The Charlotte News
Saturday, January 20, 1940
Site Ed. Note: "Skaters' Peril", as well as some others of late, reminds us again to grab some of that sheaf last supplied to us last month sometime by our friend in the Caribbean--with all the usual post-validated assurances, that it was written in fall, 1991, before any of these editorials had been seen by the author. The time, we are informed, is July 27, 1940. So:
He queried of himself whether at age 40, he was just a lost soul, stuck in the creative impulse to fathom a bygone era with little, if any, practical effect on the world around, save maybe shaving bits of crust off the traditional academic's lattice of status quo--the quasi-patrician viewpoints on Southern culture.
Was he trying effectively to rewrite history in his own idealistic image of what it should be rather than with realism as to what it could be?
Was he running afoul of Revelations' last verses, issuing the caveat of curses to those who would seek to add to it?
He muddled through these thoughts, oblivious to the rainfall which had begun fifteen minutes earlier, as puddles began to form in the shallow places along the sidewalk.
Soaked and tromping about in the old black rubber therapeutic shoes, he crossed the street toward the park. Someone, spotting this rain-dripping sight with the few sprigs of hair pasted to the top of his head in disheveled array, blared a car horn derisively. He glared back with a curiously satisfied smile at the issuer of would-be chagrin.
Noticing it to be a middle-aged woman and her child, he issued his own bit of non sequitur to the fare: turning, as if a clumsy ballet dancer on a first attempted pirouette, he waved what would have appeared to the casual observer as a fond good-bye, aimed at some imagined plutocracy, disappearing in the rainy mist.
The woman in the car rolled the window down, craned her neck over the half-exposed glass and, right in front of the chocolate ice cream stained face of her young son, uttered the best, unintended double-pitched line, "Stupid fool, go home and sober up!"
He now wished he had another hour, or two dozen, to type another more humorous page or three to fit within the leaves of the book. This part of the South's imagination had been too much ignored. He had not given it rightful credit for a wry, if often unwittingly possessed and manifested, sense of stating the commonplace as absurd, lending then the absurdity a mirror for itself by which all could gauge, alternately, delight or fright.
Oh well, the book was done, now, and in the mail. He would leave the less serious points for the novel.
As he walked by the Mecklenburg Park, he spotted a playful sight.
There was a group of black children, not supposed to be in that park at all, who had appropriated the ground during the rain, apparently to imagine themselves in the shoes of the white children for a spell. They were throwing the ball into the splashing mud and having the best of high times, laughing and cheering each other onward. Each, in turn, raised up the square piece of sycamore they were employing as a bat.
The smell of freshly cut wet grass suddenly hit Wilbur's nostrils through the slower cadence of the drizzle. Steam poured off the nearby pavement. A bit of nature's haze hugging the ground from a summer storm's aftermath began to enshroud the field.
One of the boys saw Wilbur looking from the distance. He quickly summoned the attention of the others in seemingly cautious apprehension. They stared solemnly in a line, as if obediently awaiting the usual discipline and remonstrance from Solid Citizen for having trespassed on the whitenized municipal land debarring them with the usual signs.
Wilbur smiled broadly, brimming with enthusiasm, crouched like a big Babe Ruth at the plate. Whirling stockily around, his arms uplifted in stance, he brought his right hand to his forehead, feigning a long upward observation of his imaginary long ball. Dread then turned to despair in his expression as he shook his head, snapped his index finger on his thumb in mock disgust of the obvious foul.
The boys yelled with delight, "Hey mister, what's ye batting average?"
He held up a big goose egg in his closed thumb and smiled even more broadly.
It was a nice moment.
But he couldn't help but consider that it would be a nicer moment if those children could play there everyday, irrespective of the transitory shield from police remonstrance supplied now by the drizzle's drops and foggy circumference.
Perhaps, one day...
Perhaps, one day, one of those children could become a leader in Charlotte, itself.
But that was a long ball, and this was now.
As he turned from this scene to head back to the Frederick, he saw a black, late thirties Plymouth round the corner with a Dodge in obedient pursuit. The cars contained several men in dark suits. All looked like gangsters. They wore dark fedoras. A small feather could be seen in the band of one. The passengers stared forward into space.
