Category Archives: McKinley Green

Jack Johnson


When I was a kid, I was fascinated by boxing. I think this was a function of my paternal grandfather’s interest in watching it on television; boxing was on primetime TV from 1946 to 1964 on four different networks, including Dumont. It was a mix of admiration and horror, I think. I knew all the heavyweight boxing champions, and their approximate reign from John L. Sullivan to Jersey Joe Walcott to Joe Louis – the Brown Bomber to the undefeated Rocky Marciano to Cassius Clay Muhammad Ali.

No one, though, intrigued me more than Jack Johnson. Perhaps it was because he was the first black heavyweight champ, but more than likely it was because he seemed to annoy so many with his unforgivable blackness. He won the title in a brutalizing fight; I suspect that he fought that way as payback for being denied even the opportunity to fight for the crown for five years for reasons of race.

From the Wikipedia post: “[R]acial animosity among whites ran so deep that even a socialist like Jack London called out for a ‘Great White Hope’ to take the title away from Johnson — who was crudely caricatured as a subhuman ‘ape’ — and return it to where it supposedly belonged, with the ‘superior’ white race.” His 1910 “Fight of the Century” victory over former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries lead to riots by the white public, often leading to near lynchings of blacks.

Jack Johnson was the first person persecutedprosecuted under the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 which not only prohibited white slavery, but also banned the “interstate transport of females for immoral purposes.” You may know it better as the Mann Act, which was so broadly worded that courts held it to criminalize many forms of consensual sexual activity. Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry were charged under it and Eliot Spitzer might have been.

I remember that my girlfriend at the time, her late father and I saw the movie The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, both Oscar nominated, when it came out in 1970. We were all mesmerized and enthralled, though like many movies made from plays, it was more like the filming of a play than a true theatrical experience.

Last September, Congress, with the strong support of, among others, John McCain, passed a resolution to recommend that the President grant Johnson a “pardon for his 1913 conviction, in acknowledgment of its racist overtones, and in order to exonerate Johnson and recognize his contribution to boxing.” I can find no record suggesting that such a pardon was ever granted.

There’s an online comic book called The Original Johnson. The description: “Trevor von Eeden introduces the first really free black man.” It was just over a century ago, December 26, 1908– “ironically enough, Boxing Day in many countries– Jack Johnson beat Tommy Burns to become both the heavyweight champion of the world, and the most notorious black man on the planet.”

ROG

Another Father's Day

My maternal grandfather, Clarence Williams, played in the Negro Leagues in 1930s. I’ve never been able to track down any statistics or even exactly what team he played for, though my grandmother thought he played for some team called the Giants. There were several “Giants” teams in the day.

The person I knew as my paternal grandfather, McKinley Green, I’ve mentioned before in these pages. He was a janitor, auto racing connoisseur, and loved the horses. I’ve never found the person who was my real paternal grandfather. I’ve long had a very complicated relationship with my father, who died in 2000, and I’m still looking for information about him.

When I became a father in 2004, I had a great deal of optimism about the world. I still love being a father, but the world? I’m not so sure about it. I guess I wanted the world to be freer now than when she was conceived, and I’m not at all feeling that’s the case. I want it to be safer, and given tornadoes in unusual places, more violent hurricanes and the like, not so certain about that one.

There are are some men who just always wanted to be a dad, but I wasn’t one of them. I like being Lydia’s dad – I LOVE being Lydia’s dad – but we’re getting a lot of those “Are you going to have another?” questions. That’s nobody’s business, of course, but I suspect if we were to have another child, he or she would be adopted. In fact, in the period we were “trying to get pregnant”, we got a lot of literature on the topic. We’re not actively pursuing the issue now, but if we do, you’ll be the 100th to know.

I got a handmade card and a two peas in a pod thingy for Father’s Day. I do enjoy this part.

