There was something of a contretemps last week in Bloomington. Bloomington North High School played a basketball game against Martinsville and someone, presumably from Martinsville, complained that the rendition of the National Anthem performed by Bloomington North sophomore Shai Warfield-Cross was “disrespectful to current and former members of the military” leading the Bloomington North administration to order Ms. Warfield-Cross to perform the song in a more “traditional” manner at any future games where she might be called upon to sing. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Ms. Warfield-Cross is African-American and that the complaint had presumably came from Martinsville.
Martinsville has a reputation as a “sundown town,” that is, if you are a minority you’d better be out of Martinsville by sundown. It has a history of being a hotbed of Klan activity and had been haunted for over 30 years by a notorious racist murder when in 1968 a beautiful young African American woman named Carol Marie Jenkins who was stabbed to death with a screwdriver as she sold encyclopedias door-to-door. This murder was solved in 2002 when the daughter of a man involved in the crime, Kenneth Richmond, came forward. She had been seven years old and riding in a truck with her father and another man when her father saw Ms. Jenkins walking along the road. Her father stopped the truck and he and the other man, who is still not identified, chased down Ms. Jenkins and, while the unidentified man held her, Richmond stabbed her in the chest with the screwdriver.
“She deserved it,” Mr. Jenkins said as he climbed back into the truck.
Richmond’s daughter supplied a key detail that the police had withheld from the public, that Ms. Jenkins had been wearing a yellow scarf at the time of her murder. Kenneth Richmond, who had a history of bizarre behavior including a successful self-castration and an acquittal by reason of insanity to an attempted murder charge in Owen County, was arrested but died of bladder cancer before he could be brought to trial. The final irony was that Kenneth Richmond had not been a resident of Martinsville at the time of the murder. He hadn’t even lived in Morgan County. Richmond had been living on a farm in Hendricks County, a county adjacent to Morgan County.
So when news that Ms. Warfield-Cross’s freedom of expression had been squelched by administrators from her own school the community reacted with overwhelming support for Ms. Warfield-Cross. Scholars from IU weighed in and hundreds of comments were posted on the local newspaper’s website. Fellow students at Bloomington North seemed a bit befuddled over all the fuss but supported their fellow student whole-heartedly. Her performance of The Star Spangled Banner at an earlier game was posted on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KVQUjxrgrM so people could draw their own conclusions.
However, one of the hundreds of comments in particular made me think of a strange dichotomy that I’d often thought about before in passing. A poster identified as true2 wrote, “When it comes to the national anthem there is a huge generation gap. Baby boomers grew up in a postwar era. Pearl Harbor was still an extremely painful memory. Patriotism was emphasized at home and at school. If the national anthem was played at any event, people stood at attention, their eyes respectfully on the flag, men took off their hats, and many placed their hands on their hearts.”I’m a Baby Boomer born in 1963. My mother was a Baby Boomer born in 1944. My father, born in 1943, isn’t considered a Baby Boomer and my brother, born in 1965, isn’t considered one either.
The experiences of the Boomers of my mother’s generation and those of my generation are so far apart as to practically be like being raised in different countries, different epochs. Pearl Harbor was ancient history. Neither of my parents had even been born when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and post-war? What does that mean? Only five years after WWII ended we were involved in the Korean War, a War that would have truly been a “forgotten war” if not for episodes of M*A*S*H, and then the big one, the one that defined the era of the later Boomers much like the struggle over Civil Rights for African Americans defined the era of the early Boomers, Vietnam.
When I grew up protests against the Vietnam War were everywhere and anti-war protestors were seen as heroes in the eyes of youth. “Question Authority,” we were told as we came home to the Watergate Hearings on TV. Patriotism was for saps. The buzz phrase at the time was “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30,” along with “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out,” and “If It Feels Good, Do It.” Men didn’t wear hats. They wore long hair and love beads while women wore miniskirts and no brassieres.
In 1970 California became the first state to enact “no fault” divorce and from there the divorce rate skyrocketed. No longer would the nuclear family be considered the “norm” though how much it had ever been the norm is questionable as my mother’s mother had been married and divorced repeatedly. The struggle for Civil Rights spilled over to included women and homosexuals. It became commonplace, even expected, for women to aspire to paid careers outside of the home, though my mother and grandmother and great-aunts all worked in factories so it was already the norm to me.
Maybe because we were never a sporting family the National Anthem didn’t register a dint in my subconscious. I can’t recall ever being at an event as a child where the Star Spangled Banner was played though we did learn it in music class along with America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land.
So even as the Boomer generation moved through American society like a rabbit through a snake I could never get behind the notion of Baby Boomers as a monolithic force. There were too many internal divisions, too many cultural fissures, for that to hold true.
This small skirmish in our ongoing culture wars was settled within a week. Bloomington North issued a public apology, seemingly heartfelt. Principal Jeff Henderson praised Ms. Warfield-Cross’s talent and expressed regret that Ms. Warfield-Cross was made to feel as if she had done something wrong.
When I was a student in school we never recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Blind Allegiance to anything was considered a bad thing. A dangerous thing. Today it is written into the Indiana Code that all schools must give students the “opportunity” to recite the Pledge, though in deference to the Supreme in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, decided in 1943, they acknowledge they cannot compel any student to participate if they don’t want to do so. Bloomington North has promised to work harder to recognize the “unique cultural heritage of all of our students and to address language that is insensitive in nature,” and has set their Human Understanding and Diversity Council to work on that issue. They may even have a “diversity event” in response. However, they are also working to “clarify appropriate and acceptable guidelines for the performance of the national anthem that can be clearly articulated in the appropriate musical terminology”
Maybe it’s a generational thing after all.