James Garner, civil rights activist

July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am (Anti-Racism, cinema, civil rights, good people, Jim D, RIP)

This hasn’t been mentioned in any of the obituaries that I’ve read in the UK media … but now I’ve found something about it in the Washington Post.

James Garner with Diahann Carroll at the March on Washington 1963. Now that's a man. RIP

Nice to know he really was a good guy (is that Nina Simone he’s holding hands with?)

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The ethereal Jimmy Scott

June 14, 2014 at 9:01 am (good people, jazz, love, music, posted by JD, RIP, song)

By Felix Contreras at NPR’s A Blog Supreme:

Singer Jimmy Scott died Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Scott’s death was a result of complications from Kallmann’s syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty.

Scott was labeled Little Jimmy Scott by bandleader Lionel Hampton in the late 1940s. Hampton also delivered the first of many professional slights in 1949 when he left Scott’s name off on an early hit, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”

Scott’s career seemed promising after he left Hampton’s orchestra. He recorded for various independent labels and toured with a revue run by dancer Estelle “Caledonia” Young that included R&B singer Big Maybelle and comedian Redd Foxx.

Throughout the early ’50s and ’60s, Scott recorded for various indie labels including Savoy, where he was under the tight control of owner Herman Lubinsky.

According to Scott’s 2002 autobiography, The Life of Jimmy Scott (written with David Ritz), Lubinsky halted production of a 1963 album that was personally supervised by Scott fan Ray Charles for his own Tangerine label. Lubinsky used legal proceedings to halt distribution, claiming Scott was under contract to Savoy. The album was eventually rescued and released in 2003 and has been widely hailed as one of the great jazz vocal albums.

The experience of having his album shelved — not to mention the hardships he experienced being misidentified as a woman, accused of drug addiction and harassed about his sexual identity because of his voice — took a toll and Scott left the music business, moving back to his native Cleveland and becoming a hotel clerk.

Despite his absence, Scott maintained friends and fans in the music business, including legendary R&B producer Doc Pomus, who requested that Scott sing at his 1991 funeral. A record executive in attendance heard the performance and signed him to a record contract on the spot, kick-starting Scott’s second act. This time adulation came rushing in, resulting in a string of albums that received both popular and critical acclaim. He even appeared in the final episode of the singular TV hit Twin Peaks.

For most of his nearly nine decades Scott’s life and art were affected by loss: first his mother’s death when he was 13, then the personal slights and missed opportunities in his fractured career and decades of anonymity away from the record business. In 2000, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.”

And yet in a late-career interview Scott was philosophical about the bad breaks he had caught along the way. “I’ve learned that music is such a healer,” he said. “As long as I could sing my songs, I wasn’t as angry about what had happened, about being shoved back for this or shoved back for the other. I’m a singer, and I never lost sight of that.”

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Maya Angelou: Phenomenal Woman

May 28, 2014 at 6:56 pm (black culture, civil rights, culture, Jackie Mcdonough, literature, poetry, RIP, song, women)

By Maya Angelou 1928–2014

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Share this text …?

From And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou ,1978.

Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

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Fran Broady, 1938-2014

May 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm (AWL, Feminism, good people, history, Marxism, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, trotskyism, women)

I didn’t know Fran Broady, though I’m sure our paths must have crossed once or twice, as we were both members of the I-CL (International-Communist League, forerunner of the AWL) in the mid-1970s. I certainly knew her by repute, and was aware of the respect she seemed to inspire in many comrades. She was one of a number of working class autodidacts who joined the Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist movement in the UK in the 1970s, but are all too rare in the ranks of what passes for the far-left today. Comrades like Fran, and the contribution they made, deserve to be remembered. We republish an appreciation by the AWL’s Martin Thomas, followed by extracts from an article by Fran on Eleanor Marx:

Fran Broady, who was a leading member of our organisation in the 1970s, died on 18 May at the age of 75.

