By Alice Bernstein
ABOVE PHOTO: Postcard sent by Archie Waters to his wife postmarked on the day of the MLK March on Washington, 1963; with photo of Elizabeth and Archie Waters.
Thousands of people came to Washington from around the country on Wednesday, August 28, 1963, to march with Dr. Martin Luther King for jobs and freedom. Among them was an African American man named Archie Waters, a journalist who had come from Brooklyn. He was galvanized by what he heard that day, and wrote of it years later in an article, “I Have a Dream,” in which he placed that march historically—coming as it did on the 100th anniversary of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
As Dr. King spoke from the podium that sunny day, he told of his vision: a world without racism. He called it a dream, but passionately wanted it to be real! Today, the knowledge exists that can make his dream a reality, for the cause and answer to racism have been explained by the great American educator and critic, Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism. And Onilaja Waters, the daughter of Archie Waters, is working, along with others, to have this urgently needed explanation and answer to racism known.
Aesthetic Realism Can End Racism
Eli Siegel explained that the biggest fight in all of humanity is between respect and contempt. He taught that contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else,” is the cause of racism and every injustice—from a racial slur, a haughty sneer, all the way to the horrific brutality of slavery, lynching, bombs, and war. What will end racism is the desire to see another person from within, to give that person’s feelings the reality we give to our own. Contempt gives the ego a sense of false triumph, but it destroys the best in us. Aesthetic Realism enables people to see and feel that respect is the greater triumph for our whole self—a more enduring, productive, joy-giving emotion! And, yes, this can be learned. I know, because I myself have learned it. And I am proud to be a colleague of Onilaja Waters and others with diverse backgrounds, who speak publically on this urgent subject, most recently at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, in our event “The People of Clarendon County”—A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Answer to Racism.
Past and Present Meet
With family roots in North Carolina, Archie Waters (1918-2001) was born in Brooklyn. He went on to become a civil rights activist and journalist, and was also prominent in the chess world–opening doors in chess, for black people. He loved education, history, research, and was keenly aware of the suffering racism caused in the North as well as in the South. During World War II he served with distinction as an Information Specialist in the segregated United States Army, in the Philippines and New Guinea, earning numerous medals. After the war, he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Brimijoin, who spoke out courageously in behalf of justice, even during the McCarthy witch hunts. Elizabeth was white, and despite the fierce opposition to interracial marriage, including by their own families, they married in 1952 and had two daughters. Archie Waters later worked as a journalist/columnist for black and community newspapers, and then for New York Daily News and Long Island Press. In 1980, when their daughters were grown, Mr. and Mrs. Waters moved to Texas where they remained active in civil rights. For 21 years, he wrote a column for the El Paso Times. They celebrated their 44th anniversary in 1996, the year before her death.
Just last week, I interviewed Onilaja Waters for my oral history project, “The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights”—which today includes 170 men and women of all races nationwide. She spoke of her father, Archie Waters’ life, and expressed her personal gratitude to Aesthetic Realism because it taught her to see the world, and her own parents, with greater respect. She showed me photographs and documents that brought to life some of Archie Waters’ contributions to civil rights. And I saw the postcard of the Lincoln Memorial that he sent to his wife, postmarked on the day of the March on Washington, which made for a large emotion in me, resulting in this story.
A Daughter Sees Newly
PHOTO: Onilaja Waters, speaking at the event: “The People of Clarendon County”—A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Answer to Racism.
(Photo by Len Bernstein)
In coming months, I will write about the interview with Onilaja Waters, who is a technical designer for the fashion industry, with a wide interest in African and African American history. For now, I am proud to quote from what she said to the enthusiastic audience at NC Museum of History:
“It is a pleasure to tell you about the education that can end racism: Aesthetic Realism, founded in 1941 by the great American philosopher Eli Siegel. As an African American, and a student of Aesthetic Realism for almost thirty years, I know this education has large value and enables us to make sense of our painful history and to greet a kinder future.
In my studies in consultations and in classes on art, music, anthropology and more, I found the explanation of the world, art, myself, and people of all races, that I was hoping for. This includes understanding my turmoil as a person born into an interracial family. Because Aesthetic Realism explains the fight in every person between respect and contempt, it enabled me to make sense of this fight in humanity, including in me.
My mother was white and had a deep feeling about justice; and my father, a black man, cared for knowledge and books. Yet even in New York City, we were not accepted by my parents’ families and most of society, and felt isolated. I was aware of the pain of racism and saw the world as an unfriendly place. I used this feeling to segregate myself against the world.
In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I was encouraged to see people not just in relation to myself, but in relation to the whole world and all of history; to see them the way a novelist would: with criticism and compassion, as trying to put together good and bad motives, and as affected by history and the times they lived in, just as I was. Because of this education—which continues in so many ways—I changed from being so separate; and I feel stronger, happier, lighter, and more alive!”
I whole heartedly agree with Onilaja Waters, and encourage everyone—you—to study Aesthetic Realism. To learn more visit www.AestheticRealism.org, and to learn about the oral history project visit: www.AllianceOfEthicsAndArt.org or call toll free 888-262-5310.
Alice Bernstein is a journalist, civil rights scholar, and Aesthetic Realism Associate.