and Brent were playing in the ant pile, so she asked them why they would do such a thing.

“The ants are our friends,” the 4-year-olds replied. And the truth is that the ants were their friends, never stinging them—just one more thing I can’t explain about my brothers.

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Steve’s last days

I didn’t know my brother was gay until close to the time he died. When AIDS stole his life, I was advised not to tell.


By Jacque White Kochak

When my brother died of AIDS, I was advised not to tell anyone. My adviser was a parent at my son’s school. A well-meaning pediatrician, he was short and round, with glasses and a single tuft of hair on his balding head. I figured he knew what he was talking about, so I took his advice.

I was living in the suburbs of New York City, and the year was 1995. The AIDS epidemic had settled in; at that point, some 500,000 cases had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta…

Read more at PurpleClover.com

Painting by Natalya Kochak

The memory that haunts me

This column by Gillis Morgan was first printed several years ago in The Auburn Villager and won first place for commentary that year in the Alabama Press Association Better Newspaper Contest. I am reprinting the column in honor of Gillis’ receiving a 2016 Auburn Journalism Honors award this month.


By Gillis Morgan

Sometimes I can think of more reasons not to write about a heavy thought or a dark memory, and I have found that not to write about something is simply a way of running away from it.

But it always catches up with you.morgan

So right now I have decided to write about the darkness of a memory I have been running away from for 58 years.


The man fell to his knees, about three or four yards from me. For a second or two he stared at me, and I could see the fear and terror in his eyes.


It was in June of 1952, about a week or so after my high school graduation from Evergreen High in south Alabama.

My plan was to join the Navy, get the GI Bill and then attend college to study journalism. My father was lobbying for chemical engineering, but we would have more time to think about that after four years in the Navy.

“You’ve got about two weeks before you join the Navy, so you have time to get a job,” Dad said. “Try the bus station. They’re always looking for somebody to pump gas.”

Dad was always saying that “a man without a job is not a man,” so I got the 8-to-midnight shift at the Greyhound bus station pumping gas. A character named Slim was the night manager. He was over six feet tall, lean and wiry, and had tattoos, which back then left a man’s character open for question.

I had been there a week, when about 11 p.m. on a Friday night the bus from Montgomery roared in, air brakes pumping and loaded with passengers. Evergreen served as the rest stop between Montgomery, 94 miles on north on U.S. Highway 31, and Mobile 113 miles south.

As the passengers were unloading to make their way to the station café, I was walking away from the pumps. Slim was standing outside the café door, and I was walking toward him when a young black man got off the bus, stretching and yawning his way to the café door.

I saw Slim reach into his pocket to grip a leather scabbard that held his ticket puncher.

At the black man approached the door, Slim snatched out the scabbard in his right hand and then slapped the young man on the left side of his mouth, and I could hear Slim saying something but I could not make out the words because of the roar of the bus motor.

The man fell to his knees, about three or four yards from me. For a second or two he stared at me, and I could see the fear and terror in his eyes. As he tried to stand, Slim charged again and slapped at him with the scabbard as the man backed up and began to stumble his way back to the open bus door. He got on the bus. The bus driver and the passengers were still inside the café.

Slim opened the café door and went inside. There was no one else out front.

I looked at the bus, and I turned away. I didn’t check out from my shift. I just started walking home, all the while thinking: “I didn’t do a damn thing.”

All these years, and I still feel guilty.

§

I never told anyone about what happened that night at the bus station—not my folks, not anyone.

After I joined the Navy, went to college, majored in journalism and started working, I never told anyone. Even when I was covering the Selma-to-Montgomery march I never told anyone.

It was only after I came to Auburn in 1977 that I told someone.

This past week was the first time I have ever written about it, and I rewrote it at least three times.

I never saw Slim again. Nor in all my visits to my hometown did anyone mention that night. I don’t know if anyone else knew about it.

And I figured the young man who got attacked then got back on the bus just went on to Mobile or Pensacola. It was 1952, and I don’t think he would have gotten much attention with his story.

Was I scared of what I had seen? Of Slim? I think I was scared, but I didn’t run home that night. I walked.

And after thinking about it while writing about it I think what I felt was mostly shock. And I have always felt guilt and pain. A whole bunch of guilt and pain.

After I decided to send this in to Jacque, my editor, I sent a copy to a friend who grew up in Evergreen but now lives in Huntsville. I asked him if I could include his letter and use his name—James Daniels.

It is a beautiful letter, and it made me feel better. Here is the letter.

§

Gilly: Thanks for that painful, heart-rending story. I know that, like all of us in our younger years in older times, you suffered from shame at your own inaction. But also, as we all did, there was the inertia of the soul that kept us from reacting in accordance with our conscience in black-white relations.

It was just the way we all were, like our parents, like our neighbors, like our friends, like the whole white South…and yes, like the blacks themselves, just bogged in our cultural swamp. As youths in that overwhelming noxious atmosphere of white adult prejudice, we felt the absolute helplessness of any overt response that would be counter to the norm.

I, too, saw acts similar to the Slim incident on a number of occasions, even among my own kin. And, of course, I was hypersensitive to the constant lesser incidents, where I did not speak up or express my own evolving sentiments. I don’t excuse myself, Gilly, for not acting, for not standing up for my own conscience.

And, today, I don’t dwell on regrets and self-flagellation for my guilt. Yet, like you, I still can’t erase from memory such childhood failures to protest prejudice. But I find some solace in the fact that I did at times at least raise objection to my parents and some few adults.

