Wednesday, May 27, 2015
As I parked, I couldn’t help but notice that the truck next to me had plates from neighboring Idaho which, if I remember the codes, indicate the county from which the driver, or at least the vehicle, comes.
My native Fremont County is “2F” but I noticed the truck had the code for Franklin County, “1F”, which is where my 5th generation bloodlines first took root, creating the first permanent settlement before Idaho was even a territory.
As horsemen and cattlemen, they migrated forty-five years later up near the Tetons where I would be raised forty years later.
But as we waited for our steaks, the guy who owned the truck was able to tell me about a detour Mugs and I were planning to take the next day to a point midway to Casper called Devil’s Gate, shown in the image in this post.
For fans of the TV series , now in a fourth season thanks to Netflix, it is still several hours north to the mythical setting along the Big Horns for Longmire.
Even more dramatic than the photo, Devil’s Gate is a narrow cleft, barely thirty feet wide at the base, which runs along the Sweetwater River for more than a quarter mile between towering 400’-500’ cliffs of granite.
All but four of sixteen lines of my fourth generation ancestors and several sets of the fifth, had passed by this landmark between 1847 and 1851 on Mormon wagon trains.
They descended from families who had immigrated to America many generates earlier, some more than two hundred years before.
But four lines of my ancestors traveled this route between 1855 and 1862, after immigrating directly from Scotland and England aboard packet-ships.
These were three mast, square-rigged sailing ships running from Liverpool to ports such as Boston and Philadelphia with three levels below deck. The bottom hold was for cargo and mail. The top for those who could afford staterooms.
The middle desk, called steerage, was lined on each side with bunk beds with an alley way between. Each passenger was given a supply of food and they shared a small galley for prep.
Those on this deck were poor with travel made possible by a perpetual immigration fund that was beginning to run short.
So when when my then 55-year-old third great grandmother Maria Christmas White stepped off the ship Horizon onto Constitution Wharf in Boston on June 30, 1856 she had a different experience ahead than those went before or after her.
After crossing by train through Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland and down to Iowa City, Iowa, she would have to walk the nearly 1,300 mile journey up and into the Rockies while pulling a 4’x 6’ or 7’ handcart that she shared with four other people.
Instead of crossing the Great Plains into the Rockies on a wagon train as those before and after her would, she was assigned to pull her possessions across the nearly 1,300 miles (two hundred miles further) by foot ahead of a handcart.
She and the others were allowed to take only 17 lbs. of personal belongings each, forcing those fortunate to still have keepsakes to leave them in the fields outside Iowa City as my great (x3) grandmother’s handcart company departed.
The mortality rate overall among Mormon pioneer companies traveling the 1,100 mile route across the plains and into the Rockies was just slightly higher than the average nationwide. In fact, infant mortality on the trail was lower than the national average.
But in 1856, the Martin Handcart Company that included my great (x3) grandmother left very late in the season and was trapped in snow storms and freezing weather across Wyoming.
Express riders passing them on horseback soon warned Brigham Young that the hand-carters were in serious trouble still east of Devil’s Gate.
A rescue party was organized followed by resupply wagons, and among the riders was Thomas Ricks, a 9th cousin two times removed from common ancestors in the 1500s.
It would be Ricks that my Bowman ancestors would follow up into the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho after he settled along the Henry’s Fork in the 1883, 27 miles south of what would become our ranch.
On November 1st, the recue riders reached my great (x3) grandmother’s handcart company on Greasewood Creek, 16 miles east of Devil’s Gate, where they took them briefly to regroup and then to a cove just southwest where there was more wood and shelter.
Rescue wagons reached the group, but not before they had suffered a mortality rate nearly five times greater than the average for wagon trains, having lost 145 members.
Coincidentally, Maria Christmas White finally made it to Salt Lake City, just as the first generation of my Idaho ancestors, great-great grandparents on the Bowman side, were getting married and contemplating the move up to Cub River Canyon.
The party who brought the wagons of supplies and then let the survivors ride them on to Salt Lake City had to wait out the winter near Devil’s Gate, surviving on saddle leather for food supplied by Native Americans.
