PREJUDICE & ME & MENDOTA

Back in the days when we were protesting for Civil Rights and an end to our involvement in Viet Nam, Dick Gregory, black comedian, leading activist in both movements, came to Minneapolis. During a press conference he was asked how Minneapolis compared to other major cities as far as racial discrimination against blacks was concerned.

He said he found very little black prejudice compared to other cities; but before Minneapolitans had to chance to take bows, he explained why. He observed there were so many Indians in Minnesota that were the brunt of prejudice, white folks didn’t have time to bother with the small black population.

There wasn’t any prejudice against Indians in the village/township of Mendota where my roots were. Mendota was a settlement across the river from Minneapolis and St. Paul, older than both. Outside of a few outsiders like my dad, who married into it, we were descendants of French/Canadians or Mendota Sioux or a mix of both. No bona fide Mendota resident had to go back too many generations to find a common ancestor with any other bona fide Mendota resident.

There were some inhabitants that people did not like; but it wasn’t prejudice because they might have Indian blood, it was because they were jerks.

From the time I was a toddler, one of my best friends was Fred La Batte, grandpa’s hired hand. He claimed to be 100% Mendota Sioux; and when questioned why he had a French name, he always answered, because his Sioux name was too hard to spell. I enjoyed being around Fred and I learned a lot from him, including a few English and French words that I found out the hard way to never use within my mom’s hearing distance.

When I acted up and Fred told me to stop it, I stopped. Not to would cause him to shake his finger at me warn me what would happen if kept misbehaving. He would put me in a gunny sack and take me to Chicago. When I asked him about Chicago he told me it was a place worse than even Minneapolis. Yes sir, I obeyed Fred.

Fred also taught me a lot about horses. Come time to cultivate the corn, Fred would hitch Dick, grandpa’s sorrel gelding to the one-row cultivator. Many a hot summer day you would see Dick still hitched to the cultivator munching on the grass in the ditch by the highway. No sign of Fred because Fred had flagged down a ride to Huber’s for a couple cold beers. When I asked Fred how he got the horse to just stand there for such a long time and not go anyplace or turn around and eat the corn stalks, Fred said he warned the horse if he misbehaved he’d get a gunny sack over his eyes and…

and, and, you’ll take him to Chicago. Right, Fred?’

You learn real good, little Donny.’

The first lesson I received in prejudice was from Mrs. Benson, who taught all eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse I went to. Now even though she was a Lutheran Swede from Minneapolis, we all liked her, students and parents both. She only taught us one year because her husband got polio and required her help at home.

(Polio was the first pandemic that I lived through. We survived because the politicians united and left finding the cure and vaccine to the medical experts, like Dr. Jonas Salk.)

Mrs. Benson’s teaching of prejudice was straight forward. She said that we should accept or reject people as individuals and not because of culture or color…Prejudice was wrong. Prejudice was stupid. Prejudice hurt both the person it was directed against and the person who directed it.

In addition to her talking about it, she gave us a list of books that would teach us more about prejudice.

We were to pick out a book, read it, and then stand in front of the room and tell the rest of the students what we learned about prejudice from the book. She eliminated the first three grades as far as reading a book was concerned; but they could tell us about prejudice they had witnessed, or comment on what they heard. The lesson was in the first hour of class when someone was ready to speak.

After she finished laying out the groundwork, she handed note books she had purchased with her own money and told us we were to keep a record of what we were learning about prejudice, starting with what she had said that morning.

Now any questions?

About six hands went up.

 ‘Mrs. Benson, how do you spell ‘prejudice’? 

I reread Huckleberry Finn from the school’s library, which had about two hundred books in it and which I had already finished reading all of them. I gave my report on the relationship between Huck and Jim, the runaway ex-slave about five days into the project. I was the first to make a report.

So to keep me actively involved in the project, Mrs. Benson lent me her personal copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Now that really showed me a world unlike the one grew up in. I read it twice before I gave my report.

Mrs. Benson suggested I read yet another book. She gave me some suggestions but this time I went out on my own read my dad’s copy of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey. I had heard it a radio program once. Since she wasn’t aware of the story, she consulted with her husband, who was a Zane Grey fan. When he told her it was a tale about the loss of Indian culture and of love between  a Navajo man, a white woman.

