Monday, September 2, 2013


    As we walked to our car, our eyes still moist and emotions thoroughly wrung out, Lana said "That is the way history should be taught.  Everyone should see it."
    The "it" is THE BUTLER, the Lee Daniels film that should win Forest Whitaker another Oscar nomination, if not an award. But this is so much more important than a masterful job of acting, script writing, directing and production.  The film is a searing course in American civil rights history. It's the truth and therefore the record is not good, but is one we need to own, address and learn from.  
    I was a young reporter in the time of the "civil rights movement" and came on the scene only a year after the seminal events of '63.  I remember seeing NAACP protesters being beaten as they were forcibly removed from a restaurant bar where their crime was to enter and wait to be served. It was of my first big stories. I covered marches, protests and other demonstrations that focused attention on discrimination and other manifestations of racism. 
    I worry that my daughters and their generation did not see or experience that time of American life and thus cannot fully embrace the precarious nature of our freedoms. THE BUTLER can emblazon the struggle, courage and history of that time in the heart and mind of those who see it.
     We must not forget the fire hoses, dogs, marches, beatings, bombings and those who stood up to them and who endured. Nor must we forget how long it was before the government finally did what it should have long before.  THE BUTLER is an extraordinary treatment of that arc of American history and is told with a moving personal view by an extraordinary cast.
     You felt lucky if your picnic was in one of the shelter houses, those open sided rooms on cement pads under a roof.  The parks were full.  All of the picnic tables taken early, leaving late comers to find patches of green, preferably under a tree where they could encamp with blankets, lawn chairs and card tables.  That was back in the day, back when Labor Day was the day everyone went to a reunion, family picnic or party to celebrate a day off, the benefit of gainful employment. 
      In the industrial mid west those tables full of fried chicken, pies, potato salad kept in bowls or trays of ice, water melon, several kinds of baked beans or bean salad, chips and cheese puffs, cakes and more pies and cookies and jello creations and more were usually faced after people had been to a Labor Day parade.  
    Some of the really big bashes were staged by unions, at parks with pools, or beaches and featured family games-egg tosses, three legged races, water balloon catch, soft ball. The parents sat around munching, drinking lemonade, ice tea, soda pop or beer fished from ice water. The kids snacked and ran and played and drank more soda and ate more sweets than was probably good for us.  
     It was the end of summer, but the vibe was good.  Dad and in some homes dad and mom had jobs, we had cars that we kept clean, television sets, maybe a couple of phones in the house, and some of the people even had lake cottages.  Milk men delivered product to little metal boxes on the front or side stoop. You could even stop a bread truck in your neighborhood and buy a loaf from the driver. Policemen were your friends and near the school or boys club there was a blue uniformed policeman made from aluminum or tin with a big smile, a hand out warning to you to watch for kids- and he was somehow attached to either a sign or huge bottle of Coke. Innocent days. Good days. Days of full employment.
      The auto industry drove the mid-west cities and towns. If the factories didn't make the cars, they made the parts that made the cars.  Men who had come home from the war were making lives for their families.  You watched your pennies, kids had to do "chores" to earn an allowance, coupons were still important but there was a sense of hope.The century was moving toward progress. Labor Day counted for something. The middle class thrived. People counted on a future for themselves and their kids. A job meant steady pay and benefits.
      But that was then.  Wonder how many of those old parks were used today, how many have been kept up, or how many of them are safe?  Wonder how many folks celebrate their job, or how many companies celebrate their workers? Wonder how many people count on the future?

   See you down the trail.


  1. As usual a thought provoking post. I enjoyed The Butler although a bit less than you did. Take care and have a terrific week.

  2. 1963---I was an undergraduate at Oglethorpe University (very small, liberal arts, great school) in Atlanta, despite being a "jock," I marches with the liberals on Leb's (department store) lunchroom in support of the blacks "sitting-in" at the counter, also marched on The Pickrick Restaurant, owned by Lester Maddox, who armed his black employees with wooden axe handles to fight us off because we had the audacity to want them to serve black customers. Those were the years I proudly became a liberal. Now I've graduated to become a proud Progressive and disdainful of the Democratic Party, the only politicians I'm willing to support being Alan Grayson, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and the few like them.
    As for the "good old days," they were good for us white males, but not so great for people of color, gays, and women in business and most academic fields.
    "I'll see The Butler. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. The day after Obama's election I ran into an old friend of mine, a black woman who was the top biller at channel 5 in Boston. As we walked through the Prudential Tower Mall she started to cry and said to me, "My grandmother scrubbed floors in this building, I wish she was alive to see this day."

  4. In late August of 1963, I was a teenage "cook" at a restaurant on the I-80 Indiana Tollroad in Elkhart, IN. The outside world only entered the blissful simplicity of my early rural life in the form of my nightly forays listening to AM radio stations like WLAC in Nashville playing rhythm & blues which fired my imagination about an entirely different existence that didn't seem real at the time. It suddenly became real when busload after busload of black people poured into that restaurant taking every table and counter seat available. We busted our asses feeding them for hour after hour. I found out days later that they were on their way to Washington to hear MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. The only drama was whether we had enough food to feed them all. The turbulent '60s were about to begin and in my little corner of nowhere we helped them on their way to change history forever.