Category Archives: Civil Rights

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.

Ripped (off) from the headlines

I twitted Wrenshall a couple posts ago so this post might be viewed as excessive harassment which I don’t mean to inflict. However, that post jogged the memory of an omniscient friend who sent me this clipping of the small unwitting part Wrenshall played 56 years ago in the promotion of the cinematic treatment of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. I was but ten years old at the time.

BTW – My son was born in 1984. He was a little brother.

Indian ghosts

I just keep adding more books to my reading list. The lastest is Killers of the Flower Moon. I’ve been catching reports on Public Radio for a presentation this week at the Fitzgerald Theater by its author David Grann.

The book is about the murders of Osage Indians which took place south of Kansas in Oklahoma about the time my Dad was born. I’ve never heard of them but I’ve always been fascinated by Oklahoma because of its eccentric ties to the South during the Civil War. When Andrew Jackson removed the Indians from the South in the winter of the Trail of Tears they took their African-American slaves with them. Ironically they had been civilized enough to adopt America’s slave tradition. When the Civil War broke out they looked at it as an opportunity to throw off Union control and sided with the same southerern slave holders that had removed them from the South.

The ex-slave Larry Lapsley, who had a farm next to my Grandfather after escaping from Texas had to travel at night through Oklahoma to avoid being caught by the slave owning Indians of the territory and being sent back.

My eight loyal readers know I’ve devoted a lot of space to Civil Rights in the blog tilted almost exclusively to African-Americans. However, I’ve never been in doubt about the treatment of Native Americans. I always wince on the Fourth of July when PBS reads the full Declaration of Independence and gets to this line about the wrongs of King George:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Reading about this book opens up another haunting tie to my past. I’ve often written that when I was in sixth grade I was a minority white kid in Mr. Ross’s class although just barely. It was a 15/15 white/black split with one Native American kid added to make minorities of all of us. Sammy was an Osage Indian and new to Loman Hill Elementary so I really never got to know him since I moved to Minnesota at the end of my sixth grade year. He was a quiet kid.

White Kansas had a long history with both black and Indian populations. My Grandmother Ruth Welty’s great-grandparents were saved by a black woman, Black Ann Shatio, when they crossed over into Kansas from Missouri. (I just found this link today while looking for a reference from the Kansas Historical Society. Jerry Engler would be my shirt tail relative). Kansas also contributed a Vice President Charles Curtis to the United State. He was three quarters Native American. And of course my mother’s father, George Robb roamed around on land well traveled by Indians. A month ago I wrote that I had probably lost the arrowheads he collected on his farm in Assaria, Kansas, when I sent them off for a grandson’s show and tell. Hooray, they were rediscovered and returned. Here they are:

Vice President Curtis was one-quarter Osage and I can’t help but wonder if he makes an appearance in the Flower Moon although he was a Kansan not an Oklahoman. The Osage were one of the minor tribes who were moved to Oklahoma and you can see by this map of their reservation they lived adjacent to Kansas.

One of my Mother’s great-grandfather’s, Joseph Freemong McLatchey, lined up to race across the Oklahoma border in 1905 in hopes of claiming a piece of the territory only to find the land already occupied by “sooners.” He ruined his daughter’s prize horse in the attempt and remained in Kansas.

In the map above you can see where I was born – Arkansas City, Kansas. I remember hearing a local tell a “funny” story about the Oklahoma Indians after they struck oil on the once worthless land they imprisoned in. It seems one Osage, bought a car with his unexpected wealth and drove it around until it stopped moving a day or two later. Then he went out and bought another. He didn’t understand that cars needed gas.

According to the Flower Moon book the Osage’s white neighbors didn’t just make jokes about the Indians. They did their best to steal the oil for themselves by poisoning and shooting the unlucky Osage. Exposing these murders was the making of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI which uncovered 24 murders. Grann’s research suggests that this was just the tip of the iceberg. There may have been over a hundred. An Osage historian said that today there is hardly an Osage descendant that didn’t lose a relative to the murders of the 1920’s. I wonder if Sammy was quiet because he was haunted by ghosts.

I recently mentioned that one of my grandson’s had some Choctaw blood. They were another of the Native American tribes that were removed to Oklahoma.

Why I haven’t succumbed to paranoia – a last thought

Its because of Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Colbert etc.

For the time being late night television and many other sources give me confidence that we will weather the Trump administration as it continues to distinguish itself by bullying the Public Broadcasting System and Meals on Wheels. Comedy in China can’t be directed at the Communist Party but it can be directed at President Trump. Until Chinese citizens can do the same America will still have a leg up no matter the balance of trade.

Which reminds me of Egyptian exile Bassem Yousef. He was a funny man in another dictatorship.

Check out his interview on Samantha Bee.

Getting a swim and a trim

One of the big 15 minutes stories of this summer’s Olympics was the black female swimmer who won gold. Unlike Gymnastics’s, Simone Byles, who won all of the gold and followed in the footsteps of another black Olympic gymnast the swimmer seemed was a first for her sport. There is a reason for this. Black cooties.

For all I know I just coined that phrase and if have I will have earned eternal damnation. Sorry, but I can’t think of a more accurate way to capture an essential truth of my growing up and America’s growing up. I picked up the unwritten understanding that there was something about black American’s skin that made it suspect. My Dad, a decent fellow, told me with certainty born of childhood experience that black people smell different. I disputed this with him but he was adamant so that I scrambled for a logical explanation. Dad grew up in hot Missouri and Kansas before the era of air conditioning. He encountered blacks mostly consigned to manual labor who perspired heavily on hot days. Because a lot of them lived in shacks propped up with cement blocks with limited plumbing it was a challenge for these hard working people to take America’s mandatory daily baths.

