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    KennethGary (766x1280)

    Kenneth G. Gary, Sr. (photo provided)


    bill berry, jr.:

    Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to converse with me for a while. I appreciate it. Now, your family has a history of story telling that you learned from your Grandmother. As you know, elders, especially in the African American community, have an oral tradition that is spurred by lineage and connection to family so I wonder where do your people originate? Feel free to take me back in time to as far as you know, and what prompted you to continue this aspect of your family history?


    Kenneth G. Gary, Sr.:

    Giles Anders was my maternal Grandmothers father. Both of my father’s parents passed when he and his 5 siblings were young. My parents both attended Emporia State College after WWII when my father returned to Kansas.


    My maternal grandmother had 16 siblings. They lived outside of San Augustine, TX. My mother, Wilma Gary, made quilts with grandma along with some of her uncles and aunts and one Great uncle. A section of my mother’s obituary follows:


    Wilma Gary grew up on a rural Kansas farm, where she began quilting at age 8.


    Her quilts have been exhibited at the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Gallery in St. Paul.


    Gary seldom missed a chance to lecture about African-American quilt making before schools and other groups, including the Walker Art Center.


    Among her prized possessions were quilts made by her ancestors. One quilt is about 140 years old.


    “Those women didn’t make those quilts for exhibition back then,” Gary told the Star Tribune in 1997. “They did it for the joy of making quilts or because somebody needed to stay warm or somebody had a lot of children and needed them, or somebody had a baby, or somebody graduated,” she said. “My mother used to give me blocks of fabric and say, ‘Now just sit down there and see what you can figure out.’ “


    Gary, who worked for the University of Minnesota’s agriculture college and taught African-American history in the extension division for about 20 years until the 1980s, would tell students how the quilts contained codes to help guide black people fleeing slavery on the Underground Railroad.


    I have to write that book eventually. I envision quilt-making sessions like many social gatherings to have been ripe with opportunity for sharing stories of all kinds. My mother actually told me many stories of those times.


    In my grandmothers later years she and one aunt stayed with us, my 5 siblings and I, during the summers and storytelling was an effective tool for babysitting or just passing the time.


    I was always so enthralled with the art of storytelling that it did not take long before I was probably a self proclaimed practitioner to those younger than me: brother and sister: nephews and nieces and their children…


    My youngest son was probably the most avid listener. Beyond his father before him, my son has further evolved a remarkably advanced blend of storytelling, music and art.


    See www.thekasinochamp.com/?page_id=270 .



    Thank you for sharing your family’s history and your son’s evolution as a creative person. I will check him out and may comment on his work later in this conversation; however, this chat is about you! Here’s the deal….All too often this country’s social knowledge of experiences associated with African American folk has our people transitioning from the agricultural South to northern enclaves where jobs existed and living was devoid of outright prejudice, brutal violence, and hangings. {That was the presumption of elders back then.} How and why did your family settle in rural Kansas? And since you know that “eventually” is permeated with excuses and obstacles, why have you not started to pen your Mom’s story and legacy? I know. I am putting you on the spot.



    It is okay, I knew it was coming.


    We are at a threshold in time where we stand to loose much of the past with no chance of recovery due to death, loss of physical records and other factors contributing to the challenge of preserving the past. This, now, is a critical time in that regard.


    My father’s family was from Kansas. I am not sure why my mothers family ended up in Kansas from Texas, but I do know why years later my parents moved with my two older sisters and brother from Kansas to Minneapolis, MN where I grew up. My younger brother and sister were born in Minneapolis making 6 siblings.


    After my father returned from WWII he finished his degree at Emporia State College in Kansas. My mother had already graduated. They both went into teaching. I have a newspaper clipping, a photograph of my father where the subtitle says “Printice Gary, 33-yr-old member of the Atchison Kansas public school system is the first Negro teacher to be assigned in the board of educations integration program following the U.S. supreme court’s decision banning segregation in the nations schools.” The subtitle went on to say that my father had been with the Atchison school system since 1947.


    I am the fourth child born in 1952 in Atchison, Kansas. Shortly after that our family had moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where my dad had an uncle that could help us get established. It turns out, and I never knew until the last six months of my mother’s life in 2007, which she spent here in Dallas, TX., that one evening on some talk radio show my mother said some things that the white population in Kansas would not tolerate and we were obliged to leave town for the sake of safety.


    I do not remember this specific incident, I was 4 or 5. My older brother does not recall exactly what it was mom said either but he did recall the event. My mother never mentioned it, it surfaced while we, the three of us, were talking one evening. I got the opportunity to make a video recording of my mother for about an hour when she was in assisted living space here in Dallas shortly before her death. I did not get the full story then either but it is easy to picture as she led a protest in 1941 in Emporia Kansas where they did not allow Negroes to dine. She was an activist long before events were recorded as such. I also have a subset of the quilts she used for her lectures.


