The Other Day: Spike Lee for pope? Absolutely

Column by Cathy Zimmerman / The Daily News | Posted: Monday, March 4, 2013 8:00 pm

A week or so ago, Longview businessman Ken Guse suggested in a letter to the editor that President Obama should have taken advantage of Presidents’ Day to appoint Spike Lee as pope.

I wanted to take this opportunity to give Guse a shout-out for that nub of cleverness, and to direct his attention — and that of all readers — to a brilliant new book.

First, the eureka moment of Pope Spike I:

Not only would Spike Lee appeal to a growing number of Catholics who do not cotton to the idea of white European superiority, he would grab growing numbers of young who reject rigid, patriarchal religion.

Lee might be just the one to wear the miter being cast off by the exhausted Benedict XVI.

The filmmaker is intelligent, having earned a master’s in Fine Arts at New York University. He comes from solid stock with a dash of poetry: His mother taught fine arts and literature; dad was a jazz musician and composer.

He’s young but not too young, full of energy, and versatile: A writer, actor, director and producer, Lee has 35 films to his credit, proving himself an effective communicator and superb storyteller.

From my take on his movies (especially “Do the Right Thing” and “Bamboozled”), he tells the truth. Just imagine.

Finally, Lee would bring life experience to the job of leading fervent Roman Catholics in a challenging time.

He knows the human condition from the ground up — work and art, love and justice, and sex as a profound part of being human, not some sinful detour on the road to progeny and the afterlife.

Unfortunately, he’s a husband and father. And as of yet he has not revealed an interest in the job opening in Rome.

But that’s OK.

Guse’s little letter also gives me an opening to beg anyone who cares about American history — somehow, I think the coffee merchant is a patriot — to read a book called “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

An epic work of narrative nonfiction by university professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, “The Warmth of Other Suns” is the story of “America’s Greatest Migration,” 55 years during which 6 million black Americans fled the Jim Crow laws of the South to work and live in the industrial cities of the North and West.

“It was vast. It was leaderless,” Wilkerson writes. “The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. ... It would become perhaps the biggest unreported story of the twentieth century.”

Until now.

Wilkerson interviewed 1,200 people for the saga, and has included every name and date in a meticulous, 48-page bibliography of notes and references.

Please don’t get the idea that this book is not readable.

Wilkerson mined those interviews and references for data that is rich with thrills and horror. To anchor history, she chose three individuals who were part of the migration. Their voices bust out the bigger story.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney of Mississippi went to Chicago. George Swanson Starling of Florida went to New York. And Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a surgeon from Louisiana, migrated to Los Angeles.

The way the author does this, how she makes history become like a hologram in the room, made me stop reading at times just to manage the feelings the book visited on me. It is not a book of easy answers and tidy endings. Real life doesn’t lean that way.

At the end, Wilkerson herself steps in. “There is no help or healing in appraising past responsibilities or in present apportioning of praise or blame,” she says. “The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present. And an understanding of the facts of the problem — a magnanimous understanding by both races — is the first step toward its solution.”

I had been wrestling with how to nag everyone I know to read this book. And then came Ken Guse.

Of course, “The Warmth of Other Suns” is 543 pages before the notes. Even Entertainment Weekly calls it “compulsively readable,” but it will depend, as with so many things, on one’s reading level.