Monthly Archives: June 2011

Prayer and the study of history

My Muse, Clio

Yesterday I read the following lines in The Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittister.

“When we are really wrapped up in the awareness of God in ourselves we come to understand that it is the nature of God who is everywhere to be present to all of us as well as to ourselves. We begin to see ourselves more and more as a member of the human community rather than as a unique and freestanding individual. We know now in a way we have never realized before that we are not a world unto ourselves.”

 

Sister Joan Chittister

Sister Joan is Roman Catholic nun, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, where she served as prioress for 12 years. She holds a Master’s Degree from Notre Dame and a Ph.D. in speech communication from Penn State University. She writes and speaks extensively on women in the church and society, human rights, peace and justice in the areas of war and poverty and in religious life and spirituality. I consider her a contemporary prophet. Like Dorothy Day, Sister Joan “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

Dorothy Day--1968

While these words were written about prayer, as I reflected on them it occurred to me that they are just as applicable to the study of history. I understand that to really study history, inclusively, broadly, not merely political and military history but all the chronicles of human experience I can get my hands on, enables me to understand myself. Repeatedly I come to know that I am not a world unto myself but rather part of the community of humankind which far, far back, which reaches around the world, and which reaches forward. Like good prayer, good study of history can make many hours seem to be mere minutes. Like good prayer, good study of history does not cause me to become lost within myself but rather increases my awareness of my connections to humankind.

 

In Sister Joan’s book, on the same page, she writes: “We become our brother’s keeper, our sister’s best support. Our own hearts, like God’s, begin to beat with a heart for the entire human race.” I believe that is what the good study of history also does. I this idea certainly is not new or original with me. It’s what Jesus talks about in the story of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-40 and beautifully illustrated in one of the last scenes in the film version of Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda portraying Tom Jodd. As Tom prepares to leave his family in order to avoid arrest, his mother worries about seeing and hearing from him. In response, Tom declares:

 

“Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul– the one big soul that belongs to ever’body. Then…then, it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’where – wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build — I’ll be there, too.”

In September of 1918, when Eugene V Debs was convicted of a crime for speaking against the “Great War,” he began his statement to the court by saying,Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Debs upon his release from federal prison in 1921

Professor Dexter Perkins, a distinguished American historian, wrote, “History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.”

Yes, I believe history is an art, which like music and poetry, makes us alive and connected. . . and thankful.

 

Advertisements

What A Day This Has Been!

June 25th –What a day this has been!

Clio--the Muse of History

1580 – The Book of Concord was first published. The book is a collection of doctrinal standards of the Lutheran Church.

1788 – Virginia ratified the U.S. Constitution and became the 10th state in the new United States.

1868 – The U.S. Congress enacted legislation granting an eight-hour day to workers employed by the Federal government.

1876 – Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 210 men of U.S. 7th Cavalry were defeated and killed in combat with Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at Little Big Horn in Montana. The Native Americans called the area “Greasy Grass” long before whites named it Little Big Horn.

Chief Gall, one of the Native American leaders at Little Big Horn.

1877 – In Philadelphia, PA, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone for Sir William Thomson and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil at the Centennial Exhibition.

1903 – Birth of George Orwell, British writer.

1906 – Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, the son of coal and railroad baron William Thaw, shot and killed Stanford White. White, a prominent architect, who had a tryst with Florence Evelyn Nesbit before she married Thaw. The shooting took place at the premier of Mamzelle Champagne in New York.

1917 – The first troops of the American Expeditionary Force landed in France.

Pershing salutes LaFayette, It was not him but one of his staff who said "LaFayette we are here."

1921 – Samuel Gompers was elected head of the AFL for the 40th time.

1925 – Birth of June Lockhart, American actress.

1938 – Gaelic scholar Douglas Hyde was inaugurated as the first president of the Irish Republic.

1939 – Birth of Harold Melvin, American singer (“Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes”).

1945 – Birth of Carly Simon, American singer and songwriter.

Singer Carly Simon

1946 – Ho Chi Minh traveled to France for talks on Vietnamese independence.

1947 – The Diary of a Young Girl (better known as The Diary of Anne Frank) is first published.

1949 – “Long-Haired Hare,” starring Bugs Bunny, is released in theaters.

1950 – The Korean War begins on the Korean peninsula.

1951 – In New York, the first regular commercial color TV transmissions were presented on CBS using the FCC-approved CBS Color System. However, few if any of the public owned color TV’s at the time.

1954 – Birth of Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

1962 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), that the use of mandatory but non-denominational prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

1964 – U.S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered 200 U S military personnel to Mississippi to assist in finding three missing civil rights workers.

1966 – “Dark Shadows” began running on ABC-TV.

1970 – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission handed down a ruling making it illegal for radio stations to put telephone calls on the air without the permission of the person being called.

1972 – Birth of my son and first-born child. Every day has significant history. Happy birthday, son!!!

Justice for Good Fighters

Last evening my spouse and I had dinner with friends. As we talked with them, the husband, a lawyer, mentioned doing some work for a veteran of a unit of the Buffalo Soldiers. Our conversation made me think once again about history and justice.

The Buffalo Soldiers were U S Army units created after the Civil War. At the very beginning of the Civil War black leaders, like Frederick Douglass, called for enlistment and use of black men in the Union armed forces. As Douglass famously remarked, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

However, President Lincoln felt concern with public opinion in the four border states that remained in the Union, with those in the North who opposed the idea of “an abolition war” and with northern Democrats whose support he needed for the war effort. Initially Lincoln opposed efforts to recruit black soldiers and sailors, although he approved their use as laborers. After the disastrous defeats and heavy losses suffered by the Union forces in the first nine months of 1862, Lincoln began to reconsider. Recruitment of black army regiments began in large numbers after the Emancipation Proclamation. The War Department issued an order on May 22, 1863, establishing a “Bureau of Colored Troops” to facilitate the recruitment. Regiments, including infantry, cavalry, engineers, light artillery, and heavy artillery units, were recruited from all states of the Union and became known as the United States Colored Troops (“USCT”). Approximately 175 regiments of over 178,000 free blacks and former slaves served during the last two years of the war, bolstering the Union war effort through that critical period. By war’s end, the USCT consisted of approximately one tenth of all Union troops. These units, with rare exceptions, had white officers only. The War Department at times had problems finding doctors and orderlies to provide medical care for USCT regiments. Confederates often murdered these soldiers if they tried to surrender. Yet these men served with distinction and some achieved fame.

