MY LABOR DAY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Mon Sep 4 18:34:02 MDT 1995


HOW I SPENT MY LABOR DAY

I decided to escape my Labor Day depression by taking a stroll.
Most of my local establishments were closed today, but I ran into
two workers I know who were painting a house today in the hot sun.
Not having seen them for three months or more, I caught up on all
the horror stories -- theirs and other people's we know.  These
folks are still being persecuted by a vicious rich landlord I know
too well.  They told me about another friend who spent a gruesome
week at the only free nuthouse in town: St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
Anyway, I made a quip which I did not think very amusing at all
but they howled.  Someone had asked this poor soul if he ran into
John Hinckley, the incompetent jackass who shot Reagan, at St.
E's.  The response was: he runs the commissary.  Upon hearing
this: I blurted out: "Damn!  The rich run everything, no matter
where they are."  I didn't think this was all that funny, but
these folks dropped their paintbrushes and had a hearty laugh.
Well, I guess this was appropriate for Labor Day.

I decided the only thing else I could do today was to visit the
National Portrait Gallery to reconnect with the radical democratic
heritage of the American people.  My purpose was to see the
exhibit "Frederick Douglass: Majestic in his Fury".  It was an
excellent exhibit, with drawings and cartoons, old abolitionist
newspapers, Daguerrotypes and later photos of Douglass, his
smoking cap and walking stick, annotated books in his possession,
editions of his autobiography, and so on.  The life and times of
Douglass were dealt with very frankly on the accompanying text on
the wall.  In this regard the prominent display of excerpts from
Douglass's incendiary speech on the hypocrisy of the American
people in celebrating July 4 was most striking.  I was also
surprised to see an admission of the hypocrisy of Christianity,
which Douglass turned against when he saw that all these revival
meetings that were so popular in his time did not help alleviate
the treatment of the Negro slave one little bit.  Douglass's owner
also participated in this new religious fervor, but it didn't
change things for his slaves.  Anyway, this exhibition was very
moving and I could scarcely hold back the tears.

There was also a new exhibit of art produced by the Chicano
farmworkers movement of the 60s, including an altar to the
farmworker at which Cesar Chavez broke one of his fasts.

Other new acquisitions included several photos, including famous
photos of Pete Seeger and Leadbelly from the 1940s.

I strolled by the familiar painting of Paul Robeson as Othello
(which was banned during the McCarthy era), and on to the other
side of the building, which houses the National Museum of American
Art.  There was an exhibit of old Daguerrotypes from the early
19th century.  A few famous people were included -- Frederick
Douglass and Emily Dickinson come to mind -- but most were just
unknown people, mostly dressed up very fine, including a few black
folks.  There were further new exhibits of American folk art and
wood carvings, stuff from the American southwest, and countless
portraits of American Indians playing ball and such.  Also there
was a new acquisition of a Georgia O'Keefe painting of a
skyscraper.

I stopped in the museum shop and checked out the sale tables (the
only tables anywhere I bother with).  I bought a cheap copy of an
imposing hardback on the art of the Harlem Renaissance.

At closing time I left, but a Chinese volleyball game was still in
progress on the street just outside the museum, so I stayed until
it ended.  ON the way home, I stopped at Union Station to scope
out Washington's lovely Afro-American ladies and get something to
drink, and finally I went home.  Perhaps I am less sad than when I
started out the day.


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