Traveling to the office was different last week. Labor Day had passed and schools were open. School buses’ blinking lights slowed or stopped automobiles. Crossing guards guided youngsters across busy streets Children walked to schools, sometimes in the streets rather than on sidewalks, with apparent excitement and anticipation of a new school year.
No matter your age, it is difficult not to get caught up in all of the drama related to the start of a new school year. I love to see the smiles, the bright eyes and expressive faces of our young people at the beginning of a new school year. Seeing these precious children reminds me of the wonderful experiences I had, as a youngster at Martha Washington Elementary School. So, here I go again with my thoughts of how things used to be when chool bells rang in Septembers past. These experiences represent some of the most memorable days of my life. They helped to shape me and establish the value system I embrace today. . .
While it was more than 60 years ago, I still find myself during these early days of the school year singing some of the songs many of you recall singing during your elementary school days. I have no doubt most of you can sing along with me, “I’m a little teapot short and stout, here is my handle, and here is my spout. When I get all steamed up I will shout, just tip me over and pour me out.”” Or, perhaps you remember, “Good morning to you! Good morning to you! We’re all in our places with sunshiny faces…” Whenever I think of kindergarten or first grade, my thoughts invariably turn to one of these songs.
For the most part, children were well dressed and presented themselves in an acceptable manner as they hurried off to school last week. However, I urge you to go back and look at your school photographs from back in the day. You will smile as you notice how smartly everyone was dressed. You will not see jeans, T-shirts or unkempt appearances in these photographs. You will recall that sneakers were for gym class only and were not worn to school. Girls wore nice dresses, boys wore slacks. Slacks were worn waist-high and not down below the posterior. Some boys wore knickers. Boys and girls had neat haircuts or hairstyles. Keep in mind I am referring to elementary school-age children. The manner in which children dressed for school stands out in my mind as vividly as the songs we sang back in the day.
Do you recall how the first day of school brought additional excitement as you wondered what new boys and girls would be in your class? Would there be someone on whom you would develop a crush? Would your assigned seat be in the rear or in the front of the classroom? It seemed to me that those sitting in the middle tended to be called on less frequency than those in the front or rear. What memories do you have of school desks? The desk was anchored to the floor, had a fold-down bench-type seat and an inkwell on top to hold a bottle of ink.
. How well do you remember your elementary teachers? I remember mine very well; their names are ingrained in my psyche until the end of time. These teachers motivated us. Under them we wanted to learn. They created an environment conducive to learning; and, boy, did we learn! My teachers, like Mrs. Barrett, Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Watson, came to school dressed like professionals as opposed to dressing as if they were lounging around on a weekend. These teachers worked hard in the classroom and yes, on the playground, to make certain that learning took place. You may notice I have placed emphasis on teachers rather than substitutes. I knew nothing about substitutes back in the day. Not only were our teachers concerned with our ability to read, “Run Spot Run,” but they were concerned with how we spoke, ho we dressed and how we behaved.
I do not recall a lot of bad kids in school. Perhaps it was related to respect for and fear of our teachers. Perhaps it was a combination of the way we dressed, prayer in schools and the lessons on citizenship that contributed to the fine behavior we witnessed. Perhaps it was related to our understanding that parents would not tolerate the nonsense we see in schools today. You must remember those cracks across your knuckles when you misbehaved. I know this is unacceptable in today’s politically correct environment, but one thing is for sure – we grew up being highly disciplined teenagers and that that enabled us to develop into responsible adults. If your teacher put that ruler across your knuckles, there was no point in complaining to your parents, as they supported your teacher. In fact, they might have given you some raps across your rear end with a belt or strap once they found out your teacher had to discipline you. Discipline and respect were the cornerstones of good behavior of students. It was embarrassing not to be a well-behaved student, back in the day.
Most of us who grew up in the ’50s remember our elementary school principals. In many cases, your elementary school principal had been your sister’s, your cousin’s, and sometimes, even your mother’s principal. Principals were precious then, and given our experiences with schools today, they have become even more precious. How could we forget the positive impact they had on our growth and development? For me, growing up “down the Bottom” in West Philadelphia, there was Marie Chase. She was the strong Black principal of Martha Washington Elementary School who provided the positive leadership that guided our educational and life experiences. That gray-haired, matriarchal image flashes in my mind whenever I picture a strong educational leader, and obviously was in my thoughts last week. While Mrs. Chase may have done some things back then that would not be acceptable today, like washing out our mouths with soapy water when we used profanity, the net effect was a more responsible, caring and sensitive human being.
Prayer was basic to the educational experience back in the day. However, there was no prayer in our schools last week. Back then, morning devotions required someone to read from the Bible. If not, then perhaps there was silent prayer. Did prayer really hurt anyone, or did it help to foster principles, values, standards and hope? Given the emphasis on religion in households in the past, there was a natural connection from church to home and to school.
Morning and afternoon cookie and milk breaks are as memorable as the noontime breaks taken for a trip home for lunch. My lunch hour, shared with my cousin and grandmother, was indeed special. Those hours produced some of my fondest memories about school life back in the day.
Unlike what last week’s talk of cuts in staff and programs, I do not recall debates on adequate funding for our schools in the past. Apparently there was a greater willingness to make sacrifices to support education by boards of education, school administrators, teachers and parents back then. A sign given to me by a parent when I was executive superintendent of the Newark, N.J. School District puts into perspective the need to make our schools and students a priority today. It reads, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and the Air Force will have to conduct a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Indeed, much of what we experienced as elementary school youngsters was very precious; very precious. Unfortunately, the greatness of our educational experience is something we will only hear or read about when someone reminisces, as I have done, about the beginning of the school year as it existed, back in the day.
I have made it a point, since I started writing this column, to focus during February, Black History Month, at least one column on some aspect of “Black Experience.” I have written something about or related to Black folk each Sunday during the month. I could not let this month pass without saying something about Blacks and their contributions to the growth and development of our country.
Some of my subjects have been controversial, such as am uncle of ours by the name of Tom, and Willie Lynch. Brown v Board of Education and how segregation positively impacted economic growth for Blacks have been serious subjects. Yet other subjects like the controversial “Amos ‘n Andy” show were entertaining and funny. Thus, I went back into my archives and dug up a column that was not written for Black History Month but is certainly appropriate in terms of our Blackness. You must recall how we used to laugh; laughter that came from the jokes we told, as well as jokes from Black comedians. These clean jokes were quite prevalent in Black communities back in the day.
Today, you go to clubs or you watch cable television where comedians are featured and you know what to expect. The jokes are full of expletives and foul language; language I have characterized in past columns as only fitting for a drunken sailor. The f-word is used so often that some feel it has become a part of our everyday vocabulary. This is especially true of our youth. It seems that stories of violence and sex, augmented with the f-word, the b-word and s-word are considered necessary to make the joke funny. I am not one who finds these so-called jokes very funny. In fact, I find them disgusting. I suspect there are many who, have a thirst for those clean, funny jokes that caused us to roll on the floor, back in the day. Just consider the following, which not only resulted in our rolling on the floor but also caused our laugher to bring us to tears:
“The other day, my boyfriend came over to my house and hit me upside my head. I asked what that was for. He replied, for general principle. Now, I know that he was lying because I hadn’t seen General Principal in about nine months.” These are the words of the late great comedian, Jackie “Moms” Mabley.For my money, Moms Mabley was the funniest lady, if not the funniest person, in the world.