USCT infantry-1865

After the war, both because some of the USCT troopers wanted to stay in the army and because the army needed men on the frontier for several decades of sporadic warfare with Native Americans, in 1866 Congress reorganized the army and authorized the formation of two regiments of black cavalry with the designations 9th and 10th U S Cavalry, and four regiments of black infantry, designated the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments (Colored). The 38th and 41st were reorganized as the 25th Infantry Regiment, with headquarters in Jackson Barracks in New Orleans,Louisiana, in November 1869. The 39th and 40th were reorganized as the 24th Infantry Regiment, with headquarters at Fort Clark, Texas, in April 1869. All of these units were composed of black enlisted men commanded mostly by white with a minority of black officers. Today, the term “Buffalo Soldier” refers to the United States Army soldiers who serve in units that are direct descendants of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments.

9th Cavalry trooper 1890

Sources disagree on how the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” began. Some claim that the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors in 1867, (the actual Cheyenne words translate as “wild buffalo”). Others assert that the nickname was given by the Comanche out of respect for the fierce fighting ability of the 10th Cavalry. Others assert that Native Americans called the black cavalry troopers “buffalo soldiers” because of their dark curly hair, which resembled a buffalo’s coat.

Between 1866 and 1890 these units were involved in every major campaign against the Native Americans of the western plains and the desert southwest. During this time 18 of these soldiers won the Congressional Medal of Honor. That gives me pause. Where is justice?

Black men who often suffered terrible discrimination, yet fighting for their country, fighting courageously against courageous members of another minority group who were being pushed to the brink of extinction. What went on in the minds and hearts of the Buffalo Soldiers? Did they sense the terrible irony? I wonder if some of them purposefully risked their lives to prove their manly equality. Perhaps there were some who sought death rather than live in a segregated and unappreciative world dominated by white people. I have no certainty, only many questions. I guess every student of history would like opportunities to interview those whose lives we study.

For me personally, I believe in an ultimate reckoning. I am a person of faith. I believe in a God who is the ultimate judge of human history. In some manner, all those who recklessly exercised imperial powers, including the United States, must render a final accounting. One of the lessons I constantly learn from history is the need for repentance. History teaches me to pray: “Let Justice roll down like water, Righteousness like a mighty stream.”

 

The Crime of Voting

The second floor courtroom at the courthouse in Canandaigua, New York, filled to capacity on June 17, 1873. Judge Ward Hunt was presiding over a criminal case. The defendant? Susan Brownell Anthony, age 53. Her crime? Voting in the presidential election in November, 1872. A prim Quaker school teacher on trial as a federal felon! How had things come to such a pass? But as one of her colleagues, Matilda Joslyn Gage, declared, “Susan B. Anthony is not on trial; the United States is on trial.”

Susan B. Anthony was born and raised in a devout Quaker family. Early in life she joined her parents in active support of the causes of temperance and the abolition of slavery. In 1839, she took a teaching job to help her family out of a difficult financial situation. She worked as a teacher until 1851. During that time she met a number of abolitionist leaders, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Although she and Douglass later had significant disagreements, they remained friendly until Douglass’ death on February 20, 1895. In fact, the day he died, Douglass attended a suffrage meeting in Washington, D.C. During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and given a standing ovation.

A number of men paid court to the attractive Ms Anthony. She choose to turn them all away and remained single her entire life. Late in life she commented, “I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealthy, she became a pet and a doll.”

It was in May of 1851, while attending a lecture by William Lloyd Garrison, that Susan Anthony first met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women became close friends and life-long colleagues in the struggle for women’s rights. In September, 1852, Susan Anthony attended her first woman’s rights convention and from that point onward began to focus on suffrage as the key to achieving a full range of civil rights for women. As other women of her generation, she applied the skills she had honed in the abolition struggle to the cause of women.

During the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Radical Republicans [no, that is not a typographical error nor a contradiction in terms–there really were senators and representatives who relished the name “radical”] passed through Congress, and the required number of states ratified, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These came to be called the Reconstruction Amendments.

In the relevant part, the Fourteenth Amendment says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” For suffrage advocates like Ms Anthony, the key word was “person.” The constitutional language did not say “men.”

The Fifteenth Amendment declares, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Taken in tandem with the Fourteenth then, we have this constitutional equation: person = citizen = right to vote = no denial.

Armed with this constitutional language, on November 1st, 1872, Susan B Anthony walked into the requisite place to register to vote in Rochester, New York. The election inspectors initially refused her request, but she persisted, quoting the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship provision and the article from the New York state Constitution pertaining to voting, which contained no sex qualification. When they continued to hesitate, she gave them the school teacher stare and loudly declared,”If you refuse us our rights as citizens, I will bring charges against you in criminal court and I will sue each of you personally for large, exemplary damages! I know I can win.” They accepted her voter registration. On election day, Tuesday, November 5th, Susan B Anthony voted a straight Republican ticket, with former general Ulysses S Grant for president at the top of the ticket.

To her dear friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ms Anthony wrote, “Well I have been & gone & done it!!–positively voted the Republican ticket–strait this a.m. at 7 O clock . . . .” But the battle had just begun.

A Rochester business man, a Democratic poll watcher named Sylvester Lewis, filed a complaint charging Ms Anthony with casting an illegal vote. Lewis challenged both Ms Anthony’s registration and her subsequent vote. The U S Elections Commissioner William C. Storrs acted upon Lewis’ complaint by issuing a warrant for Ms Anthony’s arrest on November 14th. The warrant charged one Susan B Anthony with voting in a federal election “without having a lawful right to vote and in violation of section 19 of an act of Congress” enacted in 1870, called the Enforcement Act. The Act carried a maximum penalty of $500 or three years imprisonment.

