Archive for marzo 2015

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The Historical Roots of Fraternity Racism

HNN   March 10, 2015

The response of the University of Oklahoma to the tape of its campus Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) members cheerfully singing a vile racist chant has been one of shock and outrage. This has been reflected in public rallies on campus condemning the ugly racism on that tape and in the swift and decisive action by the university president David Boren in denouncing and closing down the offending fraternity. But while my initial reaction too was outrage at this racist display, as a historian who has researched segregationist student activism in the 1950s and 1960s South, my next thought was of how eerily familiar the fraternity behavior on that tape seemed to be.

The tape shows cheerful, white, well dressed frat boys repeatedly singing “You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger SAE.” What astonished me was how reminiscent this chant by Oklahoma fraternity members in 2015 was of the chant of segregationist fraternity members at the University of Georgia in January 1961. Though separated by more than a half century in both cases a lynching reference was combined with the chanting of a pledge to keep the segregationist fraternity tradition in tact.

The only difference between the racist chants in 2015 and 1961 that I can discern is that the fraternities today seem more inclined to do their chanting in private. At Oklahoma this semester the chant came in what started out as a private fraternity setting (a bus apparently transporting fraternity members from some fraternity-related event). The privacy was, of course, violated by the leaking of the tape of the chant, but clearly the chant was not designed for public consumption. The Georgia chant, on the other hand, was made in public, at a segregationist rally at the campus historic archway entrance in January 1961 at the height of the university’s integration crisis. Some 150-200 Georgia students had just hung a black faced effigy of Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter, had in January 1961 become the first African American student to attend the historically segregated University of Georgia. The white students first “serenaded the effigy with choruses of Dixie and then sang “There’ll never be a nigger in the ________ fraternity house,” whose various names they inserted. Clearly, UGA students in 1961, operating in a historically segregated university and a segregated college town (Athens, Georgia) did not feel the pressure their 21st century fraternity counterparts do – at racially integrated campuses – to keep their racist displays to themselves. But if the venue was different the racist sentiment and mode of expression were virtually identical.

The coupling of lynching metaphors with the chanting of a segregationist pledge «never» to integrate is not accidental. Lynching symbolizes black powerlessness, while white pledges to sustain segregation permanently evoke the power and endurance of white supremacy. The implication seems to be that even if the university integrates the fraternity will remain an outpost of white supremacy and racial exclusion.

The similarity between the racist fraternity chants in these two centuries raises questions about fraternity history and culture that should be of as much interest to university presidents as to historians. It suggests that the responsibility for the ugly racist chant at the Oklahoma SAE rests not merely with the individuals who sang on that bus but the larger fraternity culture. How ,we ought to ask, is it possible that these racist chants have endured for generations? Who is it that preserves such racist traditions and transmits them to each new college generation? This seems a clear case of cultural preservation, transmission, and reproduction. And it is all the more striking because this hoary racist tradition attracts adherents and admirers well into our century when modern science and social science have long since refuted white supremacist assumptions. Finally, we need to ask why even on racially integrated campuses, such as Oklahoma, fraternities remain so racially exclusive that such vintage segregationist chants can be sung so shamelessly. The historical roots of this racist fraternity tradition and the political, cultural and demographic props that sustain it must be understood and confronted honestly if the ghost of Jim Crow is ever to be banished from frat row.

Robert Cohen is a professor of Social Studies and History at New York University, co-editor with David J. Snyder of «Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s» and editor of «The Essential Mario Savio: Speeches and Writings That Changed America.»

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Obama’s Not the First President to Make Immigration Policy

 HNN   March 8, 2015

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks on immigration, in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 24, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks on immigration, in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 24, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) On 16 February 2015, U. S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued an injunction blocking portions of President Barack Obama’s “deferred action” program, which had protected up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. In a series of executive orders issued in November 2014, the President had reached well beyond this protective shield, promising illegal immigrants work permits, Social Security eligibility, and access to benefits such as drivers’ licenses and certain welfare programs.

