Dock of the Bay
For Black History Month, Chris Haley Gets to Roots of Unsung Heros Life
When Chris Haley, nephew of famed Roots author Alex Haley, auditioned for a janitors part in a PBS special for Black History Month, he wound up with the lead.
It was one of those things you hear about, says Haley, who by day is reference director at the Maryland State Archives. I was in the right place at the right time.
But theres more to it than that.
Haley, an actor and filmmaker himself, went to the casting call to, he says, make some contacts with PBS for a documentary Im filming on the homeless. He knew only a vague outline of the story.
But when the films crew saw Haley on the elevator they called him Vivien, the first name of the films main character. When the producer saw he looked more like the lead character than did the actor already cast, the part was his.
|© 2002 Spark Media All Rights Reserved
Chris Haley, nephew of Roots author Alex Haley, plays heart-surgery pioneer Vivien Thomas in the PBS documentary Partners of the Heart.
Filmed in Nashville and Washington, D.C., the documentary Partners of the Heart is the story of Dr. Alfred Blalock, a Johns Hopkins surgeon, and his 34-year interracial partnership with Vivien Thomas, the young black janitor who became his trusted assistant. Its also the story behind one of the first successful heart surgeries ever conducted.
The 1940s era operating room scenes were filmed at the Soldiers Home in Washington. Morgan Freeman narrates, and scenes are re-creations.
Youre not really doing dialogue, says Haley. Youre enacting what is being described.
Thomas improbable alliance with white surgeon Alfred Blalock and rise to partnership in a powerful scientific team began in Depression-era Nashville, where Blalock was born into wealth and privilege. Thomas had come with his parents to Nashville during the great migration of African Americans northward from the Deep South. He was instilled with a strong work ethic and high academic goals.
When the Depression wiped out Thomas savings and his dream of attending medical school, he took a job as lab technician, a job classified as janitor at the time at Vanderbilt University in the 1930s. There the two men developed not only friendship but also respect for each others talents.
In 1940, Blalock became chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins on the condition that Thomas could join him. In Baltimore, Thomas experienced prejudice as never before. The partners in science could not eat at the same cafeteria table.
For a black person to have a white coat on and not be a janitor was one of the big symbols of crossing over, of making it, says Haley. It was Blalock who insisted that Thomas wear it and that he be in the operating room. You see the reaction, the stares from people passing him in the hallway.
The pioneering work of Blalock and Thomas redefined the medical worlds understanding of shock and led to a surgical technique for treating the congenital heart defect called blue-baby syndrome. Thomas was responsible for the day-to-day work in the lab on the project, inventing specialized surgical instruments for the meticulous procedures that are still used.
Together, they trained a generation of international surgeons. After Blalocks death in 1964, Thomas, became mentor to a further generation of cardiac surgeons and lab technicians. In the 1970s, Thomas achievements were finally recognized. He was awarded an honorary doctorate and teaching position on the medical schools faculty. He died in 1985. His portrait now hangs at John Hopkins University Hospital alongside other surgical greats.
Mame Warren who wrote the Universitys 125th anniversary history, Johns Hopkins, Knowledge for the World, calls Thomas a god for Johns Hopkins.
In Partners of the Heart, Haley found himself playing another part besides Vivian Thomas.
During the filming the man routinely introduced as Alex Haleys nephew met another nephew of a famous uncle. Koco Eaton, a physician who advised on the film, is Thomas nephew.
It was the one time I could actually be the uncle watching someone else be the nephew, says Haley.
Partners of the Heart premiered in February on public television during Black History Month as part of its American Experience series. Future showings? www.partnersoftheheart.com. It will also be issued in DVD format.
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No Utility in Beauty
Annapolis, Anne Arundel Try to Trim Back BG&Es Chain Saws
|photo by Sonia Linebaugh
Buzz. Burr. Whirr. Whiz. Thats the sound of the electric hair trimmer. Just a trim, please. Leave a little extra on the top.
Buzz. Burr. Whirr. Snarl. Thats the sound of crews working on the streets and roadsides of Anne Arundel County and Annapolis. Only louder. Much louder. And it wont do to ask for just a trim with a little more left on top except perhaps in Annapolis Historic District.
When Baltimore Gas & Electrics tree trimming contractor, Nick Valentine, started work in the historic district late last month, the phone rang immediately in the office of city environmentalist Marissa Calista, who is called by Mayor Ellen Moyers office the guardian of the trees.