One of the drivers looked right at Wilbur as he drove by the park. He was young, about 25, and had a smartly handsome face, but with incongruously wild, bright eyes. His visage was in stark contrast to the other men who could be seen in the two cars, all appearing over forty, paunchy, more akin to the physicality of Wilbur than the youthful proselyte among the swellheads.
The young man grimaced, his eyes seeming to say to Wilbur sympathetically that he should not have appeared so interested in the tandem of cars, to forget the face of the young man and that of his companions, as they rounded the corner out of sight.
Wilbur told himself however that he would not forget.
The eyes were too wildly piercing for that.
Before heading home, he walked over to the newspaper office for the hell of it, to brag a bit on at last being on the threshold of publication.
He ran into George Cant walking out the door.
"Where 're you headed so fast, George? I finally sent in the manuscript today. I'm here to outshoot the Giants at the game..."
"Hey, great, Jack."
Cant spoke emphatically, heaving his breath as he rushed the words, "Well, they found some nigra out in the woods near Huntersville, tied to a tree, as I understand it. He'd been dragged by a car until half his face was torn away, or so they say. Headed out there for the story. You want to go?"
Central Labor Union Would Take Them Off The Streets
The death by automobile of a twelve-year-old Negro skater, not to mention the injury of a companion, points up the grave necessity of a community project which the Central Labor Union is sponsoring. That is for a dozen or so cement courts scattered over the city, which will be ideal for skating and useful during other seasons for games of all kinds.
The Park and Recreation Commission, whose idea it is, would undertake the construction on its own hook, had it the money. But it has no money, and never will until the people of the city say the word. Meantime, however, children will skate. Some of them will skate on the sidewalks, where there are sidewalks, and happy landings to them. But many, especially the sidewalkless Negroes, will skate in the streets, and some of them will be killed, inevitably.
We have taken precautions in our habits, for the automobile and its deadliness. Highways are continually being altered and improved for safety's sake. It is forbidden to drive drunk or at more than a rate of speed. Experience has evolved driving rules which may be violated only at peril.
But we have made precious little allowance for the safety of children, and we have failed to provide sufficient playgrounds where they may dart around heedlessly, as they always will, without risk to their lives. These cement courts will help to relieve that lack and, besides, will be a capital asset to the city's credit.
Site Ed. Note: After four months had passed since Hitler had conquered Poland, without so much as a feint anywhere else by the Nazis, the so-called "Phoney War" had set in for the winter, the only active fighting being then between Russia and Finland.
The last sentence of the piece, however, correctly predicts the ensuing frieze, the dogs let loose, that begun with the invasion of Norway and Denmark, early April.
This War Promises To Be Pretty Real, After All
The only European country in which the war spirit does not seem to be rising is Russia.
With two of his divisions completely destroyed, with the Finns planted ten miles within his territory, and with the one Russian army which had achieved any success--that striking through the waist of Finland--in pell-mell retreat, Josef Stalin seems to be genuinely alarmed.
He has offered Rumania what amounts to a virtual apology for an article in a Soviet newspaper which envisaged the making of that country into a puppet Russian state, suggested that a purge has taken place to see that it doesn't happen again. And now, after beginning with bitter threats, he apologizes to Sweden and Norway for the bombing of their territory.
In the Swedish parliament, however, the debate over the proposal of a former premier to form a united Scandinavian front in defense of Finland rages on, with increasing prospects that the scheme may win out. Even little Denmark, in Germany's backyard, grows bolder and openly sends out "volunteers" to aid the Finns.
In Italy the secretary of the Fascist Party rattles the sword, evidently with a chief eye to Russia. Rumania and the Balkans generally pluck up their courage, and, with Mussolini at their back, shout defiance to the Russian colossus with the feet of clay.
And in the West Holland and Belgium stand to arms, grimly determined to resist any German encroachment with every ounce of their strength.
The gathering spirit spreads to American shores, too. In Canada, the Ontario Parliament adopts a resolution, offered by the provincial premier, Hepburn, condemning Premier King of the Dominion as failing to prosecute the war vigorously, demanding far more extensive war measures.
The United States still holds sternly to isolationism, but how long it may last is a question.
