The “sweet rain” of musical riches fell on Earth Day – and on a suspenseful Record Store Day

getz sweet rain

The back cover art of “Sweet Rain,” a 1967 album by Stan Getz.

 

Record Store Day: Hunt No. 1, Sweet Rain

The sun greeted Earth Day morning 2017 with warm benevolence and I imagined maybe, just maybe, I could “do it all” today, as my dear paraplegic friend Jim Glynn used to say, and amazingly he usually did, despite his disability. My disability is in my upper limbs, so I was up for this.

I wanted to commemorate and honor Earth Day meaningfully and urgently, because of the how the Trump administration now endangers the earth and its inhabitants with their small-minded head-in-the-sand environmental policies. I’d first planned on driving to Madison for the big rally to celebrate The Earth and to decry policies of Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has decimated the Department of Natural Resources.
But my girlfriend Ann Peterson and I had plans to drive to West Bend to see a superb photography retrospective of Tom Bamberger at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in the afternoon.

So I decided to skip Madison and join the Riverkeepers to pick up garbage along the Milwaukee River, a waterway I have grown to love more than any, especially the stretch of it right below Kern Park near where I live in the Riverwest. I had taken a photo of that portion of the river, which tries to capture its beauty, power, and the life within, for the cover of my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

MKE river w canoe

Not my book cover photo, but canoers on the Milwaukee River, seen on the river path just south of Capitol Drive, from an old photo scan. Photo by Kevin Lynch

What complicated and enriched the day was that April 22 was also Record Store Day, and I’m an old record freak. I had tried to get a jump on that by doing my record store mining the day before, because the crowds on Record Store Day descend on the best independent stores like locusts.
I knew The Exclusive Company, on Brady Street and Farwell Ave., had recently purchased one used CD I had fondled several times recently and left behind – because of my tight budget. It was The Beatles’ White Album, a two-disc CD set for $5.99 with a slightly water-damaged lyric pages liner booklet.
But my first strategic stop the day before Earth Day/Record Store Day was to Bullseye Records, on Irving Street just off of Farwell, also on Milwaukee’s East Side. It’s not nearly as big as Exclusive Company but they’re both great independent record stores. And Bullseye is more lovable, funky but jammed with a high percentage of quality used CDs and LPs and some choice vintage new LPs, including audiophile-quality pressings, classic Blue Notes and choice imports. They also have some dog-eared copies of several classic record guide books, such as the now definitive All Music Guide, sitting in the bin areas, not to mention a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Bull's Eye records

The music-loving locusts descend upon Bullseye Records on Milwaukee’s East Side okon the annual Record Store Day, a celebration of America’s independent record stores. Photo courtesy of Bullseye Records Home Page/Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/pg/BullseyeRecordsMilwaukee/about/

I wanted a couple of CDs, a good Stevie Ray Vaughan disc, a gap in my collection heretofore, which I covered with The Definitive Stevie Ray Vaughan, on Sony Legacy, though I suspect I will buy more of Stevie Ray in the future. Also I needed to replace my LP copy of tenor sax great Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris, the superbly ingenious recording he made with Bud Powell, the bebop piano icon. I found those both in Bullseye’s CD bins.
Then I noticed a guy pulling out some pretty cool albums from the jazz LP bins. A lot of the albums had been marked with orange dots signifying they were half-price for Record Store Day weekend. Although I admired his choices, I realized that this hipster was weeding out a lot of the best stuff. So I began browsing the bins a few racks ahead of him. When he went to listen to a few of the LPs on Bullseye’s auditioning turntable I had a chance to go back to the A-through-D’s he’d been first plumbing.

One reason I love Bullseye is because they have a professional-quality turntable and a good receiver with which you can audition used LPs. It’s the only record store in the Upper Midwest I know of that offers that feature (along with a CD auditioning player, both with headphones) which can be an invaluable, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me.

It made me think of my other favorite record store, Strictly Discs in Madison, which has four CD-auditioning players. Strictly Discs is a truly great record store with a lower level filled with used LPs, which seems to be the curiously retro medium of choice for millennials these days. Before I moved back to Milwaukee in 2009, I had sold my LP collection of 4,000 records to Strictly Discs and received a handsome sum in return.