On November 18th, a young U S deputy marshal appeared at the Anthony family home where he was greeted by one of Susan’s sisters. Susan Anthony had been expecting her visitor. She had previously received word from Commissioner Storrs “to call at his office.” In response, “I sent word to him that I had no social acquaintance with him and didn’t wish to call on him.” At the deputy’s request, Ms Anthony came to the parlor. At first the young, slightly embarrassed law officer avoided stating directly the nature of his call, until pressed he finally said that Mr Storrs wanted to see her. When Ms Anthony asked what for, the fellow answered, “To arrest you.”

When Ms Anthony inquired if this was the way men were arrested, the deputy said no. Susan Anthony demanded to be arrested properly, even extending her arms to be handcuffed, which the young man refused to do. He did, however, pay her fare on the horse-drawn trolley on which he accompanied her downtown. To other passengers, Ms Anthony gave public notice that she was under arrest. Once downtown Ms Anthony was escorted to the office of Commissioner Storrs, which she described as “the same dingy little room where, in the olden days, fugitive slaves were examined and returned to their masters.”

On January 24th, 1873, Susan B Anthony was indicted by a federal grand jury for illegal voting. She entered a plea of not guilty. Henry R. Selden, a lawyer and retired New York state court judge, active in Republican politics, represented Ms Anthony. He never charged her for his services.

Originally the trial was set for May. Ms Anthony used the four months prior to the start of the trial to give a speech in every postal district in the county. She entitled her presentation “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?’ and gave her presentation to audiences of dozens and of hundreds.

In her excellent address, presented with oratorical skill, Ms Anthony argued that “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings or liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people-women as well as men. And it is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government-the ballot.”

The former school teacher knew her history, her constitution and the power of language and logic. She swayed listeners. “But it is urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government, and from penalties for the violation of laws. . . . So the poor widow, who keeps a boarding house, manufacturers shirts, or sells apples and peanuts on the street corners of our cities, is compelled to pay taxes from her scanty pittance. I would that the women of this republic, at once, resolve, never again to submit of taxation, until their right to vote be recognized.”

The speech took an hour or more to deliver. It covers twenty typed pages in modern typescript. Ms Anthony’s lecture tour plainly worried her prosecutor, U. S. Attorney Richard Crowley. Before the May trial could start, Crowley convinced Judge Ward Hunt who would hear Anthony’s case, that she had prejudiced potential jurors, male jurors, since only men served on juries in New York at that time. Judge Hunt agreed to move the trial out of Monroe County to Canandaigua in Ontario County. Hunt set a new opening date for the trial of June 17th. Ms Anthony responded to the judge and prosecutor by immediately launching a lecture tour in Ontario County where she spoke for twenty-one days in a row, concluding her tour in Canandaigua, the county seat, on the night before the opening of her trial.

Judge Hunt had just taken his seat on the U S Supreme Court in January, 1873. He heard this case while riding circuit, which was common for justices of the Supreme Court for decades. (It is worth noting that Hunt had minimal impact on the high court during his ten years there. He sided with the majority in all but 22 cases and wrote only four rather mediocre dissenting opinions).

The trial transcript is appalling to read. The government’s case consisted of only two witness, both election officials. Judge Hunt ruled that as an unmarried female, the defendant was under a legal disability and not competent to testify on her own behalf. Selden made a three hour argument on Ms Anthony’s behalf. Judge Hunt ordered the jury of twelve men to return a directed verdict of guilty. When Selden asked for the jury to be polled, that is for each one to personally say if that was his verdict, Hunt denied Selden’s request. Hunt’s biggest mistake came at the very end.

From the transcript of the proceedings:

Judge Hunt: (Ordering the defendant to stand up) Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?”

Miss Anthony: Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.

Judge Hunt: The Court cannot listen to a rehearsal of arguments the prisoner’s counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting.

Miss Anthony: May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property and-

Judge Hunt: The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on.

Miss Anthony: But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury-

Judge Hunt: The prisoner must sit down-the Court cannot allow it.

Miss Anthony: All of my prosecutors, from the 8th ward corner grocery politician, who entered the compliant, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. Even, under such circumstances, a commoner of England, tried before a jury of Lords, would have far less cause to complain than should I, a woman, tried before a jury of men. Even my counsel, the Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so, none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts, and no woman can gain admission to the bar-hence, jury, judge, counsel, must all be of the superior class.

Judge Hunt: The Court must insist-the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.

Miss Anthony: Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty; against a United States citizen for the exercise of that citizen’s right to vote, simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.

Judge Hunt: The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word.

Miss Anthony: When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, that should declare all United States citizens under its protecting egis-that should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But failing to get this justice-failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers-I ask not leniency at your hands-but rather the full rigors of the law:

Judge Hunt: The Court must insist-

(Here the prisoner sat down.)

Judge Hunt: The prisoner will stand up. (Here Miss Anthony arose again.) The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.

In response to the imposition of sentence, Ms Anthony declared that she had no resources to pay the fine. She would pay her just debts but “not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’”

Susan B Anthony lived until March of 1906 and never did pay any of the fine or costs imposed upon her by Judge Hunt. Nor did the United States government make any attempt to collect the money. Reading the transcript I quoted above leaves no doubt in my mind. Final score: the Quaker school teacher-10, the Supreme Court justice-0. Up to her death, Ms Anthony kept asserting, “Failure is impossible.” Fourteen years after her death a constitutional amendment, the Nineteenth, known as the Susan B Anthony Amendment, finally guaranteed women the right to vote.

