Review: Shocking The Conscience

Shocking the Conscience, Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

Summary: A memoir of Simeon Booker’s career as a reporter, much of it during the height of the Civil Rights movement from the murder of Emmett Till to the busing battles of the 1970’s and beyond.

I became interested in Simeon Booker because both of us grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Booker moved there as a child from Baltimore, Maryland, his father the first director of the Black YMCA in Youngstown and later a pastor on Youngstown’s South side. Other than a poem in the Vindicator and his early writing experience for the Buckeye Review (the Black newspaper in Youngstown), there is little here about his time in Youngstown.

He went away to college when he encountered discrimination at Youngstown College. Following stints at Black newspapers in Baltimore and Cleveland, he qualified for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard and was hired as the first Black reporter at the Washington Post. After a few years of lackluster assignments, he was recruited to open the Washington bureau for Johnson publications, publisher of Ebony and the weekly news digest Jet. Booker occupied this post from 1956 until his retirement in 2007.

Much of the book chronicles his on-the-ground coverage of decisive moments of the Civil Rights movement. We ride on the edge of the seat with him and his photographer, trying to pass as Black ministers with a Bible on their seat to cover early Civil Rights gatherings in the deep South. We ache with him as he writes the stories of the murder and open casket funeral of Emmett Till and then sweat through the trial at the small table given “Negro” press until the acquittal of Till’s murderers. He covers the story of the Little Rock Nine who attempt integrate Central High School. Later he describes the confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the eventual march to Montgomery, Alabama

Perhaps the most harrowing account was his travel on one of two busses ridden by Freedom Riders testing the enforcement of laws integrating interstate travel in the South. He describes the worries he has for passengers on the other bus when it was firebombed and narrates the beating of passengers on his bus while the bus driver and police stay away. Somehow, he managed to get a call through to Bobby Kennedy, who he had become friends with and who invited him to call if he needed help. That call got the Riders out of trouble.

He gives an illuminating account of his travels in Vietnam, where he covered the treatment of Blacks in the military and the disproportionate numbers in the thick of the fighting. He went through fire fights, and a helicopter flight with William Westmoreland with rifle rounds pinging off the skin of the helicopter, describing it as feeling safer than driving into the deep South.

The other part of his narrative is his relationships with different presidents, from Eisenhower to Obama. He describes the promising talk and disappointing actions of Eisenhower, the promise of Kennedy, with increased access and the initiation of Civil Rights legislation accomplished under Lyndon Johnson, a southern Democrat. a cooler relationship with Richard Nixon, the advances under Carter in appointing Black judges to the bench and to many other positions. He has less to say about the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush years. In fact the period from Nixon to Obama is covered in about 25 pages, with a portion dedicated to the Congressional Black Caucus.

Most of the book is focused on about a fifteen year period from the early 1950’s to the late 1960’s. On the one hand, there is so much to which Booker was a witness in these years and his first hand narrative of many of these events fills out other histories of them I have read. Yet it seems so much more could have been told of the ensuing years and both the advances for Blacks and the shifts in the Republican party’s strength among white Southern voters leading to our current political divisions. One has the feeling that this might have been part of a two volume work were it not for Booker’s passing in 2017, a few years after its publication.

Nevertheless, Booker was an amazing journalist. His publisher said he never had to correct or retract a story by Booker, even under the duress of someone like Lyndon Johnson. He established high standards for journalism, not just Black journalism, while focusing on the issues and stories that concerned Black people. His career underscores the value of a free press, and the courage journalists have always shown to “get the story.” This is not a narrative of bombastic rhetoric but comes across as the quiet, deliberate unfolding of the larger story of which all those stories were a part, and Booker’s own witness to a critical portion of our nation’s history, when the Civil Rights movement “shocked the conscience” of the nation.

Review: It’s Not Your Turn

It’s Not Your Turn, Heather Thompson Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: When everyone seems to be moving ahead while we are standing still, chosen for jobs while we are runners up, the question is how we should live while we wait our turn.

In our success-oriented culture, it can be very hard when it seems our lives are going nowhere while our friends are conquering the world. Heather Thompson Day contends that the turning point in our lives may center around what we do while we wait our turn. We can be jealous of others or sink into depression. Much of this arises from comparing ourselves to social media success stories. Day came to the realization in her own struggles that the issue wasn’t how she rated against others but against the person Jesus was inviting her to be. What she did to live toward him, succeed or not, was worth more than anything.

