Remembering Julia Celebration Service is Saturday, March 30, 11 a.m., at Third Baptist Church, 1399 McAllister, San Francisco
by Dr. Nathan Hare
This tribute was written some time ago, and now that Dr. Julia Hare has joined the ancestors is a good time to read or reread it. – ed.
I had seen her singing and dancing but didn’t know her – call her Julia, the name I gave her, her mother named her Julia Ann – when my high school principal took our senior class to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Booker T. Washington High School’s legendary annual production of “Hijinx.” I remember I was sitting in the upper balcony, far out of reach of her, and didn’t pay her that much mind. It was all a dream world.
White folks called the balcony “Nigger Heaven,” but there were no whites around in those days of Jim Crow segregation. “Hijinx” was nevertheless put on downtown in the city of Tulsa’s Convention Hall, the place where the state militia less than three decades earlier had detained over 6,000 Black men for their safety, after more than 800 were hospitalized and an estimated 300 killed during the bombing of Black Wall Street, the only time whites have bombed Blacks from the air in American history.*
But, two years after I saw her for the first time, I was walking across the all-Black campus of Oklahoma’s Langston University with a friend one afternoon when I suddenly stopped and told him: “There’s that l’il ol’ skinny girl who was playing that piano last night and won first prize in the Freshman Talent Show; I think I’ll take her to the movie.” And he laughed and bet me a dollar she wouldn’t go to no motion picture show with me.
But he didn’t know she had made eye contact with me in the dining hall the year before when she came to visit her pal sister for Homecoming Week and, no sooner than she left to go back home, her sister slipped me a note from her, and I answered it, telling her I would like to get to know her better too; but my letter somehow fell into the hands of her over-protective mother, who was hoping to save her from the unhappy experiences with men that had befallen her older sisters. So that was the end of that.
I myself was just a country boy, at the top of my class scholastically but born and raised on a farm 40 miles from Black Wall Street, outside of Slick, Oklahoma, while Julia Ann Reed (eventually Dr. Julia Hare) was a city girl with personality and sass. So when we took up with each other, everybody said our relationship wouldn’t last, that even our sun signs didn’t match.
But in less than two months I had given her a birthday gift of a recording of Nat King Cole’s hit song, “Unforgettable,” because I had seen she liked it so. I could see that she was thrilled to high heaven that I had even given it to her; and she would play it over and over on the juke box, and she and I would sometimes slow-dance together. But, while I could slow dance all right, especially in dark and familiar but unchaperoned places, and halfway jitterbug – I didn’t know how to hucklebuck at all, let alone to Suzie Q, but Julia was a dancing queen.
Sometimes when everybody was on the dance floor in the Student Union Building, a gay artistic dancer, say, might take her hand and they would do the tango around the edge of the crowded dancing hall while we all stopped what we were doing and watched them go. And she was equally adept at the ballroom and the waltz. Students eventually voted her “Best Girl Dancer” campus-wide, as well as “Most Popular Girl” and “Most Talented Girl.” For, not only was she one of the best piano players on the campus, in time she would become the regular university organist.
When I graduated and left Langston on a Danforth Fellowship to study for the Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, a pretty big thing there in those days, Julia soon went to California in her childhood dream of someday making it in the music and entertainment world, and to help her older sister, an impregnated high school dropout with five children, whose husband had gone down to the drug store one night to get some medicine for one of their sick children and just kept going, never to be heard from until he turned up trying to make it in the jazz world in New York.
Suffice it to say it was after considerable agony and ambivalence that Julia tabled her dreams for fame and fortune and rendezvoused with me in Tulsa and we were married in her mother’s house two days after Christmas when we were all of 23. Then in Chicago, rather than get by on my budgeted fellowship and a part-time job as a statistical clerk, Julia got a job as a substitute teacher.
I used to feel sorry for her when she would get up winter mornings and cook me eggs and waffles and pancakes and bacon in time for her to be ready when her teachers’ van came in the cold to take her from the Southside of Chicago to teach unruly children in the Westside slums on the other side of the windy city.
Soon her girlfriends and female coworkers began to cock their heads to the side and crow that they “wouldn’t work while no man went to school.” The reason I know she wasn’t lying is one of my sisters and her teacher friend upstairs told her that in my presence, to my face. They quipped that I was getting a Ph.D. while she was getting a PHT (Putting Hubby Through) and then go on to warn her that as soon as I got the Ph.D., I was going to leave her for a younger woman – never mind that we were still in our twenties.
But Julia stuck by me and persevered. Julia was the kind of woman who would stand by her man until he was headed in a better direction and she could get in front of him.