This page of our history is both instructive and motivating. Speaking in 1995 at a comme- ration of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, noted, “In order to appreciate the tremendous progress made by American women in the last century, we should consider the point from which we started. The history of the suffrage movement is a colorful and entertaining one, and a tale from which we can draw many lessons.” Commenting upon this trial, Justice O’Connor declared that “Susan B. Anthony was the clear victor. Her treatment at the hands of the judicial system won for her the sympathy even of those who had been opposed to her original act. Letters of support and funds for her defense poured in. The following year, one newspaper even called her ‘America’s best-known woman.’” Near the conclusion of her remarks, the Justice noted, “the redoubtable women of the suffrage movement would tell us not to rest until full equality is achieved, and quite rightly so.”

Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU from 1991 to 2008 and law professor at New York Law School, said in a 1997 speech that “During Women’s History Month, I think it is especially important to have this dual perspective: both looking backward, to see how far we have come; and looking forward, to see how far we still have to go. The backward perspective, thus, is not at all so that we can rest on our laurels, proud of our achievements to date. Rather, it is for the opposite purpose. By showing us how much progress it is possible to make through organizing and advocacy, this backward glance will encourage us to carry on those efforts energetically and optimistically.” She went on to say there are still those who “seek to relegate women to traditional roles, subordinate to men not only at work and in the political sphere, but also at home.”

According to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2008, worldwide, about 1 in 4 women can expect to be raped during their lifetime. Internationally, twice as many women as men are illiterate. Only in 1998 did an international court declare that rape is a form of torture in prison, and a war crime when conducted systematically by the military. In the United States, gender-based persecution is usually not recognized as grounds for asylum, which means that women who are likely to be killed by their fathers, brothers or husbands or sure to be genitally mutilated if they return to their own countries are usually deported nonetheless, regardless of the potential danger.

An article in Forbes, February 28, 2011, found that based upon an extensive and detailed database of 250 temporary employees who, over a period of several years, jointly were involved in 1462 projects across 462 different companies, “even in temporary jobs, women get paid substantially less than men, for the same type of work. Women earned an average of $25.08 per hour while men, for the exact same job with the same qualifications, would earn an average of $29.66. And we can’t blame that on firm specific skills.”

According to statics from the U.S. Department of Labor compiled in April, 2009, in “non-traditional occupations” women continue to be a minority. Computer programmers, only 22.4% women; computer software engineers-20.9% are women; computer hardware engineers-19.4% are women; detectives and criminal investigators-19.2% are women [television shows not withstanding]; chefs and head cooks–17.0%; industrial engineers–14.9%; ordained clergy–14.8%; police officers–14.7%; chemical engineers–13.1%; computer repairers–10.5%; building inspectors–9.5%; industrial truck and tractor operators–8.9%; electrical engineers–7.7%; mechanical engineers–6.7%; fire fighters–4.8%; aircraft pilots–2.6%; automotive technicians and mechanics–1.6%; electricians–1.0%.

Recent data released by the Department of Labor reports that in 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings that were about 80% of the earnings of their male counterparts. In 1979, the first year for which comparable earnings data are available, women earned approximately 62% as much as men. After a gradual rise in the 1980s and 1990s, the women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio peaked at 81% in 2005 and 2006. Among younger workers, the earnings differences between women and men were not as great. In 2009, women earned 89% as much as men among workers 25 to 34 years old and 93% as much among 16- to 24-year-olds. In the age groupings of those 35 years and older, women had earnings roughly 75% as much as their male counterparts.

As for the power of voting and participation in government, look at the current membership of Congress. Presently, seventeen women serve in the Senate. That’s exactly 17% while last year’s census data shows that women constitute a little more than 50% of the total population. In the House of Representatives 72 women are serving. That’s 16.6% of the membership.

I deeply believe that we still need Susan B Anthony’s revolutionary enthusiasm.

 

 

 

The Power of Rhetoric

Personally I am greatly indebted to my freshman high school English teacher who nudged me, as unwillingly and ignorant as I was at the time, into the school’s speech and debate program. There I learned techniques and honed some skills which have helped me a great deal in the past five decades. During that experience and in much reading and listening since then, I have developed some appreciation for the art of rhetoric. I write about that today because on June 16, 1858, a lanky lawyer running for the U.S. Senate gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois. Abe Lincoln’s speech that day came to be known as “the house divided speech.”

In the opening paragraphs, Lincoln said that, “agitation [about the issue of slavery] has not only not ceased [since 1853], but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’

“I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest this further spread and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is on a course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates shall press it forward, until it shall become alike lawful in all of the States, old as well as new, North as well as South. Have we no tendency to this latter condition?”

Lincoln proceeded to identify the people and causes creating the problem.

“Let any one who doubts this contemplate that now almost complete legal combination–piece of machinery, so to speak–compounded of the Nebraska doctrine [passed by Congress in 1854], and the Dred Scott decision [in the Supreme Court in March, 1857]. Let him consider not only what work that machinery is adapted to, but how well adapted. Also, also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of design, of concert of action, among its chief bosses, from the very beginning.”

Lincoln made clear that he had no objection to slavery where it existed before the Kansas-Nebraska Act. What he feared, he said, was that under that Act, coupled with the decision in Dred Scott, that Illinois, and other free states, could be compelled to become slave states. The on-going mess he blamed on the machinations of his rival, Stephen Douglas, along with Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Franklin Pierce, the former President, and James Buchanan, the current President.

Further, Lincoln responded to southern calls to reopen the African slave trade. (Legal international slave trade had been banned since 1808. Illegal international slave trade continued to flourish. The primary efforts to stop illegal slave trade were being made by the British government since 1815). Lincoln described Douglas as “if not a dead lion, for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don’t care whether it gets voted down or voted up. His avowed mission is to impress the ‘public heart’ to care nothing whether its voted down or voted up.”

Attacking Douglas’ record [Douglas had served in the Senate since 1846 and had the power of an incumbent on his side as he sought yet another term], Lincoln went on to say: “For years he [Douglas] has labored to prove it a sacred right for men to take negro slaves into the new Territories. Can he possibly show that it’s less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheaper?

Unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia. He’s done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade–how can he refuse that trade in that ‘property’ shall be ‘perfectly free’? — unless he does it as a protection to those who are home producers. Well, then, as the home producers will probably not ask for that the protection, he shall be wholly without any ground of opposition.”

