The Harold Ford. Jr./Bob Corker race for the open Tennessee senate seat has put the spotlight of race on Tennessee. Two unrelated stories this week illuminate how old folks and young folks deal with racial issues.
Most every Tennessee town of decent size has a Masonic Hall. Often these are historic structures–when Franklin’s was built in 1832, it was the tallest building in the state. Dolly Parton was photographed in the Grand Lodge in Nashville for the latest issue of Vanity Fair. A widely reported story, however, shows that blacks and whites remain segregated in the South when it comes to Masonic organizations.
Grand Lodges are for whites, while Prince Hall Lodges are for blacks. Prince Hall, a black man, was admitted to the Masons in 1775, and Black masonry is named for him. While 37 state Masonic organizations grant mutual recognition to each other, the remaining organizations, all in the South plus West Virginia, do not.
It is sad to see such segregation still in place. From what I have seen of the Masons, whose average age seems to be 80, they need every member they can get, of any race.
A far more encouraging story comes from historically black Tennessee State University in Nashville, which this week named Stephen Morrison, a white student, as “Mr. TSU.” Morrison, the first white student to receive the title in the 16-year history of the competition, will go on to compete for the “Mr. HBCU“–Mr. Historically Black Colleges and University.
He probably will not give much thought to joining the Masons.
The November issue of Vanity Fair arrived today, with a couple of Tennessee topics. Amid the ads showing sullen-faced young people wearing expensive clothes, writer James Wolcott fires repeated volleys at politicians who claim that red state inhabitants are paragons of virtue while residents of blue states might as well have license tags reading Sodom or Gomorrah.
He then trots out ten sets of lists showing the top states in various onerous categories such as highest incarceration rates, suicide rates, and number of executions. I stopped reading the piece and began flipping through the numbers to see how Tennessee fared.
Actually, not too bad. Tennessee shows up in only three of the ten lists. We are Number 12 with a bullet in the highest rates of death by firearms in 2003, Number Nine in highest divorce rates, and –pass the gravy–Number Four in rates of obesity.
Once again, everyone in Tennessee should thank God for Mississippi, which shows up on six lists, and heads two of them–highest rate of female incarceration and of highest rate of obesity.
Cue Elvis singing “Mean Woman Blues.”
Whenever a national publication runs what might be called Lists You Don’t Want To Be On, such as percentage of morbidly obese people, number of illiterates, or rate of child abuse, I always pick up the newspaper or magazine with trembling hands to see if Tennessee is there.
Today’s New York Times has a front page article on corporal punishment, complete with a photo of a formidable-looking middle school principal in Texas holding a paddle that would make any fraternity proud.
The article’s seventh paragraph reads:
“The most recent federal statistics show that during the 2002-3 school
year, more than 300,000 American schoolchildren were disciplined with
corporal punishment, usually one or more blows with a thick wooden
paddle. Sometimes holes were cut in the paddle to make the beating more
painful. Of those students, 70 percent were in five Southern states:
Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas.”
Oh, no! I turned to the inside, and there was a map of the US showing the “percentage of students punished in 2002” in the 22 states where paddling is still permitted. The figures came from the Center for Effective Discipline, which sounds like a very strange place to work. But I digress.
The stats are as follows:
Texas must be slipping. As we used to say in Tennessee when education figures were released, “Thank God for Mississippi,” for the Magnolia State was often the one that kept us off the bottom–or the top, depending on how you look at it–of various lists.
That Mississippi must be some place–almost one out of ten students are on the receiving end of paddling. Wonder if teachers are issued official paddles or if they have to procure their own?
My last encounter with corporal punishment was in the seventh grade at Colonial Heights Junior High outside of Kingsport, Tennessee. I had committed some transgression, and was offered the choice of taking one lick from a paddle wielded by a male teacher or writing an 11-page essay.
Heck, I would have taken one lick from King Kong rather than write 11 pages. Several of my comrades made the same choice. We were marched into the hall one at a time, smitten on the backside, then allowed back into the classroom. The blows echoed down the long hall, bringing the activity in every class to a halt as everyone counted the licks.
By the next class change, the entire school would have the answers to these questions: Who got it? Why? Did he (for girls never did anything to get paddled) cry?
As for me, I shed not a tear. But it smarted.
Here’s a charity event that raises a few eyebrows. For five hours, people in Memphis could shoot machine guns, with the proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. No word yet on how much money this event raised; last year’s shootathon raised a mere $1,800.