Oh my, the pain of those days.
My brother, Barry, called me “unlovable” on some network interview show—everyone was out for blood in the years leading up to the sale of what was always called “The Paper” inside the Bingham family and outside of it—although the business comprised, at the time of the sale, not only the monopoly, liberal Louisville Courier-Journal but a very profitable printing company and the CBS affiliate radio and television stations.
When there is a large institutional change, someone will be blamed for the dislocation that causes a lot of people pain and financial loss, and that “someone” will often be a woman, especially an outspoken woman—as I was, and still am—who believes in equality.
What does that vague concept, that ideal, “equality” matter, when people are losing their jobs, their sense of security and status? For there was a lot of status—believe it or not—in working as one of the largely male, largely white reporters, photographers, or editors for a paper that was considered one of the elite. The African-Americans janitors and cafeteria servers may have felt a little differently about it—or maybe they, too, enjoyed the status of laboring for “the great.”
A woman who upsets that particular apple cart is, in fact, “unlovable,” since going along with and preserving the status quo is probably the only sure way to “earn” love…
A little history: with the other women in the Bingham family, I was a minority board member, unwelcome at company board meetings as most women were in that day. My father had persuaded my brother, the publisher, to appoint us, but he was not interested in protecting us and probably enjoyed the prospect of a quarrel.
All the women owned a little stock in the companies, mainly non-voting shares. I had inherited eleven percent of the non-voting stock in the printing plant, Standard Gravure, which was considered a cash cow, as well as a small portion of stock in the other companies. My income depended on those distributions, always small, since most of the profit was ploughed back into the companies.
No one seems to remember now that the first of the mass murders that have tormented this country happened at Standard Gravure—or that a two-ton roll of printing paper fell from its harness within a foot of my head when I was walking through one of the company’s subterranean passages.
As the past seals over such evidences of conflict and ambiguity, it heightens the ideals of integrity and stability. There is always another story: resentment of unbridled political power, jealousy of unearned status, suspicion of those who often appear to believe themselves superior to the poor and illiterate denizens of a state like Kentucky—and long suppressed talk of my step grandmother’s death.
The companies, like all companies, were run by a club and outsiders were not admitted.
I was, briefly and tangentially, a part of that club when I edited the Courier-Journal’s book page, founded by my mother. The page was cancelled a few months ago.
One Friday, the day of the week when the staff forsook their suits for more informal clothes, like t-shirts, my fellow editors gave me one, printed in bold: FORGIVE ME, I’M A BINGHAM…
It’s one of my proudest souvenirs.
Yes, certainly—I asked questions at those uncomfortable board meetings, as did my women relatives, all smart, accomplished and well-informed. My brother, the publisher, tolerated that for a while, with increasing irritation—he said the decline in the paper’s circulation numbers was due to the presence of women on the board. He finally demanded that all those pesky women, including his mother, his wife, his two sisters and his sister-in-law—resign from the boards of the companies.
They all did, after months of fruitless arguing.
I did not.
And so I was blamed for the sale although only my father, the majority shareholder and always the power, could make that decision. And did.
No one will ever be really sure of his motivation but I, who was always so close to him, knew that he had become bored with running those businesses, remorselessly criticizing his son, my brother, whom he felt was inept, longing to have a late fling at acting in the movies like his old friend, John Huston.
My mother added fuel to the flames. Always suspicious of me, and deeply invested in her behind-the-scenes role in the little empire, she perhaps believed that the time had finally come to bring me to heel.
Most of these players are now dead and rest in quiet graves. They earned their repose. Those of us who are still alive must try to thrive outside of the tight circuit of the myth, which might be summed up in the Biblical phrase, “How are the mighty fallen!”
And, in my case, move far, far away, and construct a different life.