Nevertheless, it was perhaps the most painful and bittersweet day of my life, aside from those in which I’ve lost living people and creatures dear to me, forced partly due to a painful affliction that disables my left hand, making manipulation of LPs on a turntable difficult. I also thought of B-Side Records, the other invaluable music store in Madison, and particularly its owner Steve Manley, now suffering from a life-threatening disease. Besides being a great recorded music expert, Manley had once kindly written a letter to the editor of The Capital Times praising my coverage of the city’s jazz scene for that newspaper.
But I was in Milwaukee today, and, anticipating tomorrow’s Earth Day/art museum trip, I had to get cracking.

Soon enough old LP treasures began surfacing, alphabetically, as I worked through the Bullseye bins. The first was the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Great Black Music: A Jackson in Your House, a reasonably-priced new audiophile quality re-release from the French label, Actuel/BYG Records. This 1969 recording already shows the innovation, imagination, and sometimes madcap wit, and an almost sculptural sense of space this amazing group demonstrated throughout its existence.

Then I found The Bix Beiderbecke Story, both Volume One: Bix and his Gang and Volume 2: Bix and Tram. Cornetist Beiderbecke, of course, was the greatest white New Orleans-style jazz musician in an era of music innovated and dominated by black musicians. It was sweet to find these on LP for very cheap as I had once owned and cherished them.

Next, I found Sweet Rain, a 1967 recording by Stan Getz, the masterful tenor saxophonist at a period when he finally shed the gorgeous wings of the bossa nova craze that made him famous and embraced modern jazz without forsaking his natural lyricism, romanticism and humanity, as evidenced by the back cover photo pictured above. The orange-stickered record, which I nabbed for two bucks this day,  includes piano giant Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter then with the classic 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, and drummer Grady Tate. The album opener, “O Grande Amore,” switches from a rubato to a fast tempo where Getz shows his debt to Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” harmonic virtuosity, the same Coltrane who famously said he’d give his right arm to sound like Getz. Among other highlights, there’s a startlingly thrilling high note from Getz to end “Litha.” Then there’s the surprisingly funky interludes of “Windows.”

And throughout there’s Senor Corea’s sparkling and incisive Latin-inflected piano comping and fills, like a toreador wielding a lance, but never drawing real blood, yet penetrating deeply the spirit of duende, mostly here its angelic side which, one hopes, outlasts the dark blood-haunted side. 1

Then, I found a record I had been looking for many years and never owned in any form. It is titled The Cry!, the 1962 debut album by the West Coast flute player Prince Lasha featuring alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons, as well as bassist Gary Peacock, who would become famous as a member of the Keith Jarrett standards trio.
I really needed The Cry!, partly because of its plangent and surprisingly lyrical quality for an apparently avant-garde record, and because of a chapter in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. The chapter is titled “Hearing the Cry,” and deals with how jazz musicians articulate, in the depths of their tonal utterances, the extreme emotions, especially those that reach back to the field hollers of slaves in Southern cotton fields, before the Civil War. So this album was perfect, both nominally and in its content, especially in the searing playing of alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons.

Other ridiculously inexpensive LP finds at Bullseye were Major Changes by Frank Morgan in the McCoy Tyner Trio. This matched the great bop-era alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, whose tone and style somewhat resembles Stan Getz, and who lived in Milwaukee for much of his life. Here he was matched with the titanic pianist McCoy Tyner who helped to boost Morgan’s lovely style with a bracing and dynamic foundation. The album includes a reading of Jerome Kern’s stone classic “All the Things You Are,” a harmonic jewel which I can listen to endlessly. I love it so much I had quoted it’s Oscar Hammerstein lyrics in the toast I made at my first wedding.

The last one LP I found was the two-CD set on Verve, Masters of the Modern Piano (1955-1966), which includes sterling recordings from Bud Powell; Cecil Taylor with Steve Lacy live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957; The Dizzy Gillespie orchestra featuring pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams performing her great “Zodiac Suite” at the same Newport Festival; the Paul Bley Trio with Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Swallow, The Wynton Kelly Trio; and The Bill Evans Trio, featuring the glorious “My Foolish Heart,” recorded in New York at Town Hall in 1966. As a guy who once played some jazz piano until my left hand was disabled, this was an essential replacement for the LP I sold to Strictly Discs.

I noticed Bullseye was stocked up with store T-Shirts for the crazy weekend, and the older ones were only five bucks. Terry Hackbarth, the store clerk/consultant, said if you wore the T-shirt in the store on Record Store Day you would get five bucks back with a record purchase. I took him up on whole enterprise, if I could come back to buy my records. He willingly held all the CDs and LPs for me and I said, “I’ll be back, tomorrow.”

