Category Archives: Family

General Grant

At the Quora site on the Internet in which people ask questions and experts show up out of nowhere to answer them I read this quote attributed to Ulysses S Grant about his Confederate opposite General Lee:

What did Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee think of each other?

Answered May 29 by Jim Hopkins

Grant on Lee: “I never ranked Lee as highly as some others of the army — that is to say, I never had as much anxiety when he was in my front as when Joe Johnston was in my front. Lee was a good man, who had everything in his favor. He was a man who needed sunshine. He was supported by the unanimous voice of the South, he was supported by a large party in the North. He had the support and sympathy of the outside world. All this is of immense advantage to a general. Lee had this in a remarkable degree. Everything he did was right. He was treated like a demi-god. Our generals had a hostile press, lukewarm friends, and a public opinion outside. The cry was in the air that the North only won by brute force, that the generalship and valor were with the South. This has gone into history with so many illusions that are historical. Lee was of a slow, conservative, cautious nature, without imagination or humor, always the same with grave dignity. I could never see in his achievements what justifies his reputation. The illusion that nothing but heavy odds beat him will not stand the ultimate light of history. I know it is not true. Lee was a good deal of a headquarters general, a desk general, from what I hear, and from what his officers say. He was almost too old for active service — the best service in the field. At the time of the surrender he was fifty-eight or fifty-nine, and I was forty-three. His officers used to say he posed himself, that he was retiring and exclusive, and that his headquarters were difficult of access.”

I grew up hearing that Grant was a bloody general and a crooked President. I no longer regard that appraisal as anything other than sour grapes. The quote above probably comes from his famous memoirs written hastily just before his death so that there would be something for the impoverished President to leave his family. First comment. This appraisal is well written, concise and insightful.

Secondly My Mother left her grandfather’s volumnes to my son who has yet to pick them up. I looked at them just now and found the note my Mother composed to her grandson. The note was touching and my eyes watered remembering that she too once was a woman with remarkable insight later lost to dementia. In the note I discovered that I had been telling an old family story wrong for the last couple decades. I put a picture of the set up above:

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.

Eudora’s latest – Family Heirlooms

It begins:

“I spent last night polishing a family heirloom to send to my son. It’s was set aside for him years ago before college. Back then it wasn’t the sort of artifact he had any use for. It still isn’t. But one hundred and forty-five years ago, filled with ice chopped from a frozen Smokey Hill River, it kept the Robb family’s butter cold on the supper table.”

Read it all on the Duluth Reader website.

My Mom’s memories through my Daughter

(Photo by Tara Elizabeth)

Yesterday my younger grandson ruffled my thinning hair and I told him it reminded me of his mother who once planted a surprise kiss smack on my bald patch.

“Oh, I probably did that because Grandma told us how she and her sister did that to their Father,” my Daughter replied.

She added that my Mother’s and her sister Mary Jane’s lipsticky kisses were bestowed on their father while he was at work in the Kansas State Capitol Building. This would have been in the 1940’s. Afterward, she and her sister rushed up a floor in the rotunda to look down on their father and admire their handiwork.

Below, the crime scene:

The more I’ve thought about this the more I think that my Grandfather knew perfectly well what his girls had done.

Glaciers!!!

I was going to use a different title for this as my previous post suggested. It was to be “Read this you climate denying numnuts“. But “Glaciers!” is better because it reminds me of a family story.

This post was prompted by a story in the DNT a couple days ago but couldn’t find it on their website. But this will do. This news article stuck a cord in me.

When my children were little I developed a reputation for tiresome pedantry. (endless and boring explanations) Rather than getting all bent out of shape over my reputation I put it to good advantage with my nephews. One day I tried putting them to bed with the story of “Mr. Boring.” Mr.Boring talked about glaciers. He spoke slowly with big words and his super power was putting people to sleep. For a year or two afterward my nephews wanted me to tell them more Mr. Boring stories.