Mrs. Benson suggested that she and I talk over my report before I gave it. She wanted to make sure her project on racial prejudice did not turn into a sex education class. She didn’t have to worry. I concentrated on the prejudice and loss of the native culture, not the mushy love stuff. I also tied in a lot of things that Fred LaBatte had told me, like why he had a French last name.

( Today the Navajo nation is vanishing, not the culture, the people. They are hardest hit segment of the killer virus in America. In the early days of the virus, those days the president assured us not to worry, within a couple weeks the few virus cases in the US would disappear, a prominent Navajo leader died and people came from all over the Navajo reservation, the largest reservation in the US. The lack of early knowledge and prevention, the arid harsh land, the abject poverty, the scarcity of medical facilities, and the total disregard of the Federal government have fueled the virus wildfire and the vanishing of the Navajo is another type of genocide that has permeated the our nation since the first day Anglos set foot in New England.)

So my growing up in Mendota and my education from Mrs. Benson, pretty much laid down the foundation of my feelings about racial prejudice. I never had much experience with blacks those early years , except for playing against some in sports. Then I went in in the Army!

Oops! What started out as one blog post has gotten away from me. Par for the course. I will close out this post and will continue my experience in prejudice in the Army, deep in the heart of Dixie, in another post.

I will close out this with a quotations I was introduced to last week in one of my favorite blogs:

Playamart – Zeebra Designs A blog of beautiful art, great photos, and fine prose by Lisa, a talented Mississippian now living in Ecuador.

 Blacks and Native Americans share one thing. Native Americans had their land stolen, and their culture systematically crushed. Blacks – it’s the opposite; they were stolen from their land, and they had their culture systematically crushed. We can’t begin to imagine what it takes to come back from that…” – Greg Iles – excerpt from 2017/National Writers Series interview –

And that’s a wrap for today. Stay Safe

THE DEATH OF CAMELOT

JFK

It’s been 50 years since JFK was assassinated! Doesn’t seem to me that it has been that long ago. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I had taken the day off from work because I had to bring our baby for his one year checkup. I was on the floor in the den playing with the baby and his older brother. There was a rerun of Father Knows Best on the TV.

They interrupted the program to break the news about the shooting. I was in a state of shock. The two little ones still wanted to play. And then came the news that our President was dead. Playtime was definitely over for the day. I had all I could do to drive the baby to the doctor’s office later that afternoon.

I had never seen Father Knows Best. And, outside of those few minutes it was on before the breaking news, I have never watched any episode. Even today, if I am running through the channels and one pops up, I immediately change the channel.

The following Sunday my wife and I came back from mass, and the baby-sitter was in tears. She kept sobbing about how she was watching TV and she saw the shooting – live. I paid her off and she went out the door still crying. Silly girl, I thought to myself, where have you been for the last few days? She must have been the only person in the country that didn’t know the President was shot the Friday before. And what she was watching was a video, not live.

And then I saw the news on TV. The girl had every right to cry because she had seen a murder live on television. She had seen Ruby shoot Oswald.

Moments I remember and I wish I could forget.

The Old Hand of Oakdale

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board, 11/22/13   (50th Anniversary)

WHAT IF???

President Kennedy had lived to give the speech he prepared that would declare he was pulling us out of Viet Nam. That alone would have changed the world as we know it today.

In the aftermath of the assassination one of the things Americans lost was a faith in their government. A loss of faith that grows deeper each day. The old saying, My Country Right or Wrong, was at first replaced by Never Trust Anyone Over the Age of 40, and today it is I’m Right. Your Wrong. No Compromise!  Indeed we lost our innocence 11/22/1963.

WHAT IF???

Jack Ruby, a two-bit hood, (which in spite of evidence to the contrary, the FBI ruled did not have connections to the mobs), had not been allowed to wander the halls of the Dallas Police Station carte blanche, armed. Had not died of cancer (?) just before he was going to get a retrial. Would we know more about why he killed Lee Harvey Oswald? Would we know more about assassination of JFK?

NO!

In the 4 major U.S. assassinations of the period, JFK, Oswald, RFK, and Martin Luther King, investigations basically stopped once one person was arrested. Anyone who suggests a conspiracy in the deaths of any of the 4, is labeled a conspiracy nut. And yet!!!

