Archive | Writing

The winner of the mentor contest is…

Special thanks to everyone who contributed a story about their mentors. I enjoyed reading every one of them. The winning submission is by Todd Gardner, and he writes:

“Sunny Days and Willie Mays!”, exclaimed John Haynes, my art teacher and head baseball coach at Shortridge High School here in Indy. Whether in the classroom or on the ball diamond, he led by example always offering timely words of encouragement.

Besides instructing us in various art techniques using a myriad of materials, he hand painted eye catching signs for various Shortridge events, often including clever illustrations and typography. This was of course before digital clip art or fancy color printers.

Mr. Haynes was a great former college baseball player who decided on a career with IPS teaching high school art. He supplemented his teaching income in the summers by painting intricate realist watercolors which he shared with us in class.

Thanks to him, I realized being a creative person and an athlete were not mutually exclusive. For all your knowledge, advice and inspiration, here’s to you Mr. Haynes! I can’t ever thank you enough.

Special honorable mention goes to Aleta Hodge for her wonderful story, too.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the Jazz Kitchen on Wednesday night for the next Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam as Sophie and I share stories about our mentors. More information is available here.

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Emmett Till Is Back To Haunt Us

I was speaking to a class of bright students at a good university last March when I began talking about my experience covering the Emmett Till murder trial in Sumner, Mississippi in 1955. The professor, who was sitting next to me, leaned in and explained “I don’t think they know about that.”

I thought “everyone” knew about that. I thought the murder of the 14-year old Negro boy from Chicago who was tortured and killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman while visiting his grandfather in Mississippi was part of American history, like The Gettysburg address. I wrote in my article on the trial for The Nation magazine (“Justice in Sumner”) that as soon as the trial was over the town returned to its silent, solid life “that is based on cotton and the proposition that a whole race of men was created to pick it.”

In those days we thought that racism was a problem of “The South.” We hadn’t yet awakened to the fact that it was and is an American problem, woven into the fabric of our history.

Now I imagine those students I spoke last March know about the murder, since The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson – or anyway its interview with the witness who admits she lied about the boy flirting with her – has prompted the Justice Department to re-open the case. (The book is out of stock now on Amazon.)

The two murderers who admitted their crime years later for a paid magazine article are now dead, as is almost everyone connected with the case. About five years ago I got a phone call from a man who said “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I have to speak to you because I’m writing a book about The Emmett Till murder trial, and you are the only one who was at the trial who is still alive.”

I was twenty-three at the time I covered the trial.

The caller was Devery S. Anderson, who wrote a comprehensive book on the trial called. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movementpublished a year ago.

The New York Times reported that the case was re-opened by The Justice Department and the FBI in 2004 with exhumation of Till’s beaten body. Joyce Chiles, The Mississippi prosecutor who presented that case to the Grand Jury got no return of indictments and said recently that any truthful new testimony would not have changed the outcome.

The new attention to the case has resulted in one good thing –making the case known again to a new generation, bringing the brutality before our eyes again to match with the current shootings of blacks by police officers who are never indicted. Everyone in the courtroom that sweltering Friday sixty-three years ago knew what the verdict would be, based on knowing the hearts and minds of the jurors. The essence of the ritual drama we were watching was summed up by John Whitten, the last speaker for the defense, when he announced his faith that “every last Anglo-Saxon one of you men on this jury has the courage to set these men free.”

Evidence was not the point.

It took the Anglo-Saxon Twelve just an hour and seven minutes to set the murderers free. It took that long, one of them said, because they couldn’t figure out how to properly fill out the acquittal form to give the judge.

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All the Way Home: Author Dan Wakefield on Returning to Indianapolis

Dan Wakefield. Photo by Tony Valainis

Photo by Tony Valainis

I wrote this piece for Indianapolis Monthly in October 2012. Evan West recently profiled me in the January 2017 issue. In light of that, I thought it worth re-sharing my side of the story again.

Here’s an excerpt:

Many people firmly believe that “fiction” really is “fact.” I still have people come up to me and say, “Hey, that must have been wild when you and ‘Gunner’ got kicked out of the Meridian Hills swimming pool because he had a beard!” In fact, I never knew anyone in Indianapolis who had a beard in 1954 (the year the novel was set), and I imagine that anyone who did would have been called a Commie and run out of town. But now I just smile when the scene is mentioned and say, “Yeah, that really was wild!”

My publisher sent me on a book tour that summer of 1970 and wanted to add Indianapolis when a local TV station offered to pay all the expenses. I reluctantly agreed, but the plane was forced down at an emergency airstrip in Pittsburgh due to a bomb threat. The flight was scheduled to go to Indy, Kansas City, and San Francisco, and the caller had told TWA, “That flight will never get to Indianapolis.” As we passengers waited in a concrete blockhouse pondering whether to accept the airline’s offer of continuing on when the bomb was not found or returning to New York, I confessed my fears to a woman standing next to me.

“I’m from Bloomington,” she said, “and I’ve heard about your book; if I were you, I’d go back to New York.”

Read the full piece at Indianapolis Monthly

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield