Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Some Guy Called "Mahatma" Gets His Own "District," But Lightnin' Hopkins Only Rates a Historical Plaque? (Which Is Better Than Nothin')

Like all good Americans, we were pleased to learn that Sam Hopkins is finally getting some belated semi-official recognition in the form of a Texas Historical Commission plaque on a corner of Dowling Street in Third Ward, a thoroughfare named in honor of the Confederate-Irish barkeep who headed off the Yankees at the Pass in the service of the effort to keep Lightnin' Hopkins' forebears enslaved. (Pardon our "presentism," but, man, history is just so damn ironic!)

This is a good thing, of course--the plaque, not slavery--and temporary culmination of efforts that at least to our knowledge began with a long-ago suggestion by the late City Councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley (to whom it was most assuredly suggested by someone else) to rename a street or part of a street after Hopkins. Unsuccessful as it was, this always struck us as a sweet gesture, since Tinsley didn't seem like the kind of gal who'd have listed her self as a friend on Lightnin's Facebook page, if he'd lived long enough to have one. Along the way we, among others, tried to do our small part, weather and our limited attention span permitting. Just think how much hipper it'd be if you yoga ladies (and ge'men) were performing your Sun Salutations in Lightnin' Hopkins Park, rather than the faceless and flavorless Discovery Green (an excellent name for a park in Dubuque, Iowa). So congrats to Eric Davis, the local who spearheaded the effort to make the plaque a reality, or near-reality.

But the plaque is not enough. Just recently, a small swath of the home turf on and around Hillcroft Avenue was designated as the Mahatma Gandhi District, after attempts to rename a nominal stretch of Hillcroft after the most renown member of the Vaishya caste were passed over, shall we say, by property owners of other ethnic origins on the street. (This sepia-toned jester has better suggestions.) As we observed when first apprised of the Hillcroft renaming effort, Gandhi, if we remember the movie correctly, never set foot in Texas, or Houston, or on Hillcroft. (Of course, the street probably wasn't platted until after his death, but that's beside the point). Our understanding is that this designation--made visible by placement of small signs, in the shape of a Hindu temple and bearing Gandhi's likeness, atop the regular street signs--was the result of a private fund-raising effort. (If we're wrong, please correct us.) Our question is: Can anyone apply to so designate a district? And if so, where is the Lightnin' Hopkins District? A memorial sign on Dowling is good and appropriate, but it sort of ghetto-izes the man, who, as we pointed out back on Aug. 23, 2006--yes, we must stoop again to quoting our self, 'cause supper's gettin' cold--"embodied the country-come-to-town spirit" of our big hick burg better than almost anyone we can think of, except for its namesake, the illustrious Illiad-spouting farmboy and drunkard.

Sure, Gandhi made his bones with the non-violent resistance thing and was a huge influence on MLK, but let's be honest: Did he ever play and sing a song that spoke so directly to the human condition as Mini-Skirt? ("You better let your dress down a little more, baby.")

We'd envision this zone as a place where an aging flaneur such as our self could stretch out on a park bench in the sun and enjoy a strong drink (make ours coffee with lots of soy milk) and a roll or two of the dice (we'll just watch, thanks.) All the women, even the old ladies, would be required to wear mini-skirts or clingy athletic wear. There would be no bocce.

So the plaque is but a first step. Now let's get to work on the Lightnin' Hopkins District.

By that we mean: You get to work; we'll just keep scratchin' that thing.

Also: Nick Tosches smokes, FDR-style, and discusses the devil's music with the Guardian UK.


The Fishing Musician said...

Good for Lightnin' and I hope some other namin' comes his way.

I didn't discover the blues until after Hopkins had passed away, when in the early 1980's a skinny white guitar player named Little Screamin' Kenny taught me how to play blues drums for his new band, and gave me some albums to record onto cassette and do some listening to. To learn what the blues was.

Over the years, I got to play with some folks who played with Lightnin'. The late Rocky Hill knew him better than most, but former legislator and bassist Ron Wilson has some interesting perspectives from gigging with him.

