Friday, November 30, 2012

Economics as if People Mattered

I love the concept of practicing economics as if people mattered.  E.F. Schumacher wrote the book , Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered in 1973. The book inspired the “buy locally,” and “fair trade movements, decried the wastefulness of large corporations, and advocated that economies should be built around the needs of the community rather than the needs of the corporation. Schumacher even has an essay in his book about “Buddhist economics” which he characterizes as, “Giving a person the chance to develop his or her skills and talent; joining people with others in co-operative effort; and bringing forth society’s needed goods and services.” You can read a brief overview in Wikipedia here,  or an in depth book review here

I happened to stumble upon an old televised sermon by Bishop Fulton Sheen on economics that aired in the mid-1950s which was an excellent example of economics as if people mattered.  I haven’t heard a lot of Bishop Sheen and to be honest, I was put off a bit by his flamboyant style the few times I had seen a clip from his old TV show.  I was channel surfing last Saturday because I really wasn’t interested in seeing more of the Alabama-Auburn football game when I landed on the re-play of Bishop Sheen’s old black-and-white TV broadcast. I must say that I was pleased and astounded by the message he presented. It is one that we need to hear today in light of the Occupy Movement and the many de-regulations (and Supreme Court rulings) in recent years that have resulted in more power for the corporations and huge salaries of CEO heads.

Private Property and Corporations

Consider this quote as Bishop Sheen is outlining the rights of property ownership: “The right to property is personal, but the use of property is socially conditioned… One economic error is the insistence on personal rights to the exclusion of social use… That would be monopolistic capitalism so prevalent in the last [19th] century… the attitude that I want no moral law, no code, no state telling me what I can or cannot do with my money. That resulted in the concentration of wealth into the hands of the few to the impoverishment of the masses – a system which was greatly broken up, thanks be to God, by the advent of labor unions.”

And what about this proposal of his regarding corporations? “Any man who has stock in a corporation is entitled to a return on that stock…how about the worker? He has a different investment: his very life, the sum of his days. He is also entitled to some of the social wealth that he helped to create…there should be some form of co-ownership in which he will feel some stability… so that he is no longer working for someone, but rather working with someone…No one boss is entitled to all the profits.”

Bishop Sheen also talked about profits that are a result of what one does with one’s property. He stated that a person should have enough for himself and his family to provide for their needs, security, and education, but that “any superfluity of wealth is owed to the poor.” It sounded like Bishop Sheen had a vision for how to bring about pride of ownership in a productive society that would also actually benefit the whole of society. I liked the fact that he could say, “Thanks be to God” for the important work that labor unions have brought about. They did, after all bring us things like the 40-hour work week, safer working conditions, paid vacations, retirement pensions, sick pay and health insurance – all things designed to bring a better life for the worker;  things that did indeed allow for some sense of “ownership” on the part of the worker.

Job Creators, or Community Builders?

Bishop Sheen was thinking of economics as if people mattered. His vision was one of communities that work rather than one of endless wealth for corporations.  Sadly, today we have allowed much of that vision to fall by the wayside as politicians and corporate bosses have turned back the clock on regulations and weakened the influence of labor unions. The average worker is once again finding himself or herself at the mercy and whim of the corporation. Moreover, contrary to the political speak in Washington, corporations are not “job creators.” They only create a job when it is absolutely necessary for getting something done. Their primary focus is on profits for stockholders, so adding a worker’s salary to the equation is one to be avoided if at all possible.  If adding one job increases profit, then that job will be added, but if eliminating 500 jobs increases profit, those jobs will be eliminated regardless of production or community.


If you are interested, I looked on You Tube for Bishop Sheen’s sermon. I was not able to find the entire message, but I did find two significant segments:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Moving into the Community

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Dorothy Burdette
Photo taken near
the time she left Partlow
“I really enjoyed getting out of that place [Partlow] and coming down here. They were going to send me to Eufaula, but I’m glad they didn’t – I’m glad I come down here [to Birmingham].