When I was growing up little white kids couldn’t help but wonder if dark skin could wash off. Why you had only to notice that the palms of their hands were as pink as ours. Surely this proved that blackness could be rubbed off.

I understand that a lot of black Americans are tired of the curiosity their physical differences provoke. I have written about the time I embarrassed my Mom by asking a black woman about those differences while we were riding a bus together. Even now white folks ask black folks if they can rub their hair. Just yesterday as I was pouring through Newspaper.com’s millions of pages of online newspapers I found a story while looking up info on my Dad’s uncle a Kansas legislator. In 1965 (the same year as the Voting Rights Act) a law was proposed in the sunflower state that would require barbers to offer haircuts to black customers. White barbers were up in arms and said things that are astounding to modern ears: From the Ottawa Herald of Feb 18, 1965, “’I don’t know if there is a barber in town who can cut their hair, It’s just like shearing a sheep,’ an Ottawa barber said.”

And consider full body immersion. I took my swimming lessons at a Howard Johnsons or Holiday Inn Motel until motel management told my Red Cross teacher that he had to stop letting black kids in the pool for lessons because their customers were complaining. To this day blacks learn to swim at a much lower rate and suffer a higher incidence of drowning. My niece’ swim club hit me up all through her high school years for donations to pay for minority children’s swimming lessons.

And it wasn’t just swimming pools that were off limits. It was the whole ocean. I stared hard at the beautiful white sand beaches on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast on a vacation with my family in the late sixties. It wasn’t just the sand that was all white. When Brown v Topeka Board of Education finally kicked in it meant that southern states set up state-supported all white “private” schools. Many still exist, with the occasional black student, and will soon be in line for more Federal money if President Trump’s Education nominee Betsy DeVos has her way with Federal Education dollars.

My Uncle Frank told me a little about black/white politics in the Topeka High of 1946 when he was the editor of the Sunflower, the school annual. One day several young black men stepped in the classroom to make demands of Miss Hunt the yearbook adviser. Frank’s chivalrous side took offense at the young men coming in force to confront the lone white female teacher. He didn’t see them as I imagine them, few in number (about 11 percent of the school population), and loathe to cause too much trouble lest their parents lose jobs. Whatever their demands black students had one card to play – Topeka High’s swimming pool. The white Topeka High kids wanted one.

When the school was being built years earlier a hole was dug in the basement for a swimming pool. At its excavation no one in Topeka imagined that black children would be sent to Topeka High the Capital City’s soon-to-be premier school. But Kansas passed a somewhat enlightened integration law. Elementary Schools would remain segregated but not the high schools. That put a stop to the pool and it remained a hole in the basement. For enlightened Topeka black and white kids sharing the same pool was a bridge too far.

While Frank’s friends were busy lobbying to finish the pool Topeka High’s black students enjoyed a sort of veto power. They would have to live with whatever rules were put into place to run the pool after its completion. As it was there were separate clubs, dances and even sports for black and white students. The embassy to Miss Hunt was some sort of negotiation to improve the conditions of the black students. Give us what we want and will let you have your “separate but equal” pool.

The plan for using the new swimming pool went something like this: On Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays white kids could use it. On Friday black kids could use it. In between, on Thursdays and weekends, the pool would be drained and refilled to make sure the black cooties didn’t contaminate the pool for the white kids and presumably vice versa.

You could get those cooties in every close contact. The Hay’s, Kansas, newspaper reported in 1964 that a barber refused to cut the hair of a black professor. Next to it was a story about George Wallace who was testing the waters in the North for his 1964 Presidential run. Reporting from Ohio the story said, “Alabama’s Gov. George C. Wallace bragged that he had found many persons ‘of Southern attitude’ in his trips around the nation. He said in Columbus, Ohio, that his reception there was ‘…more warm and courteous than we expected.’”

I’m not surprised. Midwesterners are unfailingly open. The American Nazi Party’s head, George Lincoln Rockwell, made a speech at my Dad’s college, Mankato State, in 1967, a few months before a disgruntled fellow Nazi assassinated him. My Dad came home with a sour attitude afterward because a student told him he was impressed. You see, Rockwell had told the students to go to their kitchen cabinets and look for items labeled “Kosher.” He assured them they were a sure sign of the imminent take over of the world by the Jews. The student told my Dad that he had done just as instructed and, by golly, Rockwell was right!

Changing the water in a swimming pool because black people swam there? For crying out loud! At Mankato High the only time they drained the pool was when a classmate of mine thought it would be funny to take a dump in the pool. He was a white kid!

My first march since 1973

I don’t do marches. My last two were during Vietnam. As a Freshman in 1969 I was one of many students who blocked the main intersection in Mankato, Minnesota, on Front and Main. I concluded afterward that inconveniencing so many people was a counterproductive way to make a statement.

I did participate in another march during which a thousand students and townspeople peacefully marched against the Vietnam War in 1972. It followed an impromptu march the day before during which students blocked State Highway 169. I had already made up my mind in 69 about counter-productivity so I stayed away. That decision was reinforced when I saw the drugged up kid who tried to kick me where it counts in junior high heading to the highway to enjoy some mayhem.

A lot of the hangers on at the highway left wine bottle and beer cans behind which were noted in press accounts that night as well as the holding up of an ambulance with a sick occupant.

As I noted I did participate in the next day’s peaceful march which terminated at the campus. Afterwards a couple thousand marchers seated themselves in the middle of the campus to hear speakers talk about the war. One group of protesters who were burned about the news coverage from the previous day stood up and began demanding that a Twin City reporter come to the stage and explain his embarrassing coverage of the beer bottles which offended the protesters dignity. A little shakily the reporter moved to the microphone and haltingly started to explain that he simply reported what he had seen. At this the howling band of idealists began screaming and shouting him down.

