It's time for Hillard to say what's in his heart

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Watch you when you say what you are, And when you blame everyone.

-- Jack Johnson

I like Claire Fox Hillard. I really do. I've had opportunities to interview the man who'd served as conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra for 24 years before being unceremoniously fired in December, only to be reinstated last week, and I've had several casual chats with him. There's no more affable guy around.

But there's a growing controversy swirling around Hillard that's his own doing, and the time has come for him to address it.

And, no, I'm not talking about his arrest in Camilla for an Aug. 10, 2011 incident in which he was reportedly found wearing only a towel and was charged with prowling/loitering by Camilla police. That bit of juicy scandal has been bandied about by the media and by various Web and gossip sites to the point of exhaustion.

Certainly the incident led to his dismissal in December and was a point of contention that sparked the resignations of at least three symphony board members when Hillard was surprisingly reinstated last week.

Symphony supporter Sylvia Berry told me in December when Hillard was dismissed that people in Albany needed to practice some of the forgiveness they seem to understand in theory only.

"Most are appalled at what Claire did, but it's time that Albany grew up," Berry said. "It's time that those people who preach forgiveness on Sunday mornings took the opportunity to actually put those words into action."

The support of such civic luminaries as Berry and philanthropist Jane Willson in the aftermath of the Camilla incident and beyond was no doubt instrumental in the symphony board's decision to reinstate Hillard. Even though she stopped short of saying she would no longer support the symphony financially, Willson told me in December her "disappointment" in the decision to fire Hillard would make her think twice about future donations.

Somewhat lost then in what can only be deemed a power struggle that has torn the symphony board apart is the fact that while people like Willson, Berry and other board members have publicly gone to bat for Hillard, the man himself has remained silent. I'm sure that strategy was suggested to him by advisers who promote the "out of sight, out of mind" approach, but the time has come for Hillard to talk to the people of this community.

And topic No. 1 should be his reasoning for initially telling police he had been attacked by two black men. Sure, few of us have been in a situation where we had to come up with an alibi on the fly, but by making the "two black men" statement to police, Hillard opened himself to doubt within the African-American community.

It's hard to imagine members of that community openly supporting Hillard now. For instance, one has to wonder if the membership of influential Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which has hosted a symphony concert each of the last 13 years, is going to be as anxious to welcome the orchestra knowing the man conducting it has given credence to the perceived stereotype of the black man as criminal.

Are black musicians in the community going to be as willing to perform for a maestro whose first instinct when he was in a jam was to falsely accuse men of color for his predicament?

I'm certain the local race-baiting contingent will be quick to point to statistics that indicate the disproportionate number of crimes committed by black men in this region, but that begs a question I haven't yet heard anyone address. I can't help but wonder how many unsolved crimes in the area are unsolved because police are looking for phantom "black men" who are convenient culprits for those who aren't interested in the truth actually surfacing.

Claire Fox Hillard is a marvelous conductor and an overall good guy. But the fact remains, when the going got tough, he resorted to using a despicable racial stereotype to try to save his own skin. For that, he should be held accountable.

Before he's granted the forgiveness some kind souls have so freely given, there are a lot more people who are a little more skeptical and who want to know if what popped out of his mouth during the police investigation is what was truly in his heart.

And no matter how influential his supporters are, that's a question only Hillard can answer.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.


Abytaxpayer 3 years, 6 months ago

Forgiveness? Long ago I forgave Hillard for his double dose of bad judgment. 1. Getting caught “with only a towel” and 2. Claiming Black Guys did this to me.

While I did forgive his bad judgment he alone has painted the picture of his escapades in our minds that can NOT be Forgotten. He was given the opportunity to go quietly into the night and learn from his bad judgment and make a fresh start of his life. What I cannot Forgive is the arrogance to say to the public “I am so Great and Wonderful I am going to stand in your face and act like I did nothing wrong and you just have to live with it”.

I am certain while Ms. Wilson bask in the glow that her "disappointment" has been avenged by the power of her checkbook she will not even notice my family’s two empty seats. We however will hold our heads high knowing we too expressed our opinion by closing our meager checkbook and did not sell out our self-respect. Hillard was a marvelous conductor but I can no long look up to him as a Leader in this community. Slap me once I can forgive you, but keep slapping me …..well that is just abusing me.


Jacob 3 years, 6 months ago

"can't help but wonder how many unsolved crimes in the area are unsolved because police are looking for phantom "black men" who are convenient culprits for those who aren't interested in the truth actually surfacing."

Heck, there's no need to wonder Carlton. You're the journalist. Investigate and then report your findings. Slinging unfounded, derogatory statements without evidence at the men and women in blue is pretty much the same thing you are hanging Hilliard out to dry for, isn't it?


TheBoss 3 years, 6 months ago

Carlton, you are acting like Larry King. Come tell me your dirt and I will set you free.


gotanyfacts 3 years, 6 months ago

Carlton, Your article is quite insightful where you deal with the difficulties facing Hilliard and the Albany Symphony. Among those difficulties will be issues due to his choosing to identify his imaginary attackers as black. Some will see it as an attack on the black community, as you seem to. Others will see it as a desperate attempt to come up with the most believable scenario possible (where none existed). Why might he think black attackers would be more believable? You mentioned crime statistics. It is unfortunate that you chose to call those who would point to those statistics as "race-baiters" and then suggest that false reports identifying suspects as black could significantly alter those statistics. It was a good artilcle until you slipped into victimology.


LoneCycler 3 years, 6 months ago

You state that "he resorted to using a despicable racial stereotype to try to save his own skin." In the article published August 17, 2011 in this newspaper "Conductor Hillard's arrest report released by police" it states "After Manning (responding Camilla Police Officer) further questioned him, Hillard 'admitted he had been deceptive about telling me that he had been robbed, Manning wrote. Mr. Hillard recanted his original story and stated that he had not been robbed at all.'" Mr. Hillard was not charged with filing a false police report and the Camilla PD spent no time looking for the phantom black men you seem concerned about because he did not in fact try to “save his own skin” by blaming blacks. You go on to claim that the ASO board has been “torn apart” but it seems that only three people left while the other twenty some odd are still there. Are all the other board members just ASO baggage? The people that left the board were interviewed in this paper and they didn’t seem all that upset apart from the Hon. Judge Joe Bishop who was left out of the information loop and got blindsided by Hillard’s reinstatement. Then you attempt to tell the fine members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church to join your crusade of pillorying Mr. Hillard. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out but once they discover your love of Kanye West and Jay Z., that possibility doesn't look good. Your entire article is just camouflage for the crime that you and others would like to indict Mr. Hillard for committing: ThoughtCrime.


alleebrin 3 years, 6 months ago

The man is too embarassed to come forward and redeem himself. What can he say to redeem himself? He hung himself out to dry. About all he could say is I'M SORRY I GOT CAUGHT!


Sign in to comment