Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.

Endurance. 

Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin

29 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

  1. I’ve always been disappointed and a little resentful that Juneteenth was not a national holiday.

    In a time when political factions are splitting fandom and opportunists are parlaying their selfish interests at the expense of others’ integrity and joy, this is a happy reminder of why SF fandom is something to cherish.

    The great project of science fiction was unity of purpose, regardless of personal differences. The universe doesn’t care about your phenotype; it clobbers indiscriminately. If everyone were a science fiction fan, climate change would be a global number one priority. Everyone would be working together to lessen the impact of the current plague. Maybe Juneteenth would be a holiday.

    Thanks Chris Barkley.

  2. I know better than anyone what “a long strange trip it’s been” for Chris in fandom, as I spent much of it with him, especially in the early years. I have applauded him every step of the way. Barring my true love, he is still my best friend.

    And I’m still hoping to see Juneteenth become a national holiday.

  3. Thanks for sharing your memories, Charles.

    I first met D very early in my sojourn in fandom. I have memories of our being on the same bus (train?) into New Jersey on our way to a Lunacon, possibly my first Lunacon (and first convention). I got to know her a little better over the years.

    Elliot I got to know fairly well. I met him at Lunacons and during my short stint in the SCA, and then I got involved with, and for a time was married to, Velma “Vijay” Bowen, who was a fanzine and convention fan, was also a TAFF delegate (1999), and coincidentally, El’s cousin. So we were family.
    (Velma’s father and Elliot were first cousins. Elliot’s father was a NY State Supreme Court judge, and did Velma and myself the honor of presiding over our marriage ceremony.)

    And then there was Toni Lay, who unfortunately also left us a few years ago, active in costuming fandom, including as a member of the NJ/NY Costumers’ Guild (a.k.a. The Sick Pups).

    But as for the issues at hand … we WILL endure. What’s more, we WILL see a better world.

  4. @ Mark Richards: DAMN IT, can you STOP subliminally thinking about the NBA????? We’re in the middle of a pandemic! Geez…HEH!

  5. Gosh, you left out Octavia E. Butler. Met her at a bunch of conventions—SFWA Nebula Banquets, etc. But she was not a regular convention attendee.

    The fact that we can list all of the black SF pros/fans on one hand (leaving out “Carl Brandon,” who was a hoax) tells how very white fandom is and was.

    If you’d asked, I had some good photos of Octavia and Velma, too.

  6. John Hertz responds by carrier pigeon:

    Thanks, Chris.

    I also write to say how great Andrew Porter’s photos are.

  7. Thanks, Chris, for remembering three people who were and are friends of mine. Suzle and I published Elliot’s one and only chapter of his TAFF trip report in an issue of The Spanish Inquisition. I will agree that it’s past time to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

    But the nit-picker in me must point out that in your second paragraph, you must be referring to “ancestors,” not “decendents.”

  8. Thanks, Chris, for CinClave: we came down from Michigan (we weren’t living in Columbus O. yet), and I was always sad that there wasn’t able to be a subsequent one.

  9. Thanks, Chris, for making it both global and personal. Very well put, and it is well past time Juneteenth is a national holiday.

  10. @Andrew Porter: I also don’t know the reasons why D. didn’t use her full name, but I know that she didn’t, and also that she didn’t want other people to know what it was. Mike, would you please redact the above?

  11. Chris,
    Hopefully you had the joy of meeting I Abra Cinii, Ariel Cinii and/or simply Abby in your travels. If not then i’m sad you missed knowing her.

    Obligatory Bradbury Quote:
    “That’s all science fiction was ever about. Hating the way things are, wanting to make things different.”

  12. @Brown Robin: I’ve always been disappointed and a little resentful that Juneteenth was not a national holiday. I’m not sure when I learned about Juneteenth; since learning about it, I’ve vaguely wondered why it was not made a national holiday before MLK’s birthday. Maybe he was seen as less threatening (.e.g, more achievable)?

    I remember being awed not by El’s size but by what I knew about him by shortly after I got into fandom — I think he was the first BNF I met. He was one of the most unassuming people I’ve known — not shuffling, more like he didn’t have to prove anything.

  13. @Chip Hitchcock: “I’m not sure when I learned about Juneteenth; since learning about it, I’ve vaguely wondered why it was not made a national holiday before MLK’s birthday. Maybe he was seen as less threatening (.e.g, more achievable)?”