I got the idea of persuading her to study for a master’s degree herself, so they would be jealous of both of us and by the time I got the Ph.D. she had earned an M.M.ED. from the music department of what is now Roosevelt University’s College of the Performing Arts. Although she would later also pick up a doctorate in educational psychology, an Ed.D., she was always fond of saying that she was proudest of her MRS, allowing that she had had to work so much harder for the MRS.
Julia stuck by me and persevered. Julia was the kind of woman who would stand by her man until he was headed in a better direction and she could get in front of him.
When we left for Washington, D.C., in part so I could join with E. Franklin Frazier, though he would end up dying before the end of the school year. Julia still had her own ambitions on hold. She was taken aback when we got to D.C. and, in spite of her years of teaching experience in Chicago, plus one year each in Virginia and Oklahoma, the board said she wasn’t qualified to be a substitute teacher in D.C., compelling her to commute in winter weather to teach in a white school in Maryland for a year before the Black board in D.C. deigned to hire her to teach in the Black schools in the slums of the district.
Yet in just four years, she would go on to win the Outstanding Young Educator Award (teachers 35 years old and under) from the Junior Chamber of Commerce collaborating with World Book Encyclopedia, with the expert judgment of the Department of Education at American University to recognize her as the most commendable teacher 35 and under for every grade level for all of the city of Washington, D.C.
But the following year, I myself was fired from Howard University, along with another Black professor and five white ones, for so-called “Black Power activities.” I returned to boxing, this time under my own name – I had quit before when two world champions were killed in the ring one year apart and Julia had already been getting the heebie-jeebies over the boxing, making big mirations over some cut lip or bloody nose. I’d tell her you ought to see the other guy.
Then, after promising her I was going to quit, and did, two weeks later on All Fools Day, I took a shot or two of vodka and went down to the old Capitol Arena to see a friend fight, and was visiting in the dressing room, when somebody’s opponent didn’t show up and I agreed to take the fight, which was an easy win. But two deans recognized me fighting under the name of Nat Harris. The top dean called me in within a day or two and gave me an ultimatum which almost motivated me to return to boxing, if I hadn’t promised Julia. Anyway, I had one fight in the comeback under the name of Nathan Hare, winning by a knockout in the first round, before I was asked to become the coordinator of Black Studies at San Francisco State University.
Now Julia was not conscious herself at that point, but a bourgeois lady suddenly challenged to become a revolutionary’s wife and drown her dreams in a revolutionary life. But San Francisco had always been her favorite city, and her two older sisters were still living in the Bay Area, and her school teacher coworkers had sometimes been snide to her about the things they read in the newspaper about me and Howard, and she had never wanted me to box anyway, let alone under my own name, and everybody was waiting to see me on my back on the front page of the Washington Post with my feet sticking up – so she pushed me, like most other people did, to accept the offer from San Francisco State.
After closing out our apartment and her job as a laboratory teacher headed for the Board of Education, she came to San Francisco and went down to the Board of Education here, armed with the citywide award from Washington, D.C., and 30 units beyond the master’s degree and a passing score on the National Teachers Exam, only to be told that in order to be a substitute teacher in San Francisco, she would have to take a course in Teacher’s Arithmetic and another in California History.
Julia came to San Francisco and went down to the Board of Education here, armed with the citywide award from Washington, D.C., and 30 units beyond the master’s degree and a passing score on the National Teachers Exam, only to be told that in order to be a substitute teacher in San Francisco, she would have to take a course in Teacher’s Arithmetic and another in California History.
Makes you wanna holler.
She declined the psychotic suggestion and within a couple of months, the director of the Oakland Museum, which was preparing to reopen, happened to be in the audience when Julia, unemployed, was speaking on a panel at the Black Today conference I chaired at San Francisco State. The museum director recruited her as director of education. She had worked the previous summer in a program directed by one of the bigtime museums in New York City.
Julia was in her element at the museum and got on well with the society set. Aside from her interest in the arts, she was in her dream world social element, as she had come to admire Jackie Kennedy and was always studying the women’s and the fashion magazines, even before she worked at the Oakland Museum and had a Saks card but was not a spendthrift and loved to shop anywhere, including the thrift stores, using Jackie Kennedy once more as an inspiration. She knew how to put what little clothes she had together.
Sometimes her affluent friends would be affronted when they would throw down big money for something they saw in a clothing store window, then get to an occasion and everybody would be praising Julia’s outfit from the thrift shop, though, like I said, she was not averse to using her Saks card. One night we wound up at a high level reception where a blue collar woman I happened to know was also taken with thrift stores and also appeared to me to be an unusually creative dresser. I determined to introduce them to each other, but before I could do so, they had spied each other from across the room, and, though total strangers, introduced themselves to each other.
