Category Archives: Civil Rights

Memorial Day Remembrance

At noon I put up our US flag for Memorial Day. I’m not a fanatic about following the rules or it would have gone up at daybreak. I hope my Grandfather would forgive me. I don’t know if he put up a flag every patriotic occasion or not but there is no doubt he was a patriot. I lived in his shadow as a child. I haven’t read through these five posts to confirm it but it appears I might have told this story on the blog five previous times. When I was little and scraped a knee and came looking for my Mother’s solace she would tell me “Don’t cry Harry. Your Grandfather was shot in war and he didn’t cry.”

BTW – That’s such a tough love piece of advice that as an adult I took great delight in quoting it back to my Mother to embarrass her. And she was embarrassed. I’m chuckling at the remembrance now.

But I’ve only come to more deeply respect my grandfather, George Seanor Robb, as the years have passed. This blog has ample evidence of that and this post is just the latest. I’ve been thinking all through the Trump years that writing a book about him would be a good antidote to the Trump contagion. Damn me for my tardiness. I hope to start writing it after the Fall School Board election. Before that I’m hoping to publish another book.

George Robb used his prestige as a Medal of Honor Winner for good. As a big shot Kansas State Auditor he was asked by his Alma Mater for their advice on whether to admit a Japanese student during the Second World War when all Japanese-Americans in the continental United States were being put in internment camps. Here’s the post about the letter he wrote Park College.

In recent years little Park College has honored my Grandfather by setting up the George S. Robb Center for the Study of the Great War. If you follow that link you will see pictured African American men who served with my Grandfather in the trenches of World War I. Following that war my Grandfather was generous in his praise of his fellow comrades at arms. After the war racist Americans bent over backward to besmirch their reputations as fighting men.

Today the GSR Center is spearheading a long overdue evaluation of warriors who were denied the nation’s thanks for their valor and service.

Henry Louis Gates

My eyes are too big for my stomach for history books!

These are my library’s selection of books about African-American history and part of my collection related to the Civil War which arguably is pretty much the same history.

I haven’t read them all. I describe the books I buy but don’t read immediately as being like planes circling an airport waiting for clearance to land. Another plane is close to being added to those circling my bibliographic airport. Its The Stony Road by Henry Louis Gates known to the PBS viewers for his series on family history.

I didn’t know he was about to launch a book let alone on Reconstruction. A week ago, however, I bumped into an old NY Times story about Gates in which an interviewer asked him for the books he had been most moved by. He mentions three or four including one that was sitting behind my computer Reconstruction by Columbia University historian Eric Foner.

All my life I’ve tried to find the Cliff Notes version of everything so that I would have time to become knowledgeable about all things. It has not really worked. There’s just too many books. But I did buy Foner’s book thirty years ago only to discover that he had an abridged book by the same author. I once wrote to Foner asking him (stupidly I admit) what I would find in the full version vs. his Cliffs Notes version. He was kindly un-sarcastic in his reply to me.

So I was surprised to see that Gates has written his own history of Reconstruction taking it through Jim Crow. I am strongly inclined to read it which means buying it too.

BTW – Gates is the fellow that another cranky white lady called the police on when she saw him entering his home in Boston. He was arrested by a white cop and that led to the first proof for Murdoch oriented white nationalists that Barack Obama was a raging black monster when he said the cop over reacted. That led to the obviously raging Obama to hold a beer summit between Professor Gates and the policeman in the Rose Garden. Heavens!!!

Thank God we have the sensible Murdoch-approved Donald Trump presiding over America today.

Sword 2 , the Wallace example

The preceding post doesn’t capture part of the conversation I had with my wife as we discussed this news event.

I am a better angel man. Lincoln you know, and a perfectly respectable Democrat is being flayed for a youthful stupidity. He wasn’t accused of attempting to rape anyone after all. But I just heard the Republican Party’s chairman tell NPR that Governor Northam should resign. Every Democrat seems to be jumping on this bandwagon.

Let me offer some perspective.

I mentioned to my wife the incredible generosity that former Alabama Governor, George Wallace received from Black Alabama in his twilight years. And remember, this was Mr. “Segregation now, Segegration tommorrow, Segregation forever!”

Wallace didn’t start politics as a racist. He lost his first race for the legislature to a racist and being practical out-racisted all future challengers up until he became Governor. But in his last days he sorrowfully apologized for the part he had played. Black Alabama prayed for him and with him and forgave him. They were better angels.

