My wife, Cher, called me yesterday morning in tears after witnessing a puppy killed by a speeding driver. She then relayed her experience of how an unexpected group of strangers came together to care for the dog and bring a degree of comfort to a grieving family. Stories help us make sense of that which is senseless . This is for six year old McKenna Latimer that she may know that amidst tragedy we can find goodness in humanity. — Posted to Facebook, September 23, 2013
Three friends settled down for brunch at Blimpies.
A woman, early for her flu shot appointment,
Strode leisurely on the opposite side of the street.
Further down, a homeless man opened up his cardboard sign
And sat on the curbside hoping for a good day and many dollars.
Brisk September mornings are invigorating as well to dogs.
A pug and her little pup had escaped their yard
Romping and frolicking, inseperablly
Following their noses in innocent delight.
First one way, and then another, they explored this urban world
Some distance from their home.
As the two crossed the busy four lane,
The man, the woman, and the friends all took notice.
None had ever seen a dog hit by a car.
No one wants that experience.
They felt relief seeing the pups safe on the other side.
No one knows what prompted them to recross.
No one knows the minds of dogs.
But as they approached the median
A large SUV came barreling south.
The homeless man threw down his sign and
Threw up his hands in a mute and futile gesture
To get the attention of the driver.
Oblivious to the dogs.
There was no horn, no screeching of brakes
No scream from the people, no yelp from the dogs.
Just a thud.
And the red Trailblazer sped away.
One said it was miraculous that the mother survived.
Another said little Chewy shielded her from harm.
Suzi quickly sniffed her lifeless son and knew instinctively
That survival depended on a quick escape.
The homeless man raced to the scene
And gently brought the bleeding pup to the curb.
Death came in seconds.
The trio at Blimpies ran out hysterically.
One, a young black man, took off his shirt
And wrapped it around little Chewy
As a shield of respect.
The woman pedestrian read the number from his tag
And phoned the family.
Animal control was first on the scene,
But the homeless man insisted they leave.
He knew the family would want to retrieve their boy.
He guarded the body until the saddened Dad arrived.
Somehow Suzi made it home and waited in the driveway.
Four months, five days, and six hours
So we measure life.
The life of a puppy.
Chewy, though, has to be more than a cipher.
His life, as all life, has meaning
His life, as all life, deserves respect.
A saddened six year old tonight knows
And we all have relearned
That life is fleeting, but love is enduring.
Tragedy reveals greatness in character.
Exercising compassion, as we have seen today,
May be the most defining of all human virtues.
Posted to Facebook, September 23, 2013
When Dick [Richard Headlee] managed George Romney’s gubernatorial election in 1966 in Michigan, Dick and George connected like birds of a feather. They spoke the same language, so to speak, believed in the same conservative values and had the same work ethic.
Through all their activities together, Dick tried to work the political arm to help the common people and not let government over tax them.
The Union of Auto Workers (UAW) is a very powerful union in Detroit. The mob runs the UAW, and there is a great deal of fear and corruption.
We were living in RedfordTownship in 1966 during the Detroit Riots. All summer there were riots between unions and workers with uprisings, fires and broken windows. It got as close as five miles from us. If it had come closer, we would have moved.
I have no idea how George Romney got elected that year, except that the mob had its hands full with the riots, and it wasn’t into politics yet.
In Redford, the little beer and wine stores on the corners were run by families. That’s where the kids went to buy candy. By about 1970, the mob unionized the grocery stores. At the time, the minimum wage for checkers was $2.35 an hour. Suddenly, wages went up to $17.00 an hour.
Every family member who worked at the shop was expected to pay the high union dues. The union representatives were told to collect the weekly union dues from every worker in cash. When the little mom and pop stores couldn’t pay, we watched the shops we loved shut down. Only the big chain stores could afford to stay open.
The mob was a Detroit phenomenon. Its leaders wanted power over everything. They knew they could have it, if they got control of the government. We became anti-union because of the abuse of power.
Top mob bosses lived an elite lifestyle, but the workers were told, “You go collect those dues or break their legs.” If the union guys didn’t get the cash, lives were taken. Everyone was afraid, and the mob made enemies. People kept quiet because they were afraid to speak up.
In Michigan, there was a lot of corruption. The wealthy got wealthier, and big money rackets made big money. Dick believed the excessive property tax problem was caused in part by officials trying to buy votes and by putting people in office who aren’t qualified. People agreed with him.
The Headlee Amendment
Dick continued working for Alexander Hamilton, and he was active in politics on the side. He travelled all over the state with the tax limit committee that he formed to try to educate people.
The campaign supported what was known as the Headlee Amendment. It depended upon which side your bread was being buttered whether you agreed with tax limitation or not.
Mike often traveled with Dick as Mike had his father’s talent for public speaking.
