The Corner

Blazing Symphonies

I’ve just caught up with Ron Radosh’s review of Nicholas von Hoffman’s bio of Saul Alinsky, and this passage struck my, um, eye:

Yet, even in the Rochester fight, Alinsky’s methods often appeared rather comical, and it is rather hard to believe that they were taken seriously. According to von Hoffman, what Alinsky proposed, and scared the city’s elite with, was a scheduled “fart-in” at the Kodak-sponsored Rochester Symphony. He planned to gather black activists — for whom concert tickets had been bought — for a pre-concert dinner made up exclusively of baked beans. This would be his substitute for sit-ins and picket lines. Alinsky called it a “flatulent blitzkrieg,” and the result of this threat (along with other tactics, including the use of proxies at stockholder meetings) evidently was a settlement in which the city fathers agreed to the demands. In Chicago, he threatened a “piss-in” at O’Hare Airport, which immediately led the city to the bargaining table. That such juvenile tactics worked perhaps says more about the fears of the politicians than the genius of Alinsky.

It makes for a great Mel Brooks moment, but I’m not sure I buy this particular Tale of Hoffman. For one thing, the name of the orchestra is the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been since 1922. For another, the orchestra was not “sponsored” by Eastman Kodak, at least not in the sense of being a subsidiary of Kodak. Both Kodak and the RPO were established by George Eastman, who also founded my alma mater, the Eastman School of Music.

But Eastman’s business affairs and his private philanthropy — which in addition to music included education (MIT, the Tuskegee Institute) and public-health affairs — were kept largely separate from each other. In fact, most of his philanthropy came after he’d relinquished active control of Kodak.

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