History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://historynewsnetwork.org/site/feed A Ten Year Old's Witness to the Liberation of Auschwitz

Jerzy (George) Ogurek, c. 1943-1944. This photo shows the boy's hair dyed blond to disguise his Jewishness as his family fled from Poland to Budapest (he would be known later in life as George Zimmerman)

Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of George Zimmerman

 

By the time Red Army soldiers entered Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, ten-year-old Jerzy (George) Ogurek had survived three months in the death camp. He defied odds—almost all of the 230,000 children deported there were murdered immediately. Suffering from hunger and effects of scarlet fever, wearing oversized pants and shoes—stuffed with whatever he could find to keep himself warm—he witnessed the momentous event. Following a loud explosion, two Russian soldiers, dressed in white to camouflage themselves against the snow, appeared—each with a rifle on one arm and a huge sausage on the other.

 

Child survivors at Auschwitz photographed by the Red Army, 1945

 

 

By that point, George was adept at playing by new rules. In 1943, during an aktion in Sosnowiec’s ghetto, he had hidden in a storage room between sheets of leather. When escaping with his parents and grandparents from the ghetto, he had crouched quietly beneath hay that had been piled atop a wagon’s floor.

 

George’s parents had decided when and to where they must run. Bribing guards and guides, and with help from various networks, they traveled from Poland to Slovakia to Hungary—then back to Slovakia—evading Nazi collaborators and murderers. George, with bleached blond hair, pretending to be Catholic, could recite the Hail Mary in German, Polish, Hungarian, or Slovak.

 

In October 1944, smugglers hired to help them cross the border from Slovakia to Hungary betrayed the family. At Sered, a labor and transit camp, they were identified as Jews and sent to Auschwitz II (Birkenau).

 

Before their arrival, a transport of two thousand men, women, and children from Sered had been gassed. Directed to shower, George’s parents were sure they would be killed. They emerged with shaven heads and prisoners’ clothes. When it was George’s turn to have a number tattooed on his arm, his father implored the engraver to make the digits small.

The Nazis clubbed to death several people from George’s transport group. Kapos randomly pulled several individuals from the rows of inmates and beat them without the slightest pretense or justification. This place had no rules.

 

The SS directed the men and women into two separate groups. George went with the men, then to a barracks for children, where eight shared a small cubicle. During Zehl Appel (roll call), everyone had to stand for hours in the bitter cold. After working all day, George’s father and grandfather visited him in the evening. Once, his father brought him lard—it was stolen from George within hours.

 

Falling ill, George was transferred to the medical block. Every day, he counted the corpses in front of the barracks. He watched people eat potato peels. He never saw his father and grandfather again.

 

In early January, the Russians bombarded area targets. In mid-January, the SS evacuated 58,000 inmates by foot or on freight trains. George foraged through storehouses of clothing and food. Periodically, SS officers returned to the camp and shot people.

 

On January 20, the Nazis blew up two crematoria. Further destruction of incriminating evidence followed. SS units ordered the thousands of remaining inmates—the weak and sick, including children and Russian prisoners of war, out of the barracks. Officers asked, “Who thinks they will not be able to walk ten kilometers tonight?” Those who stepped out of line were taken behind a barrack and shot.

 

At that moment George imagined what it would feel like to die. He decided that he was prepared to meet his fate, be it life or death. Death was worse than pain and fear, but he was reconciled to even that possibility.

 

At that point, George was not alone. His father’s brother, whom he had never met, had recognized him when they were both in the medical block. Together, among one thousand inmates, they trudged out of Birkenau. The columns of war weary had not gone far when their guards stopped them. They waited in the snow for an hour, after which the guards got into trucks and disappeared. The leaderless group headed back to Auschwitz I, which had brick buildings as opposed to Birkenau’s wood barracks. As they walked, they ducked their heads to avoid shells and bullets.

 

After the liberation, George and his uncle did not wait for the arrival of more Russian troops to come and take charge of the situation. With cigarettes—a wartime currency—George’s uncle paid a driver to take them to Krakow. On the truck’s flatbed, George felt the weight of a large Russian soldier’s head resting upon his legs. He chose to tolerate the pain and discomfort rather than wake the sleeping giant.  

 

Fifty years later, I met with George Zimmerman, who over a 35-year career served as a professor, researcher, and administrator of Boston University’s physics department. No one with whom he worked knew what George had experienced as a child.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182221 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182221 0
Ty Seidule on Exposing Robert E. Lee, Lost Cause Myths, White Supremacy, and Treason

 

 

I grew up with a series of lies that helped further white supremacy. That’s uncomfortable. To see the real agony, think about the millions of people who lived their entire lives enslaved, knowing that enslavement would be the future for their children and their children’s children. Think of living with the violence of the Jim Crow era as an African American.

 Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me

 

In his candid and searing recent memoir, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (St. Martin’s Press), retired US Army general and renowned professor of history Ty Seidule recounts his odyssey from youthful hero worship of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and an indoctrination in racist myths of the Lost Cause to acclaim as a historian devoted to challenging the poisonous white supremacist lies about slavery, the Civil War, African American inferiority, Jim Crow segregation, and the deified Lee.

As a distinguished scholar of history, a decorated soldier, and a native of the South, Professor Seidule writes with rare authority about race, the Civil War, and the myths and lies about the war that he learned from an education presented through the lens of racism and Confederate mythology. He explains how his early beliefs were shaped by white supremacist ideology that demeaned and dehumanized Black citizens. These racist views imbued Southern culture and were widely shared throughout the country in textbooks, popular periodicals, and the media, with movies such as the award-winning Gone with the Wind and Disney’s Song of the South rife with degrading stereotypes of African Americans.

And Professor Seidule vividly describes his path to understanding and his emergence as a leader for historical truth and for a reckoning on race. He demolishes the myths about the saintly Lee and, based on extensive research and overwhelming evidence, concludes that Lee was a traitor to his country who fought to preserve slavery. And, as Professor Seidule describes the military’s veneration of Confederate leaders in naming of bases and other actions, he rejects honoring of those who fought to preserve slavery and committed treason in the effort.

He further details how he became a scholar of our deeply conflicted past, and how that study revealed the noxious, insidious influence of racist ideas that have poisoned white minds since the dawn of slavery. And he considers the timely and vexing issue of how otherwise seemingly admirable people could embrace the odious tenets of white supremacy and the oppression of others.

Professor Seidule’s powerful personal observations and insights are especially timely as our nation continues to suffer serious divisions on issues of race and democracy. He urges that understanding our past is critical to confronting and stopping the generational transmission of pernicious racist ideas.

Ty Seidule is Professor Emeritus of History at West Point where he taught for two decades. He served in the U.S. Army for thirty-six years, retiring as a brigadier general. He currently teaches history and serves as the Chamberlain Fellow at Hamilton College as well as a New America Fellow. He is the author or editor of six books of military history, three of which won distinguished writing prizes, including The West Point History of the Civil War. Also a leader in digital history, Professor Seidule created and co-edited the award-winning West Point History of Warfare, the largest enhanced digital book in any field. His video lecture “Was the Civil War About Slavery” has had more than 30 million views on social media. He also serves as the vice chair of the Congressional Naming Commission, which will rename Department of Defense assets that honor the Confederate States of America. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and earned his doctorate at Ohio State University.

Professor Seidule generously responded to questions about his work and his new book by email.

Robin Lindley: Congratulations Professor Seidule on your candid new memoir Robert E. Lee and Me and thank you for considering questions. You have a distinguished background as a military historian and author. What inspired you to write your revelatory memoir now on your indoctrination in the myths and lies of the Confederate Lost Cause and your rigorous exploration of the reality of our history of racism and white supremacy?

Professor Ty Seidule: When I was at West Point, I chaired our memorialization committee. We created a new memorial room to the 1500+ Academy graduates who “gave the last full measure of devotion” to the nation from the War of 1812 to the present, including more than 100 alumni killed since 9/11. One decision caused a ruckus. Should the West Point graduates who fought and died in Confederate gray be included in the new Memorial Room? I argued, stridently, no! After all, Confederates abrogated their oath, killed US Army soldiers, and committed treason for the worse possible reason: to create a slave republic. Yet, I lost. The superintendent wanted to include the names.

I went home, defeated, to tell my wife. She asked me if I had told everyone why I was so passionate. Why the issues were so important to me? No, I told her. I’m a historian. I tell other people’s stories. She told me if I wanted to convince anyone, I needed to be honest and tell my story.

Then, in 2017, Washington and Lee University invited me to give a talk in Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee is buried. I told my story and called Lee a traitor for slavery. The audience gave me a standing ovation. I realized that if I was honest about my own story, I might be able to convince others about the facts of the Civil War and the Lost Cause more readily. So, I decided to do what few historians do. Use my own story to try to reach a broader audience.

Robin Lindley: In your new book, you describe your virtual reverence for Robert E. Lee, and how your education as a child and young adult was imbued with Confederate myths and racist history. At one point as a child, you ranked Lee as an “11” out of a scale of 10, and ranked Jesus at five. How do you see the origins of your adoration of Lee? Did your parents and teachers encourage your embrace of Lost Cause myths and the veneration of Lee when you grew up in the 1960s?

Professor Ty Seidule: Every aspect of my life encouraged me to see Lee as the epitome of a Southern gentleman. I wanted to be a Virginia gentleman because that meant status. My first chapter book was Meet Robert E. Lee. Lee looked like a military god on loan from Mt Olympus, framed by a gigantic Confederate flag. Today, it’s hard to imagine just how reverential Lee was to the white South, especially in Virginia.

Robin Lindley: What was your view of the causes of Civil War and its outcome as a child and young adult?

Professor Ty Seidule: It wasn’t something I remember thinking about. My culture focused on the romantic, underdog Confederates who fought nobly for a doomed cause. But honestly, I don’t remember thinking or hearing anything about the cause, the purpose. That was the problem. The purpose of the war and the war itself weren’t linked.

Robin Lindley: You vividly describe your college experience at Washington and Lee University—a veritable shrine to Robert E. Lee, who was seen as the paradigm of the Southern Christian gentleman. What did you learn about Lee and the college’s efforts to deify Lee, the former president of the college?

Professor Ty Seidule: The entire history of the school revolved around deifying Lee until very recently. Fundraising was successful for years by its association with Lee. Lee Chapel was called by the University in the 1920s “The Westminster Abbey of the Confederacy.” In fact, Lee Chapel is more a reliquary to a saint than a chapel. His basement office remains untouched from the day he died in 1870. Traveller, his warhorse, buried outside Lee’s crypt, often has apples left by tourists.

The fact that Lee’s statue lies on the altar in the Chapel’s apse clearly shows who is venerated – and it’s not Jesus. When my wife saw it for the first time, she understood that the school literally worshipped Lee. Her reaction? “Get me out of here!”

Robin Lindley: It may surprise some readers that so many bases and other US military facilities are named for Confederate leaders. Why did the US military honor traitors to the US in this way?

Professor Ty Seidule: Yes. Several of our most prestigious army posts honor the enemy. The War Department named them during WWI and WWII when the army was a segregationist institution, and the South was a racial police state.

Black people did protest these names, but they had been violently excluded from voting and could not change it. But to me it’s outrageous that the US Army, the most diverse workforce in the country, honors the enemy. An enemy who fought for slavery and killed US Army soldiers. Some like Henry Benning and John Brown Gordon never served in the US Army. Others like Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk, John Bell Hood and other West Point graduates chose to fight against the country that educated them. Lee served in US Army for over 30 years before choosing treason to preserve slavery.  

Robin Lindley: You had a distinguished teaching career at the US Military Academy at West Point. You note that Lee casts a long shadow there with numerous tributes to the Confederate general. What are a few examples of this admiration for Lee at West Point that struck you?

Professor Ty Seidule: I lived on Lee Road, by Lee Gate, in Lee Housing area. At West Point our barracks are named for America’s greatest military heroes, Washington, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Bradley, Scott, Sherman, Grant, and Pershing. We recently named our newest barracks after Benjamin O. Davis, Jr, the first Black West Point grad in the twentieth century. But one barracks bears Lee name. When was it named? The early 1970s. I counted more than a dozen memorials to Lee at West Point.

The first Lee memorial came about in the 1930s and the last in 2002. That’s part of what changed me. West Point was an anti-Confederate monument in the nineteenth century. No Confederates in the prestigious cemetery. No Confederates in the Memorial Hall. None on the towering Battle Monument to the US Army dead from the “War of the Rebellion.”

“Duty, Honor, Country,” West Point’s motto is anti-Confederate. West Point in the nineteenth century saw Lee and his Confederate comrades as traitors. Lee made a comeback when West Point moved towards equal rights and integration. And that really informed my understanding of Confederate memorialization. It’s always about white supremacy.

Robin Lindley: Thanks for that striking observation. You’re a retired general and renowned expert on military history. Was Lee a good soldier and general?

Professor Ty Seidule: For years, I let the smell of gunpowder seduce me into answering that question. No more!

Lee chose treason to preserve slavery. His army kidnapped Black people during the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns and brought them back for sale in Virginia. Lee’s army depended on enslaved people for much of their logistics – cooks, teamsters, nurses, engineers, farriers, and servants. The Army of Northern Virginia was an enslaving army. And Lee desperately wanted more enslaved labor throughout the war. Think of that for a minute. What other army depended so thoroughly on enslaved labor for its logistics? Also, Lee’s army routinely executed Black prisoners of war. Too often, we look at the tactics of war and forget the purpose.

I cover Lee as a strategist and tactician only after I clearly talk about treason and slavery.

Robin Lindley: Lee was an enslaver. How did he treat enslaved people? Did he ever emancipate slaves or call for abolition of slavery?

Professor Ty Seidule: Lee was a cruel enslaver. He enslaved people from the time his mother died soon after his graduation until 1863. When Lee’s father-in-law died in 1857, Lee took control of three enslaved labor farms for more than two years (I won’t call them plantations, which evoke images of the wind whispering through the Spanish Moss. Plantations are more Dachau than Disneyland).

Lee’s father-in-law recognized enslaved marriages and kept families together. Lee tried to maximize his profits at the expense of enslaved people by using the hiring system to break apart all but one family. He also ordered Wesley Norris and his sister whipped, telling the constable to “Lay it on well.”

As for emancipation, he once said that freedom would come on God’s time. He certainly fought for slavery, not emancipation. Lee’s actions are what count to me.

Robin Lindley: Your verdict on Lee is straightforward: He was a traitor who fought to preserve slavery. What was the most important evidence you considered in reaching this verdict?

Professor Ty Seidule: For treason: The US Constitution lists only one crime. In Article III Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” No court convicted him, although he was indicted.

I write as a historian but also as a US Army officer who served nearly 36 years. Lee also abrogated the oath he had taken only three weeks earlier on his promotion to colonel. In fact, he didn’t even wait three days to let his resignation process before he accepted a commission in the Virginia militia. Of the eight US Army colonels from Virginia in 1861, all West Point graduates, Lee and only Lee chose to fight for the Confederacy, chose treason.

As for slavery, that’s easy. Everyone knew that’s why the white South seceded. They told everyone. It wasn’t a secret. If senior officers fought for the Confederacy (especially one as smart as Lee) they knew damn well what they fought for – slavery. Then there are Lee’s comments after he heard about the Emancipation Proclamation on January 10, 1863, calling it,

A savage and brutal policy … which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction.

He fought for slavery because he believed in slavery.