They had to be able to answer questions like, “How did we create this big national deficit?” It’s still a good question.
I disliked that period of time. The Detroit Free Press printed nothing favorable or accurate about us. When I signed checks, people asked, “Is that name Headlee?” It was very uncomfortable.
Notes from Natalie:
When Dad worked for Alexander Hamilton and we moved to the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills in 1972, the property taxes on our home were $1,200 per month. That is astronomical!
Loopholes in the law made the tax abuse possible and put more money into the hands of the corrupt politicians. This upset our father, who I heard say with a smile, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Aren’t you aware of this?”
By 1976, Dad was very involved in politics. He proposed amendments to the Michigan State Constitution (Article IX, Sections 24-34) to limit the state and local government spending each year. These changes became known as the Headlee Amendment.
The amendment limits total state spending each year, limits the fiscal relationship between state and local units of government and provides for the funding of state mandated programs like education.
In Detroit, the mob had all the power and wanted all the money. The Detroit Free Press, run by the mob, fought the tax limitation amendment. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) feared the loss of property tax money, so it also organized against the Headlee Amendment – with mob money.
Dad was fearless, and he was never intimidated by anyone. Nobody could out debate Dick Headlee. When I heard questions that stumped me, I worried how Dad would answer, but he chuckled and then gave the answer.
Dad treated the press like they were best friends, and he knew them by first name. They respected him, and he gave them respect. The debates evolved into respect and humor. Even though the press kept jabbing him, he never reacted.
Dad had recall that was unbelievable. He remembered facts and percentages. He knew about a million quotes from other people. In a debate, he could use their words to befuddle the opponent and do it with a smile on his face.
Earlier in 1978, [my future husband] got a summer job at Monahan Construction on the docks in Detroit. The job paid enough that summer to sustain us for a year. The union dues were $40 a week, which was big money in those days. It was to be paid in cash to the union guy on Thursday or else. We experienced the intimidation factor first hand, and it is beyond what you could ever imagine.
Notes from Doug:
I drove Headlee to all his speeches in Michigan during the tax limitation amendment campaign in 1978 and again when he ran for governor in 1982. We spent hundreds of hours driving.
While I was driving, he was preparing, and he was always prepared. He’d read part of a speech and ask, “Is this good?” He was a gifted speaker and had the ability to win people over because he helped them understand.
Whenever you run for public office, people want to know who you are. So, Headlee and I went into many hostile environments. He was one of those rare people who could go into contentious situations and walk out with those people being his friends. He was genuine, and people could sense that. Not everyone agreed with him, but they knew he was a genuinely good guy.
Once, I went with him to the Upper Peninsula to the annual meeting of the Lions Club. They weren’t endorsing him when he arrived, but when he left, they were endorsing him. He was magnetic.
In 1978, we had to get 360,000 signatures to get the tax limitation amendment on the ballot. Headlee’s proposal locked in property tax rates and solved the education funding problem. It did so many things that helped stabilize the economy of Michigan…
The Headlee tax limitation amendment passed on November 7, 1978. For his efforts, Dad received huge name recognition and respect.
Note from Howard:
When Dad proposed the amendment to the Michigan Constitution in 1978, I was fourteen years old. I was his travel companion and his technical assistant, setting up the slide projector.
I watched Dad, night after night, as he presented a superior argument. After presenting to 30-40 audiences, we got excited that he would win again. In Michigan, people were mad, and they didn’t know why.
He helped them focus their anger in a positive direction. People would catch a dream from him, even if they didn’t want to. It was exhilarating to make a difference with a little group of people each night.
What impressed me was the way people responded to him. Dad had the ability to stand in front of a sometimes hostile audience, inform them, persuade them and win them over. It was thrilling to watch him compete in an event of ideas.
Note from Carolyn:
In 1977 and 1978, Dad traveled around the state in support of the Headlee Amendment… I was a senior in high school at the time, and I took a lot of abuse from teachers who didn’t want the amendment to pass.
“Have you read the proposal?” I asked them.
“I don’t need to. I know what it says,” they replied.
I inherited my dad’s cheerful competitiveness, the sense of competition between people who think they have the truth. Dad was never intimidated. He encouraged people to continue in their viewpoint and be better. He tried to make enemies his friends, and if he couldn’t, he smiled and moved on. The truth prevails.
Dick respected greatness, and he appreciated the contributions of all sorts of people. He made friends with many influential people with different political and religious views. He didn’t try to change people’s mind. He was so strong in his own beliefs that he didn’t have to…
Dick and Tipp O’Neill were friends, although they had completely opposite points of view. Dick was a staunch Republican, and Tipp was a liberal Democrat. In 1977, Tip O’Neill became the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives… and Dick introduced him to our children. It was all very exciting!
