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FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Godfather, Part II: The Corleone Saga Sags

“THE GODFATHER PART II” continues the saga of the Corleone family. Now ensconced on an estate in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, near their gambling holdings. The year is 1958, Al Pacino has succeeded Brando as the Don, and there is rumbling in the ranks. While the sun is shining upon little Anthony Corleone’s confirma­tion celebration, storm signs darken the already dimly lit interior of Michael Corleone’s study. The wayward sister (Talia Shire) de­fects, disobeying her brother to run off with a fortune-hunting wastrel (Troy Donahue); Frankie Pentan­geli (Michael V. Gazzo), an old-time clan member into his cups, argues with Michael over his association with Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg); Fredo (John Cazale), the chicken-hearted elder brother, is publicly humiliated by his inability to control his floozy Las Vegas wife; and Diane Keaton, as the first lady, continues to smile bravely and swing her hair, but there will be trouble from her, too.

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An attempt on the Don’s life is followed up with an investigation, whose meandering path is intercut with flashbacks to the childhood (in Sicily) and youth (in Little Italy) of the Godfather, played by Robert de Niro. These sections, if all goes according to Paramount’s dreams of lucre, will eventually be joined to the Sicilian sections of the earlier picture to make a complete film — the first part of a trilogy to play, with chronology corrected, as a roadshow package. The Sicilian and Little Italy episodes are filmed in the faded­-browns-and-yellows, Immigrant Portrait style, and in the miniaturized perspective of a spectacle viewed from a great distance.

Brando’s absence hangs over the new picture as his presence — minimal in time but central in effect — hung over the previous one. Ties are disintegrating, the center no longer holds, and the narrative is correspondingly diffuse. In the new script by Coppola and Mario Puzo, the Corleones have brought their way into a respectability hardly more dubious than than of America’s other first families of finance. Gambling is the naughtiest enterprise alluded to, and Michael and brothers are given to quoting the Godfather’s maxims much as the young Kennedys must have treasured patriarch Joe’s pearls or Irish wisdom. The success­ive Corleone patriarchs are odd combinations of Robin Hood and Christ, whose only crimes are, re­spectively, to rid Little Italy of an extortionist bully, and to expunge from the bosom of the family those who would betray its ideals. When these happen to be blood members, well, that’s the way the pignole cru­mbles.

Coppola and Puzo, bowing no doubt to public pressure, have made “The Godfather Part II” consider­ably less violent than its predeces­sor. There are but five or six killings, and the corpses are removed with the efficiency of a Shakespeare his­tory play, as the Corleone saga moves on to another stage of world history: Cuba before, and during, the revolution: the Kefauver crime hearings; an F.B.I. prison; with a swelling Nino Rota score to provide emotional unity.

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It is describing physical locations themselves that Coppola’s imagination comes into play, but the human confrontations staged in those dazzling locales never fulfill their promise. As in “The Conversation,” Coppola opens on the world and closes on the tortured individual, in an image of despair a shade too sensitive and heroic for what has preceded it. Watching this largely non-violent sequel, I couldn’t help but be struck by how crucial violence was to the first film. Without it, the characters are not only not mythic­ — they are not even very interesting.

The pale cast of reflection hovers over “Part II” without ever harden­ing into active thought, much less verbiage. (The use of Italian dia­logue, with English subtitles, can’t quite conceal its inanity). Coppola and Puzo haven’t the curiosity of even a Galsworthy (forget Balzac and Tolstoy) that might lead them to investigate the various branches of the family, and discover a sense of the era through the words as well as the “looks” of its individuals. Even among the brothers, there is a lot or emotional display — hugging, kissing, caressing, eyes watering or smol­dering, but the actual dialogue could be contained on the back of a grocery list. It is — how you say — visual.

What about the women? From what we see of them, mostly their backs. Hyman Roth’s wife makes tuna fish sandwiches and the Mammas Corleone make babies. Mamma the Elder (Morgana King), unlike most Italian mothers of my acquaintance, retires gracefully to the the wings. Coppola makes a gesture to the “new consciousness” by im­plying a certain critical perspective on the patriarchy, when Michael asks his pregnant wife “Does it feel like a boy?” But by focusing audience interest so exclusively on Pa­cino, and by making his enemies either invisible or unattractive, he effectively neutralizes their subver­sive potential.

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It is difficult to discuss acting with performances that are allowed so little articulation of their own, that are controlled and positioned so carefully within an aesthetic scheme. The artiness of Coppola’s aesthetic ultimately becomes an ethic as Pacino, in somber profile, emerges more victim than villain, more a melancholy Dane than a bloody Macbeth.

“The Godfather Part II” is marked, more clearly than its pre­decessor, by a moral confusion at its core which is in sharp contrast to that sense of moral wholeness of the great storytellers of the past, an equilibrium working behind the affairs of men that gave an importance to their actions, and words, that lyrical long-shots and poignant close-ups alone cannot produce. ❖

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ART ARCHIVES BOOKS ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Prison Memoirs: The New York Women’s House of Detention

On October 13, 1970, the FBI ar­rested Angela Davis on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder stemming from her alleged role in the Mann County courthouse shootout. Before being extradited to California — where she was subsequently acquitted of all the charges — Ms. Davis was imprisoned for nine weeks in New York’s Women’s House of Detention. The following excerpts from her forth­coming autobiography describe some of her experiences in the city’s prison.

When the wailing of the sirens tapered off and the caravan began to slow down, I realized that I was somewhere in Greenwich Village. As the car turned into a dark driveway, a corrugated aluminum door began to rise and once again, crowds of photographers with flashing lights jumped out of the shadows. The red brick wall surrounding this tall ar­chaic structure looked very familiar, but it took me a few moments to locate in my memory. Of course; it was the mysterious place I had seen so often during the years I attended Elisabeth Irwin High School, not too far from there. It was the New York Women’s House of Detention, which stood there at the main intersection in the Village, at Greenwich and Sixth avenues.

While the car was rolling into the prisoners’ entrance, a flock of mem­ories fought for my attention. Walk­ing to the subway station after school, I used to look up at this building almost every day, trying not to listen to the terrible noises spilling from the windows. They were coming from the women locked behind bars, looking down on the people passing in the streets, and screaming incomprehensible words.

At age fifteen I accepted some of the myths surrounding prisoners. I did not see them as quite the crimi­nals society said they were, but they did seem aliens in the world I inha­bited. I never knew what to do when I saw the outlines of women’s heads through the almost opaque windows of the jail. I could never understand what they were saying — whether they were crying out for help, whether they were calling for some­one in particular, or whether they simply wanted to talk to anyone who was “free.” My mind was now filled with the specters of those faceless women whom I had not answered. Would I scream out at the people passing in the streets, only to have them pretend not to hear me as I once pretended not to hear those women?

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The women did not even notice that a new prisoner had been thrown in with them. Except for the woman who continued to pace, they each found places at the table in the day room and sat separate from one another, as if there were a mutual agreement that they would all re­frain from invading the others’ turf.

Later I learned that these women received Thorazine with their meals each day and, even if they were completely sane, the tranquilizers would always make them uncommu­nicative and detached from their surroundings. After a few hours of watching them gaze silently into space, I felt as though I had been thrown into a nightmare.

I had loudly protested being kept in 4b (the mental ward) from the very first day. I didn’t belong there — or had I been judged a mental case? The officer said I had been placed in 4b not because I was psychologically unsound, but for my own safety and to keep me from disrupting the life of the jail. I was not persuaded. At last the call came announcing the arrival of the lawyers. Going to meet them was my first opportunity to walk through any part of the jail at a normal hour — when the prisoners were not locked in or sleeping.

When the iron door was opened, sounds peculiar to jails and prisons poured into my ears — the screams, the metallic clanging, officers’ keys clinking. Some of the women noticed me and smiled warmly or threw up their fists in gestures of solidarity. The elevator stopped on the third floor, where the commissary was located. The women who were wait­ing for the elevator recognized me and told me in a cordial, sisterly way, their words sometimes reinforced with their fists, that they were on my side. These were the “dangerous women” who might attack me because they didn’t like “Communists,” had I not been hidden away in 4b.

Regardless of why the women in 4b had been placed there, they were all being horribly damaged. Whatever problems they had had initially were not solved, but rather systematically aggravated. I could see the erosion of their will taking place even during the short time I spent there.

In the cell next to me lived a white woman somewhere between thirty and forty-five years old who had lost all contact with reality. Each night before she fell asleep the cell-bloc shook with her screams. Sometimes her rantings and ravings filled the air long after midnight. Her vile language, her weird imagery be-speckled with the most vulgar kind or racial epithets made me so angry that it was all I could do to prevent myself from trying to break through the steel and concrete that separated her cell from mine. I was convinced that she had been placed there inten­tionally as a part of the jailers’ efforts to break me.

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When I saw this pitiful figure the next morning, it was clear that her sickness was so far advanced — some stage of schizophrenia — that she was beyond the reach of argument. Her illness had become a convenient ve­hicle for the expression of the racism which had grown like maggots in her unconscious. Each night, and even morning before breakfast came, she went through a prolonged ritual which took the form of a violent argument with some invisible figure in her cell. More often than not, this figure would be a Black man, and he would be attacking her with a kind of sexual perversity which would have been inconceivable had not her own verbal imagery been so vivid. She would purge this figure from her cell with a series of incantations. When her imagined attacker assumed some other position, it brought about a corresponding change in her incantations.

One morning in the day room, Barbara, the young Black woman from the cell directly across from mine, broke her habitual silence to tell me she had refused her daily dose of Thorazine. It was very sim­ple: she was tired of feeling like a vegetable all the time. She was going to resist the Thorazine and was going to get out of 4b. She knew about my own attempts to get out, and if we were both transferred she said she would like very much to be my “cellie” in the main population.

In the cell next to Barbara’s was a very young white woman who ap­peared to receive larger doses of Thorazine than any of the others. One day when she was not so spaced out, she wanted to know if I could help her with her case. (She was back from court and evidently had not been drugged so she would look more or less normal for the judge.) When I asked her about her charges, tears streamed down her face as she said repeatedly, “I could never do anything like that. I couldn’t kill my own baby.”

She didn’t understand where she was and had no comprehension whatever of the judicial system. Who were her friends, she wanted me to tell her, and who were the ones who wanted to put her away? She had been afraid to talk to her lawyer, for fear he would tell the judge. Now she was thoroughly crushed because a doctor who had sworn himself to secrecy had just taken the stand and divulged everything she had told him. All she wanted now was just a little Thorazine. She wanted to get away, forget, get high.

Perhaps the most tragic or them all was Sandra — the teenager charged with arson. She was one of the women who had been in the receiving room the night I was ar­rested. I had noticed then that her hair was coming out in patches and had assumed that she had ringworm. My first day in 4b, she came out of the cell for meals. The second day, she ignored the key unlocking her cell gate at mealtimes. She silently and systematically pulled her hair out by the roots. From that day on, whenever I saw her, she was sitting quietly on her bed, yanking her hair by the handful. By the time I left, she was as thin as a wishbone, and all that was left of her natural was a few clumps of hair on one side of her pitiful hairless head.

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A little more than a week had passed when the warden informed Margaret (Margaret Burnham, one of Ms. Davis’ lawyers) that I was to be moved. Sure enough, the very next day I was told that I was about to be transferred to another part of the jail. I protested being bounced back and forth like a Ping Pong ball; but actually I didn’t mind the move, thinking that I was going into the regular population. I had no idea that my longing for some degree of seclu­sion was about to be overfulfilled. The main population I thought I was ­about to enter turned out to be a hurriedly improvised special isolation room separated from all the corridors on the sixth floor.

I decided to dramatize the situation by declaring myself on a hunger ­strike for as long as I was kept in isolation — I would hold my own on this side of the walls while things got rolling on the other side. Through the grapevine I learned that there were women all over the jail who were carrying out a hunger strike in sympathy with mine.

On the tenth day of the hunger strike, at a time when I had per­suaded myself that I could continue indefinitely without eating, the Federal Court handed down a ruling enjoining the jail administration from holding me any longer in isolation and under maximum security conditions. They had decided — under pressure, of course — that this unwarranted punishment was meted out to me because of my political beliefs and affiliation.

There was little time to learn my way about (the main part of the prison) before all the cell gates were locked, but some of my neighbors gave me a guided tour of my 8 foot by 5 foot cell. Because mine was the corner cell — the one which could be easily spied on from the officer’s desk in the main hallway — it was also the smallest one on the corridor; the double bunk made it appear even smaller. The fixtures — the bed, the tiny sink, the toilet — were all ar­ranged in a straight line, leaving no more than a width of two feet of floor at any point in the cell.

The sisters helped me improvise a curtain in front of the toilet and sink so they could not be seen from the corridor. They showed me how to use newspaper wrapped in scrap cloth to make a seat cover so the toilet could be turned into a chair to be used at the iron table that folded down from the wall in front of it. I laughed out loud at the thought of doing all my writing while sitting on the toilet stool.

Lock-in time was approaching; a sister remembered that she had forgotten to warn me about one of the dangers of night life in the House of D. “‘Mickey’ will be trying to get into your cell tonight,” she said, and I would have to take precautionary steps to “keep him out.” “Mickey?” Was there some man­iac the jailers let loose at night to pester the women?

The sister laughingly told me she was referring to the mice which scampered about in the darkness of the corridors looking for cell doors not securely stuffed with newspa­pers.

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It became a nightly ritual: placing meticulously folded newspapers in the little space between the gate and the floor and halfway up the gate along the wall. Despite the preven­tive measures we took, Mickey could always chew through the barricade in at least one cell, and we were often awakened by the shouts of a woman calling the officer to get the mouse out. One night Mickey joined me in the top bunk. When I felt him crawling around my neck, I brushed him away thinking that it was roaches. When I finally realized what it was, I called for the broom — our only weapon against him. Apparently mousetraps were too expensive, and they were not going to exterminate.

Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo­ obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other. In response, imprisoned men and women will invent and continually invoke various and sundry defenses. Consequently, two layers of existence can be encountered within almost every jail or prison. The first layer consists of the routines and behavior prescribed by the governing penal hierarchy. The second layer is the prisoner culture itself: the rules and standards of behavior that come from and are defined by the captives in order to shield themselves from the open or covert terror designed to break their spirits.

In an elemental way, this culture is one of resistance, but a resistance of desperation. It is, therefore, incapable of striking a significant blow against the system. All its elements are based on an assumption that the prison system will continue to survive. Precisely for this reason, the system does not move to crush it. (In fact, it sometimes happens that there is an under-the-table encouragement of the prisoners’ subculture.) I was continually astonished by the infinite details of the social regions which the women in the House of Detention considered their exclusive domain. This culture was contemptuously closed to the keepers. I sometimes wandered innocently through the doors and found myself thoroughly disoriented. A telling example happened on my second day in population. A sister asked me, “What did you think of my grandfather? He said he saw you this morning.” I was sure I had misheard her question, but when she repeated it, I told her she must be mistaken, because I had no idea who her grandfather was. Besides, I hadn’t had any visitors that day. But the joke was on me. I was in a foreign country and hadn’t learned the language. I discovered from her that a woman prisoner who had come by my cell earlier in the day was the “grandfather” to whom she was referring. Because she didn’t seem eager to answer any questions, I contained my curiosity until I found someone who could explain to me what the hell was going on.

A woman a few cells down gave me a fascinating description of a whole system through which the women could adopt their jail friends as relatives. I was bewildered and awed by the way in which the vast majority of the jail population had neatly organized itself into genera­tions of families: mothers/wives, fathers/husbands, sons and daughters, even aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. The family sys­tem served as a defense against the fact of being no more than a number. It humanized the environment and allowed an identification with others within a familiar framework.

In spite of its strong element of escapism and fantasy, the family system could solve certain immedi­ate problems. Family duties and responsibilities were a way in which sharing was institutionalized. Pa­rents were expected to provide for their children, particularly the young ones, if they could not afford “luxury items” from commissary.

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Like filial relationships outside, some sons and daughters had, or developed, ulterior motives. Quite a few of them joined certain families because the material benefits were greater there.

What struck me most about this family system was the homosexua­lity at its core. But while there was certainly an overabundance of ho­mosexual relationships within this improvised kinship structure, it was nevertheless not closed to “straight” women. There were straight daugh­ters and husbandless, i.e., straight, mothers.

Since the majority of the prisoners seemed to be at least casually in­volved in the family structure, there had to be a great number of lesbians throughout the jail. Homosexuality is bound to occur on a relatively large scale in any place of sexually segregated confinement. I knew this before I was arrested. I was not prepared, however, for the shock of seeing it so thoroughly entrenched in jail life. There were the masculine and feminine role-playing women: the former, the butches, were called “he.” During the entire six weeks I spent on the seventh floor, I could not bring myself to refer to any woman with a masculine pronoun, although some of them, if they hadn’t been wearing the mandatory dresses, would never have been taken for women.

Many or them — both the butches and the femmes — had obviously decided to take up homosexuality during their jail terms in order to make that time a little more exciting, in order to forget the squalor and degradation around them. When they returned to the streets they would rejoin their men and quickly forget their jail husbands and wives.

An important part of the family system was the marriages. Some of them were extremely elaborate — with invitations, a formal ceremony, and some third person acting as the “minister.” The “bride” would prepare for the occasion as if for a real wedding.

With all the marriages, the seeking or trysting places, the scheming which went on by one woman to catch another, the conflicts and jea­lousies — with all this — homosexua­lity emerged as one of the centers around which life in the House of Detention revolved. Certainly, it was a way to counteract some of the pain of jail life; but objectively, it served to perpetuate all the bad things about the House of Detention. “The Gay Life” was all-consuming; it prevent­ed many of the women from devel­oping their personal dissatisfaction with the conditions around them into a political dissatisfaction, because the homosexual fantasy life provided an easy and attractive channel for escape.

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On a cold Sunday afternoon a massive demonstration took place down on Greenwich Avenue. It was spearheaded by the bail fund coali­tion and the New York Committee to Free Angela Davis. So enthusiastic was the crowd that we felt compelled to organize some kind of reciprocal display of strength. We got together in our corridor, deciding on the slogans we would shout and how to make them come out in unison — even though we were going to be spread down the corridor in different cells, screaming from different windows. I had never dreamed that such powerful feeling of pride and confidence could develop among the sisters in this jail.

Chants thundered on the outside: “One, two, three, four, the House of D. has got to go!” “Free our Sisters. Free Ourselves,” and other political chants that were popular at the time. After a while, we decided to try out our chants. It was far easier for us to be heard through the windows by the people outside than it was for us to be heard by ourselves, separated as we were by the thick concrete walls dividing the cells. Although our slogans may not have been transmitted in the most harmonious style, we managed to get our message across: “Free the Soledad Brothers,” “Free Erika,” “Free Bobby,” “Long Live Jonathan Jackson.”

While the chants of “Free Angela” filled me with excitement, I was concerned that an overabundance of such chants might set me apart from the rest or my sisters. I shouted one by one the names of all the sisters on the floor participating in the demon­stration. “Free Vernell! Free Helen! Free Amy! Free Joann! Free Laura! Free Minnie!” I was hoarse for the next week.

As the demonstration moved into full swing, an officer unlocked the gate to our corridor and shouted to us to stop all the noise. We refused. They sent a captain to try to halt the demonstration. She approached me in my cell to say there would be sanctions for all of us if we did not calm down. Our exchange was heat­ed. Within a matter of minutes, a confrontation had brewed. Shouts began to come from across the hall — the sisters in the next corridor had decided to join. There was noth­ing this captain could do to make us acquiesce; every word she uttered kindled our combativeness. The more militant we became, the less confident she became, and finally she left the corridor in defeat.

As long as there were demonstra­tors outside, we continued our chants. Even after they left, the floor was throbbing with excitement. We were proud of the staunch position we had taken vis-a-vis the bureau­cracy. In this atmosphere of triumph, it was a cruel letdown for us to discover that the Supreme Court in Washington had just denied our appeal, and that I would soon be extradited to California.

That night, still hot with the ardor of the demonstration, locked up in the darkness of their cells, the women staged a spontaneous de­monstration of support. “One, two, three, four. We won’t let Angela go!’ Five, six, seven, eight. We won’t let them through the gate!” Shoes were banging on the cell bars; chants grew louder. An officer tried meekly to calm them down but had no success. A very vocal sister who was in one of the adolescent corridors was told to keep it quiet, but when she refused and all the sisters came vociferously to her aid, the officers hit her, knowing that all we could do was scream. They dragged her away to 4a — the punitive isolation unit. Frustrated by our inability to help her, we called out threats and beat even more loudly on the bars of our cells.

Someone noticed a sympathetic-looking white couple on Greenwich Avenue staring up in wonderment at the building, which was shaking with the clamor of protests from our floor. We called down to them that a sister had just been beaten and was proba­bly being put through the third de­gree down in the hole. We were bold that evening. We shouted out loud and clear the names and ranks of the officers who had pulled her from her cell. We asked the couple to call the underground press and as many Left organizations as they could to let them know that we were expecting an even more severe crackdown. (I later discovered that they had spent the evening contacting everyone they felt could help us.)

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With the receptionist on one side and the librarian on the other, I walked slowly through the prisoners’ gate onto the cold cobblestones of the courtyard. My anger gave way to pangs of regret at having to leave behind all my friends locked up in that filth. Vernell … Would they drop that phony murder charge? Helen … Would she go home? Amy … so old, so warm … What would happen to her? Pat … Would she write her book exposing the House of D.? And the organizing for the bail fund … Would it continue? Harriet … So committed to the struggle — would they continue to try to break her will?

The police van was waiting in the courtyard, the same van they had used to take me to court. Through the heavy grill on the windows, I could see nothing in the darkness. But suddenly, as the van rolled through the courtyard gates, I heard a thun­derous burst of shouts of support. I could not figure out how so many people had learned I was being taken away that night. Later I found out they had come in response to the calls made by the white couple on Greenwich Avenue. Not a single light illuminated the gigantic courtyard of the Tombs. All I could see was the outline of a collection of cars parked in the center, and the shadows of human figures moving back and forth between the vehicles. The atmosphere was reminiscent of postwar spy movies. A dozen white men swarming around their unmarked police cars, nervously awaiting the end of this transaction, this histrionic ceremony of repression unfolding under the dim glow of flashlights.

New York removed its handcuffs and California produced theirs and locked them around my wrists. ❖

Copyright 1974 by Angela Davis. From the book ANGELA DAVIS: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY Random House, Inc. A Bernard Geis Associates Book

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FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Holy War in West Virginia: A Fight Over America’s Future

Charleston, W. Va. — The turbulent textbook controversy that has crippled schools here is more than a simple fight over the adoption of 325 first through 12th grade supplementary English textbooks. For the 229,000 people who live in the coal and petrochemical-rich Kanawha Valley it is not an isolated battle, not some rustic re-run of the Scopes trial, but a microcosm of a basic conflict in our culture. It is nothing less than a fight over America’s future. 

This fight has taken place in many different localities, over many different issues. Its themes are the same as those that were echoed in New York City’s fight over community-controlled schools, in Boston’s battle over busing, in the black militant attempt to establish a New Africa in Mississippi, and in the Chicanos’ attempt to drive most Anglos from administrative jobs in Crystal City, Texas. Can America’s mainstream culture, made pervasive by the electronic media, absorb all the diverse groups that live here, that are passionate about maintaining their identity? 

To me, the protests here are a fresh sign that the melting pot — with its dream of a single, unified American culture — is largely a myth. I don’t believe we have ever been united except during times of national crisis like wars and assassinations — and as consumers. I think that, to an unrecognized extent, we are a collection of religious, ethnic, and generational tribes who maintain an uneasy truce. We had to conquer this continent in order to exploit its vast resources. But we were never able to conquer our own atavistic hatreds and loyalties, to live comfortably as a single people. 

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The battle in Kanawha is a cultural revolution, in the strictest sense of the term: an effort by the rural working class to wrest schools — the means of production of their children — away from the permissive technocrats who now control them. 

It is a holy war between people who depend on books and people who depend on the Book. 

And it may be a harbinger of fights that will flare up during the next few years as the Depression, the Mideast war, and the rise of conservative Christianity cause people to lash back at the cosmopolitan elite (the “educated fools” or “upper-class Communists,” as they’re called down here) they blame for their problems. If the textbook controversy is a harbinger, then education is likely to be a more important battleground than the media or pornography, though those issues kindle the same profound wrath. You can turn off your TV set, avoid movies or massage parlors, but you must send your kids to school. 

Most of the people who Live in Kanawha County’s hollers see the textbooks as a collection of skeptical comments about God, of four­-letter words and salacious stories, of subversive essays by black revolutionaries like Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. The books symbolize the horrifying 1960’s culture which the schools are inflicting on their young; the infection that began on liberal campuses has spread to Kanawha County and now threatens to turn their kids into sex maniacs, drug addicts, and Manson-like killers. So they want to cleanse America of its filth if they’re strong enough; seal themselves off from the plague if that’s their only alternative. For the moment, that means they’ve turned their backs on upward mobility. They feel that if their children establish any friendly contact with the corrupt forces that run the nation’s institutions, their characters are certain to be corrupted. 

Here the fight is between the “hillers” and the “creekers.” The “hillers” tend to support the textbooks: They are the doctors, lawyers, mine managers, and petrochemical engineers who live on Charleston’s luxurious South Hills. They read the Times and The Wall Street Journal just as avidly as the Charleston Daily Mail or Gazette. Many take the United Airlines flight to New York City so often that it’s almost like a commuter trip. They make regular vacation trips to Atlanta or Miami or, if they’re genuinely rich, to Europe. They regard the books as crucial ingredients of the kind of contemporary school system that will let their kids keep up with their peers across the country — that will help them get into Harvard or Haverford instead of Morris Harvey or West Virginia Tech. 

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The “creekers” live in the rural towns and hollers — Big Chimney, Cabin Creek, Cross Lanes — that dot this sprawling, windy, moun­tainous county. They work in the mines, or in fetid factories like the duPont plant in Balle, or, if they’re lucky, as truck drivers or construction workers. Most of them have never been on an airplane in their lives. Many went to cities like Chicago, Dayton, or Cleveland during the Appalachian migration of the 1960’s, but they found those places alien and hostile and returned to their own tight-knit communities. Their reminiscences are laced with the same bitterness they display toward the textbooks. 

In September, the books were introduced into the schools. There was so much violence in the county that the board of education decided to withdraw the books from the schools for a thirty-day review period. During that time, there were exchanges of gunfire, school rooms were dynamited, school buses shot at, cars and homes firebombed. One night, someone put fifteen sticks of dynamite under Charleston’s board of education building and demolished part of it. It was clear that most of the county felt some sympathy for the protestors. In November, a Charleston Gazette poll showed that just 19 percent of the community wanted all the books returned to the schools. Nevertheless, in mid-November, the board of education voted 4-1 to return most of the controversial materials to the schools, though they ruled that some of the most controversial grade school books would remain in the library. The sporadic violence continued. And, as in any war, attitudes kept hardening. 

Susan Bean, 35, who lives in South Hills, was a member of the committee that reviewed all the textbooks. She’s the wife of a landscape architect, the mother of three grade school kids. She was born in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, where her father was a member of the John Birch Society. In his small construction business, he sys­tematically underpaid all the blacks who worked for him. He whipped Susan whenever he caught her reading unorthodox books, whenever she disagreed with him. At 17, she ran away from home, got a job as a typist at Sears, and worked her way through the University of Georgia, where she was an English major. 

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Interestingly, it is Susan Bean’s conservative background that has made her a fierce supporter of the books. Indeed, she is glad that her children will study the religious unorthodoxies that her father despised. One day, I told her I thought we were witnessing a class struggle, and she responded, quite tartly, “Sure it’s a class struggle, but not in the way you outsiders think. You come from a liberal background. You can’t imagine how much the opportunity to give my kids unlimited freedom means to me. It’s a way of making sure that I, and my kids, rise above my past.” 

Nell Wood, fortyish, the English teacher who selected the text­books, is the daughter of a Fundamentalist railroad engineer from a rural county in West Virginia. Now she teaches an honors English class for seniors at the prestigious George Washington High School, nestled in the midst of South Hills. Though most of her students come from wealthy, sophisticated families, she is still a practicing fundamentalist. She never smokes or drinks, feels uncomfortable when people take the Lord’s name in vain, and has to ask her team teachers to read whatever four-letter words crop up. 