Now, after I’d left it unbought twice already, would The White Album still be at Exclusive Company, prominently filed for $5.99? Well, record geek suspense was afoot.

I dashed over to the store, and yes! There was The White Album which I knew, at a 25 % discount off of $5.99, would be gone in the first few minutes of Record Store Day tomorrow. So I snagged it, the only recording I actually purchased that day, hoping things would work out tomorrow.

I woke early on Earth  Day and found Riverkeepers website to register for the clean-up, from 9 to noon, which included a free T-Shirt for participants. Then I made it down to Bullseye Records shortly after 10 AM, when it opened. It was filling up fast with record locusts pawing feverishly through the bins. But my stack of LPs and CDs still sat behind the counter, as I proudly wore my new Bullseye T-shirt with a big honkin’ red-white-and-blue target on the chest, which Luke Lavin, the store owner complimented me on. I reminded him that Terry had told me about the five-dollar deal and Luke said, “Oh yeah, it’s not like we force you to wear the T-shirt. It’s not like there’s a target on your back. There’s just a target on your front!”
Luke claimed he just made that up right there, and that he was “in a zone” today, but I doubted that, though it was a great Bullseye line.

Earth Day: Hunt No. 2, As the Hawk Flies

 

I drove over to Kern Park, parked and arrived at the top of the pathway down the bluff to the river pathway. There stood the Riverkeepers registration stand.  I was too late for a T-shirt but the fact that they were all gone shortly after 10 AM was a good sign. The Riverkeeper captain there said they had more participants show up then she expected.

As I stood there some participants walked up and set a couple of dirty Milwaukee Bucks bobble heads, both which sculpted Anthony Mason, a power forward who played with the Bucks for a short while. They said they had found some syringe needles as well, a sad commentary on the pervasiveness of drug addiction these days.

So I helped myself to a large cup of Starbucks coffee, grabbed a pair of gloves and a big plastic bag and asked the captain where I should go.

“The riverfront actually is pretty well covered but we need help with the bluff.” she said. “If you could just work on the bluff that would be great.” I wouldn’t be close to the wonderful river but working on the bluff appealed to the old mountain climber in me. So I set out due South from that spot and didn’t see too much on the bottom of the bluff. Then I thought that there would probably be plenty of garbage at the top of the bluff, behind the couple of apartment complexes just south of Kern Park. Sure enough, the top of the bluff was full of miscellaneous stuff, such as old plastic bags caught in bushes like bizarre flying machines cruelly grounded.

Other plastic bags peeked from beneath their burial sites and I would pull out most of which was underground. How long does it take for a bluff – ever moving, ever slowly, from the forces of wind, rain and gravity – to bury an errant plastic bag, I wondered. This Earth Day task – far more humble than a big, noisy protest march at the Capitol in Madison – really became sort of fun, something like an Easter egg hunt at a 45° angle.

Then I noticed right at my feet a large bird feather, earth-colored red with white stripes. It was a hawk feather, and considered good luck if you find one. I stuck it in the back of my Nature Conservancy cap, and felt a bit like a Native American, alone in the woods, moving softly in moccasins. I thought about our literal and environmental footprint, and the way litter like this expanded it. I figured, well, if I didn’t get a T-shirt, my labors earned me from providence a feather in my cap, and a pretty cool one at that.

I worked my way back to the stand right around 12 noon, but the Riverkeepers had gone to the afternoon activity which was largely a celebration, in Estabrook Park just north of Kern Park. But I had to get to the photography exhibit in West Bend. So I tied up my bag of junk and left it with other bags, which a young woman assured me would be picked up later. I walked back up the Parkway and started picking up litter that remained, too far away from the Riverkeepers’ realm.

earth day tools

The high-tech tools of the milwaukeeriverkeeper.org. Earth Day clean-up: Garden gloves, big plastic garbage bag, Starbuck’s coffee (not shown). I  was a bit late to the clean-up start to get a Riverkeeper participant’s T-Shirt, so I just wore the Bullseye Records T-shirt I had on, as per the concurrent Record Store Day. I added a hawk feather to my cap when I found the good luck charm amid the bluff below Kern Park. Photo by Kevin Lynch  

The last bit of litter I found was a Life Style brand condom wrapper, 30 feet away from the children’s playground. Actually, it seemed a curious counterpart to the hawk feather I’d found, both endemic to elemental activities of nature, flying and f–king. The feather helps keep the bird safely aloft, the condom keeps a man safely contraceptive. (As I write, The White Album plays): “Take these broken wings and learn to fly/ all your life. You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

And I made it home in plenty of time to have Ann pick me up for our trip to Tom Bamberger’s photography retrospective, which I hope to address in another posting soon. But if you miss that, it’s a rather astounding show, running now through  May 21 at The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Visit the website at http://wisconsinart.org/.