The starting point for original boring story were our Great Lakes which even now are full of the water that melted 10,000 years ago from the glaciers which covered half of the United States and all of Canada. A mere 10,000 years of rainfall has not been enough time to flush and replace the snow and ice that had accumulated over millions of years in the lake basins gouged out by the glaciers. And even now, 10,000 years later the ground beneath our feet is still upwelling like a cushion freed from our butts after we stand up.

But I’m not sure I ever considered that the original glacier was still in existence. A tiny remnant still exists covering one of Canada’s arctic islands. But it won’t be there for long. It survived two and a half million years but will be gone in a couple hundred more. As the story says our climate is warmer than when the mile thick North American glaciers began melting. This new climate is also turned its attention on Greenland and Antarctica as it hasn’t since our earliest ancestors stood up on the steppes of Africa.

To me the tribulations of a man who never expected to be President but only wanted to build his brand and his billions while blaming his expected defeat on election fraud are just piffle compared to what ten billions of humans will do to the Earth.
Panicking Republicans are manufacturing new crises to stave off the assault on their President’s. OMG -Minnesota has an Israel-bashing Muslim congresswomen !!! AOC has a Green New Deal!!! And don’t forget Socialism! or Impeachment!. Maybe they should have thought about that more when they tried to impeach Bill over mostly consensual sex.

Meanwhile the Earth is burning……..literally.

Serious Family News

To my Eight loyal readers,

I have had something on my mind for several weeks which helps explain the paucity of my posts. An inquiry from my Father’s Aunt Nancy a couple minutes ago merited a reply. In fact, after finishing it I decided it was as good a way as any to bring my readers up to speed on the personal side of my life.

As an aside. I came home from my rehearsal with the Duluth Symphony Chorus tonight and found Claudia listening to a CNN New Hampshire Town Hall for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. We were both very impressed.

Now to Aunt Nancy’s email

Hi, Harry

Reports are the you have had huge snowfalls this winter.  Are you still creating wonderful sculptures.

And, is there a sight where I can view? All is well here — just huge amounts to rain and more on the way.

Nancy

And here is a lot more reply than Aunt Nancy probably expected:

Nancy, Happy New Year. 

February has been very generous. Around 30 inches. But I got my sculpting in earlier. Just after the new year a big baby ended up on my lawn. He had cheeto colored skin. Someone knocked his head off so I made a replacement sculpture. 

Check this news story out for – https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/government-and-politics/4551237-duluthian-creates-trump-snow-sculpture – the first sculpture then this news story about its replacement. https://kbjr6.com/news/top-stories/2019/01/14/welty-changes-u

The last couple weeks I have been more focused on Claudia. To our surprise she Learned she needed an aortic heart valve replacement. The surgery is tomorrow morning. We will check into the hospital at 5:30 AM.

Claudia’s health is stellar and the operation while dramatic has become routine. We are optimistic she will come through like a trooper. I will keep you posted.

Harry Welty, “Provocateur”

Brady Slater’s piece about my Cheeto-in-Chief sculpture and its temporary decapitation was fine by me. However, as a diarrhetically, self analycal writer I would have written a different version of my work.

Had I noted the drubbing I got at the hands of the Eighth district’s Trump cult I would have emphasized that the extent of my protest campaign was a $300 filing fee, gas to Hibbing and back and a couple hours filling out candidate questionnaires. Under those circumstances getting ten percent of the vote was a triumph and proof that, like the Jews after the holocaust, not all moderate Republicans were dead.

But that’s a quibble.

I thoroughly enjoyed Brady’s description of me as a “political provocateur” even though, when I set out on a political career, that is the last thing I would have imagined I would become. I still regard myself as the most reasonable politician I’ve ever met. I would probably have been reluctant to sign on with the Declaration of Independence in the beginning. I might also have retreated from Abe Lincoln’s resolve to stop secession in its tracks. I would have wished for cooler heads to talk over grievances. In my most notable local crusade demanding a vote on the half billion dollar Duluth school construction plan I was too slow and reasonable for my side’s ultimate success. My Dad was an attorney but I am no eager litigator.

In my college years there were lots of long hairs my age eager to provoke “the establishment.” I had little use for them when their words were middle fingers. I winced when one of them wrote a popular how-to-manual found in bookstores everywhere titled, “Steal this book.” People did.

