May 17, 2007
A Twice Named Family
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Poem: "A Twice Named Family" by Traci Dant. Reprinted with permission of the author.
A Twice Named Family
from a family
that twice names
for the world.
Lydi, Joely, Door,
Bud, Bobby, Bea,
Puddin, Cluster, Lindy,
Money, Duddy, Vess.
a two-named family
way back knew
you needed a name
to cook chitlins in.
to put your feet up in.
that couldn't be
that couldn't be
denied a loan.
that couldn't be
Somebody way back
knew we needed names
to be loved in.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1792 that a group of 24 New York City businessmen founded the New York Stock Exchange while gathered under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. Wall Street had long been the location for an outdoor auction, where businessmen sold commodities such as molasses, tobacco, and furs. With the recent opening of the first Federal Bank by Alexander Hamilton, brokers on Wall Street had begun selling securities, stocks, and government bonds as well. And so on this day, that group of traders gathered under that buttonwood tree, signed an agreement to only trade securities with each other, to charge a fixed commission rate, and to avoid other auctions. The New York Stock Exchange continued as an outdoor auction until the following year, when it moved into the upper floor of a nearby coffee house.
It was on this day in 1954 that the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The case got its name from a seven-year-old girl named Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas, who had to travel 21 blocks every day to an all-black elementary school, even though she lived just seven blocks from another elementary school for white children. Her father, Oliver Brown, asked that his daughter be allowed to attend the nearby white school, and when the white school's principal refused, Brown sued. At the time, 21 states had laws allowing segregation, affecting almost 12 million children in more than 11,000 school districts.
The legal basis for segregation came from the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which had established the precedent that separate facilities for black and white students could be constitutional as long as those separate facilities were equal. When Brown v. Board of Education first came before the Supreme Court in 1952, most of the justices were personally opposed to segregation, but only four of them openly supported overturning such a long-established precedent.
But in September of 1953, just before the rehearing of the case, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died of a sudden heart attack. For the new chief justice, President Eisenhower chose Earl Warren, then the governor of California. As governor of California, Earl Warren had helped to intern many Japanese Americans during World War II, and most historians believe he felt deep regret at having done so. Ever since the war, he had devoted himself to the issue of civil rights. So when he became chief justice, he was the ideal person to argue for declaring segregation unconstitutional.
Warren's vote alone could have given the court a 5-4 vote margin overturning segregation, but Warren decided that he had to get a unanimous decision for such a controversial case. Warren had never served as a judge in his life. But he was a master politician, and he used his art of persuasion to bring the last few justices around to his point of view. The final holdout was Justice Stanley Reed, from Kentucky. Warren finally persuaded Reed that a lone dissent from a Southerner could have an inflammatory effect on the nation.
Once he had all the votes, Warren drafted the decision himself. To announce the decision, he read it aloud to a crowd at the court on this day in 1954. He said, in part, "Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race ... deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does." Justice Stanley Reed, who had been the final holdout, wept as the decision was read.
But the effect of the case was a long time in coming. It wasn't until about 1970 that most Southern schools became fully integrated, but even then it took more Supreme Court cases to establish a busing system that encouraged diversity in public schools. Today, there is still widespread school and housing segregation, even if it's not supported by law.
It's the birthday of composer Erik Satie, born in a seaport town in northern France in 1866. He's known for his simples piano pieces with exotic titles like Veritable Flabby Preludes (for a Dog) (1912). When he was accused of writing music without form, he immediately composed a series of piano duets called Three Pear-shaped Pieces (1903). Many of his scores gave unusual instructions to the performers, like "Light as an egg," "With astonishment," or "Work it out yourself."
It's the birthday of English novelist Robert Smith Surtees, (books by this author) born in 1803 in County Durham. He wrote many humorous novels, including Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities (1838) and Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour (1853).
He said, "More people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice."
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