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Duxbury columnist and Black Facebook is saying: the civilized reaction of the victims of the atrocity in Charleston is almost beyond imagining.

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All Lives Matter


After the urban riots of 1967 we were trained in riot control. It in was a National Guard unit based in Middleborough that would be called to active duty in March 1968. (Three weeks before the call-up, members living in Duxbury and points north were transferred to a unit in Hull. One of those bureaucratic things.)

The National Guard then was nowhere nearly as professional, nor as regularly put into harm’s way, as it is today. But riot control was taken seriously and the instructions were explicit: If the use of a firearm is necessary, aim below the belt to stop a man; above the belt to kill him. A gunshot wound below the waist is no favor. But it might let a man live.

Today, when lethal force is deemed necessary, the officer is instructed to aim for the center of the visible target. A seemingly small distinction that erases any difference between “stopping” and “killing.” It seems obvious that in a charged confrontation this can encourage deadlier force, and more multiple rounds being fired. The targets may be reckless kids or disturbed people representing less than a deadly threat to law enforcement.

America is not now in a good place in this regard. “Black lives matter” are not words that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have used. He would and did say that all lives matter. One understands the outrage when officers of the law show disregard for black citizens’ lives. But what amounts to a war-cry does no good. Police lives also matter. If retaliatory assassinations of police officers lead to temporarily diminished police services, “activists” will move on. It is the law-abiding black working class that will pay the price for a very long time. After 48 years, neither Detroit, nor Grove Hall in Boston, has completely recovered from its 1967 riot.

The civilized reaction of the victims of the atrocity in Charleston on June 17 is almost beyond imagining. But it is consonant with what Dr. King preached after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 14, 1963. Let us hope it awakens the nation to a new birth of unity.

In Duxbury in 2015, the police are well-trained in the practice of restraint. But every time any cop anywhere pulls a car over it entails a stressful encounter between two human beings. Neither can be sure how it will play out, and both know the taste of fear. We send kids to driver training, give them licenses and in many cases souped-up cars. But we do not teach them how to behave when they get pulled over — as sooner or later they will be.

So this is to kids of every age, everywhere: If those flashing lights behind you are meant for you, pull over and roll down your window. If it is nighttime turn on your interior light. The law says you must. Put your hands on top of the steering wheel where they can be seen, leave them there, and wait for instructions.

The fellow human being who has pulled you over does not know who you are or what you represent. But the officer will notice that you “know the drill,” and will appreciate it. By your cooperation you will have helped to avert a confrontation that could lead to tragedy. This is as much a verity in Duxbury as it is anywhere in the United States.

–D.A. Mittell, Jr.




Written by aboutblackboston

June 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Easter Sunday renewal, the unifying season … by David A. Mittel, Jr.

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Easter Sunday

Easter is a time of renewal believers and non-believers fully share, even while not sharing most (though not all) Christians’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus. There is no contradiction, especially in America. It is a unifying season.

Thirteen words from a familiar hymn sung at the memorial service for a friend last month were a reminder of the power of Christian belief. This takes some explaining. The hymn was Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which is one of at least two hymns expunged from some Christian denominations’ hymnals. The other was “Onward Christian Soldiers,” which 40 years ago was deemed to be too militaristic. The distinction between marching to war and “marchingas to war,” in the hymn’s lyric, was rejected. (Today, students taught English at many of our leading universities would say, “marching like to war.”)

So the only way for a wonderful man to have “Battle Hymn of the Republic sung at his own memorial service was to have the words and music printed in the program. The 13 striking words are:

He died to make us holy; let us die to make men free.

A friend’s lifelong commitment to Julia Ward Howe’s rollicking hymn of commitment to the Christian life and to the abolition of slavery during the Civil War. For us, inspiration in a time that sometimes seems to have reduced the English language to a single letter. “I.” The first person pronoun at the center of everything.

Believers and non-believers can envy the well-led Christian life.

From services at sunrise to nature-walks in the middle of this very northern-New-England-like mud season, Easter Sunday will be celebrated in many ways. It is not for us to instruct. We will only note an opportunity that should appeal equally to either the secular or the devout….

On Sunday, the Corner Stone Lodge at 565 Washington Street will hold its monthly “all-you-can-eat” breakfast from 8 to 11:30. The cost is $5 for children, $7 for seniors, $8 for adults. At 10:30 there will be an Easter egg hunt for children 12 and under.