James Earl Ray was arrested and convicted. Like Ruby, he died of natural causes (?) just before his second trial. Later, Dexter, a son of MLK, and one who encouraged a retrial for Ray, sued a restaurant owner in Memphis, for being in the conspiracy to kill his father. Dexter won the lawsuit.

The US House Select Committee, at the end of it’s investigation into the assassination, concluded: The committee believes, on the basis of the circumstantial evidence available to it, that there is a likelihood that James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King as a result of a conspiracy. The End.

Sirhan Sirhan was determined to have acted alone in the killing of Robert Kennedy, and yet there were witnesses that heard guns shots far exceeding the eight that his gun would have contained. Audio analysis show there were at least 13 gunshots, 5 more than Sirhan Sirhan could have fired from his gun, from 2 different locations. And the FBI also discounted eye witness reports of other guns in the room. They had their one man. The End.

To get back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Warren Commission published it’s report as soon as possible, ignoring accuracy in it’s quest for expediency. It’s conclusion was that both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby acted alone. There was no conspiracy in either case. Later, President Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, and four members of the Commission had a level of skepticism in the basic findings, as well as countless people all over the world.

The report was full of holes. Some evidence and some eyewitness accounts were never given to the Commission lest it muddied the waters toward the endgame the Commission arrived at. It was, as Mark Lane used for the title of his book, A RUSH TO JUDGMENT.

And yet, people keep using this report as the definitive study of the assassination, in spite of a second report that followed a few years later, again by the US. House Select Committee that ruled:

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.The End!

As far as our government is concerned, we, the people, can’t handle the truth. 

November 22, 1963 – The Day that Camelot died.jfk-funeral-horse_thumb2

 

FIRST HORSE

 

 

SergeantSergeant was my first horse. He was three when I bought him from my mother’s cousin, Ector. It was the summer between the sixth and seventh grade. I paid $110 for him. Gave Ector $18.20 down. Got my horse. Worked off the rest during the next two summers, 35 cents an hour, weeding, hoeing, selling vegetables at a roadside stand.

Sarg lived way past the expected age of horses. Over the years scores of children, including my five sons, got their very first horseback ride sitting on his back. He was gentle. He loved people. But I was the only one he would kiss on the cheek.

He was always well behaved. Except for one time. And that wasn’t his fault.

The Old Hand of Oakdale:

My grandfather had a hobby that a lot of people today have. He brewed beer, and he made wine.

He made a dandelion wine that would take your breath away. One sniff of its bouquet would clear up your sinus congestion. It was definitely a sipping wine. Too big a swallow would be akin to taking a gulp of Tabasco sauce. He also made a more refined rhubarb wine.

I came home from school one day and noticed that my horse, Sergeant, was not in the pasture. I found him in his stall, and he was acting strangely. When I unsnapped the rope from his halter, he backed out of the stall and ran out the barn door. As soon as he was outside, he began to rear up, buck, jackknife — things I had never seen him do except in the early spring. He ran around and around. Finally he stopped on the high hill in the summer pasture. And just stood there. And I could tell he was on shaky legs. I whistled, but he wasn’t coming.

I went back in the barn and could smell a strange tart odor coming from the oats box in the stall. Grandpa walked in, and I found out what the problem was. He had made some wheat wine, and, being one who never wasted anything, had fed the fermented wheat mash to Sarg. My poor horse was drunk.

I didn’t know how to cure a horse of a hangover or a headache. I just left Sarg standing on that hill and let nature take its course. I did make sure that there was plenty of water in the trough, because I knew the horse would be thirsty when he decided to come back to the barnyard.

Actually, the word was that the wheat wine wasn’t too bad. But Grandpa never bothered to make wheat wine again.

Published SPPP Bulletin Board – Pub 6/4/13

Having a horse of one’s own is a dream many kids have. I was fortunate. I had Sergeant. But he was more than just a horse. He was a friend. A confidant. And many times, a baby sitter. We explored the woods and fields. Hot summer days we went into the lake and he was my diving board. Cold winter days, he gave me warmth because I always rode bareback.  We grew up together. A boy and his horse.