Haunted House USA

Word of the day: PALIMPSEST
noun: palimpsest; plural noun: palimpsests
• something reused or altered still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
• a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

“Whites Only” and other racist palimpsests endure throughout America.

Rich Frishman’s photography can be both meditative and empowering. Meditative, because it inspires self-examination, and empowering, because it’s created to show and tell.

Frishman’s Ghosts of Segregation project offers us a contemplative and quiet study of America’s racist past, a practical exhibition of photographic evidence in which images are captioned most poignantly by their place in history. It’s also an incredibly useful, “when they go low, you go high” answer for when you’ve taken the bait of that family bigot or folks activated by the politics of ethno-nationalism (formerly known as “old friends”).

Personally, I want Ghosts of Segregation open on my laptop whenever I’m rejecting “woke” as an insult, explaining equity vs. equality, and discussing the difference between canceled and accountability. Not as some sort of a mic drop though; more like finding a common emotional truth. These powerful palimpsests can’t help but force a needed pause in such an exchange ––and could even offer an escalator up.

See what you think:

Ghosts of Segregation

The enigmatic inscription “change,” floating above Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, largely goes unnoticed. It is the vestige of the sign over the St. Louis Hotel Slave Exchange. The luxurious hotel included a bank, ballroom, shopping arcade and trading exchange. Six days each week from 1838-1862, under the hotel’s domed rotunda, auctioneers sold off land and goods as well as thousands of enslaved people.
When the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was founded in 1934, the process of “redlining,” the act of denying loans and financial services to black neighborhoods while granting them for white neighborhoods, was codified. The Detroit neighborhood of Wyoming was a redlined black neighborhood for nearly a decade until the early 1940s, when developers wanted to build a white development in the area. They were denied by the FHA because their plan placed the white neighborhood “too close” to the black neighborhood. Thinking quickly, the developers responded by building a half-mile long wall directly between Mendota Street and Birwood Avenue for a full three blocks. This was enough to be given the nod of approval from the U.S. government. The wall, now known as 8 Mile Wall, was the official racial divider for over 20 years, until the Fair Housing Act supposedly abolished such racist policies in 1968.
Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.


Ghosts of Segregation

Opening Day Privilege

My grandfather was hired by Gene Autry in 1961 to engineer-produce radio broadcasts for the Los Angeles Angels. The privilege of his world was easy to see, even as a kid.

I remember many drives out to Angel Stadium: my mom, my dad, my brother and I. We usually left the car a drunk-crawl away from the entrance turnstiles, but once or twice we’d get directed to spaces “far away,” like 20 or so cars further than our usual guest spot.

We, too, entered the stadium through the turnstiles but soon left the public promenade through a hip-high gate that was opened for us. I remember climbing exterior stairs and avoiding golf carts down a wide corridor, then going up more stairs. Finally we’d reach press-box row, which was constructed almost entirely of steel.

Whichever grown-ups were leading the way –my dad, grandparents, uncles or “friends”– niceties were exchanged with familiar employees, including the middle-aged woman who usually guarded the boxes and who made cheery eye contact with everyone. Then we’d follow that lady down a wonderfully curved hallway, under what seemed like countless fluorescent light tubes. Mini-skirted cocktail waitresses streamed in and out of doors, carefully eyeballing their drink trays and backing against the cold steel as we passed. The rising and falling, roaring angry joy of the crowd was, of course, the acoustic backdrop for this journey.

Insider associations with Major League Baseball had much more cultural cachet back then than they do today: they were less political, but more powerful for it. Every now and then when we walked through that middle door, former President Nixon, Nolan Ryan, or some other luminary would be in there and we’d be told not to point or talk. Foul balls were the only exception to red light rule, since they’d fire right into the unprotected box and nail the back wall. My grandfather would be sitting next to announcers Dick Enberg and former Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, the only one in the room tall enough to flinch when those fouls came in. 

With his patent leather shoes and cardigan sweaters, my grandfather often appeared as though he’d just come from a golf course lunch or NASA briefing. I never once saw that man sweaty, sloppy, or demanding. Fans in the stands dressed like fans, but we dressed like for church or for the airport.

I revisit these memories each Opening Day (or during the first hour of “Casino“). To me, the very best times were when we accompanied my grandmother to say goodbye when my grandfather was boarding the bus with the team to hit the road. It was always late at night, right outside the Disneyland Hotel, and the whole club would be there, along with the player’s wives and kids. Talk about a hug fest.

My privilege was in being free to enjoy the unity I saw there for what it was, without being branded by the cultural significance of those memories to the point of relying on an imperfect era to define the way the world should be.

When I’d finally grown old enough to sit in the dugout, my honor came the day I exchanged hellos with Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Don Baylor and Brian Downing during what is considered to be the best Opening Day lineup in Angels history.