‘Come Over and Help Us’: Thanksgiving and the Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

‘Come over and help us!’

The poor, the destitute and the spiritually depraved are beckoning. Please come over.

It’s an offer that God-fearing Christians couldn’t turn down. More accurately, a self-issued invitation, a laconic justification with an open ending. Please, come . . . we need your help.

On this American Thanksgiving weekend, Americans of all backgrounds, races and creeds have been celebrating a holiday of blessing and gratitude. It is a national holiday and a celebration conjoined by diverse communities across the country. As a day of national blessing, it has become an unofficial Christian holiday. Many communities across the country host ecumenical worship services often on the eve of the holiday, and more generally, the prelude to Thanksgiving is a time of Christian harvest festivals. It’s a national holiday largely stripped of the colors and overt patriotism of its July counterpart. Red, white and blue are instead orange and shades of brown. Fireworks give way to Black Friday. Watermelon to pumpkin pie. It’s less pretentious than Christmas; there is less national exclusivism than at the Fourth of July. Yet, in each its own way, the holiday offers a genuine opportunity for deep-felt gratitude to God, family and the greater community.

While the turkey and pumpkin pie seem requisite, the holiday can easily be amended, shaped and transformed as a celebration of gratitude for one’s own cultural background while providing a relatively innocuous means of participating in the larger national narrative. Or, so it seems.

For a whole range of reasons, none of which really have to do with giving thanks, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite American holiday. Four days of food and football in the crisp dark days of Autumn. And, thank God, I don’t work in retail.

200px-Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_1930_Issue-2c

By its nature, Thanksgiving is a holiday that evokes the past, and the legendary Thanksgiving narrative underscores a struggling community’s need for help.

It began with the 1620 autumn crossing of the Atlantic on the Mayflower by a group of English religious separatists, commonly known as the Pilgrims. A cold, extreme winter, during which they suffered from exposure, scurvy and various diseases, killed half of the original 102 passengers. The spring brought the miraculous appearance of Squanto, a Pawtuxtet Indian and a former English slave, who, per fortuna, spoke English. He helped the Pilgrims plant corn and catch fish. He helped them make friends with their neighbors, the Wampanoag.

So, the Pilgrims didn’t all die. The corn grew. The harvest came, and the festival followed. In the fall of 1621, the ‘first’ Thanksgiving feast was held between the Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth Plantation in present-day Massachusetts.

Yet, for all the help the Native Americans gave, Thanksgiving has turned out not to be such an innocuous means of participating in the larger national narrative.

battle_of_mystic_fort_drawing_editIn the following years, Puritans, distinct from the Pilgrims, also began arriving in New England, and our story now fast forwards to 1637 during the latter stages of the Pequot War (1634-38).  The conflict pitted the Pequot Indians against an alliance of colonists, mostly Puritans, who were connected with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  On May 26, 1637, English settlers under the command of Captain John Mason with the aid of some Native American allies surrounded and attached a Pequot village along the Mystic River in present-day Connecticut (see image above). The Mystic Massacre, which wiped out the entire village, killed more than 700 men, women and children.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the governor of Massachusetts declared: ‘This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots’. According to some modern historians, the national festival of Thanksgiving was actually founded upon the ashes of the Pequot War.

In any case, by 1637, ‘help’ as a central motif had clearly dissipated from the Thanksgiving narrative.

It all comes to a patronizing point is the official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was granted in 1629 by King Charles I. The colony’s seal featured an Indian holding a bow and an arrow with the words ‘Come over and help us’ rising out of his mouth. The figure is wearing nothing but a loincloth made of leaves. The not-so-subtle imagery includes an illusion to the Indian as the savage noble who is holding an instrument of war while trapped in a primitive paradise. Culturally unadvanced, intellectually inferior and spiritually darkened, especially with respect to the patronizing Puritan.

The seal beckons the Christian to mission and evangelism — in reality, to actions too often expressed in events such as the Mystic Massacre. Of course, the Indians weren’t looking for help, nor did they receive any. The seal was simply a self-interested invitation to come and ‘help yourself’ and an officially smug reminder to the Puritans that God was on their side.

Whatever we make of the myths and origins of Thanksgiving, the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is an official stamp of the attitudes and perspectives of the first generation of American thanks-givers. It’s an image we still need to reckon with.

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For a whole range of reasons, none of which really have to do with giving thanks, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite American holiday. For all that it means — can mean or should mean — I wish you a blessed and thoughtful Thanksgiving weekend.