It’s possible that her support of the textbooks comes from her special classroom experience. There are teachers who argue that if she had to face a classroom full of rural work­ing class kids each day she might feel more ambivalent about the issue. But she is a woman who loves books and wants to share that pas­sion with her students. She refuses to weed out stones and attitudes that other fundamentalists consider blas­phemous because I can’t  bear the thought of standing in front of a group of kids and telling lies by omitting ideas I know exist.” Just as many protestors have quotations from the Bible 1n their homes she has a quotation from the Areopagitica in her spare. tiny cubicle behind the George Washington High School Li­brary. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature. God’s image: but who kills a book kills reason it­self.”

But thousands of people here say they’d die fighting the blasphemy that Nell Wood believes is freedom. Emmett Thompson, 55, a riverboat engineer from Nitro, West Virginia, lives quite comfortably in a neat red brick house which is larger than Susan Bean’s white frame house on South Hills. His oldest son is a trim, impeccably dressed short-haired man who has just graduated from the Lynchburg Bible College. Thompson, whose bushy cinnamon­colored moustache makes him look a little more dashing than his boy, is what people here call a “Wednesday nighter” — so devoted to the local Calvary Baptist Church that he at­tends it twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday. He considers the intro­duction of the books “moral geno­cide.”

“It’s an insidious attempt to re­place our periods with their question marks,” he says, and he thinks it has to he fought. In a county where coal miners are experts with dynamite, where every rnan and boy is a hunter and every house 1n every holler has plenty· of guns and plenty of ammu­nition. he longs for a “return to the spirit of the Boston Tea Party,” “revolution of righteousness.”

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Skeeter Dodd. the manager of radio station WKLC, is the sort of person who might help lead that revolution. A chunky, sturdy man in his mid-40s. Skeeter is an early morning disk jockey. whose taste in country music, in syndicated jokes from the “Funny Wire,” and in imaginary dialogues with the fic­tional hillbilly “grandad” has made him a favorite with “creekers” throughout the county.

“If they don’t wake up to me. they ain’t gonna wake up that day,” he says in his exaggerated West Virgin­ia accent, his genuinely hearty laugh.

Though KLC is Charleston’s third largest station, Skeeter spends much of his time worrying about collecting bills from advertisers and finding new sponsors who will keep his sta­tion afloat. But he is also a patriot who, like Emmett Thompson, sees the textbook struggle as a salvo in a war to “restore the faith of our fathers. Look at it this way, friend. They tax us for the schools, but the schools don’t represent us. Isn’t that what them dumb hillbillies and creekers was fighting about 200 years ago?”

He not only despises the books, he believes that they are part of a communist plot hatched in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1917 to destroy democracy. He showed me a replica of this curious document which proposed, to corrupt the people. get them away from religion. Make­ them superficial. Destroy their rug­gedness.” And, like thousands of people here, he believes in the existence of an upper-class conspiracy to bring Communism to America. Most people equate Communism with de­cadence. and argue that because rich people want to legalize drugs. legitimize pre-marital sex. porno­ graphic movies and massage par­lors, they are subversive. But Skeeter’s reasons are more person­al. His dad worked on an assembly line, he says. “Neighbor, you better believe that under a system like socialism this old creeker’d still be back there.”

He’d been in Navy intelligence during the Korean War. and now saw himself combating Communism in Kanawha County. He carried a citizens band radio in his car so that other movement leaders could alert him if there was trouble. He was “Boots” in a cb network that includ­ed “Kojack,” “Blue Flag,” and “Money Man.” Late on a chilly fall night, wearing his battered black overcoat as he slumped over his mike and exchanged information on the small radio. he looked like a weary, dedicated member of a nascent band of freedom fighters, the nucleus of an army which wants to cleanse America, to restore it to the paths of righteousness.

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From the Holler to the Space Age
In a sense, this is the story of an idea whose time never quite came. The idea was that educational planners could reach into America’s ghettos, its hollers, and its tradition-­bound ethnic communities, like Can­arsie and South Boston, and coax people there into the “melting pot.” That was the principal rationale be­hind bussing. It was also the reason that states like West Virginia mandated “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic” programs in their classrooms.

The theory is clearly stated in a funding proposal for the training of teachers, dated 1970, signed by West Virginia’s Superintendant of Schools. According to the document, teachers are supposed to be trained to “induce changes … in the behavior of the ‘culturally lost’ of Appalachia … The setting of the public school should he the testing ground. the diagnostic basis, the experimental center, and the core of this design … The most important ingredient of social change is the change agent” — the teacher.

You have only to look at the textbooks to see how they fit in with that theory. Though I personally found many of them quite appealing — the sorts of books I would like my two children to study —I  could also see how their sheer physical appearance would shock parents who had been brought up on Dick and Jane stories, on the six point type of the King James Bible, and on the rigid belief that education meant rote memori­zation. Now their children are using post-linear paper-backs where car­toons, photos, and gaudily colored pages dominate the print; where you don’t read about Evangeline or the Courtship of Miles Standish but about sports heroes, rock stars, and street gangs, where achievement doesn’t rest in a child’s ability to repeat a lesson accurately, but in her capacity to answer the provocative, questions at the end of each sec­tion.

And the stories do, as Emmett Thompson said, “attempt to replace our periods with question marks.” Reading them I could see, for the first time, how a theist, who was still embittered because the Supreme Court had outlawed school prayer, could believe that the relativism and humanism that I have always cherished as the highest kind of open-mindedness represents a dogma of its own whose very skepti­cism embodied religious values.

For example, there is one exercise which asks students to compare the biblical story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den with the tale of Androcles and the Lion. To conservative Chris­tians the question itself is blasphemy since it suggests that something they take to be revelations is nothing more than myth. Similarly, the books include writings like Mark Twain’s “Adam’s Diary,” which shows God’s first offspring as a bumbling upstate New York house­holder and includes a New Yorker-­style cartoon of a naked Adam and Eve peeping out over some bushes. The books invite students to invent their own gods, an exercise which suggests that God himself might be an invention.

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The idea behind the books is the classic liberal assumption that a child who learns to question himself and his surroundings will grow beyond the confines of his culture. But, apart from the religious heresies, that means the books are also filled with a set of assumptions that many West Virginians regard as secular blasphemy. For example, some of the exercises encourage kids to tell each other about their dis- agreements with their parents, their reservations about authority. They ask whether it is ever legitimate to steal. They contain a great many four-letter words (whose use, in many Appalachian households, would condemn kids to severe beatings. ) They suggest that standard English may be one of many dialects spoken in this country, that rules of English are relative, that ghetto English might be a legitimate form of speech. Some of the high school textbooks include writings by revo­lutionaries like Eldridge Cleaver.

Now, it’s easy to see how a profes­sional educator, who has learned, almost as a matter of dogma, that schools were always the vehicles by which working-class kids achieved a level of success that was beyond the wildest dreams of their parents, could have thought that “multi-cul­tural. multi-ethnic” textbooks could bring kids into the “melting pot.”

But it’s probably too much to de­mand that a countyful of people make the spiritual journey from the holler to the Space Age in less than five years, especially when the trip forces them beyond the furthest barrier of their belief. It makes them the victim of a sort of psychic overload. Sometimes they submit in confusion. But in Kanawha County they found leaders who could articulate their fury at the annihilation of every value they revered. They fought back.

Alice Moore is the lone dissenter on the school board. Her husband, a Church of Christ minister, had parishes in Tennessee and Meridian Mississippi before he was station­ed in the lower-middle class town of after St. Alban’s. In 1970, two years after her arrival in Kanawha County, Alice Moore decided that she’d run for the board to symbolize her opposition to sex education in the schools. She was elected.

She is a stunningly beautiful, intelligent woman who adopts a Southern belle’s flirtatious style when she argues with the four male school board members.

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But it’s clear that when Alice speaks thousands of people in the creeks and hollers listen. She’s in the newspapers nearly every day now, on TV nearly every night: a Joan of Arc, witty and resolute in her battle against the male “hiller” majority of the school committee. Whenever she appears at board meetings or at public rallies she is greeted with jubilant standing ovations, with cheerful choruses of “we love you, Alice, oh, yes, we do,” with clusters of flowers and placards that read “Alice Moore for President.” In place like Big Chimney and Kelly’s Creek — towns the hillers can barely find on their maps, let alone in their cars — her name inspires the same kind of glisteningly popular response as Huey Long’s did in the back­-country parishes of Louisiana.

When the textbooks came up for only adoption last spring, she was the only school board member who read them thoroughly. She was enraged by their emphasis on she calls “situational ethics” — the heathen creed that encorages kids to believe that any set of actions can be jus­tified by sociological conditions.

I could see her anger during a long interview one afternoon when she told me about a teacher training program she’d attended. her tone alternated between Andy Griffith­-like wonder and fundamentalist wrath. She was particularly amused by an instructor who’d tried to show how the concept of camouflage could be conveyed by hiding some green toothpicks in grass. He failed because the grass was so brights that the toothpicks were visible at once. Then, angering quickly, she talked about another education expert who sought to prove there was a cultural justification for Eskimo mothers who put their babies outside to freeze. “You know,” she said, “I was the only only person there who argued she was wrong.”

With my longish hair, my credentials from an urban liberal newspaper, I must have suddenly seemed like the enemy. She was courteous, and her lovely southern voice never lost its slight hint of conspiratorial laughter. But: “You just don’t understand what you’re doing to us,” she said. “How can any school board force me to send my kids to a school that teaches God is a myth, that justifies mothers who kill their young?” 

“But how could I send my kids to schools that outlawed those textbooks?” I asked. “I bate censorship as much as you hate blas­phemy.” “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe there’s no school system in this country that can provide for your kids and mine. Maybe we Americans have come to a parting of the ways.”

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The Parting of the Ways: “Don’t Educate Them Above Their Rearing”
Maybe the parting of the ways has already come, and the only question is how many people are on each side. Certainly many conservative Christians in Kanawha County feel the frustration, the sense of isolation, that Alice Moore describes. They are so appalled by the America the textbooks represent that they’d rather forego the idea of college altogether, the dream of upward mobility, than risk the infection of relativism. 

Many young people are as passionate about the holy war as their parents. I spent a great deal of time interviewing the elite students at George Washington High and the working-class kids from Campbell’s Creek who attend duPont and East Bank. There is no communication between them-only mutual stereotypes, mutual contempt. 

Many students from George Washington are aware that their wealth spawns resentment, that the fact that they go to GW creates an almost insurmountable barrier of resentment. And some wish, wistfully, that the gap could be bridged. But even though there are many “creekers” at GW, not a single one of the fifteen “hiller” kids I interviewed had ever visited them or invited them home. And, though they’re theoretically aware that “those kids are angry because they think our parents have money,” it never occurred to them that their freedom to leave school in their family car, to gather at Gino’s Pizza for a pleasant lunch, rankled the kids from the hollers, who had to stay in school all day and eat their meals in the cafeteria. 

During an interview, one girl asked me, sharply, “why anybody would want to visit people like those coal miners.” When I asked some other students to describe the textbook protesters, they used phrases like “closed-minded and violent” people “who want to protest corrup­tion, but don’t even know how to use the word,” “Wednesday nighters who carry clubs.” Three students gave me an issue of The George Washington Pride, the school’s underground newspaper, which con­tained a long satire about the conflict in which the protest leader’s name is “the Rev. Rodney Necc, but my friends call me Red,” who has come to a demonstration sponsored by “the Christian and Righteous Association of Parents … to show my deep dedication to upholding CRAP.” 

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I felt completely at ease with the kids from George Washington. But many “creekers,” and their children, were quite suspicious of me as an outsider, particularly because I was a reporter. At one of their rallies they had beaten up CBS’s Jed Duval. When I went to the “anti­-textbook headquarters” in Campbell’s Creek, two separate groups of people insisted on frisking me, on examining the documents in my wallet. A woman who saw that I had a pocket-sized Sony tape-recorder accused me of bugging them all. After a while, many of them became friendly, but they still warned that “they’d come looking for me” if I wrote an unfavorable story about them. 

That afternoon, at a small white Baptist Church, off a windy dirt road in Campbell’s Creek, I met with about 10 teenaged children of coal miners, truck drivers, construction workers, and ministers. They didn’t feel as free with me as the kids from GW had, so their comments were more cramped and restrained. Still, some were scornful of the hillers. They talked about their wild, dope-filled orgies where maids had to lock themselves in their rooms for fear of being beaten; of their rich, reckless parents, who were too busy to take care of their kids; of the ease with which they could bribe the police when they got in trouble. And of their hedonistic atheism. “They’re rich people who think they know everything,” said a coal miner’s daughter. “But they haven’t been taught right. They don’t have any common sense. They don’t really care about God.” 

Other kids sounded genuinely wounded by the “hillers'” insen­sitivity. “I can expect someone who doesn’t believe in God not to see anything wrong with the textbooks,” said one minister’s daughter. “But they can at least respect our rights, since it does say something about our God. We’re not asking that they teach Christianity in the schools. We’re just asking that they don’t insult our faith.” 

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The truck driver’s son had a more practical objection. He was afraid that the books would hurt his chances of earning a living. He wanted to go to West Virginia Tech, to be an engineer, and felt he needed a “good basic education.” 

“I mean, they could teach English in school without going to this ghetto language or some of this slang,” he said. “lf they drop that standard, then society’s just going to go down. Until now, we’ve always been taught to make speeches in front of class, to write letters with correct punctuation. But in this new set of textbooks, they say, whatever sort of speech is common in your area, well, that’s all right. But if you move out of state, it will be just like going to a foreign country. How will you know what other people’s meaning is? And, I know from my father”s experience-if you look for a job and can’t talk the right English, they won’t hire you.” 

Of course, for many protestors the issues are far more general and ominous than the practical questions of grammar and employment. Many students from duPont and East Bank arc already into rock music and dope: the parents-and more chaste kids-are scared that the heretical ideas in the school-sanctioned textbooks will rid them of their last vestiges of social control. 

At meeting after meeting, I heard complaints about kids from Kanawha County who’d gone to college and come home acting like aliens. The conclusions? “Don’t let them be educated above their rearing.” “I was going to send my boy to college,” said the wife of a food salesman from St. Alban’s. “But I’ve changed my mind. It was a difficult decision. In my husband’s profession, now, you need a college degree. But I’d rather see him become a coal miner or a construction worker than know he was risking his soul.” 

