ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

Google
 

   Nicholas was more staunch and mystifying than the other black male organizers sent

 out initially by the Elliot Godoff and Leon Davis. Still Nicholas created his share of enemies,

often because he was feared and [did not allow]  black males get too close to him,

 

 

Understanding "Last Man Standing"

                                                                                         for Dorothy   

           

By Rudolph Lewis

 

Thanks ever so much for your interest in "Last Man Standing." Keep in mind all this writing is being done because Bea has not been properly waked. We hope this will substantially wake her.  You're right, yes, in a way, the poem is obscure, and intentionally so. I suspect fear more than love is the midwife of artistic production. A way of saying things one cannot ordinarily say. 

And, maybe, I have taxed "Last Man Standing" with too much to do. Shifting passages about, however, will not solve the problem of obscurity (in the sense of meaning). But you have destroyed the form of the poem,  by your break up of the five-line stanzas (about the same length in duration by eye or ear).

The poem is a lyric, not a narrative, which would be needed to make the story apparent. In a lyric I'm not sure whether obscurity is indeed a fault, especially if other elements work. That is, if the poem is sufficiently expressionistic, dramatic. The poem is about Henry "Nick" Nicholas, "the last man standing." How he has been sketched out is not obscure, at all. I'm almost certain you can come to conclusions about Nick.

There are many signposts for conclusions, sometimes at odds, about the character Nick, the object of the poem, which suggest some complexity of person and situation  The poem also has a setting, characters, and conflicts (personal and institutional), and a resolutiondeath and a continuity of right actions, "passing out [union] cards."

Maybe the revised version might be less obscure, in that the conflict has been reinforced with the word "split." Check it outLast Man Standing.

*   *   *   *

Last Man Standing

                     for Bea Crockett

 

By Rudolph Lewis

 

Like a black pontiff at age 71

Nick spread forth a great feast

of salmon, fruits, and cakes, for

a magician king every moment

every chair becomes his throne.

 

Hes at Hyatt in Inner Harbor

conclaving, his soldiers armed

with the union card & promises

of dignity & integrity & defense

against slave drivers of the poor.

 

15 years after the split Im at his

table, a black hole of the universe

a Mississippi boy made good in NY,

Philly, a national leader no Ph.D.

& wields power like she his woman.

 

I should have killed him when

I had a mind to. His eyes burns

into the brain. Hes got this Mafia

Philly-NY all in the air, rocks the

poetic ground on which I stand.

 

I knew he was going to sell me

out. I respected his wife, she I

listened to. But he broke the leash

for what, to cakewalk in this town?

Power is bloody, and to the death.

 

His words. I smiled. I handed him

my letter years ago. I was a 1199er.

The real leaders were killed off

or sold out. The rest were followers

Im the last man standing.

 

He ran their names down. Hes

dead . . . theyll all dead. I made

them. They betrayed me. And

look where they now. All dead

no power. Were still moving.

 

I spoke of his nemesis & rival. Hes

driven into a one-way alley, and he

cant turn around. Hell say anything

these revolutionaries, with no vision to

remake the world, still losing workers.

 

Feared, adored, mystifying Nick is

from the crypt. And though an SOB

treacherous & dangerous I like his bravado:

hes stayed the course. No tears for me

just go pass out some muthafuckin cards.

*   *   *   *   *

 

As stated above, the subject of the poem is Henry Nicholas, a national union leader. Well known and well respected. His vehicle for greatness was 1199, a union founded by New York Jews, for Jewish pharmacists. It became a black union of hospital and nursing home employees, especially in certain cities, Baltimore and Philadelphia, in 1969-1970. Organizing so many blacks and Latinos everyone knew Jewish leaders would be displaced and that a black would be the leader.

Nicholas became the head of the Philadelphia local back then and later, after some quarreling with Doris Turner, became the National Union president.

New York eventually took a third path.

And in ways people also concluded that leader would be a black man, because such men led the organizing drives, Fred Punch in Baltimore and Henry Nicholas in Philly. Both were charismatic. The times were ripe, linking civil rights, black consciousness, and unionism. Punch and Nicholas loved power and both were overbearing. 

Such men create enemies. But Nicholas was more staunch and mystifying than the other black male organizers sent out initially by the Elliot Godoff and Leon Davis. Still Nicholas created his share of enemies, often because he was feared and he had the peculiarity of not letting black males get too close to him, he surrounded by either white men and/or black womenone advises him his limits, the other his possibilities.

