Abandoned Buildings on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (AKA 7th Avenue)

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IMG_2529These are some pictures of two old, abandoned buildings we saw on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (which is also Seventh Avenue). I have no idea what these buildings were originally built for, but the narrower one had been repurposed at least once. The arched openings had been sealed over with concrete blocks that had narrower doors set into them, equipped with drop-down security gates found on most stores in New York City that were built within the last twenty or thirty years. I got an approximation of an address (2341 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd) for the narrower building from Google Maps and then searched for property records, but all I found was a record listing the place as a “Theater/Performing Arts” venue. I couldn’t find any information on the other, larger building.

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I like abandoned buildings. I always have. One of my earliest memories is of me and my brother exploring an abandoned building in a small town called Bell, in Germany, where we were living temporarily while waiting for on-base housing. I loved castle ruins too. It’s fun to see historical artifacts in a museum, but it’s a very different experience when you’re looking through a place where people used to live their lives, trying to put together an idea of what might have happened there.

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As a bonus, I realized that in the background of some of my photographs is the Abyssinian Baptist Church. The congregation that eventually constructed the church at its current location, which was completed in 1923 at a cost of roughly $334k, was established in 1808 as a result of a walkout from the First Baptist Church in lower Manhattan, when black parishioners were told to adhere to segregated seating. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who that portion of Seventh Avenue is named after, was a pastor at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which was named in honor of the place of origin of most of the founding members: modern Ethiopia.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Positive Extremism

In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” dated April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the subject of extremism as it applied to the nonviolent direct action he was advocating in Birmingham. Specifically, he was responding to the fact that he had been labeled an extremist by “white moderates” and the Christian leadership of local churches. Rather than arguing against the label, King embraced it and justified it through a well thought out argument that both validated positive forms of extremism and equated the passivity of the white moderates to a form of extremism in itself, because their inaction resulted in a form of severe injustice. For King, extremism and the conception of extremism was a dynamic tool that he used to convey his message and advocate for the ending of segregation.

When the word extremism is used, the first thing that probably comes to mind are violent activities intended to create a political statement, including actions by groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or the Ku Klux Klan. One could even argue that some modern government policies are extremist. Certainly some people in the United States would consider the PATRIOT Act to be an extremist response to a problem, because it violates certain ideas that are held to be just and inviolable, like the right to privacy. Through his argument, King defended nonviolent direct action by establishing the concept of positive extremism. He defined it and presented it as a means of seeking justice which would result in brotherhood and understanding, or equal treatment for segregated people.

For King, the term extremism did not have one meaning. Extremism was dynamic and could be either a positive or a negative attribute. He described Jesus as an extremist for love, Amos as an extremist for justice, and Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel. He called Martin Luther an extremist for principles, John Bunyan an extremist for conscience, Abraham Lincoln an extremist for freedom and Thomas Jefferson an extremist for equality (King, 7). Using these examples, he tied extremism to historical figures that have gained widespread recognition as just and righteous men whose ideas and/or policies their contemporaries perceived as extremist. Doing this was King’s way of saying that what society may at first consider to be extreme, may on closer inspection be a positive change.

Extremism isn’t always a negative attribute. King redefined it as nothing more than a measuring stick to judge the level of passion a person has for a cause that they are engaged in. If someone has been labeled an extremist, that doesn’t necessarily mean their cause is wrong or unjust; it simply means that their goal contradicts prevailing societal norms. Considering the contributions to the world of the people King cited as being extremists, extremism can be greatly beneficial. It’s just a matter of how a person perceives what’s being done, so the key is to convince a person that they must engage with a topic, and then to get them to engage with the topic objectively. To do that, King advocated using nonviolent direct action. To be effective, King had to present nonviolent direct action in Birmingham as a form of positive extremism and, more importantly, defend the cause it supported as both universal and just.

