Category Archives: readings

WAR ON ALL PUERTO RICANS: REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN AMERICA’S COLONY

VMF’s AUTHORS SERIES PRESENTS:

NELSON DENIS and HIS BEST SELLING

WAR AGAINST ALL PUERTO RICANS: REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN AMERICA’S COLONY
Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 5-6:45 PM  

Vito Marcantonio Forum presents a book presentation on war against all puerto ricans by nelson a denis

WHAT:
VMF Authors Series panel discussion followed by Q&A

WHO:
Nelson Denis
discusses WAR AGAINST ALL PUERTO RICANS: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony

Gil Fagiani, VMF co-founder, will moderate discussion. Roberto Ragone, will deliver dramatic readings of Marcantonio’s speeches about Puerto Rico

WHERE:
NYPL Mulberry St. Branch,  10 Jersey St., NY, between Mulberry & Lafayette Sts., one block south of Houston St.

WAR AGAINST ALL PUERTO RICANS BY NELSON A DENISADMISSION:
Free Admission, light refreshments will be served

The Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) is an educational organization dedicated to preserving the history of the radical political tradition of East Harlem, the cultural backdrop of Italian Harlem and El Barrio and increasing awareness of the American Labor Party that Marcantonio led for years; and the critical role of the Left that rallied to Marcantonio. 

Mark Fasanella documentary and Gil Fagiani’s latest book.

This past weekend was action-packed with VMF-related events that were both a success! On Saturday, February 20th 2016, Sherri Machlin, of The Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library, hosted a screening of two movies riveting Italian American classics:

Its One Family Knock on Wood1pm: It’s One Family – Knock on Wood (1982) – Orlando Furioso is a five foot tall performer living in Brooklyn, and is made of wood. Fifty years ago he was carved from oak and given a suit of armor by Papa Manteo and his children, Orlando’s sword still flashes on a stage. In It’s One Family: Knock On Wood, we meet puppeteers Mike and Aida Manteo, their children and grandchildren, a family bound together by a Sicilian folk tradition that dates back to the 16th Century. Mike still builds marionettes; Aida sews capes and gowns; on stage, Orlando woos Angelica in the court of Charlemagne, as the entire family works together to entertain audiences across America. Directed by Tony DeNonno. Runtime – 24 minutes.

Ralph Fasanella documentary

Ralph Fasanella painting one of his great masterpieces.

1:30pm Ralph Fasanella: Song of the City (1981) – A film documenting the life and art of Ralph Fasanella, a self-taught painter born in Greenwich Village in 1914. Raised in a struggling immigrant Italian-American family, Fasanella grew up to become a school truant, laborer and union organizer before discovering his true vocation as a painter. Working within the broad tradition of “social primitivism”, the artist, through his detailed canvases, interweaves scenes of his troubled youth, urban landscapes, labor history and social-political causes. Runtime – 25 minutes. VMF Vice President, Maria Lisella will give a short introduction before the film is shown.

Gil Fagiani during the Q&A with a longtime friend of Mark Fasanella

Gil Fagiani (right) during the Q&A with a longtime friend of Ralph Fasanella

Following the screening, Gil Fagiani, longtime member of the VMF said, “I’ve been asked to say a few words about Fasanella, who I gave a lifetime achievement award to at an event back in 1992… Still, I didn’t really know him personally like two of the people we are fortunate enough to have here today.” Two longtime friends of Fasanella recounted delightful memories of the life and times of Ralph Fasanella.

The second event that took place was on Sunday February 21st 2016 at the Gallery Gaiga on 79 Hudson Avenue at Front Street in Brooklyn for the launching of Gil Fagiani’s latest book, Logos. The Resistance Reeding Series sponsored an Evening of poetry and prose hosted by Tsaurah Litsky.

Gil Fagiani’s book recently got an excellent review by Mark Fogarty:

Gil Fagiani LOGOSThe great jazz-rock-folk singer Tim Buckley once told his friend and lead guitarist Lee Underwood that taking heroin made him feel as if he was walking in the clouds. That’s a modest example of what I call junkie porn, the romanticizing of something not really romantic (heroin gave Buckley an exit into the clouds for good when he was just 28). Gil Fagiani’s visceral book of poems  Logos is all about junkiedom and recovery, but there’s little junkie porn in it.

No, the poems in Logos tend toward the bleak and harrowing side of addiction (perhaps there is porn to be had there too, but at least it’s in aid of a useful end) and the bleak but hopeful process of recovery. Alluded to in Fagiani’s previous book of poems, Stone Walls, here his addiction is in full and ugly bloom. Fagiani missed Woodstock, for instance, when a last-minute urge to cop left him overdosed and cut by broken glass and robbed by the junkie rescuers who took him to the hospital. The active-junkie part of the book (called “Shooting Dope with Trotsky”) is full of puke and rot and weasel-like junkie business like stealing from and betraying those closest to you. It is ugly and depressing.

But if you are looking for a reprieve when Fagiani checks into rehab at a place called Logos, you won’t find it. To say Logos facilitates recovery through tough love would be a total understatement. Their treatments are violent and vicious, to the point where reading about them is as depressing as reading about active junkie business. However, Logos seems to have set Fagiani on the path to decades of recovery so there is that for a good result.