I did, however, get to do a few gigs and a lot of sit-in's with his brother, Milton. Milton, always gracious and always swinging. Back in those days, I lived at the Reddy Room and other joints around the near-northside just to sit in with Milton and hear his band play.

Those were good days.

As were the days of my youth, growing up in Sharpstown near HBU and of course, traversing Hillcroft on a regular basis. I last lived in that area in the early 1981-82, living in some very nice Farb apartments at Fondren near Braeswood. It was still fairly nice back then, although somewhat janky in that lots of illegals had sort of taken over parts of that area and the cheaper parts of the still underdeveloped and ungentrified Bellaire proper.

There was no strong asian presence of any note on the HBU side of the freeway, china/vietnamese town was still a few years away.

I clearly remember visiting our pediatrician practice in the medical offices on Hillcroft between 59 and Bellaire as a kid.
The Little League fields were nearby, as was the Baskin Robbins. I even remember the Piggly Wiggly located behind the Baskin store.

We've got so many worthy Houston characters of note to name stuff after. I support not forgetting the racy and tawdry history of our town, and naming something in honor of Sam Hoover or Jimmy Steambarge.

What about the Ray Miller District? The Dave Ward (and his many wives) District? The Ed Brandon District?

I could go on and on, but hardly anyone but El Slampo would understand.

bob said...

Sister got the rub-board
Mama got the tub
They goin around doin the rub-de-rub
ain't it crazy?
You know it is
You know it's crazy
To keep on rubbin at the same old thing

Sister takes a sip
And her mama takes a drink
They let the clothes boil over in the sink
You know it's crazy
Yes it is
You know it's crazy
To keep on rubbin at the same old thing

And that's all I got to say about that.

Slampo said...

The Ed Brandon District would be the district to end all districts.

There is indeed nothing more to say.

Robert Boyd said...

The thing that happens here in Houston is kind of two-fold. One, we don't remember our past too well--because for many (if not most) of us, it really isn't "our" past. So many Houstonians moved here or their parents moved here (that's my situation) so our roots in Houston aren't that deep. So monuments to the past (whatever form they take--roadside markers, statues, parks, districts, whatevah) maybe aren't such a high priority. And even when they are, they might not be about Houston's past. Hence the Gandhi district, or the Christopher Columbus statue in Bell Park.

(I am an atypical Houstonian--even though my people's roots are in Louisiana and Mississippi, I am fascinated by the history of this town.)

The second problem is that the folks who get behind monuments and historic markers and statues usually are very upstanding types who want to honor war heroes, statesmen, great leaders, etc. Honoring dirty ole bluesmen or other disreputable folks from history is not way up on their list--or even on their radar.

Now the blues is old enough that it has become respectable. Polite well-bred folks are allowed to appreciate it. Hence the (long-overdue) historical marker. I suspect it will be a long, long time (if ever) before anyone considers putting up a marker for, say, Bushwick Bill.

Slampo said...


"Honoring dirty ole bluesmen or other disreputable folks from history is not way up on their list--or even on their radar."

Exactly. Got a posting coming up on that very point (so you'll want to stay tuned, heh heh). But the folks who do control the history-memorializing/ fetishing racket must willfully ignore many of the particulars in the background of Houston's namesake (or elsewhere nearby, that of Jim Bowie, who was just a straight-up badass). Even in the cleaned-up Marquis James version of Houston's life, the subject stands out as not exactly an exemplar of Christian rectitude. But he won, so all debts are erased.

And whatever happened to Bushwick Bill? About 5-6 years ago I saw him in the 15,000th block of Westheimer in his Bushwick Bill outfit, running to catch a Metro bus. He made it!

JC said...

Actually, Mayor Kathy Whitmire declared a portion of Dowling “Lightnin’ Hopkins Blvd” at the time of his demise. The usual mapsearches come up empty, but it did happen.
I probably stole the street signs one drunk night.

Slampo said...


DId I get Eleanor Tinsley confused with Kathy Whitmire?

Well, they were both white women.

And if you can find those signs, I'd put 'em on EBay



The elementary school at which I matriculated during grades 1 through 6?

Named after James Bowie.