We had to take Personal Hygiene when I was in Thomasville, and I mean it was something else. You had to get up, take a shower and wash your hair – then you had to pick out a nice dress and iron it before you put it on. You had to brush your teeth and they’d check your fingernails. I mean they really checked you out! Then we went to Home Ec. And that’s how I learned to cook when I was in Thomasville. They taught us how to keep house. They didn’t teach none of that at Partlow, they wouldn’t even show us how to use a can opener.

I was at Thomasville about a year to learn how to do things at home like iron and do laundry. They had a washer and dryer in the home where we were. I was 44 years old when I came to Birmingham to live at the group home at St. Andrew’s Foundation on April the 8th, 1975.”

*    *    * 
I would like to digress briefly from Dorothy’s story to share some of my personal knowledge of the St. Andrew’s Foundation. It was a happy surprise when I came to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in 1984 and subsequently discovered the St. Andrew’s Foundation group homes. When I started working there, my first job was as a live-in home coordinator. During that time I experienced a shift in my understanding of life and a change in the way I viewed the world around me. Everything from politics to spirituality was affected by my experience of sharing life with people with intellectual disabilities. I would later learn that the renowned Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen, experienced a similar path during the last ten years of his life.

Philosophical Beginnings

After coming on board at the St. Andrew’s Foundation, I began to learn more of its origins in my conversations with Rev. Francis Walter, executive director and founder. Francis talked about how he had been involved with the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. As his work in that field was winding down, some nuns told him about a different avenue for civil rights that they were learning about in the L’Arche Community founded by Jean Vanier.  It was at the very time that the federal courts had ordered Partlow State School to deinstitutionalize residents who were capable of more independent living and the State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation was soliciting help in providing community based group homes for institutional residents to move to.  

What Francis Walter may have seen in the L’Arche community is probably best described by their own stated philosophy: “At the heart of L’Arche communities are relationships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. A respectful relationship between people who treat each other as of equal value provides security, allowing for growth, personal development and freedom to become more fully the people we want to be. Most importantly, mutual relationships foster the acceptance of each person as a unique and valuable individual, whatever his or her abilities or disabilities.” (1)

The upshot was that the nuns went to Mobile, Alabama to form a L’Arche community and  Francis Walter was inspired to create a place where the mentally handicapped could come and learn to live a more normal life, based on some of the principles exemplified by Jean Vanier.  Homes were acquired in the neighborhood near St. Andrew’s Church, and a charter was organized for the establishment of the St. Andrew’s Foundation.

Harry Hamilton Remembers the Early Days

Harry Hamilton was Francis Walter’s right-hand man for years at St. Andrew’s Foundation. He was the first Program Director and eleven years later became Executive Director when Francis resigned to become rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Harry recalls that “Francis made the decision to speak to the Department of Mental Health about operating group homes after hearing a public service announcement on the radio while on the road between Montgomery and Tuscaloosa in late 1973. His work with the Freedom Quilting Bee had come to an end, and he was familiar with Wyatt House in Tuscaloosa (Alabama's first group home). He was also aware that the Episcopal Diocese owned some old Victorian homes within walking distance of St. Andrew's Parish, so he spoke with the Rector, Maurice Branscomb, and the Bishop and then spoke with Department of Mental Health in Montgomery. All agreed to the arrangement and he signed his first contract with DMH in February of 1974.”

Harry began as Program Director at the St. Andrew’s Foundation in May of that year. He tells of how they began screening residents from Partlow and that the first ones moved in to the new group homes in the Fall of 1974. “From the beginning,” according to Harry, “Francis Walter’s intent was to take advantage of the fact that the homes were in walking distance of the church so that it could become the hub of a community for folks who would need considerable support in adjusting to life outside an institution. And that is exactly how things worked out. The church, also the location of our administrative offices, was an easy walk from the homes, as were grocery stores, pharmacies, the bank, and the bus stop. It was not without obstacles, but for many years this little community worked just as intended and thrived on Birmingham's Southside.”

