Saturday, January 26, 2013

One Cruel Sport Right in the Middle of Town

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- The Isla Verde area is a resort strip close to downtown San Juan known for its tony beach-front hotels, nice restaurants, and fancy condos. So imagine my surprise when I left my hotel one steamy morning (while at the Place, Race and Ethnicity Conference, with two hours of free time) and about five minutes later stumbled upon Club Gallistico De Puerto Rico. The club is an imposing  cockfighting arena. The geographical juxtaposition of fine hotels and an arena for one of the oldest and often times illegal blood sports in the world seemed wrong to me. The sport is unduly cruel to the roosters (gamecock), whose feet are adorned with sharp plastic "spurs" for each match. It is also illegal in the United States.

But cockfighting is legal in Puerto Rico. It is also a popular sport as well as a tourist attraction. In fact, you could say that San Juan is to cockfighting what Vegas is to boxing, or what Barcelona is to bullfighting or, perhaps, what illegal dog fighting is to the U.S. rural South.  So while the presence of a cockfighting arena certainly horrified me, it was business as usual for all the locals going about their busy day. Who was I to judge: U.S. society enacts a great deal of cruelty upon many types of animals.

Regulated by the Puerto Rican government, the country has about 86 official arenas (clubs), like Club Gallistico. Cockfighting was given official status in 1933 as a 'gentleman's sport'. According to a recent Associated Press article, Puerto Rico legislators passed a much-lauded resolution in 2010 to protect cockfighting as an integral part of the country's folklore. Until the recent economic crisis, cockfighting was a significant revenue source. However, over the last few years, many matches have gone underground to avoid all the officially-legislated fees.

Club Gallistico was closed when I happened upon it that morning, and the few employees on the premises didn't seem to mind me walking around the arena and taking photographs. I even found where the roosters live. They certainly didn't seem very aggressive. In fact, I thought they were pretty docile and rather scrawny. Compared to what they have to endure in a match -- many of them getting either killed or badly injured --  their accommodations looked clean and comfortable with plenty of food and water.

As I walk out of the parking lot I noticed a sign that, translated into English, read: "Parking Fridays and Saturdays 24 hours, ticket required". I interpreted this to mean that cockfighting is a weekend event that goes on around the clock. The bloody images that came to mind were so disturbing I crossed the street and went to the nearby nail salon.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Atlanta's Warped Civil Right Legacy: The Sad Story of Paschal's Restaurant

Posted by Debby and Hubert Yoder, ATLANTA GA -- The historic Paschal’s Restaurant and Motor Hotel, where much of the civil rights movement was launched, stands in ruins. Across the street shines a brand new Wal-Mart. Parts of the neighborhood are undergoing renovation with new condos and strip malls, while Paschal's sits abandoned and decaying. The irony is so blatant that the Washington Post did an article about the condition of this civil rights legacy last summer.

Paschal’s Restaurant was opened by two brothers in 1947. They grew up in the post-slavery period of sharecropping in Thomson, GA, picking cotton from dawn to dusk yet barely scraping by. Their aspirations for a better life led them to Atlanta where they opened a small chicken shack near Clark College (Now Clark Atlanta University). The popularity of the shack enabled them to move into a full-service restaurant across the street and later the siblings added a hotel and lounge. Their business was thriving. The lounge attracted top-notch jazz musicians and students from the local Historically Black colleges visited the restaurant daily and introduced the place to visiting family and friends. In these segregated times, Blacks had few options for upscale dining and entertainment and Paschal’s delighted in providing the best of both.

When the modern day civil rights movement began to take shape, Paschal’s was at the forefront. The student groups met for meals and strategizing and a young Martin Luther King Jr. approached the brothers about a regular spot for his team to convene. They embraced the opportunity and set aside a meeting room where the team planned the 1963 March on Washington and the subsequent marches on Selma, Alabama. The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was celebrated at Paschal’s and the Poor People’s Campaign was organized there in the months before King’s murder. The movement continued without King and Paschal’s remained the place for crafting the future. Andrew Young, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Rev. Joseph Lowery, and Maynard Jackson all met regularly to plan demonstrations, political campaigns and celebrate each step forward. As Blacks gained political power, Paschal’s became known as “Little City Hall.”

The restaurant itself  has relocated to the gentrifying Castleberry Hill neighborhood, while the original building became the Paschal Center and part of Clark Atlanta University (CAU). CAU operated the restaurant as a dining hall and the hotel as a dorm but shut down both due to the costs associated with maintaining the aging buildings. So now the building sit boarded up and left to rot.  The symbolism has taken its toll on the surrounding neighborhood. Entire streets of homes, businesses and churches are boarded and unoccupied; many have been damaged by fire. Homeless and unemployed people wander the streets and squat in the abandoned buildings. There are reports of rampant drug and alcohol abuse. In the midst of this, students attend the nearby John F. Kennedy elementary school, which, by comparison, has been reasonably well maintained, perhaps because of its link to a white man. The message is subtle, but clear.

Contrast this with the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee where the site of King’s murder has become the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum opened in 1991 and has welcomed more than three million visitors since. It provides a tribute to the past as well as educational opportunities for the future. Started by a small group of preservation-conscious individuals, it has become part of the National Parks system and continues to expand. Like the King Center in Atlanta, also part of the National Park system, it provides a living, breathing link to a not-so-distant and very important past.