Robin Lindley: Was there a moment or incident that sparked you to challenge your admiration of Lee and question the Lost Cause lies?

Professor Ty Seidule: Like many changes in life, it came gradually and then very fast.

First, my identity became army officer, not Southern gentleman. Second, I married a woman incapable of lying. My culture lied constantly. She really changed me. Third, I became a historian at West Point and then a historian of West Point.

I understood the Civil War was about slavery, but for too long, I held romantic notions of Lee. Then, when I started studying West Point’s memorialization of Lee, I just became outraged that tributes to Lee came at the same time as integration. That made me not just a historian but an activist for change.

Robin Lindley: How do you see views of the Confederacy and Lee evolving, if at all?

Professor Ty Seidule: Radical change! The US Congress created a commission to change the names of the army posts that honor Confederates, and then overrode President Trump’s veto by a supermajority. I serve on that commission. Memorials to Lee in Richmond, Charlottesville, and the US Capitol are gone. Wow! I would not have taken a bet with high odds in my favor that those iconic statues would be taken down in one year.

In a very short time, many (but not all) Americans see the values of the Confederacy as antithetical to our values and that gives me hope. My home state of Virginia is leading the way.

Robin Lindley: You write powerfully of how you felt betrayed by your education, your indoctrination with the lies of the Confederate Lost Cause, adoration of General Lee, and more. What would you like to see today’s students learn about our history?

Professor Ty Seidule: Everyone has a history. Every school has a history. Every town has a history.

I would love to see more students research their own lives. I taught a course on West Point’s history for years. We become better citizens, better people when we understand the history of where we live. And not just the myths, but the tough history: slavery, segregation, and redlining. A better understanding of our local history will, I think, make us more empathetic.

At West Point, our mission is to educate and inspire leaders of character for the nation who live the values of duty, honor, country. How do you teach character? Nothing works better than history. What we research and write can change our character, at least it did for me.

Understanding local history, through primary sources, made me a more empathetic and honest person.

And, for anyone teaching the Civil War, please, please have students read the Southern States Ordinances of Secession and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech. If you start with those documents, a teacher is on the right path.

Robin Lindley: I was struck that you received hate mail and even death threats in 2015 after you stated your view—and that of virtually all academic historians—that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. How are readers responding to your candid new book on Lee and the Lost Cause?

Professor Ty Seidule: The reception this time is far better, mostly. For the 2015 video I did on the cause of the Civil War, the online comments ran at least 20 to 1 negative. Now, it’s probably 10 to 1 positive. However, I still have plenty of one-star reviews on Amazon. There also seems to be a few folks who make videos debunking my argument.

If I receive hate mail in any form, I take it positively. I hope that my writing is clear enough that no one would mistake my message: treason for slavery. The Lost Cause, Confederate monuments, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, and lynching all created a system of white supremacy to ensure white political power. Of course, history is dangerous because it challenges our myths and identity. When I challenge people’s identity, the reaction can be ferocious, but I’ve faced far tougher foes than on-line trolls.

Robin Lindley: Your book Robert E Lee and Me is bound to become a classic study and it deserves a wide audience. Is there anything you’d like to add about your book or your insights on history and the time we live in now? Where do you find hope as a historian and professor?

Professor Ty Seidule: I have no shortage of hope. Through the political process, statues dedicated to white supremacy have come down all over the country. Remember that commemoration is about our values. These statues’ demise tells us that our values, at least in many places, no longer tolerate traitors who fought for slavery. The military is now in the process of ridding itself of Confederate commemoration. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean we’ve ended racism; we still have far, far to go, but for me as a soldier and a scholar, it’s a start. The only way to prevent a racist future is to first understand our racist past.

Robin Lindley: Thank you Professor Seidule for your thoughtful comments and insights, and congratulations on your moving and powerful new book. And best wishes on your new position at Hamilton College.

 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based attorney, writer and features editor for the History News Network (history news network.org. His work also has appeared in Writer’s Chronicle, Bill Moyers.com, Re-Markings, Salon.com, Crosscut, Documentary, ABA Journal, Huffington Post, and more. Most of his legal work has been in public service. He served as a staff attorney with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations and investigated the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His writing often focuses on the history of human rights, conflict, medicine, art, and culture. Robin’s email: robinlindley@gmail.com.  

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154579 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154579 0
The Art of Swimming (Excerpt)

From Cave of the Swimmers, Wadi Sura, Egypt. Photo Roland Unger, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Aristotle, in the 4th century B.C., observed that it was “not inappropriate” to compare swimming to running.  And it’s true, one could do a kind of head count of body parts and see that each one is engaged while swimming:  eyes, mouth, nose, lungs, heart, shoulders, chest, arms, hands, neck, back, abdominal muscles, buttocks, legs, feet.

 

“Swimming can make one slender, improve the breath, firm up, warm and thin the body as well as rendering a person less liable to injury,” the Renaissance-era Italian physician Girolamo Mercuriale pointed out in his 1573 treatise De arte gymnastica.  What’s more, he felt that swimming provides “greater pleasure” than other kinds of exercise, “since the movement of the water…produces by its gentle touch a sort of peculiar pleasure all its own.”  

 

Spoken like a true swimmer.  I like that phrase peculiar pleasure, how it acknowledges the frankly sensual nature of swimming and the relationship—if that’s not too odd a word to use—that one develops with water.  The environment in which the swimmer swims makes it unique among exercises, and uniquely satisfying.

 

But the water’s embrace can change as quickly as the weather.  As with fire, there is always an element of danger and unpredictability with water, whether one is swimming in a lake, river, ocean, pond, or pool, which puts swimming in a different category from other forms of exercise. This is not to say that risks are not inherent in running, lifting, climbing, cycling, martial arts, or yoga, but these tend to be injuries of overuse (pulled muscles, torn tendons), equipment failure, or perhaps an overzealous opponent (a boxer’s black eye).  And instances of so-called “death by exercise”—when someone drops dead while, say, jogging—are generally due to preexisting medical conditions (albeit often unknown) such as atrial fibrillation.

 

With swimming, by contrast, your life depends on knowing how to do it.  There can be a very real risk of drowning, of accidents occurring—being outmatched by a powerful current and carried out to sea, or taken under by a rogue wave—no matter how strong a swimmer you may be.  Whereas parents teach their children to ride a bike for the sheer fun of it, for the sense of freedom and independence it brings, swimming is taught, first of all, as a basic safety measure. It’s a parent’s duty.  

 

The same was so thousands of years ago.

 

Our earliest recorded evidence of swimming comes in a group of cave paintings created during the Neolithic period, dating to about 10,000 years ago. The pictographs, found in a cave in southwest Egypt near the Libyan border, appear to show swimmers in different phases of a stroke—to my eyes, it looks like the breaststroke.  At the time these were painted, the climate was more temperate in this part of the world; there were lakes and rivers where now there is little more than desert. Archaeologists have postulated that the scenes depict an aspect of everyday life, a time when survival depended on knowing how to swim.  One swam to reach the other side of a body of water—perhaps in pursuit of food, perhaps to flee a warring tribe, perhaps to move to safer ground—and one swam simply for sustenance:  to catch fish.

 

Among the Greeks, it seems to have been expected that everyone—man, woman, and child—should be able to swim, which makes sense, since most people lived near the water.  As Plato observes in the Laws, not knowing how to swim was considered as much a sign of ignorance as not knowing how to read.  Socrates put it more starkly:  Swimming “saves a man from death.”  Parents taught their children, and presumably children learned from one another. The same obligation has held true for many centuries in Judaism.  As stated in the Talmud (Kiddishin 29a), parents must teach their children three essential things:  the Torah, how to make a living, and how to swim.

 

A similar perspective held true in ancient Egypt, where most people lived on the Nile or on one of the canals branching from the river. The ability to swim was a life-and-death matter for fishermen or boatmen, and a mark of a proper education for the higher classes.  In both Greece and Egypt, however, swimming was not among the events at athletic games or displays (Swimming did not become an Olympic event until the advent of the modern games in 1896). Exactly why this would be is never stated in ancient texts or hieroglyphics, naturally—any more than we would feel compelled to justify today why walking isn’t in the Olympics.  My sense is that swimming was seen as more of a utilitarian skill—the “athletic equivalent of the alphabet,” as the historian Christine Nutton has put it; given that nearly everyone knew how to swim, women included, it fell outside an exclusively male sphere.

 

Moreover, swimming was not a spectacular event, like ancient Greek or Roman boxing or pankration.  And unlike sprints or field events, with their displays of speed and strength, it was not conducive to spectators. While swimming may not have been a competitive event, its value as an all-around exercise was apparently appreciated.  Both the ancient historian Pausanias and the writer Philostratus noted that the four-time Olympic boxing champion Tisandrus supplemented his training at the gymnasium with long-distance swimming:  in Philostratus’s words, “his arms carried him great distances through the sea, training both his body and themselves.”

 

Actual instruction manuals on swimming didn’t begin to appear until the 16th century. The first of these, a stilted dialogue in praise of swimming titled Colymbetes and written in Latin by the Swiss humanist Nicolas Wyman, predated Mercuriale’s Gymnastica by three decades. Wyman was concerned with teaching rescue techniques—holding on to the victim while swimming with the free arm.  

 

It was not until fifty years later, in 1587, that the Englishman Everard Digby would treat the topic fully in De arte natandi (The Art of Swimming).  Digby, neither a physician nor an athlete per se, had been inspired by the work of a fellow scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge, the poet and teacher Roger Ascham.  Ascham’s 1545 treatise on archery, Toxophilus (Lover of the Bow), was the first of its kind—a step-by-step guide to shooting the longbow that also aspired to be a work of literary merit, written not in Latin but in plain English.  As Ascham pointed out in prefatory remarks, “Many English writers have not done so, but using strange words, as Latin, French, and Italian, do make all things dark and hard.”

 

While Digby modeled his work on Ascham’s, focusing on a single form of exercise, he persisted in making things “dark and hard” and inaccessible by writing in a scholar’s Latin. Nearly a decade later, the poet Christopher Middleton translated Digby’s De arte natandi into English; this version—reprinted numerous times and also translated into French—would remain the standard text on swimming in the Western world for another 300 years.  All things considered, it’s not bad; it goes beyond Wyman’s lifesaving techniques and makes a case for swimming as an art and a science well worth studying.  Instructions are included for a breaststroke, dog paddle, treading water, and so on (the freestyle stroke swum today would not be refined until the 19th century).  If anything, Digby goes too far, gets too imaginative. For instance, he recommends a kind of pedicure-cum-backstroke that sounds as ludicrous as it does dangerous.  Speaking of a hypothetical student, he writes: “Swimming upon his backe, let him draw up his left foote, and laye it over his right knee, still keeping his body very straight, and than hauing a knife ready in his right hand, he may easily keep up his legge until he hath pared one of his toes, as thus.”  One has to wonder if Digby actually tried this, or even swam at all.

 

 

Excerpted with permission from Sweat: A History of Exercise (Bloomsbury, 2022).

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182220 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182220 0
Patrick Henry and the Defense of Democracy

Patrick Henry at Virginia Assembly, March 23, 1775. Litho Currier and Ives, ca. 1876

 

 

On January 6, 2021, and again on its anniversary, rioters and their defenders invoked an almost mythological belief in “1776” and the most famous words of Patrick Henry – “give me liberty or give me death.” Henry’s speech is a favorite of the modern Tea Party and those who wish to deny federal authority or to ignore laws with which they disagree.

This, though, is to misunderstand Henry. His “liberty or death” speech was a response to British efforts to tax Americans unrepresented in Parliament and undermine the power of elected assemblies. His understanding of democracy is much more clearly shown in his opposition to ratification of the U.S. Constitution and then, later, his defense of the Constitution that he had opposed.

In 1788, Henry became the leading antifederalist, contesting ratification of the new Constitution. He warned that the federal government would become too powerful, too distant from the people. The presidency “squints to monarchy.” Henry almost defeated ratification in Virginia, but he lost. The Constitution was ratified.

When other antifederalists, led by George Mason, met to plan continued opposition to the Constitution’s implementation, Henry objected. He had opposed ratification “in the proper place – and with all the powers he possessed,” but having lost, it was time to “give it fair play.” Henry retired, refusing appointments as a Supreme Court justice, secretary of state, ambassador to France or Spain.

The story, though, does not end there. Within a decade, Henry was declared a prophet as the federal government’s power soared. In 1798, the Alien & Sedition Acts were adopted, effectively making it illegal even to criticize Congress or the president.

Many American rose in opposition, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Some advocated violent obstruction of federal authority. Kentucky, at Jefferson’s urging, declared the federal laws could not be enforced in Kentucky; they were “nullified.” Virginia, under Madison’s guidance, adopted resolutions only somewhat less revolutionary. The prospect of individual states disagreeing on which federal laws were valid and enforceable in their state raised the specter of interstate conflict, possibly civil war. Reports circulated of states arming for conflict with the federal government.

George Washington begged Henry to set aside his opposition to ratification and come out of retirement. Henry, recognizing that the nation was at risk, agreed: “I should be unworthy the character of a republican or an honest man if I withheld my best & most zealous efforts, because I opposed the Constitution….”

Patrick Henry – the leading antifederalist, the man who warned that the Constitution would create a government too powerful and distant from the people that would interfere with their rights – came out of retirement to defend the Constitution that he had opposed.

Henry’s final political speech, at Charlotte Courthouse in March 1799, speaks powerfully to the nature of democracy. He reminded the gathered throng that he opposed ratification. “He had seen with regret the unlimited power over the purse and sword consigned to the General government,” but the people ratified and, even for those who had opposed, “it was now necessary to submit to the constitutional exercise of that Power.”

The Alien & Sedition Acts were “odious & tyrannical,” but state interference with federal laws was unjustified and unconstitutional. The solution was the ballot box: “it belonged to the people who held the reins over the head of Congress, and to them alone....” The people’s power was in their votes.

Henry recognized that if tyranny “cannot be otherwise redressed,” people could revolt. But he warned, if forced to that extremity, “You can never exchange the present government but for a monarchy.” If Americans cannot live within our Constitution and laws, the republic fails. Despotism will result.

Henry won his election – Henry always won his election – but died before he could take office. But heeding his warning, the nation pulled back from the brink. The idea of nullification was swept aside (unfortunately to be resurrected in the run-up to the Civil War). Jefferson was elected president, but in a distinctly Henryesque manner: His supporters went to the ballot box and insisted upon change. Jefferson learned his lesson, in his first inaugural address stressing the “sacred principle that … the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail.”

The legacy of the election of 1800 is often given as the peaceful transfer of power between opposing parties, but it almost did not happen. Patrick Henry, the leading antifederalist, came out of retirement to remind the people that in a democracy they are called to respect the majority decision, even when they disagree with it. That essential legacy was respected in America as a foundation of our nation for 220 years.

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Peter Richardson on Hunter S. Thompson and the Long Shadow of the Counterculture  

 

 

Peter Richardson has written critically acclaimed books about the Grateful Dead, the iconic rock band; Ramparts magazine, the legendary San Francisco muckraker; and Carey McWilliams, the radical author, journalist, and editor of The Nation magazine. His latest book is Savage Journey: Hunter S. Thompson and the Weird Road to Gonzo, published by University of California Press. Aaron J Leonard corresponded with him recently about that book and his work as a whole.