Fran met us in 1970, when we were an opposition tendency in IS (forerunner of, but very much more open than, today’s SWP). The IS/SWP expelled our tendency in December 1971, because of our campaign against the switch of line to “No to the Common Market” from advocating European workers’ unity. Fran chose our small expelled group without hesitation.

I remember a conversation with a student member of another left group in 1972, when we were labouring to get a circulation for our new, small, primitively-produced newspaper.

He liked the paper because it combined activist reporting with more theoretical articles, obviously (he said) by well-read writers. The article he pointed to was one by Fran (“Slaves of the slaves”, Workers’ Fight 11, 23/07/72).

“In the family, the man is the boss and the woman the worker… We have a long struggle ahead of us to establish our rights as human beings. Laws alone will never do that. We will have to do it ourselves…

“It is not enough to confine ourselves to fighting for women’s rights. We must take up our place in the working class and fight on all fronts, the economic, the political, and the ideological”.

Yet Fran’s formal education had been limited. She was working in a factory when she first met us; she later worked in other jobs, including for many years for Manchester City Council in a women’s hostel.

I remember her telling me about her first laborious effort to read the Communist Manifesto. The unfamiliar word “proletarians” was in the first section heading. Fran looked it up in a dictionary: “Someone who owns nothing but their children”.

She quickly educated herself in Marxism. Characteristic, also, was her first excursion to sell a socialist newspaper (Socialist Worker, it would have been). She sold some copies at a factory gate, but had one left as she travelled home. So she buttonholed the bus driver and sold it to him.

She was active in the lively women’s movement of the early 1970s, and part of setting up one of the first women’s refuges in Britain, in Manchester in 1972.

Her leaning was to ebullient polemic rather than subtle tactics. In 1976, this made her part of a dispute inside the women’s fraction of our organisation (then called I-CL), with Fran and Marian Mound regarding the others (Pat Longman, Michelle Ryan, Juliet Ash) as tending to political self-effacement in the name of movement-building, and the others regarding Fran and Marian as abstractly declamatory.

The dispute was transcended (with no dead-end aftermath) by the “transitional slogan” of a working-class-based women’s movement.

Fran’s domestic life was not smooth. Her husband Dave Broady, for whom I wrote an obituary in Solidarity just last month, was an angry, unsettled character.

Eventually Fran drifted out of activity. But her ideas, and her special admiration for Frederick Engels above other Marxist writers, didn’t change. She was active in the union; read our paper; donated money from time to time.

Her last years, after retiring from work, were difficult. Her health was poor: hypothyroidism, diabetes, arthritis. Her son David died suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. Her ex-husband Dave was jailed for manslaughter in 2008, and then died in unclear circumstances. Relations with her daughters Karen and Rachel were not easy.

In January 2014, Fran collapsed at home and was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. At first she mended well: she was interested and pleased when I took her a copy of our new book of cartoons from the US socialist press, 1930s to 1950s. But after the pneumonia was cured, she remained weak and declined towards death.

We send our condolences to Fran’s family and friends, and especially to her daughter Karen who works with AWL in Manchester.

I-CL National Committee, 1975: Fran is second from left at the front (with scarf)

* Karen Broady adds: Fran’s funeral will be on Friday 30 May at Manchester Crematorium, Barlow Moor Road, M21 7GZ at 3.30pm in the New Chapel.

Fran on Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx was born into the workshop and armoury of scientific socialism on the 16 January 1855.

Her father Karl Manx was immersed in the economic research for his great work, Capital. Volume 1 of Capital, which appeared in 1867, was to be decisive in transforming socialism from a moral ideal to a theory based on the most exact analysis of capitalist society and the contradictions driving towards its overthrow.

Meanwhile, the Marx family was plagued by illness and abject poverty. They had been forced into exile in Britain after Karl Marx’s active participation in the German revolution of 1848, and Marx was keeping his family through journalistic work supplemented by help from his friend and comrade, Friedrich Engels.

Eleanor was the Marx’s sixth child. They had already lost two sons and a daughter and were left with three girls, Jenny, Laura and Eleanor.