Day explores the rich life we may pursue as we wait our turn. Actually, the work begins with learning to wait. Day asks us to imagine the benefits that could come of something we really want being delayed. The hardest part is trusting that God will keep his promises. Then we need to reckon with the things we are saying to ourselves and to allow a life saturated in God’s word to reframe them. We need to move beyond what we feel to what we see, and then, like Elisha’s servant, have our eyes opened to seeing where God is at work. Often it means beginning to see the small things, to pursue faithfulness in the ordinariness of life. How we treat the seemingly insignificant–whether tasks or people–will crucially shape us.

The time when it is not our turn is the time to set our goals and devote ourselves to the deliberate practices necessary to reach them. It’s the time to build our network and one practice she commends is the asking of help. At the same time she challenges the social media practices of many of us, trying to build big platforms and tout our work. Instead, are we using it to stay in touch and care for others? Times of waiting can be times where God challenges our selfishness, where God humbles us so we are not a danger to others and our own souls when we are in a position of power. Waiting our turn can take us into dependence on community and challenge us to re-envision God, not as the angry, demanding deity of so many angry, demanding people, but as the loving and forgiving Father.

Finally, Day addresses how we move when we see that it may be our turn. We take risks, moving on maybe, trusting that God is in it with us. Whether it is our turn or not, we can step out in faith and act in integrity, living “our lives with a dignity we could only have given ourselves.”

Day shares her own struggles as a Ph.D struggling to make ends meet, aspiring to success as a communicator and teaching classes at a community college. She describes the risks to move across country to the positions she and her husband took, only to have a pandemic hit. Reading between the lines perhaps, one senses that the struggles have hardly come to an end and that this book is as much a “memo to myself” as it is a story of, “I made it and you can too and here is how.” Instead, what she shares is a tangible expression of what it means to live out in practical terms a life of faith grounded in the word of God. Each chapter ends with a promise from scripture to memorize as well as some searching questions.

The pandemic has been a time when many lives have been put on hold, and even as restrictions are lifted in many places, things are still in recovery. While it may not yet be our turn to move ahead, it may be our turn to lean into the transformative life of waiting on God and trusting and obeying in the little things and the formative practices that shape us for the day when it is our turn. In reading Heather Thompson Day, I feel I’m listening to someone is walking there with me and has figured out what really matters when it is not yet our turn.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.

Summary: While solving a case involving the murder of a prior in a remote monastery, Gamache must confront his arch-nemesis Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur.

Things must be quiet in Three Pines. No murders there to solve. Instead, Gamache and Beauvoir are sent to a remote monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, of an order, The Gilbertines, thought to have died out. St. Gilbert’s distinction was his loyalty for Thomas à Becket. In consequence, the Gilbertines were chased across Europe, and a group, disguised as workers, find their way to a remote part of Canada, surviving for four centuries.

Two dozen monks led by an Abbot and a Prior who is also their choir director maintain a self-sustaining community and come together to sing the most beautiful Gregorian chant heard anywhere in the world. Gamache knows. He has heard the one recording of their chants that took the world by storm.

And now the Prior is dead, murdered by blows to the head, curled in a ball by the wall of the Abbot’s garden. It can be accessed only through a bookcase in the Abbot’s office. The only ones who typically do so are the Abbot, the Prior, and the Abbot’s secretary, Brother Simon, who had found the Prior.

Concealed in the Prior’s sleeves was a piece of parchment with musical notation in the character of chant, but unlike any chant, and with non-sensical words. What did all this mean? And how was it connected to the Prior’s death. And who of the other twenty-three brothers, seemingly one in song and community, did this? And what is the source of the particular beauty of the singing of these brothers, the beautiful mystery?

Gamache and Beauvoir set out to unravel all this in their patient, methodical fashion. They discover a deeply divided community, reflecting a divide between the Abbot and Prior, once the deepest of friends. The Prior wants to make another recording, and for the monks to be permitted to break their vow of silence to tour. The Abbot refuses even though a number of the monks oppose him. Even though one of them has shown him that the foundations of the monastery are crumbling and may not last another ten years. Another recording could save the building. But the Abbot fears it could destroy the order.

Amid the efforts to solve the murder, the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, Sylvain Françoeur, arrives, ostensibly to take over the investigation. He has it in for Gamache, and has come to attack Gamache and Beauvoir at the points of their vulnerabilities. In Françoeur, Penny has created a formidable and subtle villain, one we love to hate.

