Thursday, June 26, 2008

Earl Swift, my hero

Probably one of the best newspaper writers in America who you've never heard of. Come ready to chew into this one on Monday. By Earl Swift of the Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk.



The scar made a long straightaway down the left side of his face. It ran shallow across his forehead and sliced through his eyelids and dug deep into his cheek. It crossed his mouth so that when he grinned, as Joe Weatherly was predisposed to do, he left a third of the smile behind.

Big as it was, the wound might have been the second thing most people noticed about Weatherly. The first, most likely, was the way he arrived, because he could drive anything on wheels faster than it made sense to go, and faster than anyone with sense had desire to.

For a time, the skill served him well: The Norfolk boy grew up to be a national motorcycle racing champion, then joined the stock car circuit; before long he owned a piece of three racetracks and was one of NASCAR's first big stars.

Over a dozen years, Joe Weatherly won 25 races, placed in the top five 105 times and won the points championship, now called the Nextel Cup, two years in a row. He was a favorite among fans for his flair as much as his victories: Weatherly was an archetype of the early NASCAR hero, an inveterate practical joker and hell-raiser, a resilient hard partier, a rough-and-tumble Southern rogue.

The scar predated all of that. When he'd made it big, some sportswriters guessed the wound dated to his motorcycle days. Others offered an explanation that persists on the Internet, that during his Army service in World War II, a bullet from a German sniper had torn into his cheek.

Neither story was true. Joe Weatherly got his scar on Norfolk's 26th Street, in a wreck that nearly killed him.

And he didn't get the worst of it.

An October midnight in 1946, Wednesday the 2nd rolling into Thursday: The Norfolk Police Department's graveyard shift had just come on duty when two officers in the traffic bureau, Charles D. Grant and Chase R. Davis, got the word: Accident on 26th at Leo Street. Multiple injuries.

The two rolled to the scene in a stretcher-equipped van assigned to whoever was pulling accident detail. They brought along a pair of cops who'd been angling for a ride home - a lucky break, because they needed the extra hands. The scene that awaited them was a mess.

A 1942 Buick sedan, eastbound on 26th, had hit the curb as it negotiated a tight S-curve. It had slid 188 feet across the road, jumped the far curb and smacked head-on into a tree. The car was totaled. Six people, three couples, lay inside.

Weatherly, the driver, was hung up in the broken windshield, his face cleaved in two, blood spurting from his punctured neck. His girlfriend, 18-year-old Jean Flanagan, lay bunched in the right front footwell, both legs broken. In the back seat, Marion Wells and another girl were shaken but unhurt, and Marion's date, Alvah "Skeet" Cowan, wasn't badly injured.

Not so the last passenger, 24-year-old James Edwin "Eddie" Baines. His head, wedged between front seat and door post, had suffered grievous damage. As Officer Grant would later recall: "We knew he was in bad shape."

But Weatherly commanded immediate attention.

"He was bleeding profusely," Grant said. "He'd have died in a few more minutes."

One of the off-duty cops, Louis D. Looney, clamped his hands over Weatherly's neck, trying to stanch the blood until an ambulance arrived.

These days, 26th Street carries just eastbound traffic until it merges with westbound 27th Street to become Lafayette Boulevard. They fuse at about the spot Weatherly crashed.

But the modern junction is much changed from that of 1946. The curve that 26th negotiates to meet 27th is wide and graceful; that of 61 years ago was a far more sudden jerk to the left, onto northbound Leo, followed by an almost immediate, 90-degree cut back to the right.

To the police, the accident's cause was no mystery: The 2-ton Buick had been moving too fast to negotiate the back-to-back turns. And it was no surprise to find Weatherly draped over the steering wheel.

"It was speed," Grant said, "which is what he was known for. Anybody who knew Joe Weatherly would tell you that he'd run a car as fast as he could. He was one we knew."

In fact, Weatherly was driving illegally that night, his license having already been revoked for an infraction lost to history. Within months he'd be making a name for himself as a motorcycle racer, and within two years he'd be national champion, but as Grant and Davis untangled him from the wreckage, Weatherly was in serious legal trouble.

At the time, it wasn't clear that he'd survive to face it. He'd been cut, Grant recalled, "all the way down his face and into his jugular vein.