 

 

 

At the risk of understatement, Hunter Thompson is a very contradictory character. Could you talk about what you see as his strengths and about his problematic characteristics and why he is an important historic figure?

 

Yes, Thompson was a complicated person who doesn’t reduce well to a type. He described himself in 1975 as “one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.” He wasn’t a great novelist, which he wanted to be, or a reporter, which he didn’t care so much about. But he had many strengths as a writer—a distinctive voice, a rich imagination, a gift for satire and invective, and tremendous comic precision. He was also an astute media critic. Part of what he offered readers was his version of the unvarnished truth—not only about politics and politicians, but also about other media outlets and their blind spots. Hari Kunzru called him a machine for exposing hypocrisy and mendacity.

 

Anyone reading Thompson for the first time will be struck by his sharp edges. He seemed to outgrow the Jim Crow attitudes of his native Kentucky, but for the rest of his life, he included racial epithets and ethnic slurs in his work and personal communications. Rape was also a recurring theme in his work, as was violence. Some of that material was problematic even by the standards of his time. But Thompson’s stuff wasn’t written, or meant to be read, in a moral vacuum. In fact, it’s dripping with moral judgments, many of which hold up well. I’ve tried to read his body of work and make my own judgments as carefully as I can. That’s all a writer can ask for.

 

His historical significance, I think, lies in his willingness to challenge the nation’s political class, including the leaders of both major parties. He didn’t do that in established journals of opinion. His most famous stuff ran in a fledgling San Francisco rock magazine. He didn’t argue for this or that policy, or support his analysis with evidence. Instead, he lampooned the establishment and exposed America’s true weirdness—not just at the Kentucky Derby or in Las Vegas, but also in the White House and on the campaign trail. Lunacy was an important theme. When the mainstream media looked at the hippies, that’s what they saw. But when Nixon went down in flames, his taped conversations showed that HE was crazy, not the kids who were smoking pot and reading Rolling Stone.

 

In retrospect, we can see that Thompson peaked after Vietnam and Watergate. It was a good time for the country to reflect and grow up, but Thompson wasn’t much help in that department. Growing up wasn’t really his thing. But in addition to being funny, he was prophetic. Trump and his supporters wouldn’t have surprised him at all. He saw that side of America and tried to warn us about it, but after a while the hyperbole wore thin. Once you compare Nixon to a werewolf, what do you say about Reagan and Bush?

 

What was “New Journalism” and how did it contribute to the Sixties counterculture?

 

That was a growing trend among magazine writers, including Thompson, who imported the techniques of fiction into their reporting. That meant dialogue, first-person narration, and other formal devices that weren’t part of traditional journalism. But mostly New Journalism was a reminder that the world doesn’t present itself to us as a list of facts assembled by an objective reporter. The world was more likely to reveal its meaning through a skilled writer’s sensibility. In New Journalism, the writer became an indispensable part of the story. Thompson went all in after reading Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965). That same year, Thompson wrote an article for The Nation, narrated in the first-person, about the Hell’s Angels. He converted that article into his first book, which became a bestseller.

 

Wolfe wrote for eastern elites, but he mined West Coast popular culture for his stories. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, his book about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, focused on the emerging Bay Area counterculture. Thompson had already befriended Kesey and introduced him to the Hell’s Angels. In fact, Thompson was one of Wolfe’s sources for the Kesey book. Like Wolfe, Thompson reported on exotic provincial subcultures, mostly on the West Coast. He didn’t really turn to politics until after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

 

Taken as a whole, New Journalism was a creature of the 1960s but didn’t celebrate the counterculture. Wolfe certainly raised Kesey’s profile, but Joan Didion described Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love as a collection of lost children. Thompson also wrote critically about the Haight that year, but he identified strongly with that scene. After leaving the Bay Area in 1966, he continued to work with San Francisco editors, especially Warren Hinckle and Jann Wenner. His primary outlet, Rolling Stone, was founded in 1967 and rose along with the counterculture that it championed. By the time Thompson began contributing there, he had created Gonzo journalism, which isn’t a genre so much as a label for his later and more spectacular work. Rolling Stone became its key purveyor, and that work helped Wenner distinguish his magazine from its competitors.

 

As Thompson shifted from New Journalism to Gonzo journalism, he was clearly blurring the lines between fiction and journalism. He thought some truths were accessible only through fiction, so blending those modes was fine, perhaps even necessary. Many journalists rejected that approach and continued to patrol the border between fiction and journalism. It’s a sensible position, but nineteenth-century writers, including Mark Twain, crossed those borders without apology. I’m more impatient with critics who judge a work by standards that aren’t implied by the work itself. Critics have wasted a lot of time railing against Gonzo journalism’s exaggerations and fantastical aspects. As Thompson told Jann Wenner, that’s like fact-checking a Bob Dylan song. It’s not very hard to see what Thompson was doing and to judge his work accordingly, but some of the generic confusion is understandable. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is still classified as nonfiction, even though the two main characters weren’t real people.

 

There is a through line in your work; Carey McWilliams, Ramparts magazine, the Grateful Dead, and now Hunter Thompson. Could you tell us a little about the connections and reinforcing relationships of this cohort?

 

Yes, quite right about the connections. The McWilliams biography really came out of nowhere. I had been teaching medieval literature in Texas, but accepted an editorial position at a California policy institute located in San Francisco. When I asked for reading suggestions, several senior people mentioned Carey McWilliams, whom I’d never heard of. I decided to write his biography in my spare time, and I was amazed by his accomplishments. In a review essay for The Nation, Mike Davis called him the California left’s one-man think tank. That’s a perfectly good description, but I think McWilliams’s achievement was more than a regional affair, and not only because he edited The Nation for two decades. Actually, he gave Thompson the Hell’s Angels story and was the only editor that Thompson really admired.

 

So the McWilliams biography was a huge learning experience. On the strength of that book, I began teaching courses on California culture at San Francisco State University. The research also introduced me to many younger writers who worked with McWilliams. That’s how I found out about Ramparts magazine, which I also knew nothing about. There wasn’t much out there about the San Francisco muckraker and its influence, despite the fact that it made a big splash and spawned Rolling Stone and Mother Jones. The Ramparts story gave me a chance to think about the Bay Area’s niche in the national media ecology. I’m an East Bay native, born in 1959, so I was writing about the world I was born into but never really studied. It was relatively easy to interview the key players at Ramparts because they wanted that story told, and many still lived in California. I was delighted when the New York Times Book Review said the book satisfied on every level.

 

The Grateful Dead was another product of that time and place. The idea for that book came to me serendipitously. I met some people connected to the Dead and decided to include the band’s story in my classes. It was a great example of the themes we were exploring. But I quickly saw that the Dead, though famous, weren’t well understood. The public image was grizzled hippie stoners and their diehard followers, but the Dead had a serious project, one that was grounded in the Bay Area’s mid-century bohemian scene. The Dead’s music, organization, and lineup changed over the years, but their underlying values were remarkably stable. You can’t survive, much less prosper, in that world for three decades without a clear idea of what you’re doing. In many ways, their story was lost on those who knew the Dead only through their studio recordings or their media coverage.

 

The Dead’s story intersected with Rolling Stone magazine, and when I finished that book, I was planning to write about the magazine. But Joe Hagan’s biography of Jann Wenner had just been put under contract, and Jann was obviously putting his energy into that. I noodled out some articles about Rolling Stone but eventually decided to write a book about Thompson. He appeared in my three previous books, and I loved his edited letters, so I felt like I had a running start.

 

So an obvious thread through my work is left-of-center political journalism based in California. But when you add the Dead book, there’s also an informal trilogy about the San Francisco counterculture.

 

Your work focuses on California, northern California in particular. Why did the Bay Area and its environs contribute so much to defining the Sixties?

 

I think part of the answer lies in the region’s bohemian tradition, which began with young, iconoclastic writers and a burgeoning newspaper culture right after the Gold Rush. San Francisco became a node in the global economy, but it was culturally isolated, at least from other American capitals. There was no official culture, no one to sell out to, and bohemianism played a more important role here than it did elsewhere. The arrival of the Beats in the 1950s was a benchmark, as was the Howl obscenity trial. That verdict signaled that San Francisco was a haven for those seeking political, artistic, and sexual freedom. The city’s bohemian community was small, but vital. It was collaborative, do-it-yourself, and nobody was getting rich. It helped that San Francisco was a relatively easy place to get over. After the war, rent was cheap because of suburbanization and white flight.

 

The Bay Area was known for its jazz, blues, and folk music, but when young musicians turned to rock music, San Francisco became a global rock capital. That happened very quickly, and you can’t tell that story without mentioning psychedelic drugs. The arrival of LSD changed everything: the music, concerts, posters, album art, and so on. Before that, a rock-and-roll show was four guys in identical suits singing three-minute songs over teenybopper screeching. After the hippies got their hands on it, the rock concert was about long jams, light shows, freestyle dancing, and drugs. Music was the key. Nobody in San Francisco was writing the great American novel. Weirdly, Thompson and Didion said almost nothing about the music in their contemporary coverage, even though Thompson dug the music. Their articles focused on drugs, politics, and general weirdness.

 

East Bay activism also helped define the 1960s. Ralph Gleason, who co-founded Rolling Stone, used to talk about the three Bs: the Beats, Berkeley, and [Harry] Bridges, the radical labor leader. Gleason thought that combination gave the region its distinctive character. Rolling Stone was part of that trajectory. It grew out of Ramparts magazine —Gleason and Wenner both worked there— and covered the San Francisco counterculture, but it also had deep connections with Berkeley campus activism. Jann Wenner, Greil Marcus, and several other key figures at Rolling Stone were shaped by the Free Speech Movement there. Gleason, who lived in Berkeley, also wrote sympathetically about campus activism. At the same time, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was formed in Oakland. Eldridge Cleaver, who wrote for Ramparts magazine before joining the Panthers, helped make them famous.

 

So between the Berkeley campus activists, the San Francisco hippies, and the Black Panthers in Oakland, a lot was going on. Those were three relatively distinct groups, but as the 1960s wore on, they began to influence each other. Two other movements were also taking shape. The Bay Area was already famous for conservation and such, but there was a growing concern within the counterculture about the environment. Also, hippies like Steve Jobs were bringing their countercultural values into the digital world. Those two movements took on more momentum in subsequent decades, so you might say they were part of the Long 60s.

                                                                                                                           

Leaving aside the conservative backlash for the moment, I don’t know of too many people under 55 who fully understand the degree that the counterculture made possible so much we now take for granted — from sexual mores, to dress, to musical experimentation. How do you see its lasting impact?

 

Yes, the counterculture’s influence was profound, and it wasn’t limited to a single decade. It sprawled out over the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, I don’t think you can understand America during that period without considering the counterculture. We’re not so focused on it now. The counterculture mostly reflected a fracture in the white middle class, and our collective attention has moved on to other groups and challenges. But that rupture, which was also geographical and intergenerational, is still important.

 

I like Jerry Garcia’s way of describing the counterculture. He compared it to dropping a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples radiate out from the point of origin. Once you drop the pebble, the ripples are unstoppable. He didn’t mean that political victory was inevitable, though he probably thought that, too. Like a lot of hippies, he wasn’t that interested in politics, but you can’t really understand the impact of the counterculture without looking at the social and political energies that were swirling around it.

 

As your question suggests, most of that influence was cultural rather than political. Peter Coyote claimed that the hippies lost all the political battles and won all the cultural ones. If you look around in American cities today, you’ll see yoga studios, farmers’ markets, recycling centers, dispensaries, and so on. All of that can be traced back to the counterculture. The mainstream culture absorbed all of it without breaking a sweat. At the same time, it turned hippies into a cartoon. I don’t give the hippies a pass, and there was plenty to make fun of. But as always, the relevant question is: compared to whom? To the people who supported racial segregation, the war in Vietnam, or the war on drugs? If so, I’ll take the hippies any day. Thompson was no flower child, but he valued the utopian impulse he saw in the counterculture. It fed into his Jeffersonian version of the American Dream. Plus, the music was really good.

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Antisemitism is Toxic and Persistent. It's Not Inevitable

 

 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be observed on January 27th, in honor of the Soviet army’s liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on that date in 1945.  Although the six million victims of the Holocaust are fewer than ten percent of the estimated 75-80 million killed during World War II, this number nevertheless constituted the murder of nearly 60 percent of the eleven million Jews in all of Europe at the time, including the utter destruction of nearly a thousand Jewish communities in Eastern and Central Europe, and one third of the entire global Jewish population of 18 million on the eve of that conflict.

 

The current Jewish reading cycle of “Exodus,” the second of the Five Books of Moses, began on Christmas Day.  Chapter 1 verse 8 is a frequent starting point for a discussion of antisemitism and the historical Jewish condition: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”  The new pharaoh reasoned that these people were not really Egyptians, so how could they be trusted?  A prime correlate for antisemitism is for a government or a large number of its citizens not to recognize the Jewish minority in their midst as a legitimate part of the nation. 

 

By way of contrast, there were a few outstanding instances of nations within the orbit of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust that resisted antisemitism.  The Danes were under Nazi occupation but the underground resistance, tipped off by an anti-Nazi German, saved virtually all of the nation’s Jews by ferrying them in fishing boats into Sweden.  

  

Albania, a client state of the Axis while under Italian and then German occupation, safeguarded its own tiny Jewish community and took in foreign refugees.  It ended World War II with 11 times more Jews than at its outset. 

 

Finland also stood out as a de facto ally of Germany (fighting to regain territory lost to Soviet aggression in the “Winter War” of 1939-40), but totally rejecting German entreaties to surrender its small Jewish community.  Over 300 Finnish Jews served in the Finnish army.  When, in 1942, the Finnish government did turn over eight Austrian Jewish refugees, this occasioned widespread protests, including from prominent politicians and leaders of the Lutheran Church, which resulted in a new policy that safeguarded approximately 500 Jewish refugees as the war progressed.  

 

Bulgaria, an ally of Nazi Germany for most of the war, has gained a reputation for saving its native Jewish population, but this is far from the complete story.  It readily deported over 11,000 non-Bulgarian Jews to their deaths from the Greek and Yugoslav territories occupied by its forces, and even its treatment of Jewish Bulgarians was far from exemplary.  Bulgaria’s racist “Law for the Protection of the Nation” stripped Jews of citizenship rights, and excluded them from professions, universities and trades.  Men were drafted under harsh conditions into forced labor battalions, and eventually most Jews were expelled into the countryside from the capital city of Sofia, suffering a complete loss of property.  (See the “Bulgaria” entry in the online Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)    

 

The Bulgarian story is complicated, with some members of parliament and church leaders protesting deportations, and its Jewish population at the war’s end equaling its prewar level.  But Bulgaria's record comes out better only because things were so bad elsewhere. 

 

For example, nearby Romania, another ally of Nazi Germany, independently murdered several hundred thousand Jews in mass shootings and by other brutal means within its pre-war boundaries and in territories temporarily captured from the Soviet Union, including the massacre of 40,000 inmates at the Bogdanovka concentration camp.  Hungary, also an ally of Germany, eventually deported most of its Jews to Auschwitz.  And France’s collaborationist Vichy government had no qualms about giving up its Jewish citizens.  Although there were exceptions, persecuted Jews were often hunted down, imprisoned and murdered by Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Croatians. 

