Category Archives: Civil Rights

I’ll give Jim the last word.

It’s the least I can do with him hanging on to my tail:

“As the old timers used to say in my day “Son, when you have a tiger (Harry Welty) by the tail, don’t let go.  Harry refuses to expose his heroes and soul mates race-baiters Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson Jr. & III, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin of the federal racketeering charges against them.  Harry is probably too young in age and/or mind to remember that Martin Luther King fought for EQUALITY, not black supremacy.  He preached that he looked forward to the day that our children will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  Which made sense to me then and it still does today.  Stacy Abrams (Aunt Jemima) lacks character, a strong moral compass and refuses to accept defeat by playing the race card that suits Harry just fine and has been labeled a “gadfly” for his immoral character.  There is a big difference between upstanding, respectable African-Americans and rabble-rousing race baiting niggers.  Harry prefers the latter, I prefer the foregoing.”

Willy Makeit and the Kunst Brothers

After a day spent far away from Donald Trump’s ego boosting rally at the arena (that one insider gives me credit for talking Duluth into voting for) I woke thinking about something unifying and faithful to the Minnesota I moved to in the Era of Hubert Humphrey. You might have heard of him. In 1948 he helped drive the Dixiecrats out of the Democratic Party at his party’s national convention. He had the temerity to cry out for an end to “state’s rights” and new future of Civil Rights:

“To those who say — My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say — To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

I woke trying to recall the names of the young Minnesota brothers who walked around the world not long after I moved to Minnesota. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. Their entry is short.

They were the Kunst Brothers. I don’t know when I’ve seen a remembrance of them in a newspaper – maybe not for thirty years. However, when David and his brother John set out from tiny Caledonia, Minnesota in Minnesota’s southwestern corner of Minnesota (see map above) in 1970 with a mule they called “Willie Makeit” in the middle of the Vietnam War to walk around the world they caught a lot of attention. That only doubled when they got halfway around Earth to Afghanistan and John was murdered by mountain bandits. After four months recovering from the gunshot to his chest Dave continued his trek with a third brother Pete from the spot in Afghanistan where they were ambushed. John ended his trip solo in October 1974 a few weeks after I’d married and moved to Duluth, after Richard Nixon’s helicopter flight out of the Presidency and half a year before the end of America’s debacle in Vietnam.

Remembering this small shard of history when a couple young American’s went out in search of the world rather than trek to an Arena in Duluth to hear a man preen before an audience of folks who follow him like pimple faced kids at a professional wrestling match was a reminder that greatness is not measured in mouth. It is measured in deed.

Violence on MLK Boulevard

Today I will crank out my next Not Eurdora column. I have so many topics to choose from. I’ve gotten in the habit of jotting them down in a “notebook” in my cell phone and was going through the notes early this morning. One thing led to another and I began going through my old emails to purge them. Some, like my jotted down notes are meant for later reference and possible mention in the blog. One of them was linked to this excellent five-minute explanation of the segregated housing patterns in the US. Thank God for National Public Radio.

BTW. As a kid in 1950’s Topeka, Kansas, I walked to school past a neighborhood that had a high concentration of African-Americans and that was quite likely red lined. And when my wife’s family moved from Des Moines, Iowa, in the mid sixties a realtor brought a black family to look at their home causing panic in the neighborhood. It may simply have been a ruse to threaten home prices and get the neighborhood to pony up to buy the house and prevent a black family from moving in.

I was an 18 year old senior in High School when Martin Luther King was murdered and only senility or death will make me forget its aftermath. Have things improved. Sure they have. But this video also touches on policing and I had a recent experience with non color blind policing in the West End where my wife and I first moved when we came to Duluth. Coincidentally, our starter home, purchased in the same West-End neighborhood in 1978, had been owned by a black family before we moved in.

300 years and counting

Longer than England and France were united African Americans have worn dark skins which make their lighter shaded neighbors fret. American Catholics suffered for about a hundred years of abuse but unless they genuflected in public or were from Mexico they looked like other European settlers to America. Irish-Americans also had their “no Irish need apply” signs but that was mostly about Catholicism. The telegenic John Kennedy put most of that paranoia to rest. What his charm couldn’t smooth over the Republican Party’s appeal to the Catholic clergy and the South’s adoption of an issue where they could reciprocate Northern scorn – abortion – built a bridge between the once uneasy allies of the FDR coalition Catholics and Southern Baptists.

