History

Tuesday in Mooseville – Slaveholders-in-Chief Cont’d 2/19/19

A former slave of U.S. President Andrew Jackson (probably Betty Jackson) and two of her great-grandchildren; 1867

After Denise’s tour-de-force of a post on Sunday (if you haven’t already, be sure to read it here: I refuse to honor George Washington, and ‘founders’ who enslaved and sold human beings ), my efforts seem meager by comparison. But that’s never stopped me before, and I think it’s important to continue the litany of shame that is as much a part of our national heritage as all the mythology we’ve created about the Founders and their successors. Here then are the final six slaveholding presidents.

Tuesday in Mooseville – Slaveholders-in-Chief 2/12/19

First paragraph of James T. Callender’s newspaper editorial, titled “The President Again,” which first exposed the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s teenaged slaves. (September 1, 1802)

Today’s post is prompted by Dee’s observation that we celebrate Presidents’ Day with no mention of the fact that twelve of them were slaveholders. It occurred to me that I wasn’t sure which twelve those were, beyond the Virginians, Washington and Jefferson. In a just world, we would know the names of those held in bondage and their stories and those of their descendants. With the exception of Sally Hemings and her children, those names are mostly lost, but we can name the presidents. And we can remember our history as it truly is. (Six presidents this week; the last six next week.)

Tuesday in Mooseville – The Many Tentacles of Christian Libertarianism, Part Two 2/5/19

Last week, I wrote about the early history of the Spiritual Mobilization organization, a group whose activities were largely limited to pamphleteering. Although Spiritual Mobilization at one point sent tracts to more than 70,000 pastors across the United States, in 1944, only 400 ministers were formally affiliated with the group. With the influx of corporate funding and the addition of staff with one foot in the corporate world, the focus would shift to actively enlisting spiritual leaders in communities (although Spiritual Mobilization was overwhelmingly Protestant Christian, Jewish and Catholic leaders were a small portion of their ranks) to join with the corporate financial backers in defeating the New Deal. (Source material is One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse, unless otherwise stated.)

Tuesday in Mooseville – The Many Tentacles of Christian Libertarianism 1/29/19

 

From “The Common Objects of the Sea Shore, including hints for an aquarium,” 1860.  Nothing to do with the topic, but I needed an illustration with tentacles.

  Several months ago, I mentioned in a comment that the story about the addition of the words, “under God” to the pledge of allegiance was more nuanced and more detailed than most of us know; it’s a story that starts well before the Eisenhower years. I’ve been wanting to do a post about the topic ever since, but it’s a difficult topic to write about, because it’s so far-ranging and over so many decades. In his book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, author Kevin Kruse spends the first 64 pages laying out the groundwork before even getting to the 1950s, so I knew one post would be either too superficial or insufficient. I needed to find the right “hook”; today this tweet gave me the impetus to start:


When Individual 1 tweets about religion in America, it’s obvious that it doesn’t come from a deep, faith-based place, and that’s true of so much of the public religiosity in our country…and has been for decades. Today I’m writing about one of the groups that masked their politics with religion and helped bring about the rise of the “Religious” Right and the myth of the Christian nation.

Tuesday in Mooseville – Steve King (R[acist]) IA-04 Answers His Own Question and Doesn’t Even Know It 1/15/19

White fragility on display.

 

Iowa Rep. Steve King is facing criticism after he defended white nationalism and white supremacy in an interview. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said to The New York Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” (bolding mine) Iowa Rep. Steve King under fire for remark on white nationalism and white supremacy

I haven’t read the full NYT interview, because I avoid the NYT like the plague. So when the news of Rep. King’s abhorrent comments came out, I initially only heard about the first part of his comment and not about the second half, bolded above. When I finally did, it was a full-blown smack-my-head moment. It is obvious to me, and to anyone not invested in white nationalism, that the reason he (and most of us) learned about the merits of “our” history in the classroom is because our country is built on the existence and promotion of white supremacy. In previous years (especially pre-2008), much of the language and goals were coded, but it wasn’t always that way any more than it is now. Perhaps Rep. King would have benefited from reading some of the primary sources which make explicit the embrace of white supremacy as a guiding principle. I doubt knowing history — unprotected, unhidden, and unvarnished — would stop Rep. King from being an out-and-proud racist at this point, but one can hope for others.

Tuesday in Mooseville – Benjamin Tillman (1847-1918) in Pictures and Words 12/18/18

 

Benjamin Tillman, 1910

Last week, one of the correct answers in the game version of Primary Sources was Benjamin Tillman. His name was familiar to me as “some late 1800s politician dude,” but beyond that, I remembered very little. Working on the assumption that I was not alone in a vague remembrance, I decided to shine the spotlight on him this week. I’m not going to provide his overall biography; Wikipedia has a very detailed rundown for those who are interested (Benjamin Tillman). Instead, I’m going to provide pictures of his legacy, interspersed with his own words and words of academics.

Tuesday in Mooseville – Primary Sources The Game: Who Said It? 12/11/18

You may notice these next few weeks…I’m in holiday mode.

I’m leaving Friday morning for our long holiday weekend with The Kiddo and SIL, and that’s where my head is at (and has been for at least a week). So instead of doing a deep dive into some obscure historical figure or event, I thought I’d stick with history…but let the community do the work! I’ll provide the quotes, and you provide the answer (not to worry, I’m making this multiple choice). I have included the hyperlinks to the source of the quote, labeled “Answer found here”, so you can check your answer or, if you’re in a less playful mood, skip the guessing and go straight for the answer. Have fun, and may your curiosity be piqued!