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If the Christians Fight Back
Of course, religious controversy is not new in these parts. Nor is separatism. The ancestors of the miners and teamsters who live in Cabin Creek and Big Chimney were Anglo-Saxon yeomen who settled here 200 years ago because they were dissatisfied with Virginia’s upper-­class Tidewater planters and their moribund Anglican church. They were inspired by the first Great Awakening, the national fit of religious ecstasy which, with its stress on holy fervor and personal salvation, swept westward from New England in the eighteenth century. Even now, in the small Baptist and Pentecostal churches that dot the landscape, thousands of Baptists and Pentecostals scourge themselves by listening to sermons that sound Like replicas of Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” 

For generations, the Fundamentalists were sure that some version of their creed was America’s dominant faith. Then, without warning, they found themselves waging a defensive war against the heathen idea of evolution. The Scopes trial was a watershed: Between Clarence Darrow’s courtroom tactics and H. L. Mencken’s scathing prose, they suddenly ceased to be America’s conscience and became its laugh­ingstock. Though they clung to their faith, sometimes defiantly, many of them felt a private, lingering shame. It took decades for that shame to vanish. Now, their church is likely to become militant again. 

If Kanawha County’s army of Christian soldiers ever decides to wage all-out war, life here will be unbearable. This fall’s rash of dynamiting, firebombing, and shooting has terrified educators all over the county. Protest leaders deny responsibility for most incidents, blaming some on stoned-out kids, others on the books’ supporters. Still, the violence has merged with the Fundamentalists’ ardent support of censorship to make each teacher feel like a potential target. For example, during the weeks the books were out of the schools, English teachers all over the county were scared to teach anything but grammar in case any work of literature, even Shakespeare, goaded some hotheads to bomb their buildings. 

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Late one Wednesday afternoon, someone threw three sticks of dynamite into a first-grade classroom at the Midway School in Campbell’s Creek. The teacher whose room was bombed had spent a decade collecting books and toys for kids whose families couldn’t afford them. Now, all that was destroyed. The room itself was littered with the debris from a waist-high partition-bookshelf that had been shat­tered by the blast. Hundreds of books were scattered on the floor. From the outside, all you could see was four shattered windows, the traces of some tables and chairs, a brightly lettered alphabet attached to the blackboard, and an American flag that still perched above the whole room. 

The Wet Bridge Elementary School in Cabin Creek, the most rural part of the sprawling county, is even more threatened than Midway. In October, someone tossed two sticks of dynamite into the building. The afternoon I visited it, just eight of 300 enrolled students showed up for classes. “Each day seems like it’s two million hours long,” said one teacher. 

One of the older teachers at the school has taught most of the parents of the boycotting children. The fact that they won’t trust her to use the books responsibly has robbed her of her self-confidence. In a community where hundreds of people are functionally illiterate, where they are ignorant of the rudiments of personal and sexual hygiene, she is now afraid to offend them by instructing them. 

“Soon we won’t be able to teach anything,” she says. “It’s as if those parents and ministers are staring over our shoulders, waiting to get us for saying anything that sounds immoral. I’m afraid that if this boycott ever ends, I won’t see the children as students. I’ll see them as spies in the classroom.”

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So We Are Two Nations…
I have rarely covered a story that left me feeling as emotionally conflicted as this one has. For it seems to me that some of the pro­-textbook people — the northern educators and bureaucrats who devised them, not the local people who adopted them — are involved in a kind of cultural imperialism. But some of the protestors, who may be able to gain control of the county through the courts, through elections, and through threats of violence, are capable of outright totalitarianism. 

I know that the people who designed the textbooks believe that the children of Fundamentalists (and, to a lesser extent, of the white working class in general) have to be freed from the narrow-minded influence of their parents in order to become functioning members of twenty-first century America. But is it ethical or prudent to confront them with textbooks they regard as blasphemous, to use their class­rooms as “testing grounds,” to train their teachers to be “change agents”? To me, that is, quite literally, a way of telling kids “we have to destroy your culture in order to save you.” I’ve interviewed some curriculum reformers and textbook authors, and it’s clear that they see the “creekers” in the same derisive terms H. L. Mencken used during the Scopes trial. They regard the objections of people like Alice Moore as problems to be dealt with, not opinions to be respected. 

Their intentions are probably benign, but isn’t their policy a fresh example of the arrogance of power? You can invite a person into your culture. But I don’t believe you can impose your culture on another person without risking unforseeable psychological harm.

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If the trip is voluntary, as Susan Bean’s was, then the person is likely to maintain a sense of identity and pride. But if it’s an imposed journey to a totally unknown destination — as it would be for many children in Kanawha County — then it could produce considerable psychological harm. It could set them adrift, with no reliable traditions, no moral compass, in an agnostic, post-linear, multicultural, multi­ethnic Space Age world which bas no connection at all to their familiar hollers.

You cannot outlaw, school prayer and still pretend that secular humanism — momentarily our national creed — does not carry its own deep assumptions about religion. Why not recognize that both attitudes are dogmas, and try to develop an educational system that’s flexible enough to furnish federal funds to schools that base their curriculum on theism as well as to those that base their curriculum on relativism? 

Most outside journalists who have come here to cover the textbook controversy have become fascinated by the relatively novel kinds of injustices I’ve been describing. As a result, many have tended to glorify the protestors a little, to explain their excesses by arguing that they are victims of a class struggle. But I think they are sentimentalizing a potentially dangerous movement. 

The last scene I witnessed in Charleston is the one that grates most painfully on my imagination. It was a protest rally the day after the textbooks were restored to the schools. It wasn’t in any of the rural churches or parks where the movement was nurtured, but in the cavernous c1v1c center, one of the most modern buildings in Charleston. 

The audience of 2,500 was in a fervent mood. Most of them wore large stickers which asserted “Jesus Wouldn’t Have Read Them.” As they sang “Amazing Grace,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and “God Bless America,” more than half of them swayed back and forth, waving their right hands in the air to show that they were born-again Christians. The podium was bathed in lights from the TV cameras. On the right side, a stern, trim youth held the American flag aloft through the two-hour program. On the left side, an equally rigid young man bore a Christian flag, with a silky white field and a blood-purple cross as its emblem. The flags, and their martial bearers, framed each speaker.

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The main speaker was the Rev. Marvin Horan, who is supposed to be one of the more moderate protest leaders — more moderate, say, than the Rev. Charles Quigley, who wore army fatigues that day and who’d shocked the county a few weeks earlier by issuing a public prayer that God would strike the pro-textbook school-board members dead.

As Horan spoke, his voice rolled with righteousness; the audience applauded nearly every sentence. He held a Bible in his right hand, two textbooks in his left and, shaking both arms angrily, he cried, “Which are we going to stand for, the word of God or the filth in these books?” Then he threatened his audience — “the Bible says not to use the Lord’s name in vain or the person who does so will not be held guiltless at the seat of judgment” — and read several blasphemous sentences from Catcher in the Rye, a text which he, at least, had clearly studied quite carefully. For he told his audience that “out of all this book, almost three hundred pages, there’s only twenty pages that don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.” Then, waving Catcher in the Rye aloft, he asked, “Do we surrender or do we fight?” 

Behind me someone yelled “burn ’em,” and hundreds of people began to applaud. 

Now Horan was talking about the importance of maintaining the school boycott. “The board of education may think we’re yellow, but our real colors are red, white, and blue … If we stand unified, we can rid Kanawha County of these filthy books and the people who put them there.” 

It wasn’t just platform rhetoric. Though the school boycott wasn’t nearly as successful as Horan had hoped, and the county became outwardly calm after another week of sporadic violence, the influence of the anti-textbook movement has spread to other states. The series of textbooks that started the controversy here has been rejected in Georgia and Texas. There are similar disputes in Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana. The League of Decency, an antipornography organization from California, attaches enough impor­tance to the fight here to let its chief spokesman. a former TV personality named Robert Dornan who’s paid $42,000 a year, spend most of his time in Charleston. 

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The school board’s decision to put most of the books back in the classrooms has been a Pyrrhic victory for the county’s liberals. Last week, the board adopted a set of guidelines — most of them proposed by Alice Moore — which would probably have caused this English series to be rejected if it had existed a year ago. From now on, Kanawha County textbooks can’t contain profanity; they can’t intrude on a student’s privacy by asking personal questions about his family or his inner feelings; they must encourage loyalty to the United States; they can’t defame any of America’s heroes; they must teach that traditional rules of grammar are essential for effective communications. 

It’s still possible that the English books will be withdrawn from the schools. Last week, some protesters filed a lawsuit charging that the adoption might have been illegal because the school board first voted for the books on April 11, instead of the state deadline of April 1. If that doesn’t reopen the issue, then the adoption of a new set of social studies textbooks, slated for next April, could kindle an even more disruptive set of skirmishes. 

Meanwhile, protestors from rural Kanawha County, which includes towns like Cabin Creek and Campbell’s Creek, are urging people in their region to secede from the rest of the county. 

Maybe the prominence of the Christian flag at Reverend Horan’s rally awakened my own tribal Jewish fears, but the experience left me deeply unsettled. The Reverend Horan, and the countless conservative Christians who identify with him, are absolutists. My question marks are sacred to me. Each attitude is a dogma, but the difference between them is vast. I would like to think that there is plenty of room for people like Marvin Horan in my America. But I don’t believe there’s room for me in his. ❖

Categories
From The Archives JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES

Rumble in the Jungle: The Triumph of Bad and Cool

Watching the Fight in Harlem

” ‘Cos black is so bad
And white is so sad.
Ah said it
Ah meant it
Ah really re-pra-sent it.”
— Street jive heard in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Black boys are bad. They are bad and they are cool. They are so bad that sometimes they do indescribable things. White boys are not bad and they are not cool. But sometimes they like to think they are. When white boys want to play bad they walk through Central Park at midnight and then write about it. That is not bad and anyone who makes a living that way should be paid in Puerto Rican furniture.

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Last week Muhammad Ali did a few things to show that he was the baddest and the coolest. He beat that chump of a champ George Foreman in eight rounds; he became the only authentic, living hero on the face of this planet, and then he proved himself to be the only viable personality left over from the ’60s. It was just glorious. Allah now has oil and a world boxing champion. Could any god ask for more?

I saw Muhammad Ali do those things at the Victoria Theatre in Harlem on Wednesday night. So did a number of other people, most of them men who bore the marks of former bad boys. In any case, they spoke that way. They used the word nigger very loosely and they made it sound worthwhile and respectable. They also used the word faggot a lot which they did not make sound worthwhile and respectable. In these circles, I discovered, faggot has replaced the word mo’fucker.

It was a very un-slick audience. No one looked as if they had gotten dressed up for the event. The closest thing to being glamorous anyone came was one man who walked around with an orange-coloured Panasonic cassette player. Lots of people carried brown paper bags which held bottles of stuff. Yes, it was a low-tone crowd, but a very bad low-tone crowd.

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Most people were for Ali. You could tell because no one bought the Foreman posters. That wasn’t a good sign for Foreman. A bad man ought to have the bad people behind him. Well, Foreman might be bad, but he wasn’t the baddest. People were going crazy in the aisles telling each other how Ali would do it, in what time, in what style. It wasn’t entertainment, it wasn’t politics, it was going to be vindication. Ali became a redeemer of sorts.

There were lots of guards in the theatre and they all wore dark glasses. It made them look very ominous but they were really quite nice. They saved choice seats for themselves. I sat next to one named Michael Finch. There were some things he wanted me to know.

“Muhammad represents all black manhood. He’s got the pride of his people. He fought against America for himself and for his people. Aside from all that, I just dig his poetics. But I tell you he gonna give that Foreman what’s his. He gonna open his eyes, then he gonna close them, then he gonna put a tin cup in his hand and put him on a street corner where he belong.”

Then. “What would happen if the picture won’t come on? I tell you if that picture don’t come on you’ll see hell up in Harlem. Hell. I’d throw off this stuff and pretend I’m one of you all.”

Michael Finch had an opinion on everything. When the image of David Frost, who acted as one of the hosts, first appeared on the screen, he said, “What’s that faggot doing up there? He don’t belong in no fight. He should be home with his wife drinking coffee and dipping doughnuts.”

He called Joe Frazier a faggot and a turkey. He called George Foreman a faggot and a monster. He called everyone he didn’t like a faggot. When he saw Muhammad Ali in a pre-fight interview, he said, “He’s a terrible nigger, man. I tell you that nigger is bad.”

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I learned a number of things that evening.

1. Muhammad is the cool way of referring to Muhammad Ali.

2. When a black person uses the word nigger it can be a positive thing or a negative thing. It all depends on a number of complicated variables. White people in general, however, are not allowed to let the word even cross their minds. Michael Finch said that nigger is a bad word and white people just don’t measure up as far as badness is concerned.

3. The announcer said that other people had said it (and I think he meant the fight) couldn’t happen in the deepest part of Africa, but here it is. This was followed by random film clips of downtown Zaire. Well, it is happening in the deepest part of Africa. Downtown Zaire has wonderful, big skyscrapers. It looked just tremendous. The World Trade Center may be hideous in Manhattan but it would look just fabulous in Zaire. Skyscrapers, like polyester, may be the birthright of Third World consumers.

4. Zaire has an authenticity program that promotes and encourages native customs that Europeans used to consider vulgar and primitive. Before the fight the close-circuit as well as the actual audience were entertained by Zairians performing their own various tribal folk dances. It was very elaborate and suggestive and you saw that the Soul Train Dancers didn’t invent the Funky anything. Perhaps it goes to prove that this particular racial group is just all round rhythmic. Michael Finch said he liked the way those people get down. In any case the fact that authenticity programs and skyscrapers can exist side by side and find appreciation under the same national umbrella is somehow remarkable.

5. The Zaire River used to be called the Congo River. I don’t know why they changed it. Congo seems like such a nice name for a river.

6. President Mobotu, the President of Zaire, is very stylish and very handsome. He wears a leopard skin pillbox very well.