    Right now, this project, the story of my family, is still in research mode.



    Your parents were college educated, and especially your Mom achieved this level of education when it was still routinely denied to most black folk. How did she achieve that goal, and did your Dad use a federal government bill to complete his college studies and attain his degree? It is unfortunate that you do not know what your Mom exactly said but you may be on point with your analysis. I am sure you have constructed a plausible scenario of what she did. But, was it simply “integrating” a dining establishment or much more as in a larger political/social agenda? And did any of her children continue that level of activist sensibilities?



    I think that some of the sentiments of resilience and resistance stem from very deep roots in the past. Jiles Anders, my maternal grandmothers father owned 127 acres of land in east Texas. It would take time to find accurate dates but it was definitely during the time that whites simply took any land or anything else from black people at will. My great grandfather kept his land by the strategic placement of some of the children at nights in trees with shotguns to repel marauding whites. I do not know if there were incidents or not at the moment but maybe just the common knowledge that there would be mortal resistance was sufficient.


    This land is still in the family today.


    I do not know if my father used a federal government bill for education. It would be a reasonable assumption except he was black, and the army was segregated. I do not know offhand what ramifications that implies. At his funeral in 1996 instead of a 21 gun salute offered by the military my mother insisted they simply give her the 21 live shells as blacks were given guns with no ammunition often times in WWII.


    My older brother (seven years my senior) told me about the restaurant protest. At the moment I have no evidence to surmise it was a larger social event in 1941 than just that. He also recalls that her statement on the radio was something to the effect that Blacks were tired of the ‘yes sir, no sir’ and other demeaning social conventions required at the time; probably no doubt fueled even further by being better educated than most whites as my parents were.


    My siblings and I were raised to be very conscious of activism. I also think that the times differ drastically in that in the 60’s and 70’s there were in fact large social movements in which an individual would not stand out like my mother did in 1940’s.



    “This land is still in the family today.”

    I applaud! That situation is surely a testament to your family’s tenacity, bravery, and willingness to keep what was rightfully theirs. I further applaud such familial legacy especially knowing that land ownership by black folks became a sad story of the white majority exerting its will and force (legal and otherwise) over black landowners that led to black folks losing their land either through intimidation and force or not knowing or being able to read the laws of land ownership. And your comments about your father’s funeral, as well as your Mom’s reaction are instructive. All too often, there are unsung and unrecognized ordinary folk who through their example, create a beacon of light and hope for others. All I can say is write the book! I think you mentioned that you are a father. Based on your family’s legacy and proactive involvement in the quest for basic human rights, how have you instructed your children (especially your son(s,)) to confront the intolerance, ignorance, and prejudice of others as your off-spring sought to achieve their full potential?



    I raised three boys. My oldest boy was born in 1971 in Boston when I was an 18yr old freshman at Harvard. Not a plan at all, but my girlfriend in Minneapolis was pregnant and she joined me at college shortly after my arrival there. I had no intention of my parents knowing as they would only worry and in my youth I somehow thought that if the University knew they would punish me. The only thing I did know was that you take care of your own. So it was a big secret.


    We have maintained a sense of the value of these things from the past. However, I am often struck by how their circumstances differed so very much from my youth. No Martin, no Malcolm, and the times that went with them. I think there has been, almost necessarily so, a dissipation of the appreciation of recent black history. One adapts to the era one is in and the methods employed do also however much the goals may remain the same.



    You raised three sons! I suspect your achievement is surely a path for replication and I understand the dynamics of secrecy. As far as adapting to an era, what are your thoughts regarding the possibility that the focus is no longer simply black and white but rather a bi/multi-cultural recognition of demographics and a further appreciation for other racial/cultural segments of American society? And what about the shift from emphasis on the poor to the middle class (especially at the federal level) and the growing significance of what we now term the 1%?



    The occasion for secrecy in my case was due to my ignorance and immaturity. Harvard may have in fact have helped out some had I apprised them of the situation. On the other hand, I may have needed to be divorced from the college experience somewhat to insure success as my path was not like that of any of the other students around me. I found plenty of freedom in studying science and I had a concrete living and breathing reason to take school completely serious.


    I embrace the broadening of perspective to recognize the multi-cultural nature of our current society, which is also the future direction. One consequence that comes to mind is the potential the trend has for underlining what humanity is by seeing it clothed in many different cultures and races. When I consider the protests in New York City this past fall over the choking death of a black citizen in Long Island at the hands of white police with no indictment forthcoming the throngs of protesters looked a lot to me like the population of nearly any subway car in the city. Though the historic black-white overtones were there It was far from being just black people in protest.


    These changes cannot be resisted and they make those wishing to hold onto the old attitudes expressed like “lets take our country back”, look more and more like the anachronisms that they are.


    On the other hand, this light-speed shrinking of the planet into one-world has exacerbated the dark side of humanity as well. Or, rather, exposed it for what it really is. It is contagion from deep within. I will never tire of proclaiming that mankind, just like other primates and more distant orders of mammals, harbors a biological propensity generically expressed as “us and them”. This propensity will satisfy itself on any differences whatever – race, culture, – or even invisible differences like beliefs.


    We will always have our Nazi’s…in one form or another.

    The value of this perspective lies in the fact that you cannot resolve a problem that is not accurately identified. Busing in the 70’s in Boston was based on the premise that familiarity will reduce tension. It did not. Lack of familiarity was not the origin of the problem. There is value in getting to know other than what one is but it is necessary I think to recognize that much of what governs behavior has roots in what is not learned.


    We are also the epitome of plasticity when it comes to behavior and learning and perhaps salvation lies there.

    I tend to view the re-emphasis on the middle class as opposed to poverty may be a function of the prevailing political winds. The %1 may be a more permanent feature insofar as these lines along with the racist baggage (for validation) they carried had their origin in the beginnings of European Imperialism. In some ways, the financial cards on a macro scale have already been dealt. I am way out of my territory here and could not propose much detail or mechanism but that is kind of the way it looks to me at a glance.



    And I see the scientist come forward, as well as your ability to dissect and offer critical analytical perspectives on these complex human issues. Our chat has been very interesting and informative, and I am pleased that you decided to take some time from your hectic schedule to converse with me. Thank you. Before I put you through my random endgame of “this or that,” do you have any words of wisdom to offer our readership?



    I can share what I suspect to be words of wisdom whose understanding I am in pursuit of.


    A little context is in order first. Hopefully I can do the story quick justice.


    I have read the Bhagavad-Gita on several occasions. It is often called simply the Gita and translates as ‘The Song of God’ and colloquially the Hindu bible. Once I happened to read a version prefaced with a section titled “Gita and Mahabharata”, the latter name being the lager text of which the Gita is a part.


    Part of this epic is the story of five brothers banished from their homeland by a deceitful and vengeful relative leaving them to wander the forest for 12 years. On one occasion, being ravished by thirst they sent out the youngest in search of water. He found water but was queried by a deity in disguise as a crane who bade him answer a question before drinking. He did not respond but rather sought to quench his thirst and promptly died. The same happened to the next 3 brothers leaving only the fifth.


    The last brother arrived at the same pond and seeing his 4 dead brothers fell into deep despair at which the crane said, “Child, answer my questions and I will cure your grief and your thirst.” The fifth brother obliged and answered four questions about happiness and the road to heaven.


    The fifth question is as follows: ”Of all the worlds wonders, which is the most wonderful?”

    The fifth brother answered: “That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die.”


    He was allowed to drink and all his brothers returned to life.


    I have pondered this exchange often. Does it mean that man is engrossed in the pursuit of wealth and pleasure, for instance, that he does not see the immanence of his own death? Is it a description of monumental caprice that one counts oneself fortunate at every funeral that is not his own? Is it testimony to an immature ‘it will not befall me’ type of attitude? Or, is it a metaphysical reference to the inability to truly envisage death?


    And why is it so wonderful? Would the absence of this veil necessarily end in insanity?


    Oh well, maybe I have it wrong altogether and unraveling a meaning is not the point at all. In the end, there is nothing to say that an open question cannot be of greater value than a closed answer.



    I like that you leave us with a perplexing question that is best unraveled by each individual who contemplates the answer. I end my chats by asking my conversation partner to pick one thing over the other without thinking through the choices…very quick picks. Here are your ten and I look forward to hearing more “stories” from you. Take care and warm regards to your family.


    Novels or Novellas? Novels


    Chicken Little or Wile E. Coyote? Wile E. Coyote


    Cold Cereal or Hot Cereal? Cold Cereal


    Facial or Massage? Massage


    Sideman or Back-up Singer? Back-up Singer


    Watching Sports or Playing Sports? Playing Sports


    Moon or Stars? Stars


    Unplanned change or status quo? Unplanned change


    Grapes or Raisins? Grapes


    Questions or Answers? Questions


    [N.B. Kenneth Gary’s answers are in red.]

    ♦  ♦  ♦


    Read Kenneth G. Gary, Sr. Fiction Stories:  http://aaduna.org/fallwinter2014/fiction/kenneth-gary/


     Click here to read additional conversations:  http://aaduna.org/fallwinter2014/conversations/


    Click here to read conversations from previous issues:  http://aaduna.org/summer2014/conversations/



    Message from Bill Berry, Jr


    When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me.  I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.


    Stay Creative,