Harry also recalls his first meeting with Dorothy Burdette: “After about a year of taking residents only from Partlow, we began screening people who had been moved from Partlow to Thomasville Adult Adjustment Center (an old Cold War radar site in our front line defense against a Cuban missile strike). Dorothy was among the first people screened from there. When Edsel Massey and I went down to pick her up we arrived late in the day and spent the night at the Jefferson Davis Motel, where Dorothy happened to be in vocational training at the time. So we had a chance to ask her supervisor a bit about her before actually meeting her the following day. Dorothy often talked about that first meeting and took pride in the fact that her supervisor hated to see her go. She also liked to tell the story of how she misunderstood Edsel's name as "Ediker" and she laughed with each retelling as if it was the first time.” (2)

The Concept of Normalization

Harry Hamilton may not have been present on the day of creation, but he arrived very soon on the scene and was instrumental in the formation of the unique training and habilitation community that characterized St. Andrew’s Foundation. Under Harry’s guidance, the training programs were put into place that would seek to create a normal community life for people who had endured institutional life for years. The underlying principle for the work at St. Andrew’s Foundation was normalization as set forth by seminal thinker and advocate, Wolf Wolfensberger

Wolfensberger was Director of the Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York until his death in 2011 at the age of 76. He was a strong academic who greatly influenced the field of mental retardation and social services through such writings as The Principle of Normalization. Normalization has been described as “the acceptance of people with disabilities, with their disabilities, offering them the same conditions as are offered to other citizens. It involves an awareness of the normal rhythm of life – including the normal rhythm of a day, a week, a year, and the life-cycle itself. It involves the normal conditions of life – housing, schooling, employment, exercise, recreation and freedom of choice. This includes ‘the dignity of risk’, rather than an emphasis on ‘protection’.”(3)  Part of the dynamic of Wolf Wolfensberger’s work and achievement was that he drew inspiration from Jean Vanier and was involved in establishing the L’Arche community in Syracuse.

So it was a convergence of civil rights, a court order, and the spiritual/ philosophical insights of Jean Vanier that brought about the experiment that was the St. Andrew’s Foundation on Birmingham’s Southside. Next time we will hear more from Dorothy about her experiences there. As her story unfolds, we will also hear from Father Francis Walter about the beginnings of the St. Andrew's Foundation.

References cited:

1.  From the L’Arche Community website at 
2. Harry Hamilton, personal communication, 11/25/2012.
3. Quote from “Misconceptions on the principle of normalisation,” Bank-Mikkelsen, Address to  
    IASSMD Conference, Washington, D.C., 1976, referenced in Wikipedia article on Normalization at

Other internet references:

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Music: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here's a great performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Concert for George (held on November 29, 2002, "a year from the day" that George Harrison died). And what a great concert it was! You should get the DVD and watch the whole thing. Doing a little research, I learned that Eric Clapton did the guitar solo for the original recording on the Beatles eponymous double album ("The White Album"). According to biographer Mark Lewisohn, George Harrison later said of that recording session that in addition to providing them with an excellent guitar solo, Clapton also had a positive effect on the band. His presence "made them all try a bit harder, they were all on their best behaviour." (The Beatles Recording Sessions, Harmony Books, 1988).

In addition to Ringo Star and Paul McCartney, watch for George's son, Dhani, playing with the band.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Word of Thanksgiving from Rumi

Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, has been called the most popular poet in America. That being the case, here’s a thanksgiving poem from Rumi on this American holiday:

Thanksgiving is sweeter than bounty itself.
One who cherishes gratitude does not cling to the gift!
Thanksgiving is the true meat of God’s bounty;
the bounty is its shell,
For thanksgiving carries you to the hearth of the Beloved.
Abundance alone brings heedlessness,
thanksgiving gives birth to alertness…
The bounty of thanksgiving will satisfy and elevate you,
and you will bestow a hundred bounties in return.
Eat your fill of God’s delicacies,
and you will be freed from hunger and begging.

                                                       ~ Jalaluddin Rumi


(And thank you to Irving Karchmar who shared this poem on his blog, Darvish)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Preparations for Leaving the Institution

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Photo by Naaman Fletcher
In talking with Dorothy about life at Partlow State School, It sounded as though there were attempts in later years to enrich the lives of the residents through volunteer efforts.  It was the federal court, however, that mandated changes in the institution and insisted that residents be equipped for greater independence outside the institution. In the Wyatt v. Stickney case, United States District Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that residents at Partlow State School were being denied their constitutional right to treatment. There was some stark and shocking eye-witness testimony entered in those court proceedings back in 1971. Here are a couple of examples:

“I think if you walk through Partlow, you can see. . . the effect  the people who begin to become involved in eccentric mannerisms, the rocking back and forth, peculiar behavior mechanisms, the people who sit in a semi-stupor in a place, without any activity, the people who slowly deteriorate and turn to the simple elements of human behavior .... We have ample documentation in this country that individuals who come to institutions and can walk stop walking, who come to institutions and can talk will stop talking, who come to institutions and can feed themselves will stop feeding themselves; in other words, in many other ways, a steady process of deterioration.”

“The food was slopped out unceremoniously by the working residents. There was a kind of a cake ... as part of the meal, and it was handed out by the working residents using their hands and dropping it on the trays. There were no knives or forks. Many of the residents ate with their hands ....”

                                           (The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 84: 1338, 1975 footnote, p 1350)

So it was that the landmark case in federal court would set the wheels in motion for Dorothy and many others like her to find a fuller life outside the institution. This is how Dorothy describes those transitional times:


At Partlow we couldn’t even go off the premises. It was that way for years and years until the Shriners – I think that’s what you call it – they started getting it together where we could go out and have more privileges than we did. Sometimes we didn’t have much privileges.  I had a case manager who used to take me up to the canteen and take me out for coffee and everything.

Partlow columns

I remember the first time I went out with somebody. I went out with another girl’s sponsor. We went to some place in town. We had lunch at this restaurant and the plates would be sent out on a conveyer belt. It went so fast you’d have to get you plate off or it would run off on the other end. I well remember that. Then after I come down here she wrote to me.

Sponsors wrote to you and got your packages out on Christmas or Thanksgiving; Easter or Valentines. They’d take you out sometime or sometime they would just send you cards.

Getting Us Ready to Leave Partlow

Partlow staircase
I went for a little while to rehab and that was how I got out. The day they said I could leave, I was so glad I didn’t know what to do. They sent me down to Thomasville to that Thomasville Resource Center.  I think I was down there a year and a half. 

It was alright, I lived in a house and then they moved me to another house with three more people. I stayed down there a long time.  I was there two or three months. They put me to live with an older couple. I didn’t want to stay with them and I ran away. In a day or so, they came and took me back to Thomasville. I had a job at a little old motor court. I had to change beds, and mop and sweep. They paid me about $10. That was the first time I got paid for doing work.

I went to a cooking class when I was in Thomasville, and I had to learn how to use a coin operated laundry when I first came to live in the group home [at St. Andrew’s Foundation in Birmingham].  Then I got to interview with Jim and Harry and I got to come to Birmingham.  The house I was supposed to move into caught fire, and that delayed me, then I had to wait another long time.

We had to get on a school bus when we went shopping. We would go about 12 miles to ride to the Delchamps grocery store. There was a restaurant called Delmars. We couldn’t go there unless somebody took us. I think I’ve really really been down the grist mill.

Inside an empty room at what was Partlow State School

Work cited:

“The Wyatt Case: Implementation of a Judicial Decree Ordering Institutional Change,” The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 84: 1338, 1975.

About the Photographs:

The pictures above were taken by Naaman Fletcher on the premises of Partlow State School years after the institution was closed down. They are featured on his blog What's Left of Birmingham at .

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Music: No Ke Ano Ahiahi

Recently I was listening to George Winston's Plains CD while driving to work. A beautiful melody unfolded on one of the tracks and I said to myself, "I have heard that before!" The song was "No Ke Ano Ahiahi." The first time I heard the melody was in church. There is a hymn, "Song of the Body of Christ" in the Catholic Gather hymnal. A beautiful contemporary composition, the words are by David Haas. I had heard it often as a communion hymn. It is a Hawaiian chant that, like many other Hawaiian melodies has made its way into the American songbook.

Here are three versions. You can pick either one, or listen to all three. The first is George Winston's beautiful piano arrangement. Following that is the Hawaiian song with it's Hawaiian lyrics. Third in the line up is the version I first came to enjoy during the Mass.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who Me? Racist?

On the day of President Obama’s first inauguration, I was thrilled to see how far our nation had come. Almost immediately afterwards, I was dismayed by the deluge of verbal attacks on the president which amounted to thinly-veiled racist attitudes.  If you have read my assessment of the Tea Party Republicans you know that I see racism to be a factor in that drive to “take our country back.”

The truth is, demographics have changed. Those who have lived their lives accustomed to being part of the privileged class by virtue of being Caucasian are understandably unsettled. All the online “petitions” to secede from the union are only the latest signs of unease regarding race, culture, and the country’s changing demographics.  When I have pointed out the element of inherent racism in the system to some of my friends on the far right, the response has usually been one of quick denial. Someone recently asked if I placed myself among the racists in the privileged class.  After giving it some thought this was my response:   

Speaking as a white man and having grown up in the segregated South, I have to say that what was ingrained in us culturally is very difficult to shake. We learned not to use the “N” word and thought that meant we were no longer racist. In truth, there are a thousand other ways we show disrespect without always realizing it.

As a Christian, I am challenged to examine those cultural things that I take for granted but which may be painful or disrespectful to someone else. This is especially true during the political season, and at a time when candidates freely toss around terms to appeal to faithful Christians. We should take care not to let the political machine drag us down to the level of those whose main motivation is money and power.

So yes, I would say that because I was born white, I have to try harder to understand the plight of the black, the Hispanic, and the immigrant in our society. I must examine the attitudes I have, the jokes I find funny, and the phrases I use that may try to put one person down just to make me feel more secure.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: A Brief Reprieve in the Outside World

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Picture post card of downtown Sylacauga, Alabama, circa 1940s

By Dorothy’s recollection, she was given an opportunity to leave Partlow State School in 1950. She would have been nineteen or twenty years old and by that time would have spent half her life in the institution. By her description, this seems to have been a trial run at living in the community to see how she might handle life outside the institution. She describes going back to Sylacauga to live with her legal guardians, the ones who and been responsible for her care for a short time after her mother had died and her father went to prison.  Here is how Dorothy told the story:

Then I got out in 1950. My legal guardians got me out. I wasn’t too used to them. Somehow, he walked in and I was fixin’ to get ready to go to bed. I said something and I run him out of the room or something – I don’t remember how it was – and I heard my legal guardian say to him, “I don’t know what we are going to do with Dorothy.” And he said to her “You watch how you speak to her, she’ll get mad some night and set this house afire.” I was listening at ‘em talkin’ but I didn’t say nothin’.”

Outhouses were not uncommon
 in rural Alabama in the 1950s
(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
One morning I got up and made me some coffee. She didn’t like me to get up before she did. They didn’t have an inside bathroom. To go to the bathroom you had to go out through an old porch then got on through the yard to an old outhouse. So I went out there and stayed, then I came on back [to the house]. She asked me what did I go out there for, and I said, “What do you always go for?” She told me not to get smart with her, and I told her I wasn’t trying to get smart with her.

