1889, a concept album, pt. 2

here it is, folks. just in time to miss the grammys, i bring you the final installment of a project i never anticipated finishing. i’d like to thank taylor swift, for naming her album after a date, and, thus, rendering it so open for historical parody. i would also like to thank the special friends who have encouraged this since the beginning, when it was only the seed of a joke about an idea i secretly hoped would flourish. and i’d like to thank you, dear readers, for putting up with this madness. i promise it will all be over soon.

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***

when i left you last, ida b. wells was shake-shake-shaking off a whole load of racism and sexism to become one of the leading voices of the early civil rights movement. we pick up now with a look back at how the very lynch mobs wells disparaged were born in a cauldron of civil war, emancipation, and reconstruction.

track 8 – bad blood, ft. [not] kendrick lamar

it was not immediately apparent that i would have to change any of the lyrics to fit the regional strife of post-reconstruction america. for all intents and purposes, i could have left the words alone, and they still would have spoken for the times. however! that was not in the spirit of this project, so you will happily notice that i altered a thing or two. i tried my best to preserve kendrick lamar’s rhythm, but i am not a rapper. forgive me. i may have flown too close to the sun.

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baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

now we got problems
and civil war didn’t solve them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

we can’t take it back, look where we’re at
land of the free, we were to be, remember that?
we moved ahead progressively; you held us back
we went to war, brought out the corps, fought what we deplore
we don’t hate you, but we have to critique and berate you
the hearts of the freedmen used their votes to replace you
it’ll take time to erase you
racism beware, hate breeds that disrepair
moving on, you should have let love clear the air

oh, it’s so sad to think about the good times
you and i

baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

now we got problems
reconstruction won’t solve them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

remember when you tried to keep your slaves?
remember when you thought you’d misbehave?
don’t you remember?
you thought that I would need ya, give in to pressure, remember?
oh, no we fought for freedom
it was a season of battle wounds, battle scars, cannon balls, bruised, stabbed in the back
brimstone fire jumping through
still in the end we won the battlefield
and you gotta live with the bad blood now

oh, it’s so sad to think about the good times
you and i

baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

now we got problems
and we still haven’t solved them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood
(hey)

track 9 – wildest dreams

when i decided on the subject of this track, i’ll be honest, i barely knew nellie bly’s story. i knew she traveled around the world in 1889, and i thought that expedition mindset would go well with the random safari setting of the music video. what i learned about nellie bly: she was a journalist who was sick of writing about fashion and “ladies” things, so she took on incredible stories. she reported on a dictator in mexico. she got herself institutionalized so she could report on mistreatment of mental patients from the inside. she traveled around the world alone in 72 days. talk about wildest dreams. i’m gonna guess she lived hers.

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i said: i’ll get out of this town
head into the city
where a story can be found
i thought: heaven can’t help me now
i’m just a newswoman
but this is gonna take me down
it’s so cold, this place is like hell
food’s so bad, and it’s dark in my cell
i can see the end as it begins
my one condition is…

say you’ll remember me
as a brave reporter, and a truth crusader, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

i said: i want to travel on my own
i’ll go around the world, and do it all alone
pulitzer gave me the green light: nellie, you’re amazing
and this is getting good now
i’ll ride trains and send telegraphs
readers can follow me on their maps
and when i reach the final home stretch
that record’s mine at last

say you’ll remember me
in a sensible dress, sailing in the sunset, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

ten days in a mad house
i never had one doubt
got it done
and when i left blackwell
my written memoirs helped raise funds

told me to write fashion
that wasn’t my passion
burn it down
just cos i’m a lady
i shouldn’t have to
dream of gowns

say you’ll remember me
as a brave reporter, and a truth crusader, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

say you’ll remember me
in a sensible dress, sailing in the sunset, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously le, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

track 10 – how you [save] the girl

jane addams founded hull house in 1889 with her buddy ellen gates starr. this was an era of the “new woman” that addams and starr hoped to promote. the idea was that, as we so proudly state today, “the future is female.” a better, more empathetic society was going to come on the wings of women, and the best way to do that was through solidarity. hull house promoted growth in the community by housing educated women and putting them to work, by supporting working class women and immigrants, and by providing classes and childcare.

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stand there like a ghost
shaking from the rain, rain
i’ll open up the door
and say, are you insane, -ane?

say it’s been a long six months
and you were exploited and worked until you broke down

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl

and then I’ll say
we’ll help you turn worse into better
learn a new skill, show them you’re clever
child care, we’ll tackle this together
push for reforms, it’s now or never

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl, girl, oh
and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the world, world

you know we have civic duties
we could go far if we could just speak
tell them that we hadn’t lost our minds
when we started up a house that would serve womankind

and that’s how it works
that’s how i’ll save the world

and now you say
playgrounds, housing, what could be better?
peace and kindness unto one another
we worked hard, to pull it all together
hull house always strives to empower

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl, girl, oh
and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the world, world, yeah

track 13 – clean

in the late 19th century, richard henry pratt coined the phrase “kill the indian…and save the man.” pratt was the founder of the carlisle school in pennsylvania, which strove to assimilate native people into white american culture. children were taken from their families on reservations and brought to boarding schools where their hair was cut and their clothes were exchanged for western fashions. they were forbidden to speak their native language, and when they were returned to their families, they no longer belonged. activist zitkala-sa (red bird) was a souix woman who was educated in an indian school in the late 1880s and used her english education to promote native rights. 

zitkala-sa

the drought was the very worst
when the mem’ries that i had of home, they died of thirst
it was months and months of loneliness
my culture has become like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

hung my head as I lost the war
and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

rain came pouring down as i was crying
because they cut off my hair
and by morning gone was any trace of home
they said i was finally clean

there was nothing left to do
when they threw me into the dust that covered my whole room
and said to speak my language was taboo
english words carry away all the legends i knew

the silence filled my lungs, i fought so hard but no one rescued me

books were my escape when i was drowning
reading helped me learn to breathe
and by morning, i knew i could rise above
pratt can’t kill the red bird in me

stories were my rope when i was sinking
writing helped me connect the dots
and by morning, i knew i could rise above
pratt can’t kill the red bird in me

***

when i began this project, i had no idea that 1889 was such an action-packed year. where i expected a dearth of subject matter, i found i had too many ideas to feasibly put on paper. even now, i wonder about the tracks i neglected to parody. could i do something on andrew carnegie’s gospel of wealth? what about huckleberry finn? perhaps, this is not the final installment, after all…

all i know is that i am exhausted, but i learned some really cool stuff, and i hope you did, too. thanks for listening–errr….reading.