Eleanor Marx, more notably then either of her sisters, was to grow into a dedicated fighter for socialism. She organised and led the unskilled workers of the East End of London, and was for decades one of the foremost fighters in the British labour movement for the cause of working class socialist internationalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bob Hoskins: working class lad

April 30, 2014 at 10:44 pm (cinema, culture, drama, good people, Jim D, RIP, television, workers)

Bob Hoskins, who died today aged 71, was a great character actor and, in life, one of the good guys. A working class lad, he started his career (accidently and, by his own account, drunkenly) at the left-wing Unity Theatre in 1969. Colleagues who worked with him on one of his last films, Made in Dagenham, (2010) confirm that he was passionate about the film’s main themes of working class women’s rights and trade unionism.

Although he specialised in tough-guys and gangsters, he always managed to convey a sense of vulnerability and even innocence in these roles. – as in the memorable closing scene of his first major film success, The Long Good Friday (1981):

Perhaps his finest role as the tough-with-a heart was as the small-time crook who falls in love with Cathy Tyson’s character in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986):

In fact, reflecting on his work over the years, I find it difficult to decide on a favourite. His role as the Chandleresque private dick in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is a personal favourite, but in the end I’d have to plump for his first major TV role, as the doomed sheet music salesman in Dennis Potter’s masterpiece, Pennies From Heaven (1978):

So long, Bob

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Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: fighter for justice

April 21, 2014 at 10:53 am (good people, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, RIP, sport, United States)

By Will Campbell of the Canadian Press

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former American boxer who became a global champion for the wrongfully convicted after spending almost 20 years in prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit, died at his home in Toronto on Sunday.

He was 76.

His long-time friend and co-accused, John Artis, said Carter died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

“It’s a big loss to those who are in institutions that have been wrongfully convicted,” Artis told The Canadian Press.

“He dedicated the remainder of his life, once we were released from prison, to fighting for the cause.”

Artis quit his job stateside and moved to Toronto to act as Carter’s caregiver after his friend was diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago.

During the final few months, as Carter’s health took a turn for the worse, Artis said the man who was immortalized in a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film came to grips with the fact that he was dying.

“He tried to accomplish as much as he possibly could prior to his passing,” Artis said, noting Carter’s efforts earlier this year to bring about the release of a New York City man incarcerated since 1985 — the year Carter was freed.

“He didn’t express very much about his legacy. That’ll be established for itself through the results of his work. That’s primarily what he was concerned about — his work,” Artis said.

Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform centre at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954, experiencing racial segregation and learning to box while in West Germany.

Carter then committed a series of muggings after returning home, spending four years in various state prisons.

He began his pro boxing career in 1961. He was fairly short for a middleweight, but his aggression and high punch volume made him effective.

Carter’s life changed forever one summer night in 1966, when two white men and a white woman were gunned down in a New Jersey Bar.

Police were searching for what witnesses described as two black men in a white car, and pulled over Carter and Artis a half-hour after the shootings.

Though there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and eyewitnesses at the time of the slayings couldn’t identify them as the killers, Carter was convicted along with Artis. Their convictions were overturned in 1975, but both were found guilty a second time in a retrial a year later.

After 19 years behind bars, Carter was finally freed in 1985 when a federal judge overturned the second set of convictions, citing a racially biased prosecution. Artis was also exonerated after being earlier paroled in 1981.

Carter later moved to Toronto and became the founding executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, which has secured the release of 18 people since 1993.

Win Wahrer, a director with the association, remembers Carter as the “voice and the face” of the group.

“I think it’s because of him that we got the credibility that we did get, largely due to him — he was already a celebrity, people knew who he was,” she said.

“He suffered along with those who were suffering.”

Though Carter left the organization in 2005, the phone never stopped ringing with requests for him, Wahrer said.

“He was an eloquent speaker, a passionate speaker. I remember the first time I ever heard him I knew I was in the presence of a man that could move mountains just by his presence and his words and his passion for what he believed in,” she said.

Carter went on to found another advocacy group, Innocence International.

