For me, the real highlights of our Camden trip were of course the graveyard and house visits. What I can’t shake about the house on what used to be Mickle Street is the juxtaposition of signifiers: home of Walt Whitman, inspired, experimental communicator, Civil War nurse, poet-philosopher of democracy and national optimist + the broadened, relatively gutted street on which his house now sits + the renaming of that street for Martin Luther King, Jr., probably our most effective and iconic national leader on race ever who, like Whitman, dreamed of a better future for a nation he believed in + the hulking county jail directly across from Whitman’s house + the fact we learned that women stand on the median in the middle of MLK boulevard and communicate with their loved ones inside the jail with an invented sign language + the Whitman House guide Dick’s comment that at first an observer might think those women “just got religion or something” + the national statistics about the incarceration of African American men. We heard that the jail might be torn down and the prisoners moved elsewhere because the building is crumbling around them. We heard that there are finally concrete plans to make a visitor center and park beside the Whitman House in what is now a vacant lot if money really comes through this time. We heard that after 9-11, a woman in Europe sent her letter of condolence for the United States to Whitman House. We saw a sign pinned to a tree by the Whitman House facing the jail that said, “Love you. Miss you.”
The threads, at a minimum: freedom and limitation/slavery/imprisonment, inspiration, poverty, inventive language and necessary communications, race, hope and despair, the American Dream, future of the nation, the city, war/violence. . .
This will have me thinking for a long time.
Whitman House in center