Apr. 5, 1998

No Categories!

by Stevie Smith


Today's Reading: "No Categories!" by Stevie Smith from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF STEVIE SMITH, published by New Directions.

Ruth Elizabeth Davis BETTE DAVIS was born on this day in 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, famous for portraying strong, independent women in films of the 1930s and 40s. She played bit parts in about a dozen Hollywood movies until 1935, when she won the Academy Award for her portrayal of the aging alcoholic star, in Dangerous. She won another three years later, for Jezebel; and she gave the Academy Awards their nickname of Oscar, because she said the little statue reminded her of her first husband.

It's the birthday in Salzburg, Austria, 1908, of HERBERT VON KARAJAN, who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for over 50 years and made it one of the world's great orchestras. He was a child prodigy on piano but began conducting full-time when he was 21. His first concert with the Berlin orchestra came in 1938, as a guest conductor, and in 1955 the orchestra asked him to lead their first-ever American tour. He said he'd do it only if they named him boss music director which they did. That tour, though, was marked by protests, particularly at Carnegie Hall, because Karajan had been an avid member of the Nazi party during the Third Reich. He conducted all his scores from memory, even the four operas of Wagner's Ring Cycle, each about four hours long.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, was born on this day in Franklin County, Virginia, 1856. His family were slaves and after the Civil War moved to West Virginia where at the age of nine he went to work in the coal mines. He wanted more than anything to go to school, and in his teens enrolled at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute where he paid tuition by working as a janitor. He taught school for a while, went to seminary, then returned to Hampton and, in 1881, was asked to head a new vocational school for blacks in Tuskegee, Alabama. When he got there, the school was nothing more than a pair of small, converted buildings with no equipment and hardly any money. The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute became his life's work and when he died 34 years later, it had over 100 buildings, 200 faculty, 1,500 students, and a two-million dollar endowment. Washington was a controversial figure around the turn of the century. He became the voice of black America, advocating hard work and job training as a way for blacks to win economic independence and respect from whites, which would lead, further down the line, to better education, and later still, to full acceptance and integration. This was his policy of "accommodation." Most African Americans at the time agreed that this was the way to go, but others, like E.B. DuBois deplored the idea and set up the NAACP in reaction to him.

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