But blacks were still black and kept at the margins despite the election of Barack Obama after a disastrous Bush Presidency. This remarkable achievement convinced most white Americans that black grievance was at and end and I can not deny the progress. On the other hand I never once sat my white son down to tell him obey all police to avoid being shot. Three stories related to this crossed my path this weekend.

The first of the three stories appealed to my love of geography. It concerns a map that Abraham Lincoln poured over during the Civil War and which helped him devise a successful stratagem to woo some southern states away from the rebellious confederacy. The original story is in Slate here:

The second story came from the PBS program History Detectives. It was a follow up on a previous story that suggested some black slaves fought for the Confederacy. In the case first examined a few years ago the answer to one such example turns out to be no. The fellow below was from Mississippi which had a law preventing slaves from fighting for the state. In this case the black slave was more of a valet to his master.

The third story involved the gifted Nora Neale Hurston one of the famous writers of the Harlem Renaissance in the Jazz age. I’ve had her book “Their Eyes were watching God” for a couple years. I handed it to Claudia who told me it was a very good book but for the time being, like so many other of my books, its circling the airport awaiting for clearance to land.

The New York Times story was about the publication of her work Barracoon. Her subject was the fellow below, Cudjo Lewis. She interviewed Mr. Lewis about 1930 when she learned he was was a slave brought over on the last ship, a Barracoon I presume, to bring slaves to America. (I presume the operative word here is “legally.”)

Hurston wrote some of her stories of African-Americans speaking in their southern patois much as Mark Twain famously did. The publishing houses demanded that Hurston alter the pidgeon English dialect that she faithfully transcribed and she refused feeling that it denied Mr. Lewis his true voice. Today that slight has been rectified and the book will soon be on the shelves of America’s bookstores.

And finally a forth related item that I was reminded of in the Times story. Cudjo Lewis told author Hurston how strange it was to be placed with long time slaves who he could not understand and who no doubt regarded him with some perplexity. This reminded me of a movie I thoroughly enjoyed long ago. The movie Skin Game came out in 1971 when I was a sophomore in college. It starred my parents favorite actor James Garner and Lewis Gosset Jr.. Ed Asner plays a cruel slave catcher.

Its set in the pre-civil war south. Its about two friends who defraud southern slave owners by selling them Louis Gossett Jr. over and over. Each time Gossett is rescued by his seller Garner and then they skip off to grift new victims. As you can imagine its a dangerous game and in the climax the tables are turned on the con men. Gossett finds himself housed in a barn with three or four African warriors, who like Cudjo Lewis were straight off the slave ship. I suspect this movie still stands the test of time although I noticed it was not listed as one of the best movies about slavery on at least three Internet lists I found. Here’s the IMBD list. I think this is an oversight.

BTW – James Garner was one of the Hollywood actors who championed Civil Rights. My parents loved him for his TV western Maverick.

The “wrong side” is winning

Despite the impossibly compelling news items today about our unraveling Presidency I have only one item to mention in the blog today.

It comes from the NPR interview with the author of the soon to be released novel “Varina.” It is about the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In real life Varina Davis left the South and took up life in New York City for the years following the war. I can’t vouch for the book but the author mentioned an anecdote that accords with other accounts I’ve heard about the leaders of the Civil War who were more interested in plow shares than swords in its aftermath. These included such luminaries as Robert E. Lee.

