Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nooses: Why Now?

Text © 2007 by Julius Lester

* At the high school in Jena, Louisiana, there is a tree called the White Tree. It is the tree under which only white students sat. This past September a black student decided to challenge tradition and sat beneath the tree. The next day three nooses were found hanging from limbs of the tree.

* At the high school in Litz, Pennsylvania, there is a section of the school parking lot known as “redneck row.” This is where white students who wear clothes with Confederate insignia and put Confederate flag decals on their vehicles park.

* At Columbia Teachers College, a black professor finds a noose hanging from the doorknob of her office.

* In Hempstead Village, Long Island, a noose is found in the locker room of the police department. Taped to the wall near the rope was a newspaper article about the new deputy police chief, who is black.

* In the yard of the Nassau County, Long Island Public Works department, a worker finds a noose hanging from a fence.

* In Valley Stream, Long Island, a noose was found hanging from the doorknob of a construction site at a shopping mall.

* There was also a noose found at a Home Depot in Passaic, New Jersey.

For black people a noose is a symbol of the domestic terrorism practiced against them from shortly after the Civil War to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 3446 black men and women were lynched. That figure represents only those lynchings for which there is a written record. There were lynchings which were never reported. Estimates of the number of lynchings before 1882 vary from 4,000 to 20,000. A Congressional investigation carried out in 1872 said that “as many as 2,000 blacks had killed or wounded in Louisiana alone since the close of the Civil War.” Of the lower 48 states, only four states never had a lynching – Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

The origins of the word, lynching, are cloudy, but it is believed it comes from the Lynch family of Virginia who, during colonial times, were given permission by the Virginia legislature to hang criminals without due process of law because of the absence of courts in the area. After the Civil War southern whites began a campaign of terrorism against blacks to deny them the right to vote, to own property, and to live without fear.

I have been wondering why are we seeing this plethora of nooses aimed at blacks in both the north and the south. While talking with a friend recently, an avid supporter of Barak Obama, the answer to my question came to me: A black man is running a serious campaign to be President of the United States.

One of the oddities of the campaigns thus far is that the issue of Obama’s race has not come up. It is as if we are playing this game and pretending that his race is not a factor. The appearances of nooses in Louisiana, a state known for the brutality of its racism, and New York, a state proud of its liberalism, tells me that there are some who are not comfortable with the thought of having a Black president, and they have chosen to express their disquiet through the metaphor of the noose.

But, one could argue, no nooses have been directed at Obama personally or his campaign. But whites who make nooses don’t distinguish one black from another. We are all equally culpable.

These nooses make me fear that Obama’s life is in danger. White racism has gone underground and is emerging to express itself through the intimidating silence of the noose. It is only a short step from that silence to the loud report of a rifle.


"As citizens, we must prevent wrong doing because the world in which we all live, wrong doer, wrong sufferer, and spectator, is at stake; the City has been wronged. Our law codes, with their distinction between crimes where indictment is mandatory and transgressions that pertain only to the private affairs of individuals who may or may not want to sue, take this into account. We could almost define a crime as that transgression of the law that demands punishment regardless of the one who has been wronged; the wronged one may feel like forgiving and forgetting, and there may be no danger for others if it can be assumed that the wrong doer is altogether unlikely to do wrong again. Still, the law of the land permits no option because it is the community as a whole that has been violated."

Hannah Arendt

Comment: America has not reached a consensus that racism violates the community as
a whole.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Address Book

Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

I transferred names last night from my old address book to a new one. But changing address books is more than the copying names, addresses, and phone numbers.

For one thing people have more than one phone number these days. My oldest son has four – home, 2 at work, and a cell number. Today’s address books also have spaces for a fax number, e-mail address, and web site. Transferring information from one book to another is more work than it used to be. You have to be very important to me to write down all that information plus your name, address, city, and 9-digit zip code.

Changing address books is also a time to evaluate what place people have in your lives. As you look at each name you think about the person, your relationship, how often you’ve been in touch with each other. Sometimes there is a small stab of pain when you come to the name of someone who died.

There is a twinge of regret when you decide not to transfer someone to the new address book. My reason for not transferring a name was the simple one of realizing that I had not been in touch with the person since putting their name in my address book.

However, I have kept every address book I’ve had throughout my adult life. It is a record of people who were important to me at one time, of people I loved but somehow we lost each other in the maelstrom of our lives, and of people who have died.

What I noticed last night was how the number of names has dwindled over the years. Even allowing for friends whose numbers I know, allowing for people whose numbers are in the phone book, and allowing for the number of people with whom I e-mail, there aren’t many names in my new address book.

I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps the dwindling number of names is one symptom of how I am entering old age. For me this is the time when I withdraw into myself without explanation or apology. This is the time of life I think I’ve always longed for, the time when I can be still. To be still means weeks pass and no one calls me, and I call no one. To be still means that months pass, and no one is invited to my house. My primary human contact is through e-mail, even with old friends who visit the area and want to see me. I have longed for such solitude all of my life, even in childhood.

An important part of possessing this solitude is having an address book I will seldom use.


From a front page article in the New York Times, Thursday, October 11, 2007 on the number of Americans who do not have access to dental care.

"A child in Mississippi and another in Maryland died this year from infections caused by decayed teeth." p. 1


This phrase describes an "illness" we have all suffered from but did not know it had been put into words:

the hardly able fever
"I had so much to do I came down with the hardly able fever."


Calla lily

Friday, October 5, 2007

Adjusting to Global Warming

Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

I am a rabid environmentalist. Whenever there’s an issue which involves cutting down trees to build houses, I’m on the side of the trees. So you can perhaps understand how depressed I am about global warming. I am already mourning what seems to be the almost certain extinction of polar bears.

However, I saw an article recently about the melting of the Arctic and the opening up of a Northwest sea passage from Europe and North America to Russia and Asia. And it occurred to me: where I see only the calamitous side of global warning, others see advantages. Those nations who will gain economically from global warning have no motivation to take measures to slow or stop it, if that is even possibly now.

The New York Times had an article recently about blueberry growers in Maine and Quebec. The export of blueberries, mainly frozen, is an important part of the Maine economy, especially since blueberries have been touted as powerful antioxidants. However, because of warming temperatures Quebec has ceased to have killing frosts into May and June, thus making the cultivation of blueberries there more viable. Already Quebec is rivaling Maine in blueberry production. In Vermont there is the fear that global warming will kill maple trees and maple syrup production will move to Ontario. (And with the maple trees will go the brilliant red leaves of maple trees this time of year, along with the rest of New England's vaunted fall foliage.) In a century or so, there will probably be banana plantations in Mississippi, and the apple trees grown in this part of New England will be peach trees.

The inconvenient truth is that global warming means change, and those who adapt to this fact the quickest will also find it easiest to live with the change.

Not being someone who changes easily, I will be dead by the time people will need to really adapt. Although given the predictions for the rise in the levels of oceans, Massachusetts is going to have a new shore line, one much closer to where I live now. That house I fantasize about buying on Cape Code? I might already be living in it.


I love finding words, in any language, that express something for which I did not know there was a word. Here is an English word I discovered recently which I really love!

Borborygmus (Bor-bor-'rig-muss)
It's a noun and it means "intestinal rumbling caused by moving gas."

I had no idea there was word for the noises your stomach makes.


New York City, 1966.

At the time I took the photograph, I'm sure I paid no attention to the sign in the window which reads: "Is The Computer the Answer?" I had absolutely no idea what a computer was. I think the question the sign poses has been definitively answered. YES!!