June 16, 2011 - Issue 431
A Note for My Father
It is eerie to find myself writing, again, about death. In April, my long-time friend, Manning Marable, passed away. A few weeks ago, Gil Scott-Heron passed, followed the next week by Geronimo Pratt. In each case I decided that I needed to write something for BC.
On Saturday afternoon, at 5:19pm, after a brief illness, my father - William G. Fletcher, Sr. - transitioned. One week and a day prior to Father's Day, he moved to the other side. I decided that I needed to write something about him for BC.
My father was a very interesting man. A
working class guy from
My father, like so many veterans, was a beneficiary of the GI Bill. Government intervention in the economy, where going to school was treated as a legitimate activity. My father was lucky, however. Many Black veterans of World War II were denied access to the GI Bill through various racist schemes, including dishonorable discharges. The GI Bill became a central means to stabilize the economy and to offer - mainly white - veterans the chance to get on their feet. My father, who was not white, was able to access this. The GI Bill, and his experiences with it, which he frequently discussed, always reminded me of the importance that needs to be placed on government involvement in the economy and a society's decision that it has to engage in long-term planning.
My father had great faith in me. He was prepared to speak with me about any issue I brought to him. He never said or implied that any issue I raised was something he would not discuss or that I had to wait a few years. His philosophy was, if I was old enough to ask, I was old enough to hear. I appreciated this because I, as a result, never felt like I was being treated like an idiot. There were times when I did not ask something but he told me in any case, like when he discussed with me sex and condoms. He just decided that it was time to talk.
There are two very important memories I will always
hold onto. At some point when I was knee-high to a duck, my father gave
me my first lesson in trade unionism. Growing up in
I had no idea who Bridges was, though in 1985 I
would have the honor of interviewing him, but my father's lesson was very
clear. As committed to unions as were both my parents (and as my mother
remains), they were also clear that unions were not panaceas. The distinction
he offered was and is very important because it pointed to a historic
divide in trade unionism in the
The second memory took place sometime around 1961
or so when I was about 7 years old and was at the home of my great grandparents,
the pre-Harlem Renaissance anthologist and poet, William S. Braithwaite,
and his wife, Emma Kelly Braithwaite. My great grandfather was sitting
on a stool in the kitchen and there was a heated discussion underway regarding
My father was a solid father, husband, brother and friend. He was deeply loyal to his friends and always went the extra mile to help them, while at the same time being deeply skeptical that most people would ever actually help him if he needed it. He was the sort of person everyone turned to for advice, and had a level of skill that he could have built or repaired a starship. Yet for all of that, he never thought of himself as particularly important and never thought he had made much of a contribution.
Before I find myself unable to write, let me end this by noting that my father did not seek glory and fame. He sought to lead a good life, take care of his family and be a great friend. He was very progressive in his ideas, but never an activist. Yet his contribution, probably more than anything else, was that he was a rock, a person everyone depended on and in whom people saw great wisdom. He was one hell of a guy, and fortunately, he transitioned with great dignity and in peace.
[Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the proud son of William G. Fletcher, Sr.]
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.