A good read about what my ancestors experienced is a book by Wallace Stegner entitled, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail.
Stegner, who headed creative writing at Stanford, wasn’t Mormon but he spent some of his early years in Salt Lake after relocated there from Iowa with his parents. For me, Mormon history and culture are at the center of his best non-fiction.
I was given the book in high school as a gift from my grandfather on the White side, Maria Christmas White’s great grandson, whose appearance he favored judging from photographs, as did my mother as she grew older.
He and his brothers had grown up sleeping in a log cabin that had been Maria Christmas White’s after her harrowing journey.
We would always drive past his grandparents former place on Walker’s Lane in Holladay, especially after Cottonwood Mall opened there during my teenage years, only the second in America at the time.
The excursions continued when I was attending college at BYU, and he would always retell great (3) grandmother’s story as he pointed out her old cabin.
She was followed four years later by her 23 year old son and 19 year old daughter in law, my great-great grandparents Thomas and Alice White, but by then those crossings had begun using wagons again.
A priceless family photo is of my grandfather Mark White, standing in front of the place on Walker’s Lane, as a ten year old, with my great-great grandparents.
A favorite breakfast spot with my daughter and grandsons when I visit is Ruth’s Diner, a few miles up Immigration Canyon from where they live, which was first established in an old Trolley Car about the time I was born.
We drive past the This Is The Place monument, a spot near where Brigham Young signaled a few days after two of my ancestors on the first wagon train had ridden as scouts down into Salt Lake Valley, that “this is the right place.”
It wasn’t marked at all until 1915, seventy years after my ancestors first past through the canyon on their arrival and nearly 63 years after my great (x3) grandmother rode past with her rescuers.
An obelisk was erected there in 1921. The huge monument there now wasn’t finished until 1957 when I was nine years old, 101 years after my great (x3) grandmother’s rescue.
Down in Temple Square, there is another statute honoring the handcart companies in case you visit.
But for me, no monument visit will ever top the brief detour to Devil’s Gate on a winter’s day.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The extraordinary violence or at least the constant threat of it that plagues impoverished neighborhoods is perpetuated by a tiny minority .
It is nothing new.
It was first documented by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in the mid-1890s while doing a survey of poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia as a post doctorate fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.
This was more than a decade before he would help found the NAACP and in 1899, his findings were published as a book by Penn entitled, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.
Born at the end of the Civil War, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was perplexed by the enduring aftereffects of slavery which were deepened by the defacto racial segregation that replaced the “Black Codes” put in place as he was born.
Known as Jim Crow laws, they had even been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court during the time of his observations of black on black violence in neighborhoods that were segregated by both race and poverty.
In part, for contrast, Du Bois also went on to analyze enclaves of middle class and affluent blacks as he did in 1912 in Durham, North Carolina where I live, pointing to the influence of a more “tolerant and helpful community” even then one of the Bull City’s overarching traits.
It was the 50th anniversary of emancipation but Durham then, as it is now in so many other ways, was an outlier. Within months, the Ku Klux Klan was resurrected in Georgia and rapidly spread across the nation.
It has now been six decades since segregation was declared unconstitutional and nearly that long since he passed away at age 95 but the problems Du Bois first traced to slavery and then racial segregation still inhabit areas of deep poverty.
A new book I mentioned last week entitled, Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, is a series of sociological overviews longitudinally weaving together hundreds of studies such as Du Bois’s.
It is edited, as well as mostly written by Dr. Orlando Patterson, another black sociologist with roots at Harvard.
Patterson notes that the black homicide rate documented by Du Bois in the mid-1890s was “more than five times that of the white population.”
In the late 1980s, social historian, researcher and Haverford College professor Dr. Roger Lane took these metrics back to 1860 and then forward to the 1980s making the connection to what he referenced as a “cultural of violence long nurtured by exclusion and denial.”
By the 1960s, according to Patterson, the black homicide rate had grown to be “11.46 times that of the white rate.” This discrepancy “peaked at 39.4 times in 1991 and has stabilized today at still about “seven times that of whites.”
Today the discrepancy among teens is more “eight times.”
The homicide offending rate today is also higher among black teenagers, “eight times the white teen rate of murders,” giving rise to awareness of black on black crimes.
While significant, Patterson does not see poverty alone as the cause although it is poor neighborhoods where both victimization and offending is highest, perpetrated by a razor thin proportion of people there.
While racism and stereotyping among police may play a role, the findings in Cultural Matrix suggest to me that a far greater possibility is that both the officers involved and the victims in these neighborhoods may have been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
Patterson explains that “By a socially and culturally toxic environment we mean three things: the pervasive culture of violence and threat of physical danger already existing in a community of upbringing; weak neighborhood efficacy; and institutional neglect and incarceration.”
He explains neighborhood efficacy by citing studies defining “collective efficacy” such as “social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good.”
It can be more effective at instilling social controls than formal mechanisms such as police and courts, something the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, another social historian often pointed out.
According to Patterson, “Growing up in the presence of pervasive violence tends to make one violent…Black children in the inner cities perceive their world as a violent, threatening place….”
Studies show that “environmental trauma” leads to “fear conditioning” which leads to “anxiety disorders,” and “chronic anxiety” that can disrupt “the developing architecture of the brain.”
Our brains are wired to profile but if profiling is useful at all as a tool to solve this conundrum, it would not involve race or socio-economics at all. It would go something like this:
Look for animal abuse to find abusers of children and domestic partners. That will also be a predictor of violent offenders in the neighborhood.
For anyone truly concerned about social justice, this would also be a far more effective way to get involved.
Other “eyes and ears” should include solid waste collectors, water meter readers, cable and utility installers as well as animal control officers and of course, neighbors.
Earlier this month, Brookings published “10 facts about child well-being and health in America.”
One is that “In 2013, nearly 680,000 children were reported to states to be the victims of abuse or neglect” and “1,520 died from maltreatment…80% at the hands of their own parents.
Another is that “An estimated 13 percent of all U.S. children and 21 percent of black children will experience confirmed maltreatment at some time between birth and adulthood.”
Police need to be accountable but it is clear, according to Patterson’s book of studies, that so do parents and neighborhoods.
Poor neighborhoods must seem capable of being a war zone at time but it is crucial to remember that the vast majority living there are “friendlies.”
This even includes the vast majority of the between one and two-in-10 who are totally disconnected from society.
Repeat after me:
Look for animal abuse to find abusers of children and domestic partners. That will also be a predictor of violent offenders in the neighborhood.
Friday, May 22, 2015
In the image in this essay, I am holding my middle sister who was born two years and ten months after me.
For three and a half years, it would be just the two of us. I was three years and 10 months old when that family photo was taken.
It had become separated from thousand of other family photos and resurfaced in a box my mother left for me to organize in January when she died.
Nine months before my first sister was born, when I was two, my parents had very briefly separated.
All but four memories from before I was five or six, which is when my second sister came home, faded away because, as researchers have learned, before that age we really haven’t developed the capacity to retain them.
That’s why we are rarely able to recall memories of events before the age of three or four.
The three I can recall are flashes that were later filled in by my parents.
One is from around when that photo was taken at 3 years, 10 months when I recall being thrown over my dad’s shoulder while being carried into the house late one night after returning home from visiting our grandparents.
Another is when I was three and a half being pulled on a makeshift sled behind my parents who were on snowshoeing up to play cards one night with friends.
The third flash I recall from that period is when I was four and riding between my parents early one morning to get my tonsils removed in the new hospital in Ashton, the closest town to our ranch.
A fourth is being pushed to the floor boards of an old jeep I would later inherit as my first vehicle. I was five and the Jeep was slowly overturning on the corner leading down to the ranch after my dad failed to negotiate a huge snow berm.
No one was hurt but I remember walking down to the ranch house where my mom was furious with my dad from fear.
I’m not unusual. Researchers call our inability to remember much before we are three or four, “childhood amnesia.” Theorists today believe we can recall information for weeks or months as babies.
But retaining memories involves linking them to verbal cues.
A study published a year ago by researchers at Emory University compared rates of forgetting among young children, college students and middle-aged adults.