10 Articles for Tense Times

Today was complicated. What began as a march for women in the capitol of the United States turned into a worldwide show of solidarity. Judging by pictures, hundreds of thousands–probably even millions–of people walked for justice, their heads, fists, and handmade signs held high. I was not one of those millions of women. I was one of the other [probably] millions of women with a weird work schedule that includes Saturdays. Despite having spent the last eight years studying and teaching women’s history and devoting my life to growing as a feminist, I was that boring, invisible person in my office. And I’m being such a John Adams about the whole thing.

(Nerd alert: in 1807, Adams wrote a scathing review of Mercy Warren’s history of the American Revolution, mostly because he wasn’t included. “I ought to have been considered as a figure on the stage,” he whined. “Call it the figure of a doorkeeper, a livery servant, a dancer, a singer, or a harlequin, if you will; but I ought not to have been shoved off the theater and kept behind a screen…” In other words: the lack of me legitimizes the entire operation; screw you.)

What blossomed across the globe is truly a beautiful thing, and it should be celebrated. But I wasn’t a part of it, so every single atom in my body is pushing me to disparage it. I will be honest. The ugly, green monster in my head wants to call it performative, glib, and empty. This is a lie, and saying such things does not make me feel any better. Who even am I? What kind of feminist tears down the productive compassion and empathy of millions of other feminists?

A bad one…

Or maybe just a jealous one.

Forgive me.

Like I said: today was complicated.

I know I can be better.

The purpose of this post is to find my own productive way to reach out to other women by focusing on what I can do, rather than griping about what I couldn’t. So, I’m sharing some stories from history that inspire me. These ten articles for tense times are presented in the form of links to Wikipedia articles and brief summaries to pique your interest. Read one, or none, or all–it’s up to you. I only hope this can serve as an olive branch, extended in apology for my absence and with the hope that I, too, can be a part of the many, the visible, and empowered.

Deborah Sampson Gannett was the first woman to take a bullet for the United States. Sampson joined the Continental Army under the name Robert Shirtliffe, and served for about a year and a half before an illness revealed her gender. She was honorably discharged in 1783. Later, she turned her experience into an autobiography and a speaking tour, revealing how she had kept her secret, and even that, to her embarrassment, she had unintentionally seduced a young woman! Petitioning Congress with the help of Paul Revere, she became the first woman to be awarded a U.S. army pension.

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New Jersey Gazette, January 20, 1784

Mercy Otis Warren, the daughter, sister, wife, and friend of Revolutionary patriots, was was a foremost patriot herself. Her writing career began as private letters to her friends and confidants, but quickly developed into the public expression of her politics. She wrote satirical poems and lampooning dramas, and her discerning eye was well trained for documenting history. In some of the most badass advice of the 18th century, Warren told a young woman: “My dear, it may be necessary for you to seem inferior, but you need not be so.” She had no time for the haters. When John Adams claimed her presumption in writing history made him “blush,” she shot back: “As you seem to be in a blushing mood,…I advise you to add one more item, and blush for yourself.” In other words: screw you.

Mercy_Otis_Warren

Lucy Stone, aka my hero, muse, and overall queen of the earth, graduated from Oberlin College in 1847. She attend the college in the hopes of becoming an orator. Oberlin frowned on this career choice, so she spent her time there blatantly breaking all the rules. She didn’t wear a bonnet in church. She started a secret debate women’s debate club in the woods. She fought for equal pay for female student teachers. When her soon-to-be best friend and kindred spirit, Antoinette Brown, was just starting at Oberlin, a college Trustee warned her against Lucy Stone, who he said was “a bright girl, but eccentric, and far too talkative on the subject of women’s rights.” After graduation, she was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. She was a founding member of the American Women’s Suffrage League, refused to pay her taxes, and famously kept her name after marrying fellow feminist Henry Blackwell.

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Ain’t I A Woman? is the commonly-used name of a speech given by Sojourner Truth, a former slave, at the 1851 Akron Women’s Rights Convention. It was an early call in uniting the disparate threads of abolition and women’s suffrage into an unstoppable tornado of human progress. (This, as you well know, has not been easily achieved.) There were two recorded versions of the speech–one by a man and well-known abolitionist, who published the speech in the Anti-Slavery Bugle. It is written in plain English, and does not include the famously repeated question. The second transcription was published during the Civil War, by Frances Dana Gage. This version distorts Truth’s famously well-spoken English into a Southern dialect and includes commentary on the reactions of the crowd. Gage’s version is the one most often referenced by historians and “quotographers,” but we may never discover a pure, unadultered copy of Truth’s words.

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Nellie Bly‘s real name was Elizabeth Cochran[e] Seaman. She is best known as a pioneering American journalist, who would do anything–even put her life on the line–to get at a good story. At the beginning of her career, her editors expected her to write about fashion, which she disdained. So, at 21, she traveled to Mexico on her own to become a foreign correspondent. She was deported back to the U.S. after criticizing Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, and moved to New York for more daring investigations. In 1887, she famously had herself committed into an insane asylum so that she could expose the poor treatment of the female patients. She traveled around the world (literally), started charities, and even patented special milk containers. It may, at this point, be easier just to list the things she didn’t do: go skydiving, use the Internet. There. That was easy.