Most of you from the past will recall Moms Mabley … how she refused to tell her age and how she always talked about young men. Recall her saying, “The only thing an old man can do for me is to show me the way to a young man?” She said people accused her of liking young men, and she was guilty. She would say, “I’d rather pay the fare of a young man from New York to California than to tell an old man the distance.” She talked about her old boyfriend who couldn’t do anything because he got out of breath just picking his teeth? We laughed uncontrollably whenever we listened to her album, “Moms Mabley at the Geneva Conference.” Can you see the cover of this album, with Moms, Premier Khrushchev and Prime Minister Fidel Castro? Her reference to Khrushchev as “Mr. Clean” and her advice to Castro not to sit in a box at the theater because that is the way Lincoln “got it” are examples of her fresh, clean, humor. Many of “Moms” Mabley’s jokes will always stand out in my mind. I still tell her story about doing housework for a lady who would not pay her. Since her employer would not pay her for doing housework, she went upstairs and got in bed. She decided to stay in bed until she was paid. Her employer, thinking that she was ill, called the doctor. The doctor arrived and asked, “Moms, what’s bothering you? Are you real sick?” Moms replied, “No, I’m not sick, but I’ve been working for this lady for over four months and she won’t pay me. So, I’m going to stay in this bed until I’m paid.” The doctor replied, “Move over a bit.”
Moms was also hard on ugly people. She regularly told the story of the man who took his wife with him everywhere he went, as he did not want to leave her home. Why? Well, according to Moms Mabley, the wife was so ugly the husband did not want to have to kiss her goodbye.
I do not want to get involved in the controversy regarding the television series “Amos ‘n Andy.” It is my favorite show reflecting Black humor. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, one thing cannot be denied; the show was funny. “Kingfish, if you is thinking, what I’s thinks you is thinking, then I’s thinks you done ‘thonk’ something.” These are the words of Andy Brown, the sidekick of Kingfish on the show. Now, tell me that this is not funny.
Earlier, there were other popular Black comedians like Rochester, Mantan Moreland, Stepin Fetchit, Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham and others who contributed to the clean fun we experienced in the past. You must have compared the laughter of Black folk with that of white folk. It appears we know how to let it all hang out. Ours are big hearty laughs. White folk, on the other hand, appear to struggle to laugh Could it be that our hearty laughs are the result of a need to inject some humor into the struggles we experienced so often in the past?
Too many of us remember Redd Foxx as a vulgar old, man. But there was another side of him that was in keeping with humor, as we knew it back in the day. Consider the following Redd Foxx lines from the past: “A drunk gets on the bus and sits beside a young lady. The lady says to him, ‘Mister, you are drunk! You are extremely drunk’. The drunk looks at her and says, ‘Miss, you are ugly! You are very ugly. And tomorrow, I’m going to be sober.’” So, there was this side of Redd Foxx that presented good, clean humor, unfortunately, not a side we saw often. Flip Wilson portraying “Killer” or “Geraldine” was right in line with clean humor of the past. You undoubtedly will never forget his infamous line, “The devil made me do it.”
Most people today think of Dick Gregory as a civil rights activist. But, back in the ’60s, he was seen by most people as a comedian. He was another of those comedians with great wit who was able to deliver his material without the need for filth. He had this clever way of weaving his concern for civil rights and race relations into his material. Those of us who grew up with Gregory’s humor will readily recall his dialogue on our country’s trip to outer space. He asked, “Could you imagine two brothers claiming that they went to the moon and the only thing they had to show for it when they returned were two rocks?”
Believe it or not, Richard Pryor was another back-in-the-day comedian who presented clean material. It was not until much later in his career that he resorted to the vulgarity and sexually explicit material t he is famous for today. He regularly told jokes about growing up in housing projects. If you asked him if he knew President Nixon or other infamous people, he would respond by saying, “Yeah, I know him. We grew up in the projects together.”
No discussion of comedians from the past could be complete without a mention of Bill Cosby. Was his humor clean? Without a doubt! “The Cos” was the consummate teller of clean jokes. In fact, I cannot recall one incident of a joke that remotely touched on anything out of the mainstream. While many “jokesters” wove race into their material, this was another area Cosby made every effort to avoid. “He simply used events and issues of everyday life as the basis for his humor.
So, what happened to bring us to the profanity-laced comedy of today? Of course, life is different; people are different; our values are different; thus, our jokes are different. Back in the day many of us could remember these jokes and would tell them over and over. Try to remember a joke from today’s comedians. Difficult, I suspect. So, what is it that those of us from back in the day can do to return to the humor of the past? We sit around and tell those old clean jokes, like the one about the man who arrived in heaven and St. Peter asked, “Why are you here, as it just isn’t your time?” The man replied, “St. Peter I had ‘seen us’ trouble.” St. Peter corrected him and said, “You must mean sinus trouble.” The man responded, “No I mean I had ‘seen us’ trouble.” You see, I was coming out of a hotel with another man’s wife and he seen us.” Well, you may regard this as rather corny, but this was the warm, clean humor we all could relate to and should take time to reflect on, and insist that we return to, during this Black History Month. It is indicative of the warm, clean humor associated with our hearty laughs back in the day.
The recent torrential rainstorms left many residents with flooded basements, trees on top of their homes and their streets turned into rivers. You know things are bad when you see residents being rescued by boat from their own homes. Driving to work afterward was an unforgettable experience. Radio reports indicated that many of our main thoroughfares were flooded. Some railroad routes had shut down. Thus, I ignored my customary route downtown and managed to navigate through North Philadelphia streets that I had not traveled in years. Eventually, I ended up on North Broad Street near Allegheny Avenue. While the drive, toward City Hall was slow, boring and frustrating, my spirits were lifted when I reached the 2200 block of North Broad. Bumper-to-bumper traffic stopped me for several minutes in front of 2240 North Broad in front of a building that brought back warm memories of sitting in the audience of The Uptown Theater, back in the day.
I cannot imagine there are many people who grew up in Philadelphia in the ’50s and ’60s who had not been to a live performance at The Uptown. This was a major venue for entertainment for Black audiences and performances. Back then, the horrors of segregation limited places where Blacks could gather for entertainment. Upper North Philadelphia was home for upper and upper-middle class whites who lived in fashionable mansions and Victorian brownstones. Lower North Philadelphia was home for the up-and-coming white business class. Obviously, The Uptown Theater was a perfect place for entertainment for the well-to-do whites of North Philadelphia. It could seat 2000 people. Even though it was more than 30 years after its opening before I attended a show there, it was still a magnificent building; with stained glass, high ceilings and terracotta designs. As times changed, due to declining employment and limited business opportunities in the area, white residents fled, leaving behind Black professionals; both middle class and lower class. The Uptown Theater opened for white audiences in 1929. In 1951 a gentleman named Sam Stiefel purchased the building to host live music shows for Black audiences. While the Apollo Theater in Harlem was viewed as the ultimate for Black performers along the so-called “chitlin’ circuit,” The Uptown was its rival here in Philadelphia. I never went to the Apollo, but I can tell you from personal experiences that what I saw at The Uptown would have been hard to match at any theater anywhere, back in the day.
