29 July 2013

Page One

A story is told: During World War II, an elderly, ruffled German wandered the bombed-out streets of Berlin frantically scanning the front pages of every newspaper that was on sale at every kiosk that remained still open. One curious proprietor watched the man with some interest and asked the man what exactly he was looking for. “The death notices.” “Oh,” the proprietor said with just a slight tone of disdain of disdain, “the death notices are never printed on page one.” And the man looked up and said with some assertiveness, “Oh, the death notice I’m looking for will be on Page one all right.”
It wasn’t on the front page but  . . . I looked at the obituary page today in The New York Times and I am saddened. J.J. Cale died this past Friday. His music has given to my life great joy. And as the musicians such as J.J. Cale who helped create the world in which I have lived die, I become older under greater protest. There is in my voice that of my parents who despaired that their world that was better than that of their parents (but was it really?) was being replaced by an inferior way of life.
This next obituary did appear on the first page of the newspapers last week: on July 18 Willie Louis died. In 1955, as Willie Reed, he testified against Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam at the sham trial for the murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till to which the two low-lifes had proudly confessed. In 1955 Reed was an eighteen year old boy whose testimony against these men braved the threat of revenge that would be executed on him for his account of witnessing the kidnapping of Till in the early morning hours of 28 August, 1955 from his uncle’s house in the Jim Crow South of Mississippi. Reed required protection during the trial’s duration and he was spirited to Chicago after the trial where he lived out the rest of his life. His wife says that he suffered nightmares through his life as a result of that experience and that for eight years after the event Willie Reed didn’t even mention its occurrence to her. It was decades before he would speak of the trial or the murder.
The account of Reed’s death deserved to be front-page news. Here was reported the life of a man whose bravery placed in vivid contrast the revolting revelations of Anthony Weiner’s obscene texting—how stupid can one man be and still think to run for public office;, or the news concerning the sexual harassment accusations against Mayor Bob Filner of San Diego. And these latter scandals almost pale when I place them next to the obscene pronouncements emanating from the Republican party fools masquerading as leaders. Who is more deserving of respect and the front page: a person barely out of childhood who stood up against a history of contemptible degenerates whose only boast consists of the claim that under the cover of night and hoods they terrified helpless honest people and tortured and murdered a fourteen year old boy; or a cowardly and rather stupid group of mostly men who desire to write their names in the snow with their urine?
Oh, but you who philosophize, disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears! 


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