MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE (1904-1971) Bread-line, 1937, Louisville, Kentucky.
The idea of a bread-line came to Louis Fleischmann (1826 – September 25, 1904, New York) when he noticed homeless men standing near the grating outside his bakery at Tenth and Broadway, smelling his baking bread. He offered to feed one of them, and a line formed. From then on, every night at midnight, a long line of the hungry and homeless would form around the block and in front of Grace Church, which was next door to the bakery, and Mr Fleischmann would distribute his unsold bread. [East Village Transitions]. From Christmas Eve, 1876 until his death, the baker’s “unique charity” continued.
Accused of being a “pauperizer of the idle,” Mr Fleischmann said he didn’t mind being called names. “As long as there was flour in a barrel and fire under a kettle any man who was sufficiently sincere in his hunger to wait under the sky in any kind of weather could have a cup of steaming coffee and half a loaf.” [The Big Apple: Bread Line].
After Mr Fleischmann died in 1904, Grace Church bought the bakery and had it demolished.
I am interested in the connection between the individual and the institution. It’s a tough one, it isn’t always easy to see, not necessarily clear where you lay the blame or to whom or what you offer praise. Do you give credit to the man, or do you attribute his good to something greater? When is it the baker and when is it the bakery? When, for example, is Christian Love an act taught by the Church and when do we say, ah no, the actions of individuals associated with the Church have nothing to do with the place to which they tithe, or send their children to school or worship?
It’s unfair, of course, to blame a group for the bad actions of one of its members, but can the group take credit only when it comes to the good its members do? Seems a little unfair. I ask my sister who is very wise. She says, “There is hope in individuals, not so much in institutions.” I like her answer but of course it is only part of the matter. There is still the collective part. The part about what is done or not done to one being done or not done to all. There’s still a connection between the teaching and the action, that is; between what we say and what we do.