But that was the way she was.
She worked at the Oakland Museum maybe a year while it was preparing to reopen, and she and the white multimillionaire director got the idea of making it a people’s museum and carrying the art like Meals on Wheels to the people in the community. This horrified the museum’s docents, who had discovered her connection to me and the five-month strike for Black Studies raging at San Francisco State.
For instance, one night Julia sat with the director and his wife, waiting for me for dinner at a downtown restaurant, when they looked up and saw me getting arrested on the Walter Cronkite CBS Evening News, along with 557 predominantly white Black Studies strikers at San Francisco State. The Oakland Museum director was fired and eventually became president of the California Historical Society, but meanwhile I backed Julia’s wish to resign.
Julia’s Black consciousness also took a leap when James Baldwin’s sister, Dr. Rena Karefa Smart, invited me to speak at the Conference on Racism put on by the World Council of Churches in London in the spring of 1969, and I took Julia with me, stopping at St. Louis University on the way to pick up her fare, impressing her at the Customs window by nonchalantly counting and talking of pounds and shillings. She enjoyed the week in London, where I also took part in a demonstration with the daughters of Richard Wright, Rachel and Julia Wright. When we returned to San Francisco, Julia announced to me that she was going to start wearing an Afro.
Julia’s Black consciousness also took a leap when James Baldwin’s sister, Dr. Rena Karefa Smart, invited me to speak at the Conference on Racism put on by the World Council of Churches in London in the spring of 1969. She enjoyed the week in London, where I also took part in a demonstration with the daughters of Richard Wright, Rachel and Julia Wright. When we returned to San Francisco, Julia announced to me that she was going to start wearing an Afro.
Her next job was as public information director of the Western Regional Office of the National Association Against Discrimination in Housing. Then, after two years, she beat out 70 finalists for community affairs director of cowboy Gene Autry’s radio station in San Francisco, KSFO, where she flourished for all of 10 years, including eventually some on-air broadcasting time in a sidekick role in the morning drive, until she ran into trouble with a new manager and took a part-time job as a talk show host with the number one talk show station in San Francisco, ABC’s KGO.
However, in spite of the fact that she appeared to be one of the very best they had, they would not give her air time in the day time on weekdays, so she eventually sued the station for harassment and her three year contract was not renewed.
Despite picking up a course for a while in the broadcasting department at the City College of San Francisco, unemployment at 48 was her darkest hour. Plus she was a people’s person, a performer, and didn’t like sitting at home, while I was a thinker and a writer and would have loved to change places with her. It was no accident that she became a radio talk show host and had married a psychotherapist, for whom listening had achieved the status of both an art form and a healing art.
It hurt me to see how hard she was taking her fate. At the time, I was going around the country on the chitlin college lecture circuit pushing a male-female relationships movement on the wind of an incredibly popular editorial I had written for Ebony magazine, speaking out for a better Black family based on Kupenda (Swahili for “to love”) Black love groups I had been experimenting with at the time.
I thought that it would be natural and nice to have a couple speaking on Black male-female relationships instead of a solo spouse. I also was inspired by the fact that we had made our own poem rhyme as a couple and wanted to share the love, so I asked her to come with me, and she agreed, and I named her “national executive director” of the Black Think Tank I was running at the time.
Julia had always been a very good speaker – she’d won the award in “Auditorium” in the third grade in Tulsa – and the experience as a radio broadcaster and talk show host also seemed to augment her impromptu facility. Plus, people didn’t know she was farsighted and could see the copy standing back from the podium while also exploiting her radio broadcaster’s ability to read-talk off of next to nothing, causing it to appear that she wasn’t using any notes or anything at all.
Having time all day, she used the time and worked hard learning the sociological material and preparing and practicing her speeches and was soon being hailed as “one of the most sought after motivational speakers in the country.” She spoke to most all of the Black women’s groups and even men’s groups, especially the mentoring conferences, and began to be included in selections of distinguished Black women. For instance, she became a regular at the annual Essence Cultural Festival in New Orleans, but she spoke to all the leading Black women’s groups and they all seemed to think a lot of her.
Then, though not at her best when she appeared on the Tavis Smiley’s State of Black America Conference in 2007, her comments went viral and seemingly all at once she got more than a million hits from around the world. Later, I stood perplexed after the widest-circulating newspaper in Great Britain, “Black Voices,” gave her the two-page centerfold, under the headline, “The Female Malcolm X,” and offered to bring her for a tour of Europe – she declined, saying she was afraid to fly over the ocean.
The widest-circulating newspaper in Great Britain, “Black Voices,” gave her the two-page centerfold, under the headline, “The Female Malcolm X.”