And I know that in my adult years I have stood up for my convictions on a number of occasions. Of course, the climate of change and the protection of law had become prevalent by the time I started openly holding my stand.

Gilly, we need never regret nor dwell in self-condemnation for the timidities of our youth. Be proud, good friend, that in the soggy, foggy environment of our birth and childhood that we saw the light of right, anyway, and threaded our way through childhood thickets and found the dry hummocks through swamps of our youth toward the brightness. And that, today, though shadows still fall all around us, we live in the light.

And don’t forget that “the child is father of the man.” And you are today a product of all that you experienced as a child and a youth—the good, the bad, the indifferent. And, be grateful to the Creator for the cards he dealt you. You have played them well, my friend.

Now, my children, my sermon next week will be on sin and all the pitfalls therein!

The Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council presented the annual awards during a luncheon at the AU Hotel and Conference Center on Sept. 9. Also receiving awards were Rick Bragg, David Housel, Philip Marshall and Ken Hare.
Artwork by Natalya Kochak

 

You can go to war, meet your ancestors and even play Indian at the local library

By Jacque White Kochak

(This article first appeared in the Auburn Villager)

I’m a nerd, and proud of it. God bless Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish industrialist and philanthropist whose largesse built more than 2,500 libraries in the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland.

Thanks to Mr. Carnegie, I was able to spend long, hot summer afternoons in the cool, domed Dodge City Public Library, located on the western Kansas plains. My child’s body rarely traveled past the stockyard and feedlot at the edge of town, but my mind was free to explore foreign countries, spend a season with a Bedouin or see the world through the eyes of a French madame. My goal was to read every book in that little library.

I have always said that if I suffered a mid-life crisis, I would disappear into the bowels of a library to study ninth century marriage customs or some such esoterica.

And God bless former Auburn University President Ralph Brown Draughon, the moving force behind construction of the Auburn University libraries that bear his name. The libraries—there are several—boast combined collections of more than 2.7 million volumes as well as 2.6 government documents, 2.5 million microforms and some 148,000 maps. The libraries also receive more than 35,000 current periodicals, many available online. And the libraries provide access to more than 227 electronic databases.

I have always said that if I suffered a mid-life crisis, I would disappear into the bowels of a library to study ninth century marriage customs or some such esoterica. And this is the place to do it.

I tend to become enamored of a subject and research it thoroughly. Where else can you find the Colonial Records of South Carolina volumes relating to Indian affairs? I have perused the pages of a master’s thesis about the history of the old Drake Infirmary and wrestled with microfilm to read issues of the Opelika Daily News from the early 1900s. You’d be surprised what constituted news in those days.

I’ve even fended off the advances of a 30-something graduate student. I was carrying a volume about South Carolina’s old 96 District, and I guess the fellow—a history student with a passion for the Revolutionary War—thought he’d found a soul mate.

If genealogy is your thing, check out the archives in the basement. The staff was quite helpful when I begged them to find mention of my great-uncle, an early barnstorming pilot, in their collection of aviation memorabilia (unfortunately they weren’t successful).

The building is imposing, parking is difficult and townspeople may feel they’re not welcome. That’s not true. All bibliophiles are the same, if you ask me. Rich or poor, young or old, they’re all seekers.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someplace to go. James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokees is calling my name.

 

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

This article was first published way back in 2007. I updated it slightly, but it is every bit as relevant today as it was then.


By Jacqueline Kochak

(This article first appeared in The Auburn Villager)

Several years ago, a nonprofit pro-life group from Wichita, Kan., set up professionally designed 18-foot-tall displays covering some 5,000 square feet on Auburn University’s Cater Lawn. Graphic photos of aborted fetuses stopped students in their tracks, sparking some protest.

“I believe everybody has the right to inform people, but I don’t think this is informative,” said Shannon Symuleski, a senior majoring in social work. “When you couple facts with pictures of bloody flesh, you’re not going to get your point across the right way. I’m just out here to show there’s another side. I want to show people that not everybody feels this way.”

Almost no one I know is ‘pro-abortion,’ although many are ‘pro-choice.’ Yet we live in a culture where sex is considered recreation, no more significant than brushing one’s teeth…Is it odious to seek to open a dialogue between opposing groups?

The display, funded by private support, is the brainchild of David Lee, founder and executive director of an organization called Justice for All. Lee says his goal is to get students thinking about what abortion means.

I happened to meet Lee while he was in town. Turns out he was born in Trinity Hospital in Dodge City, Kan., and that’s where I was born. His family is from Minneola, an insignificant speck on the map just south of Dodge. I know the town well. His wife’s family is from another insignificant spot, Kinsley—where my brother lived at the time.

So we talked.

I don’t like people pushing ideology down my throat, and I was at first wary of Lee. I was surprised. He’s something of a scholar. He wasn’t pushy, he wasn’t dogmatic, and he didn’t preach. In fact, he listened.

“I guess a college campus is a good place to ask people to think about abortion,” I said. “But you need to aim this at the young men.”

“That’s why the pictures are so big,” he replied. “Males are visual.”

Several years ago, I wrote a series about date rape on the AU campus. I learned that many young women who leave home for the first time are naive. And some young men are predatory.

“You need to be talking about date rape,” I ventured.

“I know,” Lee said. “We need to be talking about a lot of things. Young men today don’t have enough responsible role models.”

And that got me to thinking.