    Black activists and others demanded MLK Day in a very big way. He was not seen as unthreatening when that happened–quite the contrary. Creating the holiday was part of the mainstreaming of King as an individual; that process unfortunately also ended up with his ideas and career lessened for popular consumption.

    There’s never been a similar large-scale organized demand for Juneteenth. I expect there will be now. It falls at a time when it’ll be easy to make it an informal Father’s Day off, which won’t hurt. I expect you’ll see Columbus Day replaced with Juneteenth at a federal level the year the Democrats control Congress or sooner.

  14. I said “less threatening”, not “unthreatening”; I know he was ?controversial? well after his death (not helped by the publicizing of the Hoover smear campaign). But he was at least a contemporary figure who espoused nonviolence, in contrast to many other Black notables of the time; honoring him may have been seen as an easier goal than something that could have been categorized as “digging up old wounds”. Or he may have been a clearer focal point than one of at least three key days in the shutdown of slavery in the US. I’d love to borrow a time machine and run the question by contemporaries, but that’s the sort of thing that genre tells us upsets history.

  15. Pingback: AMAZING NEWS FROM FANDOM: 6/21/20 - Amazing Stories

  16. I’ve long suspected MLK’s birthday became a holiday (as it should be; can Susan B. Anthony’s birthday be next?) because lobbying by ski resorts gave it a push. I hope that’s not too cynical.

    I am around 1/3 Italian heritage, and Columbus Day is ostensibly a holiday to honor people of that heritage but as Italians go, he’s pretty bad. (As HUMANS go, he’s pretty bad.) I guess John Gotti is worse, but I’d be fine passing on the honor, and replacing adding Juneteenth in its place (I’ll be honest: they had me at strawberry pie). It’s more fun to celebrate in June than in October.

    I am annoyed Marvin missed Maria Markham Thompson, who has been in fandom at least as long as I have and is presently serving as the Treasurer of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. (Maybe he thinks of her as Latinx, which she also is.) And my old college buddy, Jeanette Holloman, RIP, an avid and creative costumer.

  17. @Eva Whitley: “I am around 1/3 Italian heritage, and Columbus Day is ostensibly a holiday to honor people of that heritage but as Italians go, he’s pretty bad.”

    A friend of mine pointed out on Facebook that a holiday to honor Italian heritage would honor Cristoforo Columbo

    I myself would settle for swapping those statues out for statues of Lt. Columbo, America’s Working Class Detective. Those should last until the 24th Century.

    I do hate giving up a federal holiday under any circumstances. That’s a day of pay for a day off, and it skips benefiting the upper classes. (It doesn’t give full value to the very poor either.) I’d rather make the old Columbus Day either Indigenous People’s Day or Everybody’s Heritage Day. #MakeAmericanCalendarsBrazilianAgain

    “I’d be fine passing on the honor, and replacing adding Juneteenth in its place (I’ll be honest: they had me at strawberry pie).”

    My two favorite proposed emblems for a flag for Southern Heritage are Ray Charles and blackberry cobbler.

  18. @John —

    My two favorite proposed emblems for a flag for Southern Heritage are Ray Charles and blackberry cobbler.

    Peach. With vanilla ice cream.

  19. Blackberry rather than peach? I think of blackberries as more temperate-zone (e.g., I get several quarts/year out of 1 12-foot row in Boston) and peaches more more temperate/tropical; how common are blackberries in the South?

  20. @Chip —

    how common are blackberries in the South?

    Very. They grow wild all over my property wherever I give them a chance.

    (Note that I am in the “Mid-South”, rather than “Deep South”. However, various Rubus spp are native from Florida way up north in Canada.)

  21. @Contrarius: Rainbow cobbler, then! If it doesn’t exist, we’ll invent it.

    My mama did love peach cobbler. I thought about that on Father’s Day, oddly enough.

  22. “How common are blackberries in the South?

    Very.”

    And if you’ve ever picked them, you know chiggers are as well.

  23. I’ve recently been recommending the Lion’s Blood series by Stephen Barnes. I am sad that there was not a book 3 in the trilogy. His wife Tananarive Due also wasn’t on this list. They made a fun Duckon GOH a while back. Also, if you want to throw in some LGBTQ people, there’s a companion album by Heather Alexander/ Alexander James Adams. Having the music playing while reading the series made it even more eerie, chilling, and flavorful.

