Google+

Otis Gives Notice!

 

Ginger Adams Otis
The “Firefight” Interview

with Kam Williams

Otis Gives Notice!

Ginger Adams Otis is a staff writer with the New York Daily News and a longtime reporter in New York City. For more than 10 years, she followed the landmark civil rights discrimination lawsuit brought by a group of black firefighters against the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). “Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest” dips into the behind-the-scenes struggles inside the city firehouses and inside City Hall as the lawsuit unfolded. It also flashed back to tell the stirring tale of survival of the city’s first black firefighters a century ago.

Ginger Adams Otis The “Firefight” Interview with Kam Williams

Kam Williams: Hey Ginger, thanks for the interview.

Ginger Adams Otis: It’s my pleasure! Thank you for reaching out.

KW: Did you notice that your book made my annual list of the Top TenBlack Books of the year?

GAO: I did not! But I am thrilled to hear it. Thank you. It’s always a particular honor to be singled out by someone who is a serious reader.

KW: What interested you in writing about the integration of the FDNY?

GAO: It was a story that I covered closely for more than 10 years and I was always very … intrigued, I suppose you could say, by the wide variety of reactions the lawsuit engendered and the tremendous amount of misinformation that surfaced around it. It’s a battle to get the cold hard facts out there, regardless of how you feel about the suit on its merits. I looked at all the wrong information, misleading information about the suit and the claims made by the black firefighters, and I thought that it was really important to set the record straight, in some way at least.

KW: Would you describe this project as a labor of love?

Ginger Adams Otis The “Firefight” Interview with Kam WilliamsGAO: I am not sure it was a labor of love, exactly…. More like a labor of compulsion! It was really hard to pull together all the elements of the story, very challenging to try to bring the people to life and put their arguments and claims in a real-world context. But I couldn’t let it go once I got started – it was like an obsession to get it all out. However, I’d say I definitely fell in love with Wesley Williams’ history. The chapters about the earliest pioneering black firefighters were a joy to research and write.

KW: What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching the book?

GAO: Wow, that’s a good question. I would say that even though I was a reporter covering this topic for years, and though I knew most of the major elements of this story, I was very surprised to learn how many times the city could have solved this problem long before it came to a lawsuit, and yet did not. It’s something I wish I stressed even more in “Firefight,” because the black firefighters still, to this day, take a lot of heat for bringing the lawsuit. In reality, the city could have and should have solved this problem decades ago, but they let opportunity after opportunity go by – and then when it wound up in court, they blamed everyone else. But the chances were there, right in front of them, for a long, long time.

KW: I noticed that you dedicated the book to Captain John Ruffins. Why was that?

GAO: Captain John Ruffins was a New York City firefighter and a Vulcan member, the association of black firefighters who brought the lawsuit against the FDNY. He joined in the 1940s and he was a dedicated and ardent supporter of civil rights, human rights and improving economic opportunities for all the city’s underprivileged communities. He was also an amateur historian and his writing and early research was invaluable for “Firefight.” The most wonderful discovery I made during my journey was a tape recording of an interview he made with Wesley Williams in the 1980s. It’s fascinating to hear Williams describe his own career and I used a lot of it with Captain Ruffins’ blessing in “Firefight.” Sadly, Capt. Ruffins died just before my book went to print and I wanted to dedicate it to him.

KW: How long do you think it would have taken someone else to break the department’s color barrier, if Wesley Williams hadn’t come along in 1919? Did he need to have a special combination of character, skills and force of will, in the same way that Jackie Robinson had when he integrated Major League Baseball?

GAO: Wesley Williams wasn’t actually the first black firefighter in the city – but he was the one that got the most attention and caused the biggest ruckus.  Blacks were fighting fires in the city in colonial times, of course. Every able-bodied person – man or woman – had to chip in then, and if you didn’t there were stiff punishments. But as the communal service became more of an actual job – with prestige and community standing, and then later money and benefits – it became for men only. By the late 1800s, when there were about 60,000 blacks in the city, a black man from Virginia joined the FDNY in Brooklyn – at that time Brooklyn was its own department. William Nicholson joined in 1898 and was sent to work in the FDNY’s veterinary unit. Not long after, John Woodson joined in 1912, again in Brooklyn, the product of political maneuvering within Tammany Hall. Neither of their appointments got a lot of attention. But when Williams joined in 1919, two things were different: Brooklyn and Manhattan had become one department and African-Americans were starting their long march toward the Civil Rights movement. Unlike Nicholson and Woodson, Williams’ appointment was a big deal – it was reported in all the papers, especially the black papers. It made huge waves and it was a harbinger of change – and it created tremendous fear, resentment and backlash among the immigrant workforce in the FDNY that was worried about the emerging black workforce.