Claudia has recently read Jon Meacham’s book Soul of America. She loved it. She told me that during his Presidency Lyndon Johnson got Wallace in his office and asked him if, after his death, he would be proud to be remembered for his racist politics and go to his grave with a little plaque saying “he hated” on it. Wallace backed off his persecution of black Alabamans.

I’m not sure Johnson’s words made that much of an impact on Wallace in the short term. Wallace conducted his independent 1968 Presidential campaign with a vengeance. But after a second presidential run and an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed he was a shattered man. His apology gave black Alabamans a chance to be generous.

Today politics is once again a blood sport and I’ve heard a lot of Democrats so wound up over Northam’s shoe polish that there isn’t a shred of mercy left. That troubles me.

Falling on your sword

I’m even more troubled by the Niagara pouring over Virginia’s happless democratic Governor Ralph Northam than I was over Minnesota’s Al Franken. His crime in my opinion is panic and stuttering. They come in the wake of a one – two punch.

First, he spoke like a doctor when pressed on late term abortions. I didn’t follow that disaster which was whipped up by Pro-lifers chuffed at the prospect of overturning Roe v Wade and by New York’s unnecessary law trying to one up all the pro-life legislation profiferating in Pro Life country.

Coincidentally one of my recent Facebook correspondents, who is in anguish over the disappearance of the Republican Party in California, shared her thoughts on this sympathetic to Gov. Northam based on her personal experience. She shared them first with Jonah Goldberg of the Nation and told me I could share them with my audience if I promised not to amend them. (If I do that will come later)

This, however, is not the issue that has people baying for him to resign. What is known is that a picture of a man in blackface and someone in a KKK costume was put in an unofficial “yearbook” for his medical school back in 1984. If, as Northam now says he was not in it its too late. His first comment was to apologize for it. After that who can know what to think of his retraction made worse by the confession that he put some shoe polish on his face while participating in a dance contest in 1984. Here the ironies multiply. He was doing Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, Michael who was infamous for bleaching his skin a lighter color. It was a day and age where the dim movie “soul man” hit the theaters. It was only four years after Reagan’s election when he announced his presidential campaign a few miles from the murder of 3 civil rights workers in the 1960’s almost making it seem like the issue of civil rights was all over.

Its galling to see Republicans calling for the Democratic governor to resign considering Northam’s racist in-sensitivities pale compared to President Trumps. As for the Democrats. There is a stampede to remove him. If he leaves it should be because he has so poorly explained himself and that seems to be what many Virginians are thinking. Some day we may learn who made the yearbook. who the people were in it. And how it fell into the hands of a conservative Internet site. No matter what we learn from this reporting it doesn’t save the Governor from his poorly thought out self defense. Who the heck does he think he is? Donald Trump? Lie man. Lie!!!!!

Blackkklansman

This is a pic I snapped last September in Dijon, France. It shows one of forty or fifty waiter/waitresses in a race around the center of town the chief qualification of the half mile or so race was not to drop anything from your tray. While we were in Dijon we were a block away from a “cinema” that was showing the Spike Lee Movie Blackkklansman. We had some spare time but didn’t know if it would be in English with French subtitles or Dubbed French. We passed on the movie. Tonight after watching Lee’s movie at home we both rather regretted missing it in France.

The movie which takes dramatic liberties about a real story concluded with an unexpected segue from a cross burning in the movie to the White racists marching with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting about Jews not taking over America and fighting with protesters. It cut to Trump saying people on both sides of the fighting were trouble and then showed a car that plowed through people protesting the racists from several angles. It was sobering. We wondered what it would have been like to see how a French audience would have reacted to it.

It reminded me of my experience in Dallas or San Antonio, Texas when my family took one of our summer vacations. Dad took us all to a spaghetti western in a downtown theater. It was full of Mexican-American men, mostly young. They so enjoyed watching the gringos getting shot up during fight scenes that I for one felt ridiculously out of place being a gringo myself. Had we been seen in that France movie house depicting racist 1970’a America no one would have known we were Americans. We probably wouldn’t have said much when leaving the theater.

I’ll give Jim the last word.

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

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

Willy Makeit and the Kunst Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

Violence on MLK Boulevard

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

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

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

300 years and counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “wrong side” is winning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Black Panther

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ONE LONG FOOTNOTE:

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

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

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

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

Coda Coda

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

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

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

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

To members of the Duluth School Board,

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

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

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