Tag Archives: Nachitoches

Can Racial Reconciliation be achieved by Ignoring or Falsifying History? An Open Letter to the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana regarding “Truth, Honor, and Pride”

I have basically been very happily based in New Orleans, Louisiana, since I arrived here from Maui, Hawaii on December 9 of last year.  You know, there are ups and downs everywhere, but I had missed living in this city ever since I graduated from the Tulane College of Arts & Sciences on May 11, 1980, and have wanted to return here ever since.  I actually did return for several years 1997-2000, but was so wrapped up in my problems in Texas, I was basically bouncing back and forth.  One of the most consistently agreeable aspects of my life in New Orleans has been attending Church at Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles & 6th Street, occasionally visiting at Trinity on Jackson right around the corner from my temporary home on Prytania (since March 8, 2013). One of the things I love most about New Orleans is its history—basically it’s impossible to take a walk, anywhere in this city, and not confront history face-to-face, it’s everywhere.  Basically, even the majority of the historic architecture in French Quarter really dates from the 19th century city, the actual 18th century buildings number in the dozens at the highest possible count.  The Garden District and “Uptown Audubon” mark a progression through the 19th century into the 20th.  St. Charles itself has been hideously scarred with mid-twentieth century cheap apartment buildings which took the place of many blocks of Victorian houses… but to either side of St. Charles, the historically decimating devastation is less.

How few people realize just how deeply New Orleans was shaped by the ante-bellum era and how loyal it was to the Confederate States of America, ESPECIALLY AFTER (ironically enough) the collapse of that nascent Federal Republic in 1865.

It is also undeniably true that the question of race-relations hangs like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the people of New Orleans.  The question comes up all the time, usually in emotional and rarely in analytical terms.

Ever since I heard, at the beginning of September, about an “Ecumenical Mass of Racial Reconciliation” being planned for January 12-21, 2014, I have been reflecting on the question of race and history in this wonderful town, this city where by dint of history black Americans first created a kind of “Jazz Aristocracy” recognized all over the world in the 1920s….

I wrote my initial thoughts on this question in a letter I just completed and delivered on Wednesday to the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and other members of the Clergy at Christ Church and Trinity Church.  

I have been told that in the bad old days of the Civil Rights movement, when the barriers of segregation were first being torn down, they had special “greeters” at Christ Church would take black folks aside and suggest to them that they might be “more comfortable elsewhere.”   The inversion of history is so great, I more than casually wonder whether I’ll now be afforded the same treatment for challenging the modern “politically correct” mythos of race.  

I attach here two versions of my letter to the Bishop and Clergy—only one of which I actually delivered (the October 2, 2013 version in which I reflect on the sinfulness of pride).  

2 October 2013 Letter to Bishop Thompson of Louisiana

1 October 2013 Letter to Bishop Thompson of Louisiana

I owe a great debt to two of my California friends who read over this letter before I delivered it: Shelene Emily Peterson of Belmont and Daniel Christian Mack of San Juan Capistrano.  Shelene keeps my English in line and tries to control my tendency to ramble (obvious with only limited success, although you should see how much she cut out….).  Dan made me realize the error of asserting, oxymoronically, “pride” which is inimical to Christian faith—although it is a critical element of human identity and sanity, it seems to me, that we must love ourselves for what we are.  And our ancestry shapes us, both culturally and genetically, whether we would wish it so or not.

My grandmother Helen’s Birthday—Nachitoches, Louisiana 1899—Del Baul de Mi Abuela

December 2, 2012, my grandmother Helen L. Meyer would have been 113 had she lived. How much I miss my energetic grandmother even after 11 years after she died (May 26 2001), I could never manage to tell you.  My grandmother was my “day-to-day” mother, owing to my birth mother’s ill-health and related problems.   She was a lady of great strength and unfailing love for her husband, her daughter, her sisters, and for me, even if she appeared inflexible and tyrannical to some.  

“Helen” taught me 90% of what I know and think I understand about values such as loyalty and honor and life in general.   Her teaching connected me to the past—the Ancient Greek and Roman Past, the history of our ancestral homelands in southern England, various parts of France and far western Austria, the Colonial Past of Louisiana and the South, the Confederate States of America, “the Old South”, modern (20th Century) U.S. Politics and World Wars I and I.  

She died in her bedroom in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas, in a “modern cathedral style” house which she designed—complete with 16 foot high modern stain-glass windows imported from Czechoslovakia—(before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), a copper-ore (green veined stone) central fireplace and a modern wrought iron fence with Masonic and “Occult” symbols affixed, 21 years after her husband of more than 50 years had died in that same room (February 18, 1980).  To my horror, my mother sold that house and allowed it to be torn down almost immediately after my grandmother died.   I would have kept it as a shrine and monument to my grandparents’ memory but my mother felt otherwise—she once expressed “envy” for Patricia Hearst’s “courage” in joining the Symbionese Liberation Army and rejecting her own conservative parents’ past and beliefs—and of course my mother had all the family’s Dallas lawyers and bankers to help her enforce her wishes.  

My favorite picture of my grandparents was of them walking hand in hand in front of the old Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the “Yellow Brick Brewery” as it was sometimes called.  She was wearing a flowing white dress with a tiara on her always short “boyish bob” hair and my grandfather was in tux and tails beside her—they were in their early 50s, I guess….long before Lincoln Center was built, on one of their “Opera Jaunts” or vacations up north.

A Mexican artist friend of mine (Fernando Marrufo) once wrote a book of which he gave me an autographed copy back at Chichén Itzá once called “Del Baúl de mi Abuela” (“from my grandmother’s treasure chest”).

My grandmother didn’t exactly have a treasure chest but her extraordinary life was exemplified by the content inventory of her bedside dresser table when she died: In one stack, bound by a wide velvet blue band tied in a bow (1) a 1910 copy of the King James Bible, (2) her 1912 confirmation copy of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, (3) her 1908 Latin Grammar, (4) 1904 Caesar’s Gallic War, and (5) 1911 History of the England from her high school days in Louisiana, all bound in beautiful tooled and gold-embossed leather that is hard to imagine being used in any school anywhere today, (6) a box with her 1917 solid gold, engraved, medal of “Hypatia of Alexandria” indicating her status as Valedictorian of her all-girls school in New Orleans, (7) a very old and cracked black leather holster with an antique 7 shot 38 caliber revolver with the words: “Address Sam’l Colt New York US America” engraved on the top of the barrel.  The gun was oiled, loaded and could have been pulled off the top of the bound stack of books easily.   I think it had belonged to both her father (a Louisiana Judge) and grandfather (a Confederate Veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg).

There were several other old books, including a thick two volume 1950s treatise on Physical and Organic chemistry, a copy of the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, two copies of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind“, one of Francis Parkinson Keye’s “Dinner at Antoines” (the only direct reference to New Orleans History in this “treasure chest”) and an abridged one-volume version of Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History, as well as some paperback copies of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s odd philosophical mixture of science and religion.  

But then there was one other notable historical item: (and think what you will because it a strange item for a loving old grandmother to possess, in the minds of  some people I guess).  This was a much worn copy of a book on politics and cultural ideology from the 1920s which she used to quote often to me during my five years of elementary school at J.S. Armstrong in Highland Park, and many times thereafter.  It was a 1933 English translation of a book originally written in German called “My Struggle”.