“He wanted to bring people together. That was his real purpose in life — to get people to understand one another and to work together to make changes,” said Wahrer.

“It was so important for him to make a difference. And I think he did. I think he accomplished what he set out to do.”

Association lawyer James Lockyer, who has known Carter since they were involved in the wrongful conviction case of Guy Paul Morin, remembered how Carter called him just before sitting down with then-president Bill Clinton for a screening of his 1999 biopic “The Hurricane.”

The call was to ask for advice on how to bring the U.S. leader’s attention to the case of a Canadian woman facing execution in Vietnam.

“Even though this was sort of a pinnacle moment of Rubin’s life — to sit at the White House with the president and his wife on either side of him watching a film about him — he wasn’t really thinking about himself,” said Lockyer.

“He was thinking about this poor woman who was sitting on death row in Vietnam that we were trying to save from the firing squad.”

The film about Carter’s life starred Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for playing the boxer turned prisoner.

On Sunday, when told of Carter’s death, Washington said in a statement: “God bless Rubin Carter and his tireless fight to ensure justice for all.”

Carter’s fight continued to the very end.

Never letting up even as his body was wracked with cancer, Carter penned an impassioned letter to a New York paper in February calling for the conviction of a man jailed in 1985 to be reviewed — and reflected on his own mortality in the process.

“If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years,” he wrote.

“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”

— with files from the Associated Press.

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Bill Evans: Spring Is Here

April 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

It’s a wonderful spring day, and I’m thinking of my friend the pianist Bryn Venus who died earlier this month. He loved this kind of music and could play it to a very high standard:


Bill Evans (piano), Scott La Faro (bass), Paul Motion (drums) Dec 1959

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Peaches Geldof on same-sex marriage

April 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm (Civil liberties, gay, good people, Human rights, law, love, posted by JD, RIP)

 

Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:

In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.

Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.

Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.

Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.

Accept and respect

And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.

Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.

What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.

Devastated

His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.

Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.

In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.

A nation of dictating pigs

This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.

I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.  

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Mickey Rooney – as Puck – bows out

April 8, 2014 at 1:50 pm (Champagne Charlie, cinema, film, Guardian, Marxism, RIP)

Thanks to the Guardian (and how often do we say that here?) for reminding us of this remarkable Mickey Rooney performance from 1935:

The Graun even manages to find a Karl Marx connection;

In 1935 the late Mickey Rooney played Puck in Max Reinhardt’s movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critical opinion was mixed – as it was for the audacious casting of James Cagney as Bottom. But, in his indomitable way, Rooney captured the manic mischief of a character who has one of the Bard’s great lines – “Lord, what fools these mortals be” – and who should be taken more seriously than he sometimes is. Shakespeare’s is only the most famous incarnation of one of English folklore’s great creations, “the oldest Old Thing in England” as Kipling’s Puck describes himself. As Puck, the Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow, the laughing sprite is a great subversive, as Karl Marx recognised when he wrote about “our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution”. It’s not often you get Mickey Rooney and Karl Marx in the same sentence, but Puck makes all things possible.

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Bob Crow is dead

March 11, 2014 at 6:08 pm (Jim D, RIP, RMT, stalinism, transport, unions, workers)

RMT general secretary Bob Crow

Shocking news that still hasn’t quite sunk in. The general secretary of the RMT, and probably Britain’s most militant trade union leader, Bob Crow, has died aged just 52. Regular readers will know that some of us at Shiraz have had our criticisms of him (and the RMT regime he presided over) in the past, and it would be hypocritical of us to pretend otherwise now. But we never doubted his commitment to our class and to basic trade union principles.

An RMT comrade writes:

“He was at RMT Women’s Conference on Friday, getting an argument from some of us about women’s under-representation in the union!
 
“I’m sure I will write something balanced and considered in due course, but for the moment, this is just a terrible shock. Whatever arguments and criticisms we’ve had, Bob was one of the best union leaders in the country, if not the best. His vilification by the right-wing media is testament to that.”

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