The poems of Logos are prosy, anecdotal, differentiated from actual prose only by artful line breaks and well-organized stanzas. They read easily and are powerful and gripping, though often stomach-turning at the same time. The individual stories of many people who fail the program (and sometimes are physically tossed out into the street) and their invariably bad outcomes are nothing but distressing.

There’s an entertaining revolt against the Logos universe (the founder is called “The Great Him”) that results in an alt-Logos amid a Sixties-Seventies mise-en-scene of revolutionary fervor that includes the rhetoric of another Great Him, Mao Tse Tung. There is also a helpful glossary of junkie and recovery terms for those who don’t know the lingo, and, as in his earlier book, a discography of songs that form the soundtrack to a landscape that resembles hell a lot more than heaven.

The above review originally appeared on attheinkwell.com 

The Resistance Reading Series presents: An evening of poetry and prose

THE RESISTANCE READING SERIES

Sunday, February 21, 2016

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

An Evening of Poetry and Prose

hosted by Tsaurah Litsky

featuring

Gil Fagiani

&

Bonny Finberg

WHERE: Gallery Gaia
79 Hudson Avenue at Front Street
Brooklyn, New York
Vinegar Hill, North Dumbo
A few blocks from the York Street
F train subway stop
THE RESISTANCE is a monthly reading series designed to foster light in these dark times.
* Come early to sign up for a space in the Open Reading!

Michael Parenti’s book presentation was a success!

Michael Parenti at the Vito Marcantonio Forum for Waiting for Yesterday SymposiumMichael Parenti was on hand for the Symposium of the latest of his 25 books entitled Waiting for Yesterday. Pages from a Street Kid’s Life (Bordighera Press).

The New York Public Library hosted the event at their Mulberry Street branch in New York City on October 31st, 2015.

The symposium was moderated by founding member Gil Fagiani, who also performed the first reading alongside Ketty Romagnoli, Litany of San Vito by Gil Fagiani, a poem dedicated to Marcantonio and his legacy.

Ketty Romagnoli reading at the Vito Marcantonio Forum symposium for Michael Parenti

Gil Fagiani & Ketty Romagnoli

Ms. Romagnoli of Bologna, is a digital media strategist and event planner by trade who has been researching Marcantonio and Covello’s roots in Italy. We look forward to her contributing her findings in the near-future.

The event featured a book presentation from author and journalist, Stephen Siciliano, who recently completed a full-length novel about Vito Marcantonio entitled the Goodfather. Siciliano discussed many aspects of of Parenti’s Waiting for Yesterday, highlighting sections found to be of the most historical and social significance.

vito marcantonio forum with LuLu LoLo Pascale

LuLu LoLo Pascale

“I know the house you grew up in.” said LuLu LoLo Pascale.  “A close friend of mine also lived in that house and so I took a picture and framed it for you.” Dr Parenti delightfully received the picture and gave thanks. Pascale, an East Harlem native herself, as well as an international playwright and performance artist, read, “Homage to Puglia” and “Coming Home to Both Worlds,” from Parenti’s book.

Vito Marcantonio Forum Co-chairman, Roberto Ragone, said “Halloween is the one day per year the country says you can be someone who you’re not. So I am going to be Vito Marcantonio while I read the following speech.” Ragone, who has experience working for the City Council, Mayor’s Office, and State Senate, dramatized a speech by the late, great congressman from East Harlem. Ragone also read, “Someone Else to Remember” and “Inventing Space,” his two favorite chapters from Parenti’s Waiting for Yesterday. 

vito marcantonio forum presents a book party event for waiting for yesterday by michael parentiBertell Ollman, the renown political theorist was in attendance and acknowledged by Parenti. East Harlem author and historian, Christopher Bell was also acknowledged. Artwork and online media was provided by Adam Meyer and Gabrielle Napolitano. The VMF thanks the New York Public Library for providing the venue  for the event. Also special thanks to Maria Lisella for press and promotional work.

Michael Parenti actively writes and lectures on a wide-range of topics. You can find his website at MichaelParenti.org and if you are interested in purchasing Waiting for Yesterday, you can find it at Amazon.com.

VMF event at Hostos Community College was a success!

October 15th, 2015
In commemoration of Italian Heritage Month, Hostos Community College’s Division of Student Development Enrollment Management proudly presented,

Vito Marcantonio: Champion of Immigration Rights 

vito_marcantonio

Vito Marcantonio

Marcantonio, who served as Congressman from East Harlem for fourteen years (1934-1936, 1938-1950), organized a powerful political coalition of his constituency’s mostly Italian-American, Puerto Rican, and African-American residents. Marcantonio’s dedication to his beloved East Harlem, a working-class community where he spent his entire life, continues to inspire his admirers.

The standing room-only event featured presentations and dramatizations of letters and speeches about the late, great Congressman. A number of areas of the College helped plan and promote the event and the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF). Special thanks to Nydia R. Edgecombe, Director of Alumni Relations, for her creativity and dedication in making the proceedings memorable for faculty, staff, students, and the many visitors in attendance.

susan miceli

Susan Miceli

Hostos counselors Professor Susan Miceli coordinated the production and promotion of the event that included a sumptuous spread of Italian specialties.

Vice President for Academic Affairs, Christine Mangino, provided insight and inspiration in describing the importance of observing Italian Heritage Month.

