Category Archives: History

Muhammad Ali: The Champ for racial equality and social justice

Not everybody loved The Greatest: what Muhammad Ali meant to one racist Southern kid

That was always the difference between Muhammad Ali and the rest of us. He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer – he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation. – Hunter S. Thompson

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70 in a rural Southern culture that was stereotypically:

  • racist
  • segregationist
  • sexist
  • homophobic
  • nationalistic
  • jingoistic

And, of course,

  • conservative Christian

As a kid, all you know is what you’re taught. Continue reading Muhammad Ali: The Champ for racial equality and social justice

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Columbine: 17 years ago today

Columbine
Columbine

April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”

“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.

It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.

This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.

My Brother's Bar: 2376 Fifteenth St., Denver

An unremarkable corner in downtown Denver. No signage announces the nature of the business within. But this is My Brother’s Bar, one of the 5280’s most historic spots, and if you know a bit about the Beats, you know that this is the place from Kerouac’s On the Road. Everything has changed around it, but the place itself? More or less the same.

My Brother's Bar, Denver - looking up Platte
My Brother’s Bar, Denver – looking up Platte

Continue reading My Brother's Bar: 2376 Fifteenth St., Denver

Confederate PTSD: Curing the South

PTSD-Confederate-FlagWhen I was in graduate school at Iowa State in the late 1980s I hit a period, during my second year, where a little homesickness set in. So I did something to remind myself of the place and people I was missing: I bought a Confederate flag and affixed it to my desk in the office, which I shared with 10-15 other MA students.

Some of my colleagues were, I think, appalled, and it was suggested that this was a symbol of slavery and racism. No, I said. I’m not a racist – it’s simply a reminder of home. I don’t think I used the word “heritage,” but from the outside what I was saying probably sounded exactly like what defenders of the flag are saying today.

As irony would have it, at the time I was dating a black woman. Continue reading Confederate PTSD: Curing the South

It’s time we stopped worshipping our “founding fathers”

For our founding fathers, “people” was a euphemism” that meant “rich white men.” Sadly, the same is true for many of our current leaders.

It’s been a momentous couple of weeks. Obamacare won a key victory, and as a result it’s going to be much harder for Republican politicians to roll it back in the future. There is a great deal wrong with the Affordable Care Act, to be sure, but at least it represents the acknowledgment that the general health of the nation’s citizens is a legitimate government concern.

The Confederate flag – specifically, the famous Stars & Bars battle jack – and the deeply ingrained racism it represents took a major ass-whipping. No, striking a symbol of treason and prejudice won’t make racism go away – any more than electing a black president did – but it’s a meaningful symbolic victory in a long cultural war. If that flag flies on the grounds of the statehouse, it’s an express acknowledgement to everyone that it’s okay to celebrate a “heritage” built on slavery. Continue reading It’s time we stopped worshipping our “founding fathers”

40 years ago today: where were you when Tricky Dick Nixon resigned?

You know those events where people always remember where they were? Like Kennedy’s assassination. The Challenger disaster. 9/11.

Well, 40 years ago today was another big one: on August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon became the first American president to resign from office, finally bowing to pressure in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And yes, I remember where I was: Continue reading 40 years ago today: where were you when Tricky Dick Nixon resigned?

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it