____________

  1. I was fortunate to hear Stan Getz live several times, and to meet him twice. The first time, I drove down in Chicago to interview him in person for preview article for The Milwaukee Journal. He would soon head for Milwaukee for a gig at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. I met him in his hotel room right on Chicago’s magnificence downtown shoreline and he did a fine, gracious interview in his sun-drenched room.              The second occasion, in its own way, was more memorable. Getz was 57 by then and beginning to really age. I was reviewing him in a concert he did at the Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center for the Arts). After the concert, I went to the small reception room where people meet artists after concerts. I wanted to get a bit of information about a few tune entitled for my review. But Stan was tired and wanted to get to his hotel room as soon as possible. So he invited me along as he walked to the Hyatt Hotel. In fact, he was so beat he asked me to carry his saxophone, in its case.

I was stunned by this request. So, there I found myself, carrying Stan Getz’s saxophone and asking him questions he probably didn’t want to bother with, but again was gracious enough to accommodate. I was so struck by the experience that I wrote this poem about it.

(Warning: I’ve posted “Bossa Not So Nova” before, but it’s one of my best-received poems so indulge me, if you need to):

Bossa Not So Nova

Fattening and 57, Stan Getz

sweats out a melody, red-faced

“Hey thanks for the article. Can you carry my horn?” he croaks.

The sax sings light blue

Small, and tan, and young and handsome, a boy comes walking for an autograph.

Stan stops, signs, walks and goes ”Ahhhh, I’m bee-at. Just go slo-ow.

Hey can you find a doctor?”

They all sleep or smoke butts in cold ward halls.

Stan Getz wonders where Mader’s is.

His round belly rumbles.

The sax sings effortlessly,

“Tall and tan, and young and handsome,”

the boy from Ipa-nema is wheezin’

looking for a doctor or sauerbraten

while a woman somewhere dreams…

to the scratched record,

the sax singing effortlessly.

Kevin Lynch (copyright 2012)

An ambitious redevelopment project embraces the rebirth of America’s Black Holocaust Museum

 

black holo new

Architectural rending of The Griot and The Historic Garfield apartments with the rebuilding of America’s Black Holocaust Museum in the foreground. Courtesy of Mauer Development Group, LLC and J. Jeffers & Company

MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, April 4, proved a banner day for this city’s deep memory, brave hope and authentic culture. It was the groundbreaking day for The Griot and Historic Garfield Apartments, one of the most historically fraught, and socially and culturally inspired development projects Milwaukee has seen in a long time. The centerpiece of the project will be the reconstruction of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, at the corner of North Avenue and Fourth Street.

It signifies great pride in how the city has embraced and burnished its memory of what is now called Historic Bronzeville, a vibrant cluster of Harlem Renaissance-like inner-city neighborhoods (bounded by N. Holton St., E. Juneau Ave., N. 21st St. and Burleigh St.) in the postwar period, which is working mightily to regain its luster.

More pointedly, it is also a matter of honor that the project will be nobly shadowed by the profound history the museum will reawaken for all visitors. This location is the site of the original museum founded by a remarkable man for anyone who knew him, Dr. James Cameron, the only survivor of a lynching to do full justice to that dark chapter of America history with an autobiography and a museum dedicated to remembrance of great suffering, deliverance and ongoing affirmation of African-Americans from The Middle Passage to The Civil Rights Era and doubtlessly to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

An overcast day drew at least 400 people to a large tent that has been erected as the spring shelter for the construction project, behind the historic Garfield Street Elementary School around which the project will be built.