Almost no one I know is “pro-abortion,” although many are “pro-choice.” Yet we live in a culture where sex is considered recreation, no more significant than brushing one’s teeth. Television and movies portray a world where casual sex is accepted, normal and even glorified, with real passion and meaning removed from the formula.

Is it wrong to suggest that casual sex can have consequences, and that a human life can result? Is it odious to seek to open a dialogue between opposing groups?

“We wanted to educate our fellow students about the reality and truth of abortion. People are pretty ignorant about what really occurs,” said Diane Phelps, a sophomore majoring in history and president of Auburn Students for Life, the group that invited Justice for All to campus.

“We wanted to be able to talk in a reasonable and compassionate manner,” she said. “We knew people would get mad about it. I think it’s worth that. If this exhibit saves one life, it was worth offending someone.”

Lee has told other newspapers that he wanted to bring the kind of discussion he experienced during his college years at the University of Kansas—where I also went to school—to campuses throughout the U.S. When Lee was a student in the early 1970s, KU was wracked by turmoil because of racial tensions and the country’s involvement in Vietnam.

That’s why each panel included a question aimed at pushing students to examine their own beliefs. Outright condemnation was not part of the show.

“We wanted to do this in a compassionate and loving way,” Phelps said. “We are prepared for women who have had abortions being upset and prepared to deal with it in a respectful and compassionate way.”

That’s not how many people saw the display, however.

“They are scaring people out of a choice they have every right to make,” said Lauren Bahr, a senior majoring in social work. “They say they’re educating, but I don’t think they’re here to educate. They’re here to scare people.”

“It’s pretty damn disturbing,” agreed Bryan Andress, a sophomore majoring in hotel and restaurant management.

And maybe that’s the point.

SOCIOPATHS UNITE!

Here’s another one by Phil Watts about my not-so-favorite candidate, Donald Trump. Keep them coming, Phil, because I’m enjoying your take on this election!

By Phil Watts, guest columnist

Fellow sociopaths, we’re finally close to achieving the recognition we deserve. Although we make up at least 4 percent of the population, we’ve never had a U.S. President. Forty three men have served in this capacity, which means if we had been fairly represented, 1.7 of them should have been one of us. Some Presidents have matched some of our criteria, but realistically we can’t claim any one to be an unmitigated sociopath. This year can be different; we have someone running under the dual Republican/Sociopath banner who’s the real McCoy.

The race looks to be tight. We need every single vote to be sure we don’t miss this once-in-a-227-year opportunity. Let your voice be heard; make sure every sociopath you know has a yard sign and a bumper sticker proudly proclaiming “Sociopaths for Trump.”

I want you to be prepared in the event some aren’t convinced he meets our standards. Wikipedia, as you know, defines us as “having a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy, and bold, disinhibited egotistical traits.” The vast majority of voters will immediately recognize that Wikipedia must have had our gifted candidate in mind when they wrote this definition.

For the few remaining doubters, refer them to any of his remarks quoted in the media. If they insist on specifics, tell them about his put-down of America’s best-known war hero, or show them a video of him mocking a reporter with a disability, or mention the numerous demeaning remarks he has made about women, Mexicans, and Muslims. Just about any serious Sociopath should recognize that only a person who is truly one of our kind could be capable of the impaired empathy and antisocial behavior exhibited by these examples.

As for the bold, disinhibited egotistical traits, they could listen to five minutes of any of his speeches and count the number of times he says “I” or “Donald Trump” or uses self-aggrandizing descriptions of himself. That should convince anyone he’s 100 percent Sociopath.

In the event you encounter a purist who might still doubt his authenticity, I have the clincher for you. Just a few days ago our man dealt the coup de grace that will quell any lingering questions. This Muslim couple lost a son, a U.S. Marine captain who had been killed in Iraq, and they had the audacity to question whether Mr. Trump had ever sacrificed anything. He replied that he certainly had; that he had successfully invested a lot of money in his life.

Putting these know-nothings in their place like that would have been gratifying enough for most Sociopaths. But our man Donald is not just any run-of-the-mill Sociopath; he then really showed his stuff and put the hammer down on their arrogance. Who could be more vulnerable than a mother grieving over the loss of her son? He brilliantly recognized the opportunity and scrubbed her wound with a little salt. (Insert a Kapow emoji!)

You have to be awed at his quick thinking. In just a few words he insulted all Gold Star families, every veteran who has ever served and sacrificed for our country, every patriotic American, and all women everywhere. Beautiful! I get goosebumps as I write about it.

Even a hard core Sociopath would have to admit the above is a perfect example of impaired (nonexistent) empathy and extreme antisocial behavior. He knew the exchange would damage him with the vast majority of voters who can experience empathy for others; but our man Donald chose to show his creds as a true blue Sociopath no matter the cost to himself.

Fellow Americans, there’s no reason every proud Sociopath shouldn’t cast his vote for our man in November. This is our chance; let’s not blow it. Voters want change; we can give them real change; electing a Sociopath as leader of the free world is change you can believe in.

Sociopaths Installing Crazies Committee  (SICCO)

An apology after half a century

‘At the time, the Tuskegee Methodist Church was in its heyday, and was deciding who could receive the love of Christ and who couldn’t. They were letting one group of folks in the door, and asking another to go find their own church.’

By Jacqueline White Kochak

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Tuskegee News on June 22, 2006, as part of a four-part series.

Dr. Martin Luther King observed some 40 years ago that the most segregated hour in America is 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. That spells trouble for Tuskegee’s handful of historic white churches, whose members struggle to keep their congregations alive as the city’s population exceeds 95 percent black.