 

Because my parents came here from Poland as immigrants but were actually refugees in the middle of 1941, I’m especially interested in the Polish case.  Modern Polish history from the 19th century on was marked by a conflict between a narrow ethnic definition of Polishness and a more inclusive vision, which embraced its ethnic minorities, the largest of which were the Jews, Ukrainians and Germans.  The George Washington of modern Polish independence in 1918 was Marshall Joseph Pilsudski, a man of the left who advocated this broader inclusive view of Polishness.  But when he died in office as president of the republic in 1935, antisemitism came to the fore and the Jews suffered from a devastating economic boycott, prior to the Nazi and Soviet conquest in September 1939. 

 

Poland was the only country under Nazi occupation where some fighting units of the partisan resistance victimized Jews even as they fought the Nazis.  It was also the scene of murderous pogroms perpetrated by Poles against Jews, such as in Jedwabne in 1941 and in Kielce after the war was over.   But there was and remains a sharp political divide between antisemites and other Poles who oppose antisemitism.  

 

Since ethnic Poles also suffered greatly under Nazi rule, losing about ten percent of their population (not counting the more than 90 percent of Polish Jews who perished), many are irate over scholarly research that has uncovered instances of Polish violence against Jews.  The current rightwing Polish government has even criminalized such scholarship and exploited popular outrage to further entrench itself in power.  Parallel movements in other Eastern European countries, such as in the Baltic States and Ukraine, have been propelled by a similar politics of resentment to promote the theory of a “double genocide” -- arguing that the Soviet occupation was also genocidal, while often extolling nationalist heroes implicated in the mass murder of Jews. 

 

Closer to home, Salo Wittmayer Baron was a Columbia University historian credited with creating the study of Jewish history as an academic discipline.  He is widely quoted as opposing the “lachrymose conception of Jewish history," meaning a history that only focuses on the suffering and misfortunes of the Jewish people.  Still, the calamities are there: the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the end of the two Hebrew kingdoms, the destruction of Judea by the Romans, and the numerous massacres, humiliations and expulsions of the Jews from most European countries during the Middle Ages. 

 

Then there’s the stereotyping and scapegoating of Jews in modern times culminating in the Holocaust, and the persistence of antisemitic prejudice to this day, including instances of violence, to which even the United States is not immune.  The “Alt-Right” demonstrators at Charlottesville chanted “Jews will not replace us.”  The murderer of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was motivated by this “replacement theory” that liberal Jews are to blame for the recent waves of non-white immigrants.  One is left with the fear that this pattern of antisemitic hatred is inescapable, even where American Jews have long felt secure.  

 

During the 1990s, I had erroneously thought that antisemitism as a major phenomenon was basically done.  To me, the popular success of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld” represented a new casual acceptance, even popularity of Jews in this country.  Today, a majority or near majority of American Jews are marrying non-Jews, with Jewish relatives even included in most presidential and vice-presidential families since the 1990s: i.e., Clinton, Gore, Trump, Biden, and Harris. 

 

I had pinned my hopes on what looked like a successful peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, until this crashed and burned.  Ever since the Palestinian Intifada in the early 2000s, and the periodic eruptions of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip afterwards, Europe’s Jews have experienced waves of assaults, including murders, mainly from members of Muslim immigrant communities.  Blaming random diaspora Jews for actions or policies of the State of Israel, subjecting them to verbal or physical abuse, is classic antisemitic bigotry.  It is akin to what leading Americans, ranging from George W. Bush leftward, warned against in the wake of 9/11, that Muslims as a whole should not be blamed for the atrocities committed ostensibly in the name of Islam.  (Not that Israel’s policies in the occupied territories are analogous to 9/11, but one can criticize them without resorting to antisemitism.)

 

I still greatly value these words in Yitzhak Rabin’s inaugural Knesset speech as prime minister in 1992, warning against Jewish insecurity and fatalism:  

No longer are we necessarily "a people that dwells alone," and no longer is it true that "the whole world is against us." We must overcome the sense of isolation that has held us in its thrall for almost half a century.   

 

I’m heartened that a number of high-profile Jewish evildoers have not triggered massive antisemitism in this country: e.g., Bernie Madoff, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and the Sackler family.  Their Jewishness has not been emphasized, except for Madoff having victimized prominent Jewish individuals and organizations that invested heavily in his Ponzi scheme.  

 

Antisemitism is characterized by the lumping together of Jews, implicating all in the misdeeds of a few, and their designation as a conspiratorial “other” rather than as compatriots.  Both in the US and abroad, the picture is complicated; this hateful bigotry continues, but it’s neither universal nor inevitable.

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The Roundup Top Ten for January 21, 2022

MLK was CRT Before there was a Name For It (Ask One of the Scholars Who Founded the Field)

by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

A founder of the Critical Race Theory movement argues the movement, like Dr. King, insists that "the promise of liberation extends beyond the elimination of formal segregation and individual-level prejudice."

 

Bronx Fire Shows the Perils and Politics of Home Heating

by Rebecca Wright

Landlords and tenants have long fought over the benefits and costs of heat, with municipal codes serving as the referee. This month's deadly fire shows the consequences of regulatory neglect.

 

 

Trump's NPR Interview Shows the Hazard of Giving Him Airtime

by Federico Finchelstein

The history of fascism shows that it's a mistake for the news media to treat propagandists as honest actors. They'll exploit the free press to promote their ideas, but crush independent journalism at the first opportunity.

 

 

Orban and Putin Don't do Debates Either

by Ruth Ben-Ghiat

The news that the Republican National Committee will boycott the Commission on Presidential Debates echoes the actions of authoritarians who reject the principle of political toleration and the very legitimacy of the opposition. 

 

 

Covidtests.gov is the Right Move, but More Needs to be Done

by David M. Perry

So far, the idea of directly distributing tests from the government to the public through the post office seems like a winner. But it remains to be seen if there is sufficient political will and resources to actually commit to cutting out middlemen and giving Americans tools to protect their health.

 

 

The True History Behind HBO's "The Gilded Age"

by Kimberly A. Hamlin

The new series follows fictional characters but is well-grounded in the innovations and inequalities that characterized urban America in the late nineteenth century, thanks in large part to the work of the show's historical consultant Professor Eric Armstrong Dunbar.

 

 

Native on TV in 2021

by Liza Black

"Where 20th- and early 21st-century shows used Native characters in superficial ways, perhaps to create an appearance of diversity, Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls center Indigenous characters, themes, and content, decolonizing conventional television narratives about Native people."

 

 

The Salieri Rumor and Gossip in History

by Kristin Franseen

"The strange reception history of Antonio Salieri’s life and career shows how the same piece of gossip can reflect an immediate historical context but also adopt a variety of shifting (and often historically contradictory) meanings."

 

 

The Filibuster Protects the Powerful, Not Vulnerable Minorities

by Ben Railton

The regular use of the filibuster in the 20th century paralleled its use as a tool to frustrate the political goals of labor and civil rights activists.

 

 

Only Fools Replay Doomsday

by William Astore

The author worked at NORAD's headquarters under Cheyenne Mountain at the height of the Cold War and wonders why, having emerged the nominal victors of one round of military escalation toward armageddon, American policymakers seem willing to enter another. 

 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182248 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182248 0
No Land, No Life: The Structure of Debilitating Black Land Loss in the South

A Florida farmer with his corn crop, 1913. Photo State Library and Archives of Florida

 

 

After hundreds of years of violence against black people, stemming from a fundamental inequity in land, wealth, and power, the election of President Biden was supposed to usher in a new era for black farmers. 

 

After the 2020 election, Democrats, now holding power in both Congress and the White House, promised to address the decades of discrimination in access to farmland and other public agricultural support programs needed for the improvement of black-owned farms and livelihood in the United States. Centuries of systemic injustices including the loss of life, livelihood, and hard fought-for familial land, and exclusion from capital markets, have further entrenched the economic vulnerability of black farmers.

 

Examples of such structures include racist lending and farm credit practices by the USDA and racially targeted foreclosure or forced sale of land. Not being granted the financial loans and capital necessary to farm family land is a form of economic and emotional structural violence that further perpetuates the brutal history of harm and disenfranchisement of black life. Without access to farm loans, black farmers are incapacitated, unable to farm their ancestral land, and faced with the gut-wrenching possibility of having to sell part or all of their family’s history. 

 

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott went so far as to note justice for black farmers as a top priority – pushing for $4 billion in direct debt relief for

socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in the American Rescue Plan as a way to remedy past discrimination in USDA loan programs.

 

Unsurprisingly, in light of the history of blacks in agriculture, this money was blocked by banks that argued that they did not profit from the deal and lawsuits from white farmers before any funds were ever distributed. It is well documented that banks have a long history of racist practices affecting urban land ownership, such as redlining, which historian Richard Rothstein described as the “state-sponsored system of segregation.” Less discussed is the role that racist lending has played in the massive loss of black-owned farms. 

 

To help understand why and how land loss continues to reproduce black dispossession, here is a short version of the history. In post-Civil War America, land was a key object of freedom for black families. With land came the ability to provide for one’s family, be self-sufficient, and have their own home. Freedmen believed the government would contribute to agrarian reform by providing forty acres to formerly enslaved farmers. This promise looked like it was coming to fruition in 1866 when Congress passed the Southern Homestead Act, making 46 million acres of land available for freed slaves and Union supporters, but the promise never materialized. 

 

The federal government’s failure to deliver on this promise has continued from one generation to another. The peak of black land ownership occurred between 1910 and 1920, with 14% of all Southern U.S. farmers identifying as black and owning 16 million acres of land. White rage and the violence it propagated were rampant at the end of the nineteenth century, with the success of black farmers threatening the reign of white supremacy. Ray Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University asserts that black men were lynched between 1890 and 1920 because whites wanted their land: “if you are looking for stolen black land, just follow the lynching trail.” 

 

During the Great Migration of the early 20th century, blacks left the rural south for the urban North to escape the deliberate, state-sanctioned maiming that was a result of Jim Crow laws and customs. The black farmers who remained in the South faced unfair federal agricultural policies and racist lending practices and, as Pete Daniel states in his book Dispossession, “suffered their most debilitating discrimination during the civil rights era when laws supposedly protected them from racist policies.” Today, only 45,000 out of the 3.4 million U.S. farmers are black and structural discrimination preventing access to credit has been even worse for heirs who, until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, had not been eligible to access farm loans and credit from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  

Heirs property, land that has been handed down through a family without a will, is common throughout black communities in the Southeast United States and fraught with peril. When a landowner dies without a will, all offspring inherit the property with equal ownership shares and no clear title. The legally unclear ownership of heirs property puts owners (often second, third, or fourth-generation landholders whose ancestors were enslaved) at financial risk of court-ordered auctions and forcible sale to real-estate developers and agribusiness, excludes them from farm loans and operational capital, and reproduces issues that have plagued black agrarianism since slavery, sharecropping, and tenant farming. As such, land ownership remains fundamental to the continued existence of many communities. 

 

In Spring 2019 I spoke with black farmers (whose names I withhold for privacy reasons) in Orangeburg, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia whose lives and livelihoods are being upended due to racial discrimination and economic violence. Common themes throughout the interviews refer to discriminatory lending practices from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the psychological stress and trauma of losing part or all of one’s family land. One farmer stated: 

“It's still hard because now we're still trying to access credit and assisting helping other farmers do the same thing. This is something that I see in the black farming community... we have a problem with accessing credit. It's not as easy to access it as our peers, our white peers. And the only thing that I see different is just the color of the skin... We can come with the same amount of assets and as they do, same credit score, and they'll [the FSA] tell us no. They'll tell us no before they even see the application. They'll tell us they don't have money.” 

Another farmer supported this by noting, 

“They foreclosed on my family farm and sold it to one of the largest grain producers in the US owned by white elites.” 

“So, when they foreclosed against me in my last bankruptcy, they said I had close to two million dollars’ worth of debt, with interest, and also their lawyer fees I had to pay. Which was like two or three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of lawyer fees. It was unbearable.”

These are just two of the many statements I heard detailing the detrimental economic toll that lack of access to farm credit has on black farmers. 

The success of black farmers is determined by the social and economic power structures at play in agriculture. However, decades of racist policy making, and systemic injustice have effectively squeezed black farmers financially to the point of insolvency and pushed many out of the farming system, allowing majority-white-owned larger farms to acquire formerly black-owned farmland easily, and often at an unfair price. Factors like heirs property, partition sales, and the history of unequal credit lending have created a situation where black landowners are systematically most vulnerable – maintaining the thread of black economic disenfranchisement that has existed since the end of the Civil War. 

The USDA under the Biden administration is focused on equity and increasing investments (such as the $4 billion for debt forgiveness) for underserved producers – outlining these actions in the Build Back Better Plan. The agency rolled out the Heirs Property Relending Program in July 2021 promising to assist farmers in establishing permanent legal ownership of more than 1.6 million acres of heirs property in the Black Belt. Additional programs announced in the Fall of 2021 include the Racial Justice and Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements providing $50 million to historically underserved farmers and $4.7 million to expand access to the Farm Service Agency. Most recently, in January 2022 Secretary Vilsack signed an agreement between the USDA and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives renewing USDA’s commitment to working with the Federation, assisting African American landowners, and ensuring access to critical information and resources. 

 

However, these programs are already struggling to effect change. White farmers, who argue that debt relief for farmers of color represents reverse racism by giving black and minority farmers an unfair advantage, have stymied these programs in court. At least 13 lawsuits have been filed trying to prevent the USDA from realizing its debt relief programs. The most influential of these is Miller v. Vilsack, led by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who argues that debt relief for black and minority farmers is unconstitutional, violating equal protection under the law by explicitly excluding white farmers from the program on the basis of race. Quoted in the Associated Press, Miller says “It is just flat wrong. Us Republicans and old white guys, we get accused of being racist all the time, but this is racist by the administration. It couldn’t be a plainer case of racist.” In another case, ruled in June 2021, U.S. District Judge Marcia Howard issued a preliminary injunction halting the debt relief program because it relies “on present discrimination [against white farmers] to remedy past discrimination.”

 

Moving forward as a class action lawsuit, the outcome of Miller v. Vilsack will determine not only if black farmers receive the debt relief they are long due but also black farmers’ relationship with the USDA long-term. While we wait for the conclusion of the case, we can look to T-Nehisi Coates’ case for reparations and expand the idea of reparations from economic repayment to land redistribution. 

 

For black communities in the U.S. South, the agricultural practices that make up the agrarian lifestyle carry historical traumas rooted in plantation slavery and, as scholar Monica White says, the “constant struggle to hold onto the land – often against overwhelming odds fueled by racism and discrimination.” Centuries of systemic injustices including the loss of livelihood, lives, and hard fought-for familial land, and exclusion from capital markets have been perpetuated by the economic, political, and legal structures that give way to the debilitation of black bodies and life. 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182196 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182196 0
New York State's Lessons on Preventing a Crisis of Judicial Legitimacy

New York Court of Appeals, Albany. Architect Henry Rector (1842)

 

 

Public concern about recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion, religious rights and other hot button issues is on the rise. Before the court began its current term last fall, a number of its justices took the highly unusual step of pleading for public understanding. Their court is just following the Constitution, the law, and judicial precedent, they say. Angry critics are so far not mollified, calling for expansion of the court’s membership to counteract its alleged conservative biases.

History suggests that attacks on courts peak in times of stress and social change when the courts wrestle with profound, unsettled issues and their decisions have broad ramifications.  The criticisms usually fizzle as courts cautiously tack toward the center and align more closely with the perceived public consensus on key issues.

