Part of the tension of the musical Parade (starting a week from tomorrow!!) is that the trial of Leo Frank, a white upper-class man, spurred interest and action from the North in a way that the trials of countless innocent black people never had. As they say in the lyrics of “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’…
“They’re comin’, they’re comin’ now, yessirree!
‘Cause a white man gonna get hung, you see.
There’s a black man swingin’ in ev’ry tree
But they don’t never pay attention!”
Let’s switch topics for a moment. Sort of.
For yesterday’s matinee of Imagining Madoff, we were lucky enough to have 17 guests from the wonderful Miriam’s Kitchen Writers Group. Some of the staff members had a picnic with the MK folk on the steps of the J, and we chatted a bit about Bernie Madoff and his notorious Ponzi scheme.
They had some amazing insights, but there was one that made a particular impression on me. A black man with short hair and a knowing expression on his face turned to me and said, “You know…I’m not going to say too much, but what that Madoff did to those people–people have been doing to me all my life…He stole everything they had; left them with nothing. All my life, people have done that to me.”
Maybe one of the reasons that people have felt so deeply about Bernie Madoff’s crime is because he touched a demographic that has been relatively protected from theft and economic desperation. Maybe the victims of Bernie Madoff are modern-day versions of Leo Frank: victims, absolutely, but victims who shed light on a problem of greed and deception that has been victimizing other groups for years.