Thursday, October 07, 2010

A New Year and Finally a New Post

First of all, a couple of obituaries I had meant to post:

It's only 50 or so years ago (ok, 56) since racial segregation was outlawed in American schools. Jefferson Thomas, who died last month, was one of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to test the federal government's desire and ability to enforce the new law. The Telegraph reports

"Jefferson Allison Thomas, the youngest of seven children, was born on September 19 1942 in Little Rock. He was keen to attend Central High because he wanted a better education than the one available at the local all-black school, which had second-rate facilities and hand-me-down equipment. Central, by contrast, had science laboratories, modern textbooks and an impressive record of college placements."

There was a happy ending and there were some unhappy endings. Thomas was one of the three of the Nine that graduated from high school. However,

"Thomas said his role in the integration of Central High "destroyed the family base," and recalled that his father had been sacked from his sales job because of the controversy. Callers threatened Jefferson Thomas, friends cut him dead and strangers threw missiles at his house. Thomas senior scraped by as a handyman and, the day after his son's graduation, moved the family to California."

The rest of the article is here.

In contrast to the story of oppression and discrimination related above, I was struck by the story of Michael Burn, who also died last month. He started out as an admirer of the Nazis, and even got to meet Hitler. He became disenchanted after a visit to the KZ at Dachau. In 1942, he was captured during a mission to prevent the biggest German battleship - the Tirpitz - from leaving port. Originally held prisoner in a concentration camp, he was moved to Colditz, where he received Red Cross parcels from Ella van Heemstra, better known as the mother of Audrey Hepburn. After liberation he received a Military Cross. The Telegraph notes:

"(After the war) he helped save Audrey Hepburn's life, by sending food parcels to her in occupied Holland where she was critically ill in hospital, and where she and her mother were subsisting on tulip bulbs. Burn also sent them hundreds of cartons of cigarettes, which commanded high prices on the black market. The money raised from their sale bought Audrey Hepburn supplies of the new drug penicillin, which were crucial in her recovery from an infection brought on by malnutrition."

What else can I tell you? He wrote a novel and a play and poetry as well as ghost-writing books and working as a newspaper reporter. He got a degree in Social Sciences from Oxford University. He ran a mussel-farming co-operative in North Wales. He hung out with the Cambridge spies. He spent the last years of his life living on the Portmeirion estate. And there is so much more ... read it here. Certainly a very full life, but also interesting to me because of the way he changed over time, especially politically. It is possible.

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