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“Righting A Wrong” (Writing A Wrong)

I spent my childhood stretching skyward
Chasing falling leaves
Lookin’-up-ta-my father standing
As tall as the trees

Forever there to show me the way
Like a beacon bright
He was the one who taught me
Wrong from right

Out of the deep dark shone his steady light
As pure and bright as the snow is white

My Daddy, to me, stood tall, so tall
From day to night
He couldn’t be other than
My shining light!
‘Cause he was the one who taught me
Wrong from right

Not just the Anderson Clan,
Everyone would see
The ‘whole’ Community knew
He was there for me

If character is what is done
When no one’s around
What do I do when the whole world
Sees what I found?

Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right

Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right

As times change, sometimes people don’t
To the grave they go…
Missing what others won’t

Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right

Writing a wrong in ‘58
Living a life of undone hate
Prejudice riding ‘til the Pearly Gates
Righting a wrong
Which should not wait

Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right

Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right

I spent my childhood stretching skyward
Chasing falling leaves
Lookin’-up-ta my father standing
As tall as the trees

But now I know that Man is linked
From shore to shore
For Man is colored with character
Forever more.

Steve Manis

Arranged lyrics:
Micha Lobry / Mathieu Serradell

Mathieu Serradell / Micha Lobry

© April 2013

Property of…
Righting A Wrong Productions

“Righting A Wrong” Hidden Meanings

Some Background:

The background for “Righting A Wrong” has been building over the past half century. On April 22, 1958, the exact day that Lee Anderson was appointed Editor of the Chattanooga News-Free Press by his father-in-law, his very first editorial, titled “No Place for a UT Professor,” chastised my father, Francis Manis, a professor at the University of Tennessee’s School of Social Work, for his involvement in “integration propaganda” at Highlander Folk School. Thirty five years-to-the-day-later, on April 22, 1993, a letter-to-the-editor of mine was published…in which I referenced the original editorial, noted the passage of time and offered the editorial staff an opportunity to reappraise its 1950s’ position. Instead, showing much more intransigence than former Alabama governor Wallace, the editor noted no change of stance at all.

On April 22, 2008, the fiftieth anniversary of the original editorial, I traveled to Chattanooga with poster-sized blow-ups of the editorial and my letter-to-the-editor…and mounted a protest vigil outside the Chattanooga Times-Free Press (The Chattanooga Times and Free-Press had merged a few years earlier). During that trip I shot extensive footage for a documentary about my father’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Later, my focus turned to writing song lyrics and I decided that one song should be devoted to addressing the wrong of segregation…and, my father’s experience allowed me to personalize it.

I was both inspired and challenged by Oscar Hammerstein II’s brilliant treatment of racism in his South Pacific song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”(…to hate): 

In 1958, Editor Lee Anderson pranced atop an uneven playing field. There were limited options for my father to contest the slanderous misrepresentation of his character by Anderson—an internet would have helped! If my father did not already have in-hand an assignment as a Fulbright Lecturer to Burma, his meeting with “higher-ups” within the University of Tennessee administration—caused by the editorial—might have cost him his job. Fran Manis was one to step out onto dangerous limbs, risking physical well-being as much as job security, while others more carefully worked for integration within the system. That is not to suggest, however, that my father, aligned as he was with the Negroes of the time, went through anything like the depths of despair that Negroes…Blacks…and African Americans (too) often experienced over the years.

The Makings of a Song: “Righting A Wrong” (Writing A Wrong)

If I were not working with my composing partner, Mathieu Serradell, this song of ours likely would have been only half as good as it has turned out to be…and I am not talking about the contribution of his musical composition. I had planned to begin the song with the lines:

“Daddy dun taught me
Wrong from Right
But the wrong he taught me wasn’t right.”

Mathieu countered that the song might be starting out too forcefully. He brought up the example of the “Willkommen” song in “Cabaret”…the one in which Joel Grey sings, “Willkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome…” and reminded me that this “faux” jovial atmosphere hid the fact that the cabaret was set in Nazi Germany!

 “I am your host,” declares Grey’s character. “Leave your troubles outside. Life is disappointing? Forget it! In here, life is beautiful.”

So, over the phone from Paris, Mathieu asked of me in California, if I could “soften” the beginning of the song in some way? I took up the challenge and did.