My trips by trolley and subway from home in West Philadelphia to North Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater were unforgettable. At that time, it was safe to travel through that part of the city. We did not fear for our lives as we traveled to and from these shows; shows which provided opportunities to observe highly talented artists perform. There was a matinee, an early evening and a midnight show. While I do not recall the exact prices for the shows, they could be considered a bargain, as we could see ten or more acts at each show. Even accounting for inflation and cost of living in the past, I am certain you will agree that 50 cents to two dollars was not much for a show with so many acts.
The Uptown Theater was popular for its amateur nights, where artists would compete for prizes. As a 17-year-old member of a vocal group, Herb Johnson and the Ambassadors, I vividly recall participating in one of The Uptown’s amateur nights, back in the day.
The Uptown’s large marquee is hard to miss as you drive by. What you miss now are the names of artists that appeared in large bold letters in the past. If you are a rhythm and blues fan and attended this theater back then, I know you can still see names on the marquee, of performers such as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Olympics, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler and the Impressions, and many others. Most of us learned who was appearing at The Uptown through radio advertisements. However, sometimes we would go without knowing who was appearing. Because of the reputation of The Uptown Theater, we knew we would have a great time, and we would often stand in long lines, always dressed up, for admittance. There were several hosts for Uptown shows, including Kae Williams and Jocko Henderson. However, Georgie Woods of WDAS-AM radio was the most popular host. He brought to the stage the most popular and dynamic artists, and hosted shows the longest. The show’s routine was always the same; it started with the house band under the direction of band leader Bill Masse, and later, Sam Reed. After the initial selection, Woods would come tiptoeing onstage with a bell that he would clang when introducing new acts. I clearly remember his image; he seemed to have no rhythm, but obviously had the business acumen and relationships to put together unforgettable shows. Each began with a comedian. But there was one comedian who did not start the show, as she had star billing. Some of you recall her proclamation that, “The only thing an old man can do for me is to show me the way to a young man.” You must know that I am referring to Jackie “Moms” Mabley.
If I close my eyes today, I can still see and hear the sounds of The Drifters, The Eldorados, The Dubs, Donnie Elbert, Stevie Wonder, and The Chantels. I can still see the vocal groups, all dressed alike. Their choreography was always outstanding, with each group trying to outdo the others. I understand that Woods booked The Supremes for ten days for $400. I remember well the shows that were advertised under the theme, “Battle of the Groups.” There was one vocal group I thought was extraordinary, and I found myself in the Uptown whenever they appeared. That was The Flamingoes; a group that had multiple lead singers. If you know rhythm and blues, you must remember their recordings of “I’ll Be Home,” “Golden Teardrops,” or “I Only Have Eyes for You.” I never saw The Heartbeats, my favorite rhythm and blues vocal group, at The Uptown, but the Flamingoes made up for my disappointment. So did two other outstanding groups. Though it was more than 50 years ago, I can still see Little Anthony and the Imperials and The Blue Notes of “If You Love Me” fame in performance.
The Uptown Theater contributed to the Civil Rights Movement with the production of Freedom Shows, in which artists promoted the cause through their performances. Shows at The Uptown also contributed to the economic development of the neighborhood. After all, the performers needed places to eat, to have their hair done, accommodations for sleeping and places to purchase outfits for their performances. Changes in the economic fabric of the neighborhood contributed mightily to the demise of this theater. Ultimately, it would become a movie house and eventually a place or worship; physical decline finally resulted in its closing. However, we cannot ignore the impact of integration in making a venue such as this obsolete. The integration of the music industry where Black artists crossed over to popular music and white artists and white music lovers became more involved in Black music became the norm. This crossover also dictated the need for larger facilities. Thus, places like The Uptown Theater were no longer only for Black performers and audiences. After several failed attempts, efforts are currently underway to renovate this marvelous edifice. Thus, there is a chance I could drive down Broad Street in the near future, not to get to work, but for a fun evening; a fun evening to watch live performers at the Uptown Theater, as I used to do back in the day.
Some people tell me they do not dream. Others acknowledge that they dream but have little or no memory of their dreams. Neither category describes me, for I am a dreamer. Not only am I a dreamer, but my dreams are vivid. Upon awakening, I remember 95 percent of them.
Some are reoccurring dreams. One of these takes place on my first day of a class in graduate school at New York University. I attended the first day of class and then returned on the final day for the final exam. Failing to attended classes for an entire semester meant I was totally unprepared for the examination. I am certain I will have this dream again and I suspect the grade I received for this course will still be unknown. I often dream about being back in Newark N.J., where I was executive superintendent of schools. In another repetitive dream, I am attending a conference in a hotel where someone, always a bad guy, is chasing me from one room to another. While my pursuer gets close, I am never caught.
Then there are dreams of family members who have passed on. These are so real that I often awaken with an eerie yet warm feeling. Last week, on the day I started to write this column, I dreamed that night about covering a table with black wallpaper; yes, you read it correctly, I was wallpapering a table. The table was built similar to a large cube and I wallpapered it on all sides and the top. I struggled through the entire dream to get the wallpaper even on the top. What a dream! Whenever, I share my dreams with family or friends, I get the same reaction: “you need to find out their meaning.” I recall quite well hearing the meaning of dreams discussed when I was but a little boy. This would invariably lead to a discussion of a document you do not hear much about today. What has happened to “The Dream Book” that was found in many, if not most, households back in the day?
Once I decided to write this column, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of “The Dream Book.” I asked many friends and associates and the response was basically the same. No one had one in their possession. I heard comments such as, “I recall my grandmother having a copy … but I do not know what happened to it.” Or, “‘The Dream Book,’ that was in my family but was thrown out after my parents passed.”
Everyone understood the relationship between “The Dream Book” and “playing the numbers,” not today’s lottery, but the street numbers of the past; one of America’s major Black-owned businesses that enabled the “bankers” to live like kings and queens. At last Sunday’s church service I mentioned to one of the pillars of our congregation the difficulty I was having locating The Dream Book. Now, there are some things that you do not expect to find in church, and there are some people that present themselves as being far too innocent to be on the fringe of doing anything like playing the numbers, now or in the past. Looks and views of people can be deceiving. My innocent-looking, “good church sister” immediately acknowledged that she still had a copy of “The Dream Book” in her possession and would permit me to borrow it. She clearly had it for some time and obviously studied its contents, since she shared with me examples of how it was used in the past. She indicated that her copy of “The Dream Book” was simply being “loaned” to me. I then concluded that she had plans to use this book in the future; to use it in the way it was used back in the day.
