Remember hearing this song on an Xmas shopping trip to New York in 1967. I was living in a small town in Connecticut at the time. But with a very meager paycheck in hand, my co-worker and I took a train to the “City” to buy some holiday gifts. We shopped during the day and drank much too much beer at night.
As we visited several watering holes, we must have heard Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” a dozen times on the juke box. Little did I know that a decade later I would be living in Aretha’s home town – a town where music, civil rights, labor rights, and democratic struggles generally intersect in such powerful ways.
For that good fortune, I have to thank the late James Jackson. one of the outstanding leaders of the Communist Party in the 20th century. Jim, as we called him, advised me that if the opportunity ever came up to join the Party’s staff to make sure it’s somewhere in the Midwest. “There is a lot more room to make mistakes,” he said. New York, on the other hand, “is a fish bowl. Everybody will be telling you what you should do.”
With that advice (and the counsel of a few others), I turned down a proposal to join the New York staff a short time later and, not long after that, jumped at the chance to become the Party leader in Michigan. And decades later I’m so glad I did. Nothing that I did before or since compares with 11 years in Detroit.
Anyway, in the waning days of African American History Month, let me tip my hat to Jim for his storied life as well as to Aretha, one of the great cultural treasures of Detroit and the country.