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Hull House was founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and her college friend (and lover) Ellen Gates Starr in a run down Chicago neighborhood on the west side. This was the age of the so-called “New Woman,” who sought to weave the role of her mother seamlessly into the tapestry of a new and exciting world. The compassion, care, and empathy inherent to Addams’ notions of womanhood were intrinsic to the mission of Hull House. Her philosophy forged new civic responsibilities for women, and deepened the bond of sisterhood between educated and working-class women in the community. Addams was also an outspoken advocate for peace, even during World War I, making her the target of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover even went so far as to characterize her as “the most dangerous woman in America.” Talk about radical!

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Ida B. Wells is just amazing. She was a teacher turned activist, who wouldn’t stand for the injustices of the world. As a teacher, she experienced the double burden of racism and sexism–paid less than men and also less than white women.  She was proud of her femininity and called men “weak, deceitful creatures.” She was proud of her race, and, when she was asked to leave a ladies train car on account of her skin, she had to be forcibly removed by the conductor and two other men. When her friends were murdered in the streets on the basis of hearsay, Wells refused to be silent, instead becoming a prominent voice in the crusade to end lynch mobs. She was also an outspoken suffragette who was not afraid to call white women out when they tried to relegate her to a lesser role. Truly, it is hard to imagine a woman with more energy and fire than Ida B. Wells.

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Selection from “Ida B. Wells” by Kate Beaton

The New York Shirtwaist Strike began in November 1909 and lasted roughly until February 1910. It is also known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” because that’s how many women walked off the job. Most of the strikers were Jewish immigrants in the garment industry, already poverty-stricken, but willing to give up bread for the promise of a better tomorrow. They were beaten, arrested, and sentenced to hard labor. They starved and froze on the streets while facing ridicule, but they never gave up, eventually winning better wages, hours, and working conditions. The movement serves as an example of the necessity of intersectionality in feminism, resting at the crux of working-class socialism and women’s suffrage.

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Zitkala-Sa, known also as Gertrude Simmons Bonin, was a Native American author and activist. When she was eight years old, missionaries took her from her home and placed her in a boarding school in Indiana, the purpose of which was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In her striking piece, Diaries of an Indian Girl, Zitkala-Sa writes about the heart-wrenching experience of having her heritage and culture–her entire sense of belonging–literally torn from her body. She loved to read and play the violin and continued her education into college. Her writing career focused on both Native American culture and politics.

zitkala-sa

Black feminism is a movement that arose in the late 20th century and established the concept of intersectionality. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men but Some of Us are Brave is the title of a 1982 black feminist anthology, emphasizing the singular position of black women as both intrinsic to and, yet, ignored by modern civil rights movements. The idea, that womanhood and race belong, not to a single experience, but to a multitude of unique individual experiences that inform and reinforce each other, has expanded over generations. Scholars like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Kimberle Williams Crenshaw have been important pioneers in this movement.

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To conclude, dear ones, I say…to those who marched and those who could not…thank you. Thank you for putting up with me, for being my friends. Thank you for refusing to remain silent, today and all the days you raise your voice. Thank you for being kind and simply for existing in this often difficult world. You are like a lighthouse in a storm, and you will bring us safely home.

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1889, a concept album, pt. 1

(author’s note: compiling the work presented here has been a labor of love, in which the labor often overpowered the love. it is the author’s sincerest hope that this work be met favorably by its audience as a snippet of a life long past [or so we believe]. for the reader’s convenience, the author has provided links to the original musical numbers)

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track 1 – welcome to new york

nyc

the inaugural track opens optimistically, with all the crescendo of a sunrise in G major, as our heroine finds herself newly awash in buzz of new york city. like many young, ambitious folks from the midwest, she has moved to the city to escape the “fret, fret and work” of a rural existence. a new life beckons…

welcome to new york
horace greeley’s seething
welcome to new york welcome to new york
welcome to new york
you just had to move east
welcome to new york welcome to new york

she is filled with hope as she places her scant possessions around her small room in the boarding house, tucking her farm girl heart safely in a drawer. a new dance hall has just opened down the street, where there lurk more eligible young bachelors than exist in her entire county back home. only, it’s not the rhythm of the band that makes the new soundtrack of her life, but the clicktey-clack of hundreds of sewing machines in close quarters as she dreams of a job in a department store.

welcome to new york
here’s your sewing machine
welcome to new york welcome to new york
welcome to new york
nothing here’s for free
welcome to new york welcome to new york

city life is an adventure she’s never experienced before. independence fills her veins like the heat of a new love. for a brief moment, she wonders if she has become a character in a hamlin garland story. would her parents, with their “true rural minds,” recognize her now? how quickly would her own hands reacclimate to the mud and hay? she realizes now the fortune of her escape to the city. she is a new woman, and there isn’t anything (anything, anything) she would change…

track 2 – blank space

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the eerie, dripping beats that introduce this track lead the inquisitive listener straight into the halls of women’s suffrage. the modest home of an aging spinster sets the stage, as young women file through the door, white sashes draped neatly over their shoulders. a newcomer hesitates at the approach, when, suddenly, a hunched figure appears before her, dressed in a pair of old-fashioned bloomers. a wrinkled hand extends…

nice to meet you, i’m susan
i could show you incredible things
marching to demand our rights
saw you there and i thought
“oh, my god, look at that girl!
she looks like she’ll change the world!”
suffrage now! wanna join?