Tuesday in Mooseville – Primary Sources: William Howard Russell On the Civil War (Finally, Final!) 11/27/18

Caricature of the war correspondent William Howard Russell (1821-1907), from the magazine Punch, October 8, 1881. Artwork by Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910)

Reading the last four letters reprinted by Project Gutenberg (The Civil War in America, by William Howard Russell) was a soul-draining, but necessary, reminder that this is indeed who we are. What these letters show me is that without directly confronting our history, we will repeat our mistakes. Without recognizing the role of myth in the way our history is taught, we will not learn or grow. The good news is that as long as photos of young girls in tears after being tear-gassed shock us; as long as news of the death of yet another African-American man at the hands of police anger us; as long as we are willing to stand up and speak out, we have a chance. Who we are is not who we have to be.

(Today’s quotes provided without commentary; the parallels are so obvious that commentary seems superfluous.)

Tuesday in Mooseville – Primary Sources: William Howard Russell On the Civil War (2nd of 3) 11/20/18

William Howard Russell, “Bull Run Russell”, London Times between 1860 and 1865. First he was feted; then he was shunned.

I’m continuing with William Howard Russell’s dispatches to the London Times, written as he visited the United States at the beginning of the Civil War. Before I return to his reports, I want to share Russell’s philosophy about how his reports were written:

Russell viewed his job as listening to stories and retelling what he heard and saw, as making “bare statements” of fact. Privately, Russell admitted, “I would rather the North shd. be the victor than the South,” but publicly he tried to report what he observed without taking sides. (The Special Correspondent)

Today, we deride this form of journalism as mere stenography, but during the 1860s, the practice of maintaining “journalistic anonymity” and sharing the stories as they were heard was a relatively new practice. Of course, after his acclaimed reports on the Crimean War, Russell had no anonymity, and both North and South were eager to court his attention. Eventually, however, he angered both sides, who viewed him as a supporter of their opponent. The nickname, “Bull Run Russell” was a sarcastic and angry jibe by northerners at his brutal reporting on the Northern retreat after Bull Run. It would not take long for Southerners to join the North in its dismissive and often abusive attitude towards William Howard Russell.

A Boyhood Memory of World War II London

Jack, left, and Don, right in 1939

Tradition says that anyone born within the sound of Bow bells is a true Cockney. My husband Don certainly qualifies on that score: he was born at Lambeth, not far from the church of St. Mary-le-Bow. “Grandpa is walking, talking history,” I tell our grandchildren. Recently he shared his boyhood memories of wartime London with us.

“I had just turned nine three weeks before Britain declared war on Germany,” Don recalled. “The news was broadcast on the wireless that Sunday and the next day the teachers announced it at Lowther Road Primary School, which I attended.”

Soon after the announcement Don’s school was evacuated by train to Burnham, 30 miles from London. He was evacuated with his brother Jack, who was two years older. When the children arrived the organizers of the evacuation arranged for them to be placed in people’s homes. As Don and Jack were the last two evacuees, the organization didn’t have a place for them, so finally the boys were billeted with a family who lived in a row of cottages.

Asked what it was like living with strangers, Don replied, “It wasn’t very nice. My brother and I had to share a blanket, even though it was quite cold. The place was a real pigpen. After every meal what we didn’t eat was scraped back into a pot and we had it the next day. We went to the local school, which was set up for the evacuees to attend in the morning and the local children in the afternoon. My older brother Bob, who was 14 and therefore hadn’t been evacuated, came to visit us. After he told our mother about the conditions we were living in she complained bitterly, so a nicer house was found for us. When the owner found out she would be raking lice out of our hair, she said she would never have taken us in if she’d known. The war was little in evidence at that time, so our parents brought us back to London at Christmas 1939.”

After Don and Jack returned home, Don’s school was bombed. When the schools finally reopened nine months later, Don attended Barnes Central School with Jack.

All three boys helped their father dig an Andersen shelter in the back garden of their house. “He had to go down three feet to dig the six-by-eight feet shelter,” Don remembered. “The dirt we dug out was put back on top of the corrugated steel roof. It was damp in the shelter, which is how I developed bronchial problems. Dad never came down there, so after a while we simply stayed in our house during air raids. We lived in West London and the worst bombing was in the East End.”

Asked if he ever saw a dogfight between the RAF and the German planes in the searchlights at night, Don shook his head. “No, when the planes were dropping their bombs the searchlights were used to aid the anti-aircraft guns on the ground. We used to jump on our bicycles after an explosion to see if we could pick up any shrapnel, mainly from the big guns fired by the army. Later in the war we saw and heard the V-1 and V-2 rockets, also called ‘buzzbombs.’ The engine made a droning noise. One of them fell at the back of the Regency Cinema in Hammersmith, obliterating my dad’s truck that was parked there.”

When V-E Day was declared in May 1945 Don was nearly fifteen. “Everyone was overjoyed that the war was over. We all went to the West End and stayed around Trafalgar Square among the huge crowds.”

During the “austerity” that reigned in Britain until 1954, Don attended Kingston Technical College in Richmond-on-Thames, served two years in the Royal Air Force, and later spent some time working in Rhodesia. In 1965 he emigrated to America where he married, became a U.S. citizen, and brought up a family.

It’s easy to forget that from 1939 to 1942 it was not a foregone conclusion that the Allies would win the war. The threat of a German invasion of Britain was all too real. We Americans must remember that we owe Britain—standing alone against Germany until America entered the war in December 1941—our undying gratitude.

 

Don today