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Around 10 o’clock Muhammad Ali entered the ring. The audience in the the theatre rose to its feet and cheered. Actually, they said, “Ali bomaye.” [“Ali, kill him.”] The tribal spirit is very contagious. He looked like a movie star, the way he strode into the ring. His face looked smooth as a peach, his hair was nicely done — no split ends. Then he took off his robe and flexed the muscles in his arms. Gosh! He has the best pair of collar bones you have ever seen on any screen. Muhammad Ali before the fight looked so precious. Muhammad Ali after the fight was a little rough in spots. He clowned a little and led the audience in the Ali bomaye chant. It was quite heroic. I thought he was just wonderful, he said he was just wonderful, the audience in the theatre told his video image he was just wonderful.

Five minutes or so later George Foreman entered the ring. The audience booed at him. He didn’t have the grace of Ali at all. And besides he had lots of split ends. He just doesn’t have the face of a hero. In a pre-fight interview, Ali said that the way he psyched himself up for this fight with Foreman was to watch lots of old horror movies like “The Horrors of Count Dracula” and “The Return of the Werewolf.” Well, it is true that Foreman looks like a big black mound of brute force which is not the sort of thing you want to meet alone in a deserted alley. Foreman fell into the un-appealing low-tone category. Ali was high tone all the way and you can’t get any badder than that.

At the end of it all Foreman the chump was beaten by Ali the Champ. That was bad enough. But really the baddest thing in that whole fight was Ali leading the crowd in the Ali bomaye chant somewhere between the 4th and 5th round of the fight. Now that is so bad and so cool. It took the concept of bad and cool further than you ever dreamed it could go.

Foreman is now so ashamed of himself that he goes around telling people that Ali is a credit to his family, race and boxing. Maybe. But Ali says he is a credit to Allah. I believe him. It is the year of Allah and all you foolish people who think someone else is coming, good luck. But just remember, I told you first: When he comes he’ll be riding a camel, not carrying a cross. ❖

Categories
From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Deep Threat: Roy Cohn

Roy Cohn, Encounter, and ‘L’Image’

In his long career, Roy Cohn has done battle with a host of enemies, both real and ephemeral. Now in his new role as a community leader, he has galvanized his neighbors into opposing a small, drug-free program to rehabilitate youthful drug-abusers. He is charging that the Encounter program “sneaked” into its new home on his block, 68th Street between Madison and Park.

Last week, more than 200 residents from that vicinity crowded together at Automation House to vent their feelings before the local Community Planning Board. They were, for the most part, stylishly dressed but quite obviously very angry, their faces lined with the familiar hostility of people convinced that everything they have worked for is under siege.

Though the situation was commonplace, the particulars were not. The turf is one of the most elegant blocks in New York, the attacker a well-respected, nine-year-old program that will house a maximum of 50 kids in a ramshackle building previously used as a rooming house.

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Cohn, whose firm is representing the opponents, maintained a low profile, speaking twice, but only briefly, his face impassive most of the time as he sat cross-legged on the floor, as a series of well-groomed and a highly articulate women paraded up to the podium to explain why Encounter would be a menace to the neighborhood. A young mother said her daughter was afraid to go out alone, a flaxen-haired “senior citizen” worried about the effect of declining property values on people with fixed incomes, and the owner of a nearby posh children’s store feared for her clientele.

As polished as it appeared, the performance was, in a sense, a useless exercise. Had the funding source for Encounter’s move been the City’s Addiction Services Agency, Community Planning Board approval would have been required. But the monies in this case came from the National Institute of Health channeled through the state’s Drug Abuse Control Commission, and neither Board nor ASA ratification was necessary.

After the opposition had made its presentation, the meeting was interrupted by a man who shouted, “Maybe the community is divided. I want to hear from us people who believe in something besides property values.” If the residents are divided, it wasn’t apparent that night. Nearly everyone who spoke in favor of Encounter was either connected to the program, to other social agencies, or to the Family Court, a primary source of referrals. The most eloquent of these was Justine Polier, a lifetime Upper East Sider and Family Court judge for 37 years. “I was concerned tonight,” she said, “as I listened to a great number of people who I think are far better than they sounded … This fear has been spread and has caused you to blind yourselves to the needs of other human beings while you yourselves are privileged.”

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Some of the questioners charged that Encounter teenagers use obscene language, but if obscenities truly bother Encounter’s new neighbors, one wonders how they will react to the news that last summer Audubon Films shot part of an erotic movie at 39 East 68th Street, the building in which Cohn lives and works. Audubon publicist Sheldon Roskin of Solter, Sabinson, and Roskin at first confirmed this information and told The Voice that the as yet unreleased film is based on a French never entitled “L’Image.” After conferring with director Radley Metzger, Roskin denied his previous statements, but further corroboration was provided by three crew members — lightning man Joe Rivers described the film as a “hoopy-scoop,” or very low-budget operation, and he and production manager Don Newman said that a small room at the rear of the ground floor was transformed into a dressing cubicle of a lingerie shop as a setting for a lesbian sex scene. Both maintained that more shooting, which  they did not witness, was going on elsewhere in the house. Although Cohn and his law partners occupy most of the building, he says they are merely tenants — and not even stockholders — of the building, which is owned by the 39 East 68th Street Corporation. He insisted he knew nothing about the filming.

By the end of last week, Encounter and its opponents were locked in a legal skirmish resulting from the serving of a temporary restraining order. The plaintiffs are seeking to bar the program permanently and are asking the court to hold Encounter in contempt for violating the order Encounter is contesting the validity of the order. In its most recent ruling, the court permitted Encounter’s present 19 residents to stay in the building as long as they don’t interfere with the “quiet enjoyment” of the remaining tenants.

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Meanwhile, two of the original plaintiffs, Laura Margolies and Lynne Clendenin, have withdrawn their names from the case. “I’m getting close to these kids,” explains Clendenin, “and I can’t have them in my room, play records, and watch tv with them while my name’s on an injunction. That’s very hypocritical. We just want to remain neutral.” ❖

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Meade, the Mob, & the Machine

Meade Esposito, the powerful Democratic Party leader of Brooklyn, is currently under active investigation by four separate law enforcement agencies — special anti-corruption prosecutor Maurice Nadjari, the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, the IRS, and the SEC.

The SEC probe involves fraud and manipulation of a stock called Frigitemp. Two of Esposito’s closest friends — Bernard Deutsch and Joe Marando — have already been indicted in the case and an SEC complaint mentions Esposito’s personal lawyer, George Meisner. Meisner is also a Brooklyn district leader. And Deutsch was honorary chairman or a dinner that honored Esposito on January 7, 1970.

In addition to these four active investigations. Esposito was questioned by two grand juries last year, and an earlier IRS audit was terminated under suspicious cir­cumstances. At that time, several IRS agents complained of a cover­up.

The earlier IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was so inadequate and incomplete that the late U.S. Attorney Robert Morse, and Dennis Dillon, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force, refused to sign the final report, ac­cording to documents on file in Washington.

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The original IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was closed out late in 1972.

Esposito had several secret meetings with former Attorney General John Mitchell during the autumn of 1972. These meetings were never listed on any of Mit­chell’s official office logs, and were at first denied by Esposito. However, after Nelson Rockefeller disclosed he arranged the first of the meetings, Esposito then admit­ted he did in fact meet secretly at least twice with the Republican Attorney General. Esposito says the subject of those meetings with the now indicted Mitchell is “private.”

The meetings with Mitchell not only coincided with the IRS audit, but also with the inexplicable vote of Brooklyn congressman and Esposito protege Frank Brasco against investigating the Watergate scandal while the 1972 Presidential campaign was still in progress.

On October 3, 1972, the House Banking and Currency committee voted in executive session against giving its chairman, Wright Pat­man, subpoena power to launch a full-scale Watergate inquiry.

Brasco was the only Northern urban Democrat to vote with the Republicans successfully and block the investigation. Brasco is the politician personally closest to Esposito in the whole city. Esposito got Brasco his nomination for Congress in 1966. Esposito had a no-show $500-a-month job on Brasco’s congressional payroll during 1967 and 1968. And Brasco’s cousin, also named Frank, is Esposito’s personal chauffeur. Brasco would do anything Esposito asked him to do.

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Moreover, John Dean has told the staff of the Select Senate Watergate committee that there were several long and anxious White House meetings on how to prevent the banking committee inquiry. According to Dean, at one of those meetings, Mitchell said he could “take care of one of the Democrats from New York” on the committee. Brasco was the only New York Democrat to vote against the Watergate inquiry.

About a month after Brasco’s vote, the IRS audit of Esposito was halted over the objections of Morse and Allan.

According to a source in IRS, before the Esposito audit was terminated, three agents went secretly to U.S. Attorney Morse to say there was a cover-up in progress, and that they were not being permitted to conduct a thorough professional investigation of Esposito.

The IRS agents said they were ordered by their supervisors not to interview and investigate judges, or to explore the financial records or the Brooklyn Democratic county organization, or to analyze the books of Grand Brokerage, the in­surance agency Esposito owns with Stanley Steingut.

Sources in IRS say that the area of judicial investigation was crucial because there had been allegations that Esposito had accep­ted undeclared cash in the sale of judgeships.

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The current IRS investigation of Esposito’s finances began six weeks ago, and is expected to take at least nine months to complete. It is being conducted by a special team of agents and accountants that had nothing to do with the suspicious 1972 audit.

If Mitchell did, in fact, stop the inquiry into Esposito, it was probably not the first time the for­mer Attorney General manipulated justice. There is also considerable evidence that Mitchell improperly interfered with the ITT, Dairy Cooperative, Robert Vesco, and Robert Abplanalp investigations, and played politics with the par­dons granted Jimmy Hoffa and Mafia boss Angelo “Gyp” De Carlo.

Congressman Brasco, meanwhile, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to accept $27,500 in il­legal cash pay-offs from a truck leasing company owned by Mafia capo John Masiello.

One of Esposito’s 1972 grand jury appearances also involved a Mafia capo — Paul Vario.

It turns out that Esposito’s name was “all over” the famous tapes made in the bugged junkyard trailer the Mafia used in Canarsie during 1972. The junkyard tapes led to the conviction of 40 Mafia mem­bers and 21 policemen.

Esposito’s name was used frequently in the trailer by Vario, who has since been indicted six times by Brooklyn D. A. Gene Gold as a result of the trailer bug. Vario was recorded saying things like “Ask Meade a bout that,” and “Meade’s a good guy.”

Esposito’s appearance before the Brooklyn grand jury was carefully arranged so that the press never found out about it. The county leader admitted under oath that he knew Vario “very well” for more than 15 years, and that he had first met Vario (who has a record of 27 arrests and a conviction for rape) while he was “in the bail bonds business.”

Esposito, however, said he could­n’t possibly imagine why Vario would so freely drop his name in private conversations with other mobsters.

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***

Meade Esposito is by far the single most powerful Democratic county leader in the state. The Brooklyn Democratic organization has produced, and can claim loyalty and patronage from Mayor Abe Beame, City Council Majority Leader Tom Cuite, State Comptrol­ler Arthur Levitt, Assembly Minority Leader Stanley Steingut, more than 40 Supreme Court Justices, Surrogate Nathan Sobel and Borough President Sam Leone.

Esposito controls more than 1000 jobs. He’s made more than 25 Brooklyn judges, and approves the appointment of every law secretary in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Through Tom Cuite, Esposito in­fluences the committee assignments and chairmanships or the City Council. Through his close friendship with Nelson Rockefeller, Esposito was able to secure a favorable re-appor­tionment of the state legislature in 1972. Dozens of appointments to the Beame administration have to be “cleared with” Esposito. People think he can influence tax asses­sments, liquor licenses, zoning decisions, government contract and judicial decisions.

Every candidate for state-wide of­fice next year will seek Esposito’s private, if not public, support. Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern have all publicly praised Esposito as a great party leader. The New York Times, in a nattering magazine cover story in December 1972, described Esposito as “a new breed of party leader,” and compared his power to that of Mayor Daley or Chicago.

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***

Esposito was born in Ocean Hill 64 years ago. He quit Manual Trades High School at the age of 14 to become an office boy in an in­surance company owned by old­-time Brooklyn Democratic boss James Powers.

In 1947 Esposito went into the bail bonds business with Ronnie Carr. (Carr is now a law assistant to Brooklyn Surrogate Nathan Sobel even though he is not a lawyer.)

Esposito admits that many of his bail bond clients were mobsters, in­cluding Joe Colombo, Jimmy Napoli, and Apples McIntosh.

In 1958 Esposito ran as an in­surgent for district leader in Canarsie and lost by 200 votes. In 1960, he was elected with the public endorsement of Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman. Esposito named his home club after Thomas Jefferson. And he quickly arranged for his campaign manager — Mike Kern — to become a judge.

In 1960 Esposito suddenly became assistant vice-president of the Kings Lafayette Bank, despite no apparent experience as a banker. His friends say Esposito knew he could never become county leader while a bondsman: the bank title gave him the respec­tability needed to acquire party power.

At the time Esposito was hired by the bank as an executive, the single biggest depositor in the bank ($2 million) was the ILA, which many law enforcement agencies believe is Mafia-dominated. It is suspected that the ILA used its in­fluence to get Esposito the job.

In 1970. U. S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau said that while Esposito was vice-president of the bank, he arranged for ILA leader Anthony Scotto’s family to obtain a $250,000 unsecured loan. Morgenthau further stated, “This loan went to buy a country club in New Jersey that became a prime meeting place for members of organized crime.”

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Esposito claims he severed all his ties to the Kings Lafayette Bank in 1970. But an investigator for Special Prosecutor Nadjari told me this week: “Esposito’s relation­ship to the bank still exists. Only now it is more disguised, more cir­cumspect, and more sinister.”

Over the last year, five Mafiosi have been convicted of receiving il­legal loans from the Kings Lafayette Bank.

Esposito is also a vice-president and part owner with Stanley Steingut of Grand Brokerage, an insurance company now located at 70 Broadway. Law enforcement agencies are now trying to discover if Grand Brokerage has sold in­surance policies to politicians who became judges, or received other favors from Esposito.

Grand Brokerage, mysteriously, refuses to provide any information about its finances to Dun and Brad­street. A normal insurance com­pany would depend on a good rating from Dun and Bradstreet for customers and credit. Grand is run on politics, not merit or business acumen. Esposito has of­ten told friends: “I don’t need graft. I got premiums.”

Esposito also was quoted by Tim Lee of the New York Post as saying: “There’s no sense kidding myself — the people wouldn’t be bringing their insurance business to me if I wasn’t county leader.”

Investigators are also looking into the finances of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Brooklyn regulars estimate that the organization raised more than $400,000 last year — $140,000 of it at one dinner at the Waldorf — and there has been no public accounting of those funds. As the result of a loophole in the state’s election law, party organizations do not have to report these receipts and expen­ditures even to the IRS, or to city and state tax authorities.

The county organization does provide expenses, a limousine, and a chauffeur for Esposito.

Also, Esposito admits that Brooklyn Supreme Court candidates are asked to contribute at least $10,000 to the party campaign fund although with multi-party endor­sement no significant campaign is conducted. Frank Vaccaro, who received a Supreme Court judgeship from Esposito last year, says his district leader was told by Esposito that a $10,000 contribution “would be an appropriate amount.”

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***

Esposito’s immense power even awes some of the men who are now diligently investigating him. This is how one federal investigator talked this week:

“I think we will eventually make a case against Esposito, but I’m afraid of what happens after that. I know he was able to protect himself all these years. He’s more than lucky. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced that John Mitchell protected him. That’s got to be the reason the original IRS audit was covered up. I know how many friends Esposito has, from the lowest hood up to the Rockefellers.

“It worries me. After we get the evidence, then we need a prosecutor to impanel a grand jury and actually sign an indictment. Then we need an honest jury, and honest judge to try the case and give him a sentence. Then we need five appellate judges who can’t be fixed to affirm the conviction.

“I know how much the judges and appellate judges hate Nadjari, for example. I know how many judges, and appellate judges, are friends of Esposito.

“Back during the 1960s, when Joe Hoey was the U. S. Attorney and when Aaron Koota was the D. A., no politicians were ever in­vestigated in Brooklyn. The borough was wide open

“But now, after Watergate, and Agnew and the Knapp Commis­sion, things are changing. At least now we can get permission to go after an important politician, at least now we have a chance.

“But I’m still scared. We’ll work our ass off for the next six months to make a case. We’ll  work 18 hours a day. But I admit it. I’m afraid of what happens after that. This guy Meade has more power than the Pope.”

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***

The current law enforcement probes into the Brooklyn Democracy should be viewed, and understood in the larger context of the recent wave of indictments for political corruption in Brooklyn, and in the historic connection bet­ween the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime.

During the last six months, cor­ruption indictments have been voted by grand juries against seven prominent Brooklyn Democratic political figures.

Brooklyn Congressman Ben Podell was indicted on charges or conspiracy, bribery, and perjury after a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice and the PRI. The 10-count indictment alleged that Congressman Podell had accepted $41,350 in bribes in exchange for using his influence to obtain a route to the Bahamas for Florida Atlantic Airlines.

Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to receive a $27,500 bribe for helping a Mafia truck leasing company win government contracts. This investigation was carried by Mike Shaw, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dominic Rinaldi was indicted on three counts of perjury by Special State Prosecutor Maurice Nadjari.

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Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo was indicted for per­jury in a case involving organized crime.

William Steinman, a long-time Brooklyn political figure, who is administrative assistant to State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, was in­dicted for attempted bribery, con­spiracy, and grand larceny. The in­dictment alleges that Steinman tried to fix a criminal case in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Calvin Williams was indicted for bribery by Brooklyn D. A. Eugene Gold.

Brooklyn City Marshal Irving Sable was indicted for grand lar­ceny by extortion, also by Gold’s office.

Also, Norman Levy, former president of the City Tax Commis­sion and chairman of the John V. Lindsay Association of Brooklyn, was convicted two weeks ago, of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and tampering with public records. Levy Faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in a system of fixing about 2000 parking tickets for Brooklyn politicians.

In addition, four Brooklyn judges are now under investigation by Special Prosecutor Nadjari’s of­fice.

Nadjari’s staff of 65 investigators and 24 lawyers currently has more investigations active in Brooklyn than in any other borough.

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***

Municipal corruption seems historically endemic to specific places — Chicago, Miami, New Jer­sey, and Brooklyn.

In his wonderful book. “The Great Bridge,” David McCullough describes the graft of the “Brooklyn Ring” while the Brooklyn Bridge was under con­struction after the Civil War. Millions were stolen by Boss Hugh McLaughlin, “a former waterfront gang leader”; William Kingsley, “Brooklyn’s most prosperous con­tractor”; and Henry Murphy, founder of the “Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat.”

Almost a century later, the Kefauver Committee’s televised crime hearings exposed the sophisticated connection between the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime. The Third In­terim Report of the Kefauver com­mittee, released in May 1951 said:

“Mobster Joe Adonis’s influence upon the Kings County Democratic organization may go far to explain why neither he, nor a major subordinate like Anthony Anastasia, was ever subjected to prosecution or punishment …

“William O’Dwyer (D. A. of Brooklyn from 1941 to 1945) failed to take effective action against the top echelons of the gambling, nar­cotics, waterfront, murder, or bookmaking rackets. His defense of public officials who were derelict in their duties, and his failure to follow-up concrete evidence of organized crime, particularly in the case of Murder, Inc., and the waterfront, have contributed to the growth of organized crime, racketeering, and gangsterism in New York City.”

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In recent years, the publicly available cumulative evidence of the influence of organized crime on Brooklyn politics should trouble any thoughtful citizen.

Two Brooklyn Democrats have been indicted in connection with attempts to use their public trust in behalf of the Mafia — Congressman Frank Brasco, and Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo.

A careful analysis of judicial decisions in Brooklyn suggests at least a pattern of favoritism toward organized crime.

The staff of the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime has studied the disposition of 147 felony cases in Brooklyn Supreme Court involving Mafia defendants between 1960 and 1970. Sixty-three per cent of all the organized crime defen­dants won dismissals in Brooklyn. This compares with a 15 per cent dismissal rate for all other types of defendants. Only five per cent of the mobsters indicted actually went to prison. The 63 per cent dismissal rate in Brooklyn com­pares with less than 40 per cent in the four other boroughs for mob­sters.

In the last two years, one Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice — Joseph Corso — threw out indictments against five different Mafia defendants, and all five of his dismissals were later reversed on appeal by the Appellate Division.

Last year, the State Commission of Investigation twice called in Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Monteleone to explain, under oath, why he dismissed an indict­ment against an alleged Mafioso named Frank Cangiano. Mon­teleone’s dismissal was later unanimously reversed by a higher court.

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Judge Monteleone is now under intensive scrutiny by the staff of Special Prosecutor Nadjari. Monteleone was elevated to the State Supreme Court by Meade Esposito in 1970.

Aaron Koota was District Attor­ney of Brooklyn from 1964 to 1968, and is now a Supreme Court Justice.

In July of this year Gerald Mar­tin Zalmanowitz testified in public before Senator Henry Jackson’s Permanent Sub-committee on In­vestigations. Zalmanowitz, who grew up in Brooklyn, is a federal informer whose testimony helped convict Mafia boss Angelo De Carlo in New Jersey in 1970.

Zalmanowitz testified that two cases — one involving Joe Colom­bo — were “fixed” in the D. A.’s office while Koota was D. A. of Brooklyn. One case was fixed for $5,000 and the other with a free Buick from a dealership Colombo covertly owned.

Local 1814 of the ILA, and its president Anthony Scotto, are im­portant pillars of the Brooklyn Democracy. The union provides money, printing presses, and man­-power in every election. The ILA ‘s support was clearly the difference in John Rooney’s narrow primary victory over Allard Lowenstein in 1972.

The Justice Department, as a result of information from two informants, officially lists Anthony Scotto as a captain in the Carlo Gambino family.

Scotto seems an especially am­biguous figure. He is married to the daughter of Anthony Anastasia, and no one gets to be the leader of Local 1814 at age 26 if he is not somehow connected to wise guys. But Scotto has no criminal record and is a college graduate.

But some Mafia experts are not fully convinced of Scotto’s real role. One respected journalist, who has covered the mob for 15 years, put it this way:

“Anthony is half a wise guy. He’s wired to them, but he would never shoot anybody, or do anything violent. The waterfront is control­led by the mob. He exists in that environment. I think he wants to get out of the mob world before he gets hurt. The really bad mob guys think he’s gone legit with Lindsay. They don’t trust Scotto. Anthony just exists in some twilight zone between two worlds.”

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Scotto was first named as a Gambino captain in 1966 during testimony in executive session before Congressman John Rooney’s subcommittee. Rooney, who has been supported by Scotto’s union in every election since 1946, refused to make the FBI listing public.

But in 1969, the Senate committee of John McClellan released Scotto’s name. Scotto was listed as a Gambino captain on the basis of information provided by two infor­mants, one of whom was Joe Valachi. There is no wiretap cor­roboration.

The Brooklyn waterfront mean­while, without ambiguity, remains a center for smuggling, loan­sharking, extortion, union racketeering, pilferage, contraband cigarettes, and bookmaking.

On Monday night, December 10, Michael Cosme was in the Shorefront Democratic Club, 320 Brighton Beach Avenue. Cosme was a bookmaker and a member of the Joe Colombo family. Two men wearing ski masks walked into the clubhouse, stood Cosme against the wall, and killed him with automatic pistols. Police found $4700 in cash and sports betting slips in Cosme’s coat pocket.

The Shorefront Democratic Club has a charter from the Kings County Democratic Party, and Cosme apparently used the clubhouse as his bookmaking office.

The introduction of private immigration bills for aliens is one way politicians can do favors for organized crime. In 1972, the Immigration and Naturalization Service prepared an analysis of these private bills.

The INS study named Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco as one of three Representatives who in­troduced private bills for aliens “close to organized crime.”

A further analysis disclosed that Brasco introduced a dozen bills for clients of one Brooklyn lawyer — Thomas Lentini — who was convicted of immigration fraud. Lentini was also chairman of a Brasco fund-raising dinner at Vic­toria House in Brooklyn in 1967.

The Kings Lafayette Bank (17 branches and $23 million in total capital funds) seems an important institution to both the Kings County Democrats and organized crime.

Meade Esposito was an officer of the bank for 10 years, and is believed by law enforcement to still have a covert connection to the bank.

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John Lynch for years has been chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic county committee. For more than 30 years the Brooklyn Democratic organization has banked its own funds at Kings Lafayette. John Lynch is also honorary board chairman of the bank.

State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, a member of the Brooklyn organization’s Madison Club, has deposited large sums of interest-­free state deposits in the Kings Lafayette Bank. During 1973, an average balance of $1.6 million in interest-free public money was placed in the bank by Levitt, which is more than was deposited in banks of equivalent size and capital. The bank also received more than $5 million in time deposits from Levitt.

Last year, directors of the Kings Lafayette Bank purchased two tables for $2000 to the annual dinner of the Kings County Democrats.

At the same time, the bank has had significant contact with organized crime.

Over the last year, five alleged mob members and associates have been convicted of receiving false and illegal loans from Kings Lafayette: Natale Marcone, Caesar Vitale, Ilarie Pisani, Joseph De Cicco, and Barry Mancher. Five others have been indicted and are awaiting trial. A bank branch manager, Louis Mellini, was indic­ted for bribery and loan-sharking, but he later agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

In 1970, after lengthy hearings, the bi-state Waterfront Commission denied a stevedoring license to the CC Lumber Company because Anthony Scotto had used improper in­fluence to get an unsecured $250,000 loan for the company from the King’s Lafayette Bank.

Scotto’s union had $2 million in pension fund deposits in Kings Lafayette at the time. The CC Lumber Company is owned by relatives of Scotto.

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The State Court of Appeals, in upholding the Waterfront Commis­sion decision in December 1972, concluded in a majority opinion:

“There was sufficient evidence for the Waterfront Commission to find that Anthony Scotto breached his fiduciary obligation as a union officer under Section 723 of the State Labor Law.”

The Kings Lafayette Bank is cur­rently under investigation by the staff of Senator Jackson’s Per­manent Investigations Subcommit­tee as a possible money wash for securities stolen by organized crime.

An investigator for the Jackson committee told me this week: “Kings Lafayette is what you might call a family bank.”

There are at least four reasons for the disproportionate amount of political venality and cynicism in Brooklyn.

One is that Brooklyn is a one-party borough, and the organization Democrats have been uninterrupted in power since Boss McLaughlin started getting rich from the Brooklyn Bridge project in 1867.

Second is the historic roots the Mafia has in Brooklyn, especially on the docks, and in neighborhoods like Canarsie and Red Hook. Three organized crime families — Gambino, Colombo, and Gallo — are based in Brooklyn, and five more derive some income from various rackets in the borough. Joe Hynes of the Brooklyn D. A.’s office estimates that 2500 members of organized crime families now work and live in Brooklyn.

Third the dubious quality of the Brooklyn judiciary is a direct consequence of the control the political structure maintains over the courts and the Brooklyn Bar Association. Until law and justice become separated from patronage and politics, the Brooklyn judiciary will remain a fertile ground for Special Prosecutors and muckrakers.

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And last, there is so much corruption in Brooklyn because there is almost no scrutiny of that borough by the media. Brooklyn has 2.6 million residents dispersed over 80 miles. It is the fourth largest city in the nation. But since the demise of the Eagle, Brooklyn has been without a daily newspaper. The Times, the Post, and the local television news shows continue to report on Manhattan with much more curiosity than on bigger, badder Brooklyn. The Times covers Bangladesh better than it covers Brooklyn.

The future, as always, is inscrutable.

The appropriate remedies, as usual, appear obvious.

Investigation, exposure, analysis, endurance, idealism, and leader­ship will, hopefully, inspire citizen participation in the democratic process.

Meade Esposito, Stanley Steingut, John Rooney, Frank Brasco, Bert Podell, Dominic Rinaldi, Tom Culte, and James Mangano will all be up for re-election in 1974.

If the prosecutors don’t catch them, perhaps the people will. ♦

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

 

Categories
From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Inside the White House: The First & Last Days of a Banana Republic

“…a camera can misquote or misinterpret a man. An unconscious unintentional upturning of the lips can appear in a picture as a smile at a given moment. On the other hand too serious an expression could create an impression of fear and concern which also would be most unfortunate.”

—Richard Nixon
“The Heart Attack,”
in Six Crises

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday morning. Inside the Cabinet Room Richard Nixon in smiling consciously and intentionally. This is the morning after he confessed to lying and deceiving not only the public but his most loyal supporters, his closest friends, his own family. Yet he has decided to call a Cabinet meeting to show the country he still is in com­mand, that he intends to stay on and fight rather than resign. Having been Vice-President while his Presi­dent was incapacitated, Nixon knows he has to show the rest of the gov­ernment he is still of sound mind. Newspaper reports have begun re­ferring delicately to the President’s “lack of touch with reality,” his “almost unnatural serenity.” Enough high-level members of his own staff have slipped quotes like these to reporters to raise the ques­tion of whether the President is stable enough to continue to govern.

So the White House has arranged what they call a “photo opportunity” before the Cabinet session gets under way to give the American people a clear picture of the President hard at work at the business of government. Allowing myself to be mistaken for a photographer, in order to get a close-up look at the President’s “sereni­ty,” I follow a group of cameramen and film crews through Gerald War­ren’s press office, up some steps into the gold-carpeted corridors of the White House West Wing, past a pho­tograph of the President silhouetted against the pyramids, and finally into the Cabinet Room itself, where, 10 feet from me, Richard Nixon is smiling.

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He continues to smile throughout the “photo opportunity.” He does not smile at anyone in particular. In fact, slumped down in his chair, he appears to be grinning most enthusiastically at the top of the Cabinet table.

Henry Kissinger, seated at the President’s right, leans over and appears to be speaking to the Presi­dent with great animation. The President grins at the table top. Defense Secretary Schlesinger at the President’s left, brow furrowed as if with some weighty problem of nu­clear strategy, leans over and speaks intently to the President. The President continues to grin at the table top.

The President seldom raises his gaze from the bleak teak. When he does, he shoots his eyes wildly up and then back again. The peculiar slumped posture he has adopted — ­apparently an effort to suggest a casual, easy-going sense of confi­dence and command — has buckled his suit jacket up around his chest. His lapels gape awry.

This is not a particularly reassuring glimpse of the Chief Executive. It comes close to making a prima facie case for resignation. Little did I know that for the past 48 hours, while the President and his family had been once again resisting resigna­tion, his closest aides were conspir­ing behind his back to force him to resign.

Despite all the crowing from col­umnists about how the resignation process re-affirmed the strength and viability of the democratic process, the impression an uncharitable ob­server might get from several reports is that of a small staff cabal led by an ex-General driving an elected President from office against his will through the use of damaging leaks and dirty tricks. Defenders of Haig say he was acting responsibly to restore order to the processes of government and save the country from a dangerously irresponsible President. That’s what banana re­public generals always say.

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Wednesday morning. Looking back over my notes, I realize that what we have here is nothing less than America’s first full day as a banana republic.

Arriving early at the White House briefing room, the first thing I hear is that General Haig has summoned Gerald Ford to an early morning meeting. The President is not present. He may not have been invited. Purpose of the meeting undisclosed.

At the noon briefing Gerald Warren tries to make light of this hour­-long session. Nothing unusual. Warren claims: Haig meets with the Vice-President “often.” Then Warren amends “often” to “regularly.” Then he amends “regularly” to “from time to time.” Finally he concedes, a bit sadly, “It would be fatuous of me to say that any meet­ing would be a routine meeting at this point.”

The other big rumor this morning is that Senator Goldwater tried without success to get through to the White House last night to “deliver a message” to the President that Goldwater, in fact, was turned away from the White House gate. This feeds talk that the President is hold­ing himself incommunicado, that Haig is now running a caretaker government for a President para­lyzed by despair and indecision. Further hints of palace intrigue surface at the noon briefing. A reporter asks Gerald Warren if St. Clair had a meeting with Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski to explore plea bargaining for the President.

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Warren swallows hard. He de­livers a curiously mechanical an­swer: “At Mr. St. Clair’s request I am in a position where I cannot speak about any meetings he is engaged in.”

Warren is a shaken man today. His unfaltering calm is legendary, but this morning instead of puffing placidly on his pipe, he rubs it nervously between his hands. Usually Warren is able to maintain his dignified calm in the midst of the most sordid Watergate deceit because he is genuinely ignorant of what is going on. Today he seems to know that something unpleasant is going on.

St. Clair’s peculiar request that Warren refrain from confirming or denying any meetings may well be another little maneuver in General Haig’s game plan. St. Clair, in fact, may not be doing any plea bargaining at all (if he was, he’d certainly tell Warren to deny it categorically), but by forcing Warren to drop a crude hint that the President might be trying to make a deal for himself, St. Clair pushes his client a little closer to a forced resignation — spec­ulation that the President is clinging to office just to stay out of jail would make his already untenable position intolerable.

And then, not long after the briefing and shortly after Goldwater’s lunch with Haig, the wire services carry reports that Senator Barry Goldwater himself is predicting that the President will resign this very day. Goldwater plays a role in the Haig scenario analogous to that of the leading Catholic bishop in your average banana republic. He doesn’t lead the coup himself, but his tacit approval lends sanctity to the conspirators when they begin shelling the Presidential palace.

So as soon as the Goldwater report appears on the wires, reporters begin thronging into the briefing room from all over town to begin the death watch on the Nixon Presidency. Once Lyndon Johnson frolicked nude in the swimming pool that occupied the site of this briefing room. When Richard Nixon took office he paved over Johnson’s swimming pool with concrete, and built a brand-new press headquarters on top of it.

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Not from any special affection for the press. No, “the President did that,” Alexander Butterfield testified, “to get the press out of the West Lobby so they would not inhibit guests to the White House and bother them.” The President’s plan worked. Not only is it impossible for the press to molest entering guests from the sunken briefing room, it is impossible to see them — the view from the briefing room windows is blocked by a sloping ridge of grass which yields only a glimpse of driveway.

This handicap is particularly galling today, because it makes it impossible to monitor who is arriving to meet with whom. Reporters and cameramen flock out of the briefing room to stake out the West Wing driveway from the White House lawn.

Around 2 p.m., a red Mercedes pulls up to the West Wing entrance and Rabbi Baruch Korff steps out. Not an insignificant development considering Rabbi Korff’s claim yesterday that the President would let him be the first to know if he decided to resign. The rabbi is ushered directly into the Oval Office to see the President. But midway through the vigil in front of the rabbi’s red Mercedes two armed White House guards approach a knot of reporters and order them back into the briefing room. New security restrictions have been imposed on reporters: they must remain inside the briefing room or get out of the White House entirely. There will be no loitering in between.

Back inside the congested briefing room “the lid” is off. The “lid lights” are located over the doorway connecting the briefing room to Gerald Warren’s office. The lid lights are two white plastic stars with light bulbs behind them. When both stars are lit, usually in mid-afternoon, the “lid” is on, which means that the White House press office has no more statements to issue for the day and daily reporters can feel free to head home. When both lights flash on and off alternately a “temporary lid,” or a “lunch lid” is indicated. Today, an hour after the regular p.m. posting has passed, both stars are unlit, which means the lid is off and something is going on.

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What is going on is that General Haig is orchestrating the penultimate step in his scenario for depos­ing the President: the visit of Bishop Goldwater and his delegation to ad­minister the last rites.

The day ends with the Goldwater delegation coming out of the West Wing and declaring to assembled reporters that they did not discuss resignation, they merely gave the President some “gloomy” roll call assessments.

Inside the briefing room the lid is on for the night.

But inside the White House that night a curious incident reveals how shrewdly Haig employs his knowledge of the Nixon psyche to seal the President’s fate. Inside the residence Henry Kissinger has dinner with the President and succeeds in convincing him he must resign. The only obstacle left is the Presidential fam­ily — wife, daughters, and in-laws­ — all of whom are reported absolutely adamant against resignation. The President calls them in to tell them the decision Haig and Kissinger have led him to make. Tears of grief and rage ensue. At this point, Haig steps in to ensure that the flood of tears doesn’t sweep the President back into battle. According to one report, at this very moment “Haig quietly arranged for White House photogra­pher Hollie Atkins to record the sad and historic scene.”

Perhaps Haig calculated that to Richard Nixon, that which is record­ed becomes irrevocable. Once the pictures were taken of the tear­-stained decision, Nixon would find it far more difficult to change his mind in the middle of the night. Recording something gives it a special sanctity beyond the reach of late-night whims. Perhaps that is why Nixon was never able to bring himself to destroy the tapes, however self-destructive they were.

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Thursday morning. Mrs. Ford postpones a scheduled visit to the foot doctor this morning. Mr. Ford postpones a scheduled fund-raising trip to California. Mr. Nixon summons Mr. Ford to an 11 a.m. conference. Gerald Warren postpones the 11 a.m. briefing till 12 noon when, he says, Ron Ziegler will appear with an important announce­ment.

Meanwhile, Warren’s assistants move out through the press handing out releases announcing what turned out to be the latest official act of the Nixon administration — appoint­ments to the Pacific Sockeye Salmon Fishery Commission, to the U. S. delegation to the Dominican Repub­lic Presidential Inauguration, to the D.C. United Fund Campaign. And, apropos of sinking ships and leaving jobs, he signs a catch-all bill which provides for a “vessel repair duty exemption,” and an extension of “liberalized eligibility for state-ex­tended unemployment benefits pro­grams.” He accepts three resigna­tions from his own adminis­tration — one “with deep regret,” an­other “with a special sense of re­gret,” and a third “with deep grati­tude.”

At 11:30 a.m. I find some wire service reporters backing Gerald Warren into a corner of his office and browbeating him mercilessly. Final­ly I see him shrug and concede something. The wire service report­ers dash out of Warren’s office toward their phones in the rear of the briefing room. “We’re going ahead with it,” one of them whispers to the other triumphantly. “We’re going ahead.”

“With what?” I ask.

“The President’s drafting his res­ignation speech for delivery to­night.”

Later, one of the wire service people told me that when she asked Warren who was writing the resignation speech “Gerry told me ‘Ray Price is,’ but then added, ‘But the President is contributing his ideas,’ and all of a sudden Gerry broke down and cried. I put my arm around him. ‘The President’s own ideas.’ How sad it was.”

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The strangest interlude of the nine-hour vigil that followed Ron Ziegler’s announcement that Nixon would go on tv that night was the time when the President placed the entire press corps under house ar­rest.

It happened this way. All day long reporters had been skirmishing with White House guards. A limousine would pull up to the driveway of the West Wing, a throng of reporters would pour out of the briefing room toward the West Wing to see who the arrival was, the White House guards would drive them back inside the briefing room.

But at 6:20 an armed guard takes up a position right outside the brief­ing room doors. Reporters trying to leave are told that no one is to exit or enter “for a few minutes.” No expla­nation. Orders.

About this time reporters seeking an explanation find the doors to Gerald Warren’s complex locked and dead-bolted shut. Pounding on the door produces no response. I pick up a White House extension phone in a corner of the briefing room just on the other side of the wall from Warren’s office and ask for Warren’s extension. One of Warren’s assis­tants answers.

I ask her if she knows the press has been locked in.

“Yes we do,” she says cheerfully.

“Why is it being done?” I ask.

“That’s a question you’d have to address to Mr. Warren, but I’m afraid he’s tied up now.”

“But we’re locked up.”

She hangs up.

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The “few minutes” of lock-up have stretched into 20 minutes. The armed guard at the door refuses to explain. He repulses all pleas to let anyone out (one reporter yells: “I’ve got a terrible case of diabetes and if I don’t get out and get my insulin shot I’ll die.” “There’s a telephone inside,” the guard replies.) A technician with a walkie-talkie reports that the other half of his film crew and a number of other reporters have been detained in the guardhouse.

People line up to stare out the windows. An armed guard sprints by from the West Wing toward the residence. A panel truck tears past in the opposite direction. Something seems to be going on. There is some speculation that the President has decided to hold the press hostage in return for asylum in Costa Rica, that a coup is in progress (led either by General Haig or by the President against General Haig), that the President has done Something Drastic. There are jokes about the President turning the briefing room back into a swimming pool immediately, and about gas hissing through the vents.

At 6:52 the guard is lifted. People burst out to see what’s going on. There is a strange mournful wailing sound in the air, but it turns out to be nothing more than Korean hymns sung by the loyal followers of the Reverent Sun M. Moon.

Back inside, Warren’s door has been unbolted and reporters press inside to demand an explanation. Warren claims he didn’t know about the armed guard outside. He says his own door was shut because the President was walking back from the Executive Office Building to his last supper at the White House and he wanted to make that walk alone and unwatched.

There’s a strange passage in the “Caracas” chapter of Six Crises which might help illuminate this bizarre incident.

Nixon is in Lima confronting an anti-American demonstrator in his hotel lobby.

“I saw before me a weird looking character whose bulging eyes seemed to merge with his mouth and nose in one distorted blob. He let fly a wad of spit which caught me full in the face. One must experience the sensation to realize why spitting in a person’s face is the most infuriating insult ever conceived by man. Sherwood deserves the credit for keeping me from handling the man personally. He grabbed him by the arm and whirled him out of my path, but as I saw his legs go by I at least had the satisfaction of planting a healthy kick on his shins. Nothing I did all day made me feel better.”

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Interesting, is it not, how Nixon’s hysterical description of the “weird looking character” sounds like a metaphor for the media, particularly tv with its “bulging eyes” which “merge into mouth,” a mouth that constantly spits out degrading insults at him.

For a man who thinks he has been driven from the Presidency to the brink of jail by the media, this business of locking up media may be Nixon’s way of giving his adversary with the bulging eyes one last kick in the shins before they don’t have each other to kick around anymore.

And this time Nixon might have some objective justification for wanting to keep the camera eye off him. On the front page of this morn­ing’s Times there’s a picture of Nixon and Ziegler taking that same walk from the EOB over to the West Wing of the White House. The picture makes Nixon look like he’s doing some sort of awkward goose step behind the back of a uniformed guard. The Times printed the odd looking picture on the bottom of the front page, separated from the main Nixon story, but right next to a headline which reads “Many Mental Patients Simply Walk Out.” An amusing accidental juxtaposition perhaps, but in Nixon’s mind, grounds enough to make it impossi­ble for the media to “simply walk out” while he took his last stroll. Undoubtedly nothing he did all day made him feel better.

 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Bob Dylan Comes Back From the Edge

Wandering through the crowd during intermission at The Concert last Wednesday night, one got a sense of why it must have been an agonizing decision for Bob Dylan to go on tour for the first time in eight years, of why “the Big Apple” has been dreaded as much as looked forward to. Old friends of Dylan were there, and so were many who remember him from basket houses on MacDougal Street and Gerde’s Folk City over 10 years ago.