It is an amazing speech from a man who had many more, and very powerful speeches yet to give. Any time I read Lincoln’s speeches and those of his contemporaries, I am struck by their command of language. Granted, lawyers, politicians, preachers, and other such public figures provided popular “entertainment” before radio and other electronic media existed. Eloquence was expected and usually appreciated. I wonder if politicians today could do as well. I appreciate those who make an effort. I think it is unfortunate that today our society equates the word “rhetoric” with empty promises or tricky word games. The root Greek word means “the art of persuasive speaking.”

That I like.

In the 1993 film Gettysburg, there is one short scene which moves me immensely. Actor Jeff Daniels portrayed Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin (1828-1914). On the second day of the battle, Chamberlin’s regiment, the 20th Maine, took up a position on Little Round Top, at the very end of the Union line. Chamberlin’s orders were to “hold to the last.” Before the war’s outbreak, Chamberlin, himself fluent in nine languages, taught rhetoric at his alma mater, Bowdoin College. In the film, as his soldiers take their positions, Chamberlin attempts to calm himself. In his mind, he says, “Exercise in rhetoric. Last man. Last bullet. Last foot of ground.” The music and the sound of the soldiers running into line almost make it hard to hear. Yet the brief scene grips me. Words have power. Rhetoric, the art of the spoken word, has power. Power to calm one’s own heart. Power to move the hearts of others.

 

Failing Students, Failing Society

Angry. Disturbed. Frustrated. Troubled. That’s where I start writing today. I had in process a piece on the Magna Carta because it was on June 15, 1215, [adjusted to the Julian calender] that King John signed the document to avoid civil war in England. I will finish that effort another time. Today I want to thunder out in anger about a failure in American education. According to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education, American students today do not know our history.

I heard on the news last light about this report. This morning I downloaded it and read the whole 66 pages. American educators need to be ashamed. The research done with thousands of students in 2010 finds that of high school seniors last year, only 12%–that’s correct–12% are proficient in the knowledge of history. Another 45% possess only basic knowledge of history. And the remaining 43% have less than a basic knowledge of history. In the testing performed for this report, Hispanic students scored on average 20 points lower than white students while black students scored an average 27 points lower than white peers. It seems to me that our young people are being cheated and minority young people even more so than majority students. What is this about? Why is it happening?

In my observation, there are a number of significant factors. I think that one of the key factors is that our society seems not to value a liberal education any more. As I reminded my students, the term “liberal education” has nothing to do, at least not directly, with one’s political viewpoint. (I’ll save that discussion for another time!) Rather, the word “liberal” comes from the Latin verb liberare, meaning “to set free.” Epictetus wrote in the first century of the Common Era that “Only the educated are free.” That is what a liberal education is about. Liberal education requires, I believe, a good mixture of history, philosophy, literature, music, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and art, among other things. It seems to me that today our society, American society, places too much emphasis on preparation for a job and making money and too little on preparation for a vocation and the life of mind and heart.

William Ellery Channing, the nineteenth century Unitarian minister and author, wrote that a person “is to be educated because he is a man, and not because he is to make shoes, nails, and pins.” Likewise, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” In his Narrative of the Life the former slave Frederick Douglass tells of how the man who “owned” him reacted when discovering that the man’s own wife had been violating Maryland law by teaching the slave youth to read. The southern gentleman, a Mr Auld, angrily declared to his wife that, “if you teach that nigger how to read, there will be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” On and on in this vein Mr Auld railed at his spouse. The young black man, whose later eloquence would cause southern critics to say that he had never really been a slave, wrote of his eureka experience. “From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” That is true “liberal” education. I am not saying that education ought not train people for jobs. Such training should be a part of the process. To my thinking, the key part of the process is setting free the mind and heart.

It seems to me that our society devalues the life of the mind, the process of free intellectual inquiry. Many factors may be at work here–too much mindless television, too little reading, less and less time for conversation with family, friends and colleagues. Add what one likes, or dislikes, to the list. For whatever reasons, society is losing sight of the value of intellectual pursuits. “To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is educated,” wrote Edith Hamilton. My grade school education was in some ways mediocre. However, I grew up in a family that valued good leisurely conversation. Often my favorite uncle sat at table with us and he like to ask, “What are you reading? And what do you think about what you are reading?” By the time I entered a very fine parochial high school with a college preparatory curriculum, I felt ready. The environment in that school stimulated me. I became caught up in the world of thought. To me it is regrettable that too many students lack that kind of stimulation. I agree with C. S. Lewis. “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

Another problem appears in the way that classroom teachers are required or expected to perform. “Methodology” as interpreted by state governments and local school boards, as well as many college administrators, boils done to getting students to perform on standardized tests, reaching certain scores and, later, getting degrees, whether or not the students can think for themselves. Schools receive less and less money for art, music, extra-curricular clubs and so forth, with the notable exception of sports, particularly sports for males. Fewer teachers these days receive positive evaluations for challenging students to think. More than half a century ago, Albert Einstein complained. “It is little short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not already completely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” It seems that teachers fail to be tenured or retained for encouraging the holy curiosity of inquiry. And parents, students, school boards and academic deans appear frightened by the same holy curiosity of inquiry

Looking at current secondary school history textbooks and having observed history teaching, good and bad, as well as frequent feedback from former students, I sense that too much emphasis is placed on facts, names and dates, mostly politicians and generals, and too little on “real” people, the who, the how and the why. Oliver Wendell Holmes said of teaching that, “The main part of intellectual education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts live.” Too few textbooks and teachers can or want to do that. I deeply believe that if history is taught with empathy, inclusion, creativity and enthusiasm, most students would respond as the writer Toni Morrison. “I’m interested in the way in which the past affects the present and I think that if we understand a good deal more about history, we automatically understand a great deal more about contemporary life.” Preach it, sister!