On June 30 (in 2006), the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church made a dramatic gesture to bridge the gap between Tuskegee’s handful of white residents and the rest of the city. The church’s 18 or so members were already equally divided between blacks and whites, and on that day the congregation reached out to the people of Macon County by hosting a community-wide concert featuring the Three Inspirational Tenors, renowned in the region for their Christian and message-oriented secular music.

Tuskegee, AL, USA - Cities on Map Series
The struggling, historic Tuskegee, in Macon County, is located just a few miles from the thriving city of Auburn.

The free concert in the church’s sanctuary was meant to be more than a pleasant evening for residents. The performance was an apology to the community for events that took place nearly half a century ago, when white members physically barred the door to blacks who wished to worship in the church.

“…we knew that in order to move on and rid ourselves of the blot of racism we had to confess the sin so that God could then forgive and cleanse us of our unrighteousness,” pastor Kent Cecil wrote in a grant request to the United Methodist Church’s Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Although the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church has changed, an ugly stain on the church’s reputation lingers, Cecil said. The conference funded not only the concert but also the mailing of a brochure about the apology to every address in Macon County.

Long ago, but memories linger

Before the Civil War, Tuskegee area whites and blacks attended the same churches, with black slaves sitting at the back. After the war, black members of various denominations formed their own congregations. An uneasy truce prevailed. Neither group could really be blamed, because people naturally like to worship among friends and family, and they like to feel safe and comfortable in church. As late as 2002, a study showed that just 8 percent of Christian churches in the U.S. were multiracial, defined as one ethnic group making up no more than 80 percent of membership.

Tuskegee’s once vibrant white churches faced a turning point in the 1950s when their members—and Tuskegee’s money—started leaving. Tuskegee was a cultured and relatively affluent town, but segregated like nearly every Southern city. Tensions escalated when black servicemen came home to Tuskegee after serving their country, asking why all the businesses were owned by whites, and why they couldn’t live in some parts of town.

In the late 1950s, Tuskegee’s blacks collectively stopped trading at white businesses. Some folded. Others hung on, but the trouble wasn’t over. Tuskegee Institute attracted the best and the brightest black professors and students from all over the country, and the already troubled little municipality became a focus of the nascent Civil Rights movement. Scared white citizens —always in the minority—hunkered down. While church governing bodies around the country called for peace and reason, fearful and defiant local whites retreated to their churches and prepared to defend their way o life.

“In the 1960s I was a member of the National Guard and I stood in the road to protect both sides,” recalled Asa Vaughan of Vaughan Feed & Seed in Tuskegee. “At the time, the Tuskegee Methodist Church was in its heyday, and was deciding who could receive the love of Christ and who couldn’t. They were letting one group of folks in the door, and asking another to go find their own church.”

Coming back home

Only the lazy characterize all members of any one group as bad. During the anguished ’60s, some Tuskegee whites turned belligerent. Others, more reflective and troubled, withdrew.

Dismayed by seeing his own father turn blacks away, the newly married Vaughan stopped going to church entirely.

Vaughan, whose grandfather moved to Tuskegee in the early 1900s as a county agent, grew up in the Tuskegee First Methodist Church. He remembers youth group functions that could pull 200 kids between the three churches, as well as church choirs and Sunday School classes. Dismayed by seeing his own father turn blacks away, the newly married Vaughan stopped going to church entirely.

On a good Sunday these days, 18 people—half black and half white—cluster at the front of the cavernous sanctuary to receive communion from the Rev. Cecil. Asa Vaughan is one of them, even though he lives in Hurtsboro.

“I came back home,” he said.

He’s not the only one. Although Sunday mornings are likely to find either the First Presbyterian Church or the First Baptist Church, both located on North Main Street, locked and empty because neither church has a permanent minister, members meet together on alternating Sundays. Effie Jean Corbitt, a long-time member of the Baptist church, makes a circuit every Sunday to play the organ for the congregations of the three churches.

Corbitt, a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City, came home herself to teach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery back in the old days, when the churches were filled. Today, not a one of the Presbyterian Church’s five remaining members lives in Tuskegee, Corbitt said.

“They live in places like Auburn, Dadeville and Notasulga,” she said. “They hate to see it go. The main backbone of the Presbyterian Church is a 93-year-old lady named Louetta Segrest who lives in an assisted living home in Dadeville. She’s not going to let that church die.”

The First Baptist Church’s 30-odd members are just as tenacious, said interim minister Dr. David Bentley of Auburn. When the church needed painting and repairs, long-time member John Conner of Auburn’s Conner Brothers Construction Co. sent a crew to do the work. Workers also installed new air conditioning and heating systems.

“The people love those old churches,” Bentley said. “We know that it’s a struggle to keep them, but they are so historically important, and the worship is very traditional.”

Church ties are strong

Church congregations often are families, especially when membership dwindles, Corbitt said. The Baptist and Presbyterian Church congregations not only meet together, moving to each church on alternating Sundays, but on every fifth Sunday, they join the Methodists for a fellowship dinner.

That affection bodes well for the struggling city of Tuskegee, because the historic town apparently maintains an inexplicable hold over those who grew up here.

“That’s the thing that really has sustained us,” Bentley said. “So many, many people grew up in Tuskegee and had affiliations to the church that they still have affection for it. When you have a funeral down there, you can’t get them in the house. They really support that church.”