the newcomer steps inside the house and is astounded by the women that surround her. they are nothing like the papers say–ugly, barren, nasty women–rose gardens full of thorns. they speak with an assuredness and clarity she was never taught in college. the flourish of passion marks their words with a sense of urgency. they have exchanged the cherry lips and big bouquets of false femininity for pure enlightenment.

raised voices, coats and signs
we won’t tolerate this tyranny
ain’t it funny, rumors fly
they say we’ve embraced insanity

but if that’s all they’ve got
i’m sure i’ll see my first ballot
grab those pamphlets and my hand
we can make the bad guys good if we take a stand

quickly, our newcomer is inducted into the movement and learns the faces of true bravery and perseverance. state by state, the other women are hopeful, they will have their victories. despite the curse of defeat and the threat of arrest, they are confident: small actions make great ripples…

sure, this could take forever
you may lose your good name
you can tell us when it’s over
if the vote was worth the pain
got a long list of opponents
they’ll tell you we’re insane
’cause you know we ride bicycles
and we fight for change

boys listen to your woes like it’s torture, the more experienced crusaders repeat time and time again. it is no longer enough to rely on men to vote for women, like that ever worked in the first place. (they point to congress banning abolitionist women’s petitions, decades before the younger women were born.) this struggle has lasted through generations of beaten wives and broken widows. it is up to the next generation to fulfill this country’s promise of no taxation without representation.

’cause we’re old and we need you
you’ll take up our banner

it will leave you breathless
and full of new vigor
got a long list of opponents
they’ll tell you we’re insane
but hist’ry’s got a blank space, baby,
and you’ll write your name.

track 3 – style

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the sounds of a calm beach float delicately towards the consciousness as a young woman dreams peacefully of a recent vacation on the coast. the drifting quiet of the water is slowly replaced by an urgent drumming beat, as she awakens from her reverie with a start.

midnight
i open my wardrobe and start to cry
long skirts
won’t help me ride out on my bicycle
harper’s bazaar, oh, help me keep up with these changing fashion tides (fashion tides)

she flips through the magazine with increased anxiety. everything she owns is suddenly wrong–even her fluffy bangs have been replaced by hairstyles so loose and free. in the dramatic montage that follows, our heroine proceeds to ready herself to step out with her beaux, who, unbeknownst to her, is anxiously reshaping is mustache.

he’s like an outdoors sportsman modern Don Juan
and i’ve got that big hair, big hat thing goin’ on
and when we both step outside, everyone will agree
we’ve entered the gay nineties
we’ve entered the gay nineties

he’s got that cropped hair, mustache, four-in-hand tie
and i’ve got those big sleeves, corset hips that don’t lie
and when we both step outside, everyone will agree
we’ve entered the gay nineties
we’ve entered the gay nineties

the pair walk arm in arm as he escorts her straight home after the dance. however, the music suggests that her dark mood hasn’t dissipated, and he asks if something is weighing on her mind. she drops his arm and looks away. she does not speak until…

so it goes
my hem’s been raised; my skirts don’t graze the road
walks me home
lights are on; i notice his waistcoat
i say: i heard, oh, that you’ve been out and about with some gibson girl (some gibson girl)
he says: what you’ve heard is true, but, hon, that gibson girl is you
and i said: well, we all change our clothes with the times

and with that clarification, the chorus of the tune returns to lift the mood. it’s hard to imagine such fashionable love ever going out of style.

track 6 – shake it off

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Ida B. Wells (courtesy of University of Chicago Library)

a bright, bouncy beat soars through the final track on the first half of this musical journey through an era. don’t let the tune fool you. as ida b. wells boldly takes the stage, she assumes a strong stance with her hands on her hips and her feet planted squarely on the floor. her eyes burn bright as she sings truth…

my pigment is my “shame”
so i can’t ride this train

that’s what people say (mhm)
that’s what people say
my articles are wrong
so i can’t keep my job
at least that’s what people say (mhm)
that’s what people say

these are no lies. having been forcibly removed from a train car and fired for speaking her mind, ida b. wells may well have shrunk back into the safety of silence, but there is no time for a listener to contemplate this potential life, as ida sings on…

but i keep writing
can’t stop, won’t stop fighting

it’s like i’ve got this fire in my mind
saying, ida, you do what’s right

as she so eloquently puts it, no matter what she does, the racists will hate (hate, hate, hate, hate). the women on the suffrage line will continue to play (play, play, play, play) around the issues facing their colored sisters. weak men only fake (fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake) a communion of ideals, but ida’s stronger than all that.

i never miss a beat,
investigating on the street
people can’t seem to see (oh no)
what they don’t want to see
i’m crusading on my own
this movement’s only gonna grow
and that’s what they don’t know (oh no)
that’s what they don’t know

her friends are murdered on the street by an angry mob. her safety is continually threatened. with nerves of steel, she confronts the storm with power and grace.

cause the racists gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
and the women gonna play, play, play, play, play
baby, i’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
i shake it off, i shake it off
weak men are gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
but this storm is gonna break, break, break, break, break
baby, i’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
i shake it off, i shake it off

(author’s note: thank you for indulging this odd obsession. with luck, the next installation of this exhausting project will include a mystical melody about nellie bly’s global trek, a little ditty about andrew carnegie, and a musical tribute to jane addams. stay tuned!)

life, plus cat

most of you know that i took in a little cat two months ago. he had been left in the woods during (at that point) the coldest days of autumn, and he didn’t even have claws on his feet to help catch a live meal. i was having one of the worst months of my life, and so my impulse control was arguably quite weak when my co-worker went outside, caught him, and brought him inside to cheer me up.

a proud introvert, i found myself adopting an extroverted kitty against my better judgment. the shards of ice that encapsulate my post-adolescent heart began to melt away, rather inconveniently, until (in a matter of a few short hours) i was completely and utterly in love.