If you are not aware of “The Dream Book,” then I suspect that you are not from back in the day. The website www.luckymojo.com/professorkonje.html provides a comprehensive look at “The Dream Book”. While one can go back to 1889, to “Aunt Sally’s Policy Players Dream Book,” there have been numerous other dream books containing interpretations of dreams, along with suggestions for playing the illegal street numbers, mainly by Black and Latin Americans, since that time. The dream book of choice by Blacks, however, was published by Herbert Gladstone Parris, also known as Professor De Herbert and Professor Uriah Konje, a Black American author and publisher. It was first published, by all accounts, on Dec. 1, 1926 under the title of “The H.P. Dream Book.” While the copy I have in my possession is a reprint, its contents are basically the same as in the original printing. The first page claims that “This Is Your Lucky Day.” It goes on to ask, “What Did You Dream?” While the basic purpose of the book is to provide numbers to play based on a dream, there are also messages throughout this book that are insightful and on point in terms of issues facing Black Americans today. One section entitled, “To The Black People Of The World,” reads in part: “…It is quite evident that all of us cannot be highly intellectual, for if it were so, how would the world be served? …A nation’s success is measured by its educational and industrial attainment. It is time for the Colored People of the world to hold their industrial and educational preeminence….” In another section we find a message under this heading, TO ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. It states, “To become an able and successful person in any profession, two things are necessary, study and practice. The one who succeeds in life is the one who early on clearly knows his object and toward that object routinely directs his powers. Education has the magnificent quality of setting one apart from others. It can provide one with something that not only meets the needs of today, but rather the means to meet the demands of the day after tomorrow and the day after that. Education can have as its function the changing of social status or the preservation of the status quo. The final choice lies with each and every one of us. I am appealing to all to make the former choice.” Given the times in which these words were written, they were outspoken and attempted to provide gamblers, using the book for betting purposes, a sense of perspective. Clearly, his words are relevant today just as they were back in the day.
If you have a dream about Christmas, there is a recommended number; a dream about Election Day, a number is offered; a dream about Good Friday, there is a number. There is a recommended number for most national holidays except those established since “The Dream Book” was published; a national holiday such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is not included. If you dreamed about a particular day of the week or a month of the year, numbers are suggested. If one dreamed about his or her anatomy, there are numbers. There are pages and pages of words with the associated numbers; a dream about any of these words or things called for playing the specified number. Such words as advertise, buttons, church, coat, fabric are included with a number; you name the word and there is a number. You can even find numbers for dreams about Colored Man, Colored Women and slavery. There are numbers for ladies’ garments; gentlemen’s garments; states or territories of the United States of America; and important cities of the United States. There are words covering almost anything and everything. Yes, Philadelphia is listed and I would bet that someone is still playing this number today, just as they did back in the day.
Obviously, “The Dream Book” was a guide that served those that engaged in playing the numbers. I would not dare attempt to comment on its effectiveness. Where did the numbers come from? What research went into identifying the numbers? How often did someone win with the help of “The Dream Book?” I have no answer to any of these questions. I will say, however, that in spite of being a regular dreamer, I place no value in any of the dream books. Furthermore, I would strongly suggest that you not run out and search for “The Dream Book” or some variation. I suspect the results would be the same as those our ancestors experienced except that you will be playing today’s legal lottery; you most certainly will end up putting more money in than winnings collected, just as it was playing the street numbers back in the day.
It has been quite a while since I have attended the Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. Philadelphia Alumni Chapter Black and White Ball, but I can assure you that the elegance and the magic of the affair was very much intact. Stanley A. Simpkins, who chaired the Black tie charity ball with the help of committee members: James E. Andrews, Damian S. Jackson Esq., Dr. Walter E. Bantom III, Kenard Kendrick, Weldon Bazemore Jr., Barrington W. Lessene, Irving L. Briddell Jr., Michael Lockwood, John L. Byars, Leon K. Chain, James K. Gordon, Anthony F. Patterson Sr., Lionel S. Hoye, William Rivers Jr., Robert Hunter Jr., Junious R. Stanton and Albert E. Wilkins did an amazing job of making this a memorable evening. The ball took place at the Sheraton Philadelphia Center City Hotel on Saturday, June 9.
“This year’s goal is to support our Achievement Academy, Achievement Center and the Hiliary H. Holloway Sr. Scholarship fund,” said Chairman Simpkins. “This year’s theme, “Charity Begins at Home,” speaks to the urgency of ensuring that our young boys and men are appreciated and know how important they truly are. Each boy and young man we mentor and support becomes a blessing to their families, our community and our fraternity. The work being done and the programs offered are vital to their development. The Academy is now going beyond and mentoring these young men during their college years. What a blessing to know that our great chapter has the insight and foresight to answer the call to action to ensure that mentoring and concern for their future is a continuum,” Chairman Simpkins remarked. Last year’s ball raised more than $7,000 for charitable organizations.
Distinguished, current officers of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. Fraternity, Philadelphia Alumni Chapter are: Polemarch (President) Bruce B. Rush, 1st Vice Polemarch (President) Robert Hunter Jr., and 2nd Vice Polemarch (President) Darren Lipscomb. Other officers are: Anthony D. Jackson, Mikal Anderson, L. Douglas Harrell Jr., Anthony H. Lawson, John W. Nelson Jr., John Cunningham, Dennis Butler, W. Wilson Goode Sr., Rodney Whitmire, Ronald G. Johnson, Victor T. Wyatt and James E. Andrews. Those serving as members of the board of directors are: Duane E. Archie, Jerome Dean, Norman K. Spencer Sr., T. Jeffrey Vernon, Louis A. Williams Jr. and Steven Kinsey.
More than 300 guests, supporters and members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. enjoyed an evening of great music by “Coast to Coast Band,” lots of dancing, delicious food and libations. It was quite a vision to see a combination of the beautiful ladies wearing Black and white along with the gentlemen, also adhering to the same strict fashion guidelines, wearing Black tuxedos or white dinner jackets. It was a special delight to see that color palette transferred to the décor as well. It was quite a visual feast, indeed, to accompany a lovely gourmet meal.
One of the highlights of the evening for me was having the opportunity to speak with Dr. Keith A. Earle about one of this year’s non- profit, charitable fundraiser recipients, which was Achievement Academies. Earle serves on the board of the organization and spoke passionately and eloquently about how this organization mentors young boys and men, ages 9–19, to learn life skills and values that they might not learn in traditional school settings.
Another highlight of the evening was the incredible voice of Barrington W. Lessene as he led his fellow members in serenading the beautiful ladies with “The Kappa Sweetheart Song.” This was a mellow and beautiful moment that I was absolutely thrilled to be there for.
Thanks to fraternity member and Philadelphia Tribune columnist, Alonzo Kittrels, I was able to gain significant insight about the history of one of Philadelphia’s premiere Black tie events, “The Black and White.” In his column, “Back in the Day,” written last year he wrote, “From 2004 until this year, there was a void in holding the Black and White Ball. As I reflect on our balls of past years, I cannot help but to think about those brothers that did the “heavy lifting” to enable this event to stand the test of time and be highly successful over the years. Perhaps this void existed because Men of Kappa like Calvin Wesley, Harold Rush and Harold Adams are no longer with us. This is not a problem peculiar to Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc., but it is a problem facing too many of our Black organizations; people willing to receive but not enough people willing to give. Do you want to see elegant females and dapper men in an upscale environment at the next dance you attend, particularly a formal affair? Then hope that the affair will borrow some of the concepts and will come close to the Black and White Balls that we attended, back in the day.”
I am delighted that such a fine and honorable tradition continues. History can and does repeat itself in a positive way. The men of Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc. Philadelphia Alumni Chapter are commended for their continued support of our community. Congratulations, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of such an incredible event. I will treasure my souvenir, inscribed martini glass for many years to come.
There are things that we all hear while growing up that we never forget. This is particularly true when those things come from our parents. These things, with few exceptions, tend not to be controversial; usually they are common sense things. They are so basic that they are heard in most households even today although the roots were planted many years ago. They have survived the test of time and often times guide our everyday behavior.