Although the District Court decision rested ultimately on what Hanen ruled was a violation of the Administration Procedures Act requiring public notices and comment before implementation of policy, Hanen’s extensive opinion, and the suits brought against the President by 26 states, constitute a legal expression of the argument made by Republicans that the President is acting unconstitutionally.
Viewed logically, he did, since it is the responsibility of the executive branch to carry out the law Congress has enacted, not “creating [law] from scratch,” as Judge Hanen writes. Hanen concluded that “the Government has decided it will not enforce [certain] immigration laws,” and, “instead establishes a pathway for non-compliance,” in effect, legislating.
Viewed legally, Obama perhaps did not overstep, since leading constitutional lawyers have defended the right of the executive branch to handle categories of illegal immigrants differently on the basis of “prosecutorial discretion.” Obama has defended his actions on exactly these grounds, arguing that it is “well within my authority and position of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion to execute this law.” Hanen clearly disagreed, concluding that “no statute gives the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] the discretion it is trying to exercise here.”
Viewed historically, Obama has abundant precedent and not just in the often-cited actions of recent, Republican Presidents like George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan. Executive Branch manipulation of deportation policy is old hat. Its twists and turns depending on parties and politics was dramatically revealed in the crisis of the Great Depression and in the transition between Herbert Hoover’s administration and that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although this history occurred 80 years ago, the stage for the theater was the same as it is today: illegal Mexican immigration.
Hoover and his predecessors Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding had not been eager to restrain Mexican immigration in the 1920s; in good economic times they had sided with southwestern commercial farming interests in their blatant pursuit of cheap labor. These Presidents were willing to overlook the very high rates of illegal Mexican entrance. Deportation rates were low, with Canadian deportees often more numerous than Mexicans. The onset of the depression and rising public anger about immigrant access to jobs and welfare forced Hoover to a different position. In his 1930 State of the Union Address he called for more vigorous deportation policies and in 1931, his Commissioner of Immigration, Harry E. Hull, suggested that his office had succeeded in achieving that objective, by expelling illegal immigrants by “trainloads and shiploads” (New York Times, 9 August 1931).
Deportations did rise radically from 1930 to 1933 but, curiously enough, almost entirely among Mexicans. While not increasing to the implausible levels commonly asserted in the scholarly literature (where historians and sociologists routinely claim more than 500,000 persons of Mexican origin were deported by federal authorities), Emily Merchant and I estimate that about twice as many Mexican immigrants were deported in this period than should have been expected from rates in other years.
The arrival of the New Deal administration abruptly changed this policy. Deportation rates fell, and those of Mexicans sharply, and New Deal officials—operating in an environment of greatly reduced legal and illegal immigration—quickly instituted more lenient policies. The view of New Deal Democrats resonates with that of Obama Democrats, and is similarly linked to the party’s ethnic constituencies. The 1934 report of the Immigration and Naturalization Service objected to laws that required “the deportation of many relatively harmless and deserving people,” and Secretary of Labor Perkins, under whom the Immigration and Naturalization Service operated, made it clear that she saw no reason to disturb well-settled, if technically illegal, immigrants. (Department of Labor, Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor, 1934 [Washington, 1935], 48, 52-53, and Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor, 1940 [Washington, 1940], 8). Reacting as well to trenchant criticism by lawyers of the legality of deportation procedures used by Hoover immigration officials, the administration revised these procedures. The new and lenient policy toward illegal immigrants revealed the Democratic Party’s deepening roots in the immigrant-origin groups upon which it had begun to rely for votes, just as Republican leniency in the 1920s revealed that party’s roots in the business community.
Only the Republican deportation program of the early 1930s, however, was an aggressive policy. In the Republican 1920s and the New Deal 1930s, Presidents instituted passive programs, simply allowing certain types of illegal entrants to avoid pursuit and deportation by federal agents. Most of the executive actions listed as precedent for Obama’s executive order have been of this variety, discriminating among undocumented immigrants, choosing which to seek aggressively to deport and which not. Very strong arguments for discretionary criteria could be made in such cases.
Obama’s program is distinct and pushes the envelope in the history of discretionary privilege, as Hanen argues. By stipulating that millions of undocumented immigrants will not only not be deported, but will be offered work permits and other privileges usually granted only to legal immigrants and citizens, the President has moved the Executive Branch’s privilege to a level rarely if ever seen before. If higher courts reverse Hanen’s decision, future Presidents might well have enormous and independent authority over immigration policy, for ill or for good.
Immigration advocates might think twice before clamoring for a broad right of prosecutorial discretion in the executive branch. Indeed, the same advocates who have applauded Obama’s executive order were on record mere moments ago attacking him relentlessly for his administration’s high rates of deportation. As Hoover’s aggressive program of the 1930s reveals, executive powers can be used ruthlessly to expel as well as warmly to embrace.