below are some vignettes illustrating how my life has changed since taking in this nameless, cuddly ball of fur. it hasn’t all been easy, but one look at that face (and i’ve provided plenty) should tell you i wouldn’t trade it for the world.

eating dinner: i’ll just set this down to cool while i queue up the next episode on netflix and get a glass of water.
eating dinner, plus cat: i’ll just set this down to–oh my god! stop! don’t you dare! hey! hey! i’m watching you…hey!

cat

typing emails: dear best friend, i hope you’re well. your travel pictures on facebook look amazing. you are the coolest. let’s get together soon. love, jen.
typing emails, plus cat: dear best friend, i hope you’re htaou paur98 329q[aopd hiuirapta89eapufpdldgapwt ao jgjh$&(Q*9-&*(!(&_                               ;

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reading a book: “i glanced seaward–and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. when i looked once more for gatsby he had vanished, and i was alone again in the unquiet darkness”
reading a book, plus cat: “i glanced seaward–and distinguished no–” BUTT.

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leaving for work: *closes door*
leaving for work, plus cat: bye, my sweet prince. oh, yes, i’ll miss you, too. don’t worry, mr. snugglemuffins, i’ll be home soon. i put food in your bowl and refilled your water. oh, you are just perfect. how can i leave that adorable face of yours? okay, one more pat. one more. one…one more. one more. okay, last one. just kidding, one more. oh, crap, i’m late…

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shopping: ugh, why is everything so expensive? put the chocolate back, jen. no treats for you.
shopping, plus cat: NO EXPENSE SHALL BE SPARED FOR MY FURRY FRIEND.

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selfies: man, my hair looks good today. *click*
selfies, plus cat: *head butts* *drops phone* ugh, what’s the point.

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hanging out: omg, this night is amazing! i can’t believe it’s only 3am! can i sleep over and drive home tomorrow afternoon?
hanging out, plus cat: omg, i hope he’s okay. *drives home at 5pm at 80mph*

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dress up: i look so pretty in this vintage dress i found! i can’t wait to take a ton of pictures!
dress up, plus cat: (see below)

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small-talk: uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…f-fair weather we’ve been having, eh?
small-talk, plus cat: …and here he is peeking out of a shopping bag, and here’s a picture of how he likes to cuddle like a human, and–oh!–look at him hiding in a box…

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waking up: *snooze* *snooze* *snooze* *shower*
waking up, plus cat: MEW MEOW MROW MEOW MEW MROW *sits on face*

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loneliness: dude, this sucks…
loneliness, plus cat:

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water, a timeline

~11,000 B.C.E.: an infant glacial river is formed. The river proves an invaluable source of life for the people who settle on its banks, as well as the game they hunt.

1650s: at the height of the fur trade, Iroquois hunters push west, bringing “fire and war” to their Algonquin neighbors. They call the river “Cuyahoga,” meaning crooked; they call the territory “Ohio,” meaning beautiful.

1795: the Treaty of Greenville is signed, ending the war between the Western Confederacy of native peoples and Anglo-American settlers. For a brief period, the Cuyahoga River stands as the western border of the United States.

1796: Moses Cleaveland and a team of 50-odd workers dock their boats on the eastern bank of the Cuyahoga River to begin exploring what they call “New Connecticut.” He reports that the water is clear, and the land is excellent. With the completion of a 10-acre Public Square, a city is established that will become a capital of transportation and industry. They call their city “Cleveland,” for their leader.

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1860s: industry, like the people who call the city home, is booming. Population in Cleveland increases 150%. Businesses, like Standard Oil, Sherwin Williams, and Public Steel, blossom on the banks of the Cuyahoga.

1868: the first fire is reported on the Cuyahoga River. The volume of oil in the water is so dense that steamboat captains are moved to caution as they shovel coals.

1881: the Cuyahoga River is considered “an open sewer through the center of the city.” The river is no longer treated as a source of life; it is valued only for its economic potential.

1912: a spark from a tugboat catches an oil spill from a leaking cargo ship, igniting a devastating series of explosions and killing five. Noxious gasses and foul-tasting waters are seen as mere side-effects of progress. All environmental regulations are ignored.

1936: the Cuyahoga river burns for five days straight.

1952: oil leaking from Standard Oil creates a two-inch thick oil slick, spanning the width of the river. On November 1, a fire begins in the Great Lakes Towing Company shipyard that causes over $1 million in damages.

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1969: “Some river!” declares TIME Magazine after the polluted Cuyahoga ignites for the last time. “Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows.” There is no visible life in the waters near the city, not even leeches and worms. “What a terrible reflection on our city,” mourns Mayor Carl Stokes, as Cleveland citizens tell a joke with a grim punchline: “Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown. He decays.”

1971: as Cleveland celebrates its 175th anniversary with a reenactment at Settler’s Landing, 20 people from the Cleveland American Indian Center attend to the event. As the boat crew tries to disembark, the group blocks their passage with an organized picket line. Citing over a century of destruction enacted on the banks of this very river, they propose that all the money spent on the celebration be reallocated to rescue the Cuyahoga from the perils of progress. “We might be 175 years late,” calls their leader, Russell Means, as a gussied-up Moses Cleaveland stands at the railing of the boat, “but we’re imposing an immigration law. Go back.”

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The story of the Cuyahoga River joins us in 2016 in the midst of rebirth and restoration, thanks to federally funded environmental protections and decades of hard work. It would be easy today to walk along its banks, whether surrounded by reclaimed forestland or riverside bars, and think our work is done…but history is never a closed book, and we are always in danger of repeating it. How many of us read The Lorax as children, but grow up to be the Onceler?

I am thinking, now, of the Dakota-Access Pipeline, and wondering when we will stop treating cancer and poisonings, oil spills and wildlife extirpation as the unlucky results of progress when they are, in fact, warning signs that we are killing ourselves with greed. I am thinking, now, of the brave native people at Standing Rock who have not allowed dogs or pepper spray or fire hoses to intimidate them into submission.