Historians’ focus on the Supreme Court has obscured the fact that most regulatory and constitutional issues were thrashed out and decided in state rather than federal courts during much of our history, including the progressive period (ca. 1890-1920).  Studying the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, arguably second in importance only to the U.S. Supreme Court in those days, provides insights into how courts balanced their obligations to the constitution and the need for new laws and regulations. The progressive period was a time of rapid population growth, economic transformation, and unprecedented government policies to regulate business and labor. Courts were panned then for striking down reform laws that judges said violated constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and due process of law.

As my forthcoming book The Crucible of Public Policy: New York Courts in the Progressive Era demonstrates, New York’s high court was more progressive than many of its state counterparts or the U.S. Supreme Court at that time. It was inclined to validate progressive legislation. But it was criticized for what it did not do, i.e., not asserting a common law right to personal privacy in the absence of a specific statutory protection in a 1902 decision,  Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Company and the Franklin Mills Company. The  high court also took heat for what it did do, e.g., invalidating a law banning night work by women in factories in 1907 (People v. Williams) and a workers’ compensation law in 1911 (Ives v. South Buffalo Railway Company).  

Former president (and New York governor) Theodore Roosevelt, seeking the Republican nomination for another term as president in 1912, criticized several courts for their “foolish and iniquitous decisions.” He called the New York workers’ compensation decision “flagrant in its defiance of right and justice” and “shortsighted in its inability to face the changed needs of our civilization.” TR proposed giving voters the right to recall and override state court decisions that declared laws unconstitutional. Some critics went even further, advocating letting voters recall erring judges as well as their decisions. Some newspapers took up the cry: make the courts more responsive to the public.

Attacks by politicians and the media seemed for a while to threaten the Court of Appeals’ independence and authority.  But the criticism  gradually and quietly subsided through evolution and compromise. Some explanations of why this happened may provide insights for courts today:

  • When the Court of Appeals refused to assert a public right in the absence of a clear authorizing statute, the legislature took the hint and stepped up. In 1903, after the Roberson decision, it passed New York’s first right-to-privacy law. When the new law came up for review, the Court of Appeals cheerfully approved it (Rhodes v. Sperry Hutchinson, 1908).
  • Politicians, sometimes reluctantly, conceded the court’s assertion that the state constitution would not allow desirable new policies and therefore needed to be amended.  Voters approved an amendment to that constitution to authorize a workers’ compensation law in 1913. The legislature then passed a new law which was stronger than the one the court had struck down in 1911. The  Court of Appeals validated it (Matter of Jensen v. Southern Pacific Company, 1915).
  • The Court of Appeals changed its mind when presented with substantial new evidence on actual conditions and needs. In 1915, it validated a new legal ban on women’s factory night work similar to the one it had invalidated in 1907. The court was swayed by extensive new evidence on the baneful effects of night work presented by a state commission investigating factory conditions and an amicus brief prepared mostly by activist attorney (and future Supreme Court Justice) Louis D. Brandeis. The law is “within the power possessed by the legislature,” said the court. It is ”constitutional [and] in the interest of public health and welfare of the people of the state” (People v. Charles Schweinler  Press, 1915).
  • As new, more progressive-minded judges replaced more conservative ones, the Court of Appeals over time quietly backtracked and took a more relaxed, expansive view of some  government responsibilities.  In a 1905 decision, Wright v. Hart, the court struck down a law restricting bulk sale of goods as a violation of constitutional rights. But in 1916, considering a similar law passed latter, the court admitted that “it is our duty to hold that the decision in Wright v. Hart is wrong.” Back in 1905, “such laws were new and strange.” Since then, other states had enacted such regulations and their courts had mostly approved. “The needs of successive generations may make restrictions imperative today which were vain and capricious  [in] times past” (Klein v. Maravelas, 1916).
  • Sometimes, the court approved the substance of regulatory laws but struck them down on technicalities. New York’s Commission of Gas and Electricity, created in 1905, had extensive statutory authority to regulate gas and electricity companies and decide maximum rates for their services and products. The commission was forerunner of what would later be called the administrative state – powerful administrative agencies with the authority to promulgate rules with the force of law, enforce regulatory compliance, and make binding decisions about public rights and services. The Court of Appeals strongly affirmed the legislature’s authority to create such agencies with unprecedented power. But it invalidated the law because it restricted companies’ rights to appeal commission decisions (Saratoga Springs v. Saratoga Gas, Electric Light, Heat and Power Co., 1907). By then, it was moot point. The commission had been superseded by an even more powerful agency, the Public Service Commission, which supervised railroads as well as electric, gas, and other public utility companies. The PSC law, passed in 1907, included the sort of review provision that the court had found wanting in the 1905 law. The court’s strong affirmation of the principle of the administrative state in its Saratoga decision meant that the constitutionality of the PSC was not seriously challenged in court and also helped greenlight other powerful administrative agencies.
  • While judges seldom publicly responded to critics in those days, leading attorneys and the State Bar Association did. The association declared in 1913 that the courts were sound, their decisions well considered and well documented. The real problems were “misstatements and misrepresentations of the decisions and attitudes of the courts,” “fault finding of defeated litigants and their attorneys” and “abuse and misrepresentation” in the press. Recall of court decisions or judges “would destroy the independence of the judiciary and the impartial administration of justice.” It would substitute “for the training, intelligence and conscience of the judiciary, and settled rules of law, public clamor, agitation and constantly varying opinions of voters overruling the judgments of the courts and punishing judges for unpopular decisions.”

The media picked up on the Bar Association’s argument that independent courts protected the public interest. The recall proposal went nowhere in New York, though it did advance in some other states. Politicians’ criticism of the courts abated.  A 1915 state constitutional convention passed on an opportunity to rein in the court.  A 1921 legislative commission concluded that the state’s judicial system had “proved reasonably successful and satisfactory.”

The Court of Appeals’ strategies of compromise, forbearance, openness to change and good judgment combined with public support for judicial independence helped preserve the court’s integrity and role as arbiter of constitutionality.  That may be a good precedent for both the Supreme Court and its critics to consider in the months ahead.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182195 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182195 0
Can a New Labor Movement Grow and Win with Direct Action Instead of Collective Bargaining?

 

A New American Labor Movement: The Decline of Collective Bargaining and the Rise of Direct Action

by William E. Scheuerman (SUNY Press, 2021)

During 2021, there were signs of growing militancy in America’s beleaguered union movement, as thousands of workers went out on strike at John Deere, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Frito-Lay, Volvo, Frontier Communications, New York University, and Columbia University, as did thousands more from the ranks of union carpenters, hospital workers, airport workers, and coal miners.

Even so, William Scheuerman argues in this new, groundbreaking book, U.S. unions are in deep trouble and, acting alone, they “cannot deliver a resurgent labor movement.”

Scheuerman is well-qualified to deal with labor issues for, in addition to his academic credentials as professor emeritus of political science at SUNY/Oswego, he served as president of United University Professions (the largest higher education union in the United States) for 14 years and as president of the AFL-CIO’s National Labor College for another two.

The grim picture of U.S. unions painted by Scheuerman in A New American Labor Movement is one that many union activists privately acknowledge.  Union density in the nation has sharply fallen over the years, dropping from 34.8 percent of the workforce in 1954 to 10.8 percent in 2020.  Furthermore, the recent upsurge of strike activity comes as a surprise only because it counters the long-term decline in the number of strikes and strikers in the nation.  Rather than being on a march to power, most U.S. unions are engaged in a struggle for survival.

Why has this occurred?  Scheuerman argues persuasively that “big business and its cronies are waging an all-out war against organized labor as the last bastion of resistance against corporate hegemony.”  In this war, corporations have prevailed by closing U.S. manufacturing plants and investing overseas, fiercely resisting union organizing drives, firing union activists, vastly outspending unions in political campaigns, turning labor law against unions, and creating a gig economy. 

Nor does Scheuerman let unions off the hook.  Frequently, he charges, they have been led by bureaucratic, out of touch leaders, competed with one another for new members, and fallen short of the solidarity that they praise.  Indeed, labor leaders have too often conflated the survival of their own unions "with the survival of the union movement itself.”  But unions’ fundamental problem, he argues, is that, given the corporate-government assault upon them, their “organizational structure no longer serves the mission of the labor movement.”

Even so, Scheuerman contends, all is not lost in the struggle for workers’ rights, for a variety of pro-labor social movements have begun successful operations outside traditional union structures.  And, in this detailed, convincing study, he shows how these movements, frequently working in alliance with unions, are laying the groundwork for a more flexible, dynamic, and effective labor movement.

The new social movements have made particularly impressive gains among the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers—long plagued by pathetic wages, wage theft, terrible working conditions, miserable housing, and physical and sexual abuse.  Deliberately omitted from coverage by the National Labor Relations Act and labor laws in most states, these workers, often immigrants and migrant laborers, have faced enormous difficulties forming unions.  Although the small United Farmworkers and the tiny Farm Labor Organizing Committee have had some union organizing success and, as a result, have significantly improved the lives of the small numbers of workers they represent, the most recent breakthroughs for farmworkers’ rights, Scheuerman notes, have resulted from campaigns outside the union movement—by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) and New York State’s farmworker movement.

The CIW, organized in the 1990s to assist Florida’s horribly exploited tomato pickers (some of whom were kept in actual slavery), is a non-hierarchical organization, with farmworkers involved in all its decisions, staff wages tied to field work, and all staff members working in the fields from May until September.  Recognizing that the growers’ pathetic payments to workers often reflected the low price for tomatoes set by major fast food chains, the CIW launched a very effective boycott campaign against Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and other tomato purchasers.  In this fashion, the CIW eventually secured a Fair Food Program that covered 90 percent of Florida-grown tomatoes and significantly improved farmworkers’ wages and lives.  If the CIW had been a union, Scheuerman points out, this would not have been possible, for unions are prohibited by law from conducting secondary boycotts.  Moreover, not all of CIW’s boycott partners were fans of unions.

In New York State, a Justice for Farmworkers (JFW) campaign began in 1989, drawing together sympathetic religious, community, and labor groups.  Like the CIW, the JFW was not a union.  But, unlike the CIW, it sought legislation that would provide farmworkers with the same labor rights enjoyed by other workers in the state.  Ultimately, after a lengthy struggle, the state legislature passed a farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019.  It guaranteed the state’s 56,000 farmworkers collective bargaining rights, the state’s hourly minimum wage, overtime pay, a day of rest every week, and eligibility for unemployment insurance, paid family leave, and workers’ compensation benefits.

Scheuerman also emphasizes the importance of the rise of worker centers—community-based, nonprofit organizations that, unlike unions, do not bargain with employers but, instead, serve as support hubs for low wage, unorganized workers.  In the early 1990s, only about five of these centers were in operation.  But their number has now soared past two hundred.  Thanks to the decline of unions and corporate America’s increasing reliance on employing workers lacking a permanent job status, worker centers have become hotbeds of organizing among these new gig workers. 

In California, Uber and Lyft rideshare drivers, angry about low wages, working conditions, and classification as independent contractors, created “virtual” worker centers that facilitated demonstrations, strikes, and protests.  Thanks to their spirited campaign, the California legislature passed a law reclassifying them as employees, and thus eligible for the rights guaranteed to workers, including collective bargaining.  But Uber and Lyft, drawing upon their vast financial resources, pushed through a referendum that scrapped the legislation.  Even so, Scheuerman contends, the strategy and the mobilization demonstrated by the drivers indicate the potential power of new approaches to worker organizing and political action.

One of the largest of the new worker centers is the Freelancers Union.  Although the name is a misnomer—for, in fact, it is not a union—the Freelancers Union has substantial appeal to the growing number of independent workers in the nation’s gig economy, and today claims half a million members.  According to a survey, 70 percent of them engage in professional or semi-professional service work.  Rather than battling to end these workers’ precarious status, the Freelancers Union simply provides them, at a cut rate, with the services that they lack and need, such as health insurance.  Although it won a major legislative victory in New York City, where legislation passed in 2017 gives freelancers the right to written contracts, timely payment, and freedom from retaliation, for the most part the organization has avoided political action.  This apolitical stance, plus the Freelancers Union’s top-down structure and failure to directly confront employers, lead Scheuerman to designate it “an outlier within the developing new labor movement.”

The daring struggles of fast food workers are more in line with traditional norms of workers’ collective action and solidarity, although these workers, too, operate outside the official union structure.  In November 2012, hundreds of underpaid fast food workers from about forty New York City stores walked off their jobs and took to the streets, demanding $15 an hour and union rights.  The Fight for $15, as Scheuerman notes, “soon became a tsunami spreading across the country to more than 300 cities.”  Not only were the wages of these workers abysmally low, but they suffered from unpredictable scheduling, wage theft, arbitrary firings, and sexual harassment.  Although considerable union money went into the campaign (most notably, $70 million from the Service Employees International Union), it continues to be almost impossible to organize significant numbers of fast food workers into unions.  Nevertheless, their one day strikes, civil disobedience actions, and flamboyant public campaigns did lead to substantial wage gains, thanks to state government or corporate action, and also helped convince most Americans to support a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Observing that these labor upsurges have occurred in industries where unions have found it nearly impossible to organize on a workplace-by-workplace basis, Scheuerman suggests that they point to the need for sectoral bargaining.  This industry-wide negotiation of wage and other labor standards for union and non-union workers is common in European democracies, and encourages firms to compete by increasing productivity rather than by cutting wages and benefits in a race to the bottom.  Local “shop floor” concerns, he notes, such as work rules, due process, and steps for promotion, can be handled by worker centers. 

Scheuerman has other recommendations, as well.  Through legislative action, he maintains, the nation should create a strong social safety net and, also, reform American labor laws to “open the door to union membership for the millions who want it.”  Furthermore, the labor movement should turn to “visionary leaders who will put the interests of workers before the interests of their own organizations,” encourage rank-and-file participation in union governance and activities, and work closely—rather than in competition—with other unions.

This is an ambitious agenda, and it is far from clear that it can be realized.  A number of questions spring to mind.  For example, as union support has often been crucial to the success of the new, pro-labor, direct action social movements, can these movements survive if unions continue to decline in membership, resources, and political clout?  Also, what if the federal and state governments, in response to corporate pressure, crack down on the new social movements as effectively as they have done on the unions?  Finally, given the global mobility of capital through banks and multinational corporations, doesn’t the successful defense of workers’ interests necessitate moving beyond a national labor movement to an international one?

Nevertheless, despite these potential pitfalls, this creative, thoughtful, and well-researched study of the U.S. labor movement gets to the heart of its major problems and potential.  In this time of growing corporate domination of the United States and of the world, A New American Labor Movement illuminates a useful path forward in the long and difficult struggle for workers’ rights.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182194 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182194 0
What Happens When the "End Times" are Now?

Illustration of the Whore of Babylon from Martin Luther's 1534 Translation

 

A rather revealing meeting

In June 2016, I organized a meeting for the local council of churches in an English town to discuss issues relating to the forthcoming European Union (EU) Referendum.  The meeting was intended to provide an opportunity for airing Christian views on the subject. It was well attended and drew in participants from across the wide denominational spectrum of churches.

The evening was lively. Many of my friends (regardless of whether they were ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ in the context of the EU Referendum) expressed astonishment afterwards at the way the discussion developed.