Besides the projects organizers those in attendance included Mayor Tom Barrett, alderpersons Milele Coggs and Nick Kovac, and other notables. Barrett and Coggs spoke in support of the project. One of the project’s founders, Melissa Goins, of the Maures Development Group LLC,  also spoke and suggested that it would “break the heart” of Museum’s late founder Dr. Cameron if – after all his work, including his remarkable autobiography, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story – the museum had no physical afterlife following its closing in 2006, due to financial difficulties. Dr. Cameron was acknowledged symbolically at the groundbreaking with an empty chair near the podium.

Milele Coggs & Melissa GoinsAlderwoman Milele Coggs (L) and Maures Development Group’s Melissa Goins proudly announced the historic redevelopment project in May 2016.

Spoken word poet Dasha Kelly delivered a lovely and inspiring poem which welcomed the rhythms and passages of the seasons and exhorted the audience with these words “You be the rain. Make the gray clouds move,” which drew a strong applause from the audience in the spirit of the event’s underlying objective: to request the community to move the earth with their finances for what will be a multi-million dollar, multipurpose project.

Following the presentation, a local jazz band, Cigarette Break, performed during a luncheon.

The historic Garfield Elementary School Building will be reborn as The Historic Garfield Apartments with 30 units of high quality apartments. In phase 2, the adjoining vacant properties will be demolished developed as The Griot, a new building with 8,000 ft. of commercial space and 41 residential units. Both buildings will have a combination of one, two and three-bedroom apartments targeting households at 30%, 50%, and 60% of area median income as well as market rate. The Griot will also become home to the new physical building for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM). *

garfield

The historic former Garfield Elementary School building (left) will be redeveloped and repurposed for 30 units of high-quality, mixed-income housing. Courtesy of Mauer Development Group, LLC and J. Jeffers & Company

And it appears that this project will be realized primarily by the city’s citizenship, and various corporate funders and benefactors as have other notable cultural entities such as the Milwaukee Art Museum’s internationally-celebrated Calatrava addition.

Speaking of internationally-celebrated cultural institutions, there’s no doubt that the  National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, though wider ranging, which has James Cameron’s museum as a historic model, proved to be an inspiration for this project.

Conceptually the museum will be built on a pillar of four themes: Remembrance, Resistance, Redemption, and Reconciliation, which are expanded upon in the excellent online version of the museum edited by Fran Kaplan PhD. at America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

My own interest in the museum dates back a number of years to when I discovered it accidentally while driving through the Bronzeville neighborhood in hopes of visiting the facility that formerly housed Radio Doctors “Soul Shop,” a music store that I worked at in the 1970s. The space was located a block away from the site of the Holocaust Museum (see photo below). The site of record store, which served Milwaukee’s inner city, was merely an empty lot at the time.

radio

 

Photo of the original America’s Black Holocaust Museum (in background) from the empty lot on 3rd and North Avenue where once stood Radio Doctor’s “Soul Shop,” a record store  were I once worked. Photo By Kevin Lynch

But I visited the museum and was greatly impressed, which prompted an interview with Dr. Cameron which was originally published in The Capital Times in Madison and later became part of the chapter of my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.
Here is an excerpt from a chapter that deals with the Holocaust Museum and Dr. Cameron.

“The Man Who Survived a Lynching,” from Chapter 11 of Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. Copyright Kevin E. Lynch 2017

One overcast summer day in 1999, I felt that chilled American duality between constitutional guidelines and the individual voice in the wind that swept through the empty lot of my old workplace haunt, Radio Doctors “Soul Shop” in Milwaukee’s inner city. A few foundation bricks still remained among weeds and a crooked dirt path to the back alley where we once unloaded truckloads of records. There I saw a pile of debris that looked like the site of a drug fix, “with needles on the ground,” as The Tedeschi-Trucks Band sings in “Midnight in Harlem.”

And with the watery ghosts dwelling in this book, it’s seems wholly fitting that the setting TTB’s songwriter for this melancholy scene is a river side, (presumably The Hudson River) in what emerges as a potentially redemptive lyric:

I went down to the river
And I took a look around
There were old man’s shoes
There were needles on the ground
No more mysteries, baby
No more secrets, no more clues
The stars are out there
You can almost see the moon
The streets are windy
And the subway’s closing down
Gonna carry this dream
To the other side of town.

Walk that line, torn apart
Spend your whole life trying
Ride that train, free your heart
It’s midnight up in Harlem 1

I almost felt renowned Harlem “survivor” James Baldwin’s large sad eyes casting a glance over my shoulder. But right then, having crossed the Milwaukee River a few blocks back, I was walking over to one of the nation’s most resolute beacons of understanding, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, on 4th and North Avenue, now just a windblown tumble of garbage away from the empty Soul Shop lot.

