The first Book of the Week is “…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since, From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress” by Charles B. Rangel with Leon Wynter, published in 2007.
This repetitive, stream-of-consciousness autobiography was a bragfest, but the author’s major point was that his near-death experience while serving in the Korean War led him to realize that surviving everything else in his life has been a cakewalk.
Born in June 1930 in West Harlem, New York City– Rangel, his older brother and younger sister were raised mostly by his mother, mother’s brother and mother’s father. His maternal grandparents– white father and black mother– were originally from Virginia. His mother raised him as a Catholic.
Rangel’s mother worked as an attendant in a hotel and in resorts in the Catskills in upstate New York, while the author stayed in West Harlem with his grandfather or uncle, both elevator operators. Starting when he was about nine years old and throughout his childhood, Rangel worked at a drugstore, as a paperboy, at a hardware store, as a shoe-store assistant, cargo loader, etc.
Rangel was deeply influenced by his grandfather’s reverence for attorneys, whom he saw all day at his job in the elevator of a courthouse. Nevertheless, Rangel’s social circles in Harlem did not expose him to anyone who particularly valued education. He therefore dropped out of high school after sophomore year. He was also deeply influenced by his older brother, who valued working and volunteering for the U.S. military.
So after Rangel’s four years in the military, during which he was unexpectedly sent to Korea, he was persuaded by his brother to choose work in civilian life instead of a military career.
Eventually, realizing that his life was directionless and his lack of education was holding him back, Rangel appealed to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help– aggressively, as he was an arrogant youth with a sense of entitlement as a war hero. A VA representative provided him with the kind of guidance he needed, pushing him to focus on the goal of becoming an attorney to please his grandfather.
Rangel expanded his worldview at St. John’s law school, meeting other blacks, plus Italian, Irish and Jewish students. Later, as a Congressman, his frequent international travel led him to change his views on Catholicism.
Rangel became less religious, as “When you find Washington saying it has no moral responsibility for social services, that it’s on local or state government or the private sector, you would expect the Church to be screaming with outrage. Not just about the unborn, but about the born… I had to remind Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the media that we spend $100,000 per year just to keep one kid locked up in the city’s [New York City’s] Rikers Island detention center… Imagine if we were investing even a fraction of that in the education of every kid in New York.”
Read the book to learn how Rangel came to have daily gratitude for life after his war experiences, and rose through the ranks to have an illustrious political career, and for all the great accomplishments he considered himself responsible.
The second Book of the Week is “Citizen Lane, Defending Our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets” by Mark Lane, published in 2012. This autobiography was a bragfest, too.
Born in the Bronx in 1927, Lane spent his childhood in Brooklyn. He spent his early career years practicing law as a solo practitioner in East Harlem. Even though his skin was white, he defended minority teen gang members accused of serious crimes. The juries were wealthy white males only. Lane also sued slumlords on behalf of tenants.
In the second half of the 1950’s, Lane helped reveal the scandalous conditions at the Wassaic State School in upstate New York; human nature, being what it is– in the early 1970’s, Geraldo Rivera told a largely similar story involving Willowbrook State School.
Teenagers accused of petty crimes who were deemed “mental defectives” determined by only one IQ test were placed in Wassaic State School. The IQ test was given in English only. Not coincidentally, many Puerto Ricans (Spanish speakers) were immediately placed in the school.
Despite the name of the institution, inmates received no academic instruction– only psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and solitary confinement for minor infractions, at the hands of sadistic guards.
Restraints were used willy-nilly. The food was inedible. The inmates had no recreation whatsoever, not even reading. In October 1955, Paul H. Hoch, commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene called a hearing only after New York State governor Averell Harriman was prompted by political motives to do something. Hoch said it was a public hearing, but banned the press from attending. Big mistake.
The press gathered around the hearing-building and wouldn’t leave. Lane gave them the lowdown on the testimony he heard firsthand. The reader can guess where this is going. The only heads that rolled were the guards’. No one else’s. Dr. George Etling, director of the school, remained so for another eighteen years until he comfortably retired.
The next episode in Lane’s heroic career related to cofounding– with the reverend of the Mid-Harlem Community Parish– of a free-of-charge (unlicensed; read, illegal) heroin rehabilitation clinic in West Harlem. The patients kicked their addictions cold turkey through sedatives and therapy administered by doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. Lane allegedly got Jackie Robinson to hire all the recovered addicts (many of whom were ex-cons) by the Chock full o’Nuts restaurant chain.
Prior to election year 1960, judges and other office holders were able to vote for their cronies, even though they had moved out of the candidates’ East Harlem and Yorkville district years before. Lane’s young polling volunteers told the illegal voters they had to sign an affidavit swearing to their current addresses. Busted, the would-be voters slunk away instead.
In spring 1961, Lane and black attorney Percy Sutton went on a “Freedom Ride” (i.e., risked their lives) via buses and a plane through different southern cities, ending in Jackson, Mississippi. There, they were arrested for “…disorderly conduct by improperly ‘congregating’ and placed in separate segregated cells.” But they hadn’t been the least bit hostile. They were convicted without a trial and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. In March 1962, the state of Mississippi changed its tune and the charges were dropped.
In 2004, Lane started co-hosting a weekly radio show from New Jersey, in which he wasn’t obnoxious to callers, and “…all ridicule would be reserved exclusively for the leaders of our nation who led us into a war in which they traded blood for oil… I read the names of those who died that week in Iraq, to remind us of what we are doing.”
Read the book to learn of other major historical events in which Lane was supposedly front and center, and the ways in which he did his best to investigate scandals (including JFK’s and MLK’s deaths) in a bygone era in which:
- security in buildings was poor
- forensics were primitive
- racism was rampant, and
- cover-ups were rife (thanks to aggressive, dishonest politicians and intelligence services who spied on and oppressed their own citizens).
Thank goodness cover-ups aren’t rife anymore, given the current mean, nasty divided political situation in the United States. Right.