Monday, November 28, 2011

Use of Cocaine in South.

April 28, 1911, Albany Evening Journal, Page 4, Column 6, Use of Cocaine in South,

(Reprinted from the Washington Post)
"One of the growing evils among the negroes of the South is the use of cocaine," remarked E. W. Boyd, a lawyer, of Charleston, S. C. "This is particularly the case with negroes employed in the large lumber camp's in those sections where there is local option. The taking away of the opportunity for them to procure liquor has led them to turn to cocaine, and the effects, you may imagine, are infinitely worse than an indulgence in whiskey. In nearly every large lumber camp in the South scores of negroes can be found lolling around under the influence of cocaine.

"The authorities have sought to prevent the sale of this drug by restrictive ordinances, but in every community there are to be found two or three venders of the drug. It can be had in quantities. Cocaine used to be sold in the ordinary state in which it is handed out over the counters of drugstores, but now it is to be had in crystal form, resembling rock candy.

"Now, while I am opposed to the indiscriminate sale of liquor to the negroes, I believe that the use of cocaine is far worse. How to overcome the conditions is a problem the solution of which is worrying the owners of the big lumber camps and the factories where a large proportion of employes are colored."
Well, this lets the C.I.A. off the hook from the charge made by paranoid conspiracy theorists like myself that The Company deliberately introduced crack cocaine into minority communities in the early 90's (that would be the 1990's dear,) as a genocidal ploy of their hegemonic dominance. (If you want to cop in any city---certainly it's true in Florida---just locate that town's Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) It is remarkable what knowledge can die out when it's limited to just living memory. A generation or two is all it takes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

John & Martha Mitchell

I haven't been motivated for half a year to post anything over here at my context-creating effort, the spacey Steven War Ran Blogspot. But when I ran across these photographs of my mother, I felt the stirring that I may have not only a personal, but possibly historic message to deliver.

The image is of my mother, a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper at the time, interviewing U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell. Taken by Bill Preston, a staff photographer at the paper, it bears newspaper library stamps for January 17, 1971, and June 26, 1972, and was probably taken on, or shortly before the first date.

The family file from which I snatched it also contained a letter on newspaper stationary, dated October 5, 1977, that explained its origins
Dear Pat:

We found this today, and decided that you should have it. Obviously it only ran as a head shot of Mitchell. You really look like you are giving him hell. Anyway, if you end up in the White House, maybe it will keep you humble.

Let me know if I can ever help you,

Sandra Roberts
At first I was shocked that the newspaper would crop it into a head shot of Mitchell. I realized my emotional reaction to it was personal, especially since it captured my mother in her supreme, if not archetypal, Cruella de Ville mode, but the image's broader meaning seemed to derive from both her stance of aggressive questioning, as well as Mitchell's pose of attentive listening. But then I began to see a deeper significance to it than Woman's Lib.

My mother's files were filled with old photographs, taken while she was on the job, in which her appearance was clearly incidental, outside of the action the photographer intended to capture. It's a common courtesy amongst news professionals I guess, that if a shot was flattering, or might be of some personal interest to a colleague, it's maker would run off a copy to give them. Many of hers bear funny, moral-boosting balloon captions---applied the old fashioned way, with handwriting, paper and rubber cement.

But this photograph wasn't taken casually, or by happenstance. It is of high resolution and in very sharp focus. Given her outfit and grooming, I suspect a stylist above my mother's station has been at work. I don't recognize the coat and it may have been lent to her. With the access to a high-level government official on display, combined with the powerful cultural message it seems designed to encode, it appears to me like she is being professionally auditioned.

I doubt she was aware of any of this. She may have been thrilled with the moment---at the "lucky breaks" coming her way; at any newfound attention from powerful people; by the assists from "helping hands," who could suddenly materialize to lend support at some crucial pass.

This is the process every successful journalism career must go through I'm sure. The rich and powerful throw enormous resources at the mechanism that governs public perception. They attempt to influence the course that reality will take, and then govern the history that accrues behind it.

The following picture is also of my mother, along with a woman who, I believe, is Martha Mitchell.

It was taken by Tennessean staff photographer Dale Ernsberger, and is dated February 2, 1974. It bares many of the same hallmarks as found on the previous image. My mother appears animated. Some elevated process is underway, extraordinary from her previous development. She has been spotted and chosen for something, but then it will be her choice to cooperate. Opportunities like this don't come around every day, so she may have to sacrifice something minor, like her scruples. It all progresses from there. I don't think this is really one of her coats either.

It isn't hard to understand the risks and rewards of a media career. My mother had had two children in her teens, and was divorced by 23, having never gone to college, when she first started working at a newspaper. This was in the last class of journeymen reporters---before the job became professionalized, and college a prerequisite. She worked as a gumshoe in a man's world, at a time when most women were only employed on the woman's desk. But she was smart, good looking, and ambitious. She wrote features; worked a police beat; covered state court, then for a long time, the federal court---finally becoming a Washington correspondent for the state newspaper of record.

From there she moved into a job as deputy press secretary for Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, who was majority leader, and a leading candidate for nomination to be President of the United States. She once described for me a scene in Senator Baker's private office at the Capital during the 1981 funeral of Senator Hubert Humphrey, to which three U.S. presidents repaired with a small group for privacy, and where Sen. Baker, an amateur photographer, took some, not very good, images.

Heady stuff, for a single woman from a working-class background who was entirely self-educated. But then the test finally came in and she didn't respond. Despite her intelligence, the code governing her advancement was inexplicable to her, so she was fired from her job, and couldn't get an important job again. The Washington Post published an op-ed article she wrote then, titled, "Is There Life After Macaroni & Cheese," referring to the 20-cent boxes by Kraft she was reduced to eating. She lost her house on Capital Hill before moving back home to finally get a master's degree at age 60, and begin life anew.

For decades I thought that my mother had failed at some important life task because of this turn. We both lacked the perspective to understand how the world really worked. Enormously talented people of good will have always been able to oppose the negative force that attempts to shape our destiny, while still achieving successful careers. But that force has gained the upper hand in recent decades, making the moral option next to impossible for the average person with a dream. Success today comes with a higher price tag, and I have no illusions about the goodness of media stars who run in the control booth, or the minions forced to do their bidding.

Once great newspapers have become shams of their former selves. The Tennessean, "Established in 1812," according to its letterhead, may have always been just another over-class tool of privledged white people, but John Seigenthaler, its publisher when my mother worked there, had his skull cracked open by a policeman's nightstick during the violence over integration. Can you imagine anybody at Gannett, the paper's current owners, having such an experience today? It is not the internet that is destroying anything. Newspapers and other traditional media destroyed themselves, and the internet is our only hope for salvation.

I recently stumbled upon a letter posted at Scribd from an environmental scientist named Cate Jenkins, who works for the EPA in Washington, which she wrote to Robert S. Mueller, the director of the FBI, to plead them to investigate the falsification of data in studies of the World Trade Center disaster---scientific fraud committed by her own agency, and other officials. That the government bureaucracy is still working in even this small way is encouraging to me. The courage, clarity and moral purpose of Dr. Jenkins' attempt at forcing truth to power makes me hopeful that the system can self-correct, however painful that promises to be.

What other choice do we have? Thoreau said, "Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison." But we are being bound by illusions that have the power to rule the world, while the truth is being kept at bay. Something has to give. Macaroni & Cheese or the White House? Which is it to be?

ADDENDUM: Click on the expanded view of the first photograph and tell me who you think is peering over John Mitchell's shoulder, just off camera.