While verbalized and instilled in us during our childhood days, they have remained with us through our teenage, adult and senior years. In fact, these powerful messages shaped us and guided us over the years. We should instill these messages in our youth today. Such an effort could bode well for our future.
As I reflect on many of these messages, I know that you agree that much of what we heard from our parents during our youth had a profound impact on shaping our lives. The words often taught tough lessons. These words, to which I refer could be a pleasant comment or could be something somewhat sarcastic.
It need not be something said directly to you. It could be a conversation you overhear; it may be something heard on television or in the movies. Whatever the circumstances and no matter the venue, we hear things today that result in immediate flashbacks — flashbacks that return us to the days when certain expressions, commonly used by our parents, were indelibly stamped in our minds. What we hear gives us reason for pause! Most of us would give anything to hear our mothers and fathers utter these words again, the way they did, back in the day.
The subject of this column came to me as a result of something we all do, almost every day. It was my observation of people coming into the company’s restroom, doing their “business” and leaving. Unfortunately, they did not stop before leaving. Now, if you do not know why some people did not stop before leaving the restroom, then you may fall into the same category as these people; people who did not stop to wash their hands.
I am troubled by people that do not wash their hands after using the restroom. Whenever I see this, I am reminded of my dear sister who was in Center City and observed a lady working at one of the outdoor food carts. She later observed this same lady inside at a restroom; this lady failed to wash her hands and went directly back to her cart to continue cutting up fresh fruit. My sister followed the lady outside and in front of a long line waiting to purchase items from the food cart yelled out as loudly as she could, “I saw you inside the restroom and you left without washing your hands.” Those of us that listened to our parents would not have done something so disgusting. We remembered our early experiences of going into the refrigerator or sitting down at the table to eat and being asked, “Did you wash your hands.” Sounds familiar, I know! Such a question was always asked, back in the day.
The dinner table further generated other words from our parents that have remained with us over the years. You were seldom late for dinner because you were told, “Be at the dinner table on time.” You also knew that you would be stopped as you reached for your fork by your mother or father reminding you, “Bless your food.” You may remember that you were told, “Eat everything on of your plate.” Our parents reminded us of the many starving people in the world. When you reached across the table for a roll, your mother would say, “Where are your manners?” Or, she might have asked, “Did not I teach you better than that?” Simple words containing powerful messages; messages that shaped who we were and who many of us are today. That’s how life was and how we were reared, back in the day.
When you go into a store to purchase something, you pay for your items and wait for your change. In this situation, there are two things that “old school folk” do as a result of our upbringing. We count our change in front of the salesperson. Then we wait for a bag. I know that some of you become annoyed as I do when the salesperson simply hands your purchased items to you without a bag. I even become annoyed when I am asked if I want a bag. Of course, I want a bag. The words of my parents ring out loud and clear under these circumstances. They reminded me over and over again that I should never cause anyone to think that I did not pay for something when leaving a store by not having a bag. I can still hear my mother and father saying, “Be sure you get a bag before leaving the store.” A bag is something I insist on today because of what my parents instilled in me, back in the day.
Did you really have to wonder if you should say thanks when you receive a gift or something of value? Your parents told you to always show your appreciation for whatever you received; whether it was large or small. You must remember this one! “Do not leave home wearing dirty underwear as you might have an accident and will have to go to the hospital.” Did your father tell you that “a lazy man always works harder?” “Do the job right the first time,” was something that most of us regularly heard. What about, “Birds of a feather flock together?” Or, “If you lie down with dogs you may get up with fleas.” Then, there was a favorite of my father’s that has remained with me over the years. To this day, whenever I leave my home, I try to look my best. I still hear my father’s words from years ago, “Always look the part.”
When your dating years began, were you told by your parents, “Do not sneak around with someone that you did not feel was worthy enough to bring to your home?” Do you recall that young ladies were instructed when going on a date, “Have enough money in your purse or pocketbook to get home.” By doing so, they were prepared just in case they had a “falling out” with their date.
Back in the day, many of our parent’s sayings were related to discipline. You cannot be from back in the day without having heard you mother say, “As long as you live under my roof, you will do as I say.” When the need for discipline became physical, your mother may have directed you to, “Go get a switch.” Then there were those words that struck fear in the hearts of most of us. What was your reaction when your mother said, “I brought you into this world and I will take you out?” Do you remember when your mother administered a major whipping, and she would say to you, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Perhaps your mother simply glanced at you and said, “Do not give me that dirty look.” Or, she could have said, “What are you looking at?”
Words bordering on discipline did not bring smiles or warm thoughts, back then. Most of us growing up back in the day were terrified by such expressions that generally came, not from our fathers but from our gentle mothers. Unlike today, when parents spoke, we listened; and, we knew that they meant business. Interestingly, corporal punishment was not necessary. The sayings were enough! “Keep acting that way and I will give you one across your lip,” was a favorite saying of many mothers. How many times did you hear your mother say, “Children are to be seen and not heard?” I am certain that, “Stop acting ugly,” rings a bell. Another expression I have not heard for many years is, “You’re getting too big for your britches.” I just love the sound of these words. Such words are truly from back in the day and words that are closely associated with mothers.
Do you recall the words when your mother was putting you on notice to behave in a proper manner? “Boy, I expect you to do as I say, not as I do.” Such words made you realize that your mother meant business. Most back in the day aficionados have heard these words. “You’ve made your bed hard, now you are going to have to sleep in it.”
Then there was a saying that I think was only heard in my household. “Life is not like a pair of shoes. Ruin your shoes and you can get a new pair. Ruin your life and you cannot buy a new one.” But, I suspect that the following was heard in most household, “You will reap what you sow.”
I do not think that any of us know the origins of most of our parent’s sayings. You must admit that many of the sayings were clever. They were presented in a way that only parents could present them. I can still hear my mother say to me on a Friday or Saturday evening when I was going out for some fun, “Do not let the sun beat you home.” In other words, you had better get home at a decent time.
Were you one of those youngsters, back in the day, who ate so much until your mother would say, “You are going to eat me out of house and home?” As a result of your eating habits, did your mother say to you, at a relatively young age “It may be time for you to start looking for a job.” If you were accused of acting or behaving in a manner appropriate for one older than you were, you may have heard the following words, “You act like you are six going on twenty-one or thirty.”
These represent some of the many words that came from our parents. They are all special and bring a smile to one’s face and rekindle warm memories. For me, the saying that brings the widest smile and the fondest memory is the image of my mother looking at me with a caring and gentle look and saying, “Son, you know mother loves you.” These are words that I would give anything to hear again, just one more time. I suspect that for many of you, a saying or expression such as this is one of the most endearing and memorable things said to you, when you were good and even when you were bad, back in the day.
Good manners are instilled in most of us as children. Strong loving families of the past provided the environments needed for growing children. Parents did everything to mold us into responsible children who would grow up to become productive adults.
We were constantly reminded to do the right thing. We were reminded over and over not to do anything to embarrass our family. The lessons taught many years ago have impacted our behavior today. The main source of these lessons was our parents and other family members. However, our schools, churches, community members, playmates, movies, books, radio and television shows also provided us with a sense of what we should or should not do.
