Monday, January 15, 2024

"If I Can Help Somebody..."

It was Friday night, the beginning of a long weekend culminating with Martin Luther King Jr Day, so I decided to watch a movie.

I chose a documentary called I am MLK Jr, which celebrates Dr. King's career as a civil rights activist, starting with the day he happened to be in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks was arrested because she refused to enter the bus, pay the fare, exit the bus, re-enter the bus's back door, and take a seat at the rear - the only section open to Blacks. 

The documentary shows news reels of the day Bull Connor viciously turned fire hoses and police dogs on demonstrators, many of them students. It highlights the day Dr. King stood in front of more than 200,000 people in Washington to tell them about his dream.

By 1968, Dr. King, who had been receiving death threats to himself and his family every day for years was so exhausted and so depressed he decided not to speak to the sanitation workers in Memphis who were fighting for their rights. His friends, however, convinced him to at least appear.

On the plane to Memphis, King, who had been beaten many times, stabbed, and threatened, told a reporter that in the past he had been so afraid that he had yielded to the real possibility and inevitability of death. 

When he spoke that day, telling his listeners it is the right of every American to fight for their rights, he was, according to Travis Smiley, one of the documentary's narrators, looking around, his eyes darting from one person to another because he knew "his days were numbered," King told the crowd he "did not know what would happen now... But it really doesn't matter to me now because I've been to the mountain top. I've seen the promised land...I may not get there with you (but) I don't mind (because) mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

And with that last word, and without finishing his speech, he turned and collapsed into the arms of his friend, Dr. Abernathy. 

By the next evening however, he was "jovial and clowning and free...He was in a playful mood."  He was  standing on the balcony outside his hotel room when someone reminded him he was expected at dinner soon. Dr, King called down to Jesse Jackson, saying, "It's time to go to dinner, man. Get dressed," When Jackson responded, "The prerequisite for eating is not a tie but an appetite," Dr. King laughed - and a bullet struck his body.

As I listened to these words of Travis Smiley: "We have no control over when we die, where we die, or how we die. All we have control over is what we die for," I listened too, to the words of a song playing in the background, the one about helping somebody, and realized that, although I am not Black and have never had to suffer the way any Black man, woman or child has had to suffer in this country, I have suffered and if I can use my suffering "to help somebody, then my living will not be in vain."     

And, that thing about helping somebody - it doesn't have to be something big. Sometimes just a smile will do.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

If You See a Good Fight...


A friend told me recently about a movie too few people have seen, a movie about a man too few people have ever heard of. The film, The Story of Vernon Johns, is about a minister who was a civil rights advocate before Martin Luther King Jr. rose to the pulpit, before the hideous death of Emmett Till, and before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Dr. Johns, who was proficient in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and German was a man who fought against both white Jim Crow laws in the south and black indifference to change, a man who deeply believed that "if you see a good fight, get in it."  

In 1947 Johns told the well-to-do parishioners of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, that "the nastiest and deadliest sin in the world is the hatred between the races. This innane and foolish hatred threatens to devour civilization like a moth caught in a hell fire."

In a sermon given after the death of a young black boy who was shot in the back for allegedly resisting arrest, Johns told the congregation that murderers act with impunity knowing the black witnesses would not come forward. "By not coming forward," he asserted, "you have become accessories to murder."

After Johns, who advertised the topic of his sermons on a bulletin board outside the church, decided to give a sermon declaring that "It's Safe to Murder Negroes;" after he is threatened with a lynching, after a cross is burned in front of his church, Johns decides to give the sermon anyway.

If you are wondering what happened to this fearlessly courageous man, I think that, like me, you will have to watch the movie, which stars James Earl Jones, and is currently streaming on Appletv. Or if you have Amazon prime, it will direct you to Freevee where you can watch it with commercials. Either way, it is a movie well worth your time!



Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Till, the Movie


“Hate is a virus in the blood…”                                     

Roy Wilkins


I heard the words quoted above while watching the movie Till, a story about a Black boy from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi in 1955 because he whistled at a white woman

This powerful movie begins by showing us the excitement and vulnerability of a 14-year-old boy as he gets ready for his trip. Three days later, Emmett was dead. 

After his body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River, authorities in that area tried to have him buried anonymously. It was Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted her son’s mangled body be returned to Chicago and the casket remain open during the public viewing.

During the movie, Medgar Evers, who accompanied Emmett’s mother to the trial that followed one month later, said the federal government was trying to pass a law that would make lynching a federal hate crime.

“It wasn’t passed until this year,” I whispered to my daughter, who was sitting beside me in the theater.

Why had it taken so long?  I wondered. As I sat there watching the movie, I thought about the noose I’d seen on the Capitol steps during last year’s January 6 riots and wondered if lawmakers had to experience hate for themselves before they acted.     

“Hate is a virus in the blood.” Wilkins words reverberated in my head throughout the rest of the movie.

“Does this story need to be told again?” someone has asked. The answer is “yes.”

Emmett Till was only 35 days older than I was in 1955, and I have known about his murder almost since the day it happened. His brutal death is a story that must be told again and again and passed down until racial violence and injustice in this country are finally eradicated.



Thursday, August 4, 2022

Termoli, San Giacomo, Venice and Padua!

 From Rome to Termoli with its view of the Adriatic,

we drove “just over the hill” to San Giacomo degli Schiavoni, the town with the long name and only three streets. The town with a population (today) of less than 1500, where my father lived between the ages of three and eighteen. We went to find the house he built in the Sixties.

Afterward, we drove to Venice. 

I didn't like Venice. I didn't like the canal. It was just a body of water, and I'd seen better bodies of water in Paris six years earlier, and in Switzerland as we drove passed the mountain lakes near Luzerne. 

But then we went to the old part of the city, to that part of the city that had no water and no tourists either. To that part of Venice (called Mestre) where I ate smoked salmon and (would you believe) Philadelphia cream cheese on a croissant, and where I bought a blue dress I fell (quite literally, but didn't get hurt!) in love with.

Then we went to Padua because I wanted to pray in the church dedicated to my patron, Saint Anthony. 

And finally, we started the long drive back to Darmstadt!


Sunday, July 31, 2022

Arrivederci Roma!

 We have spent our five days in Rome and have just arrived at a seaside city close to the town my father grew up in. It is heavenly here, much nicer than it was in Rome.

Oh, Rome has all the sights, all of what Irving Stone once called “the agony and the ecstasy.” It has the Vatican:

The Trevi Fountain: 

a view from the top of the Spanish Steps:

 And, of course, the Colosseum:

But Rome was hot,  hot, hot - which is why all my photos were taken at night- and this little city, called Termoli, has little more than a beautiful view of the Adriatic, and a delicious sea breeze!     

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


My pictures say it all! 

Basilica di Santa Croce
(Basilica of the Holy Cross)


Michelangelo's Tomb
(inside the Basilica)

The River Arno at night

a typical street

The River Arno again

the view from our front door

a wider street


Thursday, July 14, 2022

On the Beach

I’m on a beach. In Delaware. A mini-vacation before the longer one I’ll begin next week. I’m sitting under an umbrella, most of the time with my eyes closed, listening to the voices of strangers while a breeze skips across my skin, moving from one shoulder to the other.

There are people all around me - an older woman with short gray hair sitting alone with a book; an Asian family of three - mother, father and a teenage son who never leaves their side;  a young black man with long thin locks that frame his face majestically; and a man behind me talking incessantly on a cell phone, his voice rising and falling with the cadence of the waves, a voice I’m surprised I miss after he packs up and leaves.

Children screaming. Women laughing. All of it muffled by the mantra of the waves that lull me into bliss, until finally, I pick myself up to head home, to finish packing for a trip across this ocean to Germany and beyond.