Sacred Places

By Leslye Joy Allen

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

I was among the people supremely delighted at the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers to halt any further construction of the Dakota Pipeline on Sunday, December 4, 2016 until further study of its environmental impact on the water supply in that area. I am not going to preach about the fact that eventually that pipeline would have negatively affected the water supply. You can read my previous blog “A Time of Drought,” to get an idea.

For environmentalists, like myself, this was an incredible victory because for the first time, in a long time, the environment was front and center.  The many Native American nations, along with military servicemen and women, environmentalists, and peoples from around the globe were involved in this protest. Often protests of this nature compete with news stories about who-wore-what to some awards show or the endless stories that moan and groan about things some people obviously have no intention of doing anything about, else they would not spend so much time moaning and groaning about them in the first place…

This time something as precious as water was at the forefront; and access to clean water is something that everyone can understand, even when they are less informed about other matters related to the environment…

Now, what I am about to say here might stun a few folks…

What a lot of people often fail to recognize is that in almost every instance where the earth or air or water has been disturbed or polluted, whether it is to extract oil or some other resource or to build some structure, there has almost always been some violation of the sacred, some disturbing of something that meant something precious to someone or to some group of people…

For my Atlanta readers, you might know, or might need reminding, that underneath a portion of Interstate 75-South lies an old cemetery filled with the graves of Black folks, our brothers and sisters. Where Interstate 75-South meets Cleveland Avenue lies a marble marker that designates the graves of roughly 1,700 former slaves who were buried in Gilbert Cemetery which had been created as a burial place for slaves in the early 1840s.

Because the area around this grave came to be known as “Plunkett Town” which was still occupied by poor, rural Blacks as late as the 1960s, the graveyard there did not illicit much concern until work crews from the Georgia Department of Transportation discovered the damaged burial grounds while building Interstate 75.  By the time of the discovery, the graves had already been disturbed, and the plans and money to build that highway were already in place.  No one considered the graveyards to be more important than building a much-needed highway.  What has been left there is a marker letting people who bother to look know that they are driving over a graveyard…

This is exactly what we all have been doing to Native Americans’ sacred sites ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, eventually and forcibly transporting millions of Africans here to perform heavy labor as slaves…

This is not a moral judgement, but rather food for thought.  Too often we—and that includes environmentalists as well, and I am just as guilty—do not think of water as anything other than something that will come out of a faucet when we turn that faucet on.  And as long as we can pay our Water Bill, we seem assured that when we turn that knob, water will come out…

But go pour a glass of water.  Look at it!  Say a prayer to it!  Respect it!

The Standing Rock protest that has temporarily halted the Dakota Pipeline might not have converted any new environmentalists; I know too well from experience that a lot of people do not want to be inconvenienced in any way, even if that small inconvenience will help clean up the environment, or at least slow down the toxicity of the natural environment…

Yet, we all need to stay on guard because this battle may come up again as a new president moves into the White House in January 2017.  However, for the time being, recognize what this protest and this small victory has made us all pay attention to: respect for the dead and for the most precious resource on earth: water.  If you are not humbled by this, I do not know what else to tell you except that you will eventually be humbled by this, whether you want to be or not.

Àṣé.”

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Soldiers, Scholars, and “Black Redtail Angels” in Southwest Atlanta

by Leslye “Joy” Allen                                                                                                        Historian, Educator, Theatre & Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student                                               Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“White American bomber crews reverently referred to them as “The Black Redtail Angels” because of the identifying red paint on their tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing bombers to enemy fighters as they provided fighter escort to bombing missions over strategic targets in Europe.” –Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Dryden (1920-2008) from A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman

Back in early December 2011, I received an email from a cousin that contained a trailer from the movie Red Tails, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen directed by Anthony Hamilton, produced and largely funded by George Lucas.  Not long after I received the email with the trailer, I was thinking about my one and only meeting with the late Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. “Chuck” Dryden.

