Mark Mello, Reflections on The Underground Railroad—What now?

New Bedford, Massachusetts, a sea port located in the southeast corner of Massachusetts, at the base of Cape Cod is the locale of our program. Early in New Bedford’s history a group of Quakers from Boston moved there and “New Bedford became a safe haven for formerly enslaved African-Americans” who had been able to escape bondage.

stories of those who safely arrived in New Bedford on the Underground Railroad are presented at the 34 acre New Bedford National Historical Park in the Old Town section of New Bedford.

This two part series on the New Bedford Underground Railroad with National Park Ranger Mark Mello was recorded on September 2, 2016, with the sound of wind and street traffic in the background. Part one begins with a historical perspective of the Underground Railroad and the way in which New Bedford, Massachusetts was a safe haven for former slaves.  Part two begins with Ranger Mello’s story of Nathan and Polly Johnson, a free black couple who lived and worked there–he as a pharmacist and she a confectionary.

The books Mark Mello recommends are “Fugitive’s Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts,” by Kathryn Grover; “Whale Hunt,” by Nelson Cole Haley; and “Leviathan,” by Philip Hoare.

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Gross, Ron — Socrates in Athens, in Conversation

Socrates of Athens, who lived before the Common Era, is respected as one of the greatest independent thinkers of all time. Socrates himself refused to be recognized as a teacher. Instead, Plato, his well-known student and reporter of Socrates dialogues, tells us he asked to be seen as a “midwife of ideas.” Socrates passion to achieve self-understanding, and the proper ways to live, continues to be studied and emulated to this day.

Chataquan scholar Ron Gross portrays Socrates in this archived interview, recorded in January 2003. We began our conversation when I asked him to describe the process of self understanding.

The book Socrates recommends is “The Trojan Women,” by Euripides. Ron Gross recommends “The Clouds,” by Aristophanes. 

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Krol, Debra — Native American Art of the Southwest

Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum’s mission is dedicated to “educating people about the arts, heritage and life ways of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, with an emphasis on American Indian tribes of the Southwest.” Committed to the sensitive and accurate portrayal of Native arts and cultures, the museum successfully combines the stories of American Indian people from a personal perspective with the beauty of art, showcasing old and new hand woven baskets, Kachina dolls, other art and cultural objects.

The museum showcases the art and regalia of Apache, Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and Yaqui, to name a few.  More than 2,000 items make up the museums exhibition.  Artwork ranging from pottery, baskets, beadwork, dolls and paintings are on display.

Our guest is Debra Krol, the communications manager who shared portions of the Heard Museum with me on December 10, 2011.  We began our conversation with Krol when she introduced us to the Heard Museum and the unique features that reflect the evolution of south western Native American art.

Debra Krol recommends two books: “Ishi’s Brain,” by Orin Starn, and “Indians, Merchants and Missionaries: The legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers”, by Kent G. Lightfoot. Our interview with Orin Starn may be found here

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Appelbaum, Ralph:  Holocaust Remembrance and the Responsibility of Bystanders


To create thought around Yom Hashoah, known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day, I offer you an archive interview with Ralph Appelbaum, the designer the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington D.C., which opened in April, 1993, when this interview was recorded.

When Ralph Appelbaum and I were Peace Corp volunteers in the mid 1960s, living in nearby towns in southern Peru, we often shared our future plans. This interview shares the story of one of Ralph’s plans which he manifested on a material plane, about 30 years later.

Appelbaum says that a museum’s architecture should focus on the experience by creating time and space events. In the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Appelbuam’s design depicts the suffering, torture and death of millions of people during World War II in Europe, on land controlled by fascist Nazis. He also directs attention to the responsibility of bystanders.

Please keep in mind that this interview was recorded in April 1993. That was when Ralph Appelbaum and I visited by phone from his loft in New York City. We began when I asked him to describe his vision of a museum designer.

The audio of this program was enhanced by Gregg McVicer of UnderCurrents Radio, who was our guest in 2013.

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Dickinson, Emily & Norris, Wendy — Emily Dickinson: Hiding in Her Own House

History remembers poets of past eras as windows into the civilization of their time. A poet’s words reveal life and feelings we would otherwise never know. New England, in the mid-19th century, was the center of a renaissance of American poetry. Emily Dickinson, better known now than she was then, was known for her phrases which sang out in a multitude of forms, meters and styles. Her words presented her innermost feelings and thoughts. A passionate and witty woman, she made a craft and an art of her words and her life.

I met with Emily Dickinson in the person of actress Wendy Norris, in the parlor of the Dickinson family home, magically carried from Amherst, Massachusetts, to the stage of the Willits Community Theater, in Willits, California, where the belle of Amherst told her story. We began our conversation when I asked Emily Dickinson why she chose not to receive visitors in her home for so many years.

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Komar, Stefan — Concentration Death Camps

You may remember the Radio Curious interview with Bernard Offen, recorded in May 2005, and re-broadcast the end of May 2017.  In telling the story of his youth in Poland during World War II, being forced into four different concentration camps established and controlled by the Nazis, Bernard Offen characterized those camps as “Polish concentration camps.”   

Soon after the 2017 re-broadcast, I received an email from Stefan Komar, our guest in this edition of Radio Curious.  Komar pointed out that calling any German concentration camp in German occupied Poland “Polish,” or referring to a German concentration camp in occupied Poland as “in Poland”, “of Poland,” or “Poland’s,” is insensitive to the families of the millions of ethnic Poles who were killed, forced into slave labor, tortured, maimed, terrorized and starved during the brutal and inhuman German occupation of Poland in the name of “Deuthschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.”