But while slow to anger and quick to cool my parents held the example of my Grandfather up to me from my toddling years on. He was not just a war hero. He had been awarded his nation’s highest military medal of honor for bravery in the face of the enemy. When the stakes are high I’m all in and will meet fire with water.

I first heard the verb “provoke” from my Grandmother Welty. “I’m so provoked.” That’s what she would say in her calm, teacherly voice. It was typically small irritations that would provoke her, flies in the house, a missing piece of silver, a leaky pipe. In the face of these “provocations.” I never saw her lose her composure. However, raising my Uncle Frank, might have raised her hackles higher. He once found a pack of his parent’s prophylactics, blew them up like balloons, tied them to his bicycle and rode it and their contraceptives around the block. One time she was so provoked that she ordered her husband to put the whole family in the car and drive to the nearest boy’s juvenile center to scare her son Frank into behaving himself.

As Lincoln, and the Founders he revered would have said, they were not the provocateurs. The real provocateurs were a distant government taxing colonists without consultation and southern politicians subverting the constitution to violate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Ditto for me when the Duluth School Board levied a half billion dollar tax without asking voters for their approval in a bonding referendum.

So, who is the true provocateur here? Could it be a Presidential candidate who rallied his supporter to lock up his opponent? or shamelessly lied his way to the White House or who hired legal bullies to enforce this theft from business partners? or who may have colluded with foreign agents to make himself richer and compromise the laws and security of the United States? or who didn’t just avoid taxes but illegally evaded them on a colossal scale? or who so threatened the Republican Party that he resembles the tin pot dictator of Venezuela who destroyed his nation’s once booming economy?

Me, a provocateur? I spent twenty hours building a snowman and painted it cheeto-orange. In the spring it will melt and drain into Lake Superior. In contrast the man who was its model has acted the demagogue, kleptocrat, and put nearly a quarter millennia of fragile democracy in jeopardy.

And as for MAGA. A better acronym would be Make Average a Great America.

At Hibbing last night

My computer just died so I am composing this on my cell phone. I hate doing this.

I attended a fascinating debate in Hibbing last night at which all the congressional candidates sans one appeared. Trump’s toadie.

From what people told me afterward I made an impression…a good one.

Two people caught my attention. One was a former union man who spent 3 years taking his corrupt union to court in a court system weighted heavily Democrat and pro union. We both patted each other on the back for our valiant if fruitless battles.

The other was a Hibbing teacher who had taken my father’s contract law class and who told me my Dad was beloved in the business school. If it wasn’t for my dead computer I would write more. HOWEVER. Check out my next post. It’s about Abood…….

An Open Letter to MCCL (and why even the Supreme Court will not end abortions)

A short note before I share the letter.

I was alive when “back alley” abortions took the lives of women. I formed my opinions on the subject of abortion in 1960’s and 70’s as a then liberal Republican. my thinking aligned with the Republican Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe vs. Wade. My opinion hasn’t changed nearly as much as our society has where sex is concerned. I always wanted to make contraceptives available rather than rely on abortions. I was appalled that “pro lifers” of that era were more anti premarital sex than they were anti fetus killing. As you will see in my letter to the MCCL I haven’t changed my mind.

I have always felt that abortions, like guns and traffic and food production was a legitimate area for sensible regulation. I have always sympathized with the folks who felt that human life, even before birth, was sacred. But I’ve grown impatient with such people when they fail to act as though the life that follows birth is also sacred and have cemented themselves to a political party that makes a virtue of the poor being forced to “fend for themselves.”

The Pro-Life movement is woefully ignorant about what will result should Roe vs. Wade be overturned. They think that it will be the end of all abortions in America. That’s obviously wrong. If Roe is struck down it will take the passage of a pro life amendment with by a 3/4ths majority of states to make it illegal in all fifty states. That will not happen in my lifetime. Abortions will always be available to the well-to-do even in states that would outlaw it. All they will have to do is travel to a state where its legal. When I was in high school such folks had to have the money to fly to Sweden.