Here’s the sentance about Varina’s post war view of slavery that caught my attention:

“She, in later age, said very clearly: The right side won the war. “

Civil Rights in my lifetime came close to nailing the corpse of racism in a transylvanian coffin. Republicans, beginning in the era of George Wallace, did their best to use racism-lite to win over white southern voters with soft core appeals to their racist heritage until eventually they swamped the Party of Lincoln with the descendants of recalcitrant confederate loving, black vote suppressing, chip-on-the-shoulder types. I lived through a lot of this with Nixon, Reagan and most recently Donald Trump. There hasn’t been much room for Lincoln lovers like me in the Party since its ugly transformation. Lincoln lovers are tolerated if we shut up and sit outside the party’s windows on the ledge while the party defers to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk to prevent us from climbing back in. Our only choices are self defenestration or groveling debasement. Most have chosen the later. What’s their rationale? The think it would be terrible to lose control of America by arguing with Donald Trump’s cheerleaders. They are channeling Bashir – Gas my enemies – el Assad.

Me. Think of me as Wylie Coyote standing just beyond the ledge in mid air prior to a great fall. I’ve been levitating for the past 25 years.

Before the Black Panther

I am very pleased by the success of the new Black Panther movie.

My littlest grandson, as white as he can be, has been salivating to see this movie for a month. Maybe we will take him to see it while we are in Florida this week.

For struggling minority kids this will be even bigger. The Panther, not poor suicidal Tom from To Kill a Mockingbird, will give them a much bigger lift.

It reminds me of Shaft in the 1970’s who gave black Americans their first ever big bucks celluloid hero. That movie spawned the blaxploitation Era of movies with black supermen.

Shaft was the brainchild of Minnesota’s own Gordon Parks whose book a Choice of Weapons I suggested as an alternative to Mockingbird. After years of Step’n Fetchits in our movies Parks knew that Black America needed to see much stronger role models.

In the Era of Obama it’s not so critical but it’s still necessary.

Be advised, I spell out the “N” word in the following column – four times!

Don’t worry. I’m sure the defenders of Harper Lee and Mark Twain won’t mind.

Oh, and the Reader found or made up this cool graphic for the column I wrote: Kicking the “N” word out of ISD 709


ONE LONG FOOTNOTE:

For the second time in the last couple of weeks Linda Grover (a fellow columnist) tackles the same subject I have. Her’s is a more measured response whereas mine is a pissed off reaction to some national finger pointing at Duluth’s prissy, parochial, sensitivities as imagined by a bunch of smug, know-it-all elitists.

The one thing both columns share is an awareness of what its like to have your race made a subject of scorn in a classroom. Linda Grover, a proud Ojibwa Indian, recalls Twain’s “Injun Joe” as being a pretty hard pill to swallow. I’ll bet Sammy would have felt the same way.

Sammy was an Osage Indian kid in my sixth grade class. After hearing the author of Killers of the Flower Moon on NPR last year I have added the book to my reading list. I can’t help but wonder if Sammy’s grandparents were murdered for their mineral rights too. Solving the murders is what made today’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ironically, today President Trump is trying to kill the FBI with the help of a lot of Republican Congressional stooges.

Coda Coda

Before the day is out I will write a second coda of sorts to the previous post which I billed as a coda or the last word on the subject of the Twain and Lee books being taken out of 709’s curriculum. Saner heads have spoken out since the DNT first suggested that this curriculum change was an assault on civil rights. Perhaps the best so far comes from a Denfeld teacher Brian Jungman who concludes with these thoughts:

I would ask that white readers consider what would happen if the district required a book that explains why women should be treated equally and the dangers of sexism but that did so by mentioning the c-word more than 60 times. I don’t think we would be surprised to find out our female population was offended. So why does the n-word — when used to that same degree — get a pass?

Atticus said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I think this is what we need to do because my worry here in this debate is not that we are being Atticus. I worry that we might be Atticus’ Maycomb, Ala.

My coda will be for my next Not Eudora Column in the Duluth Reader coming out Thursday. I’ve already written two of them but each day some new angle begs for a better response. And what I will likely respond to is this self righteous email written to our current school board (no longer including me) that cries out for a riposte:

To members of the Duluth School Board,

Good job Duluth. Let’s ban more books. How about a public book burning. While your at it why don’t you ban these important books in order to reveal your Fascist colors. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Malcom X, Beloved, Catch-22, The Jungle

But that will be for later today before the Duluth Reader’s submission deadline. For now I want to keep practicing my French. I’ve averaged about thirty minutes a day of practicing the language for two months. I hope to be semi-conversant before I arrange a visit to France in September on 100th anniversary of end of World War I. I’ve also begun a self-directed course of French History reading. I’m holding off on writing more about my Grandfather for the time being but that too involves the issue of the integration of black American’s into the life of the Nation. And I’ve got another trip planned this time with grandchildren. And I have three days of church activities ahead of me before my departure including an Ash Wednesday Service, a choir practice, a men’s group meeting, a pancake flipping dinner and the church building and grounds committee meeting. Pretty busy week for an agnostic like me.