Some of the promotional copy speaks of “the divine, the human, and the cracks in between” and this is indeed a theme running through this mystery. The transcendent beauty of the chants, even with a killer among them, captivates Gamache. These monks believe what they sing, have come to this place to sing what they believe. Yet they are human. Twenty-three distinct men. The cracks between have riven their community, in as great a danger as the walls of their monastery. But amid the noble work of the Sûreté to execute justice, there are cracks as well. Obviously between Gamache and Françoeur, but also between Gamache and Beauvoir, stemming from the ambush attack and the traumas that have never healed. There are the cracks within as well.

There is also a crack between faith and secularity. The tension between faithfulness to God and the vows of the order and the pull of secular fame and the money it could bring is one crack. There is also a contrast between the faith of the monks and the officers of the Sûreté who all have walked away from the church. The tension is greatest in Gamache, who prayed the last rites over his fallen officers amid a gun battle, who is captivated by the chants, and yet…. In the last words of dialogue, Gamache is asked, “Would you like me to hear your confession?” to which he replies, “Not just yet, I think, mon pere.” I’m intrigued with what Penny will do with this.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — We Dressed Up

Palace Theater by Cinema Treasures licensed under CC BY 3.0

My wife and I went to the doctor the other day. Both of us put on nicer shirts and remarked that this was the old Youngstown coming out in us. When we were young, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s (and before that as well) people dressed up on a number of occasions.

To go to the doctor. That’s a little ironic because you often take off your clothes in the exam room. I guess we didn’t want people to think of us that way!

To go downtown. Women and girls in dresses, hats, and gloves, men in nicer slacks, shirt, tie, and jacket.

To go to the theater or a concert. Notice how everyone is dressed at the Palace. Most of the men even had hats! If it was a symphony concert at Stambaugh Auditorium, you really dressed up–evening wear for men, formal gowns for the women.

To go to weddings and funerals. We still do that to some extent. Dressing up honors the bridal couple. It honors the deceased.

To go to church. We believed we should dress in our best for God–and not just on Christmas and Easter! I remember that both my brother and I would polish our shoes on Saturday and we’d be in nice slacks, jacket and tie on Sunday. Of course there was the ritual of the Saturday night bath (whether you needed it or not!).

I remember staying dressed up to visit grandparents, which we did many Sundays. It was a sign of respect.

To go out to a restaurant. For one thing, going out to a restaurant was a big deal, usually for some special occasion. And many restaurants were owned by families and were fancier than today’s very casual, chain-owned dining establishments.

Things changed in the late 1960’s with hippies and protests. Jeans and a t-shirt became the uniform. Anything more was pretentious and “phony.” We criticized it as a show, one of keeping up with the Joneses. Maybe underneath it all, we just wanted to get comfortable.

We dressed up for the things we (or our parents) thought special. Our dress reminded us to act the part as well. We acted our best in our Sunday best.

Maybe coming out of the pandemic reminds us of this. We’ve lived our past year in sweatpants or yoga pants, untucked shirts and casual shoes. I had a work-related meeting recently at a restaurant and pulled out dress slacks, shirt and shoes that had been in the closet for the past year. It was another reminder of what we did on so many occasions.

Special occasions.

At a time when Youngstown was a special place.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: God Has Chosen

God Has Chosen, Mark R. Lindsay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A survey of the development of the doctrine of election throughout Christian history, including discussions of human freedom, those who are not of the elect, and the status of Israel as chosen.

The idea of election, that God chooses a people for God’s self, is one precious to some, an assurance of belonging and of God having done something we could not do. It is threatening to others–how may I know I am among the elect, and how can God save some and not others?

From the writers of scripture to the present day, the church’s theologians have wrestled with these ideas. What Mark R. Lindsay does in this work is to trace the development of this doctrine throughout Christian history. After an introduction in which he differentiates his approach from other contemporary scholars, he begins with some of the key texts on election from both testaments, emphasizing that any idea of chosenness has to draw upon what this meant for Israel. This is followed by a consideration of the early fathers: Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, Cyprian, and Augustine. This was a formative period for the church’s doctrine and the corresponding question of who is “in” and who is “out” that reflect their convictions about election.