Komar, who was born in Queens, New York, lived in Warsaw, Poland, for about 10 years beginning when he was 12 years old. Currently he’s a Captain in the New York Police Department, after serving with the NYPD for 37 years.

A few days before Stefan Komar, and I visited by phone from his home in Queens, New York, on January  28, 2018, many newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times reported a “bill passed by the lower house of Poland’s parliament”  would make it illegal to utter the phrase “Polish concentration camp” or to assign Poland culpability for Nazi crimes committed on its soil.  The Israeli government was Infuriated, as reported in Reuters, among other news outlets, and called the Polish law revisionary history. 

This is clearly a curious issue to follow.  In doing so Komar provided a link to A Platform for Polish Jewish Dialogue,” and a discussion about Polish history, including how the Nazi occupation of Poland may be characterized.  

Stefan Komar and I unfortunately did not directly discuss this new law or the Israeli reaction.  We did however put the topic in context from his point of view.  We began our visit when I asked him to discuss the characterization of these concentration camps.

The books Stefan Komar recommends are “Hollywood’s War with Poland, 1939-1945” by M.B.B. Biskupski; and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century,” by Paul Kengor.  

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Ellsberg, Daniel — The Pentagon Papers and The Post

“The Post” a movie released January 12, 2018, reveals the story of how the release of the “Pentagon Papers” created a fundamental challenge of the freedom of the press and alleged issues of national security.  Few moments in American history have held the tension of the Vietnam war, as was the case in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The national rupture caused by Nixon’s escalation of the war widened.  Young people and their parents, who saw no reason for the United States to be in Vietnam clashed with the so called “silent majority.”

Daniel Ellsberg, our guest in this 1997 archive edition of Radio Curious, copied what came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers,” in the fall of 1969, and released them in 1971.  Those top secret documents unequivocally demonstrated that four previous U.S. presidents had continued to fight and escalate the war in Vietnam, notwithstanding opinions from their many military leaders that the war could not be won.

The “Pentagon Papers” focused national attention on United States foreign policy and on our rights as individual citizens to freedom of the press.  When Daniel Ellsberg and I visited by phone in March, 1997, he began with a description of the context of the time, 1971,  when the “Pentagon Papers” became public.

The book Ellsberg recommended in 1997, when this interview was recorded, is “Our War,” by David Harris.

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Clark, Blaise — The Creation of Standard Time

Not such a long time ago, time was an arbitrary measure decided by each community without consideration of other localities.

In this edition of Radio Curious, we visit with Clark Blaise, author of “Time Lord:  Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time.”  

In the mid 19th century, with the advent of continent-spanning railroads and transatlantic steamers, the myriad of local times became a mind-boggling obstacle and the rational ordering of time to some became an urgent priority for transportation and commerce.  Standard Time was established in 1884, leading to an international uniformity for telling time.  Arguably, the uniformity of time was a “crowning achievement” of Victorian progressiveness, one of the few innovations of that time to have survived unchanged into the 21st century.

Under the leadership of Sir Sandford Fleming, amid political rancor of delegates from industrializing nations, an agreement was reached to establish the Greenwich Prime Meridian passing through Greenwich, England and the International Date Line that wanders it way through the Pacific Ocean.  The 1884 agreement resulted in a uniform system of world-wide time zones that exists today.

I had a good time visiting with Clark Blaise in the spring of 2001 as we discussed how our current notion of time was established.  We began when I asked him to explain what standard time is.

This interview with Clark Blaise, author of “Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time,” was recorded in the spring of 2001 and first broadcast in the last week of 2011.

The book Clark Blaise recommends is “Time of Our Singing,” by Richard Powers.

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Best, George — John Brown and Harper’s Ferry

Harper’s Ferry National Park is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the easternmost corner of what is now West Virginia. This tiny national park, just over a square mile in size, is the location of the 1859 raid led by John Brown, a white abolitionist.  Outraged by the sustained existence of slavery in southern United States, Brown and his armed supporters snuck across the river at night attempting to take over of the government arsenal, arm the nearby enslaved people and foment a revolt.  Brown’s intended efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in his conviction for treason and death by hanging.  Nonetheless he foreshadowed the growing discontent of slavery that would lead to the civil war.

I joined Ranger George Best on October 12, 2017, for a tour and stories, which began at the 1848 now defunct armory amid background sounds of the rivers, railroads and other machinery  He begins with a description of the Foundry, Harper’s Ferry largest building.

The books George Best recommends are: “A Walker’s Guide to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia,” by Dave Gilbert, “The Strange Story of Harper’s Ferry” by Joseph Berry, and “Harpers Ferry Under Fire” by Dennis Fryer.  

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Lung, Robin– Finding Kukan: A Hidden Glimpse into Wartime China

An artifact of Chinese-American heritage in the form of a long-lost film and the Asian American woman responsible for this film’s creation is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious.

Our guest is documentary filmmaker Robin Lung, who made the film Finding Kukan. Finding Kukan tells the story of Li Ling-Ai, a Chinese-American woman who hired Rey Scott, an American photojournalist, to travel to China and capture the life of people in that war-torn country, including the massive bombing of the wartime capital. Their landmark film, Kukan, received one of the first Academy Awards for a feature documentary in 1942. Lung’s film, Finding Kukan, asks why we haven’t heard of Li Ling-Ai, and why all copies of her film Kukan seem to have disappeared.

This program was recorded on May 6, 2017, when she was in Southern California, right after Finding Kukan received the Audience Award at the 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

You may listen to the full interview here.

The book which Robin Lung recommends is also a movie, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly.