Travel, Writing

A Morning By the San Antonio River

A walk along the San Antonio River.

San Antonio, Texas, the land of ma’am, terrific tacos, Chicana literature, and Nora Jones.

I’m here for a writing conference, which ended yesterday.

The place where I’m staying called me back to the neighborhood of my childhood.

Wood houses with peeling paint, chain link fences, front yards of abundant flowers, blossoming succulents. Stucco homes of bright green, azure, yellow and old white guarded by courageous dogs, barking their heads off, but tails wagging. The sleeping cat lifted her head when the man selling paletas jingled by.

 

After a few days of workshops, I needed alone time, so I spent the morning walking the San Antonio River (the non-restaurant row part). There are 15 miles of RiverWalk, from downtown through Hemisphere Park, and through several neighborhoods, should you care to take on the whole adventure.

Gentrification is around the block, across the train tracks, where the ten-story apartment buildings begin and Airstream trailers sell bar-b-que, tacos, and cold beer under a rainbow of stringed light bulbs. Breweries take up full blocks buffered by outdoor cafes.

The walking path along the San Antonio River is rimmed with Cypress trees, duck marshes, leased dogs, stately homes, and from time to time, the sight of an older man fishing off the ledge.

“There’s still catfish, bass, and gizzard shad,” the man tells me when I stop to see where his fishing line landed. I nod, wish him good luck, and good eating.

Cool wind pushes along marshmallow clouds, giving a respite from a warming sun. A passel of joggers run by me. “Run the Alamo Marathon” began twenty-three miles back.

Two men, one in front of the other, sing out a call and response in cadence, encouraging one another for the last mile. Two women in their fifties, who look like sisters, hold hands, one slightly in front of the other who is flushed red, but wears a face of granite determination and trust. They jog almost shoulder to shoulder. Their whispered cadence call is for them alone.

A “Do not feed the ducks” sign is posted by a toddler throwing bits of saltines in the water. Soon there is a duck fight among the reeds, where the mallards flap, circle, and honk until one dives underwater and upends his opponent.

Sugar aromas of Belgian waffles drift by. A large Art Nouveau house, turned restaurant, looms into view. The library now houses a museum of Dresden china, gas-lit chandeliers, and original 1920’s memorabilia.

 

Hunger won out after mile three. I bypassed the colossal restaurant and explored a much smaller venue where I had more coffee, veggie scramble, homemade bread, and jam.

Music from nearby DJ’s played, the sun broke through the clouds again, and I rested.

Black History Month, Massacre

History We Need to Remember: The Elaine, Arkansas Massacre

The other day I perused my Instagram feed. In addition to spectacular scenic photos, cute cats, and tantalizing food items I found sepia photographs posted by Cee6466.
Arkansas Historical Archives, 1919

She is posting significant events in African American History for the month of February. After I read about the Arkansas Massacre I wanted to amplify the post. Cee Jaye gave me permission to do so.

Although slavery was outlawed, Black people remained at a fiscal deficit. From the beginning of the Jim Crow Era, Blacks had limited options, one was sharecropping. They worked former plantation owners land for a small share of the crop; which once harvested, was purchased by the former plantation owner at far below market value. In return for the “privilege” of employment and receiving a small portion of the crops, the owners provided a store where the Sharecroppers could buy the seed, fertilizer, food, and other life essentials.

This store was the crux of the insidious plot to keep the Sharecroppers indebted and in servitude indefinitely as every item was grossly overpriced and every account was charged exorbitant interest rates.

Sharecropping was the New Slavery.

One place where this was glaringly apparent was Elaine, Arkansas, where Black people had zero to severely limited options for employment and basic resources for survival. When WWI began and the majority of the men left to serve; remaining citizens migrated up North for better jobs leaving a shortage of workers for the cotton fields and lumberyards. The labor deficit resulted in the former plantation owners having to pay higher wages for the harvesting of cotton crops and the milling of lumber. 

When the Black soldiers returned home from WW I, they wanted their full rights, e.g. their citizenship acknowledged; the right to vote; and, to receive a fair wage. The soldiers and sharecroppers came together to discuss becoming members of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union and obtaining legal counsel to help the workers to acquire fair market value for their crops.

The former plantation owners did not agree with this collaboration as they did not want their way of life disrupted and generational wealth disbanded by invasive unions and ungrateful negroes.

 On September 30, 1919, with guards in place, many Black veterans and sharecropping families gathered at Hoop Spur Church to discuss the union. At approximately 11pm, the Church was riddled with gunfire and to the surprise of the attacking white men, Black guards fired back; resulting in the death of a white Railroad Agent.

Early the next day, whites had spread the word of a Negro insurrection. The city’s phone lines were cut; the sheriff called the white American Legion to Elaine; the Governor sent 583 soldiers as well as a machine gun battalion. All of the white women and children were sent to the neighboring town via train and there was an order for the immediate disarming of Negroes and if the Negroes refused to disarm; the order included the authorization to kill any Negro insurgent(s) that failed to disarm.

 The vigilante posse was close to 1,000 strong and came from Arkansas and Mississippi to assist the former plantation owners/managers, sheriff’s/deputies and WW1 veterans to protect the honor of their women, children, and land from the alleged murderous and enraged Negroes.

For five days, Black men, women, and children were hunted, machine-gunned down, axed, tortured, hanged, dismembered (for souvenirs), dragged, and burned alive. 

Heartbreakingly for the Black people who hid in the woods, when the troops arrived, the survivors thought they were safe and as they exited the woods they were either murdered or arrested. 

Nationwide newspapers reported and military leadership cosigned the slavery-esque rhetoric purported by the white community contending that due to outside union agitators the ignorant Negro Sharecroppers conspired and planned the insurrection to murder the former plantation owners and steal their land. 

On October  7th, the “insurrection” was declared over and through torture, confessions were obtained allowing the imprisonment of Blacks accused of inciting their own massacre.

As a result, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY surviving “insurrectionists” were indicted by the grand jury and detained until their alleged union participation could be verified; many union members were charged with crimes ranging from assault to night riding to murder.

Twelve Black sharecroppers, who became known as the Elaine 12, were convicted of murdering three white men (two of which accidentally shot each other). The Elaine 12: Albert Giles, Alfred Bands, Ed Coleman, Joe Fox, Paul Hall, Ed Hicks, Frank Hicks, Joe Knox, John Martin, Frank Moore, Ed Ware, and William Worldlaw.

From one of the twelve convicted Black men, anti-lynching activist and journalist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, received a letter requesting assistance. Dressing as a sharecropper, Ms. Ida went and found a way to interview the twelve prisoners; their wives, and eye-witnesses. In a 1920 pamphlet, she chronicled the atrocities and the unbelievable cruelties suffered by the Black residents of Elaine.*

The Wells-Barnett document described countless heinous acts perpetrated against the Black sharecroppers; their families; and neighbors. Those in power were able to block the press from reporting and even attempted to declare that the massacre never occurred. Fortunately, Ms. Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s expose was filled with irrefutable proof as well as the eye-witness accounts from survivors and the familial stories passed down over time. 

However, even with these large amounts of proof, the nation did not receive the truth about the massacre until the 1923 Supreme Court ruling overturning six of the convictions citing the confessions were obtained through torture, and the mob-fueled trial violated the prisoners right to due process.

While no one knows how many hundreds of Blacks were massacred, a military mission report praised the restraint exhibited by the troops; and declared only three lives were lost: two negroes and one white soldier. 

The N.A.A.C.P. estimated that more than 200 men, women, and children died during the Elaine massacre; however, historians believe that the total number of lives lost greatly exceeds two hundred souls.

On November 5, 2019, ONE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER the Elaine massacre, each of the Exonerated 12 received a marker of commemoration and induction into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Archive:

 The Elaine Massacre Video: (Graphic images, please be aware before you watch).
 