In subsequent chapters Lindsay considers two or three key thinkers in each chapter. Chapter three focuses on Aquinas and Duns Scotus, where the elect and citizens of the state were more or less one and the same. Chapter four focuses on three Reformation figures: Calvin, Beza, and Arminius. Striking here is the relatively limited space devoted to this by Calvin, the expansion and extension of Calvin’s thought by Beza, and the responses of Arminius regarding human agency and God’s salvation.

Chapter five addresses early modernity and Lindsay offers an interesting pairing of Schliermacher and J. N. Darby. On the face, they could not be more different but Lindsay argues for an expansive vision of God’s electing will as something they had in common. Chapter six focuses on Barth alone, and the development of his thought over the course of his career, particularly as his thought focused on Christ and the community formed in him, and its resistance to Nazi ideology. The final chapter then considers the Holocaust. If God chose the Jewish people in some way, what then do we make of the near extermination of that people? Does this deny the existence of God, or is the remnant that survives one more evidence of God’s continuing relation with this people? Or is this one more place to argue for a free will theodicy? And how ought Christians think of the Jewish people given the dangers of supercessionism?

Throughout the book, Lindsay explores the differing ways thinkers understood the elect and “the reprobate.” In his conclusion, he shows his own hand in expressing a tentative hopeful universalism grounded in our own incapacity to fully understand the mind of God. He cites Revelation 22:17: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life” (Italics in the author’s citation of this verse). The author warns against “definitive pronouncements,” which is warranted. Given the testimony of the whole of scripture, and particularly that of our Lord, I think there might also be a caution against “speculative suggestions” that may soften the plain warnings of scripture. I believe we may hope and find comfort in the wideness of God’s electing grace while never presuming with regard to the warnings of judgment.

However one sorts these things out, this work is helpful in offering incisive summaries and comparisons of the thought of different key figures as well as an extensive bibliography. For a survey of two thousand years of thought, Lindsay has presented the reader with a work that is at once introductory and of significant depth on this important doctrine.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Mixed Blessing

Mixed Blessing, Chandra Crane, Foreward by Jemar Tisby. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: The author describes her own challenges and blessings of being a person of mixed ethnic and cultural identity, and how the Christian can affirm and include the growing number of mixed identity persons.

“So what are you?” can be one of the most difficult questions for a person born of parents of different ethnicities or raised in a home with those of different ethnicities. The author has experienced this dilemma as a child of a Thai father and European-American mother raised in a home with an adoptive Black father.

Answering the question can be hard for oneself and much depends on how one has grown up. It may also depend on one’s physical appearance and the degree to which a person might pass for a particular ethnicity or represent a blend of ethnicities.

Equally difficult is how one identifies oneself to others. Some contexts do not even have a category for mixed persons. She describes a time when the ministry she works for (the same one in which I work) offered breakouts by ethnicity. She did not know where to go because there was no group for her. Eventually, an organizer who was also a mixed ethnicity person recognized her dilemma and invite her to the Asian American staff group she was a part of. And she reports how ten years later in a similar setting, there was a group for her and others like her.

One of the strengths of this work is that Crane doesn’t make her experience normative for all, nor suggest that one must stick to a particular way of framing one’s identity. She recognizes the opportunities to identify with monoethnic groups that are part of one’s ethno-cultural heritage while avoiding cultural appropriation. She suggests four different postures, any of which may be appropriate:

  1. Solidarity identity. Particularly if we may look like a person of that identity, although this carries with it responsibilities to deal with privilege if one is identifying with the dominant culture.
  2. Shifting identity. This especially makes sense if one has been raised bi-lingually or bi-culturally (or multiple cultures or languages). The big question is whether each identity is genuinely who one is. Such people may be real bridgebuilders.
  3. Substitute identity. Sometimes the healthy choice may be in finding identity in something other than ethnicity, for example as a musician.
  4. Singular identity. Some live with a both/and identity in which these blend fully. This might only be fully realized in eternity.

Crane proposes a discipleship process incorporating these postures in a three step process of prayer about ethnic formation, of exploring our ethnic identity, and of applying truths learned to one’s the Christian life.

The work centers on Christ, and observes that our incarnate Lord was of mixed descent. His family line includes Rahab the Canaanite, Bathsheba the Hittite, and Ruth the Moabite. To be in Christ as one of mixed heritage is to recognize that this indeed a blessing, that one is uniquely made and gifted by God. She deals with the critique that we should just find our identity in Christ by contending that Jesus does not submerge mixed identities but brings out their full beauty.