In any case, those people who were upset a few months back lest this prove not to be a "real" war, seem to be in for satisfaction.
Mr. William Green Keeps Mum About Mr. Bioff
The silence of Mr. William Green, captain-general of the American Federation of Labor, on the subject of Mr. Willie Bioff begins to sound like thunder.
Mr. Bioff is the great labor leader who runs the stagehand and other theatrical unions. Last year he tried to bring the actors under his control, too. And that stirred up a storm which prompted somebody to remember that Willie was a jailbird at large.
In his youth, Willie had been pander to a backroom prostitute in Chicago, and had been convicted of the offense in open court, sentenced to jail. But somehow he had never served time, instead had gone out to Los Angeles to prove that Horatio Alger was right.
Now, however, Illinois is calling for him to come back and serve his sentence.
Nor is that all of his troubles. The Federal Government has indicted him twice for failing to report his income properly--$30,000 short one year and $176,000 another.
And in addition to that, it has developed that Willie a few years ago got a loan of $100,000 from a movie magnate--from one of those movie magnates whom he was supposed to battle in behalf of better wages for stagehands, etc.
How Willie happened to be on such good terms with this magnate does not appear, but a lot of people have their suspicions.
Mr. William Green is, in principle, dead against the labor racketeers. He said so very loudly in a recent utterance. But in the concrete case of Mr. Willie Bioff, Mr. Green is silent in all languages.
Site Ed. Note: For more on Henry Cabot Lodge the Elder, as mentioned below, see the note accompanying "Retraction", August 3, 1940.
Query, did the post-war period, from 1946 through the mid-sixties, supply Senators from both sides of the aisle worthy of comparison to those orators and men of high principle most often thought to characterize the republic in the first half of the 19th century, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay most prominently? We think so.
There were, however, of course, some real stinkers, too... But, we shan't name names here.
With Many Defects, Borah Was Mighty In His Time
The first half of the century does not promise to produce any such giants in the Senate as the first half of the last one. Or perhaps the old giants merely seem such as measured against the comparatively simple conditions of the young Republic.
But so far as there have been giants in our time, William Edgar Borah was among them.
The man had many faults. He was often flexible when he ought to have been inflexible, and inflexible when it was perhaps best to be a little more yielding. Unlike Norris but like Hiram Johnson, he was not open to argument once he had embarked upon a given course--made a position once taken a sort of vested interest of his own. Yet, curiously enough, he often dropped a minor battle in the middle of it, apparently out of mere failure of interest and energy.
His genius, moreover, was almost entirely negative. Though he sat in the Senate for 33 years, his name is not associated with a single important piece of legislation. What is remembered most about him is that, with Johnson, Norris, and Henry Cabot Lodge the Elder, he kept the United States out of the League of Nations, after one of the bitterest battles ever fought on the floor of the upper house.
But against that, he had many merits. Indeed, perhaps merit inhered in his very defects. In this country, we are perhaps too much inclined to overvalue the "constructive" man, to undervalue the critic. The English, older and wiser in the arts of government and social equilibrium, know better--as witness "His Majesty's Loyal Opposition."
Whether he rendered his country a service in halting our entry into the League remains to be decided. But it is not unlikely that he did. That is not to say that his isolationism was ultimately a tenable position. But it is plausible to think that the time was not yet ripe for the League, and it began under impossible conditions, and that our entry would have served no purpose save to involve us in endless European quarrels. He was suspicious of the minds of the men who governed England and France, and not without reason.
At any rate, there was great weight in him and great integrity. And a profound feeling for the people as against the forces of privilege. It has been charged against him that he was always ready to sacrifice a principle to his party. But that is grossly unfair. The Republican Party, to which he gave unwavering loyalty, was undoubtedly in his mind the Republican Party of the West, the party to which he looked as the champion of the common man in those parts. And no member had been more distrusted and hated by the Old Guard of the East which by ordinary dominated the councils of the Republican Party as a whole. Yet even the Old Guard involuntarily respected him.
His passing leaves no man of equal caliber to take his place. For an aging Norris moves toward retirement, and old Hiram Johnson's hand grows feeble upon the sword.
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