|Historian Peter Kaleta with Historic Figure|
And there it was!
|Photo by Peter Kaleta|
We had to do a U-Turn so that my brother could take a look, and after that we headed north a bit through the neighborhood.
If you're from the west coast of the U.S., like I am, some of these midwestern cities can be pretty hard to look at. As the U.S. industrial base disappears (replaced by low wage service jobs at Wendy's, Church's, and Wall-Mart) formerly proud cities have gone through incredibly tough times. Back in the early to mid-1990s I travelled frequently to Detroit and saw huge neighborhoods wiped out, with nothing but empty lots, half burned buildings, and the occasional house or small business sitting alone. A lot of The Ville looks just like that now. There are beautiful, big, brick houses falling in on themselves. Forests are returning where homes used to be. Here and there are places people live. I'm told it can be violent. It looks like it's a place where you can "enjoy" country living and big city fear all in one place.
But it wasn't always like that. I don't have his book with me, but as I recall Chuck Berry described a pretty good life in The Ville, with middle class and even upper middle class families living constructive, decent lives despite Jim Crow and all that brought.
They had jobs in the U.S. back then-- real ones, building cars, building buildings, building bridges-- stuff like that. Now the buildings are falling in on themselves, the bridges are rusting, and the jobs are all related to bad food and imported products from China.
But even in The Ville there are pockets. We got to one of those-- a place where there seemed to be some hope, and I saw a sign for "Cottage" (Street? Avenue? don't know.) I knew that was a street we'd be looking for in a day or two-- a street where there was a Chuck Berry home and also--and we turned a corner, and there it was-- Sumner High School.
|Photo by Peter Kaleta|
This picture is the street he ran down to. How can you beat that? This is a school that has produced an incredible number of famous figures. There's an article about it somewhere on this site-- use the search tool. Not long ago Chuck Berry surprised people there by showing up at a rally to save the school. (When you don't have good jobs, you don't have tax revenue, kids don't have hope, and schools go down hill. God help us!) He even played a song on a borrowed guitar.
It's an interesting place. Detroit has an East Coast feel to me; this place, driving along the central part of Dr. Martin Luther King, has touches of Clarksdale, too. Maybe someday it'll be back in lights. I hope so.
(Vote! And remember whose party Chuck Berry is trying to bring to town!)