Poet, translator, and short-story writer, Gil Fagiani and Professor Lizette Colón read “The Litany of San Vito,” a poem written by Fagiani in dedication to Marcantonio:

Gil Fagiani and Lizette Colon

Gil Fagiani and Lizette Colon

San Vito of East Harlem, pray for us
San Vito bread of the poor, pray for us
San Vito crucified by Wall Street, pray for us
San Vito martyr of McCarthyism, pray for us

From the jail cell walls, San Vito deliver us
From the backyard crap game, San Vito deliver us
From the loan shark’s vig, San Vito deliver us
From the drunken stupor, San Vito deliver us

From TB and asthma, San Vito deliver us
From the social worker’s visit, San Vito deliver us
From immigration raids, San Vito deliver us
From the landlord’s greed, San Vito deliver us

Professor Gerald Meyer, who currently teaches World History at Hostos, also is well known for having written the most important book on the subject: Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954. 

“Leonard Covello, Marcantonio’s teacher and mentor, created a club called the Circolo de Italiano, that helped Italian students learn to help one another as well as their families in the community of East Harlem. Covello firmly believed the children of immigrants must learn their parents’ languages ”

The Lucky Corner in East Harlem New York City

American Labor Party rally at Lucky Corner during Marcantonio’s mayoral campaign, November, 1949.

Marcantonio went on to become a congressman who championed the rights of immigrant groups that included mostly Italians and Puerto Ricans. Dr. Meyer described, in depth, how Marcantonio publicly defended Pedro Albizu Campos and Clemente Soto Vélez, who had been imprisoned for treason by the United States government for their involvement in the Puerto Rican Independence movement.

LuLu LoLo Pascale, community activist and performance artist, dramatized letters to Marcantonio from his constituency. An East Harlem native who grew up on the same block, Ms. Pascale reminisced talking to Marcantonio in the street when she was a small child. With a heavy heart, she recalled, “It was so long ago… if only I could remember what he and my father used to talk about!”

Roberto Ragone

Roberto Ragone reenacts Marcantonio speaking at the Lucky Corner

“When I put on this fedora, I become Marcantonio,” said Bronx native, consultant, and actor Roberto Ragone, who dramatized a Mayoral campaign speech made in 1949, the night before election day at the “Lucky Corner” on East 116th Street and Lexington Ave.

“[I pledge] our City shall be free from fear – fear of discrimination and fear of want,” Ragone read with much fervor and enthusiasm, “I pledge to fight for the ‘little’ people of the City of New York.”

Dr Gerald Meyer

Dr Gerald Meyer

Professor Meyer, Gil Fagiani, Maria Lisella, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Roberto Ragone, Ria Barakos, Luis Romero, Terry Anderson, Adam Meyer, and a dozen others dedicated to the cause formed the “Vito Marcantonio Forum” in October 2011.

The community based organization brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds dedicated to disseminating and sharing knowledge of the life and work of Vito Marcantonio (1902 to 1954). For more information, please see the group’s website at www.VitoMarcantonioForum.org

Thank You for Attending our Walking Tour of East Harlem

September 19th, 2015

Over forty people gathered at the Lucky Corner on East 116th St & Lexington Ave for “Walking in the Footsteps of Vito Marcantonio,” a walking tour of East Harlem. Another cultural/educational event sponsored by the Vito Marcantonio Forum.

Vito Marcantonio Forum - Melissa Mark-Viverito with Gerald Meyer and Roberto Ragone

Professor Gerald Meyer with Melissa Mark-Viverito. Photo by Daniel A. Nelson of the Columbia School of Journalism.

 

VMF Co-Chairman, Dr. Gerald Meyer, spotted Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito in the crowd and promptly summoned her to the microphone where she said enthusiastically:

“This is a great way of remembering someone who is a great individual. Following in the footsteps of places that were important to Vito — someone who fought really hard on issues that we still care about today — in terms of living wage, in terms of immigrant rights… I feel really proud to represent a district that had been represented by Marcantonio.” 

Vito Marcantonio Forum - LuLu LoLo Pascale

Playwright/Actor and Performance Artist LuLu LoLo Pascale shares her early memories of Marcantonio.

The walking tour continued with a re-enactment of Marcantonio’s speech at the Lucky Corner by actor, activist, and Co-Chair of the VMF Roberto Ragone.

At a stop in front of educator Leonard Covello’s home at E116th Street, writer and performance artist LuLu LoLo Pascale, related her memories of having known Marcantonio and Covello as a child. She also read an excerpt from Covello’s breakthrough autobiogrphy, The Heart Is the Teacher.

A walking tour stop on E116th Street included a visit to Haarlem House, which was later renamed LaGuardia Memorial House. Pascale and Dr. Meyer discussed the historical significance of what was originally the Home Garden Settlement. What was interesting was a street vendor in front said he knew Marcantonio and that it was he who got his mother an apartment back in 1949.

VMF - Christopher Bell_walking tour of east harlem 2015

East Harlem native, Author and Historian, Christopher Bell.

Local author and historian, Christopher Bell, who has a chapter about Marcantonio in first book, Remembering East Harlem, discussed the importance of the next stop at 247 East 116th Street (between Second and Third Avenues): The Fiorello LaGuardia Political Association and later the Vito Marcantonio Political Association was often referred to as the “political club.”

