Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 42: Illinois

my favorite photo of my grandfather, Robert Wahlfeldt


where his cousin lived she was just his age they are back to back in a
studio portrait white bow in her hair circa 1909

where in 1908 a black was accused of killing a white another black of
raping a white

where the Lincoln home the Lincoln tomb the Lincoln depot the
Lincoln pew are tourist attractions monuments to the martyred
Illinois man who freed the slaves

where in 1908 a mob finding the prisoners gone burned the transporting
car destroyed 24 black businesses 40 black homes killed
2 successful blacks and also accidentally 4 whites

where he would later take his wife and child to visit the cousin the
Lincoln home the Lincoln tomb

-excerpt from Blue Front, by Martha Collins, 2006

Visit Martha's site to read more

Earlier this week I heard Martha Collins read at the Fine Arts Work Center. I hadn't heard of her before and didn't know what to expect. Provincetown is very open, but not racially diverse. Martha's words washed a like a wave of reality through the room. Her book Blue Front is a book length poem about a lynching that her father witnessed when he was 5 years old. It takes place in Illinois (my home state). I couldn't help but think about my grandfather Robert as she read. I left sensing how incredibly difficult, yet urgent, it is for contemporary artists to find new ways to share these stories- as Martha has.

"During the Sixties, Wahlfeldt took up the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. He helped pressure the Danville Illinois City Council and the Mayor to appoint a city Civil Rights Commission, to investigate discrimination and police abuse. After the Klu Klux Klan had burned a cross in the yard of a local civil rights activist, Wahlfeldt organized a guard duty detail armed with shotguns, to protect the activist from further attacks."
- excerpt from Robert's obituary in the Industrial Workers of the World newspaper, May 2008


Anonymous said...

GPW ....... His spirit, work and inspiration live on....

nc said...

Your grandpa looks SO cool. I'm so sorry I didn't get to meet him.