From the back of the audience I felt rage welling up inside me and I shouted at the top of my lungs “SHUT UP YOU SON OF A BITCHES AND LET THE MAN SPEAK.” Startled, they shut up. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

Yesterday I participated in my second march in 45 years. It was for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.

I hadn’t planned on attending. Instead I was going to meet with a District employee to talk about matters affecting minority students, among other things. While I would be doing this Claudia had planned to take our older grandson with her to march in the MLK Jr. proceedings. I got to my meeting and discovered it had been canceled. A message had been left on my land line which I’ve gotten into the habit of ignoring in these cell phone days. So, I called Claudia and told her I’d meet her and my grandson at Washington Junior where the march was set to begin. Anxiety about Donald Trump and mild weather brought out a huge crowd. I’d guess there was about 700 or 800 people.

A lady next to me complimented me on my voice as we sang We Shall Overcome. I’m not sure what my grandson made of his grandparents shouting PEACE NOW! in cadence.

After a typically disorganized series of local NAACP speakers I was afraid of losing my Grandson’s interest. I leaned over to give him some sense of the importance of the event by telling him that when I was in second grade I was sent to the playground while black children were marched into our new integrated school holding their chairs and books from the Old segregated Buchanan Elementary School.

There was one very fine thing at the Auditorium. The Chief of the Superior Police was asked to speak and he was generous, helpful and reasonable. He mentioned that he had been hired in part by the NAACP’s local president three years earlier. In fact, the area police who helped lead the way for the march were out in very helpful force. I nodded to retired officer and retired Human Rights Officer Bob Grytdahl who was sitting a few seats from mine.

One of the nice ironies of the march was that there were more white marchers than minority marchers. Another nice irony was that we passed many minority marchers who were probably surprised to see us having not planned to march themselves. As a once-in-a-great-while marcher myself I have to say feeling obligated to protest isn’t my strong suite either.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

or is it?

I stopped reading my email a couple days ago when I got this subject heading:

“YOU ARE A RACIST, HARRY”

It was followed by a couple additional emails from the same author who I warned I would stop reading emails from all together if I didn’t stop seeing the “n” word spelled out in full in them. I won’t be reading the others and it will end a very long cordial line of letters going back five or six years.

Here’s what my old corespondent wrote with my asterisk laden alterations inserted:

“I see from your blog that your 2 digit IQ mind just can’t allow you to treat our respectable President-elect with the same modicum of reverence you keep according your “n*****” Obama. Sorry your parents didn’t raise you right… respect all people. Why don’t you post on your website how much you want to see the poor normal people of northeastern Minnesota to suffer as the result of your “n*****’s” vicious attacks against us. What would your Mom and Dad say?”

In answer to the-last-question – my parents would have told me what I told my daughter when she was being taunted by a boy on the playground in second grade – “ignore him.”

I can ignore my old corespondent’s email but I can’t ignore a man who has insulted critics and innocents alike weekly since he began running for the Republican nomination. If my corespondent thinks insulting a Republican candidate’s wife’s looks, is respectable then I’ll reciprocate by saying it would be a pretty picture to see Donald Trump on his knees before Vladimir Putin. I doubt that the KBG, or its modern equivalent, got that photo but I call on the Russian Prime Minister to release the video of the “golden shower” if indeed he’s got a copy of it locked in the Kremlin’s vaults.

Its funny but I was probably the last person in America to hear the allegation about the “golden shower”. An hour before last Saturday’s SNL began I called my brother to talk about the deteriorating health of our uncle. Over the course of our conversation my Brother mentioned a shower and I had to ask him what he was referring to. I was taken aback but thanked him because, had I not been told, I would have been utterly mystified by the opening of Saturday Night Live. My critique? SNL’s opening wasn’t that funny. Too obvious. To easy.

Since my old corespondent tunes in to my blog despite my recommendation I’ll address a second and more important issue he raised: “the poor people of Northeastern Minnesota.”

This is a reference to Obama’s last minute attempts to prevent mining developments in Northeastern Minnesota. Its a fair point that doesn’t need the word “n” to disparage Obama. It was a last minute means of keeping the environmentalists on the Democrat’s side after Trump takes over. I have my own reservations about sulfide mining but I’ve seen the Twin Cities trample Northeastern Minnesota before so I appreciate the resentment of those in the mining community.

Then again, when I get to China I might have a couple days inhaling the infamous coal burning smog when I get to Beijing. Let’s hope our future billionaires can start mining Psyche once we learn to make robots and cheaply ferry the asteroid to Earth in bits and pieces. It will take hundreds of thousands of workers to manage that high tech operation. Maybe the grandchildren of coal miners can get in on that.

And then there is the charge that I am a racist. Maybe I am. I have heard lots of black folks – years back – claim that only white people can be racists. I never bought that but maybe its true …….or maybe my corespondent thinks that I am a self hating white person and I hate white people. I don’t buy that either. I could never snuggle under the covers with my grandsons if I found them that repellent.

Finally there is the title to this blog piece: imitation as flattery. If its not obvious I’m simply doing what millions of others are doing after the President Elect has flipped his middle twitter at them and followed the President Elect’s lead. Hell! Being aggressively rude got Trump elected President so maybe it can do something for the majority of voters who didn’t get their way due to the Constitutional mechanics of our presidential election system…….just maybe the majority can titter Trump to do sensible things.

I heard a remarkable debate on NPR today which suggested that Trump may push the Republican Party to support its worst nightmare since I was in grade school sixty years ago – “socialized medicine.” That would astound even Obama’s critics who wanted the “single payer” system and it would eviscerate the private insurance system.

Already lots of Trump fans have been shattered to hear him back off his great Mexican wall which the Mexicans think is a joke.

It turns out that Donald Trump wants to be loved. I guess it never occurred to him that he might end up being hated. I’m quite prepared to be impressed if he pulls off solving what have become seemingly intractable problems. If he does I’ll even offer my grudging respect. Reagan got that too despite my reservations about him. However, I never detested the ever sunny and humble Ronald Reagan. If Trump pulls that off I’ll be amazed. Until then, when he flips my side the bird I’ll join the chorus of his imitators.

About the “N” word. I mean it!

My reply to a friend who ignored my request not to use of the “N word in the emails sent to me:

***********,

I don’t blame you for being pissed off. I don’t care if you call Obama a s__ of a _______, a b______, a m_____-______, a c____-____ an a_________, the anti-christ or just about anything else. But I made it plain before that I won’t accept that last word used the way you used it. Please don’t do it a third time. If you do I’ll stop reading your emails and I don’t want to do that because you have a lot of useful information I like looking over.

Harry

Robert Rowe Gilruth – Duluth Central Grad 1931

Kevin Costner plays a “composite” of the technicians in charge of America’s Space Race in his portrayal of the mythical “Al Harrison” in the Movie Hidden Figures. The principal he was playing was Duluth’s Robert Gilruth who led the American Space Race the same way that Robert Openheimer supervised the design and building of the Atom Bomb. Gilruth’s work was aided by a great many women just like the British women mathematicians, who broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma Codes during World War II. Gilruth’s “computers” were black women who like Britain’s Bletchley Circle women (in one of the best PBS Mystery series) who got John Glen into orbit and brought him back without burning up on reentry.

From the Duluth News Tribune:

First flight to the moon started here
Duluth News Tribune (MN) – July 19, 2008
Author/Byline: Chuck Frederick Duluth News Tribune

While taking in the spectacle of the Blue Angels and the high-flying thrills and roars of this weekend’s airshow, a group dedicated to preserving and celebrating Duluth’s aviation history wants you to remember a name: Robert Gilruth.

Why Robert Gilruth? Because the 1931 Duluth Central graduate ” the “father of human spaceflight” and the “godfather to the astronauts,” as he came to be known ” led our nation’s race to the moon. And because this weekend marks the 39th anniversary of the first lunar landing under his leadership.

Let me put that another way: The man responsible for Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” on July 20, 1969, grew up in Duluth.

In a frame and stucco corner house in Chester Park, to be precise.

“He made a tremendous contribution to our nation, and it’s amazing to think that we here in Duluth nurtured that young man,” said Sandra Ettestad, president of the nonprofit Duluth Aviation Institute. “He changed the world’s vision of the Earth and the possibilities of mankind. [He] achieved his youthful dreams.”

Meaning any of us can, right?

Duluth’s nurturing of Gilruth started in 1923 when he was 9 years old and his family moved here from Hancock, Mich. They had moved there from Nashwauk. His father was a superintendent of schools in both cities. In Duluth, his father landed a job teaching chemistry, physics and math at Morgan Park High School, where he later was principal. His mother taught math and home economics.

Gilruth, the second of two children, grew up at 701 N. 20th Ave. E. surrounded by family. His grandfather, a mining captain, grandmother, aunt and uncle lived two blocks away. He spent boyhood days playing with crystal-set radios and building intricate model airplanes. He and his father were very close.

“I started building model airplanes before the age of balsa wood and piano wire,” he recalled in a 1986 interview with NASA. “When the American Boy magazine came out with those things, that was a revolution, but I learned about that technology from the Duluth News Tribune. [The newspaper] had imported a man from Chicago who was a model airplane builder [and] champion. [He taught] a class of Duluth boys who might want to attend. This is how I got sort of a giant step into that business.”

Gilruth breezed through Duluth’s East Junior High School and Central High School. He earned straight As in aeronautics, chemistry and math at Duluth Junior College, which was on the top floor of Denfeld High School. He graduated in 1933. Three years after that, he added a masters degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota to his rapidly growing resume.

While at the university, he married Jean Barnhill, a fellow aeronautical engineering student and a pilot who flew cross-country races, who was a friend to Amelia Earhart and who founded a women’s pilots association.

Before he even finished graduate school, Gilruth was recruited to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the predecessor of NASA. The job took him to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia where he and his wife had a daughter, Barbara. He was a flying quality expert at Langley and in 1945 was placed in charge of developing a guided-missile research station. In 1952, he was named assistant base director.

But he was dreaming bigger. “There are a lot of things you can do with men up in orbit,” he recalled thinking to himself in the interview with NASA.

On Aug. 1, 1958, Gilruth pitched to Congress the idea of creating a manned space program. The politicians were impressed, and Gilruth was pegged to lead the Space Task Group. In short order, NASA was formed and Project Mercury, the nation’s first human spaceflight program, was created. Gilruth handpicked the first astronauts and hired the nation’s brightest engineers. Capsules were designed and rockets tested.

But not quite fast enough. On April 12, 1961, the Soviets beat the U.S. into space. President John F. Kennedy took it as a challenge.

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” the president announced. “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon ” it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

Gilruth was chosen to lead the human spaceflight program, known as the Apollo Program. Its goal was landing a man on the moon. And Gilruth promised just that in the fall of 1962 when he returned to Duluth and was welcomed back as a hero. Mayor George D. Johnson proclaimed it Bob Gilruth Day, and the auditorium at Central High School filled to the rafters with Duluthians eager to hear him speak. A giant banner hung from the balcony, declaring Gilruth the “pride of Central.”

Moved by his hometown’s tribute and welcome, Gilruth paused for a long moment. Then, in a soft voice brimming with emotion, he urged young Duluthians to prepare so they, too, could help their nation as it moved into the space age.

“I have received many honors, but I have never felt quite as humble as I do at this moment,” he said. “I feel quite confident that we will make manned landings on the moon within this decade. In fact, I am not only confident of this, I firmly believe we’ll be on the moon in less than 10 years.”

Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon less than seven years later. In Houston, Gilruth cheered with a nation.

“He was not an easy boy to get to know,” the News Tribune wrote of Gilruth, days before his triumphant return in October 1962. (He died Aug. 17, 2000, at age 87.) “He was neither a hellion nor an introvert. He was neither average nor did he display to those of his own age signs of unusual brilliance. … He was a boy of hobbies and strong purpose, yet beset by deep self doubts.”

In other words, he was a typical Duluth kid. Who achieved greatness. Meaning any of us can, right? Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor. He can be reached at 723-5316 or cfrederick@duluth news.com.

“That’s a word I don’t like one damned bit.”

Yesterday a friend sent me a pointed message about an issue completely unrelated to the subject of this post. He then put in a gratuitous word that pisses me off and one which even the southern politicians of my youth intentionally mispronounced, “nigra,”
to hide what they really called black folks when they weren’t on camera.

The times I’ve heard the word used are few and far between because people know better. The first time I was shocked to hear it it was spit out by a preschooler.

Here’s what I saw in my inbox:

“It’s not the Russians doing this, it’s that goddamn nigger Obama.”

Here was my reply:

“That’s a word I don’t like one damned bit. You and I don’t see eye to eye on everything and that’s OK. If you read my blog you know I’m not looking forward to the new administration. I’ve got my own colorful language for its leader. He seems to have made that word a lot more popular than it used to be.

Harry

I detest Donald Trump. Unlike Pandora I see little hope coming out the box of crap he’s opened up. I’m prepared to stand corrected but so far our President Elect has given future Dylann Roof’s more ammunition.

I understand but don’t buy the justification my friend sent me after my rebuke for blaming Obama on worsening race relations:

You are right. Obama has set back race relations 50 years and has no remorse for doing so. He brought the whole thing on himself…nobody I know thought anything about the color of his skin. Then he started in on this black over white shit and never stopped. Respect is something you earn, you don’t just get it, my father taught me. ‘Bama has not earned respect, but gained [disdain] by his sharp tongue and attitudes. He is sticking a great big dagger in the people of my life-long homeland and that of my parents and grandparents by blocking the extension of mineral exploratory leases for Twin Metals. More teaching whitey a lesson. That’s why I feel the way I do about him.

I’ve got to get to church but before the day is out I’d like to mention one more local detail relating to the movie Claudia and I watched on Friday – Hidden Figures. I’m surprised I’ve not read about it in the DNT yet but its well worth telling. Its a little more uplifting.

The Big Short

I put this movie in my memory bank over the last year when some economic analyst on NPR gave it a big thumbs up. Last night I saw that it was available on Netflix and Claudia and I watched it. It was Economics made fun and every bit as disgusting as a Zombie Apocalypse movie.

The Housing meltdown roughly coincided with the start up of the Red Plan and its purveyors shared many similarities to the get off scott-free, big money folks who pushed replacing almost all our facilities at a single stroke. They got rich and left the District to draw down its reserves, cut teachers, and compound it all by sucking millions of dollars annually out of our local tax levies in the General Fund to pay off Red Plan borrowing. Their supporters herd-like thinking reminded me of the people in the Big Short who stood back in disbelief as investment bankers cost six million Americans to lose their homes.

I’ve mentioned this before but that meltdown was part of the reason I had a heckuva time fighting the Red Plan. My family got caught up in the housing mania and a massive loan was taken out on my Mother’s house even though it was only a decade away from being paid off in full with very modest house payments. I’ve recently patched up my differences with the family members who lost that house and left me to spend months and months trying to get City Bank and Wells Fargo to let us short sell the house at a loss (for the banks) who eagerly permitted the misguided loan to go through. Our “short sale” took my brother and me months of calling the banks daily to find a human behind a phone. It was all I could do to find time for two simultaneous battles. When the sale neared completion and I finally pulled out of the Red Plan fight I took a vacation with Claudia. I faxed the last papers to the bank while traveling through, Lincoln, Nebraska, on our way to the Colorado Plateau. I was desperate to get out of town. I was so worn out that I got violently ill at the Grand Canyon. One morning Claudia heard an elk bugling outside our cabin and she thought it was me in my deaths throes. That’s what you get for burning your candle at two ends.

This post needs a good editing but that can wait. Claudia and I are going out to see Hidden Figures. That should be a good film too.

Editing is now complete…….

Hidden Figures is great.

Loving

I thought I was much younger when I read this story in our family’s copy of Life Magazine but it came out when I was 15 years old. Its about the mixed race couple, the Lovings, who successfully challenged the anti-miscegenation laws in the Supreme Court.

One of the bigoted things (my Buddy’s characterization) I wrote recently was that southern racists fled into the once hated “Party of Lincoln” in my lifetime. Evidence of this came out in a notorious 2011 poll showing that 46% of Mississippi Republicans thought “miscegenation” should be made illegal again as opposed to 40% who thought it should be legal. If it had been up to the majority President Obama’s mother would have been put in jail.

We went to see the touching movie “Loving” at the Zinema today. Claudia said it was a little long and slow but I suspect it captured the experience lived out by the Lovings. It was a nice antidote to our Birther race baiting President……who, no doubt, never believed a things he said while he was rallying America’s racists. Heck. Now that he’s President he’s making it clear he he didn’t mean anything he said while campaigning to be President of the United States.