I had called Dryden when I briefly served as an intern for a World War II Oral History project.  When I called him, he looked at his Caller ID and determined that I was calling from a phone in Southwest Atlanta.  He told me to hang up the phone and come on over.  With no hesitation, I drove to his home, which was about six minutes from my own.

Dryden was a decorated Tuskegee Airman, and one of many Tuskegee Airmen that lived in Atlanta, which is home to more Tuskegee Airmen than any other city in the nation.  A member of the famous 99th Pursuit Squadron, and later the 332nd Fighter Group, it was Dryden who led a group of six Black fighter pilots in aerial combat in Italy in 1943—This was the first time in aviation history that Black pilots in the U. S. Army Air Corps engaged an enemy in aerial combat.

I spent an afternoon at his home in Southwest Atlanta back in the summer of 2007 where he told me how he had to be perfect as a fighter pilot if we were going to stop Hitler’s Third Reich and if he and others were going to prove that Black men made excellent fighter pilots.

That afternoon I learned that he was much, much more than a fighter pilot.  I had owned his memoir A Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman for years, but at that time, I had not yet had an opportunity to read it in its entirety.  However, from what I had read and from my conversation with him, it was apparent that he was very much a scholar.

We discussed history, politics, art, World War II, U. S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the upcoming “Democratic Presidential nomination” of Barack Obama, and of all things: my Master’s thesis.  He insisted that I tell him more about my research on the White politicians that made up the Georgia Know-Nothing Party, a group that did not want Georgia to secede from the Union as the South reeled from the election of Abraham Lincoln.

I should add that we also talked some mess!  I noticed a picture of Dryden and his beautiful and brilliant wife Marymal Dryden.  She was not there when I visited, but I remember reading one of her essays.  The handsome couple stood there in the photo with the Arizona sunset as their background.

“You remember that scene in the movie Waiting to Exhale where Angela Bassett burns up all of her ex-husband’s stuff in the car,” he asked.  “Yeah,” I answered.  “Well, we are standing right there in that same spot where she burned up everything.”  We both burst into laughter.

He could not stand upright, as he had been afflicted with a severe stroke.  Yet, his mind was razor sharp.  He thought U. S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was dangerous.  Moreover, of more than a dozen WWII vets that I spoke with, ALL of them thought this way.  In less than a year after my wonderful visit, Lt. Col. Dryden passed on to the ancestors.

Not long after his death, a young woman in one of my history classes informed me that she would be attending the United States Air Force Academy.  In one of our conversations where we talked about everything from the fact that the Air Force had fewer Blacks than any other part of the armed services, she told me that she met Lt. Col. Dryden before his death.

When I asked her about their conversation, she looked me straight in the eye and said that Dryden’s face lit up when she introduced herself and told him she was planning to go the United States Air Force Academy.

He told her, “When you get to the Air Force Academy, you give THEM HELL!”  We both laughed because we knew what he meant, and we offered no apologies for his pointed audacity-filled instructions to her to kick some you-know-what at the Air Force Academy.

Nearly four generations her senior, Dryden let this young sister know that his expectations of her were high.  He also knew that his vote of confidence in her abilities would buttress her against any doubts she might develop should she encounter those individuals who thought the United States Air Force had no need of Black female officers and pilots.  Like every other Tuskegee Airman I know of, Dryden never lost his swagger, his sense of possibility.  Like many other men and women of his era, he expected much from himself and from all of us who were born after him.

Dryden and my parents were contemporaries.  I am a late born child—my mom turns 91 years young this year.  If my father were living, he would be turning the age of 92.  The men and women of Dryden and my parents’ era not only lived long enough to see the world change, but they were largely responsible for changing it.

Folks my age and younger often complain about what needs to be done to create racial and economic justice.  Many of us have been vocal critics of our elders, and often our analyses of what did or did not work in the past have been correct.  However, if there is any lesson to learn from the “Black Redtail Angels,” and our elders from the World War II era and beyond is their dedication to education and their examples of extreme sacrifice.