That affection bodes well for the struggling city of Tuskegee, because the historic town apparently maintains an inexplicable hold over those who grew up here. One of them is architect Joe Slaton, who works from his home between Shorter and Tuskegee and has been compiling information on the city’s wealth of historic buildings. As a child he was a Baptist.

“In the old days the church was filled,” Slaton said. “When we had revivals you had to sit in the balcony.”

In fact, the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches all built additions in the 1950s, before the boycott pushed Tuskegee toward economic stagnation.

“They were still optimistic,” Slaton said. “They had money and people to build.”

When asked why he didn’t leave Tuskegee during the era of white flight, Joe Slaton paused and said, “Well, I did leave. In 1973 I moved to Memphis, but I came back to Shorter in ’87.”

Heeding the sweet, secret call of home

The lurid murders of several elderly white women spurred a second diaspora in the 1970s. Children who earlier left in search of good jobs returned long enough to pack up their aged parents and move them, too. Slaton’s widowed mother lived in a house built in the 1850s, and when he left for college the family had to figure out how to lock the doors.

“All these old ladies lived by themselves, totally unprotected,” Slaton recalled. “When I left, my mother and two of my brothers also left.”

Slaton came back, and so did Asa Vaughan. Others also have returned to Macon County, drawn by the sweet, secret call of home. The wounds of the past, however, are just beginning to heal, and Corbitt bemoaned the fate of the once-proud churches.

“It’s just so sad sitting in those great big buildings and rattling around,” she said.

Recently, the Tuskegee First United Methodist Church hosted a ceremony commemorating the National Day of Prayer. Some black ministers commented they never expected to step inside the church, Vaughan said.

“When the local Main Street organization asked the Rev. Oliver Mize (the church’s former minister) if they could use the Methodist Church annex for meetings, some people were shocked when he said they were welcome,” recalled Wendy Slaton, Joe Slaton’s wife.

That’s why the Methodist Church is reaching out, Vaughan said.

“We can’t pick that church up and take it someplace else,” he said. “Our church has already died and is being resurrected. At one time this was the prime place to be, so why not today?”

 

 

Understanding the Trump phenomenon

I didn’t write this, but thought it so good that I suggested putting it online so there would be a link available.


By Phil Watts, guest columnist

I have to admit a certain obsessiveness about my inability to understand the Trump phenomenon. I hope my readers will stay with me as I express my frustrations and efforts to reach some reasonable level of insight.

First, let me say that most Trump supporters are good people who love our country and want what’s best for her. That’s why it’s been so hard for me to understand what I see as their unblinking support of a hopelessly flawed individual. From the beginning of his candidacy and as I have come to know him even better now, I see Donald Trump as completely unqualified and unfit to be President of the United States and with ideas so at odds with the ideals of our Constitution and Bill of rights as to make him seem at home with the cruel and murderous dictators he has praised like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and recently, Saddam Hussein.

…the only way this makes sense is that events have moved beyond the person of Donald Trump and that Trump himself is now just a bystander…the election must be about something else.

During numerous political discussions I have pointed out his lack of qualifications, outrageous statements and inconsistencies to his supporters only to be met with anger or a “yes but.” The “yes buts” include “he has been a successful businessman,” “he tells it like it is,” “the country can’t survive four years of Hillary Clinton,” and “he’s tough enough not to be pushed around.” In my mind these “yes buts” are either only marginally related to necessary qualities for a successful presidency or simply untrue. In this process I have managed to increase tension between me and some of my close family members and some of my good friends without changing anyone’s mind.

We have a great country, and thanks to the freedoms we enjoy and the balance of powers embedded in our Constitution our county will survive and likely prosper after four years of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President, barring our participation in a major armed conflict. My great fear is an unnecessary war costing us dearly in blood and treasure. Recent history is not reassuring on this point. Lyndon Johnson with his inflated ego used the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to justify ramping up U.S. involvement in the civil war in Vietnam. Then Richard Nixon with his inflated ego ramped it up even more in order to end it honorably. As a result 58,000 Americans and 355,000 North and South Vietnamese died. Words can’t describe the folly of that one.

The scale of the current quagmire in the Middle East is enormous. I think you can draw a line back to W’s invasion of Iraq (perhaps the worst intelligence gaffe in history) as the source. The cost in lives and dollars has been enormous. You can also draw a line from W’s decision to the refugee crisis that is destabilizing much of Europe and Turkey today. You can say what you will about Barrack Obama, but his decision to eat his words about a “red line in the sand,” after having Assad drop his chemical weapons all over it, was right and took political courage. You can’t tell your friends from your enemies there and if you could they might change in a few months. We’re good at winning these wars; we just don’t know what to do next (see Iraq). Assad has a point when he says, “You better leave me alone; what you get after me will be much worse.” How many lives and how much money did Obama’s decision save? There are some things even the USA can’t fix. Beware the law of unintended consequences.

The critical question for me in the presidential election then is which candidate is least likely to get us into an unwise war? Both Hillary Clinton (who I find a thoroughly disgusting person) and Donald Trump have super egos. Big egos are dangerous things, particularly when their owners have the power to send young people to their deaths. Hillary tries to cover hers but it is uncontrollable as shown by her email fiasco; Donald Trump flaunts his every day. It makes for a tough choice.

One of our great freedoms is our right to express our political beliefs without fear of reprisal or criminal prosecution.

