Urban Renewal and the Dreamland Ballroom

As in many cities of segregated America, Little Rock Arkansas had a thriving African-American community. The West 9th Street neighborhood on the eastern edge of downtown was filled with black-owned businesses and professional offices. The Dreamland Ballroom headlined acts such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Etta James, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner et cetera. Urban renewal came to the neighborhood in the 1950s. It came with a vengeance after the integration of Central High School made news around the world.

Originally termed “slum clearance,” the more genteel label “urban renewal” saw the eviction of black families and their relocation to housing projects further east. The Little Rock Housing Authority (LRHA) had authority to purchase –requiring homeowners to sell at assessed price – and demolish swaths of “blighted” areas. The LRHA director went on record that, “the city of Little Rock through its various agencies including the housing authority systematically worked to continue segregation” through its slum clearance and public housing projects. The city built two new high schools: Horace Mann High in the mostly black eastern part of Little Rock, and Hall High in the white western edge. Construction in the 1960s of Interstates 630 and 430 solidified the de facto boundary between white and black Little Rock.

Fast forward to 1991. Kerry McCoy, founder and owner of Arkansas Flag and Banner, was looking for a new headquarters for her company. The Taborian Hall, built in 1918 by an African-American contractor for the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, had stood derelict on West 9th for decades; it even lacked a roof when McCoy purchased it. In addition to the lodge, the building in its  glory days housed the USO, the Gem Pharmacy, medical and dentist offices and the Dreamland Ballroom. The flag business has thrived and Kerry McCoy has steadily progressed with making the Dreamland a viable operation. (You can schedule your wedding reception there.)

While full-scale gentrification has yet to come to the West 9th district, the neighborhood’s changes and Dreamland’s resuscitation was the subject of a PBS documentary.

 

 

Keeping Up the Outrage

(This was originally published August 2016.)

footballBy not standing for the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick has disrespected the sacred ritual of football. The American concussion game is inseparable from patriotism. There has not been so much outrage since John Lennon commented that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.* Defenders of Christianity – as if Christianity needed to be defended against a pop-music star – organized burnings of Beatles records.

Two years after Lennon’s remark, at the Mexico City Olympic Games in the incendiary year of 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood, black-powerbarefoot, on the podium at the medal awards ceremony. Smith had won the gold, setting a new world record, in the 200-meter sprint. Carlos took the bronze. Instead of humbly holding hands over hearts during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” they each raised an arm, gloved hands clenched in fists, in what was considered to be a black-power salute. The silver-medal winner, Peter Norman, an Australian, did not raise a clenched fist, but wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his jacket, as did the other two. They were booed as they left the podium.

Smith and Carlos were pulled from upcoming relays and Olympic chairman Avery Brundage evicted them from the Olympic Village. Back home, both athletes, and their families, received death threats and had difficulty finding employment. They each played briefly in the NFL. Smith became track coach and taught sociology at Oberlin College in Ohio and later at Santa Monica College. Carlos was a counselor and track and field coach at Palm Springs High School.

Norman was allowed to stay in the Olympic Village, but was shunned 19682008at home. Although qualifying for the 1972 games, he was not selected for the Australian team. Norman’s time in the 1968 race, still stands as the Australian record. He died of a heart attack in 2006. Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.

John Lennon continued to have a successful musical career. A born-again Christian and rabid Beatles fan, Mark David Chapman felt betrayed by Lennon’s blasphemous remarks. On a night in 1980, Chapman waited with a loaded gun for Lennon’s return to his New York apartment building.

And Colin Kaepernick? Who knows? Outrage over a football player’s sitting down may tell more about us than it does about him.

Beatles2* John Lennon: Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Handy Guide to Coming Disasters

Both senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and twenty of their House colleagues voted against the 2013 Hurricane Sandy Relief Act. (In the previous fiscal year, Texas received more federal disaster relief money than any other state.) All but four Texas reps voted in favor of initial Harvey relief legislation. The four dissenters don’t represent coastal districts, so they don’t care.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (still the record holder for Medicare fraud) warned residents of his state as Hurricane Irma bore down on them, “This is a catastrophic storm our state has never seen.” Governor Scott in 2015 purportedly banned state employees from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Post hurricane, he still demurs when questioned about the subject, his stock answer, “I am not a scientist.” (I am not a doctor, but I know a 105° fever requires attention.)

Climate-change denier Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (a legacy of the Nixon administration) says it would be “very, very insensitive to the people in Florida” to discuss the cause of “these massive, anomalous storms.”

The Los Angeles Times recently published a concise summary of scientific consensus about cause and effect of natural catastrophes and why we can expect more in the future.

  • Wind & Rain – Rising sea levels mean more flooding – storm surge – when storms push water into the shore. Warmer air results in more moisture in the atmosphere, so… when it rains, it pours. And oh yeah, scientists say there’ll be fewer weak storms. That’s because more of them will be Category 4 and 5.
  • Lack of Wind & Rain – Warmer temperatures mean quicker evaporation into the atmosphere to feed the storms in hurricane zones. Meanwhile, in the southwestern U.S., even with normal rainfall – which has not occurred the past few years – the ground will be drier meaning less moisture for living things.
  • Fire – Dry conditions mean more fires. Duh. Warmer weather also means greater survival rates for pine beetles that generally perish in frigid conditions. The pest has expanded its area of devastation from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Read the rest of it here.

A World Without Tipping?

Do you ever wonder – as you carry your dishes from your restaurant table across the room to the bus tubs, after eating a meal that you ordered and paid for at the counter, and went back to the counter when your name was called to pick up your food and carry it yourself to the table – why you dropped money into the tip jar on the counter before you even saw a glimpse of your food?

Continue reading A World Without Tipping?