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Eating Sushi with Sempo: The Life of Chiune Sugihara

He who Saves A Life, Saves the Entire World (The Talmud)

I’m due to travel to Los Angeles in the next couple of weeks to pick up a visa at the Israeli consulate. When I do so, I hope to have time to swing through Little Tokyo for some take-away sushi and a visit to the Chiune Sugihara memorial. The memorial is a bronze likeness of the Japanese hero sitting on a concrete bench with a visa in his hand. There’s enough room for the two of us to have lunch together.

LA-SugiharaMemorial

???????????????????????????????I really don’t have much in common with Chiune but our paths keep crossing. I was in his house last month in Lithuania looking through his stuff.

Earlier this summer, I didn’t even know who he was.

 

SugiharaChiune ‘Sempo’ Sugihara (1900 – 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who found himself stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania at the outbreak of World War II.

When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Jewish refugees fled east to Lithuania, which, at the time, was an independent country with its own population of some 210,000 Jews. In June 1941, the Nazis took Soviet-controlled Lithuania, and by the end of the year, an estimated 195,000 Jews would be murdered.

On November 23, 1939, two months after the invasion of Poland, Sugihara opened the Japanese consulate in Kaunas to monitor events in the region. The nearest Japanese embassy was in Riga, Latvia.

Then from the west came the Soviet Union, which occupied independent Lithuania in June 1940. Soviet occupation meant the closure of foreign embassies and consulates, and Sugihara was soon forced out of Kaunas, taking the train to Berlin on September 4, 1940.

However, by the time Chiune left town, he had a heroic case of writer’s cramp.

???????????????????????????????As safe havens for Jews were shrinking in Lithuania , the Japanese consulate became an unlikely house of salvation. Against the strict orders of the Tokyo home office and at great risk to his career, if not his life, Sugihara handwrote an unknown number of transit visas in July and August 1940 helping some 6,000 Jews to travel through Japan (estimates range between 2,100 and 3,400 hand-written visas).  As he departed Kaunas, he was still writing, throwing the last of his signed visas out of the window as the train was leaving the station. He reportedly pleaded, ‘Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best’. A voice from the throng of refugees surrounding the departing train exclaimed, ‘Sugihara. We’ll never forget you. I’ll surely see you again!’  Years later, Sugihara would be reunited with some of the survivors.  

???????????????????????????????Sugihara’s visas allowed the holder and his family to leave Soviet-occupied Lithuania, travel across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway and board a ferry to Japan where they could stay for two weeks before continuing onwards to a final destination. Sugihara saved approximately six thousand Jews, although some estimates are higher.

In 1985, Israel honored him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Later this year when I get settled in Jerusalem, I’m planning a pilgrimage of silence to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum where Sugihara’s name is on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous.

Sugihara’s story is certainly not unknown, yet on the world stage he sits in the shadow of a certain Mr. Schindler. His wife penned his biography, Visas for Life (1995), and his life has inspired a handful of films and documentaries, including Visas and Virtue (1997), which won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. The Huffington Post published a nice article on him just last January (2013).

The honorary Dutch consul, Jan Zwartendijk (1896-1976), belongs to the same conversation. Stationed as the director of the Philips’ Lithuanian operations, Zwartendijk assumed the duties of honorary consul a day before the Soviet occupation of the country in mid-June 1940. He issued 2,350 visas over a ten-day period for the Dutch island of Curacao before the Soviets shut down the consulate on August 3, 1940. 

The Sugihara Foundation – Diplomats for Life was founded in 1999 by the joint efforts of Lithuanian and Belgian citizens in order to perpetuate the memory and heroic deeds of the wartime consuls, Sugihara and Zwartendijk, and to promote the idea of civic society, tolerance and the human spirit. In 2000, the foundation opened the Memorial Education Center in the former Japanese Consulate in Kaunas. Since 2008, the Sugihara House has included the ‘Visas for Life’ exhibition, an interpretive museum providing information on the lives of the two foreign consuls as well as stories of the survivor families.     

A modest gift counter sells books and videos. I bought a small booklet and a pin with the two flags of Japan and Lithuania. The guest book, with many entries in Japanese and Hebrew, contains comments from around the world.