Bleeding Kansas


This is one of my Mother’s paintings. Its called “Lilly White Town.” She painted it to symbolize the new world we had moved to when we left Kansas and my Dad began teaching business law at Mankato State. It was a different world where some of my new school mates took to calling me “reb” because they thought my Kansas accent was a southern accent.

When I moved from Topeka, Kansas, to Mankato, Minnesota in 1963 to start junior high school I left a classroom in which there were as many black kids as white kids. My new school had never seen a single black child in a hundred years.

The fellow I call “my Buddy” likes to send me emails calling be a “bigot.” He also calls me a “race hustler.” This is a person I once teased when I discovered he wrote a civil rights rule for a municipality back in the day. I don’t think that when he calls me names he means that I am prejudiced against white people although its likely he thinks I’m guilty of “liberal guilt.” This is a term used by “conservatives” who also like to call liberals “bleeding hearts.” Liberals are supposed to be driven by guilt to rectify old wrongs by accepting the blame for them. This is what Jesus did when he “died for our sins.” How dare libs take on a Jesus complex.

Well, of course, this self righteous attitude would rankle. The equally dim “conservative” reaction goes something like this: “Don’t blame me and don’t expect me to apologize. I never owned slaves. The Civil War is over. Move on. And for your information – just because I’m white doesn’t mean I got any privileges handed to me.” I suspect, but can not prove, that all this goes through my Buddy’s head when he calls me names.

After the Herculean multi-year task of putting 40 years accumulated paperwork in some sort of order in my attic office I’m sitting with a floor completely free from boxes, folders and piles of documents. There are just a handful of items within reach of my clean desk. One of them is the book, Bleeding Kansas, I ordered recently after spotting it in the Kansas City Library.

Its one of the books I plan to consult as I write about my Grandfather, George Robb, next year. His father settled next to a black former slave eighteen years after the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act.

Long time readers of this blog may remember my past references to my Grandfather’s ties with his neighbor the ex slave and my Grandfather’s service with black soldiers in World War 1 and maybe even the black maid my Mother hired to take care of him when he became infirm.

I think I’m the perfect person to talk about race. I think my Mother suffered from a little guilt where race was concerned. The painting at the beginning is evidence of this. The schools she attended were segregated until she got to junior high school. The Civil Right’s movement was going full bore when she was a young mother. Then she moved to Mankato at its height where there was precisely one black resident among 40,000 locals. He was Dr. Boerboom a veterinarian.

I, on the other-hand got the benefit of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, another frequent topic in this blog. These were my classmates in sixth grade before I left Topeka for lily white Mankato.

In many ways attending school with so many black kids inocculated me from thinking of them as a sterotype. They were individuals and I can understand how and why the 8% of blacks who voted for Donald Trump might have justified voting for man I consider an amoral, race-baiter.

Standing next to me at the top left is the only other Harry I knew growing up, Harry O’Neil. I vividly remember watching him round third base on our elementary playground after he lofted a kickball way into the outfield and looking over his shoulder to make sure he could run to home plate. A split second after he turned his head forward to run into home he smacked into an immovable six-inch-wide tether-ball poll that the Topeka Schools had inconveniently placed on the path from third base to home. He lost his incisors.

On the other end of the top row is Cynthia Robinson. What an annoying girl. She insisted she had another last name that belonged to her real father. There was a divorce or something going on. She was a tattle tale and a religious scold. She once tried to get my favorite teacher Mrs. Criss to kick me off a science club for some infraction. When she overheard me say something she disapproved of she grandly told me that if I ever took the Lord’s name in vain he’d strike me dead on the spot. I took great delight in looking up to the heavens and shouting to God to kill me. Poor Cynthia could only tell me reproachfully that God would oblige me but do it in his own good time when I least expected it. To my delight God has been in no hurry to expedite her prediction.

There’s Sherman a couple rows below me. I remember Mark Knickerbocker telling everyone with great enthusiasm, when Sherman showed up in sixth grade, what a cool kid he was because Mark had known him at a different school years before. My first interaction with Sherman was after school when he snatched my folder of artwork and proceeded to dump the pictures I’d made out to blow around on the playground.

I remember Vicky Bryant who is not in this picture because she was sent to Mrs. Muxlow’s sixth grade class where all the smart kids ended up. (Mr. Ross taught the losers although at the time I thought it was simply the luck of the draw that had separated me from so many of my friends) I invited Vicky to the cool Halloween Party my Dad organized for me in our basement. She was outgoing, smart, friendly and one heck of an athlete.

I passed some of these black kids houses on my way to school next to “Tennessee Town.” Some of them had 12 siblings and lived in tiny rattle trap houses propped up on cement blocks. Leslie Lewis was one of them. She was an Amazon who my Mother thought was becoming quite mature while I only saw her as a goofy giantess. I remember quiet studious black girls from middle class families who were too dignified for me to get to know. Thinking back on it I suspect there was a powerful incentive for them to protect their dignity by having as little to do with dangerous white people than they absolutely had to.

The five years I spent at Loman Hill Elementary School were like an inoculation against white cluelessness. It didn’t make me a champion for civil rights (which I think I am) but it gave me the sense that no one should be stereotyped based on the color of their skin. Heck, only a handful of my black classmates were really dark. A lot of them were much lighter skinned and represented a lot of white genetics. Gotta love the one drop rule.