The book strikes a good balance of description, instruction, advocacy, and pastoral care. It reflects to me a wise person who has been on this journey for some time offering counsel and grace, especially for all who like her, are “mixed blessings” or are the parents of “mixed blessing” children. It’s an important book for me as a European American on a journey to understand and affirm and celebrate the multi-ethnic tapestry that is God’s intent for the church. Crane helps me better understand what it is like when multiple threads of that tapestry run though the life of one person. And she offers me a better question than “so what are you?” From now on I can ask “tell me about your family and how you grew up.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Real Fathers

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Father’s Day is approaching and I suspect there is good cause for ambivalence in celebrating this holiday. We have too many reports of men, including biological fathers who are abusers of their spouses, children, or other women. To make matters worse, many institutions dominated by men have covered for and defended the abusers. Sadly, we see this even in churches from Catholic to Southern Baptist. More than outright abuse, part of the problem is the use of power to uphold abusive and subordinating regimes, treating women as a lesser form of human, not unlike what we’ve tried to do with many of the people of color in this country.

I have to admit to being deeply disturbed as a man and as a father with what I see. It cuts across the grain of my deepest convictions and aspirations as both man and father. I find myself deeply angry with the men who perpetrate these wrongs, and perhaps even more angry with those who have tried to cover them and blame the victims instead of protect them. This was not how I was taught to be a man.

Fundamentally, I was taught respect. Respect for my elders and every elderly person on my street. I was taught respect for women, beginning with my mother. I was taught to respect women of my own age as I would want my own sister to be respected. I was taught that children were special in God’s sight.

I was taught partnership and not patriarchy. It is not about power, but about seeking to outdo each other as servants. I was stunned as I read St. Paul’s injunction that I was to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Christ died for the church. Sometimes the hardest dying is to listen to another and give up what you want because what they want or think is needful is more important.

I was taught responsibility. Not sole responsibility but shared responsibility–for finances, home, children. I was taught that real men neither are irresponsible or controlling, but co-responsible. And there is no off-loading the blame when things don’t work out.

I was taught fidelity. There was no one else in the lives of either of my parents. Fidelity has meant for me that I don’t go with another woman even in my thoughts. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice other women. It is simply that there is no other woman for me. It is actually a joy as we celebrated our 43rd anniversary recently to revel in what we have been for each other, and each other alone. I’ve sometimes joked that any man can love a lot of women. It takes a real man to love one woman thoroughly and deeply and passionately for a lifetime. I want to be that man.

I was taught that parenting was a job for both a father and mother, if both are present. I recognize there are many single-parent families which exist for many reasons, where the parent does an excellent job raising a child and nothing I say here should detract from that. Children learn from the models of each gender both about themselves and those of the other gender and how we treat each other in ways that enable us to flourish. The reward is cherished memories. I cherish memories of early morning feedings, story times, school projects, campouts and hikes, and long drives together with my son getting his driving hours on his temp permit.

There are real husbands and fathers out there doing this work. Part of what angers me about the men who have forsaken this noble calling and have abused and demeaned women, who have abused or just walked away from children, as well as those who cover over these egregious transgressions, is that you have drawn away the attention from the real men who are doing the work of being real fathers. You cast disgrace on all of us even as you disgrace yourselves. What is worse is that some of you have clothed this in the robes of sacred work. You not only disgrace other men but also dishonor the God you claim to serve.

Instead of protecting each other as men and blaming women for our behavior, it’s time for us to call one another out for this ignoble and unmanly behavior. We say “boys will be boys” and that is exactly what so much of this is, boys in men’s bodies. It’s past time for this to stop. It’s past time to let this behavior go with silence, or an uneasy laugh. If you are an abuser, or one who must put women down to raise yourself up or if you cover for those who do these things, be enough of a man to admit it and get help. Find men who will be ruthlessly honest with you who will call you into the respectful and responsible manhood you’ve not yet learned.

It is a good and honorable thing to be a father. For those men who are not yet fathers, are you working to develop the character of a good father? For those of us who witness the demeaning of women and other abuses in institutions we are part of, will we stand against this and with those who are abused? We must not put the onus on the victims to do this but stand with them. This is the work of real fathers. Perhaps this is the work to which we can dedicate ourselves as men this Father’s Day.

Bookselling Heroes

Jeff Garrett, who helped his wife Nina Barrett launch Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois. Photo by Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved.