Then, she began to forget and lose important and familiar things; which should have alerted me, but I was blinded by psychological denial as well as a lack of knowledge and familiarity with Alzheimer’s, up close and face to face. I should have been alerted because she had never gotten over the fact that her mother put her father in the rest home after he went and got a rifle to her and her mother fell and injured her foot and couldn’t keep up with him.
But I was not there, though I visited him with her briefly in the rest home, but he always had a quiet and retiring disposition, a man of very few words, and I had no idea of the difficulties a demented elder can present, how unmanageable some can be, and how to relate to them and manage their behavior.
But by 2011, it was clear that something was wrong with Dr. J, despite her trying to hide it – and such a good actor at that. Her mother didn’t know that and drove her to play the piano, but her talent was more in her voice box and her being than her fingers. Plus, she had always relied on me for information, seeing me as a fountainhead of knowledge (she said she thought I was a “genius”). So I continued to play the role, but she wound up in confinement, with me duped by the medical establishment and conventional wisdom and custom.
First it’s 72 hours’ confinement for her safety and mine, then it’s two weeks for hers when I opt out, then a month. They told me I’d have to have a “power of attorney” to make any decisions over her niece and them, but by then I had seen how oppressive involuntary confinement was to her: involuntary because most people will stay and just be bored and lonely, because after a while people don’t visit that much.
Sometimes I would leave the office for visiting hours and be the only one there visiting anybody in the “Acute Psychiatric Ward,” for they have a mixture, which is demoralizing in itself to be in a place of the openly and acutely insane – like how did I come to this? – and people bellowing and moaning, sometimes in a different language, so you don’t know what they’re saying they will do to you, all day long. One night the house psychiatrist came out unsolicited by me and opined that I shouldn’t visit so often, but I paid her no mind.
And yet, I admired how the staff could handle her, though she was the hardest patient of all for them to handle in a locked up condition. They liked her nevertheless and brought in a portable piano and allowed her to entertain the other inmates anytime she wanted to. One night in casual conversation with me, she referred to her situation as “incarceration.” I knew for a fact she had never read psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, though I had, but even I hadn’t read his “The Medicalizaton of Everyday Life,” in which he independently called involuntary confinement of patients “incarceration.”
Each night when the visiting hour was over, I would have to conspire with the staff to distract her while I sneaked out the door without her; but, by the time I would hear the ominous prison-like click of the closing of the door, the nonchalant staff would have turned her loose and I would hear her sorrowfully knocking on the door and desperately calling out my name to help her, like Maria calling Roberto at the end of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
I thought of the marital vows when I had stood with my hand on a Bible and promised to love her and protect her until death do us part. I also wondered and imagined what she would have done if they would lock me up against my will for medical treatment of a condition they admit they can’t cure or rightly treat and don’t really even know what causes it.
What would she have done if I was the one on the other side of the door of sanity in an insane world, where the most powerful man in existence is collectively described as mentally ill by 30 top psychiatrists and such. I recalled how she would sometimes say in other random but serious circumstances and idle speculation: “If anybody ever bothers you [or does harm in any way], no telling what I would do; I will tear up this town.”
The next morning I woke up early from a largely sleepless night and called some of the San Francisco State College BSU leaders from the 1960s Black and Ethnic Studies Strike, including a physician who consults worldwide on Alzheimer’s, a retired judge, a retired lawyer or two, a community organizer in San Francisco and another visiting from the East Coast, and went out and brought her home.
That was almost six years ago, when she was diagnosed in the late moderate stage. However, my collaborators had noted and remarked on Julia’s visible improvement after an hour of freedom. But later she would develop a bed sore and go through hospice, at home under a visiting clinic, indeed two, as the one who refused before now wanted to come in under new Medicare guidelines from Obamacare.
They brought in the death apparatus and stored it in the apartment in full anticipation. A physician sat for at least 20 minutes explaining to me why the bedsore wouldn’t heal, but it did, though I do believe that if Julia had been confined again she would have died, literally, under categorizing and caring staff prescript.
Mind you, they’re good in what they do, they just need to do it in the home and community. We have the technology to do so: computers, internet and social networks, cars, SUVs, bicycles, scooters, cellphones with cameras in the back while pointed at you. It would be cheaper as well, for people in their home are already paying rent.
In any event, I did what I had to do – stood by my wife who had stood by me – but, more than that, it just seems there’s something wrong with incarcerating a proud and dignified lady in the final stage of her life cycle, against her will, don’t care if she has never had so much as a parking ticket in her life.
