Tag Archives: Joe Martin

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All is Grace: A biography of Dorothy Day

By Joe Martin, Contributing Columnist

Author Jim Forest knew Dorothy Day. In the early ’60s he edited “The Catholic Worker” paper, which has never sold for more than a penny a copy since its first edition was handed out in Union Square in New York City on May 1, 1933. “All Is Grace” is Forest’s elegant homage to Day, the Catholic Worker movement she co-founded and the many remarkable people who were part of her eventful life. Her approach inspires the founding principles behind several grassroots organizations in Portland, including Street Roots, Sisters of the Road and Blanchet House. She was 83 when she died in 1980. The book is splendidly enhanced by a terrific array of photographs and artwork.

Day was an unlikely convert to Catholicism. Her childhood home was not a particularly religious one, although she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church. As a young woman she was immersed in the leftist politics of early-20th-century America. She had been arrested a few times — once at a suffragette protest in Washington, D.C., and again in Chicago when a Red Squad descended upon her rooming house, which was connected with the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies. Continue reading

No Room of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death, and Resistance

By Joe Martin, Contributing Writer

In 1985, Desiree Hellegers went to work at the Compass Center in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. There she encountered an astonishing and diverse array of women whose lives had been shattered. Poverty, unemployment, underemployment, poor education, imprisonment, prostitution, childhood abuse, spousal abuse, addictions, loss of family and friends, and physical and mental illness had entangled and stunted these lives. Deep abiding troubles were amplified by homelessness. Continue reading

Twelve Angry Men: True stories of being a black man in America today

This booking photo released by the Cambridge, Mass., Police Dept., shows Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested while trying to force open the locked front door of his home near Harvard University Thursday, July 16, 2009. Gates, a pre-eminent African-American scholar, is accusing Cambridge police of racism after he was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he "exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior." He was released later that day on his own recognizance and arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26. (AP Photo/Cambridge Police Dept.)

By Joe Martin, Contributing Writer

In 1959, a white Texan by the name of John Howard Griffin undertook a most unusual experiment: by ingesting an oral medication and exposing himself to ultraviolet rays his skin went from white to black. He did not gaze into a mirror until the process was complete. When he finally did so he was thunderstruck: “The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised but this was something else. … I looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the white John Griffin’s past. … The Griffin that was had become invisible.” And in that moment he stepped into another universe where nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed for him as a person. Suddenly he was perceived as a black man in America. Griffin’s six weeks as a man with darkened skin in the American South were chronicled famously in his book “Black Like Me.”

How different would Griffin’s experience be today? The essays that comprise “Twelve Angry Men” give urgent testimony to the ongoing emotional and social currency of race in our time and of blackness in particular. Of the 12 authors assembled, most are professionals who have achieved considerable status in academia, journalism, the arts and the legal profession. All have stories of encounters with police for simply being black.

While the notable Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is not one of the contributors to this volume, his infamous run-in with Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley made the headlines and is recounted in the book’s introduction by another black Harvard professor, Lani Guinier. Gates was trying to get into his home when a neighbor reported that a prowler might be trying to break into the house. Gates would be arrested on his porch for disorderly conduct when he protested Crowley’s interrogation. Crowley is white. Eventually President Obama brought Gates and Crowley together for a beer and a discussion at the White House. Writes Guinier: “Hollywood could not have asked for a more cinematic display of the many ways we each “read” race against the backdrop of history, culture, and our individual capacity to exercise power or wield authority.” Continue reading