In 1952, at the age of five, I moved to Tennessee with my family and stayed in Alcoa, just outside Knoxville, until our move to Burma in 1958…when I naively asked, “What’s going to happen to integration when we go?” Impressionable as I was, I became a Tennessee Volunteer football fan (Johnny Majors—1956) and still am. Excuse my digression, but there may be a need here to set the scene of a child’s life in Tennessee. And one of the things that we kids did before school, during Tennessee autumns, was try to catch the falling colored leaves before they hit the ground. Forget dodge ball! Chasing leaves was in. So, I started the song as if I were singing about a child like myself in Tennessee:

“I spent my childhood stretching skyward
Chasing falling leaves”…

Mind you, I wasn’t writing about me nor my father. Instead I was writing about a little girl and her father:

“Lookin’ up ta my father standing
As tall as the trees.”

Beyond setting the opening stage, my intent is not to ‘peck at’ nor pick apart my lyrics line by line. For the most part, the broad meaning of the lyrics can best be understood by reading the original 1958 editorial, my 1993 letter-to-the-editor and Larry Ingle’s letter-to-the-editor in April, 2012. Suffice it to say that “beacon” has a double meaning, since UT’s student newspaper is called “The Daily Beacon”…and the word ‘whole’ is surrounded by quotation marks as a way of referencing only the ‘white,’ Caucasian portion of the community in the then-racially segregated south.

As the lyrics conclude, there, of course, is a reference to Martin Luther King’s declaration that “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

Finally, in the spirit of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who scribbled the name of his daughter Nina into his drawings and Alfred Hitchcock, who was famous for cameo appearances within his films, it shouldn’t be too hard to find my (and my father’s) name somewhat disguised within my lyrics.

My hope is that “Righting A Wrong” helps people recognize that they can change their lives: that they can overcome hateful conditioning.

Stories have been told about relatives of murder victims forgiving the murderers. I have much less to forgive than those people regarding my evolving feelings toward Lee Anderson. In reality, long ago, his editorial about my father had transformed into a family badge of honor. Now, unbeknownst to Anderson, this song is viewed by me as a gift which grew out of tension existing between me and Anderson…tension which, within me—at least—has largely dissipated. Kernels of concern still rest within me and that is good since my documentary remains to be finished. Most important, much more than any feud between myself and Lee Anderson, is whether people continue to be called to action by places like Highlander, whose history beckons to be better known.

Were you aware, for instance, that months before she preserved her seat and became the catalyst for theMontgomery bus boycott , Rosa Parks participated in a civil disobedience workshop at Highlander? Or, did you know that Zilphia Horton, the wife of Highlander founder Myles Horton, played a key role in transforming a picket line protest song into the central anthem of the Civil Rights Movement: “We Shall Overcome”? “Martin Luther King, Jr. first heard it performed by Pete Seeger at Highlander’s 25th Anniversary celebration. Years later, while sharing portions of my documentary research project with Pete Seeger, I was able to obtain written permission from him to use, in my film, his YouTube address to Highlander on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary.

To learn more about Highlander’s history and connect with what it is doing now, please click on the following link or google Highlander for more information about it… but first check out Utah Philips talking about Myles Horton:

You be the judge:

Click on the link to the newspaper’s announcement of Lee Anderson’s retirement:

…then read the following Letter To The Editor:

April 17, 2012 Letter To The Editor upon the retirement of Lee Anderson in 2012

Equality issue Mars Anderson

In the spoonful of ink spilled to celebrate the life and retirement of Lee Anderson, not a single word mentioned his major failing—the fact that he was consistently on the wrong side of the issue of justice and equality for African Americans, an issue that occasionally tore apart his own community and was the most defining moral issue of his lifetime.

And this failure occurred despite the fact that he proclaimed the base of his conservatism came from loving history and being “brought up in Sunday school and church.” Even a glance at history would tell him that inequality was a denial of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
And what about the central Christian commandment that one should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? One wonders how that was applied in his Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church.

Larry Ingle

(Note: This letter-to-the-editor shows up as the section’s sixth and final letter.)

50th Anniversary Opinion: 1958 Editorial Revisited by Steve Manis, published April 22, 2008 In the University Tennessee’s Daily Beacon


Callie Hopper
[An Out of the Hopper Production]

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