I Didn't Choose The Michael Jackson Memorial

The totality of my Michael Jackson viewing yesterday consisted of two moments.

Moment #1:
My seeing singer Ginuwine as a commentator on MSNBC... to which I said, "Ginuwine? Really? The "Pony" singing dude from the '90s???" And when Ginuwine called famed journalist and author, Toure, "Courtney", I swear I had a whole-body, "Are you fa-real, homie?" moment of convulsive laughter on the floor. No one whose real name is Elgin Baylor Lumpkin should EVER confuse someone else's name. Good grief.

Moment #2:
Watching the hearse containing Jackson's body traverse the eastbound 134 and southbound 5 & 110 Freeways. I was alternately choked up and jealous. Choked up because of how sad it all was. Jealous because the trip from Forest Lawn took like five minutes since there was no other traffic on the freeway. I truly am a jaded Angeleno if I'm watching a hearse and I can't help but think of traffic. Shame on me.

I know, Michael's memorial was a slice of American history. But, knowing my husband would record all the memorial footage enabled me to choose to attend
another history-based event hosted by the Freedom Trails Project. The project is in Northern Indiana and focuses on getting middle and high school students involved in researching and documenting the area's Underground Railroad movement.

The group, led by local African-American community activist, Brother Sage, engages almost 75 students that are
VOLUNTARILY participating during their summer vacation in the kind of history that gets glossed over in most public schools.

Here's Brother Sage with eighth grader, (yes, an 8th grader interested in history!) Taloni Reese. She participated in the group's recent trip to southwestern Michigan where they visited the oldest African-American church in the state. How old, you ask? The church dates back to 1838 when it was started by free blacks.

Brother Sage also invited journalist and author Gene Stowe to speak to the students about both the craft of writing and his most recent book, Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie's Will. From the book's description:

"In the early twentieth century, two wealthy white sisters, cousins to a North Carolina governor, wrote identical wills that left their substantial homeplace to a black man and his daughter.

Maggie Ross, whose sister Sallie died in 1909, was the richest woman in Union County, North Carolina. Upon Maggie's death in 1920, her will bequeathed her estate to Bob Ross—who had grown up in the sisters' household—and his daughter Mittie Bell Houston. Mittie had also grown up with the well-to-do women, who had shown their affection for her by building a house for her and her husband. This house, along with eight hundred acres, hundreds of dollars in cash, and two of the white family's three gold watches went to Bob Ross and Houston. As soon as the contents of the will became known, more than one hundred of Maggie Ross's scandalized cousins sued to break the will, claiming that its bequest to black people proved that Maggie Ross was mentally incompetent."

As Stowe shared with the students, the book's a story about the South, racism and justice. And it's a story that details the oft-neglected history of the genuine loving relationships that have existed between blacks and whites in this country.

He also asked a fascinating question: "How do you behave in the middle of a society that behaves really badly?" It's a question that's pertinent to the discussion about racism and racial equality in America whether we're talking almost 100 years ago or the present day.

Spoiler alert:
A jury of 12 white men in the SAME county Jesse Helms was born in ended up upholding the will as valid, and the house went to the black folks! Wowzer, you know that must have brought the drama back then. Heck, what am I saying "back then". I'm inclined to think that might bring the drama NOW in 2009!

So you see, if I'd stayed home listening to the endless speculation and commentary on Michael Jackson's life, and getting teary-eyed while Paris Jackson broke down on stage, I would've missed out on Brother Sage, the students, Gene Stowe and his book. I'm glad I made the choice I did.


Anonymous said…
Wow amazing you should have took your nephew whose in 8th grade and goes to school with the little girl pictured with Taloni! It's so sad when I live in this community and never hear about these opportunities for my children.
Cyndee said…
oops I don't know how that came up anoymous and I couldn't fix it once it did - sorry
nick said…
That's a fascinating story about Maggie Ross and the will. As you say, you might even get a similar drama right now, though only someone totally deranged would repeat the idea of mental incompetence. More likely they'd look for some sort of "technical irregularity".
pooneh said…
Living history is always better than watching it -- that's what DVR's are for!

good choice - as always! ;)
Mes Deux Cents said…

Lol@Ginuwine calling toure Courtney.

Actually it's really not that farfetched that Ginuwine would have something to say about MJ, if you look at Ginuwine's old videos and see him dance you'll see that he was directly influenced by MJ.

The Underground Railroad trip sounds nice.

And BTW, have you been to the new Sears Tower (I heard they changed the name but I can't remember to what) glass observation booths? They look scary.
Dena said…
great choice, liz!
Liz Dwyer said…
I had no idea before I got there that they were involving students, but the good thing is that their project is just starting and Brother Sage said they are looking for more student participants so if you want to get your kids involved, there's still time.

Isn't that a cool story? No wonder Gene Stowe decided to write about it. I wonder how many similar stories there are out there.

Yes, thank goodness for DVRs!

It was insanely funny! I can see a little MJ influence in him but I couldn't help but feel MSNBC was really reaching with this one!

I haven't been to the Sears Tower yet. We went last year and I'm not sure if we'll go again this year. The kids liked it but they were a little scared. We'll see.
Liz Dwyer said…
I think so, too. I wasn't exactly sure how it would turn out, but I'm glad I went.
Jen said…
Oh my gosh, it's experiences like this that just... well, I was going to say make me love being a teacher, but it's more than that. What a hero Brother Sage is.

I definitely want to read the book, too.
No sympathy for BW bashing Courtney, er Toure. That's a great story by the way.
Liz Dwyer said…
Brother Sage really is a hero! I think what he does is great. I ordered the book on Amazon today. Can't wait to read it.

What's Toure been up to? Talking smack on Twitter again? Ugh. It is a great story, isn't it?
Kristine said…
I'm glad you did too, because it introduced me to Brother Sage and his work. Thank you.

Kristine - a frequent lurker.
Liz Dwyer said…
Hi there! So glad you delurked and very happy to introduce you to Brother Sage. :)
There have always been people who lived by their own ethics, morals and integrity. What is most sad is that we consider such folks unusual.

I loved hearing about Brother Sage, who is so well-named, and I intend to read Stowe's book about those two independent ladies who were brave enough to create their own family with the people they loved best.
Interesting project, I'm glad to see real history being shown and taught to youth.
I think you made the right decision to follow this moment in history, you can count on CNN to rerun the memorial... again, and again, and again...

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