"That officer saved his life," he said of Looney. "Thank God we had those other two officers with us."

A cop drove the unconscious Eddie Baines to Norfolk General Hospital. Looney rode with Weatherly to DePaul, a hand still pressed to the driver's neck. Jean Flanagan was conscious when Grant, destined to become Norfolk's police chief, lifted her from the footwell.

"We had to get her out of there and straighten her legs to get her on a stretcher," he said. "She hollered so as to make the hair stand up on your head."

That afternoon's Ledger-Dispatch reported that "four persons were injured, three seriously," with Baines suffering "a forehead laceration and internal injuries." The following morning's Virginian-Pilot added that Baines and Flanagan were in "critical shape" and that an arrest warrant waited for the improving Weatherly. The charges: reckless driving and driving with a revoked permit.

Then, on the afternoon of Oct. 6, Baines, who lived in the Fox Hall neighborhood and had recently mustered out of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, died of his head injuries.

A native of Blackstone, Va., Baines and a few of his nine siblings had moved to Norfolk before the war. He was buried near Rocky Mount, N.C.

Weatherly was charged with homicide.

A few weeks later, on Nov. 30, Weatherly presented Jean Flanagan with a ring. They were married in October 1948.

He spent a good piece of the intervening two years in court. In a lengthy police court session two months after the wreck, the homicide charge was dropped - a fitting development because, Jean Weatherly would say more than 60 years later, speed hadn't killed Baines.

Actually, the evening had been pretty tame: The six had been at Schoe's Curb Service, a drive-in restaurant at 21st and Granby streets that Jean's family owned, before Weatherly set out to take everyone home. Just before the wreck, he stopped the car at 26th and Church streets to say hello to a friend.

"It was only a block away," she said, "so he didn't have time to get much speed up, with the weight of the car."

Her explanation: "We hit the curb and broke the steering rod, and the tree was right there."

Even so, Weatherly was convicted of the lesser charges. He appealed to Norfolk Corporation Court - today's Circuit Court - where on Jan. 10, 1947, he was hit with $400 in fines and two suspended 30-day sentences.

That spring, Baines' sister, Effie E. Daniels, sued Weatherly and his mother, Carrie Kellam, who owned the Buick. The claim against Kellam was dropped, but Weatherly was found liable for $15,000, to be divided equally among Baines' four brothers and five sisters.

Weatherly's fiancee and her mother sued, as well. In June 1947, a jury in the Court of Law and Chancery fixed the damages due to each at $10,000 and $4,000, respectively.

And as a brief filed by State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. in federal court observed: "In each of said actions it is alleged that the Buick automobile in question was operated with gross negligence."

The accident wasn't Weatherly's last brush with the law, by any means. In September 1947, an unspecified misdemeanor saw his suspended sentences revoked, and he went to jail. In 1955, he led police on a wee-hours chase through Norfolk, for which he was slapped with a $100 fine, another suspended sentence and the loss of his license for 60 days.

By then, he was a big-time racer - newspaper stories wondered whether he could legally drive on a track when he was barred from the streets - and the press tended to couch his transgressions as harmless fun, even nicknamed him the "Clown Prince of Auto Racing." Legends bloomed from his practical jokes and hell-for-leather partying, about how he banged up rental cars and supposedly drove one into a motel swimming pool.

It seemed that, the scar aside, that night 61 years ago did not much change Weatherly.

"You saw him from the rear, wherever he went," said his friend Robert Ingram of Norfolk, a prominent car builder of the era. "He'd take it to the edge."

Weatherly won NASCAR's first all-star race in 1961. He dominated the sport in 1962, the first of his years as points champion. He did it again in 1963, when he finished 35 of his 53 races in the top 10. He was leading the points race for a third year when he pulled into Riverside, Calif., for the road race of Jan. 19, 1964.

He was a superstitious man, spooked by the color green or the presence of peanuts at the track, beholden to talismans and ritual. But those quirks, that scar, didn't prompt him to use a shoulder harness. When he crashed on the 110th lap, his unrestrained head smacked into a retaining wall.

He died of facial injuries.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Thank-You for 18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

During the campaign, it was her opponent who owned the lofty rhetoric. But on the day she finally conceded defeat, it was Hillary Clinton's words that soared.

"As we gather here today," she told her supporters and staff members at the National Building Museum yesterday, "the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House."