The proceeds of the Lodge’s many charitable activities go to the Interfaith Council’s Food Pantry; to $500 scholarships for Duxbury High School seniors; and to other nearby causes. Its events on Sunday aren’t the only way to spend Easter morning. If one does attend one may be confident the “first person pronoun” will be nowhere in sight.

–D.A. Mittell, Jr.



Written by aboutblackboston

April 2, 2015 at 11:37 am

A Duxbury Slaver? The search for truth by David A. Mittell, Jr. Senior Editor of the Duxbury Clipper

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Politicus #1,115
A Duxbury Slaver?

by David A. Mittell, Jr.

At a biographers’ group last month a colleague mentioned that she
was having a hard time getting information about an 18’th-century
slave ship she believes was built in the North Shore village of
Bradford on the Merrimack River.  I suggested poking around the town of
Essex, where shipbuilding goes on today and where historical memory

This caused eyes to turn my way, as if to say, “Well, Mr. South
Shore wash-ashore, were there slavers built in Duxbury?”  I replied
that I had never heard of such a thing but would look into it

An answer came quickly.   On Jan. 11, 2011, The Patriot Ledger
reported that the schooner Gustavus — built in Duxbury in 1815 by
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. – disembarked 26 African slaves, ages two months
to 36 years, in Savannah, Georgia, on October 6, 1821.  A facsimile of
the slave manifest is commemorated in a plaque on Savannah’s historic
River Walk. According to the Boston Public Library, the master of the
Gustavus was John Southworth of Duxbury.

The Ledger’s story may have relied too much on an Internet search.
It combines the Gustavus of interest with a vessel of the same name
that plied the passage to Ireland after the potato blight struck in
1845.  Duxbury’s Gustavus was a 64-foot schooner built for the coastal
trade, and by simple dint of her unseaworthiness was unlikely to be
carrying slaves from Africa – which was unlawful after 1808 under the constitution.

Patrick Browne, executive director of the Duxbury Rural &
Historical Society, notes that the Gustavus was leased from Nathaniel
Winsor, Jr. He believes the most likely point of embarkation for
Savannah was Baltimore, not Africa. He also notes that the copious
manifests of Duxbury’s greatest shipbuilder, Ezra Weston Jr., “King
Caesar” (1771-1842), show no record of transporting slaves. The
apparent use of the Gustavus was, he believes, unusual if not unique
for a Duxbury-built ship.

photo of the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House in Duxbury

Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House

Nonetheless, if we exclude evidence that may be spurious, we are
left with money from a leased slaver going into the pocket of
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. — whose elegant home on Washington St. is the
headquarters and showpiece of the Rural & Historical Society as the
town begins to celebrate the 375th anniversary of its founding.

When it comes to slavery I believe in mainly looking forward to the
country we are still creating. When we look back we should do so with
humility – for none of us can say how he would have acted (we think we
do but we don’t!) – and with steel-clear eyes for the truth.

At this juncture there are more unknowns than knowns. For example,
in the matter of John Southworth, a ship’s master was not the same
thing as a slave-master.  Writing a history of Duxbury in 1849, Justin
Winsor records seven children born to Jedediah and Betsy Southworth,
including Capt. Thomas Southworth (b. 1771, “d. at New Orleans 1819”);
John Southworth (b. 1773); and Nathan Southworth (b. 1778, “d. at
sea”). A seafaring family whose middle son was very likely the master
of the Gustavus.

But were crews typically leased with the vessels they had worked
aboard? More likely, a lessee scrummaged a crew from remnants of crews
and from men on the docks. The answer – before placing John Southworth
aboard a slaver along with other Duxbury men we would prefer to
remember as yeomen and patriots — requires a better-qualified
speculator than this writer. The search for truth must go on.

Two points can be made in certainty. First, whether or not Duxbury
men ever encountered the 26 Africans disembarked in Savannah in a way
that was inconvenient for the latter, we and their descendants are
brothers. The country we are building requires us to mutually
understand that, even if too many of our politicians currently do not.

Second, by no means should we look at ourselves as superior to
living Southern brethren who have seen clear to remembering the human
cargo of the Gustavus with a public plaque.

David A. Mittell, Jr. is Senior Editor of The Duxbury Clipper.  He’s the webmaster’s pal from Centre Street hangouts and they have been having conversations  for years. 

Thanks David!




Written by aboutblackboston

July 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

Posted in Fresh Spots

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