In Ohio, we grow up sheltered from the oppression and poverty of native people in our country, but it is a mistake to portray American Indians as relics of the past. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and friends. Despite over 500 years of violence and cultural suppression, the first people of this land remain proud and stand their ground. The same goes for our environment–the first and best source of life. A clear stream may flow from our sinks today, but that doesn’t mean our health is secure tomorrow. Fish may have returned to the Cuyahoga River, but it is wrong to believe our fight ends here.

This Thanksgiving, I urge you to read up on the Dakota Access Pipeline and consider the story of the Cuyahoga River, a beautiful, life-giving waterway with soft, round curves throughout its 100-mile journey to Lake Erie. We choked it nearly to death with oil and waste and allowed the plague of human industry to spread into the Lake. That was almost 50 years ago, but we cannot grow complacent as the struggle continues elsewhere.

There are people on this very day who are standing in the freezing cold, standing up to a longtime bully that has tried to strip them of their dignity for centuries. Cleveland, perhaps more than anywhere else, should know the value of our rivers. Cleveland, perhaps more than anywhere else, should understand that, though our environment is the first victim of unchecked progress, we are the second. Water is life, plain and simple, and history is a dire warning to do better or perish. This Thanksgiving, I stand with Standing Rock, and I hope you will, too.

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It is Tuesday, November 8th, and I wake up at 5am like it’s Christmas. I won’t have a sip of coffee for another two and a half hours, but my mind is already buzzing. I put on some of my best clothes, an outfit that has been ready for this day almost as long as I have. A purple sweater–“the color of loyalty, constancy of purpose, and unswerving steadfastness to a cause”–drapes gently (perfectly) over a white blouse–“the emblem of purity, symbolizing the quality of our purpose.” The feeling of equal rights is in the air, and I am breathing deep.

I pull into the parking lot in the dark. Dawn has yet to beak over the eastern horizon, and there are still thirty minutes before the doors will open, but I get out of my car and wait outside. I am first in line at my polling place, and, though my breath hangs visible on the morning air, and the cold sinks deep into my bones, my spirit remains untouched. Democracy has never let me down. (I realize now this means I am lucky.)

My ballot number is 0002. Some old woman who lives in the building cut in front of me, and I let her, because I am not giving karma any fodder today. It takes me longer to vote than I expected. What if I forget how to read? I worry. What if my eyes get crossed and my markings are all shifted? What if I am overpowered by a brief and sudden urge to self-destruct? Working slowly, I use my finger to help me find the right bubble, and I fill it in until I think the paper might tear. Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton. I feed my paper to the scanner, and I wonder if the machine knows how much this matters to me. It beeps and boops and lights up unfazed.  I think of the men in my life, and I wonder if they know.

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Everyone at work was nervous, and, for maybe the first time in my entire life, I am not. As I settle in and prepare for a long night of election coverage, Donald Trump is already winning. I ignore Google’s 30-second updates and instead practice the face I will make when Hillary Clinton finishes the final stretch victorious. My friends begin to doubt, but my heart beats steadily on. I turn to jokes and inspiring quotes when times get tough, because I am sure I am only moments away from true and unparalleled elation. I look up and post pictures of Hillary Clinton in college to lift my spirits. I listen to her commencement speech on endless loop. Her voice rings out clear–unpracticed, but true: “Fear is always with us. We just don’t have time for it. Not now.” My heart swells with pride, and I realize in these moments that I love her. I love her for her nerd glasses and her intelligence. I love her for her courage and unwavering dedication. I love her, also, for those moments when society let her down–when the world required her to ditch those glasses and her last name, when she had to brush her hair and talk about furniture before anyone would listen to her ideas. I realize in these moments that I would fight for her–kicking, scratching, screaming–like I would fight for myself. I realize that, for me, there is no distinction now between her dreams and my own. There can be no other outcome. She. Will. Win.

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It is Wednesday, November 9th, and I wake up at 5am like I do sometimes when my mind is a broken record of dis-ease. It has been only three hours since sleep took me away from disbelief against my will; yet, already, my newsfeed is ablaze. Already, I see men writing that this would never have happened if Bernie Sanders had won the nomination. I am tired, and what I hear, instead, is that this never would have happened if Hillary Clinton had been a man. I still have not successfully divorced her defeat from my own, and the fact that I started my period only deepens the disconnection I feel between myself and my male friends in this moment. It has only been three hours, but some of these friends are already picking candidates for 2020, as if this mind-numbing, blood-chilling outcome were so easily put behind us. Most of the women in my life are deadly silent.

What my friends don’t know is that, while they put her loss behind them, I am still wondering if Hillary Clinton is okay. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I need to know. Did she sleep? Did she cry? Will this always be the fate of strong women who dare to dream beyond their prescribed destinies? For a brief moment, I am reassured by an image of her, taking herself out for cannoli in big, purple sunglasses and a heavy scarf to disguise her all-too-recognizable face. “It’s okay, girl,” I tell Imaginary Hillary Clinton as she wonders whether or not she deserves the sweet treat. “You’ve earned it.”

The week moves on, but I do not. For two days straight, I am at work and offline until almost 10pm. As my friends type out their reactions, analyses, and predictions for the future, I try to come to terms with the election while learning the symptoms of child abuse. Between worrying about event attendance and laminating things like my life depends on it, I must reconcile what I know society thinks of me (young–lazy, female–emotional) with what I know to be true (young–energetic, female–driven). Hillary Clinton concedes as I am held hostage by the responsibilities of employment. I must set aside my heartache, keep my eyes off my phone. I chide myself for being selfish. It is the only way I can survive.

