Aug 112013

By Marcus Flores

When Trayvon Martin died, it seemed that decency as well as level-headed thinking died too. Both perished in the wake of a media frenzy that clung to a narrative of race that was, in my opinion, the least salient element of a wholly ambiguous encounter that no one personally witnessed. I attempted to write a column to clarify this, though it was a failure due to the time I devoted to disentangling the legal minutiae as if I were an attorney. I remind you that I am not.

Nonetheless, Trayvon Martin’s death remains a tragedy of the highest order, and not in the least because the teen is dead. As a group, Americans wholeheartedly surrendered their faculties to the corporate manifestation of the left-right paradigm: the media.  Continue reading »

Jun 182013

Town Branch by rheotaxis, part two

By Danny Mayer

From the NY Time's "Mapping the 2010 Census."

From the NY Time’s “Mapping the 2010 Census.”

The root issue is land.

–Max Rameau

Writing in 1964, the sociologist Ruth Glass created the word “gentrification” to define what she saw at play in many of London’s working class neighborhoods. “One by one,” she noted, they “have been invaded by the middle classes—upper and lower.” What Glass saw should by now be familiar. Old Victorian homes long since broken into multiple blue collar domiciles begin to get restored to single family. Blocks of shabby homes transform into pretty domiciles with fresh paint. New businesses arrive weekly to serve the needs of the newly arrived residents. “Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district,” Glass observed of these London neighborhoods, “it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”

In many ways, Glass was writing in 1964 about a topic of marginal interest to an American audience. Though gentrification did occur in select areas of large cities as far back as the 1950s, the general half-century trend that followed World War II here in the non-bombed-out United States was that of suburbanization. The middle class was leaving the city for the unclaimed spaces of newly ripped farmlands, and they were taking their public and private development monies and any other side-capital with them. Along with an aging infrastructure, the working class and poor were what remained behind. Only within the last two decades has this outward trend reversed, with American and global money, its sitcoms, media space, and middle classes now returning to the urban and near-urban core.

One of the first to note this switch was the academic Neil Smith, whose 1996 collection The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the revanchist city connects gentrification to the process of eighteenth and nineteenth century frontier land-claiming. For Smith, a geographer by trade whose first-hand observations of the gentrification of New York’s Lower East Side provide the framework for his book, both the present urban frontier and the past “western” frontier are economic and cultural things. Continue reading »

May 082013

By Joseph G. Anthony


“Ohio Street opened up—300 block, then the 400 block. The powers-that-be would select certain streets or certain areas where we could live.” Amanda Cooper Elliot. Photo by Danny Mayer.

“The past is a foreign country; they did things differently there,” says the narrator in the 1970 movie, The Go-Between.

I certainly hope so.

I wonder if it’s a particularly American trait that the past so quickly becomes first a rumor and then something so dead we view it with the same amazement present-day Romans must feel when they try to extend their subway only to discover yet another lost civilization. But I am not speaking of ancient cities. I’m talking of the lifetime memories of many of our fellow Kentuckians.

I say this because I’ve been researching and writing a novel—Wanted: Good Family—timed mostly in 1948 with long visits to the 1920s. It’s set in Fayette, Scott, and Estill Counties. Three of my narrators are African-American, or—as was the still-respectable and self-applied appellation—colored. My other three narrators are white. My white narrators don’t have an easy time of it: being poor and white in the first half of the century in Kentucky wasn’t, as Bette Davis said of old age, for sissies.  But being poor and colored in Kentucky…well, if they had been Hindu instead of Baptists, they might have wondered just what the hell they had done in those past lives to be faced with so many challenges: spiritual, emotional, physical. Continue reading »

Nov 072012

On the “When separate is not equal” bus

Lift-off point: First African Baptist Church. Photo by Laura Webb.

By Laura Webb

On the afternoon of Saturday, October 13, NoC’s Film Department and I went willingly to a type of space we usually avoid: a church parking lot. Granted, we were not there in search of eternal salvation (much to my relatives’ disappointment, I’m sure), but instead as attendants of the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice’s bus tour of Historic Lexington, part of its ongoing “Voices” event series. The theme of this year’s series, “When Separate is Not Equal: Yesterday and Today,” focused on segregation and the struggle for civil rights.