If the city of Atlanta can consider sinking money into a new football stadium to draw tourists to the area, shouldn’t it also invest in restoring Paschal's and its surrounding neighborhood, which may have even greater tourist potential? Tax revenues are collected from the hotel and motel industry to fund development, historic preservation and create additional destination appeal. Paschal's is ready for such an investment. Coretta Scott King was once quoted as saying, “Paschal’s is as important a historical site for the American Civil Rights Movement as Boston’s Faneuil Hall is to the American Revolution.” We need to act before we lose our history to strip malls and Wal-Marts.

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at Hubert Yoder is Debby's father and retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be contacted at

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Through The Upside Down Looking Glass: Considering Sunny Isles Beach in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Photographs Courtesy of the City of Sunny Isles Beach Historic Archives

Posted by Demetra Pappas, SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FLORIDA -- Last fall the editors of Social Shutter invited me to write a piece on Sunny Isles Beach, a 2.5 mile strip which calls itself “Florida’s Riviera.”  My plan was simple – to compare 1950s motel-style architecture on Collins Avenue (the main drag), visually juxtaposed with magnificent structures, such as the Trump International and the 51-story Aqualina Resort and Spa on the Beach, both of which have gone up during the past 15 years of assertive architectural resort development.  While I found myself looking at the soothing beach view from my high floor hotel room, I was mesmerized by the small motels interspersed presenting literal authentic charm to the scenic walk along the uninterrupted beach.
A week or two after my Florida trip, I found myself in a very different terrain in Roanoke Valley’s Franklin County and Bedford County in Virginia, where all was ablaze with the fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A colleague on that trip, who hails from Toronto, asked when Hurricane Season would end, to which I correctly replied the next week.  Little did I know during that week in October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Sandy had her own Twitter hash tag before she made landfall and swept away shores in New Jersey, then windswept her way into New York seafront communities, flooded the New York subway, blew out the power in Lower Manhattan as well as some 90% of Long Island’s, and then attacked Connecticut. Images of sand washed towns on the Jersey Shore and Long Island were ever present on television in a perpetual news cycle. Also cycling through were fire ravaged towns, where wind moved blazes from house to house, like a forest fire gone urban.  Buildings were lifted from their foundations and relocated to highways, while boats found dry dock acres and acres inland. Friends from Florida were sending notes of moral support, a flip-flop from the usual order of events.

The northeast is still reeling from Sandy but recovery is happening. Meanwhile Sunny Isles Beach enjoys calm seas and skies. That made looking at Ellen J. Uguccioni’s new book, The Architecture of Sunny Isles Beach (published by the City of Sunny Isles Beach) a source of escapism for me. In early October I was enjoying this Beach. Little did I know that barely a few weeks later, I would be in Brooklyn looking at Sunny Isle images to seek calm seas, tranquil skies and tidy sands, and asking for images of the 1950s motels for historical context, for comfort of a history that predated my birth.

Motel Row in 1950s Sunny Isles was populated with these small hotels but by the 1970s many fell victim to bad economic times.  During the 1980s and thereafter, some of the motels were turned into condomiumns. The City of Sunny Isles Beach then took the bold decision to engage in a geographically-based economic development effort targeting the recession distressed communities. Starting in the 1990s, high rise properties went up, perhaps to accompany high rise prosperity of the period, with views heavily focused upon the beach itself. The Trump International Beach Resort was completed in 2003; the Aqualina followed soon in 2006, with numerous other large structures accompanying them.  But some of the original Motel Row has survived and still delights tourists like me.

People use the phrase “upside down” to refer to everything from cake (positive construction) to home and student loans (negative construction). For me it refers to the geography of last year’s hurricane season.

Demetra M. Pappas is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2011-12 Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year. Dr. Pappas holds a JD from Fordham University of Law, as well as an MSc. and Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. In September 2012 Greenwood Press published her first book entitled The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Georgia Aquarium: Sanctuary for Sea Creatures or Playground for the Rich?

Posted by Debby and Hubert Yoder, ALTANTA, GA -- For a city that conference-goers in particular love to hate, the Georgia Aquarium offers a unique sanctuary of sorts. Opened in 2005, the aquarium is the world's largest. From the moment you walk through its doors you are transported to a magical place. The facility is truly awe-inspiring. There are creatures who live beneath the sea in places most of us will never visit with colors so vibrant and unusual they seem to have escaped from Avatar.

Recently, however, the aquarium has become embroiled in controversy for its attempt to purchase 18 Beluga whales that were captured in the wild off the coast of Russia. This practice was banned 40 years ago in a Save the Whales campaign as populations dwindled from over-fishing. Aquarium officials have sought special permission to make this purchase due to the need to expand the genetic line for whales in captivity. Attempts at breeding and sustaining the Beluga population have not progressed as hoped and critics say it's because Beluga whales are especially sensitive and unhappy in captivity.

The aquarium's Beluga whale habitat has recently undergone renovation to allow more access to the whales during private diving adventures. This may be in anticipation of an increased population or a move to align them with the performing dolphins. Whatever the intent, it seems the aquarium has shifted its focus. When Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus announced his plans to build this facility, he expressed a desire to include conservation efforts as a primary part of the aquarium. Now it faces criticism for the number of late night, private events it hosts, as well as the attempts to capture animals in the wild.

Undoubtedly, the aquarium is an amazing place. And seeing all the magnificent creatures is incredible. Clearly they are all well taken care of. But does knowing that they could have lived their lives in the wild and that they are increasingly subjected to private events for Atlanta's wealthy tarnish the experience?

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at Hubert Yoder is Debby's father and retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be contacted at