I’d come to visit with the museum’s founder James Cameron on the occasion of A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, a harrowing exhibit of the most preserved and documented slave trade ship ever found in the Western Hemisphere. I stepped into the exhibit’s shadowy quarters. I touched the limbs of shackled museum dummy figures, heard recorded creaks and moans from the ship’s hull, and the sepulchral voice of an African recollecting the experience.

The small museum, the first of its kind, existed to convey a deep perspective on American racism. Yet he conveyed no animosity towards white people. “This is a museum for African-Americans and for freedom-loving people of all races,” Cameron said emphatically. He appreciates the significance of America’s little-known interracial foundation. Standard history rarely explains how free blacks actively participated in the formation of the thirteen colonies, until commercial dependency on slavery betrayed their place in America.

James Cameron lynching

Dr. James Cameron, founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Courtesy black-market.com who

Consider what even free blacks had likely endured to reach the colonies. On average, 20 percent of a slave ship’s human cargo died in the six-to-10 month, rat infested trip from Africa to America via the London market. Ships typically stopped at Caribbean ports for slave “seasoning,” to help them regain their health and acclimate to working conditions before they were presented for market.

The 85-year-old Cameron had returned to his hometown of Marion, Indiana the previous weekend to protest a Klan recruitment rally on the steps of City Hall. As he talked, Cameron gazed out the window, into nightmarish memories. In 1930, a Marion lynch mob seized three black teenagers, including Cameron, who had been accused of robbing and murdering a white man and raping a white woman. Confessions were apparently coerced, according to writer David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident, another bleak chapter in race history. 2

Imagine the horror of the 16-year-old Cameron, as the slobbering, sledgehammer-and crow bar-wielding mob apparently smashed the jail bars open wide enough to drag him and his friends out to a nearby poplar tree. Cameron turned back to me and said: “A miracle saved me. They were going to lynch me between my buddies.” The mob of about 5,000 was “hollering for my blood” when an angelic woman’s voice said, ‘Take this boy back.'”

He fell silent. Sometimes the truth comes out in dribs and drabs. In 1994 he had told NPR that the mob grabbed Shipp and Smith first — and then came back for Cameron.

“After 15 or 20 minutes of having their pictures taken and everything, they came back to get me,” Cameron said. “Just then the sheriff came, and he was sweating like somebody had throwed a bucket of water in his face. He told the mob leader: ‘Get the hell out of here, you already hung two of ’em so that ought to satisfy ya.’ Then they began to yell for me like a favorite basketball or football player. They said: ‘We want Cameron, we want Cameron, and we want Cameron.'”  3 Somehow, the mob relented and removed the rope from the boy’s neck. Yet Cameron was forced to stand beneath the hanging bodies of his friends, Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith. Then, he barely survived a brutal beating, he said.

American griots and a photograph of the travesty by Lawrence Beitler helped fix the lynching in American history. The image is believed to have inspired Abe Meeropole to write the lyrics to “Strange Fruit,” which Billie Holiday made into the immortal jazz-protest dirge: blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ black body swinging in the Southern breeze…” The photo became a post-card that sold by the thousands, burnishing local racist pride. Bob Dylan commemorated that ugly image in the first line of “Desolation Row.”: They’re selling post-cards of the hanging… The bizarre, carnivalesque quality of Dylan’s unfolding imagery suggests that this event helped trigger his vision of that metaphoric American place called “Desolation Row,” where young James Cameron once dwelled.

Patrick J. Sims, assistant professor of theatre and drama, rehearses for his one-person play, "Ten Perfect," in Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Jan. 15, 2010. During the play, Sims portrays 18 characters to tell the story of James Cameron, an African-American who survived a lynching as a teenager in Indiana in 1930. Sims' public performance of the play is scheduled for Feb. 5-6, 2010, in Lathrop's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller Date: 01/10 File#: NIKON D3 digital frame 4272

Patrick J. Sims, assistant professor of theatre and drama, rehearses for his one-person play, “Ten Perfect,” in Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Jan. 15, 2010. During the play, Sims portrays 18 characters to tell the story of James Cameron, an African-American who survived a lynching as a teenager in Indiana in 1930. Sims’ public performance of the play is scheduled for Feb. 5-6, 2010, in Lathrop’s Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space.
©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067
Photo by: Jeff Miller
Date: 01/10 File#: NIKON D3 digital frame 4272

This photograph by Lawrence Beitler in this theatrical backdrop, helped fix the 1930 Marion, Indiana lynching — which 16-year-old James Cameron barely escaped — in the consciousness of America. 