To write textbooks and materials that arouse this kind of interest and to consistently present history in the classroom demands that writers and teachers rise to a higher, challenging call. History, the real human story, is not concise, not readily boiled down, not easily subdued to charts and graphs. “Nowhere is it ordained that history moves in a straight line,” President Barack Obama wrote in his book, The Audacity of Hope. So teaching history requires reaching frontwards, backwards, up, down, sideways, to the heights and to the depths. Good teaching of history, in the classroom or on the page or in a film, requires a gracefulness, a passion, a vocation, if you will.

In an intriguing book entitled Keystones of Thought, published in 1914 and written by an Irish American named Austin O’Malley (1858-1932), I found this statement: “The ideal historian goes to the mouth of the tomb, cries: ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and sets him that was dead for ages, blinking and passionate, in the sun.” That requires a high calling, a costly effort, and sometimes tears. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that if the American educational system gave our youth that kind of instruction in history, they would willingly master the subject. And ask for more.

If we want to survive as a nation, if we want to know ourselves, if we really are the democracy [from the two Greek words meaning “the common people’s government”] we claim to be, we ought better to know history, ours and that of the world around us.

 

The Power of the Free Press

Today, June 13th, marks the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of publication by The New York Times of the “Pentagon Papers, ” a secret study of United States involvement in Vietnam. As I think about that event, history occurring in my lifetime, I ponder the list of editors, journalists and publishers who took risks, made trouble and in some ways advanced freedom and justice. I could compose and chant a litany of them. As the philosopher Cornel West has commented, “Sometimes it’s good just to say their names.”

The two that come to my mind today are John Peter Zenger and William Lloyd Garrison. I find it worthwhile to remember who they were and what they did.

At age 13, Zenger, born in Germany, emigrated to America in 1710 and took work as an apprentice to William Bradford, the only printer in New York at that time. Sixteen years later Zenger opened his own printing shop, For the six years, he primarily published religious tracts and open letters concerning public issues.

In the summer of 1732 William Crosby arrived in New York to take his position as the new governor of the colony of New York. Almost immediately Crosby began a series of manipulations of government offices, the courts and a newspaper, the New York Gazette, to advance his public career and his private fortune. On November 5, 1733, Zenger published the first issue of his New York Weekly Journal, a paper funded by James Alexander, an outspoken opponent of Governor Cosby and his policies. In one issue in January, 1734 and again in two issues in September, the Weekly Journal accused governor Cosby of threatening the “liberties and properties” of the people and violating the rules of his office.

On October 22, 1734, Governor Cosby ordered that copies of Zenger’s Weekly Journal be burned in public near the city’s pillory. When local magistrates refused to carry out the order, Francis Harison, editor of the pro-Crosby newspaper, carried out the burning with the compelled assistance of his black slave.

On a Sunday, November 17, the sheriff arrested Zenger, placing him in jail incommunicado and at an extremely high bail, an amount set at Governor Cosby’s request. Initially, the judges set to hear the case, acting at the Governor’s orders, delayed the start of trial. Finally jury selection began on July 29, 1735. Zenger’s previous counsel having been disbarred for challenging the judge, Zenger was represented by Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, the best known and probably best trial lawyer of the time. Hamilton took the case at the urging of Ben Franklin, a printer of Philadelphia. The trial opened on August 4. The king’s prosecutor for the colony of New York, a Mr Bradley, argued to the jury that in order to prove the charge of “seditious libel,” he need only prove that the statements in question were printed. The truth or falsity of the statements was irrelevant. Mr Hamilton presented a lengthy and eloquent argument to the jury. In key parts, he said:

“There is heresy in law as well as in religion, and both have changed very much. We well know that it is not two centuries ago that a man would have been burned as a heretic for owning such opinions in matters of religion as are publicly written and printed at this day. They were fallible men, it seems, and we take the liberty not only to differ from them in religious opinions, but to condemn them and their opinions too. I must presume that in taking these freedoms in thinking and speaking about matters of faith or religion, we are in the right; for although it is said that there are very great liberties of this kind taken in New York, yet I have heard of no information preferred by [Mr. Bradley] for any offenses of this sort. From which I think it is pretty clear that in New York a man may make very free with his God, but he must take a special care what he says of his governor.”

I imagine smiles upon the faces of some members of the jury by this point and disapproving frowns on the faces of the judge and prosecutor. Hamilton continued:

“It is agreed upon by all men that this is a reign of liberty. While men keep within the bounds of truth 1 hope they may with safety both speak and write their sentiments of the conduct of men in power, I mean of that part f their conduct only which affects the liberty or property of the people under their administration. Were this to be denied, then the next step may make them slaves; for what notions can be entertained of slavery beyond that of suffering the greatest injuries and oppressions without the liberty of complaining, or if they do, to be destroyed, body and estate, for so doing?”

Invoking the concept of jury nullification, a plea that the jury return a “Not Guilty” verdict despite instructions from the court, a concept approved by England’s highest court in the trial of William Penn for unauthorized preaching, Hamilton declared to the jury:

“Gentlemen: The danger is great in proportion to the mischief that may happen through our too great credulity. A proper confidence in a court is commendable, but as the verdict, whatever it is, will be yours, you ought to refer no part of your duty to the discretion of other persons. If you should be of the opinion that there is no falsehood in Mr. Zenger’s papers, you will, nay pardon me for the expression, you ought, to say so- because you do not know whether others – I mean the Court – may be of that opinion. It is your right to do so, and there is much depending upon your resolution as well as upon your integrity.”

The jury acquitted Zenger after a short period of deliberation. The next March the disgraced Governor Cosby died. Andrew Hamilton drew up architectural plans for a building in Philadelphia which came to be known as “Independence Hall” where in the spring of 1787, a convention met to draw up a constitution for the new government of the United States.

Like Zenger, young William Lloyd Garrison, in 1819, at age fourteen, began working as an apprentice for the Newburyport (Massachusetts) Herald. By age twenty-five he was deeply committed to the cause of radical, immediate abolition of slavery. Eventually he became known as one of most articulate opponents of the slave power. In January of 1831, he began publication of his own anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. In his famous opening editorial, he wrote:

“I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”

And for thirty-five years, he made every effort to be heard. Interestingly, when he began seeking money to start The Liberator, most white anti-slavery advocates refused to help. Two well-to-do African Americans from Pennsylvania, John Vashon from Pittsburgh and James Forten from Philadelphia, provided the money Garrison needed.