Being honest, polite, respectful and caring are things most of us embrace. Treating others as you want to be treated cannot be ignored. So we embraced both the big things and the little things. What we failed to recognize back then was the significance of some of the little things in our interpersonal relationships. I gave considerable thought to one of these little things a few weeks ago as I observed a co-worker performing a task that not too many people do today. She was handwriting notes to friends and acquaintances; it was one of those gestures that create “warm fuzzy feelings” so characteristic of good manners back in the day.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, you may recall that thank-you notes arrived regularly in the mail. You knew it was a thank-you note by the size of the envelope. It was not your typical No. 7 personal-size envelope or a No. 10, business-size. This No. 3-size envelope was a clear giveaway that it was a personal note. People still send handwritten notes, as evidenced by my co-worker. However, they are considerably less frequent than in the past. Some people believe sending such notes is unimportant. To some degree, they have been replaced by emails. This practice is viewed by some as being too impersonal and cannot replace the personal message in a handwritten note. The lame excuse of being too busy is used by some to explain why they no longer send handwritten notes. Then there are those that view this practice as no longer necessary. I can see no acceptable reason for not sending thank-you notes. Is it possible that negligence in sending notes stems from a lack of emphasis on good manners?
A number of my friends and associates consider sending thank-you notes old-fashioned. I do not accept this view. My parents’ words and deeds still allow me to see the value in sending thank-you notes. I vividly remember things I did for others when a thank-you note was in order and I received none. I certainly do not expect thank-you notes in return for all things given or good deeds performed. What I give to or do for someone, I do willingly and comes from a caring attitude. Although I do not expect anything in return, an acknowledgement is always appreciated. II must point out there is nothing more disappointing than one’s kindness or consideration being taken for granted. I shall never forget giving a present to a young man during a visit to his parents’ home. It was a highly collectible game in keeping with the type of items he collected. It was special, and I had no doubt that he and his parents knew it was uniquely special. This occurred more than eight years ago, and while the young man came into the room and personally accepted the gift from me, I am still looking for a verbal expression or written note expressing his appreciation. Now, I did not give this gift to receive a thank-you note; I gave it because I thought it was something he would value and appreciate. While I fully understand that a gift or good deed should not cause me to expect a thank-you note, such a note in this instance would have been special and would have shown common courtesy. I learned a great deal about this young man from this. If he had inadvertently forgotten to send a note, one would have been mandated by his father or mother, had this been back in the day.
I previously wrote about the importance of saying “Thank you” in our everyday activities. While verbal expressions of thanks serve a purpose, written notes are another matter. When someone says “Thank you” in special circumstances, you may feel this is sufficient. Think back in time and quite often, even a verbal thank-you was followed by a written note within a week. However, if you are a bit late in responding, keep in mind the old saying, “It is always better late than never.”
Unlike today, sending a written note was something we were expected to do. Peggy Noe Stevens, a certified protocol and etiquette expert, indicates that a written thank-you note should be given every time one is given a gift, treated to a meal or shown a significant act of kindness. However, according to the 17th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” thank-you notes are not required in all circumstances. They may not be required after being a guest at a dinner party or after a job interview. Some feel that while they may not be required, sending one is still a good idea. Going back to sending a note after you have already thanked someone in person? This is not necessary, but still a good idea. Most authorities believe thank-you notes are required after receiving a gift. This includes wedding, birthday, sympathy, graduation, bridal or baby showers. Being invited to a party in your honor, having stayed as a guest in someone’s home and similar circumstances also call for written thank-you notes. I never recall my mother debating whether or not she should send a thank-you note, regardless of the circumstance. Sending a note that spelled out the reason for the thanks was part of the natural process of showing appreciation.
In order to send a personal, handwritten note, one must first have personal stationery. Do not be embarrassed if you are like most people I know who do not have stationery for personal notes. If you are inclined to send a thank-you note, quite often it ends up being a pre-printed card with impersonal words that do not show the personal aspects of handwritten notes. The second problem too many young people have today is their inability to express their thoughts in writing, in a clear, concise and thoughtful manner. Can you still see your mother or father sitting at the kitchen table with a favorite fountain pen, several boxes of blank notes with designs for every occasion, and a dictionary, preparing to express their thanks to someone? In spite of the limited formal education of many of our ancestors, they still sent handwritten thank-you notes. Incomplete sentences and misspelled words took a back seat to their efforts to express their thanks in such a personal manner; providing details of the gift or act of kindness.
Some will argue that sending thank-you notes is time-consuming. Has it occurred to you that if someone took time to buy you something or perform a good deed, then it is worth the time to take a few minutes to write a thank-you note? Some will argue that the handwritten note has been impacted by technology. What we find are people using the Internet, sending emails expressing their thanks. Of course, this was not an option during our parents’ era. Had this technology been available to them, I suspect they would have still opted to put their thoughts on paper to express their gratitude. Personally, I see no circumstances where an email can serve in place of a handwritten thank-you note. So, while some of you may feel that emails and e-cards may save money as well as trees, let me encourage you to revive the practice of handwritten notes. After all, people do not typically save emails or e-cards. Thank-you notes, on the other hand, are not only saved but may be end up on your refrigerator door or in some other place of prominence. Receiving a thank-you note in today’s environment is unexpected. By sending such a note, you will stand out from the crowd and it will give you the chance to express your warm feelings of thanks. It will also make those giving gifts and the doers of good deeds feel good — the way people used to feel, back in the day.
The ability to use big words is important to many people. Some love using big words; words that make them appear to be intelligent; words that may be unfamiliar to the average person. While I do not make a practice of using big words, I do make a point of using words in an appropriate manner. Perhaps you have been in audiences where the speaker uses words so big you have to check your dictionary once you get home. Your vocabulary may dictate how you are received.
For me, the big words, the flowery words, take a back seat to a word that was heard quite often in the past but which seems to have been eliminated from our vocabulary today; one of the most beautiful words in the English language. Do you recall the frequency with which you heard “Thanks” back in the day?
When I was growing up, behaviors were instilled in us at a very young age. As soon as we began forming words, “Thank you” became a part of our vocabularies. It may have been simply “ta-ta,” but at the outset you learned to express gratitude for things done for you or given to you.
I understand that youngsters are tested for intelligence by being asked questions such as “what do you say when your mother gives you a gift?” At two or three years of age, many of us knelt at our bedsides each night and “thanked the Lord for keeping us through the day.” Or, we “thanked the Lord for the food we ate.” There was a time when saying “Thank you” was a basic response to others when we received good things. Giving thanks or saying “Thank you” was a fundamental practice of importance in every aspect of life, back in the day.
There is nothing more disgusting than observing children or adults taking another’s kindness for granted. You can tell a great deal about people by whether or not they say, “Thank you.” I know you have experienced making a purchase and then the cashier takes your money, provides your receipt and moves on to the next customer without saying a word. Here you are spending your hard-earned money and you receive no acknowledgement for patronizing the establishment. May I suggest you do as I do; give the cashier a hard look and say, “Thank you.” The person should get the message, and if he or she does not, go elsewhere the next time.
