Thursday, August 24, 2006

Racism apology offered

'Wizard of Oz' writer's descendants sorry for author's words, attitude

By Angela Mettler -
American News Writer

Mac Hudson of Tucson, Ariz., spent much of August apologizing for things he didn't do.

Hudson is L. Frank Baum's great-great-grandson. Most people know Baum as the author of "The Wizard of Oz."

Baum lived in Aberdeen from 1888-91. In December 1890, Baum wrote editorials in his newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, calling for the extermination of American Indians.

Hudson felt the need to apologize for Baum's intolerant words and attitude, so he traveled in western South Dakota this August with his wife, Amy Schwemm; his cousin Gita Dorothy Morena of San Diego; and his friend Vic Runnels of Aberdeen.

"It's important that we acknowledge the racism of the past and look for opportunities to correct the racism of today," Hudson said.

While working toward a master's degree in American Indian studies in college, Hudson wrote his thesis on Baum. He first came across Baum's editorials during his research for the thesis.

"When I first read that, I was quite horrified about it and wanted to know more," he said.

Hudson's research revealed that Baum lived in a time period where racism was commonplace. In fact, Baum's editorials coincided with the Wounded Knee massacre.

Runnels' uncle was a survivor of Wounded Knee. Runnels first heard of the editorials while presenting workshops on how racism affects individuals and communities.

Hudson and Runnels met through Aberdeen native and historian Sally Roesch Wagner. Wagner's mother had a friend named Matilda Jewell Gage, who was Baum's niece.

"If it wasn't for Sally and Vic, none of this would have happened," Schwemm said.

Hudson, Schwemm, Morena and Runnels visited Wounded Knee, Cheyenne River, Eagle Butte and Rapid City to apologize to descendants of Wounded Knee survivors.

"To them, it was a very historic occasion," Hudson said.

Nobody knew if the descendants of Wounded Knee survivors would accept the apology, but they did. Hudson said he never encountered anger; rather, he and his three fellow travelers were welcomed.

"It's a very humbling experience," he said.

He hopes the apology was a start to mending the physical and emotional wounds brought on by racism.

"It seemed possible that healing could occur from this, and if that happens even a little bit, it's worth it," Hudson said.