They had expected the topics to include debates over things like sovereignty and parliamentary accountability, jobs and economic prosperity, continent-wide cooperation in order to meet global challenges, or peace and security in Europe.

What they got was discussion ranging from the allegation that the seat 666 is kept empty in the European Parliament chamber in both Brussels and Strasbourg (it isn’t), to whether the EU is a political tool of Antichrist in advance of the second coming of Christ.

My friends were astonished at this. I wasn’t. During the previous month I had contributed a guest blog for a Christian news platform, challenging these same accusations. During that month (it went live on May 25, 2016) it had become, from my calculations, one of the most visited blogs on this website.

It can still be read online but, unfortunately, the huge string of comments and conversations under it can no longer be accessed. That is a pity because they would have provided interesting source material for future students of theology and the sociology of religion. Like the meeting I organized later, in June of that year, the online discussion got lively. In fact, it got very lively indeed! Some might say “heated.”

 

Eschatological turbulence on both sides of “the pond”

My experience in the UK was not the only turbulent event of 2016 that had end-times features to it. In November, something even more extraordinary occurred in the USA: the election of Donald Trump.

Somewhere in the region of 33 million white evangelicals voted for Trump and huge numbers of these see contemporary events through the same eschatological lens that had informed the outlook of those with whom I had debated in the UK about the European Union. In the US, this support has had significant effects on foreign policy.

President Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (announced in 2018) and to support Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (announced in 2019) were designed to appeal to American evangelical Christians. Polling in the US in 2017 revealed that 80% of evangelicals believe that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfilment of biblical prophecy that will bring about Christ’s second coming.

In addition, Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement in 2017 (the decision was implemented in 2020) sat easily with a group which contains many who deny the reality of climate change caused by human action, or do not consider it a threat which can be averted by human agency.

Whatever one feels about these geopolitical and environmental issues, it is undeniable that huge numbers of voters in the USA see these decisions through an end-times lens.

At this point, I should say that as well as being an historian, I attend a church in the UK which would be described as “evangelical.” But, in the UK, “evangelicals” are as likely to be internationalist and in favor of state invention in society as not. The political homogeneity that is so pronounced in the USA is not a feature on this side of the pond.

 

The End Times, Again?

These experiences caused me to write a book which explores the history of end-times beliefs. It is called: The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of the Use and Misuse of Biblical Prophecy. It explores the history of end-times beliefs within the Christian community and their political and cultural impact.

Christianity inherited from Judaism a belief in prophecy and early Christian texts reveal this, both in the belief that the life of Jesus is foretold in Old Testament prophecy and in adding to the prophetic tradition by predicting the future return of Jesus.

Although the New Testament clearly says that the date of the second coming cannot be known, this has not stopped two millennia of speculation. Tenth-century commentators claimed that raids by Magyars and Vikings were fulfilments of prophecy. End-times excitement and anxiety mounted as the Year 1000 approached (despite the fact that an error in calculating the dating system meant it was not actually 1000 years since the birth of Jesus). This accelerated during the crusades, when the armies of Islam were confidently identified as end-times actors. During the Middle Ages, rival popes, kings and emperors quarried prophetic scripture for accusations to throw at each other (usually the accusation of being the Antichrist).

During the Reformation, Protestants overturned the official Catholic view of prophecy as allegorical and were sure they lived in the “last days” – with the pope being the Antichrist. Radical Anabaptist groups established “New Jerusalems” in anticipation of the second coming. As Britain spiraled into civil wars in the 1640s, eschatological excitement was intense, only to be dashed when the monarchy was restored in 1660.

The same ideas were taken to New England and entered the cultural DNA of what became the USA. Eighteenth-century patriots accused George III of being “the great Whore of Babylon,” riding the “great red dragon” upon America (references to Revelation). In the nineteenth century the concept emerged of the Rapture, the idea that the “true church” will be removed from the earth shortly before a time of “Great Tribulation” preceding the return of Christ. The recent Left Behind series of novels embody this interpretation and have sold somewhere in the region of eighty million copies.

In the twentieth century, the establishment of the State of Israel and the Cold War galvanized prophetic study – especially in the USA – with many Christians identifying Israel as a fulfilment of end-times prophecy. For some in the Cold War, this outlook justified opposition to nuclear disarmament, since these weapons were seen as fulfilling predictions concerning widespread destruction, fire and sickness. This is where apocalypse meets foreign policy. Prophecy was interpreted in line with Western, and especially US, perspectives. In this process, end-times beliefs increasingly became associated with the political right. This was by no means inevitable, but it continues to be the case.

    

The continued impact of end-times beliefs today

Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to claims that it has eschatological significance. It should be noted that the same thing was said about the fourteenth-century Black Death. Anti-vaxxers and those unhappy with mask-wearing have included some who loudly identify these as aspects of an emerging international order associated with the Antichrist. This has resonated with – and been amplified by – conspiracy-theory-culture and the effects of social-media algorithms.

Some of the most extreme supporters of gun rights in the USA see them as weapons to be used in resisting the forces of the Antichrist in the last days.

In the face of such certainty regarding imminent end-times events, the urgent need to address the existential threat posed by climate change can be presented as irrelevant. After all, if the second coming is imminent, there is little urgency. Indeed, the threat from climate change may actually be viewed as an end-times judgement on humanity.

What is clear from all of this is that these beliefs are highly significant because, in an increasingly polarized political climate, the way they are being deployed in support of right-wing agendas impacts at the ballot box. This is especially so in the USA, where white evangelicals (even through a shrinking fraction of the electorate) punch well above their weight due to the extent of their ideological homogeneity, organization, and turnout. In any analysis of conservative voters’ political outlook and intentions, this end-times ideology needs to be recognized. Recognition does not imply agreement. But it can at least be the basis for dialogue, debate, and challenge.   Ignoring it may prove to be a serious mistake.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182179 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182179 0
The All-American Fallacies that Threaten Our Survival

Holiday Greetings from U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO)

 

 

The Republican Party is being taken over by an extremist fringe.

Among Republicans, the Party’s extremist fringe is not represented by Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, or Marjorie Taylor Greene. They are Republican heroes. The Republican fringe is Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only Republicans willing to investigate the January 6 insurrection. The Republican fringe is the minority of 64 Representatives who voted, just after that mob had been dispersed, to accept the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania, as against the 138 who objected to accepting the November results. Only 2 of the Republican Representatives who had announced that they would object changed their minds after the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

 

Conservatives are concerned about a liberal “war on Christmas.”

Traditional American Christmas is well represented by two postwar Hollywood movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947). These iconic films portray a Christmas of secular generosity, love of neighbors, and belief in the goodness of humanity, redeeming harsh capitalism through love and kindness. Today’s American conservatives reject these virtues as typical liberal weaknesses, which they label socialism. Although they complain about a war on Christmas, the phrase has no meaning for them, because, as the Christmas cards of Reps. Thomas Massie and Lauren Boebert demonstrate, Christmas is politics and politics is war.

 

Race is just one of the issues that motivate conservative unhappiness with American life.

Racial fear is the overriding source of conservative hatred for liberals. Long before Barack Obama embodied the danger of Black power, conservatives chafed at the political correction of racist language. The fight against traditional American white supremacy always required government intervention. When presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said, “I believe in states’ rights,” at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980, and asserted that government was the problem, not the solution, he offered the latent supremacist beliefs of white Americans, especially in southern and rural communities, a political home, where their traditional discriminatory prejudices would be respected and encouraged. Trump rose to political prominence because white racists thrilled at his dishonest attacks on Obama. Now nearly half of Republican voters say that Trump was an even greater President than Reagan. Trump’s open racism is one of his greatest attractions.

 

There is a partisan battle about how to tell American history.

Historians of the American past have never offered a more accurate and truthful historical narrative than they do now. Conservatives do not want to debate history – they want to substitute the discredited myths that made white people feel good for real history. Concern for how white children might feel about themselves, their families, and America is behind the racial focus on critical race theory and the 1619 project. In his final year in office, Trump charged that American education is “left-wing indoctrination” which led to the widespread urban protests against racism. His 1776 Commission was designed to promote teaching about the “miracle of American history,” not the history itself. The Commission is dead, but Republican politicians across America are legislating patriotic stories into public school curricula.

 

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Americans of color were never free and the Americans who violently, often murderously persecuted them were never brave. Now that certain elements of American government are working to realize that anthemic promise, millions of Americans are arming themselves against their elected government. Freedom for many, maybe most white Americans has always meant freedom to dominate and exploit other Americans, and to use force to destroy the brave Americans who opposed them. Conservatives are amassing an unprecedented arsenal to assure the survival of traditional white power.

 

As Joe Biden said in his inaugural address, “We have never, ever failed in America when we have acted together.”

The fallacy there is not in the literal meaning of those words, but in what Biden claimed to be success. Americans acted together to successfully preserve slavery in 1789. Americans acted together after the Civil War to successfully preserve racial disenfranchisement and segregation. Americans acted together to successfully preserve racial discrimination for a half-century after the Civil Rights movement. Now that such success finally appears to be threatened, conservative Americans once again are acting together to preserve white power.

 

Thus far, Americans have failed miserably at the ultimate task of surviving today’s two greatest natural disasters, climate change and COVID. We show no sign of acting together in either case. COVID has both revealed the depth of our national delusions and exacerbated them. The fallacies of American political thinking are killing Americans now and threatening our futures.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154576 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154576 0
The Roundup Top Ten for January 14, 2022

Nine Decades Later, Critics of DuBois's "Black Reconstruction" Rehash Old Claims

by Martha S. Jones

For a new wave of critics, it's 1935 all over again, proving the ongoing vitality of DuBois's pioneering work. 

 

Teachers’ Unions Are Making Totally Reasonable Pandemic Safety Demands

by Josh Mound

Chicago's teachers, like those elsewhere, have led the way in making demands for students to return to safe classrooms. The media are scapegoating them for the failures of politicians to meet or even consider those demands, while advancing a privatization agenda.

 

 

Abortion is Vulnerable Because it was Never Assimilated into Mainstream Medicine

by Carole Joffe

Because mainstream doctors and their professional organizations stigmatized the providers of illegal abortions before 1973, they were neither willing nor able to provide a strong defense of abortion rights after Roe v. Wade. 

 

 

Online Christian Martyrs

by Peter Manseau

"Imagine if all the energy, resources, and marketing that have been used to inject ideas of martyrdom into issues of public health and safety had instead gone toward making real change."

 

 

Family Capitalism and the Small Business Insurrection

by Melinda Cooper

Trumpism's base includes significant leadership and financial support from a faction of capitalists who own and lead private companies and shun many of the concessions made by publicly-traded corporations toward liberalism. 

 

 

Don’t Make Meat Cheaper. Make It Much More Expensive

by Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel N. Rosenberg

The Biden administration hopes to score political points by making the meat industry more competitive and lowering prices. This is ignoring the horrible costs of cheap meat. 

 

 

Will Omicron Break Up America's Unhealthy Cycle of January Gym Resolutions?

by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela

Could one positive effect of the Omicron surge be that people are separating their personal motivations to exercise from the commercial imperatives of the fitness and diet industries?

 

 

We Must Fight the New Lost Cause Myth Trump has Birthed

by David Blight

"Yes, disinformation has to be fought with good information. But it must also be fought with fierce politics, with organization, and if necessary with bodies, non-violently."

 

 

Sidney Poitier Gave More than He was Given

by Samantha N. Sheppard

Sidney Poitier's gift and burden as an actor was to constantly deliver more than his scripts contained, pushing the limits of Black representation in Hollywood films. 

 

 

Secularism: The Essential, Fatally Weak Guardrail of Democracy

by Jacques Berlinerblau

The framers of the US Constitiution failed to build in the protections against religious belief overpowering the rights of others or the security of the state that Locke and other political theorists thought were urgently necessary. This oversight might imperil democracy.

 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182190 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182190 0
We Almost Lost Our Democracy – and Still Could: A Conversation with Congressman Adam Schiff

Congressman Adam Schiff

 

Freedom is not assured. It is, as ever, something we have to fight for every day. So let us fight. Unlike Trump’s violent insurrectionists, our weapon of choice must be the truth, wielded relentlessly.

Congressman Adam Schiff, Midnight in Washington

           

Over the past five years, California Congressman Adam Schiff has been one of the foremost defenders of the rule of law and American democracy as he has exposed the autocratic presidency of Donald Trump and the evolution of the Republican Party from a home for voters with conservative values to “an antitruth, antidemocratic cult organized around the former president.”

In his powerful and engaging new book Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could (Random House), Congressman Schiff offers an account of the Trump presidency from the perspective of Capitol Hill. He relates how close the Trump regime came to ending our democracy, and he warns about how our system remains imperiled by a Republican party that embraces Trump’s big lie about winning the 2020 election and then uses false claims of voter fraud to adopt a “new generation of Jim Crow laws targeting minority populations and seeking to cut off their access to the polls.”

The revelatory book begins on one of the darkest days in our history: January 6, 2021, when a violent mob of hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election of President Joe Biden. Congressman Schiff vividly describes the chaos in the US House Chamber as the rioters breached the building. The deadly assault by Trump-inspired insurrectionists left several dead and more than 140 police officers injured. This act of domestic terrorism stunned many members of Congress, including Congressman Schiff, who was well aware of the danger posed by Trump as he and his allies presumed they were above the law.

Midnight in Washington records Congressman Schiff’s own story of how he chose a life of public service and loyalty to the rule of law. Schiff, who has served in Congress since 2001, was famously known for working across party lines for needed legislation. He was seen as a collaborative figure, not a rigid partisan, but his ability to deal with the other side ended with era of Trump.

Congressman Schiff’s fearless efforts to expose the lawlessness of the Trump regime have won admiration of his party as well as scholars and many independents, but he has drawn the ire and juvenile mockery of the ex-president, unrelenting denunciation from many congressional Republicans, and constant threats to himself and his family from rightwing fanatics.

In his cautionary account of recent years, Midnight in Washington, Congressman Schiff proves an engaging and gifted storyteller. In lively prose, he brings the reader inside his experiences with the congressional investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and his role as lead investigator and House manager in the first impeachment and trial of Trump for threatening to withhold approved military aid to Ukraine unless the embattled nation interfered in the 2020 presidential election by supplying negative information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.  

Congressman Schiff’s book is certain to become an invaluable resource for scholars of our recent history and has been praised by historians such as Michael Beschloss and Ron Chernow. Acclaimed professor of history Timothy Snyder—an expert on democracy and tyranny—commented on Midnight: “If there is still an American democracy fifty years from now, historians will be very grateful for this highly personal and deeply informed guide to one of its greatest crises. We should be grateful that we can read it now.”

Congressman Schiff has been the United States Representative for California’s 28th Congressional District since 2000. In his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he led the first impeachment of Donald J. Trump stemming from the Trump–Ukraine scandal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi then named him the lead House impeachment manager at the helm of a team of seven House members responsible for presenting the impeachment case against Trump during his trial before the United States Senate. Congressman Schiff is also a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

Congressman Schiff graciously talked by telephone about his work and his new book from his office.

 

Robin Lindley: Congratulations Congressman Schiff on your powerful new book on how we almost lost our democracy, Midnight in Washington. And thank you for taking time from your hectic schedule to speak with me.

I have a special appreciation for your work on the Select Committee on the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Full disclosure: I was an attorney with the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late seventies. I realize that investigative select committees pose special challenges for members of Congress, and I respect your persistence and passion with this investigation now in the face of constant vilification and threats from the right. It must be difficult for you.

