THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW, BOOKWATCH

Rebellion, 1967: A Memoir by Janet Luongo- “highly recommended!”

Critique from James A, Cox, Editor in Chief: Rebellion, 1967: A Memoir is the true-life story of an artist who rebelled against her Irish family as a teenager, participated in civil rights activism, fell in love with a musician, suffered hard times, and continued to pursue her dreams with help. Candid and wholehearted, this memoir offers a window into an era of turbulence and dramatic change, and keeps the reader’s attention riveted from cover to cover. Highly recommended!

JANET’S REFLECTIONS: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Me

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s been six months since my book was published, July 27, 2021.

On this day I think of my hero, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a big part of my book, a memoir of just one year in my youth. In August, 1963, when I was fourteen, I heard on TV Dr. King’s  “I Have a Dream” Speech, and wished I could “beam myself up,” bodily to Washington D.C.. mall, filled with a throng of people from all over the country who demanded America live up to her dream. I felt I belonged there. In 1966 I began working in one of the black ghettos in NYC, South Jamaica, literally “on the other side of the tracks.” I made friends with youth there and felt good trying to secure funding for youth and community projects. On April 4th 1967, I traveled to Manhattan to Riverside Church to hear Dr. King’s “Riverside Address,” which was controversial to some on all sides. Being a visionary, he recognized that the civil rights movement he led, was inextricably linked to the student movement against the draft and the war in Vietnam. In his view both movements were fighting racism and undue violence. Some believe that King’s strong denouncement of American policy led to his assassination on April 4th exactly one year after his Riverside Address.

My coming of age is the main theme of my memoir. As a girl I had dreams of becoming an artist. A second theme of the book is society during the civil rights area, witnessing devastating poverty in Black ghettos in New York City, where I volunteered for Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” A third theme is my family, what I learned about them and the racism lurking beneath the surface, largely unspoken.  Except for my father a lieutenant of the New York City Police Department. One would not think that an Irish police officer of the NYPD, one who was called in to quell the riot in Harlem in 1964 would be so openminded and supportive of Dr. King’s struggle for civil rights. Though aware of his shortcomings (which teen daughters can home in on), I was, then and now, so proud of him for his attitude toward prejudice. He said prejudice means “pre-judging,” which was wrong and stupid. Judging someone before you find out about them did not make sense. He witnessed dilapidated schools walking his beat, he heard racist remarks from fellow cops, and he rebelled against his parents’ racism.

My father was way ahead of his times. He said his parents were racist and had “poisoned” him with racist ideas. He came to realize those ideas were wrong, but understood that conditioning during childhood was hard to root out. He decided he would NOT pass on the same false racial prejudices to his three girls. Fifty years later in our own racial reckoning, the inner work my dad did is just what White people are asked to do today: to look inward to what we picked up in formative years about people who looked different from us; to remember the racist jokes, the stereotyped images in movies, the slurs we heard, the absence of study of accomplishments of Black and Indigenous and people of color.

But my Dad did have limits of understanding. He accepted that worked for Black professionals – a mural painter, neurosurgeon, and that I marched with Martin Luther King. But when my photo was taken in L.I. Newsday of me protesting against an incident I’d witnessed of police brutality, that was too much for him. It was also too much for him that my boyfriend, who was a fine artist and musician, was Black. And his anger caused me to fear him and I ran away with my boyfriend, which led me to hunger and near homelessness. Winding up in the East Village in the Summer of Love I faced heartbreak, sexual harassment, poverty, and danger – but eventually, I asked for help and my father helped me pick up the pieces of my life and return to my dream.

 Author: Janet Luongo, raised Unitarian Universalist in New York City,  writes stories, creates art, and gives speeches and workshops.