Here’s that letter I sent to the MCCL

MCCL stands for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life: Continue reading

Bringing back Phil to manage my school board campaign

Alanna Oswald told me yesterday that she might not to vote for me because of all the posts in which I whine about having to campaign instead of writing about my Grandfather. She says my getting off the School Board might be the only way she gets to read that book.

Its a tough choice. I’d love to compare George Robb with his fellow Kansan, oil billionaire fifty times over, Charles Koch. My Grandfather was a rock ribbed Republican but Koch is making it his business to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AND FDR’s New Deal BUT the trust busting reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. Koch truly wants to take America back 100 years to the Gilded Age and Jim Crow. Perhaps that explains the jarring video I saw the 82-year-old Koch along side our Era’s Stepin Fetchit Snoop Dogg. Koch is a lot more comfortable with a black idiot sidekick than a sober and brilliant Black President taxing his billions and restraining his pollution.

Hell, when I was exploring the Kansas State Historical Museums files on my Grandfather I got a peek at his old College scrapbook which gave a pretty strong hint that my then 21-year old Grandfather liked Teddy Roosevelt. He pasted in a flyer from Park College’s Teddy Roosevelt Club into the book the year the ex-president’s Bull Moose party challenged Wilson and Taft. It was probably Koch who talked right-wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, to denounce Teddy. Beck was regularly invited to attend Koch’s soirees to return America to the days of John C. Calhoun and State’s Rights.

But as tempting as it is for me to try to save America with a boring reminder of a more decent political past, my Grandfather also set another standard before me when he fought in the Great War. As the lyrics to one of his Era’s war songs put it “…and we won’t come back till its over, over there!” I’m afraid that my school board work is not over either.

My Grandfather’s war lasted about one year. Mine began 28 years ago (if not earlier) when I first ran an unsuccessful race for the Duluth School Board in 1989. That was two years after moving to our new home on 21st Ave E and my Daughter Keely’s request that I build a snow dinosaur. I was reminded of this a week ago when visitors asked if they could look at my scrapbook of a 30 year snow sculpting career.

Following my second failed attempt to run for the School Board I decided to make a not so subtle comment about the struggles of the Duluth Schools in 1991 in snow. The DNT’s head photog, Chuck Curtis, snapped a photo which made it to the Front Page if I remember correctly. A passerby with a camera took a photo of me sculpting it and sent it to me afterwards. Until the advent of cell phones Claudia and I got used to flashes coming through our drapes on winter nights from folks dropping by to take a picture of our front lawn to mail to their friends in warm weather states.

Like my Grandfather I conceived of my campaigns for the School Board like his Meuse-Argonne campaign. I ran a third time and lost that election as well. As a consolation Claudia gave me a small black figurine of a disconsolate Gorilla sitting chin on hand like the thinker for my birthday. That became my inspiration for yet another snow sculpture and perhaps an augury for a change in my political fortunes.

This sculpture was the first of a couple which made it to newspapers on the Associated Press circuit.

By now I had a name for my gorilla. Phil. It was prompted by yet another gift from Claudia which came with a card inspired by the cartoonist Gary Larson:

After christening Phil I decided to attach a story line to him. He became my “campaign manager” who couldn’t get me over the finish line. I pinned the blame on him in a letter I penned to the News Tribune. That’s in my scrapbook too and for school board wonks its a most interesting peek back at our school district’s history.

What I wrote is the gospel truth. In the 1987 school year (the year in which, by coincidence, I lost my teaching job) our school district reported that we had 1200 seniors. And yet only 775 seniors graduated. We were paid by the state of Minnesota to educate 425 students who seem to have vanished into thin air. It was school board counselors who told me to check the numbers and they were confirmed by an employee in the Minnesota Department of Education. Sadly, the MDE didn’t lift a finger to call the District on the carpet. It was a preview of how they would handle the preposterous financing proposed for the Red Plan.

Discovering that public school administrators would lie was as shocking to me as it was for Loren Martell to find himself handcuffed for addressing the Duluth School Board during the Red Plan. Its the sort of experience that turns concerned citizens into ever vigilant watchdogs. Its been my Meuse-Argonne ever since.