Congressman Adam Schiff: It has been an ordeal, but I work with a great group of members and the staff is terrific. And it's very much a team effort.

Robin Lindley: The deadly January 6th assault on the Capitol was heartbreaking for me. I love that marvelous old edifice, the symbolic center of our democracy where I worked and where you now work. As we watched the live-televised, violent attack on the Capitol, I told my wife not to worry because the mob of insurrectionists wouldn’t get into the building. I said the National Guard would intercede and assured her that Guard units were probably on hand in the Capitol basement or in nearby office buildings. But that didn’t happen, and I know the select committee is looking into that now.

Congressman Adam Schiff: Yes, we sure are. And, ironically the January 6th Committee is a really bright spot in an otherwise pretty dark place in that we are working in a completely nonpartisan way with two conservative Democrats and two conservative Republicans among our ranks. There's no division in our purpose. We're all united in wanting to get to the truth and expose the truth to the American people and then legislate in a way that protects our country going forward.

Robin Lindley: What was your experience when the Capitol was attacked? In your book, you recount that you helped people get to safety, but you didn’t realize the danger you were in until Republican members of Congress told you to protect yourself.

Congressman Adam Schiff: Yes. I really hadn't been paying attention to what was going on outside the Capitol. I was speaking that morning and I was preparing my rebuttals for what the Republicans were saying. I knew they would be challenging electors in up to six states, and so I had written a bunch of opening statements and a few rebuttals to take into consideration what was being said very specifically.

And so I wasn't paying attention to events on the Mall. And I only noticed that things were awry when I looked up and saw that the Speaker was not in her chair. And then I watched police come in and quickly usher [Congressman and House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer out of the chamber.

Then the police made increasingly dire warnings to the members that rioters were in the building, that we needed to get out our gas masks, and finally, that we needed to get out of the chamber.

I did hang back, in part because I felt reasonably calm and I could see how agitated other people were. And there was a bottleneck to get out of the House chamber. I remember thinking to myself that it was surprising because only 40 members were allowed to be present on the floor because of COVID with a number of others permitted in the gallery. But people must have come from other places and suddenly it was very crowded. I also didn’t want to go through the doors shoulder to shoulder with a number of Republicans who refused to wear masks. This was pre- vaccination.  And some of those Republicans came up to me and told me that I needed to make sure that the attackers didn't see me because I was in different category. And of course, I understood exactly what they were saying. And I had that strange reaction that I wrote about in the book, at first feeling touched by their help and then quite angered about the reason I was at risk was because they had been lying about the election lying and about me too but, in particular, about their lies about the election, which caused this attack on the Capitol.

Robin Lindley: Most Congressional Republicans, including those who seemed interested in your safety, continue to embrace Trump’s big lie that he won the election.

Congressman Adam Schiff: And yes, after our session that night, and in the weeks that followed and to the present day, they have persisted in this big lie and in undermining our election system and questioning its integrity. And it's really an inducement to further violence. After seeing where that led, to continue with that lie is an even more willful assault on our democracy.

Robin Lindley: I appreciate your courage at this fraught time and your service on the Select Committee on the January 6th attack on democracy. I don’t know many details, but I understand that the Committee is working intensely to understand every aspect of the attack on the Capitol and its making progress each day.

Congressman Adam Schiff: Thank you. We are moving with great diligence. We have interviewed now over 300 people and those are cooperating witnesses. Of course, there are very high-profile exceptions who are employing many of the same tactics that Trump used while in office by suing to avoid complying with the law in the hope of delay, in the hope that justice delayed can be justice denied. But we're moving quickly to hold them in criminal contempt and we hope and expect that the Justice Department will also move quickly to prosecute these people.

Robin Lindley: Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows are two notable examples of those held in contempt. On another issue, could the Constitution and federal law be used to prevent former President Trump and his insurrectionist allies in Congress from holding public office again? What would trigger section three of the 14th amendment or 18 US Code at section 2383, for example, regarding preclusion of those who commit insurrection from holding office?

Congressman Adam Schiff: Yes, it's a good question. We’ve discussed that internally and I've discussed it with constitutional experts. I'm not sure that I have a clear answer to that question. I think it was last used during Reconstruction and I don't think it's ever been used to prohibit someone from seeking the presidency again. The short answer is, as with many other things that have come to light in the last four years, it’s an open constitutional question.

Robin Lindley: I wanted to go back to your story Congressman Schiff. You are guided by an impressive public service ethic. You graduated from Harvard Law School and you could have worked at a very lucrative job at a prestigious law firm. Instead, you devoted your life to public service, first as an Assistant US Attorney, then as a legislator in California, and now as a member of Congress. Where did your values of selfless service and working for the common good come from?

Congressman Adam Schiff: I really think they come from my parents, and they would tell you that they came from their parents. My folks instilled in me and my brother an ethic of service and an ethic of leaving a world better off for the next generation. We also had the confidence of knowing that, if we could be good at something and we could make our living, we could get by, and that there are more important things than material wealth, and doing a service for others was something of great importance. And so in my case, that came from my folks and from my grandparents as well.

Robin Lindley: You’ve been in Congress for two decades and you were known as a person with a collaborative spirit who worked across the aisle. But it seems that compromise and bipartisanship haven’t been possible with the other party since Trump became president.

Congressman Adam Schiff: That's very true. And that’s something that I have to explain to people who only know me from the last few years. I had a very different reputation from the perception of the Trump years.

Before Trump, I was not viewed as a partisan. Indeed, I don't view myself as a partisan. And I don't think opposition to authoritarianism or corruption of the variety that Donald Trump represents is partisan. I think you can see that in some very conservative Republicans such as Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who feel the same way. Certainly no one would've described me as a lightning rod of any kind including a liberal lightning rod. But if you stand up to Donald Trump, then you become public enemy number one in MAGA world. And that's certainly made it much more difficult for me to work across the aisle on things having nothing to do with the former president.

That work still goes on. We produced the intelligence authorization goals in my committee that passed in the committee on a bipartisan basis for years now, even with my differences with [Republican Congressman Devin] Nunez. But, as long as Donald Trump is on the scene and as long as the Republican party leadership has given up its devotion to our democracy and made itself a kind of cult of the former president, there's no accommodating that.

And there's no accommodating a Republican party that doesn't believe in our democracy anymore as its priority on a whole set of issues. They're just going to have to be beaten at the polls. There are still areas where we can work together, but not on the big issues that affect our democracy such as voting rights, as [Democratic Senator] Joe Manchin is finding out the hard way. There's no accommodating them because their goals are completely different. Their goal is to tear down our democratic system in the hopes of gaining power and keeping it.

Robin Lindley: One of your legislative efforts to strengthen democracy is the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which recently passed in the House. That Act would address presidential abuse of power, separation of powers, and foreign interference in elections. That seems an important development.

Congressman Adam Schiff: That came from a discussion I had with Speaker Pelosi a couple years ago where I suggested that we fashion our own sort of post-Watergate reform to attack the many abuses of power that weakened the guardrails of democracy and that had been exposed to us for years. And so that's what we put together. Many of the pieces have had Republican support in the past, and they probably enjoy Republican support now, particularly since we have a Democratic president. But so many of the Republicans are just too scared. This too we learned in the last four years that, while courage may be contagious, cowardice is too, and there has been an epidemic of cowardice among the leadership of the GOP.

Robin Lindley: Many people I talk with fear for the future of our democracy. Where do you find hope today?

Congressman Adam Schiff: I entitled the book Midnight in Washington in part because that was the part of one of my closing arguments in the trial, but also because midnight may be the darkest hour of the day everywhere in the world, but it's also a hopeful time because we know that what follows is the prospect of light.

I have every confidence we're going to get through this. I derive that confidence from some of the heroic people that have emerged over the last several years: the [former US ambassador to Yugoslavia] Marie Yovanovitches, the [director for European Affairs for the National Security Council, Lt. Col.] Alexander Vindmans, the [former senior director for Europe and Russia on the NSA] Fiona Hills, even the [former Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coatses, and others, who risked their careers to stand up to this most unethical president as defenders of democracy. There are millions and millions more like them around the country who far outnumber those who are trying to tear down democracy right now.

So, we're getting through it. But I do think what we do in this moment will determine how quickly we get through it and how much damage we're forced to suffer along the way.

Robin Lindley: Thank you for your thoughtful comments Congressman Schiff and congratulations again on your powerful book, a wake-up call for America. And thank you for your work in Congress and your steadfast commitment to our democracy.

Congressman Adam Schiff: Thank you, Robin. And thank you for your interest in the book and for reaching out.

 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based attorney, writer and features editor for the History News Network (historynewsnetwork.org). His work also has appeared in Writer’s Chronicle, Bill Moyers.com, Re-Markings, Salon.com, Crosscut, Documentary, ABA Journal, Huffington Post, and more. Most of his legal work has been in public service. He served as a staff attorney with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations and investigated the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His writing often focuses on the history of human rights, conflict, medicine, art, and culture. Robin’s email: robinlindley@gmail.com.  

 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182096 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182096 0
One if by Land, Two if by Sea, and Three if by the Capitol Steps

Two Lanterns in Old North Church, Boston, January 5. Photo Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

 

 

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol, the vicar of Boston’s Old North Church lit two lanterns in the church’s belfry. 

The Rev. Dr. Matthew Cadwell explained the symbolic gesture in a Facebook post.

"Tonight we lit the lanterns at the Old North Church to stand for our American democracy and in solidarity with election workers across the country.”

William Galvin, who as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts oversees the state’s elections, and who attended the ceremony, spoke outside the historic church. “[F]rom our beginning, the lights of the lanterns in the steeple of Old North Church have served as both a warning and a call to action.”  Now, he said, the two lanterns “call us to action to defend American democracy by protecting the integrity of our electoral process and those throughout the nation who honestly administer it.”

In an article posted on its website about the decision to light the lanterns, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, of which the Old North Church is a part, had a lot to say about elections but very little to say by way of explaining the choice of the lanterns as the appropriate symbol for honestly administered elections.

 

“Two lanterns famously shone from the steeple of the Old North Church on the night of April 18, 1775. Inspired by those beacons lighting the way for American freedom and democracy, we continue to cherish and hold sacred the hard-fought values and ideals of our nation.”

 

The Diocese’s statement implies that the link between the Old North Church’s lanterns and American democracy reaches back to 1775.

 

In fact, in the decades following the American Revolution, few would have recalled that the Patriots flashed two lanterns from the then peninsular city’s North End as a signal to their allies across the water in Charlestown that British troops were en route to the towns of Concord and Lexington to find and confiscate the Patriots’ secreted military stores.  It was Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who, in his 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” turned the story into a legend and the lanterns into the potent symbol mobilized by the Diocese.

 

Longfellow used strong end rhymes and a meter that sounds remarkably like a galloping horse to elevate Revere’s invention of a semaphore system to the status of myth.

 

One if by land, and two if by sea; And I on the opposite shore will be, Ready to ride and spread the alarm Through every Middlesex village and farm, For the country-folk to be up and to arm.

 

By the end of Longfellow’s ten-stanza poem, Revere has not only set up the semaphore system, he has rowed to Charlestown under the cover of darkness, received the message flashed from the Old North Church’s belfry, and delivered it to Concord on horseback.  In Longfellow’s symbolic terms, Revere has used the two lanterns to light a fire.

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street, A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet: That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light, The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight, Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

That fire is the new nation.

The Diocese is hardly the first to have been inspired by Longfellow’s assertion that anyone can light this fire. 

At the 1967 Southern Leadership Conference, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We still need some Paul Revere of conscience to alert every hamlet and every village of America that revolution is still at hand.” 

Four years later, in the spring of 1971, when the New England chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) wanted to warn the country about Nixon’s acceleration of the American air war against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, its members kicked off a three-day protest march by invoking Revere’s semaphore system in Longfellowian terms. 

“One if by land, two if by sea, and three if by air,” was how the veterans put it in a press release before shooting off six flares near the Old North Church to symbolize that the United States was attacking Southeast Asia from all three directions.

Longfellow’s achievement in crafting such a potent symbol is all the more remarkable when we consider the degree to which he departed from the historical record.  As David Hackett Fischer and Jeff Lantos explain in their respective books, Paul Revere’s Ride (for adults) and Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere (for middle schoolers), Revere was part of a large and intricate warning system comprised of many kinds of pre-arranged signals.  Of course, those sent by gun fire traveled faster than any of the many warning riders ever could.  Perhaps most surprising for those who have mistaken the poem for fact, British troops were significantly delayed in starting their mission, not having enough long boots to make their water crossing in one trip, such that Revere’s arrival in Lexington did not give the colonists the advantage the poet insists won the Revolutionary War.  (In imagining Revere arriving in Concord, Longfellow conveniently “forgets” that he was captured by British guards in the town of Lincoln.) 

Not everyone was pleased with VVAW’s appropriation of one of America’s most cherished symbols.  On the second day of the march, two hundred antiwar Vietnam veterans and as many civilian supporters were arrested for occupying the Lexington Battle Green in what remains the largest mass arrest in the state’s history.

Nor was everyone pleased by the Diocese’s recent appropriation, as evidenced by the Facebook comments. 

“[S]hame on my fellow Episcopalians.”

“[S]top using historical landmarks for Leftist hyperbole.”

“Instead of remembering the riot of Jan. 6th, the Democratic party used it as a stumping speech for a change in voting rights. They have no shame.”

The problem with these complaints is that national symbols have never been nor will they ever be free of political baggage.

This was true even when Longfellow crafted “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Historian Jill Lepore has argued in an article for The American Scholar that Longfellow’s poem was an anti-slavery assertion. “The poem was read at the time as a call to arms, rousing northerners to action, against what Charles Sumner called the Slaveocracy.”

If, in the intervening years, “Paul Revere’s Ride” has been mobilized for a variety of purposes, that is because Longfellow emptied Revere’s warning of its specific content.  Recall that he opened the poem quoting Revere’s warning: “For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”  (It’s a line the January 6 insurrectionists might have appropriated, if they had thought of it.)  But, by the end of the poem, Longfellow very cagily removes that assertion of violence, saying only that Revere voiced a “word that shall echo forevermore.” 

By opening up space to imagine whatever cause the reader desires, Longfellow made it possible for Sarah Palin to infamously assert after her 2011 visit to the Old North Church that Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms.”

Palin aside, Longfellow has helped Americans take a stand against slavery, Jim Crow, the Vietnam War and, now, insurrection.

His is a record any poet would be proud of.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182136 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182136 0
A Year Later: Our Tattered and Fragile Democracy

 

President Biden said on December 9 that our democracy “can at times be fragile, but it also inherently resilient.” Not everyone, however, is so optimistic as the President. The events of January 6 have sparked a host of fears, coming from responsible quarters, that our “fragile democracy” is in grave danger.

In. recent days, we have seen further legislative steps to suppress the vote, and to delegitimize the vote, in key states dominated by Republicans. There are now 33 laws in 19 states designed to make it harder for persons of color to vote. But even more disturbing from the point of view of democracy are the Republican party’s efforts to purge officials who resisted Trump’s attempt to undermine the 2020 results, and replace them with loyalists who will toe the line. In some states, Republican lawmakers have taken control over the local administration of elections. In Wisconsin, a crucial swing state, Republicans  are seeking to eliminate the state’s bipartisan elections commission altogether and to install themselves as the sole arbiter of election outcomes. And more than a dozen other Republican states have similarly enacted laws to transform the counting and review of ballots cast into a carefully monitored partisan exercise. Fiorello LaGuardia, the legendary Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945 famously said “there is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.” There is no Republican or Democratic way of counting and reviewing ballots either.

