A couple weeks ago, Lovie Smith asked me (and the Illini media pool) to declare our opinions about Charlottesville, Trump and The Star-Spangled Banner.
I decided this week would be an appropriate time to make that declaration. This week, Ayo Dosunmu will Officially Visit Illinois Basketball.
Everyone’s thinking about Ayo Dosunmu. I want Ayo Dosunmu to think about Lovie’s challenge.
I met Ayo once, with his dad, Quamdeen. I thought he said “Kwame,” a name I’ve heard before. If you’re descended from Europeans, you might not guess that their family name is pronounced Doh-SOO-moo.
Paris Parham was showing them around at a football game. I asked Quamdeen (or “Coach Q” as he’s called by the pronunciation-challenged) “can I catch up with you guys at halftime?”
“Sure,” he said, “cool.”
It didn’t work out. Like a lot of football games of the John Groce era, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement on the field. The Dosunmus were gone by halftime.
At some point after his Official Visit this weekend, Ayo will choose between the University of Illinois and Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.
It just happens that I was scouting Wake Forest yesterday. That is, I was StreetViewing Winston-Salem, its hometown. Illini basketball will travel there in a few weeks, and I was looking at hotels, etc.
If I were coaching at Wake-Forest, I’d sell a kid on the beauty of that town.
But then I realized something. Winston-Salem is tobacco country. Their Kimpton Hotel (The Cardinal) is in the old RJ Reynolds building. Their town is named for two packs of cigarettes!
It’s the deep south.
This is Trump territory. These are the people who cheer every time Trump lambastes a conscientious objector. Their gorgeous centreville, old-timey and historic, is where slaves worked the fields. Those fields have been preserved.
There aren’t as many historic slave quarters in Winston-Salem as there are in some towns, partly because the Moravian Church didn’t allow white locals to own slaves.
Instead, the church owned them.
I don’t know whether one can tour slave quarters anywhere near Wake Forest University. I toured them in Savannah, GA. They didn’t look very comfortable.
Savannah, perhaps because it’s so strongly associated with ante-bellum southern history, might avoid the anti-Confederate protests that toppled statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans.
I thought Savannah’s memorial to Confederate General Lafayette McLaws was an outstanding example of late 19th Century landscape architecture.
I don’t have any particular respect for the man memorialized here. But as art, I thought it was pretty cool. Then again, I’m a middle-aged white man. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never even been billy-clubbed. That’s what the NFL protests are about, in case anyone forgot. Brutality.
I have been in Charlottesville, though. Two of my sisters lived there. Dave Matthews was their bartender at Miller’s. It seemed like a pleasant if humid place.
Except for this one time.
I was in the Food Lion, just before Thanksgiving 1993. I had a fancy Marantz tape recorder, which I got from the Quartermaster in NPR’s basement. I had the job of asking shoppers which one food item simply had to be on the table to make or break Thanksgiving.
I approached an old black woman in the frozen foods section. Her son was helping her shop. I introduced myself and posed my question.
The old woman did not look me in the eye. She didn’t look up at all. Then her son leaned close to her ear, and whispered “it’s okay.”
And then she answered me.
I don’t remember what her favorite Thanksgiving item was. Her answer probably made the cut for the Morning Edition special that ran the following Thursday. It was an authentic American voice.
But I’ll never forget that she was afraid of me, that she needed permission to talk to me.
I saw her everywhere as I continued my StreetView tour of Winston-Salem. I imagined her bent over in the tobacco drying barn, just like she leaned over the freezer in that Food Lion. I have no doubt she worked hard all her life.
It was great that North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008. It seemed like progress for a state that foisted Jesse Helms on us for three decades. But then in 2012, the state reverted to red. And last year, it swung the presidency to Donald Trump.
When Lovie asked me to declare my opinion about Trump and the NFL protests, he was too late. I wrote about this issue last year.
But this column is about Ayo Dosunmu, not Colin Kaepernick. This week, Ayo will choose between the state that gave the world Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, and the state that gave us Donald Trump.
I want Ayo to think about that before he makes his decision.
I don’t know if the rest of the Illini media pool will follow Lovie’s directive to voice an opinion on Trump v. NFL Players. But before Lovie arrived that day, we were already talking about the issue. So whether any of my colleagues declares a stance on the issue, it’s important to recognize that they’re an informed, engaged group of people.
Loren Tate spent the lunch hour Googling the history of The Star-Spangled Banner as a sports tradition. He announced, shortly before the presser began, that Woodrow Wilson had ordered the anthem to be performed during military ceremonies in 1916.
“Loren, you do realize Woodrow Wilson was the worst president in U.S. history,” I observed.
I believe this to be true. The usual suspects can’t hold a candle to Wilson’s malfeasance because they were incompetent.
“I think Buchanan’s got that one wrapped up,” Jeremy Werner retorted.
Wilson was the worst because he wasn’t incompetent. He was extremely intelligent, and used his power to suppress freedoms we take for granted today.
Shannon Ryan perked up at the Wilson criticism, reminding the group of Wilson’s fanatical white supremacism. “And he resegregated the civil service,” I responded.
“What about Andrew Jackson?” asked Scott Beatty.
“He killed a lot of Indians,” I answered. “So there’s that. But you have to understand the time …” I finished, weakly, not quite sure why that rationalization would exonerate any military leader.
Scott Richey asked about the Trail of Tears, having not heard other Scott’s question.
Turning back to Jeremy, wanting to make a point, I outed myself as a Buchanan apologist. “I disagree with 99% of U.S historian, including my father, about Buchanan,” I told them. “I think there’s strong Constitutional argument against keeping states that don’t want to be a part of the union.”
Abraham Lincoln disagreed with me, of course. A few hundred thousand people died, and we still haven’t really won back the south. In fact, they seem to be running the show.
I don’t know whether any of these considerations will factor into Ayo’s decision. Our state is bankrupt, for sure. It’s because we provided health care for all children, and codified pension rights in our constitution. Whatever we’ve built here in Illinois, the workers got paid to build it. In North Carolina, the labor was “free.”
And now that white nationalists feel emboldened by their president to rally in public, we know that a lot of those unreconstructed southerners wish to return to those “good ole days.”
My defense of James Buchanan is theoretical. As a matter of principle, Lincoln won the argument.
I hope Ayo gets a chance to meet with the football staff during his Official Visit. In these difficult times, it’s reassuring to have Lovie Smith, Hardy Nickerson and Garrick McGee representing the state of Illinois. For the country, it’s never been more urgent to have capable, talented, erudite black men who aren’t afraid to speak their minds intelligently and compassionately about the importance of free speech, peaceful protest, and fundamental rights.
For the record, I agree with them. That’s my opinion.