Mental health is tied to social health
I have learned on a deeper level that mental health is tied to social health, and I am gratified and impressed by the way people are getting behind the movement to deal with the Alzheimer’s epidemic and coming pandemic. I liked it when Barack Obama called for a cure by 2025, and it looks to me if interest keeps mounting as it has in recent years, we will meet that goal; but though it would be a blessing to so many others, it won’t do Julia any good or mend a broken heart.
I want to acknowledge that I could not have stood by Julia in her present ordeal if so many people hadn’t stood by me, or the few hadn’t stood by me so well. While it is true, and has been said, that most people, especially the ones you’d most expect, will not lift a finger to help a flea, I have been amazed by the quality and the quantity of help and the quantity of the quality of help Julia and I have received from too many to mention. I must find a way some day to thank them in a circumstance that might prevent leaving somebody out.
When I jumped out with promises and parachutes that didn’t open or got snagged, I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was so ignorant of Alzheimer’s it’s a shame. Partly because people had been prone to hide the demented in the closet, so to speak, or put them away altogether, lock them away if necessary.
I often stand and look back now and realize how many people I encountered in the past who had Alzheimer’s and I didn’t know it. We just lumped them in the loose category of “senile,” a net big enough to encompass almost any elderly individual. Two things people think about an old person they meet: They are senile and got some money or something of value under the mattress or somewhere, and the young person is going to try to get it if they can – not that they necessarily need it, just so they can get it and have it.
As for Julia, I regret to say that at this point she is going down slow, fast. She is doing well in her physical health and emotionally, but Alzheimer’s is a progressively deteriorating disease, and you can see her going down in a cognitive way, something like month by month.
She has lost much of her ability to speak and function by now, but I can tell that she knows more than she can say.
People ask me if she still remembers me, if she knows who I am, and I am compelled to quibble, but I say yes, on her current level, she has forgotten much of the old me but she knows me as she knows me now, and of course what is more important, is I know who she is.
She still knows herself well enough to answer to her name, if you are trying to get her attention, though you can usually get her attention without calling her name, say, by simply using the remote to raise or modulate the volume on the cablevision, or by playing her one of her favorite songs on the computer, something I do for an hour or two on many an evening after the sun goes down, and you can tell she is exceedingly gratified, just to have the attention but she will use her hand to direct the music in the air.
When we were 24 years old and I was teaching for a year at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia, she was the minister of music, including choir director, for the oldest Black Baptist church in America, the Harrison Street First Baptist Church, which still exists. At one point, needing more male voices, she even recruited me to sing in the choir and once gave me a solo part to sing. I just acted like I was in the shower.
So I know there will inevitably come a time when she will have forgotten me altogether without a doubt, but I will remember her, that she sometimes gave me a hard time in good times but always stood by me in times of trouble, always took my side.
She continues to live at home with Alzheimer’s and finds exquisite enjoyment in the instrumental music on 24/7 cablevision, as she was a pianist by background and training and by temperament a dramatist but became a scholar primarily as my longest and most continual student.
Though going down slow these days in a cognitive sense, she is doing well physically and emotionally, enjoying interacting with her caregivers and me and the special attention I try to give her because maybe I didn’t always love her quite as often as I could have when times were good, little things I should have said and done but didn’t take the time. So I just try to fill her life with whatever joy I can and always love her all the time.
So, even when it comes to the point that she no longer remembers me, I will remember her, and I will recall that she was unforgettable and thought I was unforgettable too.
Dr. Nathan Hare is the “Father of Black Studies.” On Feb. 1, 1968, he was hired at San Francisco State, as the first coordinator of a Black Studies program in the United States, to write a proposal for the first Department of Black Studies. Two semesters later he was fired when he refused to help the college president S.I. Hayakawa break a five-month strike by a campus-wide multiracial coalition of thousands of students and faculty members. He and Julia were married Dec. 27, 1956, and combined forces, most recently as The Black Think Tank. Julia was executive director. The largest Black newspaper in London, The Voice, dubbed her “Lady Malcolm X” in a feature story of how she is “setting the Black world on fire” after she electrified the Tavis Smiley “State of the Black Union Conference” in 2007 with her breakout blast of velvety tough-talk about the difference between “Black leaders” and “leading Blacks.” Together they co-authored “The Endangered Black Family,” “Bringing the Black Boy to Manhood: The Passage,” “The Miseducation of The Black Child,” “Crisis in Black Sexual Politics” and “How to Find and Keep a BMW (Black Man Working).”
*Philadelphia police bombed the home of the MOVE organization from a helicopter on May 13, 1985. The resulting fire killed 11 MOVE members, including five children, and destroyed 65 houses in the neighborhood. – ed.