Some of you have been invited back to a follow-up interview as a result of a thank-you e-mail or note to the interviewer. Some of you have managed to get a second date by simply saying, “Thank you for a nice evening.” Some of you have not been invited back to visit friends or relatives because you failed to say, “Thank you.” How many of you have held the door open for someone and the person simply walks by you? Have you ever given up your seat in a crowded room, on a bus or streetcar and a person rushes to sit down and will not even look at you? What about standing aside to let a female step on or off an elevator? What is the response when you let someone get in line ahead of you? Perhaps you have done something for a neighbor, such as sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling snow, pulling weeds or cutting the grass and they say nothing.
You must wonder whatever happened to the simple acknowledgement of “Thank you.” I recall when that was an automatic response to positive deeds.
A thank-you need not be verbal. It really bugs me when I show courtesy to other drivers by stopping when they are seeking to pull out of a side street or driveway and there is no response. There was a time when you would receive a thank-you by a wave of the hand or a honk of the horn. Today, it is as if it is your duty to defer to other drivers. There was a time when one received a holiday or birthday gift and a thank-you note would follow in a reasonable amount of time. You may have memories of your mother sitting at the dining room table making sure Christmas cards were sent to everyone who had sent her one and writing thank-you notes to those who had given her a gift. Do we see thank-you notes today? Not on the scale of the past.
While the decline in sending thank-you notes today is partly related to people not embracing the principle of expressing thanks, it is also a result of diminishing writing skills. What does one say; how does one say it; will the words be spelled correctly? Even though prepared thank-you notes can be readily obtained from card shops, some people have trouble just picking out an appropriate one.
You may recall what happened when you received a gift or experienced a good deed in the presence of your mother. When you did not immediately respond, she would give you one of those looks that only a mother could and ask, “What do you say?” Of course, you knew it was a reminder to say, “Thank you.” Even if you did not want the gift; even though it appeared to be cheap; even if you did not care for the giver, you said, “Thank you.” I know of situations where children arrived home with a gift from a neighbor and their mother’s first reaction was, “Did you say thank you?” If they acknowledged that you had failed to say it, they were immediately sent back to express their thanks. Saying “Thank you” in the past was directly related to the value our parents placed on it. They felt that saying it could not be repeated often enough. While “Thank you” was important to me as a child, it became more important in my adult life, as hearing it in response to my performing a good deed made me feel appreciated.
Saying “Thank you” is not reserved for external relationships; expressing thanks is important in family relationships. “Pass me the remote control”; “I left your dinner in the microwave”; “I picked up your clothes from the laundry”; “I picked up your favorite pie from the bakery”; these are things we hear interacting with our loved ones that demand the response of “Thank you” as it did years ago.
The importance of saying it is apparent to those who visit foreign countries. What is the first word one learns in a country’s native language? It is, “Thank you!” How often have you received a written request with the words “Let me thank you in advance”? While “Thank you” may not bring a positive response to your request, quite often it cracks the door open, making a future transaction easier to complete. An Internet posting under the name franciaonline expresses the importance of “Thank you” with these words: “…we lose a human moment, a human connection, those tiny little fragments of our humanity.”
Let us not forget that “Thank you” must be followed by, “You are quite welcome.” However, we seldom hear this response, as “Thank you” is disappearing from how we show respect and appreciation to our fellow man and woman. It would bode well for our future, would not involve a cost and require little or no effort to return to those days when “Thank you” was a response we all embraced and freely expressed back in the day.
No matter how old I get, I doubt I will ever lose my sense of humor. I love clean, funny jokes and will yearn for the cartoons and comedy shows I watched as a youngster and young adult.
Whenever I channel-surf and come across the likes of Tweety Bird, the Roadrunner, Popeye or any of the ’50s cartoons, I must stop and watch. The same applies to shows with real characters such as the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and the Bowery Boys. Several weeks ago, I received an email from a fraternity brother containing photographs of little kids, both Black and white, that I loved to watch on television as a child. The children formed an integrated cast filmed and widely shown in the movies and on television before integration became a part of our real-life experiences. While you may not know all their names, I suspect that if the name Alfalfa is mentioned, it will immediately conjure memories of this show. Besides being funny, the show contained many positive messages. It was called “Our Gang” (sometimes called “The Little Rascals”).
Hal Roach, the show’s creator, focused on poor neighborhood children and how they interacted with one another. My peers will readily recall these short films. The children behaved in a very natural manner; Roach simply described the scenes to them, told them what he wanted them to do and they role-played themselves. Reading scripts and memorizing lines were not options because the performers were so young. Their interactions were so incredible because these 1920s silent films and later refinements with sound included four Black youngsters from their inception until they ended in 1944.
A total 221 short films were made during this period and one full-length movie in 1936. The Black youngsters not only held main roles, but were portrayed as equal to the white children. Now, I need not remind you of the nature of race relations back then. But we saw Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Matthew “Stymie” Beard and Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas behaving in a way that all human beings should emulate. In the book “The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang” by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann, Maltin, a film historian, notes, “‘Our Gang’ notably put boys, girls, whites and Blacks together in a group as equals, something that broke new ground.” I was a keen observer of the world of “Our Gang,” and have many of its related items in my Black memorabilia collection. While race relations are something many of us have ignored, “Our Gang” totally ignored the reality of segregated life of Blacks and whites back in the day.
It is clear that Roach was ahead of his time. He was the first Hollywood filmmaker to depict Black and white youngsters treating each other as equals; they played together, ate together, and even attended the same schools. In spite of the era, they were peers. What Roach did was so out of the mainstream of society back then that the integrated school scenes were cut whenever the films were played in the South.
How many of you who grew up with “Our Gang” recall the names of all its characters? They represented three different periods: the silent film, the talking film and the MGM film episodes. Other than Alfalfa and Spanky and the four Black youngsters mentioned earlier, what other cast members can’t you recall? Well, let me help you! They were Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Jackie Condon, Joe Cobb, Eugene “Pineapple” Jackson, Jay R. Smith, Jean Darling, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins, Mary Ann Jackson, Norman “Chubby” Chaney, Jackie Cooper, Donald Haines, Dorothy DeBorba, Jerry Tucker, Kendal McComas, Tommy Bond, Scotty Beckett, Darla Hood, Eugene “Porky” Lee, Darwood “Waldo” Kaye, Billy “Froggy” Laughlin, Janet Burston and, Mickey Gubitosi. Of course, we cannot forget the dog Petey (Pete the Pup), with the black circle around his eye. Now, here is a tidbit that may surprise you: Mickey Gubitosi was played by Robert Blake. In light of their eventual accomplishments and fame, it may surprise you to know that both Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple auditioned for “Our Gang” and failed to make the cut.
I know those who recall watching “Our Gang” films have a favorite episode or two. I doubt many can go back to those from 1920s, but perhaps some of you can visualize scenes from films of the ’30s and ’40s. It was not until the mid-’50s that “Our Gang” was distributed for television viewing. Do you recall the film where “Our Gang” members went camping near a bootlegger’s distillery? What about the episode where Brisbane attempts to be expelled from school in order to become a street-car conductor? Other interesting episodes included the time the gang started its own fire station and did a pretty good job by putting out a real fire; when gang members thought their teacher was going away after she got married and so they frightened off her fiancé; when Spanky and Alfalfa sought the attention of the new truant officer’s daughter; Alfalfa having to step in and sing at a local radio show talent contest when Darla did not make it on time; when gang members wanted all their teeth pulled so the tooth fairy would leave them money; when they left a note in school saying they were sick, but attempted to sneak into the school at night to retrieve it after learning that the teacher was taking the class to the circus the next day; or the episode where Stepin Fetchit appeared and helped the gang clean up a house full of taffy. In 1936, “Our Gang” won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject in a film in which Alfalfa pretends to have a toothache in order to get out of school. He learns the new teacher has planned an ice cream party, but he cannot return until he sings.