Note: Some years later, a state audit found that the Michigan Legislature hadn’t paid education what it was owed for twelve years. By law, it had to pay $300 million back to Michigan Education Association. By then, the MEA praised the amendment, and Dick Headlee was a hero.
NOTE: Mary Headlee is the mother of nine children, 55 grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren. The personal historian for her book was Paulette Stevens.
My wife, Cathryn, and I were on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama for five weeks this winter, trying to learn a little about the region. We drove from Biloxi to Montgomery on Monday. We got into our hotel about 3:00, but it was raining so hard we decided not to try seeing any of the civil rights sites, our reason for going there.
When I was a boy in Vancouver, Washington during World War II, there was just one black student, Johnny, in our grade school. Always seeming happy, he was mostly alone. He sometimes walked past our house.
My mother asked me about Johnny and noted that he seemed alone, reflecting that it wasn’t fair. He was effectively shunned. I have always remembered that feeling of it not being fair to shun a person simply because he or she has darker skin.
In December 1955, news of the Montgomery bus boycott came into the local headlines. I was a 20-year-old college student, far from the South. I remember thinking how it wasn’t fair the way those “Negroes” were being treated.
Mentally, I was on their side, but with school, then an early marriage and a growing family I could see no way to help their cause with the boycotts, sit-ins, and marches that proceeded for the next thirteen years. Like many others, I felt far away and helpless. It was only after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 that I found some ways to help.
Civil Rights Memorial
We had a good weather forecast for Tuesday, and sure enough, the sun was out; all was bright and shiny. First thing we did was go to the visitors information center and catch a bus that looked like a trolley for a tour of downtown.
Our driver/tour guide was a black man who looked to be in his 40s, with a Holy Bible on a low platform to his right and a heavy southern accent. Between his accent and use of regional idioms, it was difficult to catch all of what he said.
He was knowledgeable of the history of Montgomery and stated both the honorable history (“This is the street where the Freedom March from Selma to the stairs of the State Capital took place in 1965”) and horrific (“This is the location of the slave markets”) with the same matter-of-fact tone. When pointing out the square where the slave market was, he described the holding pens and how slaves were displayed and auctioned. Gave us chills.
When the tour concluded, we walked several blocks to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was part of—indeed, the founder of—the Civil Rights Memorial and Center. The Memorial, out on the sidewalk, was designed by Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Memorial. There are two components to it: a curved, convex, polished granite wall about eight feet high, and, sitting in front of it, a seeming table, also of granite, circular, about eight feet in diameter.
Water streams down over the face of the wall in a thin, even stream. Similarly, water flows in a broad, thin stream out of the center of the table and over the edges. On the wall is an inscription of one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous lines from the Bible: “…until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream….”
The circumference of the table is inscribed with specific dates. There are 40 deaths in this record with a brief description of how each person was killed in the struggle for civil rights, beginning with Emmett Till in 1955, which because of the brutality, enraged American progressives. It ends with King’s assassination in 1968.
The other notations are of Rosa Parks’ arrest, President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Congress’ passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. After King’s notation is a notable space, because, as Maya Lin said, “It isn’t over.”
We came to the Memorial looking for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had the same address. While I was in Portland in the late 80s and early 90s, I avidly read the newspaper about a lawyer by the name of Morris Dees, who sued a convicted killer and his white supremacist organization for wrongful death, the civil equivalent of a prosecution for murder.
Dees won, showing that the entire white supremacist organization was liable. The award was a monetary judgment so huge that it bankrupted the organization and all the people in it. Unfortunately, the deterrent didn’t stop the problem, and there are now close to 1350 hate groups in America.
Morris Dees is one of my heroes. I wanted to say hello to his staff and thank them for their courageous work toward racial justice. Cathryn and I stepped inside the Memorial Center and were met by a white security officer, who, at our request, set about clearing the way for our unannounced visit to the offices of SPLC.
We were ushered into the small exhibit that elaborates on the names on the granite table outside. There are also blown-up photos that we’ve all seen of officers using police dogs, fire hoses, and clubs to attack protesters, so the deaths of the freedom fighters are clearly set in a context. Now, over 50 years later, equality before the law and in public accommodations in Montgomery are proudly proclaimed and protected as a part of the social order.
Inside the SPLC offices, a gracious black woman, the director of donor relations, gave us a generous review of the history of the organization.
On the way to a restaurant, we stopped by the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. We looked upon the exterior and paid our respects to this sacred place. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954 to late 1959. He began right out of theology school, at age 25. In 1955, he was asked to lead the bus boycott in Montgomery.
Rosa Parks Museum
The Rosa Parks Museum and Library is part of Troy University, and is located near the bus stop at which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. As we were admitted, we were told it would be 15 minutes until the “next re-enactment.” We couldn’t imagine what a re-enactment might look like.