After visiting the house for most of an hour, I stepped out into the warmth of the Kaunas summer day.  It was a peaceful, almost dull August afternoon, and I stood outside the Sugihara House in a quiet, unassuming neighborhood on a hill overlooking the bus station. My historical imagination threatened to fail me, as I struggled with some difficulty to imagine the crowds and the cries, the parents and children, the hopes and desperation, the individual stories and the collective humanity that once surrounded Sempo’s house during the long summer days of 1940. But they were there, all around me, and encircled by these images, I walked back down into the streets of Kaunas. 

In my own small, if inadequate, way, I am connecting with the story, which has grabbed my imagination, even if I only accidentally stumbled across it. For some unknown reason, I took an August vacation to Lithuania, and now I hope to have lunch soon with Sugihara in LA before paying tribute to him later this fall in Jerusalem.

Visas for life!

***

After Kaunas, Sugihara’s diplomatic career took him to Prague, Königsberg and Bucharest. His Romanian service ended with an eighteen-month stint in a Soviet POW camp. In 1947, he was asked to resign from the Japanese Foreign Service. He died in Kamakura, Japan on July 31, 1986.

My pilgrimage to LA to pick up my own visa will not a journey in the footsteps of my new hero. To my knowledge, Sugihara never set foot in Los Angeles. Rather, the Little Tokyo monument is a monument materializing community memory rather than marking the ground of a historic event. Moreover, it’s memory in Diaspora. It’s just a simple concrete bench in LA connecting cultures, commemorating events and memorializing people from all sides of the world. That’s something I can definitely sit on.            

***

Chiune_Sugihara_-_杉原_千畝Early in his career while studying Russian in Manchuria, Sugihara converted to Orthodox Christianity. Although not formally canonized, Sugihara is considered a saint in some Orthodox churches.

To be sure, the heavens are well-pleased with Chiune. In 2000, a new-found asteroid, 25893 Sugihara, was named after Japan’s former consul to Kaunas. Thanks, Sempo! Meet ya in LA! 

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From Leeds to Little Rock: What Kind of Asian are You?

Leeds Bradford AirportI was riding in a taxi cab through West Yorkshire earlier this month. It was four in the morning, and I was on my way to the airport to return to Italy. I don’t often take cabs, let alone chat up cab drivers.  But the bloke was talkative, and so I followed suit. Next thing I knew we were in a lively discussion about race and culture.

His mother was from Nepal; his father from Kashmir. He was born in the former, and had lived in Britain for years.  Then he said something that exclusively linked him to my aunt back in the States. My aunt was born in Korea, but was adopted as a toddler by my grandparents and grew up in Arkansas where she still lives.

o-WHAT-KIND-OF-ASIAN-ARE-YOU-VIDEO-facebookMy Arkansan aunt and this British gentleman are my only points of reference for a YouTube video entitled, What kind of Asian are you? Earlier this summer, my Korean aunt shared the link on facebook, and so I actually knew what my Nepalese/Kashmiri cab driver was talking about when he mentioned it to me at 4:15 in the morning.

The video mimics interracial conversations commonly encountered in Western countries. Two American joggers are stretching in a park. The man (M) is a ‘regular American’; the woman (W) is ‘some kind of Asian’. The man inquires.

M: Where are you from? Your English is perfect.

W: San Diego. We speak English there.

M: Ah, no, where are you from?

W: Well, I was born in Orange County, but I never actually lived there.

M: Ah, I mean before that.

W: Before I was born?

M: Well, where are your people from?

W: Well, my great grandma was from Seoul.

M: Korea. I knew it. I said she was either Japanese or Korean, but I was leaning more towards Korean.

From this point on, you need to watch the video – as well as the subsequent video of the same actors reading real comments by viewers.

There is something in the video that strikes a chord with my Asian aunt and my Asian acquaintance – now living on two separate continents, neither of which are Asia.

We live in a virtual world, and videos go viral on a daily basis. Some of the vilest and most explicit racism can be found on internet discussion boards, but the same media also allows the occasional video to emerge as a talking point for race and culture. An ease with irony and sarcasm – and a sense of humor – are often advised.

But identity often precedes dialogue. As the title implies, What kind of an Asian are you? deals first of all with the common experience of encountering an European-imposed construct of ‘being Asian’ that labels, categorizes and stereotypes those that look – in the eyes of the European beholder – as if they should be from somewhere else. At worst, the message is that you / they don’t belong here and never will. At best, it reduces the ‘Asian other’ to an object of curiosity, although there is a place for query in interracial discourse.

