Category Archives: Civil Rights

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.

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


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.


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 /

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’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:


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.


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