One who became Nicholas' enemy was a friend of mine, Robert Moore, who in 1990 was the president of the Baltimore local. He didn't trust Nicholas, but rather his SDS friends. The SDS friends, mostly white (communists, socialists, liberals) helped Moore get in office, several years before. He was in their debt. Nick had supported Holly his opponent, then the sitting president of the local. Nick didn't trust revolutionaries. I was in Louisiana teaching writing as this "realpolitik" takes place.

So Robert plotted against Nicholas in the discussion of choosing an international for 1199. The SDSers opted for SEIU, a west coast labor union and mostly white. The president of the international then was John Sweeney, now the president of the AFL-CIO. SEIU wanted Nicholas' union, at any cost. 

The 80s had whupped labor's ass. And so labor leaders wanted workers by any means, even if they had to steal them. The internationals (SEIU, AFSCME) promised to bring more money to the national union for organizing and organizers.

Of course, if you always looking over your shoulder, you can't organize, especially when your folks ain't with you because they lost your heart a long time ago.

Nicholas felt that AFSCME, an east coast union with a substantial black membership, would provide the money and would not threaten the independence of 1199, or his control of it. The SDSers thought that SEIU would provide them with more security and more power. And they would get Nicholas, that is, put one over on the great organizer and magician of Philadelphia.

Moore had been a friend of mine. But he was no longer the same man. He had become rather a bundle of complexes, which reflected itself in the need personally to control the Baltimore local, and with a rational fist, in a way his predecessors had not. After the 70s, he had gone his way and I had gone mine. He struggling his way back up the 1199 hierarchy, after he lost his office as Treasurer of the Baltimore local. He had won the office while in prison for anti-war activity.

(So much of this history I relate is retrospective.)

When I rejoined 1199 in 1987 I had no sense of the treachery that was afoot, and Moore had not been open with me when he hired me on staff for the National Union, technically I worked for Nicholas, who was financing an organizing drive in Baltimore.

When I knew him in 1967 and 1968 Moore was a radical, a revolutionary. And I followed him, dropped out of Morgan and we opened a SNCC office at 432 E. North Avenue. From community organization to unionism was a small leap. And we organized in 1969 with 1199 5,000 health care workers in Baltimore in less than six months.

In consciousness raising and putting money in sisters pockets and fighting for respect and dignity in the workplace, we made a difference. But institutions are naturally conservative, and often become corrupt with jockeying for power and the holding onto power. All lead eventually to the misuse and abuse of power. Nicholas was right: Moore owed him allegiance. And Moore knew that the black membership loved Nicholas, who was honest and got things done, however treacherous and dangerous. 

Bob opted for Sweeney and Stern of SEIU.

His wife Beatrice Crockett, for without her support at Hopkins his winning would have been impossible, was torn between her love for her husband and her fealty to Nicholas. She refused in effect not to take any side, SEIU or AFSCME. In short, she could neither claim victory nor defeat, neither booty nor blame. By hook or crook, SEIU won in Baltimore.

Sweeney's first act was to order Moore replace his wife. And Robert followed orders. Beatrice and Bob split with the splitting of 1199 locals between SEIU and AFSCME. And I understand that those fifteen years were years of misery for her. She wanted to have a wake while she was alive. She felt that her husband had used her and tossed her aside as if she was nothing.  

In any event, this perspective is held by women in Philly who love Nicholas and some whod follow him to the grave if he asked.

This March 2005, 15 years later SEIU removed  Moore from his position as president of the Baltimore local, and has placed him on international staff, as a black figurehead. In effect, hes been de-balled, or de-fanged, however youd have it.

Nicholas saw it coming six months before it happened, and told Bea. Beatrice lived to see the white folks (SEIU) give Moore the shaft, as she feared. I suppose she felt that she had seen it all, and died.

*   *   *   *   *

Marcus Garvey "Africa For The Africans"  /  Look For Me in The Whirlwind 

 Marcus Mosiah Garvey  / Marucs Garvey Speech

   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues


1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music)

 

 

 

 

update 16 February 2012

 

 

 

Home  Blacks & Labor Table   Blacks & Labor    Tributes Obituaries Remembrances 

Related files:  Putting Baltimore's People First  Dominance of Johns Hopkins   A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore   Walter Hall Lively   Root Song  New Day Poem 

A Smokey Slow Drag   The Big Boys  Industrial Me   Poem at Central Booking      Afaa Michael Weaver at Pratt Library    Henry Nicholas on Social Justice

Last Man Standing  Understanding "Last Man Standing"   Portrait of Robert Moore