That my Korean-Arkansan aunt and my Nepalese-Yorkshire cabbie both mentioned this video to me suggests not only the wide reach the video has in appealing to issues of identity among those belonging, even in part, to the wide and diverse spectrum of Asian descent, but, where the word, Asian, invokes different images in the United States than it does in Britain, my two sets of reference points – Kashmir and Korea, Leeds and Little Rock – also reveal how broadly and successfully the European has been able to cast the cloak of indiscernible Asian otherness.

Enjoy the videos, and let me know what you think!     

asia_map

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Attend to the Orphans: Smiles and Suffering in War-Torn Iraq

Ola Hassan is a dentist living and working in London, England. In March 2013, she traveled for the first time to Iraq, her parents’ native land, on a dental mission with Global Kindness Foundation. 

Ola and Fatima

My first patient: My little friend Fatima

We all get them, even dentists; you know those forwarded e-mails of no value.  The ones which we just skim through or hit the delete button before we even read them. Well, my journey to Iraq began because one day I opened one of those e-mails.

The email came all the way from Australia. It had an attachment about a dental mission and contained these simple words:  ‘Ola, I think you might be interested in this…’

It wasn’t wrong; in fact, I was immediately interested.  A few months later I found myself at London’s Heathrow airport, where I met a bunch of strangers who were soon to be friends.

The destination: Iraq – a very war-torn Iraq.

The mission: to bring healthy smiles to the faces of orphaned Iraqi children.

Let me give you a little bit of a background about myself.  Both my parents were born and brought up in Iraq, but I was raised in Britain and had never set foot there myself. They both fled the country and Saddam’s atrocities during the war in the 1980’s.  For years I had thought of visiting Iraq, and finally, in March 2013, I traveled there with the wonderful people of ‘Global Kindness Foundation’, a Canadian-based charity which provides dental healthcare to underprivileged people worldwide.

We flew into Najaf, a city about 100 miles south of the capital, Baghdad.  After being questioned for hours at the airport and after having lost half of our medical and dental supplies (a whole other story!), we set off to get some rest for what would be a very busy first day of work.

As our coach pulled up to our accommodations, I looked out of the window and was overwhelmed by what I saw  – a golden dome in the distance.  For those who do not know the history of Najaf, it is the resting place of a man known as Imam Ali, the son of Abi Talib.  History tells us of his nobleness, his ability to provide a voice for the voiceless, and his awe-inspiring courage. He was martyred at the age of 63 in the year 661 CE and was buried in Najaf. The golden dome is his shrine, and today millions of people far and wide visit this shrine to pay their respects.

The Shrine of Imam Ali, Najaf, Iraq

The Shrine of Imam Ali, Najaf, Iraq

The reason I mention Imam Ali is because I sensed an overpowering connection between the personality of Imam Ali and my mission in Iraq. He stressed to those around him to be kind to orphans. In his last will, he stated:  ‘Attend to their (orphans) nutrition and do not forget their interests in the middle of yours’.   Imam Ali was known as ‘the father of the orphans’.

For me personally, I felt extremely privileged to stand before his shrine and felt thankful for the opportunity to do what I could for the orphans who were living in the very same city of his resting place.

And so it all began. Early the following morning, we went to set up our dental clinic in the place where the orphans go to school. I had no idea what to expect, but the warm welcome from the children, who rushed to huddle around us, instantly told me that the next few weeks would be one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life.

Courtyard Dental ClinicWe were given a large dusty courtyard for our make-shift dental clinic (photo: left), and I quickly said goodbye to the idea of a shiny, squeaky-clean surgery like the ones back home in England, and I said hello to the challenging conditions of Iraq! I had never appreciated the humble light bulb until we were forced to work in a room without one!

As I visited each class, I could not help but make a comparison with the bright, child-friendly and airy classrooms I had when I was little. But to these kids, their classrooms were a haven. We screened each child and made a note of what treatment they would need. Fortunately, some only needed preventative care. The majority of children, however, needed comprehensive dental work, from simple fillings to multiple extractions.

Iraqi classroom

Screening kids in classroomIf it wasn’t for the positive attitude and the humorous nature of my dental team, I’m not sure I would have survived after treating my first patient, a young girl named Fatima. She was very shy and very nervous. Luckily, I could speak Arabic with her, but this was still not enough to put her at ease. She didn’t have a mum or dad to turn to for comfort, just a whole load of Canadians and a Brit! We were all strangers to her.  That moment hit me hard, and I found myself fighting back the tears.