When I was called by Alderman Louise Hammond and another resident, I immediately called BG&E. They were very cooperative and stopped work as soon as I called. They were not aware that they had to submit a plan and have it approved. Trees are trimmed on a four-year cycle, but Valentine and his crew from New York State are new to the contract.
BG&E is going to submit a package to me, says Donna Hole, of the office of City Planning and Zoning, who holds the power to approve whats cut in the citys historic district. Hole is not so generous in her reaction to BG&E. They do whatever they damn well please, pardon my French, she says. They always say that these are primary feeder lines, but Im going to try to get them to do the least they can do rather than the most they can do.
BG&E spokesperson Bonnie Johansen, speaks yet another language: We have to maintain the integrity of the system, she says. People dont want trees to be cut, but they do want electricity. We work closely with the city and county to let them know what were doing and where.
Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer may be one reason BG&E is cooperating. Not long after the mayor raised a stir over the scalping of trees along Cedar Park Road in Admiral Heights, the utilitys new Right Tree, Right Place program promised $30,000 to the mayors campaign to plant 1,000 trees in four years. The BG&E grant will add another 540 redbuds and crape myrtles to naval stadium grounds.
BG&E probably wants to be cooperative, said the mayors spokesperson Jan Hardesty. But we could call this compensation for the mayors outrage. She is actively looking into less severe tree trimming, replanting trees and undergrounding electric wires.
But putting wires underground is not in the near future, says Hardesty. Its very expensive. When Francis Street was done, the state helped with a grant because this is the capitol and the view was improved a lot. We know what shape the state is in now.
Last spring, County Executive Janet Owens also took BG&E to task. While driving along Generals Highway, she saw BG&Es pruning firsthand.
The county executive was taken aback and appalled, said spokesman Matt Diehl. She felt the work along Generals Highway was a travesty. While she understands the need and the legitimate reasons for BG&E to trim trees, she feels they can do it in a less damaging way.
In response to that buzz cut, Owens wrote directly to Mayo Shattick of BG&Es parent company Constellation Energy Group. The result was a letter of understanding that pertained only to the 2002 Generals Highway tree-cutting campaign, the first in that area since 1987.
The trees that had already been pruned severely, which drew attention to themselves due to their aberrant shape, were marked for removal, the letter states. It also agrees that, in this overall process there will be initial tendencies to err on the side of preservation.
Now BG&Es 2003 tree-trimming campaign has begun. There is no agreement about this years pruning. All day long, the sound is buzz, burr. All day long, the sound is whirr, snarl. Its the sound of a severe and aberrant present and misshapen future. Its a sound that raises a shriek among those who value both utility and beauty.
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Touring African American Maryland
From Billie Holiday to Benjamin Banneker, black history is easy to find
Travel down the same road as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman above ground. Maryland is rich with African American culture. In case youre not aware of Marylands museums, beaches and landmarks in the state, heres where to find them.
The sturdy Marylands African American Heritage Guide lists some 120 destinations from Alleghany to Worcester County where vacationers and weekend-trippers can journey and explore African American lives both past and present.
|Cambridges Underground Railroad Museum.
The map-folded little guide is free, user friendly and well organized. Landmarks and attractions are alphabetized under each county and also arranged alphabetically overall. The last page in the guide folds out into a complete map of Maryland, color-coded by county so you can chart your route.
Among artwork and photos, the guide presents Did You Knows and short bio clips of blacks whose lives have made their mark in United States and Maryland history.
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) is Baltimores first lady of the early days of jazz. You can see her bronze statue on Pennsylvania Avenue in east Baltimore.
Benjamin Banneker (1737-1806) marks his spot as the first African American mathematician and scientist, whose inventions range from devising irrigation methods to building the first wooden striking clock ever made in the United States to completing the layout of the District of Columbia. In Baltimore County his native county Banneker has a historical park and museum. The museum, in the African American village of Oella, contains artifacts relating to the colonial lives of the Bannekers. At Banneker-Douglass Museum, the mathematician/scientist shares the museums name with black orator, writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). This Annapolis museum houses artifacts from African American cultures in Maryland and the Chesapeake region.
Harriet Tubman (1819-1913) is the heroine of the Underground Railroad. On Marylands Eastern Shore in Cambridge, a historical marker at the former Brodess plantation marks the spot of Tubmans birthplace. Also in Cambridge is the Underground Railroad: Harriet Tubman Museum, a resource area for Tubman memorabilia.
Sharing Annapolis Neck with the capitol city is the planned black community of Highland Beach, created as an exclusive vacation destination for African Americans but soon developed into a mecca of artists, educators, politicians and civil rights activists.
