2004-10-02 11:27:51 UTC
First off, I've been mostly lurking around here for the last 4 years
or so. Don't post often unless I actually have something on-topic to
My Father William Mackey Jr. passed away this morning at the VA
Hospital in Lake City, Fl.
He was, most notably a history professor, beginning at City College of
New York in the early 70's then moving to Empire State College's Harry
Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies until last year.
He had been suffering from colitis/crohn's disease and a resultant
perforated bowel and collapsed intestine. Went in the hospital 3
weeks ago and it soon became clear that his system wasn't able to
process food any more and, as he was too weak for surgery, that he
wouldn't have too long.
My Dad lived more than a full life and has left a great legacy in the
students that he's taught and mentored in the past 34 years of
teaching history (and more importantly, critical thinking), as
evidenced by the hundreds of letters from former students that I
sorted through when I was packing up his Brooklyn apartment for his
move back to Georgia.
If you had met him last spring you would have pegged him as being in
his early 60's rather than 83. He walked to work at Empire State
College 3 times a week from brooklyn to manhattan, , 12 miles round
trip and was in great shape.
My Dad had the most varied of careers and life experiences: Born in
Jacksonville, Florida in 1920 he was raised in the backwoods of
Georgia just outside of the town of Woodbine by his Maternal
Grandmother Harriett Weston.
He worked at many varied professions in his first 50 years.
In his early years in addition to being a student and day laborer he
was a singer a gospel group. He was drafted into the army and fought
in WWII in the Europe where he subsequently studied French and became
an interpreter for the army in postwar France. Upon his return from
WWII he studied engineering in NY on the GI Bill becoming a structural
engineer (he helping design many school buildings and office buildings
in NY State).
In the early 1960's he opened a coffeehouse called Les Deux Megots (a
takeoff on the famous Parisian café, Les deu Magots) in the East
Village of New York City with partner Mickey Ruskin (who later went on
to open Max's Kansas City, http://www.maxskansascity.com/), where many
poets, famous and not so famous came to recite, and local and national
luminaries spoke on issues of the day. LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsberg,
Paul Krassner, Robert Anton Wilson and William F. Buckley were a few
of the folks who spoke or performed there.
After I was born in 1963, he sold the coffehouse in order to have a
more reasonable home life instead of working 7 days a week until all
hours. While he continued to work as an engineer, he studied and
taught himself photography and became a professional
photographer/photojournalist, having his photographs of inner city
life published in numerous local and national publications including
Time & Life.
In 1969 after a 20 years away he returned to visit the Georgia
backwoods where he was raised. He saw a way of life that was rapidly
changing and decided to document the life of the rural Blacks in the
community. He took thousands of photographs and did hundreds of
interviews and wrote a manuscript accompaniment to his photo essay
that detailed the lives and history of the Black community in
southeastern Georgia in the 20th century. His resultant photo essay
had numerous showings in the US and abroad. Portions of his written
essay was included in 'Black Southern Voices: An Anthology of Fiction,
Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction, and Critical Essays edited by my Dad's
friend, Author John Oliver Killens (http://tinyurl.com/6wqsx).
(I recently self-published my Dad's Georgia manuscript via Cafepress:
In the early 70's he became guest lecturer at City College of New
York, mainly in their African American History department. He soon
became a full-time professor in the department. In the late 70's he
moved over to Empire State College's Harry Van Arsdale Center for
Labor Studies, where he taught until becoming ill in June of 2004.
In addition to his classes at the college, he held free community
history/current event classes in the community room of his apartment
building in Brooklyn.
He was a very outspoken teacher who emphasized the neccessity of
critical thinking skills to his students. Based on many of the
letters from his former students, many of whom kept in contact with
him over the years, he opened many of their eyes to the importance and
value of education in an increasingly competitive and complex world.
He was one of the most well-read people I have ever met. He could
read a thick, dry, 700+ page historical tome in an evening and quote
from verbatim the next morning. The 6 room apartment which he lived
in from 1965-early 2004 was FILLED with his 10,000 album record
collection (the old-fashioned vinyl kind) and an almost equal
collection of books, each of which he had read.
Two things I'm glad for. First, that I got to spend a lot of time
with my Dad over this last year helping him move and recuperate after
his first stint in the hospital. Next, that while he was better he
made it clear that he was ready when the time came. He said that in
his life he'd gone a long way from his upbringing in the Georgia
backwoods and was glad to be home and if his time was short now, it
wasn't like he'd missed out on doing anything he'd planned on doing.
So it isn't like he's left anything undone.
I just hate to see him go.
"EVERYbody Eats When They Come To MY House!"