Among my many finds in the Kansas State Historical Museum Archives was a paper my Grandfather wrote about James H Lane. I have yet to read it and fully expect to learn more about Kansas History as I write a book about my Grandfather. I think America is in the midst of a new Come to Jesus movement where race is concerned. I think that sharing what I know of my Grandfather’s experiences could give us a new perspective and help us move on. If nothing else writing it will help me sleep better at night.

Thank you Dr. Conniff…

…for reading my blog. Thank you also for taking part in an important public conversation……..

I have submitted this piece in its entirety to the Tribune and will withhold it until such time as the Tribune prints it.

This is what I originally posted except that when I saved it the five or so hyperlinks I placed in it were lost. Frankly I’m too busy to replace them. As you can see there is very little change:


Thank you Dr. Conniff for reading my blog. Thank you also for taking part in an important public conversation. Your contribution begins:
“I had to read to the end of the well-reported Nov. 15 article, “District responds to hate speech in Duluth high schools,” to find School Board Member Harry Welty’s recommendation against ‘having a dire punishment for kids abusing their free-speech rights.’
In disbelief, I turned to Welty’s blog”

When the Tribune’s education reporter, Jana Hollingsworth, called me I kept her on the phone for forty minutes as I expanded on my thoughts on this sensitive subject. Due to the Duluth News Tribune’s understandable limitations of time, newsprint, and ink, only two sentences of mine were included in the article to explain my still evolving thinking on this episode.
In the meantime I must insist on an uncomfortable truth: In the United States free speech does include hate speech however much we may be appalled by it. Fortunately it does not include shouting “fire” in a dark theater nor does it include threats or incitement to riot.

My job as a member of the school board is to think my way through what has been happening over the last year and how to deal with its consequences over the next four and possibly, God forbid, eight years. Making martyrs out of Duluth students for parroting the hateful things they hear on the Internet and no doubt in their homes and on the nightly news is not the best or most thoughtful response. That would be fighting fire with grease which would only make the conflagration more intense.
Duluth has undergone two recent changes which exacerbate the negativity of 2016 election. 1. It divided its school district into rich/poor and black/white schools at the same time as 2. Its African-American community has begun to expand significantly leading to a white flight from our schools of perhaps 15% of the student population. There has been one heartening development over these recent years. Our children have assumed a generous and open attitude toward their superficial differences. The reaction of students in both East High and Denfeld have been remarkable rebukes to the politics that seem to have generated the “hate speech.” I take great comfort in that.

These generous reactions must be supported by the School Board not undermined by meting out “dire punishments” prompted by shock at the outcome of the recent election. We need to follow our better angels. That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. did. His legacy, the “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” has continued for fifty years to keep a watchful eye out for the vestiges of hate and racism that King gave his life to make part of our nation’s past. I do not believe King would have encouraged us to force it underground but would have advised us to keep it in full view where it could be exposed for what it is – a grievous assault on the spirit of justice and equality that our nation was founded upon.

More on interning Muslims for the nation’s security

Our good friend just posted the link to the NY Times story about the potential internship of Muslims. She has an adopted Korean child that attended Sunday school with my children. She said this of the story:

“I am speechless about views like this. My son just asked about his adoption and naturalization papers. This is appalling.”

I find myself reading about the circus that is the Trump transition team and hardening my mind toward anything Trump.

My Buddy just sent me a link to a Wikileaks apologist explaining that they mean nothing personal and they they are just insuring full disclosure. I guess I was supposed to take this as reassuring. The trouble is there is no level playing field when it comes to moles and rats ferreting out secret data. Whoever is the most determined to ferret out data and whoever is the most vulnerable to hacking can make for very unequal results.

What have I learned about Clinton from Wikileaks? That Democrats protect their own and friends help scratch each other’s backs. Scandalous! Even Bernie Sanders who came out on the short end of the stick made no bones about his preference for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Lucky Donald Trump. He is like Reagan and made of Teflon no matter what offal he swims through. He’s bringing the deplorables into the White House with him.

How is any of this supposed to help the poor, browbeaten, white, male voters who elected Trump?

“THROWING GREASE ON THE FIRE”

As I indicated in my email to my Buddy the election last week has opened Pandora’s box with lots of noisome, nasty, dance on your grave results. Here’s the Trib story on the graffiti making its way into our schools and online.

I talked with Jana Hollingsworth about my views on this for thirty or forty minutes so there could be little doubt about what I was thinking. Naturally, the spare quotes from me leave out thirty or forty minutes of exposition. Jana quotes me quite accurately as saying:

“I don’t think throwing grease on the fire is going to help,” he said. “Having a dire punishment for kids abusing their free speech rights isn’t the solution.”

Let me be the first to say (as I mention every so often) I’m no Christian. However, Christian charity, so trampleded on over the past year, strikes me as the best antidote……that as well as absolutely open eyed disapproval of the post election vomitorium.

I told Jana that our district ought to employ “restorative justice” to deal with those taunting others. I think the students posting hurtful words should face the students the words are directed at.

When I ran for the School board successfully for the first time former Central student Mary Cameron and I became good friends. I would have stepped aside and let her campaign in the third District rather than run myself had she decided not to run city-wide.

Not long afterward a neighbor told me how, as a student, Mary had gotten into fights, hard fisticuffs-type fights with other girls. He had no use for Mary. I, however, squared that with the picture Mary kept in her office of the day Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was taken on the Central campus by a Duluth News Tribune photographer – a beautiful young black woman with a thousand yard stare.

Kids are hurting. Even the hurtful words by some students are evidence of some form of suffering of the taunters. I want to help in the healing process. I even told Jana that in the case of one young person who put his name on the Internet abuse he hurled she showed considerable bravery. I can respect him for this but not the anonymous bomb throwers and Internet trolls.

I’ll remember the current wickedness every time someone fan of President Donald Trump overlooks the sorry means by which Trump got out his vote. He’s our President. He’s my President although I detest the thought of it. Now all Trump has figure out is how not to become the most infamously rotten President in American History. I’m betting his ego would like to avoid this so I’ll give him a chance to rise to the level of say, a Richard Nixon. Maybe he’ll even do better than that. I wouldn’t put it past him but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I have to catch his goblins and stuff them back in the box.

Relishing my post-election ease

Not only do I have a weeks worth of chores from my recent trip but I face days of work printing out a thousand pages of documents I photographed from my Topeka, research. I’m also recovering from the trip’s three tech glitches. My car misbehaved twice costing me nine precious hours. First its timing chain went caput. Next I blew a tire on the Interstate north of KC at night and discovered the lug nuts were on so tight my tire iron broke in half while I tried to unbolt them. Then my computer up and died. At the moment I’m in the process of putting a new one together with all the ingredients lost with the old. Thank goodness I backed up the old computer two days before I left.

Now that I’m back I have new controversies to face like a school system that fails black kids and an election result that has emboldened poltergiests to gloat and threaten…..mostly anonymously.

Ah, but I have learned from Jana Hollingsworth that one of our high school kids has put his/her hate all over the Internet under his/her own name. I’ll be expected to do something about that. But Harry “its ‘hate speech'” Jana reminded me when I said we needed to remember it was only a kid and that vengeful punishment would only reinforce his or her unAmerican attitudes. Inconveniently, our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees free speech despicable or otherwise. I’ll have to decide if a Facebook entry is like crying “fire!” in a darkened theater.

And of course my Buddy weighed in with a helpful observation in an email:

Harry:

From http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=18336:
In response to the anonymous racist graffiti scrawled in our school bathrooms Annie had this to say:

….“We want to be clear that intolerance and hatred is absolutely not accepted in our schools,’’ Harala said, urging parents and the entire community to encourage respectful behavior at home so that flows into the schools….

“is”, instead of “are”, from the chairperson of the Duluth School Board?

Further, to say that “hatred is absolutely not accepted in our schools”, reminds me of the observation that as long as there are math tests in our schools, there will be praying in our schools. As you say, “making threats that are largely empty because of the furtive nature of the offense.”

[Your Buddy]

To which I replied:

[Buddy],

I have some grievances against Annie. She censured me and allowed herself to be used as the excuse by others to have a vengeful, costly, prolonged and ultimately futile battle to undo the election of Art Johnston. BTW – I put my money where my mouth was and gave Art $20,000 to pay his lawyers.

That said, I’m not interested in nit picking grammar with a young woman who is still in shock over the election results. After all we elected a pussy grabbing demagogue. Whether Trump behaves that way once sworn in will be the test of his administration. I don’t expect pussy grabbing but I think it will be hard for him not to demagogue when he’s under fire. Its already worked so well for him and if I’ve learned anything about Trump its that he’s quick to resort to winning formulas. He learned the efficacy of a good offense from his mentor, Joe McCarthy’s sleazy minion, Roy Cohn.

The candidate who’s demagogic tactics you parsed like a Clinton has unleashed a lot of pent up nastiness I’ll have to deal with on the school board while you sit back in the comfort of your ********* retreat and send me emails finding fault with my every criticism of the man. I’ve already spent half an hour today explaining to the Trib’s education reporter why I have reservations about relying on “hate speech” as a justification for punishing kids in our schools. I thought that after this election was over I might be able to take it easy. Guess not. But that’s why I earn the big bucks as a school board member.

Harry

Topeka homecoming

In 2002 I visited my old Topeka home with my Mother just as Alzheimers was beginning to intrude into her life. I asked her to drive me around town to show me the seven houses her family moved to, one each year, for the first seven years her father was the Kansas State Auditor. I took their pictures, where they still stood, except for the house on Clay Street that may have fallen victim to the tornado in 1966. In two weeks I’ll be heading back to Topeka, this time as a guest of the local VFW to participate as they memorialize Mom’s father on November 11th. It will be the 99th anniversary of the battle that made him a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

For the past couple months I have been sorting and organizing documents related to his life. They fill five three-ring binders. I’ll probably come back with even more documentation because I plan to spend a couple days at the Kansas Historical Society where my Mother and her sister took his letters after his death. At the time she was quite irritated with one of the archivists who panned their gift of my Grandfather’s Medal of Honor telling them that the Historical Society had more of that kind of stuff than it knew what to do with. When I visited Topeka with her in 2002 the medal was hanging in an exhibit about my grandfather. Here’s Mom bending down to read the captions:

That helmet in the case used to hang on a wall between the garage and Grandpa’s kitchen. My cousins liked wearing it with the bullet hole next to the temple.

I also took pictures of some Topeka schools. The one on the top is Loman Hill Elementary where newly integrated students were sent to our classrooms when I was in Second grade. The photo in the middle was the segregated Buchanan School whose students were sent to Loman Hill. How appropriate that it was named for the least competent President in the Nation’s history. The bottom school was Monroe Elementary now the site for the Brown V. Board of Education National Historic site.

Black police – then and now

These two recent NPR stories on the experiences of black police are worth noting. Here’s Today’s story about a black police woman in Nashua New Hampshire. She thinks of her two year old black son getting shot by a cop while her white step daughter asks how she can to out to work after Dallas when she could be shot by a fellow black for being a police officer.

Then there was this interview in the 1970’s by Chicago’s Studs Turkel of one of Chicago’s few black policemen and what he dealt with in a hostile white police force. I am not sure it in this segment but afterward he was interviewed in 2016 and described finding human feces in his police locker.