In addition to advocacy of abolition of slavery, Garrison spoke and wrote on behalf of many reform movements–international peace, non-resistance, abolition of the death penalty, universal suffrage, protection of laborers and the rights of women. For example, in October, 1853, he argued that “the natural rights of one human being are those of every other; in all cases equally sacred and inalienable; hence, the boasted Rights of Man, about which we hear so much, are simply the Rights of Woman, about which we hear so little; or, in other words, they are the Rights of Humankind, neither affected by or dependent on sex or condition.”

Such advocacy earned him the friendship of people like Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Lydia Maria Child and Susan B. Anthony while often alienating him from white male and some black activists and reformers. Early on, copies of The Liberator were taken from the mail in southern post offices and burned. Several slave-holding states made it a crime for a slave to even posses or handle a copy of The Liberator.

Garrison knew and cherished the symbolic gesture. In a nineteenth-century antecedent to flag-burning, Garrison, at the Fourth of July celebration in 1854 at Framingham, Massachusetts, set a match to a copy of the Unites States constitution, denouncing that document as “a Covenant with Death, an Agreement with Hell” because of the protections of slavery written into it by the framers. “So perish all compromises with tyranny. And let all the people say, ‘Amen,’” Garrison exclaimed like a revivalist preacher. As Henry Mayer in his brilliant biography of Garrison, All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, writes, “With a gesture harking back to Martin Luther’s defiant burning of both the canon law and the papal bull that had excommunicated him for heresy, the editor made his most sensational and concentrated statement yet against” the slave system and the government which protected it.

I appreciate journalists and editors who dare speak truth to power. They make us uncomfortable. But that is exactly what we need.

 

Anything of note for June11?

On any given day of the year, much has happened. That thought always intrigues me. So I’ve done some looking around about the 11th day of June. June 11 is the 162nd day of the year with 203 days remaining till year’s end. In the Christian church, it is the traditional feast day of Barnabas the Apostle, one of the leaders of the early church in the city of Antioch and later the traveling companion of Paul. (Acts13:1 and following).

On this day in 173, a Roman army under the command of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius defeated a vastly superior force of the Quadi in Moravia. It was during this campaign Marcus Aurelius wrote in Greek his famous Meditations as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. The title of the work he simply called To Myself. Those who admire it have included John Stuart Mill and Goethe.

England knew interesting times on June 11th. In 1509, a slim and healthy King Henry VIII married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Europe was not yet upset by the upstart Martin Luther. On this date in 1572 Ben Jonson, the playwright and poet, was born.

In 1776 on June 11th, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston to a committee to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Adams encouraged Jefferson to take the lead in writing, asserting that a Virginian ought to have a lead role and telling Jefferson that he (Jefferson) was the better writer. This time period marked the beginning of a strong friendship between Adams and Jefferson, a friendship which would sour between 1797 and 1808 but strengthened afresh as the two men aged. Many years after 1776, Jefferson hailed Adams as “the pillar of support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered” during the fractious debate about adopting the Declaration of Independence, the “American Scripture” as one contemporary scholar has called it.

The year 1837 saw violence in Boston on June 11th, fueled by ethnic tensions between locals and Irish immigrants.

1880 saw the birth of Jeanette Rankin in Montana. She became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1917, when President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, Ms Rankin felt divided. She supported the campaign for women’s rights and for peace. Carrie Chapman Catt cautioned her that if Rankin voted against the war, she would harm the cause of women. (Imagine! A president following the mandate of the Constitution and actually going to Congress to declare war.) When the role call vote came, Ms Rankin was one of 50 members of the House to vote no. (Congressional Representatives voting their principles!) When she voted, she declared, “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.” The press had a field day, often criticizing her. When a reporter asked Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia, who also voted no, if it was true that Ms Rankin cried when she cast her vote, LaGuardia replied, “I do not know. I could not see her. My eyes were full of tears.” Rankin stated, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Later she opposed United States involvement in World War II and still later in Vietnam. Regarding women in Congress, she said, “We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress.” That still hasn’t happened. Obviously, work remains to be done.

The wonderful scientist and explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born on June 11th, 1910. Those pictures and films of his work are still awe-inspiring.

In the United States, 1920 was an election year. The Republican National Convention was held in Chicago. President Woodrow Wilson, an incumbent Democrat, was ill and the nation was tired from the war which had concluded eighteen months before. The Republicans had many candidates in contention, the leaders being General Leonard Wood and Governor Lowden of Illinois. Senators in consideration included Warren G. Harding of Ohio, Hiram Johnson of California and “Fighting Bob” La Follette of Wisconsin. Progressives favored La Follette. Other potential candidates included Calvin Coolidge, governor of Massachusetts and Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. [I wonder what chance a university president would have today to even be considered by a major party. Hhhmmmm!] After a series of ballots, the convention appeared dead locked between the two major contenders. So on June 11th, Republican Party leaders gathered in a room at the Blackstone Hotel to come to a consensus on the candidate, leading the Associated Press to first coin the political phrase “smoke-filled room.” As a result, Harding received the nomination on the tenth ballot, after some voting shifted to comply with the back room deal. (The same convention adopted a plank in the platform in support of woman suffrage. By the time the convention began on June 6th, thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Seven states, including Delaware, Maryland and five southern states, had voted against ratification.)

In 1925 William Styron, the novelist, was born in Virginia.

In the sixties, the struggle for civil rights and the war in southeast Asia filled the news. On June 11, 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from attending the University of Alabama. Later in the day, accompanied by federalized National Guard troops, they managed to register. That same day a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, rather calmly burned himself with gasoline at a Saigon intersection to protest the lack of religious freedom and the on-going war in South Vietnam. I will never forget the horror I felt as I watched the news footage.