The blog may suffer as a result of my other preoccupations but I don’t plan to.

CENSORING MARK TWAIN AND HARPER LEE? Coda

One of Duluth’s teachers who was brought up short by our Administration’s decision to pull Harper Lee and Twain out of the curriculum makes this argument quoted in today’s DNT editorial:

“There is no substitute. There is no novel that accomplishes what ‘Mockingbird’ does, and why anyone would deny (it) to students in a time when intolerance, violence, ignorance, and self-righteousness are rampant, I cannot possibly understand.”

I DISAGREE! Continue reading

Washington’s slaveless plantation

The public radio program “This American Life” features wondereful stories including this one by Azie Dungey. She recounts her summer as an employee at George Washington’s home, now a national park Mt. Vernon. A black woman she was hired to portray a real black slave on the President’s Virginia plantation. She was expected to stay in character as visitors asked her about her life on the plantation. As mentioned in the previous post Americans are distressingly clueless about black Americans and Azie shares her experiences with a selection of this surreal ignorance.

A taste:

“or they immediately asked questions with obvious answers that they just hadn’t thought through. Why don’t you go up to Massachusetts and go to school instead of being a slave. one person asked? Right, as soon as I can get rid of this very obvious brown skin, steal a horse and a map that I can’t read, I will be on my way.

Or they’d go into immediate denial mode, like the old woman who out of nowhere yelled at me, George Washington had no slaves. I said, yes, he did. She responded, no he didn’t. And this went on, back and forth until her son got embarrassed and pulled her away.”

You can listen to the entire hour long program including Ms. Dungey’s selection here.

Censoring Mark Twain and Harper Lee?

The DNT’s story on our Administration pulling Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird out of our curriculum made it to the Washington Post and the New York Times. A friend of mine asked me on Facebook about it today?

Harry, what’s up with the school board outlawing Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird?

I explained:

I am off the Board now so I am innocent. However, they are not banned. They are still in our libraries. It’s just that they won’ t be part of the curriculum. I think this story is much ado about nothing….however another story noted that today only 8 percent of high school students believe that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. That is alarming.

My friend told me I should read an editorial out of Post today that mentioned the 8 percent figure. Here’s the story which first publicized it.

Had our District pulled any book from our school libraries I would have joined the ACLU or any other group to object but that’s not what we did. That issue did face us in 1996, my first year on the Board, in a book which had the “N” word War Comes to Willie Freeman.

Anyone who cares about American history can not escape it. The N word appears in this blog. However, American schools seem to have been paralyzed by all manner of academic controversies. Teachers tippy toe around controversies. Slavery and race are radioactive, and Texas dependably leads the way to keep schools pro-Dixie and Christian Fundamentalist with its state-wide buys of text books that dis evolution, human driven global warming and other verboten truths and consequently impose these standards on all US text books.

Even so, both of the books scrubbed from English classes in Duluth are white centric and tied to earlier Eras in which white Americans were the champions for downtrodden blacks while the blacks had no agency. These are great books but it takes brave teachers to talk about these subjects. Too bad so many keep their heads down. This just keeps the next generation ignorant.

Minnesota not so nice

CBS reports that an organization called Wall Street 24/7 Minnesota is the second most unequal state in the Union just behind Wisconsin.

In Duluth although our students MCA test results trended up on average this trend did not include our minority students. Our “educational gap” is as great as ever.

This reinforces the need to keep “equity” on the front burner during this school board election.