They don’t look like our idea of heroes. They are not frontline healthcare workers. The aren’t military service men and women or public safety officers who put their lives at risk for a higher cause. But they also contribute to preserving the fabric of society, the richness of our communities, and the intellectual and emotional health of our citizens. They are booksellers.

If they are independent booksellers, this means they are small business owners who have assumed both the risks and benefits of owning a business, having to pay rent, vendors, and employees. It means long hours and lots of unglamorous work. Everything from cleaning the sidewalks and toilets, lifting and unpacking boxes of books and getting them onto shelves.

One bookseller I know has not been able to open his business during COVID, nor sell books at conferences where he makes a good deal of his profit. He works hard to publicize good books through his online reviews and special offers. His books are meticulously packed, and often order acknowledgements are accompanied by personal notes. In other seasons, I’ve seen pictures of him unloading a truckload of books and then arranging them all meticulously by topics on tables, spending hours over several days interacting with buyers to help them find the right book, and then re-packing and unloading them back at his store. I first met him at a conference and it was a joy to watch him in action, recommending books I’d never heard of, or some which I couldn’t call to mind. It was like watching a virtuoso musician performing. My bookselling friend didn’t just sell books–he knew and loved books and cared deeply about connecting the right book and each of his customers.

And he and his wife work very hard at this, day after day.

While booksellers are all unique individuals, I would say they all have this in common–the work and the love. So, is it right to be considered a hero for doing work one loves? I think so. Having models of people who work hard with excellence to serve others, usually at minimal financial benefit, are worth noting. Beyond this, many of these people see their work as part of the civic fabric of their “main street” or whatever other street on which they work. They participate in community events. They host events from author appearances to readings for children. They highlight the voices of distinctive parts of their communities, whether of women, of people of color, of LGBTQ persons, or those of different religions.

Living in a bigger city, I love visiting small towns. I especially love the ones with a rich mix of shops and restaurants that my wife can spend an afternoon browsing–antique shops, boutiques, hardware stores, and bookstores. It’s the mix that makes it fun. What we don’t often appreciate his how hard all these business owners work to create this magic. But when we visit one of the forgettable small towns that are little more than civic buildings, a convenience store and a gas station, we begin to appreciate the value booksellers and others offer.

Sometimes these heroes have to give up their businesses. Maybe the finances just don’t work out, despite pouring time, energy, and in many instances, personal resources into the venture. More often, the challenge is just time, and the lack of another hero to pick up the mantle. I’ve seen more than one bookseller whose stores I really enjoyed visiting and who did great work for many years come to the realization that they no longer had the energy for that work, or that they wanted to use what remained to see and do things they had denied themselves for many years.

Sometimes, the community is blessed when someone younger comes along who shares the passion of the bookseller and takes over the business, often breathing new life into that business while preserving what brought a reliable clientele through the door. I’ve watched that happen with a store in a small town about 30 miles from us, and how that store is a community gathering place.

I hope these heroes survive the challenges of the pandemic. The books they’ve sent me have tided me and many of my friends through this time. I don’t think these heroes are looking for any acclaim. What would mean the most, particularly if you live in their town is that you would give them your trade, come to a few of their events and buy books, and tell your friends what a grand place their store is.

Review: The Hidden Wound

The Hidden Wound, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2010 (Original edition 1968, with Afterword 1988).

Summary: An extended essay on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work.

Wendell Berry wrote words that would be exceptional for most whites today. These were written in 1968 by a white man of the South, making them all the more exceptional:

“If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know. If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of the wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society.

This wound is in me….I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it….

Berry begins by acknowledging the story of his family as a slaveholding family, one that sold as well as acquired slaves. He acknowledges a family that went to church with its slaves but inured itself to the teachings about moral obligations that would have unraveled slavery.

He then turns to a childhood memory of Nick, a Black man who worked for his grandfather. He spoke of the racist structures that assigned Nick a place of being a worker and tenant and the dignity with which Nick accepted these but also the dignity of Nick’s work–his careful study of saddle horses, of the requirements of the land. Nick took Berry under his wing and taught him about the work of the farm. But the wound was there, evident in Nick not being able to accept the invitation to Berry’s birthday party, and Berry deciding that the only decent thing to do was to sit with Nick outside.