It also replicated earlier research into childhood amnesia.
Results showed that in children the earliest memory tended to be 3.67 years. There was no difference for different age groups or for college students or middle aged adults or even for older adults (ahem!)
One relates is to events that help us feel continuity with who we are or how we’ve changed. Another type serves to guide behavior such as things we want to avoid repeating.
A third type is “social-bonding memories” that involve relationships.
Shellenbarger continues in her review of these studies, “The ability to draw on all three types of memories predicts higher psychological well-being, a greater sense of purpose and more positive relationships.”
They also help shape better “choices in adolescence and adulthood.”
Parents, especially mothers but often fathers can aid these memories when they use a style that includes asking opened-ended questions versus just repetitive reminiscing.
My daughter manifests this elaborative style with my two grandsons. These studies show that this is more worthwhile than just taking millions of photos.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Our local paper speculated this week that the downtown “loop” has been a matter of “civic discourse for at least a couple of decades.”
Actually, it has been more like six decades if you count the discourse leading up to creating it in the mid-1950s.
It took a couple of decades to create it but after a little more than a decade in use, the same group that pushed for it, now under a different name, began advocating its demise, ironically using the same rationale used to create it.
Tragically, it’s too late for the hundreds and hundreds of historic structures that were destroyed to create the “loop,” including the iconic Durham Union Station (shown in a County Library photo below).
But the story of the “loop” is not only the story of a near miss but that of an era.
More than three decades before the early 1990s founding of today’s Downtown Durham Inc., a predecessor was formed, first as a committee of the Merchant’s Association, then as the Downtown Development Association.
When I arrived in 1989 to jumpstart Durham’s first community destination marketing agency, I gathered intelligence by interviewing many of those earlier bygone commercial activists.
Refreshingly, they were willing to look back on regrets as well as achievements.
The “loop” was meant to save downtown Durham when it was envisioned in 1958.
Forest Hills Shopping Center had just opened on the southern outskirts and by the next year, even the increasingly “Black” neighborhood to the east would have a new shopping center, Wellons Village.
Rumors, soon founded, were that the Rand family was planning another to the north.
Of course, we know now that it was television that was changing the retail landscape by promoting to viewers the misperception that vast regions were centric.
This included the notion of driving a hundred miles to buy something consumers could easily find at home, thereby robbing their own local business climate and tax base.
But it wasn’t just competition that worried downtown advocates in the mid-1950s.
Durham had been the fastest growing county in North Carolina during the 1930s and second fastest during the 1940s, just behind Mecklenburg.
But what had Durham leaders worried was how fast Durham still continued to grow into the 1950s, while the number of jobs hadn’t grown since the end of World War II, more than a decade.
Poverty had first taken root in Durham in a neighborhood now called Edgemont in 1938 after a mill closing there brought on by the Great Depression.
But Durham continued to grow economically during the war years, thanks in some part I supposed to four cigarettes including Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields being included in each WWII ratio kits.
However, that growth abruptly ended in 1947, while the flood of people moving here didn’t.
There is evidence that this imbalance is the root of Durham’s generational poverty rate today.
By 1960, when downtown advocates formally proposed creation of the “loop” to local officials, 1-in-3 Durham residents lived in poverty, as did 1-in-4 North Carolinians and about the same proportion of Americans.
One rationale used for the “loop” back then was that it would make the Research Triangle Park more attractive to tenants.
It was a new project carved out of southeast Durham pinelands just four miles from downtown that Durham leaders such as George Watts Hill and Yancey Milburn, members of the downtown group, had been furiously working to create.
The report was shaped in the immediate aftermath of a transition from federal grants for Urban Redevelopment, which had been pushed in the late 1930s, finally passed in 1949 and then re-branded as Urban Renewal in 1954.
The program, which had to overcome opposition from rural lawmakers, incentivized communities to tear down old buildings to make way for parking lots and then sell surrounding parcels to private sector developers.
However, Urban Renewal was already in disrepute by 1956, when architectural journalist Jane Jacobs gave a presentation at a Harvard conference leading up to creation of a new discipline.
It was called urban design, a fusion of architecture and planning that would focus on overall settings rather than icons.