KW: Why has the FDNY been so much slower to integrate than the city’s other municipal unions?

GAO: It’s a combination of problems. The first being that the FDNY is slow to hire, only once every four or more years. The second problem is that it’s tremendously competitive: upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 people apply for roughly 2,000 to 3,000 positions. And the biggest factor is that within the FDNY, it’s a family job, so for centuries those already on the job encouraged their relatives to apply. Blacks, who were never included in its early years, had a serious stumbling block to overcome just to get a few dozen members on the department.

KW: What is your impression of the Vulcan Society’s decades-long efforts to increase the number of African-Americans in the FDNY?

GAO: Well, it’s tremendously unpopular in many quarters, but it was a legitimate and organized effort to force the city and the FDNY into compliance with local, state and federal civil rights law. The Vulcans were smart, well-organized and ran a stellar grassroots campaign and a lot of people resent them for it, but to my mind, it’s really unfair to blame them for holding the city to task. And they outsmarted a lot of people who drastically underestimated them.

KW: Do you think most people would be surprised to learn how Mayor Bloomberg ignored court orders to increase the number of minorities in the FDNY?

GAO: Oh yes, most people will be very surprised at the actions of all the Mayors involved, not just Bloomberg, although he certainly could have done much more to avoid a lawsuit. But it goes all the way back to the Koch era.

KW: How has Mayor Bill De Blasio compared in that regard?

GAO: Mayor de Blasio settled the last remaining leg of the lawsuit within three months of taking office. So, in March 2014, he ended the litigation that had been ongoing since 2007, when Bloomberg forced it to the courts. But change is glacial in the FDNY and it’s not easy to change hearts and minds. There’s a lot more work to be done but it’s coming in small incremental steps.

KW: What message do you want people will take away from the book?

GAO: Knowledge is power. To truly make change, you have to know what your goal is, and have a strategy to get there. Also, institutional racism is hard to see, hard to confront and even harder to explain to the white majority that has benefited from it for so many years. Many don’t see it, don’t want to see it and prefer to hide behind accusations of “special treatment” for people of color.

KW: AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?

GAO: “An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians.” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1479871303/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?

GAO: Nina Simone’s “I Got Life.”
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004RF4GP4?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&tag=thslfofire-20

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

GAO: Apple pie

KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?

GAO: Yes, we were very connected to Nature and taught to find God in all things in the natural world.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

GAO: Falling off my tricycle and cracking open my forehead. Good times. [Chuckles]

KW: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?

GAO: My grandmother.

KW: Sherry Gillam would like to know what is the most important life lesson you’ve learned so far?

GAO: Don’t try to fight other people’s battles, no matter how much you love them.

KW: What was your very first job?

GAO: Worked at a horse stable cleaning stalls and horses.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

GAO: I don’t really look too long – a quick glimpse and I’m gone! Same thing I’ve always seen: someone with disappointing hair.

KW: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

GAO: Told my parents I was at college during my sophomore year but in reality I took off to Spain with my friend for a quick trip, It was only during the first few weeks of classes.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

GAO: For all my family to have continued good health.

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

GAO: Making a difference.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

GAO: Good cheese and fine wine

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

GAO: Not really, I tend to know a lot of reporters and if there’s a question to be asked, they do it!

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?

GAO: They follow their own definition of success.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

GAO: Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it for any reason other than you can’t live with yourself if you don’t.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

GAO: That’s a strange one, but if I’m going to be remembered at all by anyone, I guess I’d want it to be for my kindness and generosity.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?

GAO: A lot of receipts for things I can’t remember buying!

KW: Thanks again for the time, Ginger, and best of luck with the book.

GAO: My thanks to you, Kam. I appreciate your time and interest and I’m grateful for all the support I’ve gotten from you and so many others who care about good books and worthy issues.