 

And if you can’t win an election with a thumb on the scale, try a coup d’état. Three retired generals are “chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time. The generals are “increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.” Strong words.

 

The generals read the handwriting on the wall. A shocking  number of veterans and active-duty members of the military joined  in the insurrection. More than 10%  of those charged in the attacks had a service record. A group of 124 retired military officials, traveling under the banner “Flag Officers 4 America,” released a letter, channeling Trump’s bogus claim that the election was stolen.   

Recently, and most troubling, the generals point to Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard, who refused an order from President Biden requiring that all National Guard members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Mancino  made the bizarre claim that while the Oklahoma Guard is not federally mobilized, his commander in chief is the Republican governor of the state, not the president. Mancino should be court-martialed, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Barbara Walter, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of a key CIA advisory panel, the Political Instability Task Force, warns that the US is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” We have, she says, “entered into dangerous territory.”

Sidney Blumenthal, a long-time adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, anticipates a virus of violence. He sees us as possibly moving into a period of ‘low-intensity conflict’ with right-wing militia groups committing endless acts of violence. Blumenthal couches his opinion “on the proliferation of guns,” certain to increase if the Supreme Court holds in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. argued November 3, that New York’s gun control law requiring licensing for those who wish to carry a handgun in public that the Constitution guarantees the unfettered right to carry concealed weapons in public places.

 

And if you need any further proof that the apocalypse is coming, Newsweek ran a piece claiming that millions of angry, armed Americans stand ready to seize power if Trump loses in 2024. They think that Biden is destroying the country.

 

In 2000, 60 percent of gun owners cited hunting as the reason they bought guns. The rest largely listed "sport"  But 16 years later, 63 percent were saying they bought guns for self-defense. That shift was brought on by often delusional ideas about street crime, a euphemism for black violence And for the past four years those fears have been stirred into a stew of white supremacist anti-government, adding  a dash of pro-Trump “stop the steal” tropes. "We've seen the flourishing of a different view of gun rights, one that focuses on the necessity of owning guns in order to fight a tyrannical government," says University of California Law Professor Adam Winkler. "The promotion of that idea has made it all the more likely that some people will come to see the government as a tyrannical one that needs to be overthrown." The resulting gun-rights-driven, anti-deep-state radicalism echoes throughout Republican-heavy social media and other communications channels.

 

A reactionary Vietnam war veteran Mike Niezenski thinks that the 2024 election may be the trigger for millions of armed insurrectionists to visit the Capitol and, as Trump put it, “take back our country.” Niezinski’s remarks on social media received 44,000 views in the first two weeks of November and more than 4 million overall. There are a lot of people out there who feel that something has been taken from them. Whether they are impelled to join an armed march on the Capitol is another question.

 

So, as Beckett said in the opening lines of Waiting for Godot, “What is to be done?"

 

Recently, Robert Palmer, one of the principal players on the ground during the January 6 insurrection was sentenced to more five years in jail. Another, Devlyn Thompson, just received a 46 month jail term for his part in the melee —both stiff sentences. Palmer threw a fire extinguisher at a police officer; Thompson struck a police officer with a baton. But where are the conspiracy charges against the major players Trump and his crew who made the insurrection happen?

Diffidence is misplaced in a prosecutor. Much evidence has already come to light as a result of the House Select Committee investigation, and probes by media organizations. We now look to Attorney General Merrick Garland to move against those at the top who made January 6 happen. Only then, will the rule of law be vindicated. As the iconic  Federal Judge Learned Hand observed, “conspiracy is the darling of the prosecutor’s nursery"

 

A modified version of this essay has appeared in the New York Daily News on January 3.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182097 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182097 0
Debt Jubilees: An Ancient Solution for a Modern Problem

 

 

 

In many of the most prominent ancient civilizations, including ancient Babylon, Egypt, Sparta, China, and others, excessive household debt was a huge and recurring problem. Debt, which was both a necessary and pervasive element of these economies, did many of the same things then that it does now: it facilitated payment for labor, allowed for the acquisition of supplies, and bridged the time between planting and harvest — the sowing and then the reaping of profit.  

 

Some families in these agricultural societies would find themselves with little option but to amass debt to survive, but this debt could cause them to lose their land, their means of sustenance, and even their liberty. In the tragic form of debt bond servitude, lenders took possession of family members as “repayment” for crippling debts. Interest rates were high and lenders quickly learned the power of compounding. These ancient economies would sometimes reach the brink of collapse under the staggering weight of private indebtedness.   

 

For this reason among others, kings devised debt forgiveness or amnesty as a solution. The ancient Israelites took debt relief an important step further: they removed it from the realm of a king’s whims and encoded it into their laws, making it recur the year after seven cycles of seven years. Debt relief changed from an ad hoc to a structural aspect of the economy.  

 

The Israelites called it Jubilee, after the ram’s horn, or yobel, that was sounded to joyously proclaim this freedom from the burden of debt.  

 

A key Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy 15:2–3, describes clearly the time when these debt amnesties were proclaimed: “Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you.”   

 

Today, we find ourselves with a similar private sector debt accumulation problem, and the idea of strategic debt jubilee is arguably more urgent than ever. We were drowning in debt before the COVID-19 crisis, and now we are deluged by it. Household debt now totals $17.5 trillion, up 320 percent from 1950 in relation to income.  

 

These high debt levels are asphyxiating many households and stifling economic growth. In my investigations of household debt, I’ve talked with families encumbered with all of the following: mortgage debt as great as or greater than the value of their home; student loans still outstanding for the parents, topped by new student loans for the kids; and large debts tied to some unexpected healthcare expense. Families with high debt are far less able to pay for their own children’s college, build additions to their homes, buy appliances, or start new businesses — the very types of things that power an economy.  

 

The high burden of this private sector debt has also been an underlying issue in several of our recent, and worst, social and economic problems. Runaway household mortgage debt growth brought the 2008 global crisis. Some commentators believe that the residual burden of this crisis debt helped kindle the discontent that led to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. This debt has also exacerbated racial injustice, has been a factor in our opioid crisis, and is a key element of rising inequality. 

 

We need to think creatively. For example, we could introduce a program to let those with student loans get debt relief in exchange for volunteer community service. We could introduce regulations that make it easier for banks to provide mortgage loan relief for loans that are underwater or in arrears due to COVID-19. We could introduce healthcare debt relief programs for surprise medical bills or unexpected but critical healthcare needs. We could streamline household bankruptcy laws. 

 

Debt relief initiatives are not quixotic, impractical dreams of the soft-hearted, but a key component of a well-functioning economy. All would benefit from a modern debt jubilee. Households would be financially stronger, and governments, businesses, and financial institutions would be better off because those households would be stronger.  

 

Like our ancient forefathers, we need to reset our economy by offering hard-pressed debtors a jubilee now, not in some utopian future. 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182134 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182134 0
A Walk Around the "Wood that Built London"

 

 

Working as a conservation volunteer at the London Wildlife Trust’s Local Nature Reserve at Sydenham Hill Wood in southeast London, I was fascinated to learn about the ancient woodland of which it is a surviving remnant. This expanse of oaks once covered a seven-mile stretch of what is now suburbia, cresting a range of hills that formed the Kent-Surrey border. As a large part of it lay in the northern reaches of the manor of Croydon, it was known as the North Wood or Norwood; the latter name has been inherited by a suburb in the area.

 

As the author of three illustrated histories of cartography, I naturally turned to old maps, both printed and manuscript, to see what they showed of the wood and its former extent. But they do not tell the whole story. Before there were maps, there were perambulations: written accounts of journeys around the boundaries of a manor or estate, noting landmarks and the distances between them, and the adjoining fields, farms and woods.

 

The painstaking business of archival research has been considerably eased in recent decades by the development of searchable online catalogues. That of the UK’s National Archives lists not only the vast collections held in its campus at Kew but documents in local, regional and academic libraries throughout the country. It directed me to a number of early modern surveys relating to the North Wood, written in secretary hand on often creased and grubby paper or parchment.

 

The earliest I was able to find is a terrier (from the French registre terrier, or land register) of the manor of Croydon conducted in 1492 on behalf of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morton. The manor had been a possession of the Archbishops since the Norman Conquest, so much of the documentation concerning its affairs is held at Lambeth Palace Library, which proved a rich source of information. This survey, however, along with two updates of 1517 and 1543, had become detached from the main archive. It was most likely kept at the archbishops’ palace at Croydon, and was among the papers thrown out after the bishoprics of England and Wales were abolished during the Civil War and the palace leased to the Parliamentarian general Sir William Brereton. Morton’s survey then disappeared for centuries until it turned up in the catalogue of the antiquarian bookseller Bernard Quaritch in 1923, where it was spotted by a Croydon librarian who persuaded the council to buy it. The document is now in the Museum of Croydon.

 

Since the purpose of the survey was to record the acreage held by each tenant and the rent due, the North Wood, which was directly managed by the archbishopric, did not fall within its scope; but because several of the tenancies bordered the wood, the terrier mentions it several times, giving a fair idea of its extent, and records (often for the first time) place names still in use today.

 

Morton’s surveyors proceeded north from Croydon along the London Road, before turning east into Green Lane. To their north, they recorded an ancient estate of 120 acres “in landes called Biggynge,” and a little further on a farm of 10 acres on “land called Beawley.” Beyond it, one Henry Burton held 60 acres “upward toward the common called Norwood.” Morton’s men continued along what is now Thornton Heath High Street before turning north up Whitehorse Road. On the high ground to their left lay the densely wooded Manor of Whitehorse; the oaks of Grangewood Park, which occupies part of the former estate, still tower over Whitehorse Road today. The surveyors then turned east across Croydon Common to Long Lane, where they recorded 11 acres of “lande & woodgrounde buttinge on Longheath Lane,” leased to a Mr Heron; this may be the earliest reference to Long Lane Wood, another surviving parcel of this ancient woodland. From there, they returned to Croydon via Lower Addiscombe Road.

 

In 1552, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer commissioned a new survey of the “utter boundes of the mannor of Croydon” that contains significant topographical detail about the North Wood. It too was separated from the archiepiscopal records, and eventually came into the possession of the clergyman and church historian Thomas Tanner (1674–1735), who bequeathed his vast collection of manuscripts to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, where the document remains.

 

Cranmer’s surveyors, Leonard Perpointe and Thomas Tailour, “to gether with certayn anceante men as well of the Lordshipp of Croydon and also of divers parrishes adioyning,” made the circuit of the manor on the 3rd and 4th of May 1552. They started west of Croydon town by an elm tree beside the mill at Waddon, and made their way clockwise around the manor boundary, turning southeast into the North Wood. Here, it seems, the surfaced road petered out, for the surveyors advise their readers to follow the “most used way” for three-quarters of a mile to High Cross – presumably a boundary tree.

 

From there, they proceeded another half-mile to the Vicar’s Oak. This important boundary tree marked the point where the parishes of Lambeth, Camberwell, Croydon and Battersea met on Norwood Hill; its site is now marked by a plaque beside the gate of Crystal Palace Park. The immense oak could be seen from ten or twelve miles away and even, according to one observer, from Harrow-on-the-Hill, 17 miles to the northwest on the far side of London. From here, they continued south to Penge Corner and along the ditch that marked the boundary between Kent and Surrey, before bearing southwest to return to their starting point at Waddon Mill.

 

To the north of Croydon lay the hamlet of Penge, a detached portion of the manor of Battersea. Covering just a square mile and shaped like a drawstring bag, it lay seven miles from its parent manor. A 1605 survey of Battersea (now held by Wandsworth Heritage Service) includes a perambulation of “The Mete and Bounde of the hamlett of Penge,” a circuit of just over four miles that the surveyors could have walked comfortably in a day. It too provides valuable topographical detail, including the place names Rock Hill and Low Cross, which are still in use in the area. Where it follows the border with Croydon, it corresponds closely to Cranmer’s survey, recording the Shire Ditch that formed the boundary between Kent and Surrey and the “Greate Oake called Vicars Oake… at the partinge of the parishes of Croydon, Lambeth and Camberwell.”

 

Along with maps, court proceedings and the records of woodland management kept in Lambeth Palace Library and the Dulwich College Archive, these surveys enabled me to establish the former extent of the woods, locate its erstwhile divisions and landmarks, chart its early history, and create the map that illustrates this post.

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182135 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182135 0
The Roundup Top Ten for January 7, 2022

Militias Were Hiding in Plain Sight Before 1/6. They're Still a Threat

by Kathleen Belew

The January 6 attack on the Capitol and the election results was not a one-off coup attempt; it was a recruitment event for the militant far right which increasingly threatens democracy.

 

With Omicron, We Need to Understand the 1918 Flu Pandemic More than Ever

by Christopher McKnight Nichols

"It may be that only now, in the winter of 2022, when Americans are exhausted with these mitigation methods, that a comparison to the 1918 pandemic is most apt."

 

 

The Dangerous “Patriotism” of the January 6 Insurrection

by Ben Railton

The participants in the attack on the Capitol a year ago reflected a "mythic patriotism" founded on the belief in an authentic, white, Christian nation under attack by enemies dangerous enough to justify any measures in opposition. 

 

 

The US Has Long Exploited the Legally Ambiguous Status of Guantanamo Bay

by Jana Lipman

The use of the naval base at Guantanamo bay for the detention of both suspected terrorists and refugees and migrants reflects the place's status as outside both Cuban and U.S. law. Since the end of the Spanish-American war, Cuban workers have understood the threat of abuse this status enables. 

 

 

Homer Plessy's Posthumous Pardon Finally Recognizes His Heroism

by Keisha N. Blain

"The decision to pardon Plessy and finally clear his record are the culmination of efforts by Keith Plessy, the great-great-grandson of Homer Plessy’s cousin, and Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of John H. Ferguson, the Louisiana judge who upheld the state's Separate Car Act."

 

 

How Twitter Explains the Civil War (and Vice Versa)

by Ariel Ron

Violence in the Capitol a year ago called to mind events like Preston Brooks's brutal caning of Charles Sumner. But a closer look shows that, like today, antebellum politics were disrupted and made volatile by revolutions in communciation technology. 

 

 

New Boston MFA Exhibit Shows Museum's Complex History of Censoring Queer Desire

by Erin L. Thompson

"When I first visited Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, as a young and deeply closeted queer college student, I found myself wondering if the museum possessed ancient Greek vases decorated with anything other than sex scenes."

 

 

Braveheart: President Donald J. Trump

by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Following the threads of religion and nationalism that form the unlikely comparison between Trump and Mel Gibson's (heavily mythologized) Scottish movie hero. 

 

 

The DC Punk Scene Relied on the Local Latinx Community

by Mike Amezcua

"A big piece is missing from the stories told about punk and hardcore in the 1980s: Primarily, that marginalized spaces and communities in urban America gave a stage to the predominantly white subculture."

 

 

The Truth About Prohibition

by Mark Lawrence Schrad

American historians have often identified Prohibition with a coalition of social reformers, nativists and religious fundamentalists. Looking at the international temperance and prohibition movement tells a different story of a fight against exploitation of workers and minority groups through addiction.

 

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Fri, 28 Jan 2022 04:02:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182123 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/182123 0