Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

A Season of Change

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Ecclesiastes 3) transports me to July 23, 1962, when I had not yet turned one year old, and John Hammond from Columbia records was at the Bitter End coffeehouse in Greenwich Village to record a live performance of a folk singer named Pete Seeger. The set began with an old labor song that many of the civil rights activists had learned at Highlander Folk School, and was to become the anthem of the civil rights movement, We Shall Overcome. Midway through the set, Seeger introduced the world to a song he wrote after his publisher asked him to send something other than a protest song. He had been reading the Bible, and took his lyrics virtually verbatim from the King James rendering of the poem in Ecclesiastes 3, only adding the repetitive chant, turn, turn, turn. The publisher loved it, not realizing it would later be adopted as a protest anthem for the anti-war movement.

While Pete Seeger was singing songs from the labor movement and the Bible, my dad was reading the Bible and doing his own bit for workers’ rights. Downtown Asheville was indeed beginning to turn, turn, turn. I’m sure the passage from Ecclesiastes would have been familiar to Daddy long before he heard Seeger or Judy Collins or the Byrds make it famous. He understood the proverbial insights of Solomon, and later in his life would often be described as a man of deep Solomonic wisdom. In that particular season of change, the time for me to be born, soon to be the time for his father to die, he was working as an electronics technician for Dunham’s Music House, which sold Rogers organs and Baldwin pianos and Magnavox stereos from a store on Patton Avenue. When I got older, he told me stories of what life was like back then. Every morning, when there were deliveries to be made, he drove the Dunham’s truck down to Pack Square, which was filled with black men, desperate day laborers waiting for an opportunity to earn their daily bread. These men were jockeying for position to get picked up for the most difficult and dangerous grunt work the businesses had to offer, whether factory of farm. For Daddy, someone from the bunch would provide a strong back to help install a church organ or piano. At some point, he sensed that there was something wrong with the system, and he began advocating on their behalf to his boss, Mr. C.W. McLain, owner of Dunhams. After many efforts, Daddy finally succeeded in convincing Mr. Mac to permanently hire whatever help he needed and put the workers on a regular payroll, so they would have the same job security that he enjoyed and could provide for their family without the indignity of waiting and peddling themselves on the square every day. Leonard Flack was one of those hired, and he stayed with the company until it went out of business in the 80s.

I don’t know that anyone would recognize Asheville today from what it was back in 1962. From the indignity of black day laborers crowded onto the square hustling for whatever work might come their way, to a black woman mayor leading the city’s economic development efforts. Turn, turn, turn. My own journey has seen a community culture turn from extreme homophobia, where taunting and bullying and violence against anyone remotely appearing homosexual was the accepted and unquestioned norm, to a day when the majority of our county voted against a statewide constitutional amendment restricting marriage to a man and woman. Turn, turn, turn. It is a season of Solomonic change, from hate to love, from killing to healing. It doesn’t come without struggle, for it is also a season to break down and cast away – old prejudices, old jokes, old theologies – so that Jesus’ ethic of love can be embraced and built up. Turn, turn, turn. It is a season to change from war to peace, and as Pete Seeger concluded in the only other lyric he added to his scripture song, I swear it’s not too late.

How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.



  • May 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    curious as to what “old theologies ” need to be cast away?

    I worked with your dad and others with the day laborers..most of them were very nice hard workers..I have a lot of memories of those days..

    Comment by Bill

  • May 10, 2012 at 3:33 am

    This passage brings me to the time when I first heard the wonderful lyrics of Pete Seeger, “Turn, Turn, Turn” to April 29th when Joyce Katzberg sang “Not Another Mother’s Son, Not Another Father’s Daughter” protesting the horrors of war at our Peace Notes Concert to raise funds to send someone to Peace Camp. Joyce sang with Pete Seeger when he was in Providence, RI. She has written other songs such as one pertaining to the gentrification of Warren, RI, where she now lives. Warren was once a funky town where artists and people of not too high income lived. Now, the wealthy moguls are turning this waterfront town which is near Newport, RI, into a place where only people of financial means can live. “Turn, Turn, Turn” Let us keep poor and middle class folk in our prayers and work for the 99% in order that they, too, have a full life and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • May 10, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Bill, I’m sure you have a lot of good memories working there at Dunham’s. Seems to have been a rite of passage for many of us in our teenage years. I remember well riding around with Leonard Flack and Doc and Bill and others. As for old theologies, for me it’s some of the same issues the reformers were dealing with – when the Church was more interested in wielding political power than offering grace and hope, when judgment triumphed over mercy, when the stranger was feared rather than welcomed, when the prisoners were harshly punished rather than reformed and redeemed. It’s the age old theology that we adopt basically to reinforce our childish prejudices. As Paul said, when I was a child, I thought like a child, but when I became an adult, I gave up childish ways. Reactionary policies advocated by people who refuse to even try and understand what our current situation and context really is, such as Amendment One in NC, are childish at best, and represent the old theologies that need to give way to a more mature faith as represented in the life of Christ.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • May 10, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Janet – thanks for sharing about Joyce and the current issues of justice she is bringing to light through her music. I hope to hear her some day, she sounds terrific!

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • May 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Stan, I was 15 years old when you were born and started working for Dad the year before. Dunham’s shop moved to Market Street just below Eagle Street and the work force at that time gathered at the club on the corner. Dad was very well respected by the businesses, workers, and residents of that now historic neighborhood. It was a very volitile time and I always felt perfectly safe walking up Eagle Street to go into town because I was his son. I remember Dad telling me how wrong it was that our black friends had different water fountains in Sears, and different bathrooms in town. How wrong it was they couldn’t eat in most restaurants. But I also remember our church at the time did nothing to acknowledge how wrong these prejudices and segregation was. So glad for the changes. Your brother Jerry.

    Comment by Jerry

  • May 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Jerry, glad to hear your memories of that time, and Dad’s relationships and mutual respect with the black community. Thanks for the correction on where the day laborers gathered, somehow I had remembered him telling me it was on the square. I think there were several different issues that he spoke up for with Mr. Mac, and I’m amazed now when I think about how he kept his job, when he openly challenged some of the policies and practices of his boss. That says a lot about him, too.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

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