The things Dylan must like about New York City — he has mentioned it in nearly every interview he has given — were here to haunt him as well as help him. He can walk through the Village without being noticed, and if he is recognized, no one makes a big deal out of it. He can jam with John Prine at the Bitter End without being mobbed or driven crazy by autograph-glom­mers or teenyboppers. Here he can raise a family in the same old ten­sion and peace and quiet and noise of the city which gave him the images and experiences for songs like “Visions of Johanna,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

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But the peculiar schizophrenia of stardom has a way of coming back around like a death-dealing boomerang. The city that ignores Bob Dylan on the street is perfectly capable of leaving him equally high and dry on a stage. And though that did not happen on Wed­nesday night — he had the crowd on its feet, screaming, stomping, and clapping at the end — there were those among his friends and long­time admirers, among those who hold him most dearly, who were, if not disappointed, at least a bit deflated after their first evening in years with Bob Dylan. It was great to see him again, but the years had taken their toll. There was something missing — maybe in us, maybe in Dylan — and no one knew exactly what it was.

Dylan said, “I’m honored to be here,” and sang six classics: “Everybody must get stoned” drew screams and more lighted joints from an already grass-soaked audience. Even the youngest of those present could remember the many weeks “It Ain’t Me Babe,” sung by Cher, was number one on the top 40 charts. And Time and Newsweek have printed that great line. “There’s something hap­pening here/and you don’t know what it is/do you/Mr. Jones?” so many times, it is probably imprin­ted permanently on the American psyche.

Yet Dylan’s stage fright, as the Band reminded us in its first solo number, was painfully evident. “Lay Lady Lay” which reviews of the Chicago and Philadelphia con­certs have described as taking on the old “Dylan Edge,” was simply rushed, hurried through and cast off like the last tune in a long, tedious rehearsal. Dylan was scared. What appeared at first to be new sparkles and flourishes on a laid-back country song was really his nervousness showing through.

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Dylan attacked the mike, his brow furrowed, mouth working madly from side to side, and “It Ain’t Me Babe” was coughed out between gritted teeth. On “Ballad of a Thin Man,” Dylan’s insistent, pounding grand piano work rushed the song to the point of impatience. Garth Hudson’s organ fills disappeared in a bad sound mix. Dylan rose up and banged down, running wildly along the keyboard, driving the Band brilliantly, forcefully, but just too goddam fast.

But it was on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that whatever was bothering Dylan came through most clearly. The song is a beautiful one, ablaze with painful autobiographical images and self-­exploration. On record, Dylan’s voice searches its way through the lyrics, finding one color here another there. The emotional con­tent of the song is as much in the way Dylan sang it — in the depths of his voice — as in the depth of the words. And listening to the song as I write this, I am reminded that Dylan’s magic was in large part this: the mix of lyrics and vocal coloration. The galaxy of emotions he could plumb between the boundaries or one song was greater than any rock and roll artist who came before him or has come along since. His voice is truly [one] of the great rock and roll instruments.

On Wednesday night, the song was rushed through, along with the others, so much chaff to be brushed aside in search of solitude. Dylan struck a pose — tough, defiant, almost mean in its intensity — and sang without searching. His emphasis — or was it reliance — on highs permeated the song. He would raise a verse to a fever pitch, drop it, then raise another, screaming into the mike, he gazed above the heads or the crowd intent and serious, then he’d back off. It was automatic, studied. Dylan wouldn’t let the song carry him as much as he carried the song. He refused to search back through the lyrics for the experiences and feelings which gave it birth, allowing him to bring it back to life again.

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Dylan was afraid, that was for sure. But “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” showed he wasn’t afraid of us, the audience. It was himself he feared — the process or going back over those songs which bore the pain of becoming Bob Dylan, the highs, the lows, all of that life, which was living on the edge. He seemed unwilling to go through it all again in song, dredging up that which was better off left behind. The funny thing was, one could hardly blame him.

The Band played alone to a warm reception, and then Dylan returned to sing “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” He wore a black tuxedo and a silver and black ruffled cowboy shirt. The trousers of the tux hung loosely — almost baggy — giving him the appearance of a young Charlie Chaplin, legs spread wide, elegant in his awkwardness.

After intermission, Dylan return­ed alone to sing five acoustic numbers. “The Times They Are A-Changin” ran fast, and brilliantly embellished harmonica breaks drew extended applause. “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,” and then “Gates of Eden.” Like “Tom Thumb…” the latter was sung with an intensity which bordered on anxiousness: My notes made toward the end of the song read: “What made song great on record — he was calling on something w/in him, bringing it out… in performance he leans on drama… teeth gritted, lips contorting 2-3 times on one vowel, bitten off… overdramatized.”

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“Just Like a Woman” followed, and it was sung slower, more con­fidently. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was done with lovely, hypnotic speed, sung up and out and proud and sane. It seemed that Dylan had hit a stride, that he had found his voice, a way to cope with standing naked before 20,000 pairs of eyes. “It’s Alright Ma” was markedly different from the original, but for the first time all night I had the sense that the song had grown, not shrunk. Dylan’s comfort came through nobly, he dropped his tough front, and even in the clippedy clip way he ran down the words one could feel him feeling his way, wringing the song, and himself, almost dry. He must have felt good, because he swag­gered a bit when he took his bows, lifting his hands in a triumphant wave.

The Band came on again for several numbers. They took no chances with the crowd. Every song sounded just like the record, and they sustained the tension of each song right up until the last chord. The tone of Richard Manuel’s voice, I have in my notes, was “precise and coarse, as op­posed to Dylan — changing, unpredictable, solitary, weird.”

Dylan returned and ran through a slow version of “Forever Young,” from his new album, as well as “Something There Is About You.” Then he and the Band broke into “Like a Rolling Stone,” the lights came up, and all hell broke loose, kids in the aisles, all the magic and madness of one of the all-time great rock and roll songs. They didn’t rush the song, but didn’t loaf either. It came off perfectly, a real New York song bringing back everything the crowd had come to hear: all about innocence and discovery, self-imposed hardship and coping, a romantic vision or a romantic period in the lives of many in the crowd. Jesus, it was great.

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***

Dylan’s appeal was always, and still is, to the white middle class. The concert crowd came dressed shabbily, elegantly, all the ways that people who can afford the choice turn themselves out. They lit up $40 an ounce grass, snorted coke, flashed gold rings and fancy boots, wore pre-faded jeans and ex­pensive Indian jewelry, snapped pictures with the most expensive photographic equipment money can buy. Any Dylan fan who griped about the $9.50 high ticket, or who called on millionaire Bob for a “free” concert is guilty of not having listened to the songs they were screaming for all night. For the songs of Bob Dylan are thick with all the contradictions, all the weirdness and schizophrenia of growing up middle-class, of looking for romance in poverty, on the highway, or bumming around and returning to from whence he (and they) came.

Dylan told Rolling Stone magazine, “Now it’s the me again.” If there is one thing true about Bob Dylan over the years, it’s that he is in never ending state of flux. There is no new Dylan or old Dylan or country Dylan or Edge Dylan. There is simply Dylan, and listening to him live gives one some idea of the dimensions of his brilliance, fallibility, strength, weakness, pain, and triumphs. He has been constantly growing and expanding, just as he grew in concert from a faulty, un­certain start to an incredible, fiery end. If he at times disappoints his critics, he never has ceased to amaze them.

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And finally, watching and listening to Dylan the other night — and on records since then — has made me realize how desperately we want our heroes to be self-destructive, as if only by living recklessly can they show us their essential humanity, their impermanence and mortality. I remember when “Nashville Skyline” and “Self Portrait” were released, how the critics and the fans seized on them to prove that Dylan’s long absence from the scene, his retreat to Woodstock, had mellowed him out, left him without the old edge he showed in “Blonde on Blonde” or “Highway 61 Revisited.” God, how they moaned and groaned, as if Dylan had somehow deserted, never to return. Here was Dylan singing country — which had roots in racism and bigotry, the critics chanted. And here was Dylan on “Self Portrait” rhyming “moon” with “June.” All of it was inex­cusable, without redeeming value. Where was the old Dylan, with his moral lefts and protest rights, his haunting images and incisive social criticism?

It’s an old story. We read about Zelda and Fitzgerald now, and shake our heads and say, Christ, what a shame, but what a life they led! And we read about Jackson Pollock, and shake our heads and say, gee, too bad about his drinking and his craziness, but look at all the fantastic art he produced! Now the same sort of head-shaking and tongue-clucking appreciation is being shown for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. One figures everyone would be more happy with Dylan’s extensive, if uneven, body or work if he, too, were dead. Then we couldn’t lean back, turn up the volume, and talk among ourselves about all the speed and acid he must have done, back in the days when he wrote the songs we remember him best for.

Well, life sometimes doesn’t work out that way. Despite the morbidity of hero worship, our expectation is that the great should live up to our worst fantasies and best lies. Bob Dylan has simply settled down with a wife and kids. He eats vegetables. He drinks wine. By all counts, he dotes on the goodness and wholeness of family life. In his most recent songs, he appears to thank his wife for saving his life.

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One can hardly blame Dylan for having opted for life, for having quit his life out there on the Edge — all the late night craziness and running around, the terrible manic existence he is said to have before his motorcycle accident. On Wednesday night, he seemed skit­tish, of the past which stares him in the face every time he runs back through the stark chronicle of his life in song. And so some of those songs were performed, not sung.

“But who can blame him?” said one old friend of his. “At least he took his chances, pushing things, letting it go. The Band just did their records. Dylan wouldn’t settle for that.”

So as usual, Bob Dylan is growing in his own way, at his own speed. The songs on his new album, the laid-back celebrations of being a father, life at home, and his ongoing love ballad to his wife, they all seem so calm, so content and full. The craziness, the pain, the weirdness — all are missing. Perhaps someday we’ll catch up. And maybe then, we too will stop acting forever young, and have it within us to wish it on someone else.

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Watergate: The Tunnel at the End of the Light

By last Sunday afternoon, things were following what I have become accustomed to thinking of as normal patterns. The news bulletin an­nouncing the Nixon pardon, the outraged public response, the television specials on what it meant — all eclipsed Evel Knievel’s great con dive into the river (where would you rather land a rocket — in the water or on a rock?), the news of testimony by the director of the CIA that we were involved in those events which led to machine gun bullets that (with utter finality and no mercy) removed President Allende from office, and the fact that it was a beautiful day — the first good one all week.

Mr. Gerald Ford, by one act during which he proclaimed “the fate of Richard Nixon… deeply troubles every decent and compassionate person,” had put things to right in my head again. I am back to seeing my President clear — this time as a horse’s ass.

While Mr. Ford felt he was finally putting Watergate matters to rest, I had, until then, actually been more or less at rest about them. Only three things had continued to bother me:

1. that John Dean who had followed his father’s sensible advice (“John, when you’re cornered, tell the truth”) seemed to have gained no benefit from singing — this de­stroying the time-honored tradition of getting rewarded for being the first canary;

2. that Nixon was being treated like a President Emeritus and was protected, deferred to, and financially supported by my government;

3. that William Safire remained on the op-ed page of the Times as an embarrassing left-over from the Nixon-Agnew years when the press was at bay and the Times hired him to be, as it turned out, spokesman for unimprisoned felons of high rank. Or as a publisher I know said last week, “Every time I see Safire’s name on that page I see blackmail.”

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Now, however, Mr. Ford has created a situation in which we are again in the thick of Watergate. It is probably true that Ford pardoned Nixon out of compassion — but it is the selectivity of his compassion that tells where he stands. Not so much President of all the people as Presi­dent of all the Presidents. The only defensible justification for this par­don would be if Mr. Nixon were insane, and unable to stand trial. And this is a whole other kettle of fish.

There have been hints and allusions to Nixon’s precarious emotional balance over the last year. Ford even ad-libbed such an allusion when he mentioned Nixon’s health as one of the reasons for the pardon. Some of us have thought Nixon was always crazy — in a kind of borderline psy­chotic way of perpetually misperceiving reality. Clearly, however, in the last year, he was sometimes over the edge. One must assume his decisions were often made while not quite of sound mind.

That the system of checks and balances works only by accident is exemplified by the fact that while the Secretary of Defense was so unsure of Nixon’s sanity that he hung around Washington to protect the integrity of the button, no one was able to make a move to have Nixon removed from office precisely be­cause of mental unfitness.

Now, if Nixon was crazy during this past year, his selection of Gerald Ford as Vice-President was the act of an irrational man. The Congress, at that time, would have confirmed almost anyone who was born in America and who was not likely to be indicted before the bicentennial. So my present President was chosen by a man who had not only committed countless criminal acts while in office, but was possibly also insane. Further, if you consider that the Nixon mob’s illegal campaign practices, which left the Democratic Party in such disarray, probably created a technically fraudulent election — then my present President was chosen by a man who was not even, in the purest legal sense, entitled to hold office.

Still further, when this President (who has come to office in the nut­tiest way imaginable) then chooses the man who will be my next Vice-­President, one wonders how much further from direct election of our leaders we could go.

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In any case, we have watched Mr. Ford move, over the past weeks, from a posture of humble awareness that he is not an elected President to a dawning sense of himself as a force and not an object of history. His pardoning of Nixon without any real explanation (given the circumstances of Ford’s ascension to power) appears to be an unseemly and arrogant act which, for the first time, gives every criminal the right to feel put upon.

If Mr. Nixon is insane and was pardoned because of it, Mr. Ford should have told us this, straight out. We could then look at what has gone on from a different perspective, deliberate on exactly what kind of mandate Mr. Ford has, and also take steps to insure that the situation of a man turned lunatic in the White House could be quickly altered should it ever happen again. If Nixon is unbalanced, the long constitutional process of impeachment was in­appropriate. If he is sane, why has he been pardoned?

On that Sunday morning, shortly before the pardon was announced, Nixon finally left San Clemente to play golf with Walter Annenberg­ — more like a fugitive who has been on the lam but who now can see the sun than like a gibbering object of pity. The Godfather goes free. His son-in-­law suggests he is a national resource and should run for the Senate. Swifty Lazar announces that he is Nixon’s literary representative, and that Nixon will write an honest book all by himself. Crazy like a fox they used to say. I don’t know. Is anyone going to get John Dean out of jail?