Sadly, a Connection to the Past and a New Hero for Me

Posted separately a few moments ago:

Actually, it wasn’t an old man “oops.” It was a poor editor’s “oops.”

in my post about David Maraniss’ book, A Good American Family, i admitted i was no longer a “vociferous” reader. Oh, i hope i never was. What i meant to write and now have corrected in that post is “voracious.”

i was once a voracious reader. i don’t think it’s possible to be a vociferous” reader.

i have just finished reading David Maraniss’ book, A Great American Family. i did not get very far the night i first mentioned the book here. It took me a while. i am  no longer the voracious reader i once was. i often choose to write, procrastinate, play golf, do home chores, or most famously, take a nap before i read.

But this book, like the one David’s son Andrew wrote, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South, was riveting and struck me deeply, personally. It took me time because as i read i reflected on a story i knew in the back of mind but had never really considered in the all of the aspects of that dark time in our history, especially when i considered it in relation to what is happening in our country today. i would reread passages and attempt to put me into the same position as David’s older brother who was born the same year i was born, 1944. But the Maraniss family was in Michigan. My family was in Middle Tennessee. Still, i related.

What Elliot Maraniss experienced and what his family endured because of paranoia, fear of the unknown and a blindness from our elected officials and their followers to our Constitution’s idea of freedom, equality, and justice seems so remote from what my parents and our family living in Middle Tennessee experienced. Sadly ironic, the folks like ours in the South were naive to the evil disguised so well by power brokers of the South and throughout our system who created the terrible situation that put the Maraniss family and many others through such dismal times.

The story intrigued me in many ways.

One was of disgust we could bring down such cruelty, such injustice to our own countrymen.

One was amazement this kind of thing could happen right after we, including many of the perpetrators of such horror, recently had defended our country, our way of life, our freedom from the same kind of evil.

One was confirmation that many folks caught up in this maelstrom of fear and hatred as well as many other evils before and after the “Red Scare,” weren’t, at heart, evil people. As i write in my home office, behind me is a beautiful floor to ceiling book shelf cabinet built by a guy named George Hoemann. i discovered him through Maureen’s friend from her youth. i don’t think my in-laws knew George even though he lived about a block away from them in Lemon Grove. As the cabinet making progressed, i spent some time in his workshop adjoining his house. In those conversations, he revealed he had been in the German infantry in World War II. George and i never discussed his political opinions. i’m guessing he thought it was dangerous waters to wade through. i was concerned probing into those areas might make George uncomfortable, especially with a Navy commander. But forty years after WWII, i knew George was a good man.

Another thing that intrigued me was the skill and hard work of David Maraniss. Working on my book, i am aware of the requirements for research, collation of sources, organization, not to mention honest straight forward writing of the highest caliber. i fall far short of David’s capabilties.

i also recognized Elliott and David Maraniss were exemplary products of what i consider the golden age of journalism. David’s description of his father as a newspaper editor sounded so much like many newspaper folks i knew as i wandered through the world of sports writing until i committed to a career at sea. My mentor, JB Leftwich; Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell and his managing sports editor Bill Roberts; Watertown, New York’s Watertown Daily Times publisher John B. Johnson and his son and my good friend John B. Johnson, Jr.; and Lebanon Democrat’s G. Frank Burns, Amelia Morrison Hipps, and Jared Felkins all were caring, kind people and great family members while being uncompromising and blunt if necessary to stick to objective and correct journalism.

Scarily, i also related to what occurs in David Maraniss’ story of his family having the potential, if not already well on the way to repeating a terrible blot on our country’s history. We just can’t seem to learn from our past. We either honor or denigrate our forefathers with no understanding of the culture and beliefs of their time, layering our own culture on top of the past. We don’t note what was wrong and avoid such terrible results. We repeat them.

i found hope, hope in we can continue on with dignity and succeed in having productive lives. And we can do it under the worst of circumstances. My friend David Carey, a POW for five-and-a-half years in Vietnam cites the mission of those POW’s was to “return with dignity.” They did. And Elliott Maraniss and his family returned from their ordeal with dignity. American dignity. Unique.

Finally, i found a new hero. i should have known about George Crockett, but i didn’t until i read about him in A Good American Family. George William Crockett, Jr. had skin pigments darker than mine. He lived in a time when many people actually believed his race was inferior to my race, poppycock that some people still believe today. And this idea of group superiority appears to be expanding to more and more groups and is becoming more divisive and more confrontational than ever. As noted, we just can’t seem to learn from our past.

George rose above such evil thinking. He did not subscribe to group think. i hope i think like George Crockett thought. As described by David Maraniss, George certainly forecasted my ideas of equality:

In an essay he wrote on March 17 he denounced the “separate but equal” status that whites imposed in the southern states with the acquiescence of some black leaders and instead championed a universal perspective. “For myself,” he wrote, “I have never regarded race consciousness or race pride as a particular virtue, and I am hopeful that more and more Americans become less and less conscious. Hitler and his followers should be an example to these extreme race chauvinists.. The sooner we begin to think, act, and react as Americans and not as hyphenated Americans the sooner we shall find the common basis and partnership which is a prerequisite for America’s race and color problem.  The phrase “our people” had no racial connotation for me. Indeed, all Americans, all humanity, constitute my people.”

And he captured my thoughts on freedom, equality, and justice:

In riding the subways in New York, Crockett told the jury, he noticed a sign that said, “Freedom is everybody’s business.” He thought it was the perfect motto to apply to the defense in this case. “Freedom is indivisible,” he said. “We cannot deny freedom of speech to communists and at the same time preserve freedom for the Jews and for Catholics and for Negroes or for persons of foreign ancestry. You cannot outlaw the Communist Party because of its political theories  without creating a most dangerous precedent, a precedent that may used in the future to outlaw a religious organization or the political organization or the inter-racial organization to which you and i might belong. Once we in America forget that freedom is everybody’s business, once we accept the facist theory that communists have no rights at all or that all communists should be sent to Russia or put in concentration camps, once we begin thinking and speaking in those terms we descend to the very depths of Hitlerism.”

i don’t intend to dictate or even suggest how other people are supposed to think or act. i hope what i put forward will give the opportunity to pause and consider what is right or wrong. i hope everyone i know reads A Great American Family for the same reason: to consider what we can learn from the past and make our lives, our country a little bit better.

In this book, David Maraniss was right on.

Thank you, David.

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