Our Lady Queen of Angels School on 229 E112th St, New York and 229 E113th Street Our Lady Queen of Angels Church on 229 E112 Street are important for the fact that they will be at the site of a Papal visit next week.

Attorney Frank Marcantonio, who is a relative of Vito, read a letter to Cardinal Dolan about how Cardinal Spellman denied Vito Marcantonio a Catholic burial during the crazed Joseph McCarthy anti-communist era. The walking tour ended at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Church, the site of Marcantonio’s baptism.

The Vito Marcantonio Forum thanks all who helped in presenting at the various stops as well as those who helped with audio & video, making signs, writing copy, contacting press, promotion, and more: Rita Barakos, Christopher Bell, Lizette Colón, Gil Fagiani, Lionel Francois, David Giglio, Maria Lisella, Frank Marcantonio, Adam Meyer, Gerald Meyer, Daniel A. Nelson, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Roberto Ragone, Luis Romero, Rosemary Siciliano, and many all who supported the cause — we cannot thank you enough!

Melissa Mark-Viverito looks on as Gerald Meyer speaks about Marcantonio altered on online photo application

Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) with friends and members of the VMF look on as Gerald Meyer speaks at a key location about Congressman Vito Marcantonio.

Politics, Poetry, and Unsung Heroes

Politics, Poetry, and Unsung Heroes

SATURDAY, MAY 9
5:45-7:45 PM
$8 cover charge (includes complimentary drink)

Cornelia St. Café @ 29 Cornelia St. off Bleeker
A, B, C, D, E, F, M to West 4th St.; #1 to Christopher St.-Sheridan Square

painting of vito marcantonio | the goodfather by stephen sicilianoTwo founding members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum will present their work at a Literary Reading sponsored by the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA).Gil Fagiani, will read from his new work, Stone Walls published by Bordighera Press.

Stephen Siciliano, a screenwriter, will read, accompanied by a pianist, from his latest completed manuscript The Goodfather that tells the life story of the radical congressman Vito Marcantonio from the perspective of la famiglia Fortunato, who lived down the street from him in East Harlem.

This wonderfully stimulating event will take place this coming Saturday, at 5:45, in the Cornelia Street Cafe. We look forward to seeing you at this celebratory event. Here is some additional info about Fagiani and Siciliano:

Gil Fagiani has published seven collections of poetry. His latest book, Stone Walls, focuses on his relationship with his father growing up in Stamford, Connecticut. This fall Guernica Editions will publish Logos, which chronicles Fagiani’s experiences in a South Bronx drug program in the early 1970s. Fagiani was the subject of a New York Times article by David Gonzalez,“A Poet Mines Memories of Drug Addiction.”

An independent scholar, translator, essayist, short story writer, and poet, his translations have appeared in such anthologies as Poets of the Italian Diaspora, edited by Luigi Bonaffini and Joseph Perricone; and Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880-1943. He co-curates the Italian American Writers’ Association’s reading series, and is an associate editor of Feile-Festa: A Literary Arts Journal.

Los Angeles-based Stephen Siciliano is a journalist, scriptwriter and a script reader for the Creative Artists Agency and United Talent Agency. As a correspondent he works at Bloomberg BNA, Los Angeles Business Journal and as managing editor for Downtown Los Angeles News. He co-founded and edited the Spanish-language weekly, La Otra Orilla (The Other River Bank) in 

His adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel Change of Heart is set to be filmed later this year.  His latest novel-manuscript is The Goodfather, which tells the life story of the marvelous and radical congressman Vito Marcantonio from the perspective of la famiglia Fortunato who lived down the street from him in East Harlem. His reading will be accompanied by  New York-based pianist and composer Peter Dizozza.

VMF and IAWA events for April and May 2015

The Vito Marcantonio Forum and friends have a number of events coming up in late April and early May 2015. Make sure and read everything carefully!

Four Voices

Thieves in the Family by maria lisellaThe Italian American Writer’s Association (IAWA), along with VMF forum founding member Gil Fagiani and Vice President Maria Lisella, PRESENTS: 

Four Voices

Who: Gil Fagiani, Maria Lisella, Katrinka More, and Elizabeth Poreba will read from new books and new work.

When: April 29th, 2015 at 6PM

Where: Jefferson Market Library, 425 6th Ave, on the southwest corner of W10th St, in Greenwich Village in NYC: 212-243-4334 Free Event

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Here is a list of the rest of our upcoming events:

VMF Celebrates Labor History and Literary Events in May

Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library | Vito Marcantonio Forum event with Professor Gerald MeyerWHAT: The NYC Labor Council and New York Labor Historians Association are marking NY Labor History Month with a roster of special presentations including this one focused on the American Labor Party.

WHO: Gerald Meyer, leading authority on Vito Marcantonio will present a lecture on the famous Congressman who represented East Harlem by closely examining his role as the sole spokesperson for the American Labor Party.

DATE: Monday, May 4, 2015

TIME: 5-7 PM

LOCATION: New York Public Library Mulberry St. branch @10 Jersey St. bet. Lafayette and Mulberry Streets, one block south of E. Houston Street.

DIRECTIONS: B/D/F/M to Broadway/Lafayette; #6 to Bleecker St.; R/N/ to Prince Street. The library is handicapped accessible. http://www.nypl.org/locations/mulberry-street

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Politics, Poetry and Unsung Heroes

vito marcantonioWhat: Event features VMF co-founders at the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) Reading.