I learn how to start a fire with flint and steel, and I feel my spirits lifting with each strike of stone on metal. Flint is a beautiful, natural stone, ranging in color from rosy pink to obsidian. It is an entity sturdy enough to withstand time, hard enough to carve steel. When broken, flint becomes sharper.

Sparks fly as stone strikes metal. It is not long before one of them hits their mark, and, a few deep breaths later, my little pile of sticks is on fire. The flint in my hand remains in tact. The steel is one tiny piece smaller.

“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger,” wrote Audre Lorde in 1981. “Focused with precision, it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tension, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”

As I breathe deep the smell of smoke and burning tinder, I realize that we are, all of us who suffer, made of flint.

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Watching Hillary Clinton concede the election to Donald Trump, I am torn between a sense of pride and an overwhelming sadness. Looking out over her purple-clad shoulders, both her husband and her running mate are red-faced, on the verge of tears. She stands in contrast before the microphone, her spine straightened by necessity, her trademark smile stretched wide for the haters. I wonder what they would say if she cried like the men who stand behind her. (Emotional. Weak.) She speaks of faith in the U.S. Constitution and the dreams of little girls, and I wonder, now, if those two things will ever be reconciled.

In 1798, Charles Brockden Brown (perhaps America’s first feminist ally) wrote Alcuin, a short drama in which a male schoolteacher asks a woman whether or not she is a Federalist. She answers, in a prescient nod to the 21st Century: “Even the government of our own country, which is said to be the freest in the world, passes over women as if they were not…Law-makers thought as little of comprehending us in their code of liberty as if we were pigs or sheep. If they generously admit me into the class of existences, but affirm that I exist for no purpose but the convenience of the more dignified sex, that I cannot be entrusted with the government of myself: that to foresee, to deliberate and decide belongs to others, while all my duties resolve themselves into this precept, ‘listen and obey;’ it is not for me to smile at their tyranny, or receive as my gospel, a code built upon such atrocious maxims. No, I am not a Federalist.”

Hillary Clinton is a woman with over 30 years of experience in government, who has traveled the world, who hugs crying children and tells them they are brave, who has nerves of titanium. Donald Trump is a man with no political experience, who makes fun of other countries, who treats other people–especially women–like dirt, and who banishes crying children from his presence (which is ironic because he has the temperament of a baby with a full diaper). If the differences in experience and personality are clear, so, too, are the differences in gender. Now, more than ever, I am reminded that our government was forged exclusively by men, for men, and of men. Now, more than ever, I am reminded that, as Audre Lorde wrote almost two hundred years later: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

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I am back on social media, but I cannot find a balance. On one hand, I reject the joke that a bunch of disappointed Americans will be assimilated into Canada or move to Europe when actual refugees have been largely denied this same welcome. Has your disappointment left you blind to your privilege? On the other hand, I reject the idea that I should peacefully accept election results that threaten the safety of myself and the safety of my friends. The more people tell me to swallow my anger in the name of democracy, the more I lash out. The onus of change does not rest on the backs of the marginalized. I am not responsible for your education, your actions. I wonder…is it my anger that you fear or the realization that it has been your heel on my chest?

These are questions I must wrestle with as well. I realize now that I cannot allow myself to sink back into the complacency of my white skin and financial stability. I must strive to remain present, no matter how difficult it becomes. Hillary Clinton may have conceded the election, but she did not concede the country. “Let us have faith in each other,” she said, her voice clear–pained, but true. “Let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant and engaged. We say that “love trumps hate,” but those words are meaningless if they are not accompanied by action. When was the last time I called or wrote to an elected official? (Kindergarten.) When was the last time I shared a meal with a homeless person? (One week ago.) When was the last time I joined in a religious celebration that was different from my own? (One year ago.) When was the last time I finished a book written by someone different from me? (Last night.) When was the last time I read the U.S. Constitution in its entirety? (Seven years ago.) The point is, we can all strive do better. And we all have to.

At this crucial moment in our country’s history, I am emboldened by a story I was told in Ireland. I had been enjoying a lovely  evening stroll across Galway city with a cute boy when he suddenly stopped at a nondescript stone wall and instructed me to kick it. Now, kicking the wall at Salthill is a thing people do, but the Irish had a funny little habit of lying to me and then forgetting to tell me it was all a joke in the end. It is likely he was only testing the depth of my gullibility when he told me that the wall had once belonged to an Englishman’s estate. “It’s a symbol of British tyranny,” he said, affecting solemnity. “We Irish have been kicking it for centuries, chipping away at its foundation with every thrust.” As if to illustrate his point, the toe of my boot met a crack in the wall and a small piece of stone bounced down to the pavement.

Perhaps it is ironic that I am inspired by the image of a wall in an election season where the walls–physical, metaphorical, and potential–that divide us seem higher than ever. Sexism and racism continue to exist in the United States of America. Our president-elect may or may not bolster these walls, but we have the power to kick them down. Women in the 1800s, when confronting the evils of slavery, did not let their disenfranchisement stop their voices from being heard. Civil rights activists in the 1960s, with their lives on the line, did not allow threats of violence to silence their calls for equality. We do not “survive” a Trump presidency by sitting back and waiting for 2020. We “survive” the next four years by holding ourselves and our friends accountable for our actions (or lack of action). We “survive” by empowering ourselves and our friends to speak out. We “survive” by walking right up to those walls that seek to divide us and kicking like hell.

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stories that matter

A few days ago, someone posted a story about Lucy Stanton Day-Sessions on Facebook. In case you didn’t know, LSDS graduated from the Oberlin Ladies’ Course in 1850 and is generally considered the first black woman to complete a four-year college course. Her speech, A Plea for the Oppressed, is a resounding call for solidarity and civil rights. I didn’t read the article, because I’ve read her actual letters, but I did watch as the post was overwhelmed by likes and comments. “Inspiring!” people gushed. “Who knew!”

