Samuel Ullman should be better known here in Birmingham. He has a building named after him at UAB, after all. But Judith Horwitz Schaefer’s new documentary shows that Ullman’s work and influence are dearer and better known abroad than they are at home.
Ullman wrote a poem called “Youth,” which espouses youth not as a matter of physical age, but as a state of mind, a “vigor of the emotions.” We grow old not merely by stacking up years, but by “deserting our ideals.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur loved Ullman’s poem, He read it when he came to Japan to help rebuild the country after World War II, and posted it on the wall of his office. The poem really entered Japanese consciousness, its message of idealism and hard work inspired a generation of young Japanese businessmen to help rebuild their country. Ullman and the poem are both far better known today in Japan than in the United States. However, the poem was also a favorite of Robert Kennedy, who used it in speeches. Ted Kennedy read from it at Robert’s funeral.
Ullman himself was a Jewish immigrant who was born in Germany and lived in France before his family emigrated to the United States. They lived in Mississippi, and Ullman enlisted in the Confederate Army, and was injured at the Battle of Antietam. Ullman was a businessman after the war. He had little talent for profit, but he was very active in the communities where he lived, first in Mississippi, then in Birmingham, after his family moved here in 1884.
The poem is lovely, but it is by no means Ullman’s only accomplishment. Ullman’s wife died suddenly in 1896, and in the period after this he started writing. He also fought for the creation of one of the first public high schools for blacks in the South. Today this school is known as Parker High School.
In his later years, Ullman turned to writing more and more, and this was perhaps why he could write “Youth.” It’s filled with the hope of an old man who has seen enough good in people to believe it can overcome the bad.
Ullman hasn’t received nearly enough accolades here in the States—he often was not credited as author of the poem by MacArthur or the Kennedys — but perhaps this documentary can shine a little more light on a great man’s deeds.
The Tiger Next Door • Sun. 3:45 p.m. • Alabama Power
Captive tigers are not your pals. They still attack people; just ask Roy. But it is legal to own a tiger in about half the states, and the government has no official record of how many tigers there are, and where.
Private tiger ownership is not something I had often thought about before, but Camilla Calamandrei’s new documentary The Tiger Next Door does a lovely, levelheaded job discussing this issue.
Dennis Hill, of Flat Rock, Ind., is a private breeder of exotic cats, and has been so for about 20 years. But when we meet him at the beginning of the movie, he has just lost his federal license due to some substandard facilities, and has one month to find homes for over 20 cats. The movie follows him as he tries to repair his cages, so he can be allowed to keep a few cats, and as he tries to find homes for the rest of them.
Dennis obviously loves the tigers. He makes money from them, to be sure, but he genuinely seems to raise exotic cats because he loves them, though that isn’t necessarily good enough. Experts argue that the animals should run free, or at most be kept in zoos. There is “no altruistic reason to bring these cats into your home,” one argues.
Most private tiger owners make money from their animals. Sales of an adult aren’t profitable enough, so most turn to breeding cubs for sale. But the market has become saturated, which means that there are a lot of tigers around that no one wants to take care of. Not even well-intentioned private tiger owners like Dennis can escape blame. After all, one expert says, “hoarding is another form of animal cruelty.”
The film does a good job of not obviously coming down on either side of the issue, instead allowing both to make some good points. The animal experts make plenty of good points, but the tiger owners shown in the film always seem to be well-intentioned animal lovers. Dennis just wants to spread love. Unfortunately for him, the source of that love may one day kill and eat him.