Mankato, another Minnesota town with some history

A few weeks ago an old acquaintance from Mankato, where I graduated from high school in 1969, asked me to write up a post on a popular boutique shop that my Mother set up with a collection of “faculty wives” who called themselves the “Harpies” and who’s store they named “Harpies Bazaar.” Unfortunately, he asked me to post it on Facebook, a notoriously upbeat online space where people get depressed because everyone else’s lives are made to look so good. I linked to a blog post about my Mother’s Alzheimers. Downer.

But then Brad asked me to tell a bit about my foreign exchange student, Bedru Beshir, from Ethiopia. Brad was a class ahead of me and within a year of his 50th year anniversary of his graduation. There had been some curiosity after all these years about what had become of “Beds.” Brad and others from Bedru’s class had located Facebook pages of various Bedru’s currently living in Ethiopia. I had to tell him they were not our Bedru. Other graduates of the class of 68 had already discovered my old Reader Column spelling out Bedru’s likely fate. It was not a happy one for the first black student in memory to have attended Mankato High School. Double Downer.

What caught Brad’s attention to me was a response I had left to a series of Mankato History Facebook posts that had been prompted by the news that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The garden was in the news for a controversial piece of art depicting the massive scaffold built in Mankato in 1863 to hang 38 Sioux Indians. Downer number three. I wrote about that in the Reader as well.

There were some furious arguments going on in Mankato between descendants of murdered settlers and sympathizers of the Sioux warriors. I waded in to say that not all the hung men were guilty. To another comment pinning the blame on Lincoln and a rebuttal by Lincoln defender who pointed out that Abe had reduced the number to be hung from over 300 to 38 I stuck up for Abe. I pointed out that despite the cries for vengeance during the Civil War when the President needed all the help he could from the North to prosecute the Civil War, his ten-fold reduction of those to be executed was an act of bravery.

To a person who responded to my reply that it was time to forget the hanging and “move on,” I quoted Santayana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” I read almost the same argument for ignoring Duluth’s lynching in a letter-to-the Editor in the Trib shortly after Duluth began paying attention to its infamous 1920 lynching. Mankato, like Duluth, has some infamy in its closet.

One of the people who spoke up for Mankato in the face of this third downer was one of the Saiki’s. She came out with a long Chamber of Commerce like list of wonderful things to have been invented in Mankato that changed the world including the Honeymead Corporation’s use of soybeans which has had a huge impact on our oversea’s trade with Asian nations. One of her Japanese forbears happened to bring those soy beans to Mankato from California.

I wrote back in reply explaining that I had graduated in 1969 with one of her family members. I then mentioned that my Mother had told me about her family’s arrival in Mankato. They had been interned (imprisoned) during the Second World War but their mysterious ability to sex chicks to be rid of the useless roosters-to-be was just what the Nation needed to produce eggs for its soldiers overseas. I told her that that the consequence of this fourth downer gave her family and Mankato every reason to be proud of that all but forgotten bit of local history. And that was not a downer.

In the same way, Duluth’s embracing of its notorious past offers more than a little redemption.

Keen on Kuehn


Photo by: Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

I was pleased to see this picture on the anniversary of Duluth’s infamous lynching because one of the new school board candidates is pictured in it, Kurt Kuehn (pronounced KEEN). The caption below had his comments on the grim history, to wit:

“It’s always inspirational,” said Kurt Kuehn of Duluth, about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.” Kuehn attended the memorial event Thursday honoring the three black men who were lynched in 1920 after being falsely accused of rape.

Kurt is running in District One currently represented by Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

Although I have often written about the Clayton Jackson McGhie lynching I did not attend this particular event. Art Johnston and Alanna Oswald and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp represented the School District.

CORRECTION: When I posted this yesterday I incorrectly said that Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp was forty minutes late. That was wrong. Rosie was present shortly after the presentation began. As I said I was not in attendance. It was Jill Lofald, Art Johnston’s 4th District challenger who was late.

Having mis-remembered what I had been told about the order of appearance of Board members at the Lynching memorial I was a little too eager to link to an unflattering anecdote about Rosie that did not put her in a good light. After having served on the Duluth School Board with Rosie for the past three years I am still inclined to link to those unflattering 2015 posts heret and here.