Cameron was moved out of town, convicted as an accessory to the murder and served four years in jail.  But the case was never solved.

“I talk to university professors of history who do not understand this,” said Cameron, who received an honorary doctorate from the UW-Milwaukee for his work as an historian. His understanding of the event is ontological. 4

Cameron struggled for years with the lightness of being – those hovering friends – as a near-victim of a rope’s twist of fate. Finally he mortgaged his house to print and publish his memoir, A Time of Terror. Then, after visiting Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, he knew what he had to do. Moving to Milwaukee, he found an abandoned gym on 4th and North. He bought it from the city for $1 and began piecing together the museum, built around the Beitler photograph and the ripple effect of sea-born echoes. Cameron would found several chapters of the NAACP, and the museum. In 1993, he finally received an official pardon from Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, and one of those oversize “keys to the city” of Marion, perhaps the size of the lynch mob’s sledgehammer. Cameron said he broke down and cried when Gov. Bayh telephoned him. The United States Senate formally apologized in June, 2005, with Cameron present, for its refusal to approve any of the 200 anti-lynching legislation bills introduced during the first half of the 20th century, a failure that led to the deaths of at least several thousand African-Americans.

The following June, in 2006, James Cameron died. The museum closed in 2008, now a sad, shuttered building, like too many in Milwaukee’s inner city.

Life’s unbearable evanescence had swept over history once again. People die and their bones turn to dust. But legacies endure, like remnants of The Henrietta Marie — 300-year-old iron shackles, some small enough to entrap children’s wrists and ankles.

The mind of this haunted American griot worked his way through living hell and then rose slowly, against absurd odds, to the light of such a hard-won legacy. That’s worth lending a close ear, to a murmuring voice in the river, an American witness, survivor, and hero. “To pick up the loose threads of my life, weave them into something beautiful, worthwhile and God-like.” –James Cameron, The final sentence of A Time of Terror. 5

________________

(Scroll to more illustrations and a video, below footnotes)

* Historic Garfield Apartments will begin leasing in July 2017 and construction will be complete in October 2017. The Griot will begin leasing in December 2018 and construction completion is slated for March 2018. Located 1.5 miles from downtown along a major core commercial corridor, the project is aimed at helping catalyze local economy and create jobs and training opportunities. It promises to initiate the rebirth of the envisioned Brownsville Arts and Entertainment district.

1.      Here is The Tedeschi-Trucks Band performing the quietly eloquent “Midnight in Harlem,” written by the band’s back-up singer Mike Mattison, at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Blues Festival at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL. in 2010: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqjD4oinpJA

  1. David Bradley, “Anatomy of a Murder,” The Nation, June 12, 2006: 32. Bradley was reviewing a book with an in-depth account of the Marion lynching, Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America by Cynthia Carr

3 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129025516

  1. Kevin Lynch “Exhibit Gives Life to Ship of Slaves,” James Cameron interview, The Capital Times, 31 July, 1999 Lifestyle 1D.

5 James Cameron, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story.

 Here’s a link to the impressive online-only version of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, founded by James Cameron: http://abhmuseum.org/. The museum will be restored in a new building on the  site of the original building at fifth Street and North Avenue in Milwaukee. Also, there is the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Philadelphia, a small Black Holocaust Museum in Detroit and most importantly the magnificent new Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C.

kaplan

Dr. Fran Kaplan discusses America’s Black Holocaust Museum with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI 4th District) and the staff of Congressman John Lewis (GA 5th District) in Washington, DC.

Shackes-from-SlaveShip-HM-200x200

Shackles for women and children for the slaveship Henrietta Marie  

slave ship stowage

 

Illustration Courtesy virtualjamestown.org

slaveship2

Original plans for holding slaves in sardine-like fashion in the ship during the Middle Passage (above and below). 

Here is a compelling video of the Jim Crow Era set to a recording of Billie Holiday’s famous and harrowing anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.”

__________

All photos courtesy of abhm.com unless otherwise indicated