WHO: Stephen Siciliano will read from his latest novel-manuscript The Goodfather that tells the life story of the radical congressman Vito Marcantonio from the perspective of la famiglia Fortunato who lived down the street from him in East Harlem. Gil Fagiani, subject of a recent New York Times article and IAWA Board member will read from his new work, Stone Walls published by Bordighera Press.

DATE: Saturday, May 9, 2015

Gil Fagiani founding member of the Vito Marcantonio ForumTIME: 5:45-7:45 PM

LOCATION: Cornelia St. Café, 29 Cornelia St.; 212-989-9319.

DIRECTIONS: A, B, C, D, E, F, M to West 4th St.; #1 to Christopher St.-Sheridan Square

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LEFT FORUM

WHO: Vito Marcantonio Forum members Gerald Meyer, Roberto Ragone and Gil Fagiani will lead a panel discussion on Congressman Vito Marcantonio’s unheralded leadership focused on civil rights both in Congress and in his political work.

Vito Marcantonio Forum author, professor, and chairmanWHEN: May 29-May 31, consult online calendar for specific time, location

WHERE: John Jay College, 524 W 59th St, New York, NY 10019

CONTACT: leftforum@leftforum.org | 212-817-2003

The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon and Commemoration of Morgan Powell

The Vito Marcantonio Forum Memorializes Morgan Powell;
and then Commemorates Vito Marcantonio

By Roberto Ragone
VMF Co-chair and Business Consultant
Ragone Enterprises and Productions
www.ragoneProductions.com

Morgan Powell | Bronx River Sankofa Tour Guide

A Momentum Towards Remembrance

Over several months the Vito Marcantonio Forum had begun a collaboration with the Drama Workshop Project in its second phase of activity to remember legendary Congressman Vito Marcantonio on the 60th anniversary of his death. Following  up on the official commemoration at Woodlawn Cemetery, “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon:  A Theatrical Reconstruction of Marcantonio’s Effective Radical Legacy” was gathering  much momentum leading up to October 19th, 2014.  Gaetana’s Restaurant was planning a welcoming atmosphere to friends and newcomers to celebrate Marcantonio’s life and reflect on his passing.

The Irony of a New Reason to Mourn

Then news of tragedy emerged 10 days before the event. Morgan Powell, founding member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, had suddenly and inexplicably passed away. No one knew the details. Morgan, like Marcantonio, advocated for social justice, had a passion for history and its application – Morgan as a historian and community leader and Marcantonio as a political leader. Morgan applied these interests toward developing walking tours of the Bronx in connection of African Americans and the Bronx River.  I met Morgan when the city was revamping its recycling policies in 2003, but I observed his interest in all aspects of environmental conservation and sustainability.

Close friend Nilka Martell and Morgan Powell

Close friend Nilka Martell and Morgan Powell

However, over the ten days leading up to “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” event, we realized Morgan ironically and sadly shared another element with Marcantonio:  he had not yet received a proper burial.  No family member had claimed his body to make a formal funeral arrangement. So his remains still remain with the City of New York. This sense of limbo was not elusive to those of us who are aware that Marcantonio’s passing — while motivating a memorial committee to form and raise money for a resting place and a book compiling his speeches — lacks closure because Cardinal Spellman refused to give him a Catholic burial.

Improvised Memorial

“The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” began with an improvised memorial for Morgan. After showing a 2.5 minute video put together by David Giglio offering a glimpse into Morgan’s life, Dr. Gerald Meyer began with a heartfelt eulogy reflecting on Morgan’s interest in social justice and how much of the work of Vito Marcantonio resonated with him. Meyer reflected on how in Marcantonio’s time, people stopped what they were doing to acknowledge the passing away of anyone, regardless of status, as the departed passed by in a funeral procession. Adults stopped working. Children stopped playing.  In death, the VMF must have that same departure from its planned activities and have stillness and silence for the passing of a person, who was not just a friend, but a comrade.  Gerald observed asked the audience to appreciate the distinction: “comradeship is more than a friendship; friendships come and go based on emotion, but comradeship is forever, comradeship is based on having similar values, working together for common good.”

saudy tejada

Saudy Tejada

After reflections from Saudy Tejada, who was a friend to Morgan in the Bronx and a partner in social justice causes, and from Gigi Assante, who wrote a poem dedicated to Morgan, I offered my own thoughts to conclude the memorial. I recalled meeting Morgan while working in government and participating with him at an electronics recycling event that led to a conversation about Vito Marcantonio. After sending Morgan a copy of Dr. Meyer’s article about Marcantonio’s funeral (“Italian Harlem’s Biggest Funeral”), which included examples of Marcantonio’s advocacy for African Americans and the role of W.E.B. Dubois as an honorary pall bearer, Morgan shortly contacted me thereafter, expressing how impressed and inspired he was and expressed gratitude for my sharing the article with him. Morgan observed: “How come I’ve never heard of this guy?”  I’ve heard this reaction before but permanently remembered it when Morgan poignantly uttered those words.  I told the October 19th audience that Morgan’s statement may be a universal reaction they and others may have as they learn about Marcantonio.

