May 26, 2009: What gets lost

In today’s Boston Globe, there’s an article about Hobson City, Alabama, a “small town which once thrived as a rarity: a place where black people were in charge in the midst of the Jim Crow South.” Now dying, this historic community, incorporated in 1899 and governed by African Americans, once supported businesses, restaurants, a skating rink, and “a vibrant culture centered on the all-black vocational school.”

“Sometimes I think I wouldn’t have gone out and done all that marching if I realized how much we were going to lose,” Mayor Alberta McCory is quoted as saying. Her (complicated, bittersweet) comment re the civil rights movement and its aftermath—Hobson City’s all-black vocational school integrated in 1972—of course reminded me of Lynchburg’s all-black Dunbar High School and that city’s “vibrant” cultural center. After Lynchburg’s schools integrated, Dunbar was razed. And, sadly, something absolutely vital to Lynchburg’s African American community was irrevocably lost.

Because I knew about the Dunbar-demise story, I could instantly understand Mayor McCory’s comment. And, I realized, that immediate gestalt just might be pointing me in a new direction.

To connect the dots:

Dot 1) Because Lynda Woodruff insisted I learn “CONTEXT!” I discovered  the Dunbar-demise story.

Dot 2) Some days I’d emerge from my house, having just spent a few hours reading about Lynchburg history, and realize, “Oh! I live here!”

Dot 3) There are thousands of comparable Somerville stories I know nothing about.

Dot 4) Because I’m currently working on a novel, I have zero interest in researching such stories.

Dot 5) But have enormous interest in reading them; learning more.

Dot 6) A group of writers and activists here in Somerville are looking at community-based journalism, i.e. when interested readers pledge money in order for a journalist to research and write a particular article.

Dot 7) Maybe other writers, from Somerville’s immigrant community, perhaps, could be paid to research and to write such stories.

[I know. This is pretty vague. But, as I’ve learned from following a leading this far, this kinda/sorta stuff is EXACTLY how something eventually happens. Whatever that something is. Like “A Chorus Line” ‘s Michael Bennett said of that amazing Broadway production’s earliest, earliest iteration: “We have something here.”]

Meanwhile, while this sorts itself out, let us mourn Dunbar High School’s death and let us pray that Hobson City’s unique history isn’t lost.

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