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  • Writer's picturePhilip Drucker

Communique "B&W" 4-23-2021

As with most of my generation, we all grew up with Life Magazine as one of our primary sources of hard news and get this, with great pictures of important people, places and things to boot. In the 1960s, if your family did not have a copy of Life and most likely it’s counterpart Look Magazine, you we’re definitely considered uncultured, uncouth and under educated.

As with most of my generation, we all grew up with Life Magazine as one of our primary sources of hard news and get this, with great pictures of important people, places and things to boot. In the 1960s, if your family did not have a copy of Life and most likely it’s counterpart Look Magazine, you we’re definitely considered uncultured, uncouth and under educated.

In fact, I would argue that in many ways the magazines you had or did not place on your coffee table dictated a great deal of your social status among your neighbors and guests, and I imagine in a very real sense one’s own self-worth, particularly when it came to one’s claim to have a well-rounded world view and being hip, modern, with it and “in the know.”

Of course, it was also assumed that you, the up to the moment informed making intelligent decisions on a daily basis citizen of the world also subscribed to National Geographic. However, in no circumstance was your copy of NG ever left out on that cultured coffee table for within its glossy pages were pictures of actual female lady parts, mostly tits, and therefore off limits for fear a child might learn about the human body at a far too early age, that age being anything under an undergraduate degree, good job and married with two children while planning on having a third.

Nat. Geo. Mag (as we natives called it) was also at least a hint, although not a guarantee that keeping in mind never on the glass table top of culture, but somewhere in the house, maybe even in the garage, was a copy or two of Playboy magazine. I still find it quite amusing that all of us kids always seemed to know where the Playboy magazines were hidden.

This was through the eyes of your subscriptions, one way to enhance your status in your neighborhood and possibly in your extended community as well. As a child, I perceived having the right reading material this as part of becoming an adult, coming of age so to speak the first step toward obtaining the still forbidden other perk of maturity.

That being your fundamental right to that 5:00pm martini, with two olives, made with the vodka or gin of your choice. Why, just throw in a pinch of almost expected spousal abuse and voila! Life growing up in the 1960s.

With the having sex thing still a bit remote even in concept and practically, rightly, and clearly still out of reach at the tender age of five, I began reading, or at least looking at the pictures contained in Life Magazine. I remember thinking that black and white photos in and of themselves were obviously, “very important” if for no other reason simply because they were taken in black and white.

By extension, when viewing black and white photos, I felt very knowledgeable if not downright cosmopolitan for my age. This was a time when most of my classmates were still watching color cartoons on Saturday mornings while eating overly sugary cereals for breakfast and drinking milk and/or apple juice possibly out of a sippy cup. For my part, I hated drinking plain milk usually out of a small carton and we drank apple juice from a box with a straw. Remember concentrated cans of frozen orange juice? Yes, the entire family drank our daily dose of vitamin from a communal pitcher with the occasional defrost and add water pitcher of lemonade for special occasions.

For whatever reasons, tomato juice was not favored in our household, and I’m not sure I ever had a glass until I was in my early teens. Never been my favorite, and at this point probably never will. In more recent years, the idea I could have had a V-8 did not then and still to this day does absolutely nothing for me.

Today, I still recognize many of the photographs now considered famous, I saw in their original Life magazine format. Certain pictures of the Kennedys many of John, the saluting Little John, and several of Robert including the post assassination photo still resonate with me.

My favorite photographs at the time involved the space race starting with the scary Sputnik and the brave American hero John Glenn culminating with the Apollo 9 Eagle has landed moon landing and subsequent Neil Armstrong giant leap for mankind footprint on the Moon. In 1969 it felt great to be an American, didn’t it?

There was also a darker side to it all. Beginning with Life Magazine, later aided by Walter Cronkite, I began to see images of the Vietnam war leading to one day discovering the earlier, brutal photographs of World War II of which there are too many for me to single out.

Then there were the images of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man in the form of hatred, racism and discrimination. Pictures of attack dogs and water hoses all owned and controlled by white people being used as force and intimidation against people of color, negroes as we called them back then, for reasons that even to this day are hard for me to comprehend.

I’m sure many of you remember those same photos of the Jim Crow South, of Selma, of MLK, and the injustice, terror, and degradation now associated with the still continuing practice of hatred and intolerance that has again raised its ugly head most noticeably with the Trump years and recently in the case of systemic racism based on white privilege trial of Derek Chauvin for what we can now officially call the inexcusable even by qualified immunity murder of George Floyd.

As I along with the rest of the world watched the guilty on all counts, including murder in the second verdict, watching the eyes of Derek Chauvin as it was read, my mind suddenly flashed back to a singular picture from Life that I hadn’t thought about in years.

It was the image of Sheriff Lawrence Rainey (on the right) and his Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price in the courthouse, showing nothing but their deep disrespect and complete disdain for the proceedings while chowing down on a mouthful of Red Man Tobacco, during the arraignment of 18 of the 21 men implicated in the execution style murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner by the KKK.

The three men, two white and one black, who were part of the civil rights organizations, CORE, SNCC and NAACP who as part of the “Freedom summer” of 1964 tried to promote voting rights for minorities in part by establishing “Freedom Schools” in Mississippi.

On October 21st, seven of the men involved were found guilty of conspiracy to deprive Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner of their civil rights and were sentenced to a prison term from between three to ten years. Deputy Sheriff Price, the person who detained the three from leaving the area and who eventually turned them over to the KKK was sentenced to six years. Sheriff Rainey was acquitted.

Some of you, or for more information might also associate the events with the motion Picture “Mississippi Burning” a movie that later led Edgar Ray Killen, one of the original co-conspirators and KKK member involved in the murders, who was in 2007 tried and found guilty of manslaughter for his participation in the killing of all three men.

Often referred to as the Neshoba Murder Case, it is also considered to be one of the motivating factors for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. On the bright side, is it possible the George Floyd trial will inspire future legislative accomplishments in the area of civil rights? In identifying white supremacy ideology and its adherents from places of trust and responsibility?

Will we be able to put some legislative “teeth” behind the Black Lives Matter Movement? Toward racial equality and justice for all? Is this a step in the general direction of a truly colorblind justice system and society? Is this a time where we can all hit the pause button for a moment and breathe? Before you answer those questions, take another look at Sheriff Rainey and ask yourself. Do we as individuals, or as species, ever really change? Can we?

I no longer have any of those original LIFE Magazines, but in 1973 my father ordered the hard cover edition of The Best of Life. I still have that book in my possession. Guess I’ll take a look-see down memory lane. One never does know when or where the inspiration for the next story will come from, does one?

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