Brian Kavanagh (D) Assemblyman, ManhattanI recalled introducing Morgan to several of my friends including Brian Kavanagh, whose inauguration Morgan would volunteer for in 2007, after Brian became an Assemblyman. I recollected the ”Seinfeldesque circumstances” leading up to Morgan’s participation in the Vito Marcantonio Forum.  After telling Gerald I had a pre-scheduled commitment but had invited Morgan to the founding meeting of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, Gerald expressed concerned: so many interested parties, who had done prior work on Marcantonio, would be cramming into his home, with a shortage of space and food to ensue. Gerald suggested I defer Morgan’s participation to a future meeting, and still designate him a founding member. However, I could not reach Morgan in time; so, Morgan attended the meeting, and apparently made his presence felt: he hit the ground running and became a founding member through his official attendance.

Morgan would take an interest in Marcantonio’s role in Marcantonio’s activism on desegration, civil rights and economic justice.  I recall a Bronx River Sankofa PowerPoint presentation I attended in 2012 when Morgan brought up segregated book banks in Bronx hospitals, and then completely by coincidence at a VMF meeting a week later, Gerald Meyer mentioning Marcantonio’s role in desegregating the blood banks nationwide.

Vito Marcantonio Forum members Roberto Ragone and Morgan Powell on BronxNet News

Vito Marcantonio Forum members Roberto Ragone and Morgan Powell on BronxNet News (click the image to see the video).

This sad irony deepens when we consider the two final acts Morgan undertook for the organization:  1) He obtained a last minute article in the “Bronx Chronicle,” and an 11th hour interview for both of us on “Bronxnet TV” to promote the August 9th event officially commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Vito Marcantonio’s death (watch the video on BronxNet.org).  Morgan wanted to ensure Marcantonio was properly remembered on that milestone date.  2) He composed an article about the event and then describing all the significant New York City locations in Marcantonio’s life. This action, similar to promoting the ceremony at Woodlawn cemetery, helped give everyone a sense of history and placement for Marcantonio.  I told the audience one of the last things I said to Morgan was his article is an essential component to the VMF’s efforts to produce a documentary on Marcantonio’s life.  Revealing his signature cheerfulness and smile, Morgan was proud of the spillover benefit.

After Gerald led a one minute moment of silence, Roberto announced a brief intermission and then the official program began.

Recap of the Official August 9th Commemoration at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx

Approximately 50 to 60 attended the October 19 event, which was filmed by David Giglio and whose visuals were overseen by Adam Milat-Meyer, who worked Kevin O’Connor on acoustics.

Vito Marcantonio Forum founders Gerald Meyer, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Adam Milat-Meyer, and Roberto Ragone with City Council Speaker of the House Melissa Mark-Viverito at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx 2014

Gerald Meyer, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Adam Milat-Meyer, and Roberto Ragone

The “Vito Marcantonio Phenomeon” began with introductions, identifying both sponsoring organizations, and noted the event would present “The People’s Proclamation for The People’s Politician.”  I pointed out that the VMF document would become the template for proclamations issued by Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez, both of whom attended the event, along with State Senator Jose M. Serrano, Council Member Andrew Cohen, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Congressman Charles D. Rangel, and Congressman Eliot L. Engel — whose written declaration acknowledging Marcantonio’s accomplishment would become part of the Congressional Record.  (Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh also attended the event.) The announcement that Speaker Mark-Viverito was committed to working with the VMF on a street-naming in East Harlem for Marcantonio generated loud applause.

The Marcantonio Phenomenon: The Set-up

Litany of San Vito by Gil Fagiani memorialcard for Marcantonio

Memorial cards given out at Woodlawn Cemetery 8/9/14

The first presentation was a very brief poem written by VMF member, Gil Fagiani, entitled Litany of San Vito, and read by Vito Marcantonio Forum Treasurer, Adam Milat-Meyer. It has become a tradition for the VMF to begin its events with this poem. It serves as a clearing statement or prayer. Everyone followed along with a copy of the poem in a postcard at their seats (distributed along with their programs). These postcards looked like mass cards for Marcantonio. Co-emcee, Marilyn Ocasio, of the Drama Workshop Project, introduced a brief film by David Giglio entitled: Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954): Synopsis of a Large Life. With a narration written by Gerald and myself with my recitation as voice-over, the film briefly appetizes the attendees with bits and pieces of Marcantonio’s life  and contributions, the role of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, and the success of advancing knowledge of Vito Marcantonio through our August 9 event.

 

The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician and Performances: Theatrical Reconstructions and Juxtapositions

Proceeding with the remainder of the program, I light heartedly explained an “artistic difference” between myself and Gerald Meyer over whether the volunteers reading the segments of the proclamation should read their part straight through together one after the other or should the readers be interspersed throughout the program. Assuming the audience would appreciate and engage in the “campfire” reading of the proclamation even more if broken up, I matched up sections of the proclamation thematically with a performance piece. I jokingly told the audience I wagered Gerald Meyer $10,000 they would like the juxtapositions, and asked the audience to ride the rollercoaster, experience the beta test, and at least pretend to like the show since I wouldn’t have the money to pay off the bet.”

vmf presentation of the heart is the teacher by leonard covello

Click on the image above to get a copy signed by Dr Gerald Meyer

With Marilyn Ocasio guiding the remainder of the program, Frank Marcantonio announced the beginning of The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician and read the first few whereas clauses about Marcantonio’s Italian background and his childhood,  touching on Dr. Leonard Covello’s role as his high school teacher, intellectual mentor, mentor, and collaborator. Eduardo Sanchez then performed a dramatization of Leonard Covello reading from his autobiography, The Heart is the Teacher, reflecting on his encounters when he taught Marcantonio at Dewitt Clinton High School.  In the scene, set in 1921, young Marcantonio and Board of Alderman President Fiorello LaGuardia interject themselves on cue as Covello’s reflections also serve as narration.

