Saturday, November 09, 2013

Reading Mark Kurlansky, from "Salt" to "Dancing in the Street"

The first book I read by Mark Kurlansky was called "Salt: A World History."

I picked up a paperback copy when it came out in 2002 or 2003. I was at one of those midnight release parties for a Harry Potter book, don't remember which one. I had my 10-year-old daughter Annie in tow, along with her friend Crystal. They each hugged a copy of a Harry Potter tome.

"What did you get, Dad?" Annie asked.

I showed her the Kurlansky book.

"Salt? What's it about?"

"The history of salt."

"The history of salt?" She looked over at Crystal.They burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?"

"Wow, sounds exciting."

They were giddy as I paid for my book and Harry Potter's latest adventure. As we drove home, I could hear the duo in the back seat. They'd be quiet and one would say "salt." Gales of tween laughter. It went on for a week or so and, as happens with most things, the glee faded.

I recently picked up a copy of Kurlansky's latest book at the library (thanks to Rodger McDaniel for mentioning in one of his posts).

"What are you reading Dad?" asked Annie, now in college.

"I showed her the cover of 'Ready for a Brand New Beat: How Dancing in the Street Became the Anthem for a Changing America." I told her that it was the history of one of Motown's most famous songs.

A vocal music major, Annie knows about Motown. I took out the laptop and played for her the Motown video of "Dancing." It's black and white in more ways than one. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, garbed in striped dresses, sing on stage and in front of a group of white people gathered in a park. The group obviously is lip-synching. But the song? It's amazing.

Annie thought so too. I've been hearing her sing a line or two from the song. It's a catchy tune, one I remember blasting from my transistor radio in 1964, my first summer in Florida.
Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
I was 13. I was ready for a brand new beat. And a new school. And a whole new atmosphere, one that included steamy heat, hurricanes, bugs, beaches and segregation.

I wasn't quite ready for all of that. We'd moved from Denver, where it was rare to see a black person. It was the same for the other places I'd lived -- eastern Washington state and Wichita, Kansas. Most of what I knew about "negroes" was what I gleaned from the evening news broadcasts of lunch counter sit-ins and white cops turning fire hoses on marchers. There had been lynchings in other parts of the South -- our neighboring Confederate states of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Florida had plenty of "sundown towns." If you were black and found in one after sundown, you got your ass beat or dragged to jail or maybe even lynched, if the law had links to the KKK.
Now, a sweeping new study of lynching in the South has found that blacks were more likely to be lynched in Florida than in any other state. Mississippi had the most lynchings, although Florida had the most per capita (black population).

The five-year study, by researchers at the University of Georgia, has uncovered previously unrecorded lynchings, found that some never happened and provided new details of the brutal practice, which flourished in the South between 1882 and 1930
But it wasn't all bad.

Daytona is also the home of Bethune-Cookman University, founded in 1904 by educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

The baseball stadium at Daytona's City Island now is called Jackie Robinson Stadium.

From Wikipedia:
One reason the stadium is named for Jackie Robinson is the fact that Daytona Beach was the first Florida city to allow Robinson to play during the 1946 season's spring training. Robinson was playing for the Triple-A Montreal Royals, who were in Florida to play an exhibition game against their parent club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Both Jacksonville and Sanford refused to allow the game due to segregation laws. Daytona Beach permitted the game, which was played on March 17, 1946. This contributed to Robinson breaking the Major Leagues' color barrier the following year when he joined the Dodgers. The refusal by Jacksonville, previously the Dodgers' spring training home, led the team to host spring training in Daytona in 1947 and build Dodgertown in Vero Beach for the 1948 season. A statue of Robinson is now located at the south entrance to the [Daytona] ballpark.
Sanford, of course, was the site of the infamous Trayvon Martin shooting.
Summer's here and the time is right
For Dancing in the Street
Great book. Recommended read.

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