The Wenonah Public School had a small library. But it was very interesting. It was only when I was older that I realize how interesting it was. The books in the library were filled with biographies of famous Americans. Steinmetz, Darrow, Lincoln. They were all about the struggle of the working man against the interests of big business. Steinmetz vs Edison, Darrow working to save the lives of union men.
This was odd because no one in Wenonah could give a fuck about this shit. These were books the school purchased in the thirties and forties, probably as part of some weird government program that gave them the books on the cheap. We’re talking Socialism. We’re talking neo-Communist lit. I remember one book about the heroic struggles of a young Soviet worker and his tractor.
All in middle class Wenonah. Darrow fighting for Leopold and Loeb, fighting against the ignorant in the Scopes Trial, fighting for big Bill Haywood and the IWW. The IWW! In Wenonah. A town of insurance agents and commercial interests and moms and dads. What could be stranger. I read these books like a hungry man. Charles Steinmetz was a God! Clarence Darrow a God! I wanted to be an attorney representing the rights of the little man. I saw in his battles my own. I was downtrodden. I was the rough tough cream puff. I was a thin little fool. I was inconsequential. These books gave me hope and it still amazes me they were in my library.
Thank God for the WPA because as far as I can figure that’s why these books existed. A bunch of reds in the WPA wrote school books that were distributed on the cheap and our school bought them cuz they were cheap and being parochial nitwits no one ever read them.
Today a town like Wenonah might be battling about evolution and creationism. Then, Clarence Darrow was a god who brought enlightment to ignorant communities in Tennesee.
In the years to come we would debate endlessly how black people and white people could co exist. We would sit on our porches and talk about what our parents would do if a nigger family moved onto our block but in the basement of the Wenonah School I read about heroes of social injustice.
It’s like someone accidentally planted the seeds of social change.
It sort of worked.
For me it did work.
Clarence Darrow was my God and rational examination of the world became my goal. In second grade. In third grade things got even more out of hand.
Meantime, there was dodge ball.