level of integrity and is considered to be one of the major moral influences of our nation at this time.'” Quote, unquote. Her friends all assured the Bureau interviewers that Professor Jordan “has never associated with any questionable persons or organizations,” which is quite a broad denial, but was the kind of tribute Jordan attracted throughout her career. One friend even tried to convince the agents that Jordan was not a drinkerwhile anyone who knew her also knew she liked whisky as much as the next person, if not more. The bloodhounds stayed on the trail. “For information of the Bureau,” began an August 1989 teletype from the San Antonio FBI office to the director, “Ms. Barbara Jordan, professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, was hospitalized with a urinary tract infection. It is estimated that she will be hospitalized for at least a one-week period. Her office is unsure when she will be available for fingerprinting and processing of the SF86 questionnaire….” In the meantime agents kept busy. Jordan’s financial standing was the next box to be checked. “Her credit history consists of two active credit accounts both of which report excellent payment histories. No derogatory data was noted.” She had, in fact, $48,000 in one bank account alone. While researching her birth records the agents, who apparently did not miss much, discovered that she had been misspelling her middle name all her life: She was christened Barbara Charlene with an “e,” not Charline with an “i.” The all-important fingerprinting was eventually completed, but a problem was reported back to FBI headquarters: “The Bureau should note that Professor Jordan is partially paralyzed and, as a result, her fingers are somewhat inflexible making readable prints difficult to obtain. Those forwarded are the best available.” The professor’s multiple sclerosis had first been diagnosed when she was still in Congress, and it turned out that the fingerprints the FBI took were illegible. But the criminal records search nonetheless came back cleanWas that really a surprise? and a November 1989 teletype from Texas to Washington officially ended the background check: “Employment verified and favorable. Neighborhood investigation conducted. References highly recommended. Law enforcement check negative. Credit history satisfactory.” No shit. Despite the health of her urinary tractand the inflexibility of her fingers this was Barbara Jordan. During the Water gate hearings her speech in favor of impeachment had not only been one of the biggest nails in Richard Nixon’s coffin, but the speech was itself a work of great oratory and logic. At a time of almost complete disillusionment with government, Barbara Jordan’s name became synonymous with public integrity. More importantly, she had helped to redirect the course of 20th century black activism. Barbara Jordan did not march or confront. Instead she learned the rules of the white American establishment and played by them. “We have had a cooperative relationship with Congresswoman Jordan in the past,” one oblique reference notes early in her FBI file. The nature of that “cooperation” is not made clearand in a way it really doesn’t matter. In the end Barbara Jordan got her “Top Secret” security clearanceand more. This woman was never any threat to the American way of life. She was no rabblerouser, no bomb-thrower. In the “best tradition” of the society she was a product of, she paid her bills and kept money in the bank. Her credit was good. Contributing writer Lucius Lomax covers Austin on foot for the Observer. His relationship with the FBI is cordial. “Westerns,” from page 5 Swift is a mystic intellectual who can heal the unhealable, a scientist par excellence, a boxing champion who breaks the famous Ranger’s jaw \(though it is nobly time plotting how to find a Bigfoot creature that apparently hasn’t heard civilization is coming. Hannah is brave and intelligent. Cullasaja is brave and intelligent. Texas in 1839 does not appear have had much room for complexity or originality of character. Shrake throws in some romantic confusionWill Romulus and Hannah break Old Paint’s heart? Do the old hero and Cul.; lasaja dare cross the border that separates them?and there is the glimmer here of something really affecting. But Shrake, whose talent for dialogue in Strange Peaches was a preternatural phenomenon, manages to make everyone in this book sound like cardboard. , They have two pitches: cliched frontier-speak \(“Doctor Swift, don’t make me whip you like a century-and-am-educated-speak \(“Rommy, I have strong feelings for that The Borderland is a great disappointment, especially compared to some of Shrake’s earlier work. It has none of his old wit, or timing, or rhythm, or enormous absurd comic sense. It’s almost as if the writing of an epic historical novel became such a serious task that Shrake forgot to write about living people. Franklin, Dorothy, Big Earl, Erwin Englethorpe and the rest of the cast from Strange Peaches are all variously cracked versions of humanity, but they’re profoundly alive. The weight of history, and of legend and myth, seems to have killed off the people of The Borderland before, any outlaws or Indians or American soldiers even had a chance. The legend Shrake and McMurtry once busied themselves burying, has drawn them back to dust off the bones, and neither of them has done his best work with the old myths. Shrake in particular seems paralyzed by it. McMurtry manages an ease with voice and dialogue whether he’s writing about the 1860s or the 1970s, but it’s too easy for him, and his books run the risk of becoming indistinguishable. Cadillac Jack is set mostly in Washington, D.C., and Strange Peaches is more concerned with Jack Ruby than with the Marlboro Man, but there is a wildness and boldness, an originality and a verve in each of those books that puts these historical tales of the West to shame. The myth is too solidly entrenched for McMurtry and Shrake to shake it too much, perhaps. It is its shadow they can best take hold of, while its substance defeats them. Dan Halpern has , written about books for magazines and newspapers including The New Yorker, The New Republic Online, and The National Post. . DECEMBER 22; 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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