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Finneran: Two Men - One Black, One White

Friday, August 10, 2018

 

Malcolm X

It’s August 10 and summer is racing to a close.

College kids are already departing for orientation and classes. Grade school kids are filling their backpacks with brand new notebooks for their new courses. School custodians have painted, washed, and waxed everything in sight while teachers are reviewing their lesson plans.

I’m a bit behind on my summer reading...........perhaps it’s been the entertainment of the Red Sox’ spectacular season. That four-game series against the Yankees was a total distraction.

Nonetheless, I have two good books for you. Truth be told neither book is a Hardy Boy/ Nancy Drew good-guy-always-wins story. Rather, they are searing indictments of man’s capacity for cruelty. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man jumps off the pages of these books. In several instances, I simply put the book down and closed my eyes, physically and spiritually appalled at the racism and hatred cataloged therein.

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” was my July read. I had read it about thirty years ago and I wanted to take a second look at it.

Malcolm was a brilliant character, molded and cheated in ways large and small by the brutal and inescapable racism of his time. He was a pimp, a robber, a drug dealer, and ultimately a convict. New York City and Boston were his arenas for crime. He found God—more specifically Allah—while in prison and it was there that he dedicated himself to the person and teaching of Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Chicago.

A journey to Mecca broadened his interpretation of human relations among and between the races, planting seeds of division between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad. Those seeds then sprouted into open antagonism when Malcolm began to doubt Elijah’s claimed adherence to a strict moral code.

Malcolm was a media personality before there was such a thing. He penned op-eds and was quoted constantly in the nation’s magazines and newspapers. He was a frequent guest on radio and television news programs and at the time, he may have been the most sought-after speaker on the college campuses of America.

As a black man with a growing following in the black community, he was perceived as a threat. Malcolm knew that. He further knew that danger lurked around every corner, the danger of assassination. He was murdered in New York by gunmen from NOI on February 21, 1965. Read the book.

“From Broken Glass” by Steve Ross was my early August read. Steve Ross’ real name was Szmulek Rozental. He was a Polish Jew, a joyful eight-year-old boy when Germany invaded Poland. The German invasion, defeat, and occupation of Poland was savage in all aspects. It was particularly and horrifically savage in its treatment of Jews. Steve Ross and his brother were the only two members of his extended family to survive the nightmare of the concentration camps and the Holocaust. Steve has the infamous Holocaust identification number burned into his arm.

Spared from a pyre by some unknown grace, and further spared by the arrival of American soldiers at the gates of Dachau, Steve became an émigré to America.

He has made his post-war life in Boston as a social worker, educator, and activist. The New England Holocaust Memorial behind Boston City Hall was his idea, an idea brought to life and to reality by Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. Kudos to Mayor Flynn whose own life is a testament to human grace and kindness, a warm beacon to the underdogs of all races and religions.

The moral degeneracy of Nazi Germany is almost impossible to comprehend. Such moral degeneracy was highly contagious, affecting a wide swath of enablers and participants far beyond the monsters of the Gestapo and SS. A particularly revolting passage describes a ten-year-old child asking a German guard “may I kick one?” “May I kick one in the head with my new boots?” And later, “May I kill it now with my boots?” The “it” refers to an elderly Jewish man on the verge of collapse from hunger and brutality. The ten-year-old boy was part of a uniformed brigade of child murderers, seeking the praise of the guards for their hatred of Jews..........

I have known Steve Ross for many years now. His son Michael was a distinguished member of the Boston City Council and is a skilled and successful practicing attorney. One of Steve’s students, reclamation projects, and friends is Brian Wallace, a Southie kid who served with great distinction in the Mass. House of Representatives and who assisted in the publication of this book. Brian Wallace is a mensch.

Steve Ross, Michael Ross, Ray Flynn, and Brian Wallace are the living human proof that even the most horrid stories can have happy endings. The horror of Nazi Germany met the firmness of American resolve. America won.

Read the book.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.

 

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