After a reading from the proclamation by Alfonzo Hollis about Marcantonio’s political work for Fiorello LaGuardia and his constituency services for over 300 people per week from different ethnic backgrounds and races, Sarah Marcantonio Coursey continued with a set of whereas clauses about Marcantonio’s advocacy for Italian Americans.  Marilyn Ocasio then introduced a dramatization with me as Marcantonio delivering a speech to a radio audience in July 1942 defending Italian Americans against discrimination during World War II when they were under suspicion because the United States was at war with the nation of Italy. Marilyn pointed out the speech was submitted to the Congressional Record and was one of several speeches in the program that are included the book, I Vote My Conscience: The Writings, Speeches, and Debates of Vito Marcantonio.

Vito Marcantonio Forum member and Bronx author and historian, Christopher Bell

Author and Historian, Christopher Bell

After VMF member Christopher Bell read several Whereas clauses highlighting Marcantonio’s fight against the poll tax and for anti-lynching laws, his successful defense of W.E.B. Dubois and William Paterson, the appearance of the three together before the United Nations Security Council on behalf of African Americans, and the Congessman’s role in breaking the major league baseball color barrier, an astonished audience resoundingly applauded these accomplishments. Grasping the format of the event, the audience would also warmly acknowledge each reader, especially when a celebrity, such as Frank Sinatra or Jackie Robinson, became part of the drama in the story. After Bell’s reading, I dramatized a splicing of Marcantonio’s speeches from 1949 to the House of Representatives opposing the poll tax.

LaGuardia with FDR

LaGuardia with FDR

Ocasio then introduced Rita Barakos, whose singular yet comprehensive ‘Whereas’ clause spoke to Marcantonio’s advocacy for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. I then dramatized a Marcantonio speech from 1947 about Puerto Rico’s plight as a result of  US economic policy and the cause of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland, indirectly addressing the misconception that the East Harlem Representative “brought the Puerto Ricans to New York” – propaganda used to mobilize voters against him.

After a set of ‘Whereas’ clauses read by Eduardo Sanchez regarding Marcantonio’s political party designations, his movement into the American Labor Party, and the effort to get rid of him through the Wilson Pakula Act, four members of the Drama Workshop Project performed a scene written by Roberto Ragone combining historical facts and creative license about the circumstances of the time. It was a scene between LaGuardia, played by Art Bernal, and Marcantonio arguing over the prospect of creating a viable third party and weighing the propaganda of criticism against Marcantonio by the press and the political establishment. In that scene, Eduardo Sanchez plays a WCBS radio broadcaster. Marilyn Ocasio served as the narrator.

Vito Marcantonio_Photo of Actrors, Roberto Ragone, Marilyn Ocasio, Eduardo Sanchez, Art Bernal

Roberto Ragone, Marilyn Ocasio, Eduardo Sanchez,  and Art Bernal

Following the scene, Art Bernal explained the drama behind the campaign of 1948 (written by me to be non-partisan):  “With all of America watching, Marcantonio would win in 1948 despite the Wilson Pakula Act. However, LaGuardia’s death in September 1947 would deprive the Progressive Party of a formidable Vice Presidential candidate in the 1948 election cycle.”  As Adam Milat-Meyer placed the famous photo on the screen of President Harry Truman from 1948, Bernal pointed out that “we now see an endearing image of Democrat Harry Truman winning the 1948 presidential race, despite the predictions by the newspapers that night that he would lose to Republican Thomas Dewey,” noting the Chicago Daily Tribune’s  premature headline — Dewey Defeats Truman — which “Truman holds, beaming with glee.” Bernal’s presentation underscores the failure of people to know or recognize the Presidential race was close partly due to the Progressive Party’s siphoning of votes from the Democratic Party, and that the Democratic Party adopted portions of the Progressive Party’s agenda, including civil rights, to avoid defeat.

vito marcantonio forum - president-harry-truman-displaying-chicago-daily-tribune-headline-dewey-defeats-truman

The presentation asked the public to imagine if LaGuardia had lived and campaigned as the Vice Presidential candidate with Vito Marcantonio, Henry Wallace, and actor/activist, Paul Robeson for the Progressive Party: “The Progressive Party could have pulled away enough votes, for Republican Dewey to actually beat Truman, making the Progressive Party a force to be reckoned with as a third party.”  Referring back to the dramatization of the anti-poll tax speech, Bernal pointed out that when the Democrats abandoned their civil rights agenda in 1949, Marcantonio took aim at Northern hypocrisy, and criticized a New York City run by Mayor Bill O’Dwyer that was fraught with discrimination, segregation, and police brutality – an admission Marcantonio readily makes to his Southern Congressional colleagues in the dramatized speech before the House of Representatives.

