the wisdom of old men, not all of them dead

August 3

Time goes by so fast! Two weeks now since I set up the site. That day at the Schomburg, I mostly found material on the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, and squinted at seemingly endless microfilm loops of Frederick and Lewis Douglass’ newspaper the New National Era. The latter less illuminating than I’d hoped, but that’s partly because newspapers in those days were so crammed with type, and the microfilm effect can make it even harder to glean what’s useful.

That day I also snapped up, at the Harlem Book Fair, a copy of this amazing narrative history of the black power movement. I finished it last night; historian Peniel Joseph is actually incredibly good. I feel now as if I were a living, thinking near-participant in events I only half-witnessed as a child, or in the distorted mirrors of media reports.

Though when I see that this book, which covers a span of about 35 years, is the product of two year-long fellowships plus, it makes me a bit more frantic about my own project spanning 200 years, to be done in much less time amd with fzr fewer resources. (Of course, first the book was a dissertation, published by Routledge as simply The Black Power Movement, and then Joseph got a bigger contract and another year to make it sing.)

The following weekend, I interviewed the Korean War vet who invented the term “chicken hawk,” who then sent me a copy of his book 1600 Killers, and a guy who ran a London safehouse for deserters during the Vietnam War, who says he doesn’t often think of himself as a World War II veteran.

During the ensuing week, as if to continue the conversation by any means necessary even while I was supposed to be newspapering, I learned while researching another story entirely that W.E.B. Du Bois was arrested for his anti-Korean War activism at age 83. (It happened in the Breslin Hotel — see my story in Chelsea Now if you like).

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