Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Great Ones Meet the Great One

Bill Walton and Larry Bird Visit the Eugene V. Debs Museum

There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, Saturday Night Live skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards. The question goes something like this: “If you could sit down and have dinner/pizza/a beer with two famous people, who would be your choices?”

Now think about this exercise in historical imagination with changes along these lines: “If you had the opportunity to escort two renowned athletes on a tour of Terre Haute’s world class Eugene V. Debs Museum, which two athletes would you choose?”

Maybe you would opt for two guys with personal integrity and grit (like Debs).  Maybe your draft choices would lean toward team players (like Debs), guys who could lead (like Debs) but guys who knew sacrifice for the whole is a quality every leader possesses (like Debs).

Maybe you would choose guys like Bill Walton and Larry Bird.

Good choices. Walton and Bird are famous athletes, though they are very different in their public personalities.  Walton is irrepressible and Bird is more guarded and retiring (Debs could be both). Both are solid individuals who know the difference between surface and substance. (As Debs proved to all during his long political career).

It was my personal pleasure to guide Bill Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird  through the Debs Museum. (We were accompanied by the able director of this local jewel of a museum, Karen Brown.)  This visit took place on the Sunday morning immediately following the Saturday dedication of the Larry Bird statue.  Thanks go out to “Tribune Star” reporter David Hughes. He had written a story on Bird’s years with the Celtics mentioning Walton’s knowledge and interest in Debs. Walton was contacted and offered a tour of the Debs Museum.  The Big Red Head jumped at the offer.

When I arrived to pick up Walton for the tour, I was slightly floored to hear him ask if it was all right if Larry Bird and his wife Dinah (a graduate of Schulte High School and Indiana State University) could come along.  Needless to say, this was one of the easiest “coaching” decisions I’ve made in my life.

What was this museum visit like for these celebrity sports heroes who, at least in our minds, live and work in such different worlds?

I can’t speak for Walton and Bird, of course.  I can only report that they both showed deep  interest and fascination in Debs’s home and his personal and political life.  The museum holds many period artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings of great events in Debs’s life, and tributes and copies of  letters to Debs from across the nation and around the world.  These ISU and UCLA grads examined it all, with curiosity and concentration.

Bird seemed  particularly interested in the fact that Eugene V. Debs was a native Hoosier, born and bred in Terre Haute and that as a young man had worked for Hulman and Company.    Walton spent some time looking over the list of distinguished recipients of the Debs Award, an honor bestowed on a person whose life work has been in concert with the ideals of Eugene V.  Debs. He noted the names of people given this award each year over the past fifty-one years (What a great tradition this is!) by the Debs Foundation.  Walton specifically pointed out the names of Pete Seeger, Correta Scott King and Howard Zinn.

The first Debs Award recipient was in 1965 and went to John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. I think Larry asked Bill, “Wasn’t Havlicek’s father a coal miner?” The two stars pondered this as they recalled the famous Celtic small forward from an earlier era.  I think this thoughtful question says a lot.

Walton and the Birds spent a full hour-and-a-half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.

Here’s another question asked (I believe by Larry Bird.) while on the tour. Debs, as every Hautean should know, ran for president five times.  Even at the turn of the twentieth century candidates were expected to meet, speak with, and press the flesh of voters and supporters.  This meant extensive travel.

“How [I’m paraphrasing from memory] did Debs get around back then?  How many miles did he travel on political and union organizing campaigns?”

Think about this question and think about the endless travel, the long waits in many cavernous air and train terminals, the myriad cookie-cutter hotel rooms Walton, Bird, and, yes, Debs, endured.  

Monuments, museums, statues, history speak to us. Bill Walton and Larry Bird found much in the Debs Home Museum that spoke to them. When was the last time you visited this wonderful museum and listened to what it has to say?

Gary Daily retired from Indiana State University as Associate Professor of History, Women’s Studies and African American Studies in 2000. He has been a member of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation since coming to Terre Haute in 1970. Though not much of a sports fan today, he attended every ISU home game during the Larry Bird era. Bill Walton is easily his favorite vegetarian, anti-Vietnam War, college basketball All-American. 

The above article titled "Time for a Tour?" appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Dec. 8, 2013.
Go Here

The Eugene V. Debs Museum is located at 451 N 8th St., Terre Haute, IN. 47807 (Just three blocks north of the Larry Bird statue.).  This museum is free and open to the public.  Hours at the Home are Tuesday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:30 p.m.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Women Missing from Terre Haute's "Walk of Fame"

What about the women?

Terre Haute’s Walk of Fame (see The Tribune-Star, Nov. 12, 2013) is a welcome reality thanks to a committee that works hard, on a volunteer basis, without a real budget, to create something meaningful and lasting.

Citizens proud of our city and its past should visit and gaze on the plaques embedded along Wabash Avenue. The Walk of Fame, those recognized on these beautifully cast iron plaques, are all deserving of celebration. They are all an important part of Terre Haute’s heritage.

But heritage is a tricky term. Heritage is not history, history being that hard, messy business of collecting evidence and asking and trying to answer questions about what happened in the past.

Heritage? Not much in the way of inquiry going on. The plaques along Wabash Avenue smile up at us, factoids, evidence not history.

Historians a thousand years from now may dig through the debris of a past civilization, calling their government research grant something exciting, maybe, “The Search for the Hautean People of the River.” You can imagine their excitement when they find these Walk of Fame plaques buried deeply in the sediment of hard, sun-baked clay. What might they make of them? What questions would they ask of this evidence? What conclusions might they draw from the story told by these mute memorial facts?

So far, thirty individuals have been chosen for the Walk of Fame heritage project. Of the thirty only four are women. Why is this?

Heritage has been a man’s game. Visit Rome and count the marble heads in museums and the saluting generals and emperors on columns and plinths. Men rule — literally and in stone and bronze. And now it seems in cast iron plaques along Wabash Avenue. In the not-too-distant past, inheritance (a legal form of heritage) was about property and power being passed on father to son. But history has changed. Historians ask new questions of the evidence. Questions along the lines of “What about the women?” are now standard among historians.

Women are half the population, hold up half the sky, and have lived among the “Hautean People of the River” almost since Terre Haute’s origins.

So how does our silent but impressive Walk of Fame contribute evidence to answering the question: “What about the women?”

At present, this “What about the women?” question can only be answered with a quizzical shrug or a cynical “not much.” But here’s a start, one long overdue. Tomorrow the selection committee for inductees should announce that Ida Husted Harper will be added to the Fourth Class of Walk of Fame inductees.

This short-hand run down lists some of Harper’s national and international accomplishments:

• Journalist and editor for Terre Haute newspapers for 20 years.

• Early organizer of Indiana’s woman’s suffrage organization.

• Handles press relations for California suffrage amendment in 1896.

• Close friend and biographer of Susan B. Anthony.

• Editor of volumes 4-6 of History of Woman Suffrage,

• Head of Leslie Bureau of Suffrage Education for National American Woman Suffrage Association.

• Delegate and head of press relations for International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

• Nationally syndicated writer for many newspapers and magazines

If you think gaining the vote for women, half the population of this nation, was a good thing, an amazing achievement, a banner marker in the history of our nation’s representative democracy, then think of Ida Husted Harper as one of the top 10 leaders instrumental in achieving this.

I look forward to seeing Harper added to the list of recent Walk of Fame inductees.

The next group of inductees should all be women. Suggestions for this catch-up list are forthcoming.

Gary Daily

Terre Haute Tribune Star, Readers Forum,  November 24, 2013.