Chris Churchill has a good column in today's Albany Times Union which I can't link to, because it's behind a pay wall and, despite being a subscriber to the dead-tree TU for the past several years, I can't successfully wend my through their registration process so as to be able to read the damn thing online -- example number six trillion in the ongoing, self-defeating death wish of American newspapers.
Anyway, the column is headlined "Troy must not let Lansingburgh slip away," and is about the middle-to-working class neighborhood encompassing the long north end of Troy, and how rising crime and neglect from City Hall have placed it in peril.
The wife and I were in Lansingburgh on Friday, eating good, reasonably priced Italian food at a packed Testo's restaurant, then driving down Fourth Avenue past St. Augustine's church and school on our way to the 112th Street bridge. We crossed the Hudson River into Albany County and Cohoes, where the Rymanowski Brothers Orchestra was giving a free concert. I like polka music and this band, the trumpet and sax sounding out together, with the accordion, guitar and drums. I was encouraged to see a big crowd in downtown Cohoes, a similarly gritty area but one that is pulling itself up by attracting new residents.
Back in Lansingburgh, it seems to me, one thing that needs to be done is save the aforementioned St. Augustine's School (pictured above). One way is to contribute to the Albany Catholic diocese's Beacon of Hope scholarship fund, which allows you to designate the gift for a particular school.
I confess that I've only just gotten around to watching this superb documentary, which WMHT is using as a fund-raising filler. (By all means subscribe; apart from the public TV, WMHT runs an excellent classical music radio station at 89.1 FM.)
It's about the neighborhood that was destroyed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor Erastus Corning, mostly for the construction of Empire State Plaza. It was a functioning, multiethnic working-class neighborhood, much like the Brooklyn of my Irish immigrant Gaffney grandparents. He became a postal clerk and she, a onetime maid, stayed home to raise their six children in a long dark apartment on Seventh Street near Eighth Avenue. My widowed grandmother and schoolteacher aunt moved to Long Island in the late 1970s because they perceived rising crime spilling into Park Slope. But NYC got a handle on crime, and Brooklyn is now thriving.
Albany, meanwhile, has much worse crime now than it did when the neighborhood was destroyed more than half a century ago, along with a disastrously high dropout rate from the public high school. I think it would be doing much better if its heart had not been ripped out then.
There are mixed opinions about Empire State Plaza, but whatever its uses, it was not worth the cost. (I mean the cost to Albany; it was not worth the huge financial cost to the state, either.) In the documentary, one old Italian lady compared the authorities who took her house to the fascists and communists of the old country. She was right. From the arrogant, snobbish Republican governor to the corrupt Democratic mayor, and their political flunkies from committeemen to legislators to judges, and the editorial boards and suburbanites and architecture critics and the rest, there was no one on the side of the people. No one sought to protect this place with its cultural riches that poor people had built together, and where they lived in harmony.
According to the Facebook page of producer Don Rittner:
"HERE IS ANOTHER CHANCE TO SEE "The Neighborhood That Disappeared" without interruption, if you missed it first time around . We are having an encore showing at the Madison Theater in Albany for one week starting on Tuesday, August 18 to 22 at 7 PM and a special matinee showing on Sunday, Auguest 23 at 2PM. Tickets are only $8 each or $5 for students and seniors. The proceeds will support the followup documentary ECHOES that will be shown on WMHT this coming December. You can also purchase the DVD at Madison. Please be sure to go the TNTD page and like it.
As the NYS legislative session continues past its scheduled end last week, the action is on the second floor, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has his offices and the "three men in a room" meet. Also on that floor is a public exhibit on the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln, which I checked out when it opened in April. The highlight is a facsimile of the first version of the Emancipation Proclamation, in the president's handwriting except for pasted-in legislative language.
It was under the authority of that document that most American slaves were freed by the U.S. Army, culminating on Juneteenth. (The rest were liberated upon ratification of the 13th Amendment.) And 150 years later, to the credit of Nikki Haley and other South Carolina leaders, it looks like the Confederate flag will no longer fly at their Capitol.
So check out that moving piece of history if you're at the NYS Capitol -- and if you see our governor, urge him to hang tough for his education tax credit.
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedman are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of Major-General Granger:
F. W. EMERY,
Major and Assistant Adjutant-General."
Gordon Granger had landed in Galveston on June 17 with 1,800 soldiers, under orders from Major-General Philip Sheridan, who was based in New Orleans, to assume command of all U.S. troops in Texas, enforce the Emancipation Proclamation but advise the freed slaves that "they must remain at home," and "take such steps as in your judgment are most conducive to the restoration of law and order and the return of the State to her true allegiance to the United States Government."
Unlike most of the Confederacy, Texas was not conquered during the Civil War, and many of its white residents were hoping that slavery or some form of forced labor would be permitted to continue by federal authorities. The language of Granger's order was designed to disabuse them of such notions, and make the position of the U.S. government clear. So his order differed from Sheridan's in two significant aspects. He advised the freed slaves to remain at home (in large part for their own protection) but did not adopt Sheridan's language that they "must" do so, because Granger recognized that would infringe on their new freedom.
A yet more important difference was Granger's explanation of what emancipation meant: "This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor." Those words amounted to a social revolution in post-Civil War Texas, which most white people were not prepared to accept. They also made Granger's order, with the exception of constitutional amendments and other laws, the most significant document of the Reconstruction era.
That significance was immediately recognized in Texas by African-Americans, whose celebrations of "Juneteenth" (from June 19, the date of Granger's order) helped cement their solidarity and enable them to retain more political representation and civil rights after the end of Reconstruction than blacks in the Deep South states to the east. But the promise of Granger's Juneteenth order was not fulfilled until the mid-20th century civil rights movement. Since then, the holiday has come to be celebrated nationwide.
You can obviously read more about this in my biography of Granger, which picked up a review in the May 2015 Journal of Southern History. And today I did an interview for a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Pictured is the Classic Ham (Thit Nguoi) Banh Mi sandwich at one of the three Pho Yum restaurants in Albany County. All the Banh Mis have cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and radishes, and this one includes house-made paté, butter, black pepper and soy sauce. The excellent baguette, as well as the pate and butter, show the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. My wife Barbara ate this one and took the photos, while I (on a second visit) had a different Banh Mi, the seasoned shredded pork (Bì), with nuoc mam sauce. It was very good and satisfying. The vegetables have a refreshing taste, as they do in the summer rolls, which have noodles, lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, mint, basil and a choice of meats and other fillings, not fried but wrapped in light translucent rice paper.
Then there is the pho itself:
The menu says it's "Our hearty Vietnamese rice noodle soup in a flavorful beef broth. All Phở is served with a side of bean sprouts, basil, jalapeno, lime, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha spicy sauce. Finished with onions, scallions, cilantro and black pepper. Vegetarian Phở is made with vegetable broth."
You can feel it doing you good, while the sprouts on the side cleanse the palate. On our second visit, they let us split a bowl of Bo Vien (meatball) Pho, and the total cost of that and two Banh Mis, before tip, was $24.03. (But Barb's photo shows Chin -- beef eye round -- Pho from the earlier visit.)
We ate on Central Avenue in Colonie. One of their other locations is Empire State Plaza, providing some indoor competition for the food carts outside. And I haven't even tried the Bun Vermicelli yet.