In my quest to understand Trump supporters I eagerly read every opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal and the Birmingham News and have watched Fox News, CNN and MSNBC commentaries and debates ad nauseam. Recently I have read two articles in the WSJ that have pulled back my blinders at least partially. Peggy Noonan a few weeks ago was theorizing on this topic and said a light turned on for her after one Trump supporter when questioned said, “I want my country back.” Of course, this could mean many things to many people. She felt it meant a sense of things slipping away, a loss of control, which caused a feeling of insecurity and fear.

The second piece was by Daniel Henninger in the 7/7/16 edition. In it he postulates that regardless of all the missteps Trump makes, any one of which would have doomed a normal candidate, he still stands within a margin of error of Ms. Clinton in the polls. He reasons that the only way this makes sense is that events have moved beyond the person of Donald Trump and that Trump himself is now just a bystander. Mr. Henninger says the election must be about something else. He thinks it is a reckoning of accounts and grievances that go way back. It’s a street fight between irreconcilable views of Americans. It’s about political correctness and its backlash, not just PC itself but the moral contempt and superiority its proponents show towards everyone else. Trump supporters are just fed up with attempts to make them feel morally inferior.

There’s a third thing I think fuels the passion and uncritical support of Donald Trump. As expressed to me by a friend this week, “Phil, four years of Hillary Clinton will turn us into Venezuela.” It’s a sense of impending doom. This is Armageddon for many; now or never—America’s last chance to stay American.

As I stated earlier, excluding war, I think whomever is elected, our country won’t be that different in four years from what it is today. It’s because of our history, our rights, the balance of power in our government, and our freedom that I feel this way. So while I am apprehensive, I am also optimistic. I’m sure my feeling of optimism has been a huge barrier to my understanding of the power of Trumpism.

I think I’m finally beginning to understand the Trump phenomenon, and as a result I’m feeling much less frustration with those whom I felt couldn’t really see their candidate for the defective man he is.

One of our great freedoms is our right to express our political beliefs without fear of reprisal or criminal prosecution. God Bless America!

Love and peace,

Phil Watts

 

‘…and now history is in his debt’

Gillis Morgan’s friends are determined to get him to the awards ceremony, no matter what.


By Jacque White Kochak

My friend Gerry Morgan says her husband Gillis used to have nightmares, tossing and crying out, “No! No! No!” She says she thinks he has post-traumatic stress disorder and that the trauma occurred during his days as a reporter for the Birmingham News, covering the civil rights era and the period leading up to and following the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march. Gerry tells me people have been telling her lately that Gillis was one of the unsung heroes of that time.

Now, Gillis is an old man weakened by diabetes, confined to a wheelchair and slipping into dementia. He’s having a good day, back at home with Gerry after being rescued from a nursing home, and Gerry is trying to coax stories out of him. Gillis barely remembers, though, so Gerry does most of the talking.

Gillis and Gerry
Gerry and Gillis Morgan on their wedding day.

Gerry and Gillis didn’t marry until long after these events, so the memories are disembodied and detached from any timeline. The worst experience was in the little town of Greensboro in Hale County, Gerry prompts. Gillis concurs, saying he was wearing a green suit. Klan members who had gathered downtown recognized Gillis as a reporter, one of those stirring things up by bringing widespread attention to local troubles. The problems would blow over if not for outside agitators, people said.

Worse yet, Gillis wasn’t a Yankee. He was one of their own, raised just 120 miles to the southeast in Evergreen. The Klansmen gathered around him, spitting on his green suit, threatening bodily harm. Gillis was saved when a fellow journalist, publisher of the Greensboro weekly newspaper, opened his office door and gestured for Gillis to come in, saying “Look, I’ve got something to show you.” Gerry says the menacing gang knew the publisher had something they did not want to see – a photographer.

You have to understand that Gillis is neither big nor imposing. He is soft-spoken and indirect, never abrasive, choosing his words with an almost old-fashioned precision. I met him when I was a reporter for the Opelika-Auburn News and he was a retired Auburn University journalism professor who met with the news staff weekly to try to coax some good reGillis and Gerryporting out of them. Later he was editorial-page editor, with a cubicle right next to mine, and still later I was his editor at The Villager, where he wrote a weekly column. Over the years, we became friends and mutual admirers.

A REPUTATION FOR SOLID REPORTING

Gillis was sucked up in the maelstrom of history, just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time, depending on your point of view. Still a young man, he developed a reputation for solid spot news reporting, earning recognition and awards from the Associated Press in both 1964 and 1965. In those days, before computers and cell phones, that meant taking notes by hand, finding a pay phone and calling an editor.

Gillis witnessed the murder of Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, in the county seat of Hayneville in Lowndes County. Lowndes County, like Hale County, is deep in the region known as the Black Belt for its rich black soil. Before the Civil War—or the War of Northern Aggression, as some old-timers still call the bloody conflict—planters in the Black Belt grew cotton on estates worked by thousands of black slaves. Most of them stayed after the war, outnumbering their former masters. Once wealthy, the region is now known for its poverty; even today, the average family’s income is less than $30,000.

At that time, Lowndes County’s population was four-fifths black. After the bitter years of Reconstruction up through the tumult of the 1960s, the frightened white minority held onto power by any means necessary, causing the county to earn the nickname “Bloody Lowndes” because of white violence mounted against blacks to maintain segregation. Jonathan Daniels wasn’t the first civil rights worker to die in Lowndes County; Viola Liuzzo, an idealistic Michigan mother of five, was executed while shuttling fellow activists from Selma to the airport in the state capital of Montgomery the evening that the Selma-to-Montgomery march culminated on the steps of the state capitol building. The date was March 25, 1965.