As downtown Durham advocates began meeting to plot its salvation in 1958, they should have been reading a new book based on a series of articles that Jacobs and others had been writing in Fortune Magazine.
Entitled The Exploding Metropolis; A study of the assault on urbanism and how our cities can resist it, the essays in the book might have helped Durham not only avoid a huge mistake but leapfrog to a new paradigm.
Economic development was just beginning a transition from the 20th century’s obsession with “what you don’t have” to what urban researcher Edward T. McMahon calls the 21st century model of focusing on “what you do have,” a transition even today that so many communities have failed to make.
Instead, Durham’s downtown advocates issued a report in November, 1960 based on the falling-out-of-favor Urban Renewal, just as Jane Jacobs was putting the finishing touches on a book that would be published a year later entitled, The Death and Life of American Cities.
It rewrote the book on rebuilding cities. In fact, Durham’s Downtown Development Association members would have had access to excerpts published months earlier in Harper’s and the Saturday Evening Post which were very popular at the time.
Jacobs advocated an organic understanding of how districts evolve, the way Ninth Street evolved in Durham during the 1970s and the way downtown Durham evolved before WWII.
She articulated the importance of innate character and what would two decades later be christened as sense of place in an essay by Wallace Stegner.
By a matter of days if not hours, Durham was caught instead on the far side of the paradigm shift and soon set about destroying vast swaths of its organic character only to discover that Durham was able to populate RTP and become an economic engine again without it.
But a decade later, what I term a sense of place revolt dramatically slowed the destruction and birthed historic preservation here, just as the movement swept across America, as much in reaction the carnage of Urban Renewal as the nation’s upcoming bicentennial.
Within a few years a new breed of private developer including a couple who taught business at Duke emerged and began to adapt historic structures to new uses rather than destroy them.
By the 1980s they were populated with offices, galleries, restaurants, artists studios, apartments, music venues and stores.
The last Durham project predicated on the destruction enabled by Urban Renewal was a convention center and adjoining hotel, which opened in 1989 just as I arrived. They looked as though they just didn’t fit and still do.
As a seeming nod to that bygone era, every decade or so since, Durham has continued to erect an icon that doesn’t fit. It is as though the developers, often the local governments that should know better, are still defiantly objecting to sense of place.
They seem to forget, to quote from Witold Rybczynski in Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities, that “The real challenge for cities today is not to create more icons, but rather to create more such settings.”
But as downtown advocates regrouped in the early 1990s to complete the task of revitalization, they were still plagued by the same inertia faced by predecessors nearly forty years earlier.
Back then a survey found that 76.9% of Durham residents community-wide supported the redevelopment of downtown including 57.7% who would support a new tax levy to do it.
But ironically only 41.8% of the merchants and property owners downtown were positive in regard to either redevelopment or a tax to fund it.
Fast forward four decades and the biggest suppressant to bringing downtown fully alive were landowners who didn’t have the means or interest to do so but were sitting on properties hoping others would.
This time, fortunately, the federal government came to the rescue with a new secret weapon, New Market Tax Credits, which when joined with historic tax credits and tens of millions of dollars in local government funds, created the turnaround.
Even as this second renaissance of downtown Durham took root, many were clearly still under the spell of outmoded Urban Renewal thinking such as the need for icons and very slow to grasp what Jacobs saw so clearly about the importance of sense of place and organic evolution.
In a twist of irony, Durham ended up preserving the highest proportion of its historical assets and converting them to adaptive reuse of any of North Carolina’s urban areas and most nationwide.
Yet officials, even today, seem prone to fixate on big projects rather than the little things that facilitate organic revitalization and sense of place such as the upkeep and overall community appearance noted in that 1960 downtown report.
They fail to understand that Americans, regardless of age, prefer protecting neighborhoods to revitalizing them.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
I didn’t see his name on the program, but I wonder if the buzz among those attending the ecumenical and bipartisan-intended poverty summit held at Georgetown was regarding the new book edited and mostly written by Dr. Orlando Patterson at Harvard.
