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Tag: race

1965 was a very good year for Frank Sinatra

Saturday, 12 December, 2015 0 Comments

Observing the 50th birthday of Frank Sinatra in 1965, Billboard magazine suggested that he might have reached the “peak of his eminence”. To confound those early obituarists, Sinatra proceeded to record the retrospective September of My Years, which went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, and he topped the charts with Strangers in the Night and My Way. The same year, he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Quincy Jones and they began a long, productive musical partnership.

Frank Sinatra was not short of flaws and he could be very harsh, even cruel, but in the 1940s, when it was neither popular nor profitable, he began to insist that the orchestras that backed him should be integrated. He gave work to musicians, regardless of race, and he helped open the door for many black entertainers. In an interview with Ebony Magazine in 1958, he said: “A friend to me has no race, no class and belongs to no minority. My friendships are formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something in common. These are eternal values that cannot be classified.”

In June 1965, at the “peak of his eminence”, Frank Sinatra, along with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin, played in St. Louis to benefit Dismas House, a prisoner rehabilitation centre that helped African Americans in particular. It was a very good year for Frank Sinatra, and for lots of others who experienced his greatness and generosity.


Mandela’s long walk to freedom

Friday, 6 December, 2013 0 Comments

Given South Africa’s resources, the late Nelson Mandela had the power to become an even greater tyrant than Robert Mugabe. Instead, Mandela decided to become a secular saint. We can only hope that all leaders would act as he did. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, remaining there for the next 18 years. This snippet is from his Long Walk To Freedom:

“June and July were the bleakest months on Robben Island. Winter was in the air, and the rains were just beginning. It never seemed to go above forty degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the sun, I shivered in my light khaki shirt. It was then that I first understood the cliché of feeling the cold in one’s bones. At noon we would break for lunch. That first week all we were given was soup, which stank horribly. In the afternoon, we were permitted to exercise for half an hour under strict supervision. We walked briskly around the courtyard in single file.

Robben Island had changed since I had been there for a fortnight’s stay in 1962. In 1962, there were few prisoners; the place seemed more like an experiment than a full-fledged prison. Two years later, Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system. It was a hardship station not only for the prisoners but for the prison staff. Gone were the Coloured warders who had supplied cigarettes and sympathy. The warders were white and overwhelmingly Afrikaans-speaking, and they demanded a master-servant relationship. They ordered us to call them ‘baas,’ which we refused. The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.

From the first day, I had protested about being forced to wear short trousers. I demanded to see the head of the prison and made a list of complaints. The warders ignored my protests, but by the end of the second week, I found a pair of old khaki trousers unceremoniously dumped on the floor of my cell. No pin-striped three-piece suit has ever pleased me as much. But before putting them on I checked to see if my comrades had been issued trousers as well.

They had not, and I told the warder to take them back. I insisted that all African prisoners must have long trousers. The warder grumbled, ‘Mandela, you say you want long pants and then you don’t want them when we give them to you.’ The warder balked at touching trousers worn by a black man, and finally the commanding officer himself came to my cell to pick them up. ‘Very well, Mandela,’ he said, ‘you are going to have the same clothing as everyone else.’ I replied that if he was willing to give me long trousers, why couldn’t everyone else have them? He did not have an answer.”

Mandela