Tuesday, January 12, 2016

One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and The Shattering of The Color Line in New York

One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and The Shattering of The Color Line in New York
Antonio G. Pereira © 2016 Antonio G. Pereira

        In these times in which we live (the year is 2015, and on this morning's news the Confederate Flag is finally coming down in Columbia, South Carolina, as racists claim it as their 'heritage'), it is very fitting that the biography, 'One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and The Shattering of The Color Line in New York' by Pulitzer Prize winning author Arthur Browne, is being published. http://www.amazon.com/One-Righteous-Man-Samuel-Shattering/dp/0807012602
       Samuel Battle, who hailed from New Bern, North Carolina, came to New York in the late 1890s and made New York his home. This book, of which much of the information is taken from Battle's unpublished autobiography that was done in collaboration with the legendary Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes, covers his early youth in the brutally racist Jim Crow South; through his move to New York, and subsequently becoming the very first Black Policeman in New York City. We get a very clear and detailed picture of what America was like during that era. Not only in the South, but in the North as well. We get a crystal clear picture of how the foundation was laid for the garbage element that still populates Law Enforcement in this City of New York. The Garbage Element, being those characters who were able to slip  through the screening process (for some strange reason), get on the Police Force, and end up with a badge and the authority to carry a gun; who put citizen's lives at risk by their behavior and actions. These are the characters whose extent of authority normally, based on their mentality, would go no further than mopping floors someplace. This is the garbage element on the Police Force that not only puts the lives of the populace at risk, but through creating an atmosphere of animosity, makes the job of the Police Officers who have always been dedicated to serving the Public and doing their best to build bridges and help people, that much harder. The good thing about this book is you see a clear detailed history of how the garbage element was able to take hold in Law Enforcement in turn of the century New York, and why this situation continues in perpetuity; even after Frank Serpico and the Knapp Commission Trials during the 1970s.
       Historically, this book is a goldmine. It carries us through World War I, The Harlem Renaissance, The Depression, World War II, and the effects on people's lives during those eras. We see how different people like heroic Black World War I Veterans, ended up in despicable circumstances, as well as Casper Holstein, the Black man who invented the numbers game (the precursor to what we now know as the lottery), and used his wealth to help as many Blacks as he could, but ended up penniless, and Samuel Battle, himself a trailblazer, all ended up forgotten; until this book was published. The lesson being, if you don't keep your own history continually alive, who will?
       Historically, this book makes mention of British Shipping Heiress Nancy Cunard's wonderful anthology, 'Negro'. http://www.amazon.com/Negro-An-Anthology-Hugh-Ford/dp/0826408621 A 'must have' book. {Ms. Cunard was quite a fearless bolt of lightning, and way, way ahead of her time. Her life story would make one powerful movie.} And memories were brought back to me by the mention of Rev. Herbert C. Bank's church, St Cyprian's; which had once stood in the spot where the entrance to Lincoln Center now stands. And Rev. John H. Johnson's church, St. Martin's, that sponsored the one unit St. Martin's Tower in Upper Manhattan, which opened in 1971. Rev. Johnson also authored and self-published a book, 'A Place Of Adventure'. {The second chapter in his book, 'Dutch Bells over Harlem', which is about the origin of St. Martin's 42 Bell Carillion, is deeply moving and breathtakingly beautiful.}
       'One Righteous Man' is an incredible monumental work, and the author Arthur Browne has done an admirable job. I only have one minor criticism. Near the end of the book the author forgot to complete the sentence, 'In 1957, nine African American students walked into all-white Little Rock Central High School under the protection of the 101st Airborne, dispatched by President Dwight Eisenhower', with the complete truth, which was, 'after a very angry and blatantly outraged Louis Armstrong, preparing to go on a State Department Goodwill Concert Tour overseas, EMBARRASSED EISENHOWER INTO DOING IT.'