Picking up on the last thread, Marilyn Ocasio refers to a campaign poster from David Giglio’s film along with the photo of Ralph Fasanella’s painting in the written program (displayed on the screen by Adam Milat-Meyer) to help the audience visualize Marcantonio’s 1949 run for Mayor against Bill O’Dwyer. In the painting, entitled Marcantonio for Mayor, Marcantonio gives a speech in 1949 at a distant podium at the Lucky Corner of East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue.  Marilyn noted, “Marcantonio would lose the Mayor’s race despite his many votes, and this would set up his last stand in 1950.”

Terry Doyle recited a series of Whereas clauses describing Marcantonio’s opposition to popular legislation, including the anti-labor Taft-Hartly Act,  and  politically charged foreign policy positions, casting the sole votes against the Marshall Plan and intervention in the Korean conflict. This segued to the final Marcantonio dramatization. My presentation spliced two speeches by Marcantonio from July 1950 in which he opposes the Korean War, and his final speech in 1950 when he warns America against militarism and unjustified foreign intervention.

Final Reflections

Vito Marcantonio Forum | Marc and Paul Robeson

Henry Wallace, Marc, and Paul Robeson

Alfonzo Hollis’ reading of a series of Whereas clauses pondered the impact of Marcantonio’s death set up the performance of Paul Robeson’s eulogy to Marcantonio.  Robeson’s remarks had been published in his newspaper — called Freedom — when Marcantonio died, but were never orated in any gathering.  The performance on October 19th  was a dramatization of how Paul Robeson would have delivered that speech had he addressed an audience on the day Marcantonio died. The speech so captured Robeson’s deep felt sentiments through a slow, impassioned voice with brief moments of pause for reflection, the presentation received a standing ovation.

Marilyn Ocasio then called Frank Marcantonio back up to the podium to conclude The People’s Proclamation, providing a symmetry for his setting the proclamation in motion at the beginning of the program.  He pointed out Cardinal Spellman’s refusal to provide a Catholic burial, Marcantonio’s interment at historic  Woodlawn cemetery near his wife and Fiorello LaGuardia, and  with emotion building up and contained, Frank shared the words on Marcantonio’s tombstone: “Vito Marcantonio: Defender of Human Rights.”  After pointing to the growing interest in Marcantonio’s  life since the late 1990’s,  he  declares the final resolution statements towards which the Whereas clauses had been building:

Therefore, be it known, that The Vito Marcantonio Forum is convinced that the life and work of Vito Marcantonio have been unfairly ignored and present to people today guidelines for a progressive politics that promises significant gains for a more genuinely democratic United
States; and

Therefore, be it further known, that the those assembled and future signators of any paper or online petition of “The People’s Proclamation for The People’s Politician,” with pride,
honor the contributions of Representative Vito Marcantonio and their benefit to New York City, the nation, and the world along with the efforts of the Vito Marcantonio Forum to honor the Congressman’s memory on the 60th Anniversary of his death on August 9, 2014, and beyond.

The audience was surprise, pleasantly caught off guard as they realized they were being offered an opportunity to participate in the program – in the theatrical reconstruction of “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” and his “Effective Radical Legacy” — that one can arguably further subtitle “The Passion of Vito Marcantonio.” Carrying out a suggestion to me by Gerald, Frank Marantonio made a motion to approve “ The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician.” After Frank said, “All in favor, say, aye,” there was a collectively spontaneous and immediate proclaimed “Aye” from the audience with laughter as Frank asked, “all opposed?”

Frank Marcantonio

Attorney Frank Marcantonio

My experiment juxtaposing the proclamation and the performances seemed to succeed. (I never mentioned the fake $10,000 bet again, in case it was a bad joke.)

As mentioned, I had expected the readers to recite their Whereas clauses, contributing to the narrative and back story, and then simply return to their seats with no audience response. This is because other than Frank Marcantonio’s conclusion to the proclamation, the rest of the document left the story of the Marcantonio phenomenon an open-ended cliffhanger. Instead, the audience applauded  each reader for providing another revealing and remarkable insight about Marcantonio.

Conclusion

Dr Gerald Meyer

Dr Gerald Meyer

After Gerald Meyer announced that the next event of the VMF would take place during Black History Month to explore VMF member Christopher Bell’s three books about East Harlem (click here to purchase on amazon.com), I thanked everyone for appreciating the presentation and its format along with their participation in mourning the loss of Morgan Powell. I then acknowledged all participants in both the memorial and the performances who shared their time, energy, and emotion so the audience can come away enlightened and inspired about and by both Morgan and Marcantonio, and hopefully motivated to tackle contemporary issues that remain relevant from Marcantonio’s time.

Special thanks for that day  go to:

Infrastructure

Frank Saponara, the Restaurant Owner, for being so open to the subject matter and for hosting a second VMF event at his restaurant with complimentary appetizers and discounted wine.

Kevin O’Connor, Live Audio Engineer, who made himself available at the last minute to provide the technical support.

Members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum who participated in carrying out the event:

Rita Barakos

Charles Bayer

Christopher Bell

Terry Doyle

David Giglio

Rosemary Siciliano

Adam Milat-Meyer

Dr. Gerald Meyer


Members of the Drama Workshop Project

Art Bernal

Alfonzo Hollis

Bernard Johnson

Marilyn Ocasio

Eduardo Sanchez


Family Members

Sarah Marcantonio Coursey

Frank Marcantonio