THE MOMENTOUS MARCH

Both Liuzzo and Daniels were among the thousands who heeded Martin Luther King’s call to join the momentous march in support of voting rights for African-Americans. Earlier that month, some 600 civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King had sought to march from Selma east to Montgomery to draw attention to their cause. State troopers attacked the peaceful marchers with tear gas and billy clubs as they ascended the low crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge spanning the Alabama River on Selma’s outskirts.

Daniels died instantly, Morrisroe survived, and Ruby Sales, the young African-American woman who Daniels saved, was rendered nearly mute for months afterwards.

Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, and a photograph of middle-aged organizer Amelia Boynton—beaten bloody and unconscious, lying on the road in the middle of the bridge—was printed in newspapers and magazines around the world. Television news crews broadcast the carnage into living rooms from California to Maine, arousing the conscience of a nation. Gillis was there.

On March 21, some 3,000 marchers set out for Montgomery again, this time under the protection of the federal government. They slept in fields at night and walked some 12 miles a day. By the time they reached the capital four days later, their number had swollen to some 25,000 people, including celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr. and folk singers like Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. Liuzzo came down from Detroit, and Daniels from Massachusetts. Gillis was there, too.

THE MURDER

Daniels, the young seminarian, joined several friends for the long trip south, intending to stay only for the climactic weekend and return for classes on Monday. When he missed the bus ride home, he reconsidered his short stay and returned to the seminary in Massachusetts only long enough to get permission to finish the semester in the South. He went home again to take his exams and visit family, then returned to Alabama in July. A month or so later, Daniels was dead.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, ending the de facto disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. White Alabamians hunkered down even more, fearing change and resenting and blaming outsiders. Daniels was based in Selma, one of the most populous cities in the Black Belt, but eight days after passage of the act he joined a group of protestors picketing whites-only stores in tiny Ft. Deposit, some 60 miles away—in infamous Lowndes County. The protestors were arrested and spent about a week in Hayneville’s sweltering county jail. When they were released, they didn’t have any way to get back to Selma.

Stranded in the humid 100-degree heat, Daniels and three friends went to buy cold drinks at the nearby Varner’s Cash Store, one of only a few establishments serving nonwhites. An unpaid special deputy, Tom Coleman, met them at the door with a 12-gauge shotgun, demanding they leave or risk being shot. When Coleman fired, Daniels shoved 17-year-old Ruby Sales out of the way, taking a shotgun blast to the chest and crumpling to the store’s cement porch. Father Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest from Chicago, was shot in the lower back and collapsed in the dirt road outside. Daniels died instantly, Morrisroe survived, and Ruby Sales, the young African-American woman who Daniels saved, was rendered nearly mute for months afterwards. Later, she went on to study at Daniels’ seminary.

RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME

Gillis was there, across the Hayneville town square, which is dominated by a monument to Confederate war dead. And he was there when a jury of 12 white men acquitted Coleman, one of the county’s leading citizens, of manslaughter. Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers had taken over the case when a county grand jury indicted Coleman for manslaughter instead of murder. Witnesses claimed Daniels had a pistol and Morrisroe had a knife,  and the trial judge refused to postpone the trial until Morrisroe recovered from his wounds. Despite death threats, Sales testified. An all-white jury acquitted Coleman after just two hours of deliberation, and jurors shook hands with him as he left the Lowndes County courthouse.

Gerry is a native of the Black Belt herself, and she says Daniels’ murderer was distant kin. Her family’s roots are deep in Butler County, just south of Bloody Lowndes. Gerry’s family was from an area known as the Ridge, an antebellum plantation community constructed by wealthy planters above the disease-plagued lowlands. An Episcopalian, she always had fond memories of attending camp at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Selma. The imposing church, built from handmade bricks, was blotted by shame in 1965 when its doors were closed to the outsiders who flooded the town. That still bothers Gerry, makes her feel some bitterness, although the Episcopal Church did take a strong stand after Daniels’ murder, and he is now considered a church martyr.

“In the Episcopal Church, there is a tradition that you always welcome the clergy, no matter what and no matter where they are coming from,” she says. “If they had welcomed Jonathan Daniels, he might still be alive.” Alabama Catholics welcomed their priests and nuns, she points out.

As for Gillis, the awful travesty of the Daniels trial left him embittered as well. Even Alabama’s attorney general could not contain his outrage. The acquittal, Flowers said, represented the “democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper law enforcement … now those who feel they have a license to kill, destroy and cripple have been issued that license.” Gillis was so saddened by what he saw as the stupidity of so many of his fellow Alabamians that he decided to leave the state, accepting a job with the Milwaukee Journal deep in the heart of Yankeedom. He expected things to be different outside of his home state.

“But it seemed like the racism followed me,” he’s told me many times, shaking his head. “It was different, but it was still racism.”

So he came home, married Gerry when his first marriage fell apart, and taught journalism at Auburn University for 22 years. On Sept. 9, the Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council will honor him with the Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist award. His friends are determined to get him to the awards ceremony at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center, no matter what.

“Gillis Morgan converted a successful career as a reporter to an even more successful career as a professor,” then-department chair Jerry Brown said at the time of Gillis’ retirement in 1999.

“He showed the relationship between journalism and history, and now history is in his debt.”

 

 

ARE YOU OFFENDED YET?

Please don’t call me a hussy or I will be very angry. Don’t call me a courtesan, either.


By Jacque White Kochak

I’ve been thinking about pejoration lately.