I’m watching the Tonys tonight, my annual opportunity to say, “So THAT’S what (name of actor better known for TV or movies) has been doing lately. I thought maybe he was retired. Or dead.” I expect this person will watch; since Whoopi Goldberg is hosting, I’d bet money that this guy won’t be tuning in.
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Evanier has on his page this Fiddler on the Roof/Avenue Q mashup. I LOVE Fiddler and plan to see Avenue Q this fall.

ROG

Pop's Death

I wrote a little about my grandfather’s life a couple weeks ago. Here’s something about his death. Most of this is from the recovered diaries. I was living in Albany by that time, while Pop was still in Binghamton.

Thursday 6/26/1980: My father [who was living in Charlotte, NC] called to tell me pop died. He sounded incredibly like a newscaster reporting it. Apparently, the landlord hadn’t seen Pop in a couple days, so he got the police to get a search warrant. He was DOA at the hospital {I was first told.]

My real regret is that in my 5½ photo albums, I don’t have one picture of him. Pictures tell a kind of history, which is increasingly important to me.

Called Betty [family friend in Vestal, near Binghamton, with husband and five kids] and asked to crash at her place Saturday night. She had received a call from my father this a.m.

[My sister] Leslie is coming to the funeral [from California.] I haven’t been to [a funeral] in 10 years, and I haven’t been to one where I really cared about the person since 1966.

Saturday 6/28: Spent $15.50 for roundtrip ticket to Binghamton – outrageous! After taking with Betty on the phone, I went to the wake. Pop died Tuesday but wasn’t found until Thursday, necessitating a closed casket, a fact I was grateful for. Dad arranged a wreath around the picture of him on the wall, which says “The Pride of Bloomsburg, Pa.”, [his hometown.] Lots of flowers, particularly from WBNG-TV people [WNBF-TV changed its call letters], who were in abundance at the wake. [My sisters reminded me that one of the arrangements was a wreath in the shape of a horseshoe, probably arranged by my father, in recognition of his love for the ponies.] Also present were [list of many friends and relatives], all people I had not seen in a long time. One man was bawling his eyes out, an old bowling buddy of Pop’s…

After a discussion on the problems of Veterans Benefits for burial rights (he fought in WWI but kept no records), and playing with RJ [Becky, Leslie’s daughter], Mom & Dad took me down crowded downtown Binghamton. (BC Pops and fireworks.) [I always thought these, in some cosmic way, were for Pop. Why it was incumbent for US to prove my grandfather’s veteran’s status, instead of checking with the VA to confirm that status, is now lost on me.]

Sunday, 6/29: Mom & Dad called, asked me to seek out a trailer. After striking out with U-Haul, Betty contacted a Mobil station on Vestal Parkway, from which we got a truck. [We all eat at a diner.] Follow Dad to Binghamton, where we discover that the very items we got the truck for, a couple blond dressers and other various items, including his coins, are gone.

Dad was very angry, tho’ he tried hard not to show it, and Leslie called the police. The items were present Friday night. It was clear that it had to be a 2- (or more) person job…

Sorting thru his personal effects, looking for discharge papers. (The scent of the bedroom slowly made me ill.) I found obscure items like his failure to pay his 1957 state taxes and court appearances so attached; a letter that I wrote to him some years ago ripped in two (which was how I felt about it when I saw it); and various & sundry pictures, 2 of which I will [and I subsequently did] get made into prints…

At the funeral, I saw lots of Dad’s relatives… Pop’s brother and sister were there too. The service…was pleasantly brief.

[Subsequently, a couple neighbors were arrested for the crime.]

Well, that’s pretty much all I wrote. I can’t believe I TOTALLY FORGOT about the robbery. Maybe, my mind decided to hold on to the GOOD things.

Memories of Pop

So I went up to my attic, trying to find some memorabilia for a project I’m working on, about which I will tell you about soon. I didn’t find the memorabilia, but I DID find 10 notebooks I used as diaries between 1979 and 1987, which will also be helpful for that aforementioned mysterious project. But it IS rather painful to read about your immature, self-absorbed thoughts from 25 years ago. (As opposed to my current MATURE, self-absorbed thoughts.)

