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07 August 2010

the Towne Crank strikes again! / the Black Jockey Liberation Army strikes again! / black lawn jockeys / sinking Dead Tree Media

Grrrrrr ... something resembling this Letter to the Editor ran in the Gazoo today, but badly butchered and rendered considerably illiterate-sounding. (I am not illiterate.)

The Gazoo (first published September 6, 1786 as a bankers' and landowners propaganda broadside attacking the pissed-off poor farmers and Revolutionary War veterans who were brewing up Shay's Rebellion) has fallen on hard times lately. 


Once, as the newspaper in the middle of the Five College Area (Amherst College, Smith College, University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College), it very cleverly used all this academic brainpower to publish a very smart and interesting little newspaper -- particularly a very brainy op-ed page -- which the whole community took great and well-deserved pride in.

Recently, a big chain, Newspapers of New England, bought it and has crapped it up beyond all recognition. I have a very good and long-experienced nose for a sinking daily newspaper, and this sucker is not long for this world.

Shame! And shame for butchering the Towne Crank's latest Letter to the Editor!

Here's how the beloved Towne Crank wrote it!

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Saturday 7 August 2010

Letters to the Editor
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Northampton, Massachusetts

To the Editor:

Years as Hampshire College's neighbor have convinced me its students, with their vision, passion and very big brains, are a community of authentic hope for a better world.

While it is natural for young people to start small, Austin Miles Gregory ("On lake's shore, a racist icon," 28 July) might have aimed a bit larger than trying to extinct one of the last public lawn jockeys.

The crusader who succeeds, finally, in ending the public display of lawn jockeys is not likely to be commemorated with a postage stamp or honored with a state or national holiday. The death of lawn jockeys might indeed be a net plus for racial understanding and progress ... but a 2-pointer in a pickup hoops game, rather than a glorious grand slam for America's racial World Series.

Lawn jockeys have been the gnats and mosquitos of black-white tolerance and understanding since the great civil rights transformations of the 1960s. In "Uncle Remus" (1974), Frank Zappa saw lawn jockeys as an infuriating irritant of black-white tensions:


I'll ... knock the little jockeys
Off the rich people's lawn ...
I'll be knocking the jockeys off the lawn


Mr. Gregory takes up his crusade 30 years late. Around 1979, the affluent suburbs of Springfield [Massachusetts] and Hartford [Connecticut] were plagued by nighttime disappearances of lawn jockeys, with notes left behind claiming credit by the BJLA, or Black Jockey Liberation Army. A tip led police to the attic bedroom of a white teenager, where they found a single-file platoon of about 25 lawn jockeys. An annoyed judge spared the teen terrorist jail time, putting him on parent-supervised probation; the jockeys were returned to their owners.

Robert Merkin
Chesterfield, Massachusetts


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The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Northampton, Massachusetts USA
Wednesday 28 July 2010
opinion column


On lake's shore,

a racist icon

by Austin Miles Gregory

[photo above]
The presence of a black lawn jockey on the shore of Pine Island Lake in Westhampton [Massachusetts] troubles the author deeply, who writes of it: "The scenery is beautiful. Everything inside me wanted to ignore it, but to preserve an aesthetic in ignorance is to ignore beauty altogether."


The lake houses are beautiful on East Shore Road in Westhampton. Warming in the July sun, the water at Pine Island Lake is surprisingly warm. The secluded private road is home to diverse architecture, evoking an atmosphere of tasteful pigments and natural shades that garnish the foothills of the Berkshires.

Inevitably, beneath the facades, one is bound to encounter the political sentiments behind each hanging flag, behind the July 4th clamor, and behind our present moment in history.

Paddling my canoe for a closer look one day, what I noticed disturbed the summer evening's charm. It was difficult to believe an overtly offensive icon stood in plain view.

A black "lawn jockey," standing dockside, held life jackets. It is difficult to know how long this symbol of slavery has stood here, deaf to recent and historical calls for constitutionality and racial justice.

I need not mention that an estimated 1 to 2 million human beings drowned during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, or that research has found this genocide responsible for altering the migration patterns of sharks. The use of slave labor enabled this country to amass great wealth.

Am I the first to notice? It sure feels like it. Apart from the overwhelming whiteness, things seem normal on the lake. Kids are running around, people are celebrating July 4 while enjoying the seclusion.

The scenery is beautiful. Everything inside me wanted to ignore it, but to preserve an aesthetic in ignorance is to ignore beauty altogether.

Not wanting to stir trouble, I sat considering my actions and measuring my responses. I questioned my feelings of guilt; I questioned why my first move was internalization; should I just keep it to myself? Just how far is the personal from the local?

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. corralled African-Americans facing a state who a century later had brutally privatized freedom.

The great Malcolm X spoke directly to the point - "Doctor King wants the same thing I want - freedom." This is not to comment on the essence of freedom, but merely an observation of what is essential to freedom, that is, today's lack of responsibility in recognizing the historical implications of slavery.

We have yet to transcend this reality.

The census of 2000 indicated that Westhampton was 98.5 percent white, 1.9 percent of which were people under the poverty line. In 2008, the town of Westhampton cast 62 percent of its votes for Barack Obama.

Based on that, it appears that Westhampton has declared itself sensitive to and beyond the confines of racism.

Still, there is this problem of the black lawn jockey.

As Frederick Douglass expressed, "A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it."

In order for us to appreciate our society as noted, our national morals must be in a constant state of reflection and observation; only then will we be able to grow. The battle for freedom is duly described on street signs and middle schools named after civil rights victors. Similarly, nearby Florence is home to a statue commemorating Sojourner Truth. Northampton and Hatfield were both sites of the Underground Railroad carrying slaves to freedom.

These monuments mark the battles against slavery.

We are each personally responsible for maintaining the moral growth of this country, and despite symbols of success, moral stagnancy is present in our community. Description is not enough to truly engage the historical implications of slavery.

We must learn to see these symbols for what they represent, not just in depicting the battle for freedom, but for their moral implications on our nation.

Austin Miles Gregory, a native of Florence, attended Northampton High School and Holyoke Community College and is in his final year at Hampshire College.

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