These men and women—Black and White— those in the military and those keeping the home front, were in their twenties when Adolph Hitler threatened to destroy any semblance of racial or ethnic equality in Europe and elsewhere.  I shudder to think of how different the world might have been had he and his minions been successful.

We often forget that the Third Reich did not just target Jews for extermination.  It exterminated and planned the extermination of Poles, and all Slavic peoples, persons with mental and physical disabilities, Gays and Lesbians, and yes, Afro-Germans.

We owe folks like Lt. Col. Dryden and Lt. Col. Hap Chandler, a White fighter pilot from Toccoa, Georgia.  Not long after I met Chandler, I learned that he had shown up at a meeting of Georgia’s Tuskegee Airmen to thank them for keeping him alive and to apologize for the awful way that “members of my race treated you.”

Chandler also had that same swagger, intellectualism, and expectation that I noticed about Dryden.  In the late 1940s, he also belonged to that small but growing number of White veterans who had to reassess their erroneous beliefs about alleged “Black inferiority” that remained endemic to every aspect of American life and was the very basis of the social and economic order of the American South.  I should add that Chandler was cool.  He drove a Jaguar and arrived for his interview wearing a suit and tie and holding hands with his seventy-year-old girlfriend.

The Tuskegee Airmen, and other Black World War II veterans came back home to the United States and demanded equality from a country that denied them the very thing they had fought for abroad.  The modern-day Civil Rights movement began with the efforts and work of all of these men and women.

They went to college (or back to college) in record numbers under the G. I. Bill.  They sought advanced degrees, pursued well-paying skilled jobs in new industries, started businesses, and swelled the numbers of the Black middle class so that you and I could do much of what we are able to do now.  They bought homes and sent kids to college.

They registered and voted in every election.  They marched with and sometimes paid to get civil rights activists, students and radicals out of jail.  They set examples for us to follow and repeat, and made some mistakes for us to study and avoid, but they never stopped moving and searching for new ways to create a more just and equitable nation for their children and grandchildren.

They did all of these things without computers, cable television, the Internet, email, blogs, social media or cell phones.  We should do no less.  Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

The Paper Yet to be Returned

by Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                               Historian, Educator, Theatre & Jazz advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

My last blog for Cascade Patch attempted to remind everyone that Tuskegee Airman, one Lt. Col. Charles W. Dryden had a clear vision about what and whom he was fighting against when he valiantly fought in World War II.

Yet, another group of soldiers now struggle with what it meant to be in the military in Iraq; and some are still trying to understand the complicated mission of remaining in Afghanistan.  The following is a personal story about one of my former students:

Back in 2008 when I was teaching United States and World History courses at a local junior college, I encountered a young 20-something male student who I initially feared might earn an “F” in my class.  Like many students I have encountered in recent years, writing was not his forte; and history is research and writing intensive.  However, much like many other students, he performed much better on his second paper after he followed the directions, suggestions, and criticisms I wrote on his first paper.

It is a thrill to watch a struggling student take off at top speed and make real, concrete progress.  This student, who I will refer to here as “M,” did just that.  There is still only one problem: M has not yet been able to pick up his final paper, a paper where he worked like a trooper to earn an “A.”

A few weeks before that semester in 2008 ended, M approached me after class to let me know that he was in the U. S. Army Reserves.  He was part of a reserve troops that would soon go to Iraq.  His deployment could occur at any time and at a moment’s notice.  He feared he would have to leave for Iraq before the semester ended.  He worried about missing his final examinations.  I told him not to worry.  He had enough graded assignments for me to figure out his grade point average if it became necessary.

Since educators and employers are required by law to accommodate, as best we can, those employees and students who may be called to military service, I had to come up with the best possible solution for M.  After discussing the matter with my department head, I decided to wave his having to take my final examination.  After a careful review of all of his grades, he averaged a solid “B.”  He left for Iraq, however, before I could return his last paper.

A few days after his departure, he emailed me to let me know that he had safely arrived.  He thanked me for all that I had taught him, and asked me to remember him in my prayers.  He also told me that I had taught him to “think outside of the box.”  I freely admit that I can be a bit radical and unorthodox.  I would never have survived even working in the post office in Uncle Sam’s army.  When M made that comment, I wondered how my teaching him to “think outside the box” would actually help him in Iraq.