In a small auditorium, a young, nice-looking, well-spoken black man showed a three-screen video of commentary by people who were in Montgomery at the time of Mrs. Parks’ famous defiance of the local social order. They described in some detail the humiliation involved in the regulations and procedures involved in keeping blacks segregated from whites on the city buses.
Black anger had been growing over this situation for some time. There had been meetings of black leaders with city and bus company officials on this subject. In addition, Rosa Parks was active in the local branch of the NAACP, and she had recently attended a training session in Tennessee about nonviolent methodologies to accomplish desegregation.
In another room, we stood, as if bystanders on a sidewalk, looking at the side of a 1953 model city bus as it would have looked on December 1, 1955. In it were clear images of people sitting or standing on the bus. A narrator began talking about what the bus driver was doing, picking people up and letting people off. We could hear the muted roaring of the diesel engine, the front door opening and closing.
Then, Rosa Parks got on the bus. It was explained that the front several rows of seats were reserved exclusively for whites. Blacks were expected to sit in the back. They could sit in the center section, unless a white person of any age had no seat in front, in which case, a black person had to give up their seat.
Mrs. Parks, then 42 years old, recognized the driver as an irascible one with whom she had had a run-in twenty years earlier. Along with Parks, the bus picked up a number of whites. Several blacks stood up to give over their seats, including the man sitting next to Parks, next to the window. Park slid over into that seat.
The remaining standing whites began complaining to the driver that she wouldn’t get up. Some of the black men hurriedly left the bus. The driver, from his seat, told Parks to give up her seat. She said, “No.”
He got up, went back to her and demanded that she give up her seat. She said, “No.”
He said something like, “Well, then I’m going to have to have you arrested.”
She said, “You may do that.”
In the meantime, the whites on the bus were in a serious hubbub; the blacks were stone silent. The bus driver then got off the bus, found a phone and called the bus station, explaining the situation. Bus HQ called the police.
Time went by; tension continued to rise. The police arrived, got on the bus, and asked Parks to leave her seat. She wouldn’t, and they said they were going to have to arrest her. She replied, “You may do that.” She was taken by the arm and removed. She didn’t resist.
That was the end of the bus scene. Rosa Parks was arrested for disorderly conduct, taken to the police station and fingerprinted. She was allowed, after some early resistance by the police, to call a black community leader, who made bail for her, and she left with him. She went to court and was found guilty on December 4, 1955.
The Montgomery bus boycott began the next day. It lasted 381 days. Because most of the riders were black and walked to their jobs instead of riding, the bus company lost $3,000 a day. The black community counts the boycott as successful, but the company and the city never caved in. The boycott ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an end to segregated public transportation as a result of a related lawsuit issued from the same community.
The importance of the boycott was in the perseverance shown by the black community and the amount of organization it took to maintain it. The boycott became the model and springboard for the numerous protests that followed, all over the South, as to public accommodations.
There was much more detail to the scene, but this is a taste of what we experienced as viewers of this grave incident. It was enormously impactful. We stood there in dread, as the minutes ticked slowly by, watching, as this woman, virtually isolated from everyone else on the bus, courageously took herself and the whole system right over a cliff, the bottom of which she didn’t know.
After we left the Rosa Parks Museum, Cathryn and I said to each other, several times, the equivalent of something like, “Holy cow!” We were stunned by Parks’ courage.
The next morning, we had breakfast at a large, well-appointed hotel in downtown Montgomery, a quiet and peaceful place. Our waitress was a large, pleasant, self confidant black woman, with whom it was easy to strike up a conversation. She had been raised in Chicago but had moved to Montgomery with her husband ten years ago.
For weeks in the South, I had been dying to ask somebody an important question, and this woman seemed a good candidate: “What is your experience with race relations and work opportunities here as opposed to Chicago?”
“Oh”, she said, “it’s better here.” She elaborated on some of her life experiences. She had been called, she said, “the N word” in Chicago, but not in Montgomery. At one point, all three of us were in tears as she described her personal struggles and those of her family. It was another powerful personal experience.
Montgomery’s civil rights history is vital to America’s continuing cultural growth. I personally have done little to improve American race relations, maybe helped around the margins a little. However, remembering the feeling I had as a boy—of it not being fair to shun or deride people for the color of their skin—has caused me to at least do something to help. And the need for fairness touches my heart still today.
Pete Grundfossen (close-up)
NOTE: Peter Grundfossen is retired in Salt Lake City. During his career he advocated for the dignity and needs of America’s minorities while Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Utah, a member of the Utah Legislature, a Model Cities Director, Deputy Director of the Department of Community and Economic Development, a practicing attorney in Utah, and a human services lobbyist in Oregon.