When she eventually agreed to lie on the chair, I began her treatment. She had a lot of cavities for a little girl and had clearly put up with a fair amount of dental pain. Halfway through her treatment, I noticed a silent tear run down her cheek. We had been debriefed by our team leader the night before.  He warned us this would be one of the most emotional challenges we had ever faced as dentists. We didn’t have the luxury of providing sedation to the more nervous patient; we just had to accept using what we had. ‘Just keep reminding yourself what our mission here is’, he said. We were the children’s only access to oral healthcare and even though it was hard putting the kids through such a difficult experience, ultimately they would be free of pain and would lead healthier lives.

As if I had not already been close to tears, little Fatima came up to me after I had completed her treatment and gave me a heartfelt hug. In her own way, she was saying thank you. Little did she know that it was she who actually deserved to be thanked.   My contribution to this cause was so insignificant to what I gained through meeting her and all the other brave boys and girls – a deep sense of gratitude for what I have and an overall more positive approach to life.

Dentist with patientAs a group of six dentists and more than twenty amazing volunteers from non-dental backgrounds, we managed to treat almost 300 children and some of their teachers. Each child had their own story, but all of them had one thing in common – hardship, real hardship. They have suffered in ways that are very difficult for us in Britain or in other developed countries to comprehend. I wish I could say that I did something to truly change their lives.  I have, in fact, done no such thing. It would take a lot more than a mere filling or an extraction of a tooth to do that.

Mother Theresa once said, ‘Peace begins with a smile…’ and ‘Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing’. I hope that our efforts have bought some healthier smiles to these beautiful children who may not always have much to smile about.

Iraqi soldierStepping outside the confines of the school, you can see that hardship extends throughout the country. For each city we traveled to in Iraq – Kerbala, Samarra, Baghdad – there was a checkpoint every few miles. There is no sense of security there, no sense of inner peace, but somehow these people keep trying  – and I hope, with the children, they will keep smiling.

People of Iraq – thank you – lessons learned!

Would I put myself through this physical and emotional roller coaster ride again?  Absolutely, I would be stupid not to.

Dentists with patient

                                                                                                                                             

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Slaves and Buffalo Soldiers

President Obama’s recent establishment of five new national monuments (March 25, 2013) demonstrates how the creation of historical commemorative landscape is an ongoing cultural and political activity.  Of the five new monuments, two of them have direct intercultural context, specifically recognizing the heritage of non-dominant cultures in the United States: the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument in Ohio and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

More on these later in the week, but below is a summary of the two new parks.

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The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument in Ohio: The monument will preserve the home of Col. Charles Young (1864–1922), a distinguished officer in the United States Army who was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of Colonel. Young also served as one of the early Army superintendents of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, before the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. The national headquarters of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, of which Col. Young was a member, made the property available for acquisition by the federal government for the purpose of establishing the national monument commemorating Young’s life and accomplishments. The monument, located in Wilberforce, Ohio, will be managed by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

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The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland. The monument commemorates the life of the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad who was responsible for helping enslaved people escape from bondage to freedom. The new national park, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, includes large sections of landscapes that are significant to Tubman’s early life in Dorchester County and evocative of her life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad. The park includes Stewart’s Canal, dug by hand by free and enslaved people between 1810 and the 1830s and where Tubman learned important outdoor skills when she worked in the nearby timbering operations with her father. Lands that are part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, although part of the new national monument, will continue to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument also includes the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free black man who used coded letters to help Tubman communicate with family and others.  The monument will also partner with the State of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center when it opens in 2015. The monument will be managed by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

 

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Agatha Christie and the Ten Little Indians

And_Then_There_Were_None_First_Edition_Cover_1939What’s red on the outside and black on the inside? The Italian edition of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, Ten Little Niggers, published in Italy as Dieci piccoli indiani (Ten Little Indians). 

Christie’s story, also known as And Then There Were None, is about ten strangers, who were invited to an island where they mysteriously died one after the other.

In the original story, Christie uses the reference, nigger, in three different ways. The story is set on an island off the coast of Devon, England, called Nigger Island –‘It got its name from its resemblance to a man’s head — the profile of a negro’.

The second reference is the poem, Ten Little Niggers, a framed copy of which hung in each of the guest rooms. The poem, adapted in 1869 by Frank J. Green from the original, Ten Little Injuns (Septimus Winner, 1868), was already a minstrel show favorite before Christie further popularized it, using its contents to provide the overall framework of her story.    

The third reference to niggers in Christie’s story is to ten small porcelain black statues in the middle of the dinner table, which mysteriously disappear one-by-one in parallel with the deaths of the ten island guests.      

Recognizing the offensive nature of the term, the editor of the first U.S. edition (1940) removed the term, choosing to recast black as red – the book, Ten Little Indians (And Then There Were None), was now set on Indian Island, a poem about Indians hung in the room of each guest, and upon each of their deaths, one of the porcelain Indians in the middle of the dinner table mysteriously disappeared.

It is rather unlikely that the New York editor’s decision was a nostalgic nod to Winner’s original nursery rhyme immortalizing the Vanishing Indian. Rather, he was merely following dominant culture logic that an offensive racial epithet can be removed by simply substituting it for an entirely different racial minority with a less (arguably) offensive name.                

This editorial decision (1940) took place well before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball (1947), Brown vs. the Board of Education overturned school segregation (1954) and Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a dream in Washington, DC (1963).  

It was, no doubt, a wise decision not to publish Christie’s original title in the United States and, yet, dominant culture still struggles recognizing the invidious nature of paternalistic racism – rampant in the very phrase, Ten Little Indians.

As for rest of the world, as late as 1977, London was still publishing the work under the title, Ten Little Niggers, which remains the work’s popular international title.

Except in Italy . . .

$(KGrHqZ,!i!E6Qunzeh7BOvSP8jRrg~~60_35 . . . where last autumn, I purchased a number of Agatha Christie books to help improve my Italian. Among the titles was Dieci piccolo indiani (Ten Little Indians), which most strangely contains not a single mention of Indians but rather retains every single reference in Christie’s dark original!

What’s red on the outside and black on the inside?

The Italian edition of Agatha Christie’s 1939 best seller.

Clearly a cultural quark.

Che cosa ne dite? So, what do you think?

 ***

Ten little n····r boys going out to dine;

One choked his little self, and then there were nine.

Nine little n····r boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself, and then there were eight.

Eight little n····r boys going down to Devon;

One got left behind, and then there were seven.

Seven little n····r boys chopping up sticks;

One chopped himself in half, and then there were six.

Six little n····r boys playing with a hive;

A bumblebee stung one, and then there were five.

Five little n····r boys going in for law;

One got in Chancery, and then there were four.

Four little n····r boys sailing out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three.

Three little n····r boys going to the zoo;

A big bear hugged one, and then there were two.

Two little n····r boys playing in the sun;

One got all frizzled up, and then there was one.

One little n····r boy left all alone;

He went out and hanged himself, and then there were none.

 

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Justice Anywhere: In Tribute to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963), ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.

But isn’t the opposite also true? Isn’t justice anywhere also a threat to injustice everywhere – possibly, potentially? Can witnessing acts of justice, or at least the struggle for equality, positively influence long-held prejudices and racist attitudes?

Civil Rights Monument

While King often observed the human heart harden, enfeebled by fear, engulfed in hatred and enflamed by violence, he never lost his belief in the so-called divine possibilities of humankind. Sometimes proof came from the most unlikely of sources, such as this undated letter by Jefferson Poland, now contained in the archives of The King Center:

San Francisco, California

Dear Rev. King:

This is something I think you will want to know.

A few weeks ago a man in Panama City, Florida, one Ross Mullin, sent you a poem which criticized prejudice.

This man was my grandfather. He had been against Jews and Negroes almost all his life. When I had gotten thrown in jail for sit-ins, he had been shocked and angered. Finally, after some 60-odd years of hate, he grew to the point where he wrote you that poem. I had not had time to write him of my pride and joy before I got a telegram telling me he is dead.

As you Christians would put it, he died in a state of grace, newly found. I’m not religious myself, but I think there must be something divine in Man, that he continues to grow until the last hour of death.

Yours,

Jefferson Poland   

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King responded on November 16, 1962:

Dear Mr. Poland,

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of recent date. Your story was indeed moving. It is encouraging to know that it is possible to grow and change after a long heritage of prejudice. Certainly your participation contributed to this growth and understanding on the part of your grandfather. This incident is a testimony to the Divine possibilities in mankind in our society.  

Thank you for sharing this information with us.

Sincerely yours,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

***

The greatness of leaders is determined not merely by what they say or do, but rather by the changes and responses they elicit in others. As we remember King’s vision of universal justice and interracial equality, the response of one Ross Mullin is not a small part of King’s enduring legacy.   

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‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly . . . Justice too long delayed is justice denied’ (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).

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