To order a copy of Firefight, visit:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1137280018/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

              

Entertainment

Top Ten DVD List for June 28, 2016

  This Week’s DVD Releases by Kam Williams Top Ten DVD List for June 28, 2016   Fastball https://www.amazon.com/Fastball-Blu-ray-Kevin-Costner/dp/B01D9AAJYO?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&tag=thslfofire-20 Eye in the Sky https://www.amazon.com/Eye-Sky-Blu-ray-DVD-Digital/dp/B01CUMHBJS?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&tag=thslfofire-20 Cemetery of Splendor                                                                                                       … [Read More its Good for You...]

Books

Blood Brothers

  Blood Brothers The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith Basic Books Hardcover, $28.99 392 pages, Illustrated ISBN: 978-0-465-07970-4 Book Review by Kam Williams “[This book] is the story of how Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and the central role Malcolm X played in his life. It is a tale of friendship and brotherhood, love and deep affection. It is also a story of deceit, betrayal, and violence--inside and … [Read More its Good for You...]

Art

ART EXHIBITION: 150 Years After The Civil War

  Cynthia Groya 150 Years After The Civil War: A Contemporary Perspective January 10 - March 6, 2016 Artist's Reception: Sunday, January 24, 3:00 - 5:00 pm Nassau Club 6 Mercer Street  Princeton, NJ 08540 The ideas reflected in Groya's paintings express a conversation about struggle for equal rights in our culture, in our time. The origin of this struggle can be traced to The Civil War in our country, which ended 150 years ago. The … [Read More its Good for You...]

Real Estate

New Home Sales Jump in April

  New Home Sales Jump in April By Burt Carey Sales of new homes hit their highest rate since 2008 in April, according to the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau. April sales increased 16.6 percent over March figures, which correlates to a seasonally adjusted rate of 619,000 home sales projected for the year. The median price of those new homes was $321,000, the highest median price ever recorded. That’s up 9.7 percent from sales one year ago. The … [Read More its Good for You...]

Lifestyle

A Holler from Mahershala!

  Mahershala Ali The “Free State of Jones” Interview with Kam Williams A Holler from Mahershala! Born in Oakland and raised in neighboring Hayward, California, Mahershala Ali received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications at St. Mary's College. He made his professional debut performing with the California Shakespeare Festival in Orinda, California. Soon thereafter, he earned his Master's degree in Acting from New York University's prestigious graduate … [Read More it Good for You...]

Outdoors

Yamaha Propeller Selector, Endless Propeller Solutions

  Yamaha Propeller Selector, Endless Propeller Solutions   The Yamaha Propeller selection page on Yamaha’s webpage is a great tool for every boat owner as a tool not only to make sure the correct prop is on their boat but also gives the ability and freedom to change the prop with ease, depending on the application. Everyone knows the equipment used for bass fishing is not the same for chasing tuna offshore, and the same logic applies to selecting a prop. At … [Read More its Good for You...]

Sports

Tiger Woods Opts Out of U.S. Open, Quicken Loans

  Tiger Woods Opts Out of U.S. Open, Quicken Loans By Burt Carey Tiger Woods isn’t ready to stage a comeback just yet. The 14-time major champion sent messages via Twitter and his website Tuesday that he would not be competing at either the U.S. Open at Oakmont next week or the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans tournament the following week. "While I continue to work hard on getting healthy, I am not physically ready to play in this year's U.S. Open and the Quicken … [Read More its Good for You...]

Business

Feds Eyeing a Crackdown on Predatory Payday Lenders

  Feds Eyeing a Crackdown on Predatory Payday Lenders By Burt Carey The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is proposing new regulations designed to place limits on excessively high-interest loans issued by short-term lenders. The CFPB proposal would require so-called payday lenders to prove borrowers have an ability to repay a loan by the time it comes due – usually by the borrower’s next pay period – without having to renew the loan or take out a new … [Read More its Good for You...]

Travel

From Food to Fireworks: The “Best” in July 4th Celebrations

  From Food to Fireworks: The “Best” in July 4th Celebrations by Amy Lignor   We’re all familiar with the celebration of “independence” held in Washington D.C. every year. The red, white and blue blasting into the sky over the cradle of our democracy reminds one and all what it means to be an American…what it means to be free. But there are other elegant galas and celebrations held across the land on July 4th that represent the “best” in a great many categories. … [Read More its Good for You...]

Google+