Two hundred forty miles below the international space station, the midday sunlight pouring into the 100-foot-high atrium illuminated the thousands who had come to bid the Clinton presidential candidacy farewell: most of them women, many of them with young children, some of them in tears.

"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," the former candidate continued. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

It will be up to the historians to ponder why Clinton waited until the very last day of her campaign to give full voice to the epochal nature of her candidacy. Through the Democratic primary race of 2008, she had played down the significance of being the first woman within reach of the presidency. It's tempting to wonder whether things would have turned out differently if she had embraced the theme earlier -- but there can be little doubt that her last speech of the campaign was also her best.

Yesterday brought the House of Clinton full circle. Fifteen years ago, one of Bill Clinton's first inaugural balls had been held in this same building, modeled on Roman palaces. The Corinthian columns stood as before, but this time a white-haired Bill Clinton merely gave a silent salute to the crowd; he had said quite enough during the campaign.

The storied building was, too, a place to salve wounds. Congress ordered it built in the 1880s as the U.S. Pension Bureau to help the maimed of the Civil War. Yesterday it was used for a form of ritual cleansing, a chance for Clinton and her supporters to leave behind the hard feelings and put their support behind Barack Obama.

It didn't go exactly according to plan. When Clinton got to the exhortation to "do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," some boos hollered from the balconies mixed with the applause. The isolated booing returned each of the half-dozen times Clinton returned to a variation of the phrase.

"I would die and slit my wrist before I'd vote for Obama," said a Silver Spring woman in the Clinton volunteers section who gave her name only as Edith. She wore a sign pinned to the back of her Hillary T-shirt proposing: "Remember in November: vote present."

There were hints that Clinton herself was appearing with reluctance. She arrived 45 minutes late for the concession speech, after refusing to acknowledge Obama's victory at all after he clinched the nomination on Tuesday night. She wore black. She took the stage to the Goo Goo Dolls tune "Better Days." She uttered 650 words before she finally uttered "Barack Obama."

"Well, this isn't exactly the party I'd planned," she said, "but I sure like the company."

No doubt. It was that rare campaign event attended by both Sidney Blumenthal and Matt Drudge. The floor and balconies were jammed with thousands of supporters, who had lined up in the oppressive heat. Among them: 81-year-old Norma Mobley of Dallas, a McCain supporter who was in town for a funeral but came to see Clinton because "it's a part of history."

History was on Clinton's mind, too. "When I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best president," she said. "But I am a woman, and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.

"I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of," she continued. "I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to leave all children brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and their mothers."

The words flowed with a force of conviction rarely seen on the campaign trail these many months. "From now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States," she told her supporters. "And that is truly remarkable."

Behind the podium, some of the young women who volunteered for the campaign wept and hugged as she spoke to "the young people who put so much into this campaign: It would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours."

She recalled the struggles for abolition, suffrage and civil rights. "Because of you, children today will grow up taking for granted that an African American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States," she said. "And so when that day arrives, and a woman takes the oath of office as our president, we will all stand taller, proud of the values of our nation, proud that every little girl can dream big and that her dreams can come true in America."

Soon the last rally was over, and the crowd filed outside, where the Clinton '08 T-shirts had been marked down to $5 each. Before leaving, Clinton aide Maria Cardona, holding her 3-year-old son's hand and her 15-month-old daughter in a sling, paused to reflect on the candidate's parting words about the children.

"That's why I brought them," she said. "They both can be president." She looked at her daughter, who, like her brother, wore a "Mommy and Me for Hillary" T-shirt. "She can go first," Cardona said.


In Defeat, Clinton Graciously Pretends to Win

"What does Hillary want?"

Hillary Clinton put the question to her supporters here Tuesday night, moments after her opponent, Barack Obama, clinched the Democratic presidential nomination.

What Hillary did not want to do was to concede defeat. "I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard," she told her fans, who answered with cheers of "Denver! Denver!" and "Yes she will!"

The campaign was over, and Obama had locked up the nomination after a flood of more than 40 superdelegates announced their support for him throughout the day. But in the Baruch College gymnasium here (the "Bearcat Den"), Clinton spoke as if she were the victor.

