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The Shift OK: Thick Descriptions Newsletter

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Song for a Boxer and Round 17:  The Power of Art in Society

By Deah Caldwell

On 29 June 1967, crashing and thunderous iron bars slammed shut.  This was the ending to a bud box of sorts.  On the other side of the steel door sat Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (1937-2014)—a wrongly-convicted middleweight-boxing champion.


Carter began his two-decade nightmare in 1966 when arrested for a triple homicide that occurred at Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.  Despite trial witnesses testifying that Carter and his friend John Artis (dates unknown) were at Nite Spot at the time of the shootings, the cops, media, and allwhitejury found them guilty, and the weapons were never found.  Carter and Artis’ story captures Jim Crow treatment and the cruelty of institutional racism toward African Americans within the US during the 1960s.

I remember the first time I heard Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.  I was in the throes of earning a Master of History (2010) with a social and feminist emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO).  My Bachelor of History (2007, UCO), living in Britain, and years of Western European travels shined an unjustifiable and immoral spotlight on the pervasive, inequitable social constructs in the United States (US).  Hurricane affirmed my belief in the deconstruction of still-existing social inequities that hold minority groups hostage and the role art plays in that process.  For me, that car ride of sobs, anger, and listening to that song on repeat underscored an important value: the power of art in society.

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