In Baltimore, the Arena Players the oldest continuously operating African American theater company present a variety of musicals, comedies and dramas. Also in Baltimore, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum features more than 100 lifelike wax figures in dramatic historical scenes. Among the newest are the partners Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Marylands first African American elected to statewide office.
The Marylands African American Heritage Guide contains a brief introduction by the governor and lieutenant governor. With Parris Glendening and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend no longer holding those posts, updated reprints with a new introduction are in progress.
Get your free guide at www.mdisfun.org or 800/737-2849. Cant wait for U.S. mail? Pick up a copy in the lobby of the Banneker-Douglass Museum and at the Visitors Center, both in historic downtown Annapolis.
Additions? Suggestions? Call the Maryland Office of Tourism Development: 410/767-6331.
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EPA Chief Whitman Vows Chesapeake Commitment
In the Maryland State House alongside Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman last week found a friendly backdrop to trumpet the Bush administrations new environmental budget.
The Chesapeake Bay got something in return: the promise that Whitman would seek a slight increase in funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the partnership of states surrounding the Bay, to $20.8 million next year.
The Chesapeake Bay is one of Americas greatest treasures, and its environmental health is important to millions of people, from those who make their living harvesting its bounty to those who enjoy its boundless recreational opportunities, Whitman said.
Chesapeake Bay typically enjoys goodwill from political leaders. Just a 50-minute Town Car ride from Washington, the Bay has provided a playground for sporting powerbrokers for a century and these days offers easy access for photo-ops for politicians trumpeting public policies.
Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, is known to prefer horses over sailing vessels. Nonetheless, her words of support for the Bay might be welcomed in a season make that several seasons when environmental protection hasnt ranked as a priority in Washington.
|photo courtesy of Governors Press Office
Visiting the Maryland Statehouse, EPA administrator Christine Whitman (center) jokes with Gov. Robert Ehrlich and his nominee for secretary of the Department of the Environment, Lynn Buhl.
Maryland is one of the states suing the EPA for dropping a rule requiring the nations oldest coal-fired power plants to install pollution control equipment when increasing their production capacities. The winners in that trade-off were the Midwestern utilities that emit the pollution that wafts eastward on the prevailing winds.
Meanwhile, conservationists have bemoaned the loss of wetlands protections, the opening of national forests for logging and proposed changes in the National Environmental Policy Act that would make it easier to change other protective rules.
I try hard not to focus on whats happening in Washington because it is so depressing, remarked Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental advocacy organization.
But Schmidt-Perkins, like many other environmentalists, said she is heartened by Ehrlichs promises to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Were eager for him to tell us these policies; he hasnt said enough yet to have us sleeping well at night, she said.
Ehrlich did not address the clean-air issues that have troubled Maryland officials or the presidents proposed Clear Skies Initiative, which Whitman said in Annapolis would reduce that power plant production over the years.
But Ehrlich told reporters that he had talked to Whitman about getting more money for his Bay priority: upgrading the dozens of sewage treatment plants that produce Bay-choking nitrogen pollution.
And he listened to Whitman as she repeated what she said in Washington the day before, a statement most Marylanders hope will be backed up by money and pro-environment actions in the months ahead.
The presidents proposed budget fully reflects the obligation we all have, government, industry, indeed every American, to be good, faithful stewards of the national environment, she said.
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In Chesapeake Bay, two historic lighthouses Thomas Point Lighthouse near Annapolis and the Middleground Lighthouse in Virginia are in need of adoption as a result of federal budget cuts. The General Services Administration is accepting proposals until March 28 from organizations with the wherewithal to maintain them
In Virginia, a new poll finds that Virginia voters worry more about sprawl than the flagging economy, crime or education. But in a sign of the times, the Virginia Senate last week ignored the Mason-Dixon poll and dispatched four Smart Growth bills to the dust bin of study commissions
At the Bronx Zoo, animal-keepers are deploying perfume in what they call their wildlife enrichment program. They report that the female cheetahs have a clear favorite: Calvin Klein Obsession for Men
Our Creature Feature comes from your trees, and its not about birds. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the number of power outages around the country was growing by leaps and bounds of squirrels.
Those acrobatic little devils are electrocuting themselves more frequently and in so doing blacking out neighborhoods. In Washington, Pepco said that squirrel-related outages grew by more than a third to 999 last year. Nothing not pole guards, noise nor fake owls is working. But in Connecticut, a utility is trying to outfox squirrels with a new plan: bottles of fox urine along sub-station fencing.
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