Friday 19th June 2020
Never stayed in bed so epically. The usual routine -up by 6, internet and news till 9 or 10, back asleep till lunch. By then the flat was empty, J off to work and A meeting a mate.
By the time the news fora had dried up I then had a stab at gaming, something rarely done. The usual Streetfighter II. At some stage sat down to watch Hereditary -a wonderful Shining-esque horror that creeps into your head without overt jump scares or monsters, with one shocking, genre-redefining, rule breaking scene that stays with you throughout the rest of the film, no spoilers.
Milly Shapiro is mesmerising, and quite the turn from the all singing, all dancing Matilda of Broadway fame.
Thus my day, mostly lived vicariously.
It is Juneteenth today, a lesser known mark on the calendar that’s come to the fore recently with global events -the day slavery ended in the US when troops marched into Galveston, Texas to free the slaves by official order in 1865. NYC declared it a national holiday for the first time.
Also being revived is the long-buried history of Tulsa, Oklahoma where 99 years ago the Greenwood district, once known as the Black Wall Street (the richest Black community in the country) was burned to the ground following rumours of a Black man assaulting a White woman in a lift, with over 1,000 businesses destroyed and 35 blocks laid waste. The White mobs took three days while law enforcers watched or joined in, massacring over 300 residents. It was even bombed by plane.
The community never recovered, moving into entrenched poverty on the other side of the river, while Greenwood today is enjoyed as a tourist attraction for the upcoming hundred year anniversary. Only now is the city coming to terms with its past, long swept under the carpet -a commission has recently been set up to identify the victims, buried in mass graves.
The last survivor, Olivia Hooker died in 2018, and remembered hiding under the table as a six year old, while the city burned through the night, staying undetected as armed men with torches took an axe around the house, smashing the piano and her dolls.
The family moved to Ohio, where she went to university and became a teacher. During the war, rejected from US Navy Corps, she instead became the first Black woman coastguard, going on to become a ‘tireless voice for equality’.
After the war her service managed to get her foot in the door for a Masters, then a PhD in Psychology. By the 1960s she was a professor in New York’s Fordham University, and a founding member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission set up in 1997, that reopened the case of what had happened. She was still volunteering at the Coastguard’s Auxiliary at the age of 95, and five years later on her centenary the President paid tribute to her.
“It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what we can give to this world.” -Olivia Hooker, aged 103.
I wonder what she’d make of today, the recent worldwide protests, the change, finally, in institutions facing their past and an equally painful present. A life lived within a couple of paragraphs, summed up so quickly but with such achievement between those paltry lines. What will they make of us in the future, looking back? -With familiarity to the same problems, or an understanding having come out the other side of the maw? We can all lend to writing our histories, by, as a great man said and a great woman did, being the change we want to see. Living vicariously is not enough, practicing what you preach is key to a better future, should we ever want one.