One of the things I re-discovered was the death of my grandfather a quarter century ago this week. I knew he had died sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but the precise date had fled my memory.

Pop is what we (my parents, my sisters and I) called my father’s father, McKinley Green. Everyone else called him Mac. My nuclear family lived downstairs in a very small two-family house in Binghamton. Pop and his wife, my Grandma Green, Agatha (and it was A gath’ a, not Ag’ ath a) lived upstairs. This was one of two houses owned my mother’s mother, Grandma (Gertrude) Williams, who lived about six blocks away. (HER death I remember quite well: Super Bowl Sunday, 1982.)

Pop was a janitor at WNBF-TV and radio; eventually, the TV station was sold, but he maintained his job at the radio station. I’m not quite sure just how old was, but he was well past the age of retirement, yet the station kept him on to work as long as he wanted, and as much as he wanted. He was such an amiable man that people liked him to be around.

He used to bring home albums (LPs) that had been discarded by the station. Most were “beautiful music” with no artist even listed, or in later years, obscure rock bands that I had never even heard of, but three discs stand out in my mind.

  • “50 Stars, 50 Hits on two great country albums!” That’s the way it was advertised on TV, and I was thrilled when Pop brought a copy home. It featured Buck Owens, George Jones, Minnie Pearl, T. Texas Ruby and many more -46 more, to be precise. In Binghamton in the 1960s, you could get these clear channels (not to be confused with the conglomerate Clear Channel) at night, and I could get stations in New York and Cleveland. I could also reach WWVA in Wheeling, WV, a country station, and I probably listened a couple nights a week for four or five years.
  • Gary Lewis and the Playboys Greatest Hits- Jerry’s son’s band doing The Loser (with a Broken Heart), Where Will the Words Come From, (You Don’t Have to) Paint Me a Picture, My Heart’s Symphony, and my favorite, Jill.
  • The soundtrack to the movie The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968). I saw this movie with my high school friend Carol and HER friend Judy, on whom I had a tremendous crush (though nothing ever came of it.) The film, starring Britt Eklund and Jason Robards, was the film debut of Elliot Gould and served as the final film for Bert Lahr. It started with Rudy Vallee saying: “In 1925, there was this real religious girl. And, quite by accident, she invented the striptease. This real religious girl. In 1925. Thank you.” It also featured songs like “Take 10 Terrific Girls, But Only 9 Costumes.” For a 15 year old, this was really hot stuff, even though the “striptease” in the movie lasted a nanosecond, so getting the album was quite fine.

    Pop was an avid hunter. He provided the vast majority of the venison I’ve ever eaten in my life. The only time I ever used a firearm was with Pop. We went out to the woods somewhere, and he gave me his rifle. I fired. Naturally, the recoil left me sitting on my butt. Pop also liked to bowl, work on cars, and especially go to the track, particularly in Monticello.

    I used to go upstairs and play gin rummy with him while we watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. In the later years, I’d beat him about 50% of the time. On a bulletin board, he had a faded newspaper clipping of Ed Marinaro, the Cornell running back, who was the son or nephew of a friend of his; Marinaro eventually played Officer Joe Coffey on Hill Street Blues.

    From my 6/26/1980 diary: “Pop was a very dark-skinned man with grey hair, thinning, but more prevalent than mine, combed straight back… I recall a certain twinkle in his eye, though I hadn’t seen him in a year and a half or longer; he was never home when I dropped by. I probably should have written more often, but he never wrote back…I would have called if had [had] a telephone, but he refused… The phone company would have required a deposit in switching service from Grandma Green’s name [she died in the mid-1960s] to his, even tho’ he had been paying the bills, [so he had the phone taken out.] He was stubborn that way.”

    I was going to write about Pop’s death, and I will soon. But it was nice to write a little about Pop’s life.