They had one of these homemade toilet seats and it had three holes cut out in it. Back then we didn’t have toilet paper, not very much, and we had to use old brown paper sacks and old newspaper. There was a girl I knew [at Partlow] – I used to love to write her letters for her – she had a song that she used to play on the record player, back when they first got them little records. The song was “Don’t tear that little brown building down. She played that over and over. It was about an old country toilet. I didn’t know it and I’d make her play it over and over.   About newspapers on the wall, Oh don’t tear that little brown building down; It’s the best in the country, in the town. That girl said, “Dorothy Faye, if you knew what that song was about, you wouldn’t ask me to play it.” I said, Oh it’s about an old brown building – I come to find out it was about an old country toilet.

I was supposed to be out on probation for about 6 months and then go back to stay, but I didn’t do it. I stayed there for about three weeks [then went back to Partlow]. Many years after that they sent me to Thomasville. The way I got to Thomasville was I had to work my way through rehab.

*    *    *

“Many years after that they sent me to Thomasville.” In Thomasville, Alabama there was a rehabilitation center, the Thomasville Resource Center, where many residents from Partlow received training in independent living. It would be a little over twenty years, in fact, before Dorothy would have the opportunity to leave Partlow State School. That opportunity would come as a result of a court order in the Wyatt vs. Stickney case that brought about the de-institutionalization of many residents at Partlow and elsewhere across the country. It would be an attempt to provide more appropriate treatment for people who had been locked away in institutions, hidden from society. Next time we will hear from Dorothy what that transition was like as Partlow State School prepared her to exit the institution.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Music: Cost of Freedom/Daylight Again

This is the "second feature" of today's Monday Music. It comes by way of SWP Life Illuminated, a You Tube channel by photographer Scott Wright. He writes:

"This is a compilation of primarily my photos set to the classic Crosby, Still, Nash and Young songs, The Cost of Freedom and Daylight Again. Their songs carry so much meaning. My thanks to my nephews Ben and James for letting me use their photos in this compilation, both of whom are currently active in the US military; and to my Father Warren Wright who served in WWII. I hope you will watch it in the spirit in which it was made of Peace and day we will get to the place where there is no more war...of this I am certain."

Monday Music: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Last Saturday, November  10, marked the anniversary of the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter ship full of cargo on Lake Superior in 1975. The sinking of the huge vessel led to changes in shipping regulations on the Great Lakes.

Gordon Lightfoot had made his mark on folk music with songs like, “In the Early Morning Rain” and “For Loving Me.” He would later help to define the folk-rock sound with such songs as “Sundown,” Carefree Highway,” and ‘If You Could Read My Mind.” In 1976 he helped to immortalize the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and her fate when he wrote and recorded, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  You’ll see that the video below uses Lightfoot’s song to memorialize the 29 crewmen who lost their lives on that fateful night.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Best Wishes to the Republican Party

I did a blog post a while back, How the Republicans Could Win by Losing. The point of that essay was that the Republican Party has changed over the past 30 years by increasingly catering to the radical right wing and that a loss in the presidential election might cause the party to steer back to what it used to stand for.  The next couple of years may reveal whether the Republicans will do some soul searching or simply redouble their strident and provincial efforts.

We have seen the Republican Party veer from its staid roots of business and enterprise to embrace the religious right and oust some of its most solid members. Long time Republican senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was rejected during this election cycle by his party in favor of a Tea Party radical as was Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania back in 2010.  In Indiana’s case, that senate seat will now go to a Democrat.  The radical right-wing element of the Republican party has made it clear to long-respected  moderate Republicans that they are no longer welcome.

It is Time for a Divorce

The union between Christian evangelicals and the Republican Party has not been good for either.  I grew up a Southern Baptist and have friendships with evangelical Christians that have continued to this day.  I chose to leave the Baptists but continue to claim my Christian heritage.

Increased levels of Hate and Fear

The marked change that I have noticed among evangelicals that is most distressing to me is the level of hate and fear that I see coming from them. There was a time when conservative Christians tried to be a light to the world wherever they happened to be.  When the Republicans co-opted the “Religious Right” and snagged them into the political system, many of those Christians, so it seems, became so identified with the political party that they lost the heart of their own faith-identity. Instead of seeking to preach the love of Christ, the Religious Right began to see political opponents as enemies. Never mind what Jesus said about loving one’s enemies, the Religious Right began to see their true mission to be a political cause that would seek to vilify and remove anyone with different view.  I have been appalled by the levels of fear and hate projected throughout the social media on the part of my religious friends, many of whom I have known since their younger days when they had better judgment.  

Unsavory Appeals to Matters of Faith

If right-wing politics has distorted the faith of conservative Christians, religion has been just as bad for the Republican Party. I can remember when Democrat Jimmy Carter was running for president and spoke freely of his Baptist faith as a born-again Christian. Gerald Ford was his Republican opponent and his Episcopal tradition did not quite know how to respond to such born-again talk. Since those days, the Republicans have capitalized on the sentiments of born-again Christians. They have expanded on Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy to bring the Southern white voters into their fold, and the evangelicals were just one element of that strategy.  By convincing Southerners that their party was the place where traditional values were honored, white evangelical Christians came in by the thousands, first as “Reagan Democrats,” then as registered Republicans as the Southern states shifted from Democrat to Republican. 

Today, politicians freely appeal to the religious values of voters with buzz words like “right to life,” and “family values” while instilling fear that Democrats would take away our religious freedom if given the chance to serve in public office.  The result has been that many conservative Christians have bought a political package with an agenda of selfish exclusion and myopic hate. It is time for Christians to look to the rock from which they were hewn and it is time for Republicans to return to the examples of their more staid and responsible leaders of the past.

Regroup and Retool

My point is that I have seen better examples of faith and better examples of political action than has been exhibited by the Religious Right and the Republican Party over the past few years. The presidential election this year has demonstrated that a significant number of Americans are rejecting the fear, hate, and exclusion demonstrated by the new Republican Party. I hope that this means that we as a country have made a turn. I hope that we can continue to put racism, enmity and division behind us and begin to work together to build a country that works better for the common good.

Unfortunately, the election result also shows us that a significant number of Americans are fine with racism, enmity, division, and provincialism. There are still a lot of people who will vote to cede power to wealthy corporations and think that they are securing their own liberty. There was not a “landslide” political win.  My hope is that we will begin to see a more reasonable Republican Party that does not kowtow to the radical right. I would love to see responsible Republican opponents who respect science and education.  We need a healthy two-party system, not one of gridlock and bitterness.

Whether the Republican Party will rethink its options or redouble its narrow efforts is yet to be seen.  Nevertheless, my hope is that in our current struggle we can rise to our better angels (to borrow a phrase from another Republican: Abraham Lincoln). My best wishes go to the Republican Party. I hope that they can return to the political arena with a healthier message and a true concern for the country that is not clouded by fear and hate.     


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: "My Escape Attempt"

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Maybe it wasn't an actual escape attempt so much as it was a desire to get away from the confines of the institution for a while. Dorothy's recollections reveal how frustrating that confinement was for many of the residents. As she would tell incidents like the ones related here, she couldn't help laughing about it, though you could hear some of the resentment she still felt even after all the years that had passed.

Photo by Naaman Fletcher
“They wouldn’t let you go nowhere you wanted to. Every night they would get us in the ward and make us stand by our beds. Then they would count us to see if any of us was missing. One time they was a bunch of ‘em got out the ward window. They was fixin’ to run away, and they did run. It was 3 or 4 of them. One of the ­­staff was sittin’ there on the hospital porch countin’ ‘em as they went out. His name was Clarence Smitherman, the superintendant of the Boys’ Building. They didn’t get very far – every one of them got caught.”

“They wouldn’t let us go anywhere except to the dining room and the school, sometimes to the place where we cleaned vegetables or to the okra patch. They wouldn’t let us leave the premises. I tried to run away one time – me and two or three others. I reckon I was about 15 or 16.  We broke a hole in the hedge and got through. We didn’t know where we would go except we just wanted to go anywhere we could. Me and another girl ran around the building, the other two just stood there. One of them got to acting silly and she got us caught. She said, ‘Ya’ll two idiots, come back here!’ I said, ‘Well, ya’ll was in to it to, ya’ll was a bigger idiot than we were – you didn’t run like we did, ya’ll just stood there.’  She was too scared to move, and she got us caught. They punished us (she laughed as she spoke) for running around the building.  They took us over to the lower-type building. They punished us by takin' us to a lower grade building and said we had to stay two weeks. We had to bath the lower-type people that didn’t know to bathe theirself. We had to feed ‘em and dress ‘em and put ‘em to bed. I thought to myself, ‘Well, if we are helping them we’re helping Jesus.’  I got tired of it, though, and I went on back to my building before they even told me to.”

“The lower grade building was where people didn’t know how to bath themselves or dress themselves, and they didn’t really know to go to the bathroom. They had extra staff over there to watch them. They asked me why I left from over there and went back to my building before they said I could go. I told them I didn’t want to stay over there because they were so mean to the ones that couldn’t take care of themselves. They used to tie them to the benches. Some of them were a lot older and bigger than I was. I never was mean to them as far as I remember.  For some of them I used to wash and roll their hair. They never would pay us, but sometimes they would give us fruit and things like that – the ones that I did for. They would get it from the canteen and sometimes they would give me part of it.”

Partlow Gate  by Naaman Fletcher

“I really didn’t like it at Partlow, and they told a lie in order to get me there. I thought we could come and go as we pleased, but when I got there, I found out different. They told us where we had to be all the time, and when they would get us inside, then they would lock the door. I spent 35 years of my life there.”

“There was one girl that got out and they wrote a book about her. The name of it was Della from Hell*.  She spent nearly all her life there, from the time she was three years old until she was grown. I heard talk about the book but I never did see it or read it. I well remember that girl because she used to sing in the choir the same time I did.  She used to do people’s hair. She was a beautiful thing. She lived in the same building I lived in. Her mother’s name was Ruby Rogers, and her name was Della Raye Rogers.  She worked in the main dining room and she waited on the tables where the handicapped were. Later on she started working at the beauty parlor.”

Photo by Naaman Fletcher

Next time we will learn about Dorothy’s brief reprieve outside of the institution.


* I was curious about the book Dorothy mentioned, which she said someone had told her about. I did some research and discovered that the book she was referring to is actually titled: Della Raye: A Girl Who Grew Up in Hell and Emerged Whole, by Gary Penley (Pelican Publishing, January 31, 2002).

About the Photographs: The pictures above were taken by Naaman Fletcher on the premises of Partlow State School years after the institution was closed down. They are featured on his blog What's Left of Birmingham at .

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Get Out the Vote

Notice to All U.S. citizens of voting age:

Tuesday, November 6 is Election Day

Everyone please go out and vote for the candidate of your choice on election day. It is your way to have a voice in the process. It is your privilege as a citizen and your honorable duty to make this noble experiment of democracy work. The only downside I can see to voting is that it encourages politicians.


Monday Music: Pie Jesu

November 1 was All Saints' Day, a day on which the departed are remembered. It called to mind the beautiful "Requiem" composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber in tribute to his father.

Pie Jesu
by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Pie Jesu, Pie Jesu,
Pie Jesu, Pie Jesu,
Qui tollis peccata mundi;
Dona eis requiem,
Dona eis requiem.

Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei,
Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei,
Qui tollis peccata mundi;
Dona eis requiem,
Dona eis requiem.
Sempiternam, sempiternam requiem.

English translation:

Lord, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy,
You who take away the sins of the world;
Grant them rest,
Grant them rest.

Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
You who take away the sins of the world;
Grant them rest,
Grant them rest.
Everlasting, everlasting, rest.
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