On June 11 in 1985, Karen Ann Quinlan died at age 31. Ms Quinlan was a comatose patient whose case prompted a prolonged legal battle and much discussion about the right to die. Two years later, in 1987, Margaret Thatcher became the first British prime minister in more than a century and a half to win a third consecutive term of office.

The federal government executed Timothy McVeigh in 2001 on June 11, for his role in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. In 2003 David Brinkley, the wry American television reporter, died a month away from his 83rd birthday. I grew up watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report which ran on NBC weekday evenings from 1956 to 1970. Their friendly conclusion to each broadcast, “Good night, Chet” and “Good night, David,” became for me as for many, a required evening mantra. Interestingly, it was followed by the beginning of the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as the program credits rolled across the screen

June 11, 2008, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an historic official apology to Canada’s First Nations for a century of governmental abuse in which children were isolated from their homes, families and cultures.

A Whitman’s sampler of the depth and breadth of any given day’s history. Wait, you do remember what a Whitman sampler is, don’t you?

The Greeks Had A Word For It

In the classical Greek period, people wrote and spoke of the nine muses as the daughters of Zeus, the ruler of the gods, and his coupling with Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. These divine females included Calliope, who inspired epic poetry; Erato, inspiration of lyric poetry; Polyhymnia, religious poetry; Euterpe, music; Terpsichore, dance; Melpomene, tragic drama; Thalia, comic drama; Urania, astronomy; and Clio, who inspired history. For these Greeks, history was an art form. The modern English word “history” derives from a Greek word meaning “a narrative.”

In the European intellectual tradition developed since the Renaissance, history has come to mean the prose recitation of past events, based on contemporary witness to related, cold, hard “facts.” Written records are considered absolutely indispensable, oral tradition relegated to second or even lesser place, and strong, sometimes sole emphasis on events and which mark change and pre-supposed growth, societal movement from one phase to another. As an unfortunate result, Africans, Asians and indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia were seen as people without history. Likewise, women, poor people, laboring classes, dissenting minorities and others were ignored or relegated to footnotes. Emphasis was placed on kings, generals, diplomats, politicians, religious leaders, wealthy entrepreneurs–most always males and usually white–who “got things done.” Like the detective in the old Dragnet television series of the 1950’s, too many historians, writers and teachers wanted “the facts, just the facts.” Much too often this approach, even at the collegiate level, led to generations of bored students who could recite names and dates by rote memory and then forget it all after the examination. To my way of thinking, that is not history, not an inspired art form.

Consider some of the problems with that approach. Just what are “facts?” Ask any lawyer or any juror involved in the trial of an automobile accident case. The two drivers, any passenger, bystanders, investigating police officers all have “facts” to offer. If they differ, does that automatically mean that someone is not telling the truth? Does not where one stood, or sat, at that time, have an effect on one’s perception of what happened? In any famous battle, do not the common soldier or sailor, the mid-ranking officer and the commanding general or admiral, all have different perspectives on what happened? And surely the opposing army or navy has a different outlook? Likewise, the immigrant wife had a different perspective than that of the Ellis Island official interrogating her. The multi-languaged workers in mills and factories saw things differently than the owners. Ask the survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City or the Bread-and-Roses strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Are “facts” and “truth” the same thing? Remember, “What is truth?” asked jesting Pilate , who would not stay for an answer. Here, history and law enter the area of extremely serious philosophic inquiry.

Why did historians of the European tradition value written documents over oral traditions and histories? Most cultures had or continue to have griots, elders and shamans who carry from generation to generation the heritage of their peoples. Most families, like my own, relate and cherish the tales of foremothers and forefathers. Beowulf and much of the Torah passed on as oral stories from heart to heart long before they were first written down.

I think also that we need to remember that “story” and “fiction” are not synonymous. Fiction is imaginary, inventive, derived from the Latin verb fingo, meaning to shape or to invent. Story means a description of events or experiences or an item of news. History is the human story. Good history is that story well-told. To be well-told requires the teller to be inspired. She needs a muse!

The African American historian James Horton said in a 2001 interview that in his baccalaureate study, history was about memorizing names and dates of presidents, “about memory, not about understanding.” Later a teacher named Idus Newby brought him to a different outlook. “In long conversations with him over the course of the next year or so, it became clear that history could be much more than obscure names and dates. It could be exciting and important. It could even be ‘relevant,’” Dr Horton said. He declared that “Not until graduate school did I become aware of the scholars . . . like W. E. B. DuBois, John Hope Franklin, Kenneth Stampp and others.”

When asked about his own teaching principles, Dr Horton replied, “I think that it is important for students to get the sense that people make history; it is not simply a matter of inevitable events or irresistible forces. The decisions that human beings make that move society in one or another direction are made within the context of a system of beliefs and as a consequence of experience. . . . students must become aware of another time, very different from their own in may ways. Attempting to do that is a valuable exercise because it facilitates the understanding that people may be reasonable, even though they do things with which we disagree.”

What makes historians such as the late John Hope Franklin, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eric Foner, Gerda Lerner, David McCullough, Linda Kerber, Howard Zinn, Peter Irons, Ellen Carol DuBois, David Garrow, Alice Kessler-Harris and the late Studs Terkel so readable and enjoyable for me is their ability to present a good story, well-informed, and well-written. Clio seems to inspire them.

Because I grew up loving a good story, both hearing and telling one, I did my undergraduate study in history. (Yes, I grew up in a clan with some strong Irish roots!) I enjoyed and continue to enjoy probing, studying, reading, thinking about history. So here, gentle reader, you will find me blogging about history. And history gives me a forum to talk about all kinds of people and things which interest me.

In the 1920’s, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “in the law a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” I believe that is true for most things–science, religion, politics, mathematics, literature, music, theater, trade and commerce, cinema, family dynamics. My blogs will include all kinds of things. My interests are varied, my age senior, my politics and theology unapologetically liberal. If you enjoy my rambling, I am pleased. If you don’t, well the web is a wide, wide world. To each her own.