I quickly responded and asked that he email me and his other instructors to let us know how he was doing.  He responded that he would try to stay in touch, but that his commanding officer had warned him about sending too many emails.  Because of where he was located in Iraq, it might be dangerous to regularly contact too many United States citizens by email as the area was potentially teeming with internet-savvy terrorists.  Emails, he wrote, were particularly vulnerable to enemy infiltration.  That worried me.

Sure enough, his emails abruptly stopped.  Months after his departure, I wondered if he was still alive.  I even caught myself paying extra attention to news reports of casualties in Iraq.  Then, I misplaced the last paper I graded for him.  Misplacing the paper felt like a bad omen.  Then in 2009, I ran across a blog where a blogger had spoken with Paul Rieckhoff, the author of the Iraq Memoir Chasing Ghosts.  Of soldiers in Iraq, Rieckhoff stated:

“This is not a drafted army, it’s a professional force, so folks are staying in longer, they’re older and they’re more likely to have families…But those who are being killed and injured are disproportionately young — the people you played soccer with and went to high school with.”  (For the full article, go to: http://stand-up-4-veterans.tressugar.com/Toll-Iraq-US-Soldiers-3294102)

After I read the blog, I felt worse.  I knew that any war almost always consists of young soldiers, but exactly how young?  How often had military service in Iraq or Afghanistan interrupted college students’ educations?

Another year passed and soon, I briefly forgot about M.  Then, in 2010, I got a phone call from a former co-worker.  She received news that one of her former students was killed in Iraq.  I did not know this particular student well, but she did.  With both of us weeping over lives lost too young, I thought about M again.  I did not email him for fear that I would not receive a reply email and again wonder if he was still alive.  I could not and cannot imagine what the families of these young women and men have gone through during the course of the Iraq war and the seemingly endless problems in Afghanistan.

Right before this past Christmas 2011, I decided to sort through the tons of papers and assorted items that had accumulated into a small mountain on my dining room table.  There were stacks of papers, books, photographs, and notebooks on the table and in boxes around the table and elsewhere in my house.  We historians are the world’s most notorious packrats, always afraid that we might throw away some document we might need later for our research.  Yet, enough was enough.

After sorting through all of the excess and deciding what might go into the recycling bin, I found the last paper M wrote that I graded at the bottom of one of my many boxes.  Early Christmas morning, I summoned the nerve to email him to ask how he was doing, noting that I had just stumbled across the last paper he turned in for my World History class.  FYI: M’s paper was about one of the Zanj revolts that took place in the Afro-Arabic world (Look it up if you do not know what I am talking about because I am not even going to define “Zanj” for any reader younger than M.)

Later that Christmas night, I received an email from M stating that he was well, but still in Afghanistan.  The military has now deployed him OVER FIVE TIMES.  Scheduled to return home in the summer of 2012, he noted that he felt like Iraq and Afghanistan were recipes for civil war.  Indeed, he said, Afghanistan already was engaged in what he believed to be a civil conflict that neither the United States military’s presence (or absence) could remedy.  Later on January 10, 2012, I stumbled on an article that described how the Taliban attempted to invade a government building in East Afghanistan.  I worried again.

As a historian, I study and lecture about politics, the performance arts, racism, social change, and war all the time.  Yet, nothing prepared me to watch a young scholar go off to war with his education interrupted or to contemplate that he might not make it back home.

M emailed me that the military had taught him how to think one way, but he emphasized that I had taught him another way to look at and examine the world.

“You taught me to see things for more than what is put in front of me,” he wrote.  In the last weeks of 2011 and the first month or so of 2012, when we Black folks have lost so many of our brothers and sisters in so many ways, I am thankful, grateful, and rather proud of M’s compliment.

Yet, as far as I am concerned, U. S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq can only officially end for me when I can put M’s final graded paper in his hand.

Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.