*The Elaine Massacre and Arkansas: A Century of Atrocity and Resistance 1819-1919″ by Guy Lancaster.
Thank you, Cee Jaye,  for posting the story on Instagram and educating us. For more Black History events, follow Cee Jaye .

Inspiration, Jr. Day

Ordinary People become Extraordinary Social Change Leaders

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

I’m presenting an act to you, without leaving your desk or chair: Signing a petition.

The following stories are close to my own heart and experiences: childhood poverty, unaffordable insulin costs, and climate change. They may be close to yours too. These petitions and content are from Change.org.

“Today, to honor Martin Luther King Jr., we celebrate all the social justice leaders who followed in his wake. The fight for equality has made tremendous steps forward since the March on Washington in 1963. And there is more work to be done.

Here are a few of their stories:

Fighting for affordable health care is a social justice issue

Richard’s fight for fairness is personal. His son, Trevon, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 4, and it rocked their family. Trevon’s survival now depends on regular doses of insulin. But even with good health insurance, families like theirs struggle to pay for the expensive medication.

Richard’s petition is asking state lawmakers to cap the price of insulin. And he’s a part of an even larger movement of changemakers with the same mission. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, the fight to fix the health care system is a fight against inequality.

Jerome is a remarkable 17-year-old leader in the youth climate movement. Every Friday, he goes on strike in front of the White House to demand lawmakers act before it’s too late.

Jerome has started multiple petitions related to the climate movement. And he’s signed many, many more. His Friday strikes in D.C. echo the lessons of civil disobedience that Martin Luther King Jr. taught previous generations.

What can a U.S. President do to solve childhood poverty? It’s been 20 years since presidential candidates on the debate stage were asked the question. As we move closer to the 2020 election, Israel thinks it’s time the public gets an answer.

At the core of Israel’s petition: Make sure the United States is committed to ending childhood hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Israel is a true social justice leader fighting to make the world a safer place for all.

These extraordinary leaders are taking social change forward. And each started with one simple first step: they started a petition.

Through collective action, they’re bringing fairness, equity, and justice to their communities. Please sign and share their petitions today to help celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s lasting impact.”

If you share the petitions on social media, you expand their range. That’s also an act of service.

Thank you for reading and signing.

Creativity, Inspiration, Nature, Self Care

A Surfer’s Haiku

beach
My beach

The title’s a bit misleading. I’m neither a surfer nor did a surfer create this poem.

I am fortunate to live close to several beaches in Southern California. Most coastal Californian’s can tell you that the weather at the beach, especially in the last decade, is unpredictable.

Today, on a January afternoon, the temperature rose to 70 degrees with little wind. The sun shone hot on my patio when I stepped outside, geared up with my gloves and electrical hedger. Perspiration moistened the brim of my hat before I got started trimming. I hesitated.

Born and raised in this area, I can smell the sea air on most days. My thoughts turned to the ocean breeze a mere six miles away. I could cut the last three overgrown bushes, or I could go with the first impression of what I’d rather be doing. I followed my gut and grabbed a beach towel, my journal, and my water bottle shouting ‘back soon’ to my daughter.

Many more people had the same idea by the looks of the beach parking lot, but I found a large patch of cool sand on a knoll. The roar of the ocean waves, punctuated by kid’s delighted screams, were only outdone by equally excited dogs.

The mid-day sun glassed the ocean, making my eyes squint to watch intrepid sailboats and marvel at brave surfers.

surfers
surfing spot

Scientists say the negative ions of the ocean air calm the brain, and walking barefoot grounds us to the earth. This must be so.

Soon, creativity took over, and I thought of a haiku.

The beach beckons,

blazing blue,

oceans roar

an invitation to surf.

I’ll grant you this isn’t a ‘true’ haiku of 5/7/5 syllables per line, but it’s an example of nature inspiring creativity.

Scientists also say that getting outdoors and connecting with the earth will help your mental well-being.

I wrote a few pages in my journal, took a nap on the sand and listened. Nature nurtured me, and don’t we all need that from time to time?

Think about what nurtures you and go out and live it.

The hedges can wait.

Lazy afternoon at the beach