From African American enclaves such as Kincaidtown (now known as the East End) to more recent inconsistencies in downtown restoration and development, Lexington has a long history of creating segregated spaces. Official area histories tend to recognize, and city revitalization efforts tend to prioritize, the upkeep and maintenance of spaces coded white and upper-class, often directly at the expense of black neighborhoods, landmarks and histories. Continue reading »

Jun 062012

Murder, hatred and George Zimmerman

By Marcus Flores

State prosecutors in Florida, evidently dissatisfied with convicting George Zimmerman of atonable recklessness, have recently announced that they may try Zimmerman for a hate crime because he “profiled and stalked” Trayvon Martin before killing him.  Is this account genuine?

Imagining the scene of any crime is a formidable task for even the most distinguished detective.  Re-creation relies on evidence and witness testimony.  Physical evidence gathered following the February 26 encounter consisted of two components: Trayvon’s scraped knuckles and Zimmerman’s head wounds—which, in tandem, are consistent with a fist fight.  Zimmerman cannot be vindicated on basis of this evidence alone; the wounds speak not to who started the fight but only who came up short during it. Continue reading »

Oct 262011

By Christian L. Pyle

Tate Taylor’s recent movie, The Help, garnered substantial box office and a majority of positive reviews (73% fresh on, but some critics denounced it. Tulane University professor Melissa Harris-Perry called it “ahistorical and deeply troubling.” Dana Stevens of wrote that The Help put “a Barbie Band-Aid on the still-raw wound of race relations in America.”

Still courtesy

Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, and Viola Davis in The Help.

The Help attempts to cover the mistreatment of African-American maids by their white employers in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, the year of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington and Medgar Evers’ assassination. At the center of the film is “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), an aspiring writer and editor of the newsletter of the Junior League, an organization of former debutantes headed by the film’s villain, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). The only writing job Skeeter can find in Jackson is ghosting a housework advice column in the newspaper. Having been brought up with (and by) a maid, Skeeter has no clue how to perform housework, so she enlists the aid of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), the maid for another Junior Leaguer.

As Skeeter begins to explore the life of a maid, she finds that a bizarre and paranoid set of restrictions keeps the maids from using the bathrooms in the houses they clean and confines them to using the same plate and glass every day for their meals. Blacks carry different diseases than whites, explains Hilly, who is spearheading a campaign to put special bathrooms in white houses for the help to use. Hilly fires her own maid, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), after Minny uses the indoor bathroom during a storm.

Skeeter is a familiar type of heroine—too smart and forward-thinking for her environment and brave enough to let everyone know it. Skeeter decides that the treatment of maids must be brought to light. After getting a contract with Harper & Row, Skeeter secretly begins to gather the stories of maids, beginning with Aibileen and Minny, then expanding to others. Skeeter realizes that what she’s doing is illegal (Mississippi had a law against promoting racial equality), and the maids are aware of the terrible violence they would face if their participation became known. Skeeter’s book, The Help, disguises the names of both the innocent and the guilty but creates a local scandal nonetheless. Continue reading »

Sep 142011

Incarceration and voting rights

By Christian L. Torp

Remember learning the American founder’s slogan “No taxation without representation” in grade school? Remember hearing that a major reason the colonists rebelled against English rule was because they were taxed but they didn’t have any say in how they were ruled? And that, because of the Revolution and our independence, we as Americans have the freedom to select our own government and that we are a “democracy” (never mind the republican form of government clause in Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution)?

I remember hearing those things and all about how wonderful they made America. That, even though there were problems, they were fixed, whether it be the abolition of slavery or the women’s suffrage movement of the early twentieth century.

But is all that really true? Continue reading »

Apr 222010

By Joe Anthony

Like many people, I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the depth of the rage exhibited by the tea party group. It has confused me, too. What is it all about? Today’s Lexington Herald-Leader had a Washington Post column by Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar from the very conservative American Enterprise Institute summing up Obama as left of center, certainly not a radical president by any means. The column talks about the dismay many of Obama’s base, me included, have felt at many of his very moderate initiatives. So even conservatives, in moments of clarity, see that this president is about as far from being a socialist as Gerald Ford was, maybe not as near to it as Richard Nixon. So again the question: why all the rage?

I’ve thought about it and come up with a few tentative answers. Continue reading »