Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And now a word about racism

Just past Exit 15 on the New York State Thruway, the only means of escaping The Big Apple to the bucolic Catskills, The Finger Lakes, and the rust-belt beauty of Buffalo, you'll find Hillburn, NY.

On the hill, you can still see the remnants of what once was the MOTEL ON THE MOUNTAIN. Which was unmistakably identified by a large Hollywood-sign type lettering that was visible for miles in all directions.

In the late 70's the place was sold to some entrepreneurs from NYC who decided it would make a perfect weekend gay retreat. In response, some enterprising boys from my high school trekked up the hillside and removed three important letters, so that the sign now read: MO ON THE MOUNTAIN.

Funny, but decidedly mean. (More on that in a bit.)

Years ago I saw a documentary about Hillburn, NY. It was a story I had never heard before. All the more strange because Hillburn is the next town over from Suffern, where I grew up. In fact, it dawned on me that I knew very little about this pocket of a town wedged up against the Ramapo Mountains.

It didn't bother me then. But it bothers me now.

Because all through high school we spent an inordinate time learning about local landmarks from the Revolutionary War. As well as countless hours on NY's own Iroquois Indians. I could tell you more about a log sweathouse than any straight man should ever know.

But the school district, in all their wisdom, never thought it necessary to teach us anything about the 1000 people who lived next door in Hillburn and who were direct descendants of freed African Slaves and the Lenape, a tribe of Indians from Delaware. What a missed learning opportunity.

As if that glaring omission were not enough, I have just come to learn via the interwebs, that 11 years before the historic Brown vs Board of Education ruling, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued and won a case for racial integration in the very township where I was raised.

And yet I never heard a peep about this in any Civics or History class. OK, I was stoned through the latter half of high school, so maybe they slipped in one reference. But they definitely tip toed around the issue.

Perhaps it was a case of White Guilt.
But let's not be naive, guilt knows no color lines.

The multiracial folks in Hillburn, who for years had been the victim of political, economic and educational discrimination, were not so accommodating in 1977, just thirty three years after claiming their own legal equality.

The Gay Retreat was met by angry Hillburn residents. "It's not biblical," said Paul Thompson, "It's one of the reasons why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed."

Another woman claimed, "I can't raise my kids around this, I want them to think a boy should go out with a girl."

In all, not a very enlightened attitude.

Clearly, we have a long way to go before the folks with the Co-Exist bumper stickers can remove them from their cars and claim, "Mission Accomplished."

But all is not bleak.

In the early 1980's, the gay motel (©"Where Gay Entertainment is at its Peak") was sold to a chain of Japanese restaurants featuring highly dexterous fry cooks. It is now known as Mt. Fuji.

The change of ownership brought no protests from the residents of Hillburn. Or the residents of Suffern. After all, who doesn't like a volcano made from sliced onions. Or a sauteed shrimp tail tossed in their sport coat pocket.

1 comment:

George Tannenbaum said...

It's kind of beautiful that the ad next to the article about Gays being welcomed at Motel on the Mountain is for a furniture store called "Cummings."