I thought I had left the School District in pretty good shape when I retired from the Board in 2004. Three years later, after the voters were denied a chance to vote on the half billion dollar Red Plan, I realized that if I could get elected again I could put the issue before the voters. I was prepared to offer a smaller plan should that referendum fail. Instead, the Dixon administration worked hand in hand with my critics to attack my motives and those of Gary Glass. In doing so school administrators passed on one more great lie – that Johnson Controls would earn no more than 4.5 percent of the building program’s cost. Throw in the wildly incorrect promise that the Red Plan would barely increase property taxes and you can see how my vigilance was rekindled.

The travesty of seeing my colleague Art Johnston raked over the coals has done little to restore my faith – especially after it become evident that 30% of Duluth’s eligible ISD 709 resident students have left us. Golly! We’ve got new half-billion dollar schools to fill up and maintain and we are not succeeding at either objective. I’ve got five months to make a case for shoring up our schools even while my Grandfather’s life story begs to be told.

This began as a light-hearted reintroduction of my old campaign manager, Phil. I’m bringing him back.

Phil has given me the idea to raise money for my campaign by selling snow sculpture trading card packs in lieu of political propaganda. Goodness knows I’ve taken lots of pictures of my creations over the years. Here’s the first page of my scrapbook’s Table of Contents:

I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than ask for donations by mail this year I think I’m going to offer the trading cards in sets of five to help me recoup my expenses incurred to defend Art Johnston. That was because the school board used the excuse of a nonexistent assault to remove him from the Board. My Mother’s death left me with a modest inheritance that allowed me to give Art $20,000 to help defray the $75,000 legal charges Art incurred to defend himself from the vile accusations hurled at him, to wit:

“Racism” (He was a member of Duluth’s NCAAP Board for crying out loud)
“Conflict of Interest,” for sitting in on meetings affecting the employment of his school district employed partner. Nevermind, that a Red Plan supporting Board member sat in on similar meetings when a relative ran a school bus into a child – the relative was given a desk job!
“Violence” Who wouldn’t be mad after serving five years on the School Board while constantly denied public data and then discovering that the School Administrator who recruited your last opponent was now orchestrating a spy network to harass your partner starting on the very day you beat the candidate that said administrator encouraged to run against you?

$20,000 is almost all I “earned” over my first three years on the School Board. I spent just as much trying to get a Red Plan referendum on the ballot. Its been expensive to pay for the honor of serving the public.

So, if I print up trading cards, I’ll treat it as a small business and use the proceeds to pay for my campaign. Maybe I’ll break even on the cards and avoid going any deeper into the financial hole to stay on a school board that has finally calmed down from the insanity of 2014 to 2015. Calmed down yes, but we still need to get out from behind a $3.4 million dollar a year eight ball that costs us 36 teachers.

It may be hard for folks to take Phil seriously as my campaign manager so thank goodness my old rival, Representative Mike Jaros, has agreed to be my campaign chairman. He ran a dozen or more campaigns and never lost. Having only won three of 16 campaigns for public office myself, I am in awe of his record.

I just can’t wash my hands of Phil. He’s been the logo above my old webpage for almost twenty years now. Like me, Phil deserves a little respect.

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.

life’s lessons

Yesterday morning my older grandson was giving his younger brother all sorts of grief. I reprimanded him and then showed him yesterday’s “Violet Days” cartoon by Duluth’s own Chris Monroe. It perfectly captured bullying in a way I thought my 9-year-old grandson could understand.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/589/31844493734_a3e4fc2075_z.jpg

I then told my grandson about how my hero Abe Lincoln’s behaved in his childhood. In his backwoods home kids got their kicks by putting fires on the backs of pokey little wood turtles. Such fun to watch them race away in a futile panic to escape the torture. Abe Lincoln couldn’t bear it and always rescued the turtles.

P.S. Ms. Monroe probably ran out of room because she left out the story about little Donny punching his second grade teacher in the face.

NOTE: Ms. Monroe kindly gave me permission to put her work in my blog. Thanks a lot Chris. You are a peach.

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!