Since King’s nonviolent direct action was termed extremism by the Christian leadership and white moderates, he created a case for nonviolent direct action being positive extremism. First, he defined nonviolent direct action as an attempt to create tension in society, but not violent tension. The point of the tension, he said, was to make an issue unavoidable, so that society would be forced to confront it, in much the same way that Socrates used his questioning to try to force a person to confront an idea directly (King, 2-3). He was criticized for pushing the issue, but King felt that this was necessary, since no problem will solve itself just by adding time (King, 3). The plight of Negroes in the United States had been actively ignored, even by the community he thought would be most ready to promote brotherhood and understanding: the white moderate and the leadership of the Christian church (King, 5 & 9). Change requires a catalyst and King intended nonviolent direct action to be that catalyst, not to harm anyone or specifically to cause violence, but to force the public to engage with the topic and examine it critically. When an issue is pushed to the side and isn’t in the limelight, it’s easy to forget about it, or to mentally gloss over the subject and continue accepting the status quo, an attitude that King was firmly against (King, 3).

To universalize the goal of the nonviolent direct action in Birmingham, desegregation, King equated it with the pursuit of justice. Since his audience was primarily Christian, he did this by appealing to Christian morality. He wrote that, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (King, 4). He went on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, a notable Christian thinker as writing, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust” (King, 4). King then explained that since segregation distorted the soul and damaged the personality, it was inherently unjust, according to Christian thinking and conceptions of morality (King, 4). He also compared the segregation of society to the separation of man from God, which is a powerful image, considering the goal of Christianity is to reunite with God through righteous action. By appealing to Christian concepts of justice and unification, King legitimized the movement’s goal of desegregation to his audience.

Having defined the issue of segregation as morally wrong and unjust and nonviolent direct action as positive extremism, King was left with the task of engaging the moderate whites and Christians in a way that would imply that inaction was in itself a form of extremism. He did this by defining passivity in the face of an unjust situation as a form of extremism. King began by criticizing town leaders for not agreeing to engage in negotiations with Negro leaders. He also criticized shopkeepers for failing to adhere to previously made agreements regarding racially motivated signage (King, 2). To tackle this problem, King refers to the fact that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” (King, 5). This analogy equates the passivity of the white moderates in Birmingham with the (presumably) white moderates in Germany, drawing parallels between the status of Jews in Germany and the status of Negroes in Birmingham. While not a perfect analogy, it catches the attention and gives a very real and tangible example of what can happen when good people do not speak up in the face of oppression and injustice. And, certainly, contributing to the death of six million people through inaction could be interpreted as a passive extremism.

One of King’s main themes in his letter is that sometimes society must be disrupted so that people reach a better understanding of what processes are actually affecting society and how to change them for the better. Having quoted Socrates in his letter and incorporating the idea of risking social disruption in pursuit of the ‘good’, in this case desegregation, it is obvious that King was familiar with the themes of Plato’s work, specifically The Trial and Death of Socrates. One of the themes of The Trial and Death of Socrates is the conflict between maintaining the status quo versus risking social disruption in the pursuit of truth, or the ‘good’. Socrates does not intend to disrupt society to its detriment, but rather to call into question firmly held beliefs for the sake of the betterment of society through a deeper understanding of what justice is. In the same way, King does not intend to disrupt society to its detriment, but rather to call into question firmly held beliefs about segregation for the betterment of society through a deeper understanding of brotherhood.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a very well read and intelligent activist for desegregation. He incorporated successful arguments from historical sources (he also drew from Machiavelli’s philosophy) into his writing and added his own spin, the appeal to Christian values, in a way that blends them perfectly into a rational and convincing argument addressed to his specific audience. He justified his use of nonviolent direct action by redefining the idea of extremism and then identified his cause as just by associating it with Christian morality. Finally, he issued a call to action to the white moderates and Christian leadership by demonstrating that passivity is itself a form of extremist behavior when it leads to severe injustice. King was accused of extremism, so he turned extremism into a tool that could help him achieve his goals.

Works Cited

King, Jr., Martin Luther. 1963. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Birmingham, April 16.

Israeli School of U.P.K. Black Jewish Supremacist Extremist Group

Israelite U.P.K. School Demonstration in Times Square

Israelite U.P.K. School Demonstration in Times Square

Last Saturday my wife and I were in Times Square, heading to Olive Garden to have a nice dinner for our anniversary.  We got off the train at 42nd street and walked through Times Square to do a little site seeing first.  I was surprised to see what looked like a hate group preaching in the middle of Times Square.