    Recently saw a presentation at the Waukegan Library on the history of chocolate, and the presenter mentioned how the slave trade was important to the chocolate trade. So I mentioned this book series, and how, in this alternate history, Black Muslims had enslaved white folks, especially the Irish. White people did not come to the New World as gods, and thus, the Aztec Empire was not wiped out. In fact, Shaka Zulu comes to the New World to fight them.

  24. Andrew Porter wrote: “The fact that we can list all of the black SF pros/fans on one hand (leaving out ‘Carl Brandon,’ who was a hoax) tells how very white fandom is and was.”

    As others have pointed out, there were more BIPOC in fandom than the handful who were nationally prominent and the few Chris happened to know. (And nobody knows the race of correspondence and fanzine fans who didn’t travel and didn’t bring it up.)

    This is like the idea that there weren’t any women in fandom before “Star Trek.” No, there weren’t huge numbers, but there were more than three. Among those Chris failed to name was Frank Johnson, who was a well-established member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group before Chris joined, and remained so up until his death last year.

    Not to mention First Fandom’s Warren Fitzgerald, founder of the first sf club, the Scienceers. While latter-day fanhistory researchers have dug up information indicating Fitzgerald may not actually have been Black, the fact remains that rest of the club members, convening at his Harlem home, thought he was.

    And the rest of those club members? Most of them weren’t white, either, not by the standards of the 1920s and ’30s, and, arguably, not by today’s: They were Jews.

    (Fandom has always had a larger percentage of Jewish people than exist in the public at large, a fact that always seems to be forgotten when fan diversity is discussed. While there’s no question that, at least in the later part of the 20th century, Jews attained more privilege than other minorities, that’s no reason to erase our existence.)

    This is entirely directed toward Andy’s comment. I don’t mean to derail discussion of the importance of Junteenth and Black Lives Matter and what we all must do to make the world, and the science fiction community, safe for People of Color. Let’s just start from an accurate view of where we are and where we’ve been.

  25. It’s probably true that there were more POC and women in early fandom, than the hard core reformers suggest. But. . . there were more than three, you say? That’s hardly a qualifier for liberal acceptance.
    I joined fandom in 1976. One of the things that I, as a socially awkward woman of only limited attractions, liked best was that at every gathering I attended, there were at least 5 men for every woman. Yes, I was old-world enough to feel shame at being a wallflower, and yes, I was thrilled to find myself in a venue where suddenly I was a belle. In my local fan club we had maybe 45(?–I can’t find an old membership list) members, maybe 5 or 6 of whom were women. (The current numbers are only slightly better.)
    Chris Barkley, my oldest friend, joined with me. He was our 2nd black member. (Now that we’ve lost our dear Frank he’s the only black member). This is Cincinnati, of course, but it’s also the CFG. Are the numbers really significantly better in Chicago?
    You hold up the Jewish membership as proof of diversity. Fandom was politically very liberal in the early days, and that would have appealed to Jews, who also tend to be politically liberal. And Jews have always been hungry for social acceptance, since they have always been subject to prejudice, and have never been fully accepted in the WASP community.
    But you seem to be saying that Jews aren’t white. Yes they are. Catholics and Irish are also subject to prejudice, and I doubt you would claim they are not white. The sad truth is that Jews (and Catholics and Irish) can pass, if they just keep their mouths shut about their backgrounds. That’s particularly easy in fandom, where religion of any stripe is viewed with distrust.
    I realize that you speak out of loyalty to fandom–which has been a sheltering home to both of us for many years. I love it too. But you seem to be suggesting that with a little adjustment of the numbers, it will turn out there isn’t really much of a problem.
    The numbers can be juggled broadly–every region and every local club has its own numbers. But they never add up to no problem. I do not fault fandom as a whole on this. Fandom was and is in many ways ahead of its surrounding culture. And all cultural change must be addressed one problem at a time, and it always takes longer than its supporters expect. But fandom does have a serious diversity problem, and now would be a good time to address it. I believe we are up to the challenge–because we do believe in the future.

  26. “White” has been a moving target over the decades. Catholics, Irish, Portuguese, and Polish (to name examples, not all the instances) weren’t considered fully white when I was born (as the 1950’s moved into the 1960’s). It wasn’t a question of keeping your mouth shut: Boston Brahmins a thousand miles away from Boston, could recognize your ethnicity by your facial structure, and warn local friends that “you shouldn’t date her; she’s Portuguese, and they treat them worse than the black people back in Massachusetts.” Behind my back.

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