The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, published several weeks earlier is not for the casual reader, not only because it is a little pricey but because it is dense with data and scientific findings associated with poverty.
It should be required reading for anyone who is serious about this issue or who gives it news coverage or those who flippantly betray their cynicism.
But be sure to have a fresh highlighter ready.
Black himself, Patterson is what is called a historical and cultural historian. He is one of those sociologists who having unwrapped the intricacies of poverty believes in a mix of structural and cultural solutions to poverty.
One of the unfortunate obstacles to eliminating poverty is that people in general have divided into two camps advocating for what have become stereotypical and simplistic avatars for not having to delve into more nuanced and integrated solutions.
On one side are “structuralists” who view the solutions to poverty around structural improvements to society such as jobs, housing, addressing institutional racism, and improved access to food, education and healthcare.
Lately, this is the camp that has been all about pointing the finger at law enforcement as the impediment.
On the other side are “culturalists” who have closed their minds to anything but improved values and rooting out learned behaviors and traditions.
This, I think, is what some people are trying to say when they use those judgmental fighting words - “a culture of poverty,” which is a perversion from what this description meant when coined in 1970.
Of course, as Patterson points out, there is no such thing. That doesn’t mean that unwrapping and eliminating poverty shouldn’t involve a deeper understanding of cultural as well as structural and social justice influences, though.
Moderates like me are probably capable of irritating both camps.
The well-intended but underfunded “War on Poverty” was structural in nature. Conservative opposition dating to the Great Depression and earlier was given stereotypes to cling too during the 1980s by President Reagan’s non-existent, “Welfare Queen” have been a brittle form of culturalist by nature.
I read Dr. Patterson’s new book after reading a fascinating op-ed he penned in the New York Times just days before this month’s poverty summit convened at Georgetown.
Entitled, The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities, it reminded me of when I first arrived in Durham to jumpstart community marketing here. I was still inventorying the community when I was appointed to the board of the chamber of commerce.
Having heard some disparaging remarks both about Downtown and a blighted inner city neighborhood to the East, I invited a long-time Durham resident on a field trip. It is an area planners have re-christened North East Central Durham by planners, although it is not really north or central, to distinguish it from those further east.
My counterpart who headed the chamber accepted my invitation to drive through both neighborhoods. My point was to show him how bustling Downtown was at night in 1990 but to also disavow him of the impression that disadvantaged neighborhoods nearby were composed entirely of jobless poor people.
We drove down several streets with well maintained for homes and lawns. Patterson points out twenty five years later that on average, 20 to 25 percent of residents of neighborhoods such as these are “solidly working class or working poor” who are for the most part conservative when it comes to values.
In his book, Patterson notes that another 25% of disadvantaged neighborhoods are comprised of people he classifies as “ghetto middle class,” though constantly exposed to what he calls the toxicity of a core “problem minority” that varies from 12 to 28 percent.
It is a small group, whose influence often reaches into surrounding middle class neighborhoods, spawning downward mobility among youth.
This ratio explains why in surveys more than 40% of people living in or near poverty cite a decline in the desire to work among their neighbors, a view consistent with the majority of Americans.
The remarkable advantage of the book Cultural Matrix is how Patterson and co-editor/contributor and doctoral student/researcher Ethan Fosse weave longitudinally the findings of hundreds and hundreds of studies, both quantitative and observational into a readable narrative.
There are also very practical tidbits in this extraordinary book. For instance, those hoping to unwrap the opinions of the poorest of the poor may be misled when they espouse the importance of education and work.
This minority in the poorest minority poor neighborhoods can appear to resemble conservatives as most of them espouse values such as individual effort, personal responsibility, the American Dream and being a good parent.
They also similarly express and demonstrate negative views toward government, business and institutions (especially criminal justice,) even hip-hop.
Studies show that these normative values come from a vastly higher consumption overall of media including television and contrast greatly to a reality of “structural disconnection and cultural divergence” that results in even greater suffering.
We are all vulnerable to espousing values disconnected from our actions, regardless of where we fall on the ideological spectrum, especially it seems those who claim to be the most conservative.
It is just that our hypocrisy, but for the grace of God, does not result in our own suffering.