When we were there, I didn’t really pay too much attention to them, other than to stop and take the above photo and note that they were yelling loudly about black people being oppressed.   When I got home, I looked them up on Wikipedia and found the following information:

Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) is a non-profit organization based in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, United States. The group is part of the Hebrew Israelism movement, which regards American blacks as descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled ISUPK an “extremist” and “black supremacist” group.

I zoomed in on the info boards they had set up and saw some things I didn’t expect:

Christianity Board Crop-Closeup

Christianity Board Crop-Closeup

They apparently consider Jesus to be the anti-Christ.  I’m no expert on Jewish theology, but I think that’s a harder line than the average Jew would take, fears of antisemitism aside.

Islam Board Crop-Closeup

Islam Board Crop-Closeup

Islam wasn’t spared either; not that anyone thinks to spare Islam these days when there’s an opportunity for criticism.  The ISUPK has apparently equated the Ka’aba (the square structure in the photo) with an idol.  They’ve gone so far as to tag the ‘black stone’ as a “clitoris”.  If you’re not aware, Muslims believe that Abraham visited Hagar and his son by her, Ishmael, and helped them construct a home near a spring which came up out of the ground when struck by Ishmael’s feet as a baby.  That’s the black square structure.  Or, at least, the rebuilt and maintained representation of it.  Muslims pray facing this structure, regardless of where they are in the world and perform a pilgrimage, but not because they worship the structure.  It’s just a symbol; it’s the focal point that unites all Muslims.  Islam as a religion is big on the concept of unity, though you couldn’t guess it considering some of modern day politics.

The black stone which the ISUPK referred to as a “clitoris” is a black stone said to have fallen from Heaven to show Adam and Eve where to build an altar for sacrifice to God.  It was, according to tradition, placed in the Ka’ba by the Prophet Muhammad.  Muslims attempt to touch it or kiss it on one of their seven circuits around the Ka’aba during the Hajj, or pilgrimage.

Neither the Ka’aba nor the black stone are idols in the sense that they’re worshipped.  They’re merely focal points for the religion.  I’d put good money on Jesus Christ not being the anti-Christ as well.

Itim Na Pusa Photo Update 2

My, my! Look how Timmy’s grown! He’s getting so big so fast! He’s a really good cat. I wasn’t sure about him at first, but now he’s very energetic and playful. Our other two cats have both taken a liking to him. My wife is really fond of him too. What’s best about Timmy is his poses. I’ll try to get some pictures of that later. When he sees something that interests him he stretches his neck to look and his eyes get really really big! I’ll try to get some photos of that for next time. The only thing about Timmy that disappointed me is that his bright blue eyes turned green. A black cat with bright blue eyes would have been really cool. Still, a black cat is neat. Sometimes he’ll sleep on a black blanket, or in a shaded spot and you won’t even see him til you’re almost standing on him. It’s fun, but sometimes it scares my wife. We’ll be laying on our bed, watching a horror movie, and all of a sudden Timmy will pop up out of the shadows next to her and startle her. I think it’s funny…


Itim Na Pusa Photo Update

By request, I’m giving a photo update on how Itim Na Pusa is doing.

Itim, or now sometimes Timmy for short, seems to be doing better since he got here. He’s a lot more playful and active. He cleaned up nice too. One strange thing about him is how he likes to stand in his food while he eats.

This kitten is small. I don’t think it’s supposed to be off milk yet, so we’ve been giving it soft food. The problem is, I think it eats when it’s hungry and eats when it’s thirsty too. It doesn’t seem to visit the water bowl much. When we run out of wet food it’s gonna be hurtin, because he’ll have to eat dry food, which he probably won’t want to do. This wet food is necessary, but it’s gonna spoil him. The other cats are jealous of him too. They only get wet food for treats.

Of the two cats the only one that seems to have accepted him at all is Dapper. She kicks him around sometimes and lets him walk around behind her, or sleep near her. Bouncy on the other hand either runs from the kitten or hisses and growls and then runs. I don’t understand what her problem is, except that now she’s the least favorite.

And one other interesting thing about Itim is when he sleeps on my lap he really relaxes and stretches out.

So, he seems to be fitting in ok. Bouncy is a bitch. She doesn’t really like anything. She doesn’t even like it much when Dapper tries to play with her, and they’ve known each other for months. I just wonder how we’re going to convince him to start eating dry food.