Berry recognizes in both what he learned from Nick in all his dignity and the underlying social divisions between them a picture of the deformities of our American society that defined success as distancing oneself from the physical labor of the farm and that used knowledge and status to make money off of the labors of others. So we have diminished ourselves, even as we had to diminish the personhood of Blacks to enslave them, something we have done since 1619. In doing so, we have alienated ourselves from good work and from the land upon which our lives depend. We have considered that work to be “n***** work” (Berry’s terminology, objectionable today but reflecting the demeaning character of its historical usage). By this we have not only demeaned persons but also lost our connection to the pleasures of good physical work and the land where this work is done.

Berry’s argument isn’t for legislation or structural change (and I believe this may be a weakness in ignoring the goods that can be done by addressing unjust structures). He argues that we need one another to heal the wounds racism has inflicted. Just as Nick taught Berry the wisdom of the farm and good work while Berry bridged the divide by sitting with Nick rather than staying with the white folks during his birthday, Berry argues that the task is not so much for whites to “free” Blacks but rather to “recognize the full strength and grace of their distinctive humanity” and that “they possess a knowledge for the lack of which we are incomplete and in pain.”

In his Afterword, written twenty years later, Berry addresses the displacement of racism from rural to urban settings and the decline of family farms, including Black farms. What has happened is simply a shift of the deformed ideas of work from the farm to the city with high paid executives and others who do “menial” work. Overcoming racism means no longer perpetuating these destructive ideas of work but paying just wages for all good and necessary work. Berry, drawing on his deep values of community also argues that integration without the restoration of the fabric of community is inadequate.

Perhaps the most significant thing in this extended essay, which I felt stands well on its own without the Afterword, is Berry’s courageous acknowledgement of the wound of racism on our national body. It is a wound caused by whites, but one from which whites suffer as well as Blacks. A strength of this work is that he owns his own complicity and his own learning with no “yes, buts.” It is vintage Berry, utterly consistent with other works of his on the dignity of manual work, of knowledge of the land, of caring for place, and of membership in community. What is striking is that Berry here offers a generous vision of community and membership that includes Black and white and the value in the humanity of each person. While Berry downplays systemic issues and may be faulted for this, his integration of issues of race into the larger themes of his work makes this more than merely a writing of place by a rural agriculturalist. It is an essay that discerns the fabric of society we are weaving, the rents in that fabric, and the crucial threads needed for a durable and useful garment.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Charles P. Henderson

I grew up hearing that he was one of the best mayors Youngstown ever had up to that point. He was the grandson of William Henderson, an iron worker at Brown-Bonnell Iron Works. Charles P. Henderson was born March 3, 1911. He graduated from Princeton in the class of ’32. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Michigan and returned to practice law. He was elected a municipal court judge in 1941. His political career was interrupted by World War 2. He served four years in the army then returned to Youngstown.

He found a city rife with crime and racketeering and decided to run for Mayor on an anti-corruption platform. In 1947, he defeated incumbent Ralph O’Neill by 3671 votes. Some think he won because voters were fed up with three City Council members who stayed away from meetings to block appointment of a councilman for the third ward. One of his first acts was to appoint FBI trained J. Edward Allen as police chief with a mission to clear out organized vice and crime. He appointed a new, ten man vice squad. Operators of the “bug,” and bookies were arrested. Much of the action shifted over the county line centered on the Jungle Inn, in Liberty Township.

Henderson worked to reduce smoke and smog, eliminate dumps, and improve housing. His efforts won him national attention and in 1950 he won the American All-City award for progressive attention. He won his 1951 campaign by 7,000 votes. However, resistance to his anti-corruption measures was growing and he was defeated in 1953 in his attempt to win a fourth term by Frank X. Kryzan. Meanwhile, Henderson was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a member of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an effort to coordinate federal and state government efforts.

In 1965, he was appointed by Governor James Rhodes as a Probate Court judge. He participated in a number of organizations related to the practice of law: Mahoning County. and Ohio State Bar Associations, Ohio State Municipal League, the Association of Probate judges the Judicial Conference, and Judicial College. He also participated on the boards of the Public Library of Youngstown, and the county Boards of Mental Health and Elections. In the late 1960’s, after a series of failed school levies threatened to, Henderson headed up a citizens committee spearhead an effort for the levy passage. It failed but the seventh try finally passed.

Henderson retired in 1985 and passed after a sudden heart attack on September 15, 1990. He was survived by his wife, the former Margaret Arms. Henderson was probably one of the most trusted people in Youngstown. While the city didn’t always want its politicians to be good, Henderson was one of those people came to when the public trust was important. I’ll leave others to decide who was Youngstown’s best mayor. But it’s clear to me he was one of the good ones.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!