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And this is where my blood pressure began to rise, because I knew. I’ve known for years. I took the time to learn about my community and the wonderful people who lived there and tried hard to inspire people to care like I did. One HuffPo article and suddenly everyone does? Why even bother? At this point, it was all I could do to keep  myself from digging through decades of Facebook posts to find the exact moment I shared the same story and no one noticed. “Guys, look,” I wanted to instruct, “I’ve been saying this for years so if you could all direct your praise to me now, where it obviously belongs, that’d be great.”

I can be horribly petty at times.

But I didn’t say that. I left the post alone and silently stewed in my own misery. If one HuffPo article can reach 100+ people I may never get the chance to engage, that’s amazing. These stories, the stories of driven people in small communities, are too important and far too often overlooked for me (or anyone else) to get possessive and clingy. Look at any era in U.S. history, and I bet the first three names that come to mind are men, and I bet those men are white.

(This is when some jerk is going to comment that, no, the first name that comes to mind when they think of the American Revolution is Phillis Wheatley. And, sure, yes, I’ve definitely been that jerk before but, in all honesty, despite years of studying everyone else, I still think of George Washington.)

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The point is: representation matters. Lucy Stanton Day-Sessions is empowering because her story is so often erased from traditional narratives. She is inspiring because she fought against the very same odds in life that her story now faces in remembrance. George Washington is many things, but he is not a black child growing up in Cleveland. He is not a woman fighting just to be heard. Sometimes I think our narrow definition of what it means to be an American–white, middle-class, straight, male, Christian–stems from our narrow study of our country’s history. Stories like these matter because the more we learn and teach our children, the richer our understanding of our communities and the people who live in them.

Now that I’ve convinced you (hold your applause, please), I would like to share a story from my city’s history that fits in perfectly to what I’ve been trying to say. 100 years ago, a tunnel exploded five miles out and 250 feet beneath Lake Erie. Nine workers were trapped inside; no hero who entered the tunnel returned until one man arrived on scene: Garrett Morgan.

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Morgan was born in 1877 in Kentucky, the son of two former slaves. Like many black Americans, one of Morgan’s ancestors was a white slave owner who had had his way with a woman he considered his “property.” Born in the wake of Reconstruction, a botched and aborted attempt to get the South on board with civil rights, Morgan came of age in an era of Jim Crow in the South and de facto segregation in the North. When he moved to Cleveland in 1895, he beat the Great Migration generation by about a decade. In 1910, the black population in Cleveland was still only 8,000 strong. By 1925, that number had grown to nearly 34,000.

Morgan’s life took off during the Great Migration era. He married his wife, Mary, in 1908. She was a Bavarian immigrant he had met doing handiwork in a garment factory in the Warehouse District. Forbidden from fraternizing across racial lines, the couple quit their jobs and faced the world together. Mary was disowned by her family. Morgan struggled to find work, but his active mind and entrepreneurial spirit carried them through hard times. Before 1910, he had already sold his first invention and opened a thriving sewing machine repair shop in the heart of the city. By 1915, he had also created a complete line of hair and beauty products for African Americans and patented a safety hood for firefighters. He also invented the first traffic signal to include a middle warning between stop and go.

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Morgan had a keen eye for marketing. To get the word out about his hair products, he bought a bus and installed an organ inside. He would drive around the city blasting music, and when people asked him what all the commotion was about, he took the opportunity to direct them to drug stores that sold his product. Knowing his safety hood would be less successful in the South if the race of the inventor was known, Morgan hired a white actor to portray the genius, while he played the role of assistant. He would create huge spectacles in which he demonstrated the effectiveness of his hood by running into burning buildings and coming out unharmed.

Garret Morgan’s success made him a hero of his community. He was a founding member of Cleveland Association of Colored Men and used his influence to lobby for civil rights in Cleveland. He was a member of the Phillis Wheatley Association, which filled the role of the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. in black communities where these entities did not exist. He created the Cleveland Call & Post, a newspaper devoted to reporting the news of the black community without prejudice. He used his money to buy land in Wakeman, Ohio, to create a safe space for black people to recreate and enjoy the outdoors. He was the first black man in Cleveland to own a car. He was a Big Deal…which ultimately brings us back to July 25, 1916.

At 3 a.m., the police arrive at Garrett Morgan’s house and explain what has happened in the tunnel under the Lake. Without hesitation, Morgan grabs as many of his safety hoods as can fit in his car and arrives on the scene barefoot and in his pajamas, ready to help. Of the dozens of people who had gone in to rescue the workers, Garrett Morgan was the only one to return. He saved lives, and his life was immediately forgotten.

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Despite being called on by the government to do his civic duty, Morgan’s name was not recommended to the Carnegie Hero Fund for a medal of honor. Instantly outed as the inventor of the safety hood (which, by the way, had saved thousands of fire fighters’ lives), Morgan’s sales in the southern states immediately dropped. In 1917, he wrote to Mayor Harry L. Davis that, “the treatment accorded me…is such as to make me and the members of my race feel that you will not give a colored man a square deal.” In the 1950s, Morgan was still struggling for recognition of his heroism. “I was paid only in promises,” he lamented. “Nothing was ever done for me.”

The good news is that Garrett Morgan was eventually recognized by the city for his many contributions, and he was (thankfully) alive to receive most of the praise. The bad news is that stories like Morgan’s still aren’t told in equal proportion to those of men like Rockefeller. When asked “who built Cleveland?” the most common answers you’ll get are Tom Johnson, Amasa Stone, John D. Rockefeller, or (more likely) I Don’t Know.

Representation matters…Black stories are stories that matter. When all we see is a white [male, Christian, heterosexual, etc.] legacy, that’s all we’ll fight to protect. I’m not the first person to say it, and I won’t be the last. It’s time to change that.