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Posts Tagged ‘Race’

Rain drops on the metallic chairs on Love Cafe's patio. (photo: Reed)

I don’t know why I carried my umbrella over to U Street with me; I didn’t use it to ward off the drizzle that fell as I dodged puddles along the uneven sidewalk.  I ducked in to Cake Love’s Café on the corner of 15th and U Streets.  I think its actual name is Love Café…according to the young Latina behind the counter it opened seven years ago…a year after the original bakery opened in 2002.  It’s a cozy little place with a spectacular corner view perfect for people watching.

Gerald with the original Cake Love in the background. (photo: Reed)

I met Gerald there. When he came in he said, “That’s where I usually sit…it’s got a great view.”  Gerald tells me that he lives across the street which turns out to be the same building that Almena from Day 21 lived in.

This is one of those encounters that I don’t even know where to begin.  We spoke for hours.  Gerald is a character too.  Some of the stories sound too sensational to be true but he swears by them; from being born in Freedmen Hospital (forerunner to Howard University Hospital) in 1943 to looting liquor stores during the riots of 1968 to inheriting a million dollars from his step-father. 

Gerald grew up living on Columbia Road around 12th Street.  “There was only one white person on my entire block back then,” he said. 

7th Street post MLK Assassination riots in DC in 1968.

During the riots Gerald said he was working at the Post Office.  On the day the riots started he was taking a test at the Watergate building.  He got home and painted “Black Power” on the side of his 1961 Dodge Polaris and headed out into the city.  “I didn’t have any prior riot experience, so I didn’t exactly know what to do,” he said.  He decided to go over to the People’s Drug Store and crossed the line of National Guard soldiers and stepped through the broken glass of the front door.  The store had already been heavily looted but he remembers thinking about taking a watch he saw inside, but didn’t. 

Gerald displays his $10 purchase. (photo: Reed)

Armed with a .357 Magnum he went down to Central Liquors at 9th and F Streets and then headed over to another liquor store on U Street.  All in all he says he took more than 22 ½ gallon bottles of top shelf liquor.  “I had two years worth of liquor!” 

Years later he got a job with IBM.  Now to appreciate this you got to understand that he was making about $6,100 a year at the post office and then was offered a $15,000 salary plus bonus at IBM.  The next couple years he made a lot of money and bought lots of material goods…namely cars. 

At some point the good times ended.  He divorced.  He lost his job.  He lost several houses that he owned and said he was even homeless at one point.  Now he lives in a very modest low-income housing complex.

I wish there was some way to bottle the loquacious couple of hours we spoke and serve it up here, but you just had to be there.  Before I left I asked him one last time if he knew what he would do with the $10.  He decided to go next door to the picturesque Best DC Supermarket and purchase a bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Miles Davis Bitches Brew.  I walked over with him and even spotted him an extra buck to pay for it.

We exchanged numbers and he walked back to his apartment and I went the opposite way toward my place.

So something funny is that he put my number in his phone but never added my name.  Over the next week he called me about six times thinking I was somebody else or maybe he was just hoping that I would be giving another $10 away!

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Memorial surrounded by the Wall of Honor

I have done a poor job this week of updating the blog…but trust me, I have not wavered on my commitment to giving.  In fact, I have some very interesting people to tell you about as I get caught up.  Today is Hari’s story.

Being unemployed has some benefits.  One thing is that I try to go regularly to the different museums and cultural institutions that Washington has to offer.  There is an abundance of information and history here and I have time to soak it up.

I decided to check out the African American Civil War Museum.  It is located on the corner of 12th and U in DC.  A short walk away is the memorial and the Wall of Honor that remembers the 209,145 soldiers and officers who served in the United States Colored Troops.

Hari is the museum’s curator.  He was gracious to spend some time talking with me about the civil war.  Listening to Hari unfold the events that led to the civil war is exhilarating.  Usually when someone tells you about some event that took place deep in our history, it is hard to appreciate the actual event because you don’t have sufficient understanding of contributing events, cultural references, etc.  But Hari anticipated my questions and painted the full picture for me.

Hari at the African American Civil War Museum (Photo: Reed)

He first was drawn to history by his elders in his hometown of Pauls Valley, OK.  The elders took the time to explain to Hari historical events that they had lived through.  In the 8th and 11th grade, Hari discovered that the text books that he was using didn’t accurately portray the involvement of Americans of African descent  in the Civil War.  His teachers at the time, Ms. Bagley and Ms. Wallace respectively, understood that this history was suppressed and taught the true history. 

Hari went on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma.  It was there that he had a Kenyan American professor of African American History who was not only ignorant of the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War but refused to teach it saying that it was not on his syllabus. It was this encounter that fueled Hari’s desire to dedicate himself to researching the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War. 

He received a commission in the Marine Corps and later found himself as an instructor at the Naval Academy.  He realized that there was still a lack of understanding of our own history and felt that Americans need a foundation of common understanding about our own history before we are fully capable of dealing with conflict and struggles in foreign lands.  “If we can not understand what went on her in our own history and what cultural attributes were possessed by Americans” Hari explained, “then it will be impossible for us to do it anywhere else.  The only thing that we’ll be able to do is to kill people when we can not get them to understand our way of thinking.”

Hari left the Marine Corps to dedicate himself full-time to the topic.  I encourage you to stop by the Museum and meet Hari.  If he has time, I know he would be happy to share with you his extensive knowledge of our nation’s history.

Here is a clip of Hari discussing our views on race and how a paradigm shift has occurred in our society’s views about race as it pertains to sports and how this represents a much greater paradigm shift in our society’s way of thinking.

It’s no surprise that Hari decided to donate his $10 to the museum. 

For those of you who can not make it to the museum to meet Hari, he recommended two books to me that you might want to check out:

  • The Great Conspiracy by John Alexander Logan
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – A note about Mr. Zinn.  He died unexpectedly on January 27th of this year.  He was 87.  He was quoted as saying that he would like to be remembered “for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality,” and “for getting more people to realize that the power which rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns…ultimately rests in people themselves and that they can use it.”

 

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