She and her husband and daughter took the stage, smiling, clapping and bopping to the beat. She said nothing about losing the nomination, instead thanking South Dakota for giving her a victory in Tuesday's balloting: "You had the last word in this primary season!" This, she said, confirmed that she had won "more votes than any primary candidate in history."

Clinton congratulated Obama -- not for winning the nomination, but for running an "extraordinary race." She recognized Obama and his supporters "for all they accomplished."

It was an extraordinary performance by a woman who had been counted out of the race even when she still had a legitimate chance. Now she had been mathematically eliminated -- and she spoke as if she had won.

Though some might think her remarks self-delusional, Clinton wasn't kidding herself; earlier in the day, Clinton had told lawmakers privately that the race was over and she would consider being Obama's vice president. Her public defiance reflected a shift in the balance of power that came with Obama's victory. Now that he had won the race, he would need to woo Clinton if he wanted to prevail in November.

"Obama has work to do," the outspoken Clinton adviser Lanny Davis told reporters in the hallway outside the gymnasium here. "Senator Clinton can't do it for him."

Obama's aides had done their best throughout the day to build excitement for his clinching of the nomination. "Obama needs 41 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination," Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer announced in an e-mail he sent out at 6:56 a.m.

It was the beginning of a day-long water torture for Clinton, as Obama aimed, by day's end, to reach the 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

For Obama, however, it wasn't a pretty way to clinch. He had won only six of the last 14 contests, and Tuesday night he lost South Dakota, too, where he had been heavily favored. Now that the party had partially accepted results from the Florida and Michigan primaries, Clinton could claim with some justification that she had received more votes than Obama.

And so the limping nominee needed to be carried across the finish line by the superdelegates whose support Pfeiffer announced throughout the day: a Michigan congresswoman, a Massachusetts superdelegate, one from Mississippi, two from Michigan, one from the District of Columbia, two from California, one from Florida, three from Delaware. "Twelve delegates from the nomination," Pfeiffer announced. Then 11, then 10.

The rush of the opportunistic superdelegates toward the inevitable nominee only worsened what was certain to be an unhappy day for the Clintons, who had arrived at their Westchester home at about 3 a.m. after an awkward last day of campaigning in South Dakota. Bill Clinton had flown into a rage and called a reporter a "scumbag." At her last event in South Dakota, Hillary had lost her voice in a coughing fit. Somebody had seen fit to play an inappropriate John Fogerty tune before she took the stage: "It ain't me, it ain't me. I ain't no fortunate one."

On Tuesday evening, the crowd began to assemble at Baruch College in Manhattan for Clinton's non-concession speech. The scene was made to look festive: The Clinton campaign ordered 70 boxes of Domino's pizza for the press corps, and set up a cash bar for its fundraisers, or "honored guests." The honored guests were not in a partying mood, however. One older woman pointed at a reporter accusingly and said: "He is the one who destroyed our heroine!"

A crew from "The Daily Show" joined the party, and, hoping to keep Clinton in the race, struck up a cheer of "Four more months!"

Such an outlandish thing seemed almost plausible among the Clinton backers in the hermetically sealed Baruch gym. Below ground level, there was no cellphone or BlackBerry reception, and there was no television playing in the room. That meant that they could not see the network projections showing that, while Clinton had won South Dakota, Obama had won enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Instead, they listened to Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Just before Obama officially clinched, the Clinton campaign issued a press release as if it were still in the middle of a nominating battle. "Wyoming Automatic Delegate Backs Hillary," the e-mail said. It didn't include the name of the brave superdelegate.

Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chairman, took the stage and read the full list of Clinton's victories, from American Samoa to Massachusetts. Introducing Clinton, he asked: "Are you ready for the next president of the United States?"

This brought laughter from the reporters in the back of the room, but Clinton induced the crowd to boo the "pundits and naysayers" who would have run her from the race. "I am so proud we stayed the course together," she told her backers, who interjected cries of "We believe in you!" and "Yes, we will!"

Only obliquely did Clinton refer to the fact that she had, in fact, lost the nomination. "The question is: Where do we go from here?" she said. She would figure that out "in the coming days," she said, but "I will be making no decisions tonight." The crowd in the Bearcat Den erupted in a sustained cheer. She referred her supporters to her Web site, as she had after many a primary night victory.

For a candidate who had just lost the nomination, she seemed very much in charge.

That must be what Hillary wants.


Why Tomatoes Hate America, by Dana Milbank

The tomatoes attacked us brutally and without warning. Yesterday, our leaders struck back against the pernicious produce.

"As we hold this hearing, grocers and restaurants nationwide have been pulling tomatoes from the shelves and menus," announced Rep. John Shimkus, the ranking Republican member of the House Commerce subcommittee assigned to skewer the tomatoes.

One hundred sixty-seven people have been sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes -- and that's not the worst of it. "I tried to get a BLT sandwich in the cloakroom yesterday, and no tomato!" Shimkus recounted. "I had a BL sandwich."

Now THIS is war! And the more they talked about it, the more members of the panel realized that the Global War on Tomatoes would have to be broadened. Other freedom-hating foods are trying to kill us, too.

"We can see tomatoes, spinach, grapes, mushrooms, seafood and dozens of other items which have gone on to poison and sicken the American consumer," complained Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

"Jars of Peter Pan peanut butter containing salmonella, cans of green beans containing botulism, spinach tainted with E. coli, poisoned pot pies," rejoined Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). "The largest meat recall in the history of our country. . . . Salmonella was found in Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals. . . . Tainted cantaloupes."

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) was losing her appetite. "The longer you sit on this committee, the more depressed you get, because the issues never get resolved and crop up again and again," she said, betraying no sign that her "crop" pun was intentional.

It was one of the scarier moments in horticulture since the 1978 B movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," in which mutant fruits turned against humanity. And there was no escaping the horror yesterday, even on lunch break in the Rayburn cafeteria downstairs from the hearing room. "Because your health and safety is our first priority, we have followed the FDA warning by removing the tomato varieties of concern," a sign above the salad bar announced.

Without doubt, the man feeling most strained by tomatoes yesterday was David Acheson, the food safety chief at the Food and Drug Administration. And Acheson, whose British accent makes him sound aloof to begin with, made the mistake of quarreling with his questioners.

"Fresh produce, like spinach -- how many outbreaks have we had with that?" demanded the subcommittee's chairman, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

"Two," Acheson replied.

"Man," the chairman continued, "the last 10 years, I think there's been like eight."

"No," Acheson informed him. "Two with spinach. There's been eight or nine with other leafy greens."

"There has been at least 20 in 10 years," Stupak insisted.

"Excuse me," Acheson lectured. "I think you're confusing spinach with other leafy greens, like lettuce."

Acheson was in no position to argue with the lawmakers. His department has been plagued by poor oversight, coordination and planning, the Government Accountability Office found. FDA's own Science Board concluded that the agency "does not have the capacity to ensure the safety of food." The Bush administration, stewing over the tomatoes, this week dramatically increased its budget request for food safety.

The timing of the hearing, scheduled before word of the tomato attack went public, was also problematic for Acheson. "This outbreak is particularly frustrating, given the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of the FDA's Tomato Safety Initiative," Stupak noted.

Acheson was destined to be sliced and diced.

Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House, informed Acheson that his system is "crowned by incompetence, indifference, inadequacy and a gross shortfall in funding and leadership."

"It's almost like a conspiracy against parents," protested Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "You know how hard it is to get your kids to eat spinach and tomatoes to begin with."

And Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), while assuring all that "our good, Tennessee-grown tomatoes are safe," lamented the stories "about the FDA and your inability to take action -- my goodness gracious!"

Acheson was caught in this year's equivalent of the shark attacks. The tomato had been a suspicious plant to begin with -- Is it a fruit? Or a vegetable? -- and now he had to justify leaving the nation undefended despite signs that the tomato could turn against us.

"Food can become contaminated at many different steps along the path from farm to fork," he tried to explain. "In recent years, the FDA has done a great deal to prevent both deliberate and unintentional contamination."

But not enough, as the questioning revealed. How much would it cost to implement the FDA's Food Protection Plan? "It gets a little difficult to actually determine." Any idea what it might cost over five years? "I couldn't tell you." Why not? "You're asking me to go outside of my authority within the administration." Absolutely nothing about long-term budgeting? "It is what it is." Would FDA help Congress draft legislation governing food safety? "There's no intent to provide specific legislative language." If the tainted tomatoes are coming from Mexico, shouldn't we know more about the growing process there? "I beg to differ."

