A shipyard's history that was worth saving

Readers may recall that I prefaced my last column by relating a trip back to my home state of Delaware for a death in the family. I devoted half of that column to a strange cosmic connection involving my mother, me, and the English poet John Milton. I’m reporting on another such connection or coincidence this week, and I’m commenting on some mothers who would seem to be out of sympathy with Milton.

Before returning home, I decided to check out Riverfront Wilmington, a revitalized section of the city along the Christina River.

All the time I was growing up, there was nothing there but dilapidated buildings and deserted warehouses — remnants of the busy industrial area it once was. No one ever went there. Now people do. There is a well-kept walkway along the bank of the river. It’s lined by shops, restaurants, hotels, an event center and even a miniature golf course. Other attractions include a children’s museum, a minor league baseball stadium and a park.

I had wanted to see this remarkable example of urban renewal ever since President Biden had made the Riverfront’s new Chase Event Center his election headquarters and was televised speaking from there. But I had another reason — a personal one. The main industry in that area had been the Dravo Shipyard. At its height during World War II, Dravo had employed 10,500 people. By war’s end, it had built and launched 88 Navy ships, ranging from destroyer escorts to landing craft. And my mother had worked there.

It was her first job after high school. Forget Rosie the Riveter. Mother was never cut out for skilled or manual labor; she always guarded against chipping her nails. She did clerical work. And she must have enjoyed working for Dravo. It was all-hands-on-deck for a party every time they launched a ship, she told me. But when the war ended, so did her job.

The planners of Riverfront Wilmington obviously realized that Dravo’s proud contribution to the war effort had been ignored too long. Two of the shipyard’s large whirly cranes remain standing. They tower above the complex. The road leading into Riverfront Wilmington is named Shipyard Road, and the walkway ends at Dravo Plaza — the entrance to which is marked by two brightly painted mock-up cranes forming an archway with their booms.

As I walked along, I found myself imagining my mother’s presence and wondering what it was like to live through a time when the country was unified. Americans back then were willing to commit themselves to a cause greater than themselves. Would that PSNS could see its way clear to keeping its iconic symbol of that time, its hammerhead crane.

I’m feeling almost as nostalgic about that doomed crane as the two that grace Riverfront Wilmington. Since returning from Delaware, I’ve learned the PSNS crane was built in 1932 by none other than Dravo employees, presumably from Wilmington and their other shipyard in Pittsburgh. Some of them decided to stay in Bremerton. If that’s not a cosmic connection, it’s at least a small-world one.

How will those moms define 'liberty?'

I was heartened to see USA Today’s report on Moms for Liberty reprinted in the Sun. ("Moms for Liberty declares war on public schooling, Aug. 27"). Stand by, à la Paul Harvey, for the rest of the story.

I now happen to live near Bedford, Virginia, the town mentioned in the article, and I’m familiar with the exploits of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty (M4L). The group first came to my attention in March. They demanded that 11 books with “concerning” content be removed from the libraries of the Bedford County Public Schools. The woman behind this was the one mentioned in the USA Today article — Amy Snead. She started the M4L chapter in Bedford.

Bedford County Public School administrators and library review committees conducted a review of the challenged titles and unanimously refused to remove them. Snead claimed her group was not promoting censorship. But “any removal or prohibited access to a book based on some individual’s disagreement with its political, religious, or moral viewpoint is a form of censorship,” the school district responded. In the end, a compromise was reached. Beginning with the start of this school year, parents will receive automatic email notifications of the books their children check out.

Fast forward to June, Pride Month. The Forest branch of the Bedford County Public Library System — the branch I frequent — put up a display of LGBTQ-themed books on a counter near the front door. There were no explanatory or promotional materials accompanying the display. Patrons were free to ignore or make of the book display what they would.

Moms for Liberty once again went on the attack. They felt that the young children who come there for story time and other events should not be exposed to such materials. The library acknowledged that “the presentation of materials” should not appear to be trying to advocate for a particular position regarding controversial issues. They took down the display. But they also issued a statement defending the need to include materials representing a “broad spectrum of viewpoints.” “Our community is not monolithic,” they added, according to WSET TV. “Our materials reflect that.”

According to informed sources, Moms for Liberty members promptly signed up for library cards at the Forest branch. They checked out all the Pride display books intending to keep them out for as long as they could. But grudgingly or not, they did return the books in good condition within the normal 28-day borrowing period.

The exploits of our local M4L group raise two questions:

First, how would a devoted Mom for Liberty define “liberty”?

Second, have these moms considered the kind of people they’re emulating and the history they’re reenacting? Book banning and censorship are ugly words in America — deservedly so.

Certainly, parents have a right to try to control what their children see and read. But that’s the key: Their particular children, not everyone else’s. We live in a pluralistic multicultural society. And not all parents are created equal. Some are better educated and more open-minded than others. Some do not subscribe to all the Christian strictures prevalent in Lynchburg and elsewhere. Still others believe their children should not be sheltered from other lifestyles and experiences, as well as life’s harsh realities.

Overly protective mothers everywhere should perhaps take to heart something Milton had occasion to write: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue...that never sallies out and sees her adversary.” Amen to that.

Finally, I was surprised to learn Kitsap County has a Moms for Liberty Chapter. Take it from me: They bear watching.

Contact Ed Palm at majorpalm@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Ed Palm: A shipyard's history that was worth saving