I’m glad I haven’t used the word “Oriental” in years, because when I wasn’t looking this innocent word morphed into an offensive term for Asians. I was unaware of this inexorable shift, as I tend to think of Oriental as meaning Eastern. Occidental has not undergone such a shift, so I was taken by surprise. Fortunately, my consciousness was raised one afternoon as I listened to NPR and an earnest young woman talked about her father’s Chinese restaurant. She made a good case, so I’ll be on my best behavior.

‘But see, here’s the thing. Illegal alien and undocumented immigrant mean exactly the same thing.’

Thank heavens, I have long been aware that “wetback” is a totally unacceptable name for Mexicans who crossed the Rio Grande without benefit of papers, although in the 1950s, when I was a very young girl, President Dwight David Eisenhower made the inexcusable mistake of including this insulting term in the name of a quasi-military search-and-seizure operation aimed at illegal immigrants (remember “Operation Wetback”?). Umm, make that undocumented aliens. No wait, I forgot, “aliens” is not nice. Undocumented immigrants, that’s it—for now, at least. Apparently  Ike missed the memo.

I have to keep up with these things, because as a journalist I’m supposed to know AP style. For the uninitiated, that’s the style preferred by the Associated Press. Knowing AP style is a way to ensure consistency, so the reader isn’t subjected to the annoyance of things like the period that ends a sentence being isolated outside the closing quotation marks. I’m enough of a true believer that I cringe at such an abomination, and AP style says undocumented immigrant is acceptable.

Back to the subject at hand: Missing the memo these days, in the time of Twitter and Facebook, can be a very serious thing. One slip of the tongue, and yours can be a household name in every 50 states. Your mother may be exposed for failing to raise you correctly, and you may lose your reputation, your job, and I suppose even your family.

But see, here’s the thing. Illegal alien and undocumented immigrant mean exactly the same thing. The difference, as you’ll remember from English class, is that “illegal alien” has a negative connotation, or the “idea or feeling that a word evokes,” quite beyond the literal meaning.

The problem is that the connotations of some categories of words tend to pejorate. Pejoration is a linguistics term describing the way some words take on negative or disparaging connotations over time. This isn’t really a random process; certain categories of words tend to pejorate more than others, which to me raises some interesting questions.

‘You can insist that sexism exists only in the perfervid imaginings of a bunch of old feminists, but our language tells a different story.’

For example, words having to do with women often pejorate. Hussy started life as the perfectly respectable “huswif,” or housewife—but please don’t call me a hussy or I will be very angry. Don’t call me a courtesan, either, although a courtesan once meant nothing more insulting than a lady of the court. You know, like a courtier—but words having to do with men do not have the dismaying habit of slumming around with the riffraff.

A few centuries ago, a wench was a female baby or a young unmarried woman. I don’t think I need to explain “mistress” and “madame,” but you might not realize that a spinster was once a woman who spins. And a tart, in the sense of a prostitute? Tart was probably just a contraction of the innocuous “sweetheart.”

Are you angry yet? Our attitudes are indelibly imprinted upon our language. You can insist that sexism exists only in the perfervid imaginings of a bunch of old feminists, but our language tells a different story.

Words having to do with smells also tend to pejorate, as do words having to do with the bathroom. So that brings me to what I really want to talk about, which is words having to do with ethnic groups and words referring to people with disabilities.

This is perilous territory, and I risk a misstep that will send me into Twitter purgatory. I did my homework, however, and I believe—unless the terminology has already changed—that black and African American are still acceptable. “Negro” not so much, apparently—the Army actually apologized in 2014 for saying the term was tolerable.

I guess Martin Luther King didn’t get the memo when he used the word “Negro” in his moving “I Have a Dream” speech: “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free,” he wrote. “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Let’s not even talk about the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP). What were they thinking?

Most people are aware of the care needed in referring to different ethnicities, but they’re shaky on words referring to people with disabilities. A “disabled person” or “the disabled” are definite no-nos. You should probably stay away from “mentally ill” (“person with mental-health issues” is better).

‘Why keep changing words when the problem is really societal attitudes? I realize I’m on treacherous ground here, but can’t the word police ease up just a little on us old fogies who grew up using terms that are now totally unacceptable?’

I’ve kept up well enough to know that “retarded” is no longer acceptable, never mind the fact that The Arc, an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, started out in 1953 as the National Association for Retarded Children. The association’s history of name changes allows us to date with some precision the period when “retarded” pejorated to the point of becoming completely verboten. That would have been the early 1990s, when the Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States euphemized into The Arc.

And don’t forget, “handicapped” is really bad.

I could go on with examples all night, but I bet you get my point. In fact, my point is, “What’s the point?” Why keep changing words when the problem is really societal attitudes? I realize I’m on treacherous ground here, but can’t the word police ease up just a little on us old fogies who grew up using terms that are now totally unacceptable? It’s just hard to keep up, you know.

Does changing a word to something less “offensive” really solve anything? Doesn’t it make more sense to work on the entrenched attitudes themselves? If I ever end up in a wheelchair, please—just call me a cripple. I promise I won’t get angry (but stay away from hussy or courtesan).

Even worse, aren’t the sensitive, empathetic, socially conscious ones among us—the people who point out that “Oriental” is really not nice—the ones who are perpetuating this pejoration?

I realize I’m an outlier, but my philosophy has always been that I won’t take offense unless offense is meant. In this era of political correctness and “microaggression,” can’t we all all just lighten up a little bit?