"You can see our frustration, Dr. Acheson," DeGette said from the dais, looking as if she'd like to throw a tomato at him.


Friday, June 13, 2008

For Monday 16 June ...

Be sure to click through "read more" for Monday's discussion story, from the 12 June NYT and Peter Applebome. Nice and short but very powerful:

Reflecting, in a Place of Racial Tolerance, the Long Road Traveled, and to Come


The Obama yard sign in front of the house where Don and Julia Miller integrated Stanford Place back in 1962 tells one story.

The cherry bomb and trash dumped on the lawn when they moved in and the chorus of “Old Black Joe” directed at the person who sold them the house tells another.

The letter of apology that came in the mail on Wednesday from the person who lived next door when they moved in — and who moved out not long afterward — tells a third.

Our real stories of race and place are almost always more complicated than we find ways to tell, especially on suburban streets invariably cloaked in dopey clich├ęs of suburban conformity, as if the people there were somehow a different species than their more worthy urban brethren.

So who knows if anything will become of the screenplay written by Jason Lemire, who grew up across the street, mowing the Millers’ lawn and worshiping Mr. Miller as an important artist, and who figured their story could resonate beyond Stanford Place.

But when more than 200 people packed the auditorium at the Montclair Art Museum on Wednesday night to celebrate Mr. Miller’s life and reflect on the first public reading of the screenplay, “Foot Soldier: The Don Miller Story,” it was one of those rare moments when past and present could artfully merge.

Not many suburbs have as interesting a racial history as Montclair, whose population is about one-third black, and which has not always lived up to its current image as a liberal Obamaville. Mr. Miller, who grew up there and died in 1993 at the age of 69, had his first art exhibition at the age of 12 at Montclair’s Y.W.C.A., one of three segregated Y’s in town. Back then and for many years afterward, the movie theater was segregated, too: blacks in the balcony, whites below.

Still, when the Millers, who were living in East Orange at the time, decided to look for a house in Montclair, the civil rights movement was beginning to brew. They looked at one house in a white neighborhood, and before they could buy it, neighbors purchased it so they could not.

When they found the house on Stanford Place, the owner held firm despite angry neighbors who stood out in the snow taunting him in song about the race of the buyers. The Millers’ arrival was rocky until one of the police officers in town, who also was black, read the riot act to the neighbors. Some moved out. Most stayed, and, in the way things evolve, soon realized that their new neighbors were just that, and life quite amicably moved on.

For both Millers, race remained central to their work. She headed the African-American studies program at Seton Hall. He infused the children’s books he illustrated with black faces as well as white, and created the powerful paintings of African masks and children from Congo to Newark to Jamaica, some of which still hang on the walls in their home.

The assignment of Mr. Miller’s life, a 56-foot-long mural of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that was unveiled in 1986, when his birthday was first celebrated as a national holiday, is on permanent display at the main public library in Washington. And during the two years he worked on it, civil rights luminaries visited the old ballroom he rented, since it was too big for his airy third-floor studio here on Stanford Place. (Rosa Parks let Mr. Miller know he had the wrong route sign on her famous bus; he changed it to what you can see today, Cleveland Ave.)

Looking back, Mrs. Miller, 79, and her son Eric, 51, see enormous progress. How could they not? But they also see the many folds in the post-civil rights fabric, like the way Montclair is now somewhat segregated as much by income as by race.

“There’s been an influx of yuppies who see this as a great liberal town, intellectual, lots of cultural things going on,” she said. “They really don’t want to hear anything negative about it.”

Now, she said, she and her husband, who paid $20,000 for their house in 1962, probably could not afford to buy in Montclair, and the black middle-class community that once existed no longer plays the nurturing and mentoring role it once did.

“There was this viable, vital middle-class black community in Montclair, who, in some ways, looked at the people uptown and thought: ‘We don’t need that. We’ve got our clubs, our churches, our groups, our professionals,’ ” she said. “You don’t see the same thing now. In some ways, I’ll say integration did a lot of harm.”

Does she want to go back? Of course not, but here in the Obama moment, on Don Miller’s night, the people with their eyes open saw a tale still in progress, a world as rich and complex as the African art, and political posters suspended in the warm sun in Don Miller’s loft, his stiff brushes in old tobacco cans as if waiting for him to again come home.