While I was a fan of “Our Gang,” many viewed it as racist. Their views continue to this day. Some of us, however, saw it not as racist, but as a Hollywood production ahead of its time. I admit there were stereotypes, but these were not limited to the Black children; they applied to all members of the cast. The upside far outweighed the downside. Hal Roach did all he could do to knock down racial barriers and build bridges. I share the views in an Internet Web posting by T.J. Davis on July 1, 2010. It said in part: “I am always saddened when I hear or read that ‘The Little Rascals’ (‘Our Gang’) was racist, when clearly it was quite the contrary on screen and behind the scenes as well. The kids were always portrayed more or less as equals and treated as such. There were stereotypes, sure enough, but it was applied to everyone Black, white, or whatever, equally ... Everyone was portrayed as goofy or oddball. Stymie was always my favorite and in my book, he was a comedic genius. … The ‘Little Rascals’ have brought considerable joy and mirth into this tired old world and at times when we needed it the most (the Great Depression and World War II). God bless Hal Roach and all the ‘Little Rascals’ wherever they are.”
I invite those wishing to share in the fun that many from my generation enjoyed by watching “Our Gang” to visit the following website: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Our+Gang&. This will give you a glimpse of the laughter as well as the interpersonal relationships among a diverse group of children, an experience many of us shared while watching “Our Gang” in the movies and on television, back in the day.
I often wonder about one’s point of reference when reflecting on my views concerning back in the day. While there have been some exceptions, my columns on this subject generally relate to life in the ’50s and ’60s. It is not unusual for people to write, call, or email me to offer a topic they feel is a back-in-the-day experience.
About a week ago, in a casual conversation with a colleague, I removed something from my pocket and he commented that I was clearly “old school.” It was not immediately clear to me, but the more I thought about what he said, the more I recognized the truth in his observation. There are several things no longer found in a man’s pocket or no longer a part of a man’s attire; things that are gone today, but were must-have items back in the day.
I doubt seriously that you would find these items in the possession of a young adult today. I know those from my generation made use of the handkerchief. Most from my era still carry one for blowing the nose or wear one in suit or sport jacket lapel pockets. It was identified as a pocket square. Ask a young man if he has a handkerchief in his pocket and I bet he gives you a blank look. As for wearing one in his suit or sport jacket pocket, a quick inspection will immediately let you know this is not the case. Most young men today do not wear suits; ergo, there is no place for a lapel pocket handkerchief. Whether it is the office, church, dinner or a party, regardless of the occasion, the suit has become obsolete; it is an item, along with the handkerchief, that many of today’s men have left back in the day.
I do not know how I could survive without a wallet. I find it remarkable when a young man reaches in his pocket for money to pay a bill. What he comes up with is a money clip or a wad of money secured by a rubber band; there is no wallet, or what my father called, “a billfold.” The way money appears in older men’s wallets has a specific pattern. When I first started carrying a wallet more than 50 years ago, I placed bills in it in sequential order; first, one-dollar bills; next, five- and then ten-dollar bills continuing up to the largest denomination. Additionally, all bills faced the same way. You also find that men today do not carry pictures of family members. Just ask a young man if he has pictures in his possession. In all likelihood, the answer is no. If an older man is asked this, you will be presented with pictures of his wife, children and grandchildren.
Not too long ago, I wrote a column about the “black book.” Most of us back in the day carried telephone books with all of our contact information. Younger men today have all this information in their mobile telephones. Even older men have graduated to this technology. Every so often, however, an older man will pull out his black book, even though he owns a mobile telephone. I was told by a friend from my era that there is just something about the black book that must remain with him. In spite of the technology, he cannot part with the black book.
I do not wear a watch, but I occasionally carry a pocket watch, particularly if wearing a vest. I love to loop the chain through my vest buttonholes and rest it in a vest pocket. This is clearly a back-in-the-day style. Forget about a young man displaying a pocket watch; this style is so far back in the day that you rarely even see an older man with a pocket watch.
Some men carry breath fresheners. An associate of mine overheard my discussion of things no longer in a man’s pocket and proudly produced a breath freshener. In the past when a man arrived at a young lady’s home for a date he would stand outside squirting breath freshener. Yes, I see young men using mints for fresh breath, but I cannot t imagine any young man squirting a breath freshener.
I doubt if many men are walking around today with penknives or switchblades in their pockets. Legislation in many communities bans these knives. Back in the day, however, pocket knives were extremely popular. Men used a penknife to clean their fingernails, cut something out of a paper or magazine or open a letter. Spring-operated pocket knives were used while eating or served as weapons. How many men carry a nail clipper or a comb today? Recall the reemergence of the comb during the ’60s when the Afro hair style demanded the use of a “pick” to keep the hair properly combed. Today’s hair styles have made combs obsolete.
Here is an experiment that I suspect will provide some predictable results. Have an older man empty his pockets and examine the contents. Besides the things I have already identified, consider the following to add to the list of items no longer in the pockets of young men. How often are you been asked if you have a pen? It seems our younger generation believes that the way to get a pen is to borrow one. I always carry a pen even if I am casually dressed. Older guys, when asked for a pen, will unbutton their suit jackets and pull one out. You may also recall that many men used shirt pocket protectors. Where do young adults carry their keys? In most cases, it is a single key on one of those rings given away by a store or an advertiser at a convention. As you will see from the contents of an older man’s pockets, there will be a key case that holds several keys. In some cases, there are so many keys that they are on a chain attached to the belt. You might also find a cigarette lighter; the type with a flip top with a wheel that lights the flame. If there is a cigarette lighter there will be a pack of cigarettes. If the weather is cold, you will find a tube of ChapStick. A nail clipper might also be found among the pocket contents. Even though the black book was standard in the past, the contents of the older man’s pockets will still include a daily or weekly reminder, as some things just cannot be left back in the day.
Some things that are worn signal one’s ties to back in the day. Do any young men wear argyle socks today? What about white socks while wearing a suit? What about white bucks, saddle shoes or wing-tip footwear? Clearly, there is no doubt about the era of “old men’s comforts.” Do only older men wear bib dungarees? A “six-button bennie” is clearly old school. During the summer, men wearing Bermuda shorts with dress socks and shoes are from the era I call “older than dirt.” This style is older than old school. Most men today wear wire-rimmed glasses, the Benjamin Franklin type, from a distant past. While this list can be significantly expanded, let me offer you one more image that clearly lets you know you are in the presence of an older man. That distinguishing image is of a gentleman wearing a belt along with suspenders. Contrast this style with pants down, below one’s posterior. This certainly distinguishes older men from young men today. What can be more pleasing to the eye than to see a man impeccably dressed, wearing a tie, handkerchief in pocket, wallet that is organized, hair neatly combed and breath fresh, prepared to meet whatever is to come his way on that particular day? These things are indicative of what men wore or what they carried with them; things that were clear reflections of life as it was, back in the day.