Brian Gratton retired from the Faculty of History at Arizona State University in 2014.

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The Dred Scott Case Said Blacks Had No Rights the “White Man Was Bound to Respect.” But in the West Things Turned Out Differently

HNN   March 8, 2015

On March 6, 1857, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that African Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” St. Louisans Dred, Harriet, Eliza and Lizzie Scott would stay slaves.

And yet, by March 1865, Congress had passed the 13th Amendment, forever banning slavery, as Union armies marched through the Confederacy. Surprisingly, the shape of the freedom that followed emerged more in the Civil War West than from the battlefields of the South.

Most people ignore the West during the Civil War. Yet the conflict engulfed Missouri, Kansas and Indian Territory (today’s Oklahoma); it spilled over the borders into British Columbia and Mexico. The Confederacy had high hopes for an invasion of New Mexico, as well as the capture of California; the mechanics of surrender were most urgent in Texas.

Since the very earliest days of the republic, the question of slavery had been tied up with new western lands: banned in the Northwest Territory in 1787; welcomed in the Southwest Territory. The Missouri Compromise split the Louisiana Purchase; slaveholding Texas joined alongside free Oregon. But in 1848 the parallels broke down—the arid Southwest, the fertile lands of California, and the international crowds in the gold fields seemed to require a new system. After a brief try at popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision offered an abhorrently simple system—rights for whites, no rights for others.

Throughout the West, Spanish speakers of every hue were suddenly unsure of their status. Chinese miners were hounded, and states passed laws to block free African Americans from moving there. Even before the Civil War, ministers and journalists, among others, fought these efforts to define citizenship in racial terms, and resisted the claims of white superiority.

But in the Civil War West, events challenged the narrow definition of citizenship:

• In 1862, the First Colored Kansas Infantry was the first black regiment to see combat, challenging accusations that African Americans would be unreliable soldiers.

• In Missouri in 1864, Union General Thomas Ewing cleared four western Missouri counties of all Confederate sympathizers, outraging civilians who claimed their rights were violated, and earning a reprimand from his superiors.

• In Indian Territory in June 1865, Cherokee leader Stand Watie became the last Confederate general to surrender, while Cherokees and other American Indians who had sided with the Union were devastated to find themselves punished alongside former rebels.

• In Texas, lessons that were started around a U.S. Colored Troops campfire led to the establishment of Lincoln University in Missouri, while debates among white Texan leaders were essential to the reconstruction of rights for former Confederates.

• In 1869, officials in Wyoming Territory reacted to the passage of the 14th Amendment—guaranteeing the rights of national citizenship to every man born in the United States, regardless of race—by enfranchising women and further extending the promise of equal citizenship rights.

• In 1870, Congress passed the first naturalization law to include «aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent,” welcoming the children of former fugitive slaves as U.S. citizens—but rejecting a naturalization path for others, most notably Asians.

• In 1883, after the completion of three transcontinental railroads, restrictions were tightened on Chinese workers, to prevent them from becoming citizens or having American children.

• In the greatest irony, American Indians would have to wait until 1924 to be granted citizenship in the United States.

The shape of U.S. citizenship as we know it has been tested and restricted, challenged and expanded, in the West. While Dred Scott died in 1858, his rights still denied, Harriet Scott lived until 1876, long enough to see the changes effected by the Civil War and the Reconstruction amendments. Their youngest daughter, Lizzie, was born in St. Louis in 1855, and hid away in the aftermath of the Dred Scott decision. Living quietly with family members, the curtains drawn, she died at the age of 99 in 1954, having witnessed the descent into Jim Crow and the responses of the modern civil rights movement. On this anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, the Scott family provides us a history to celebrate an expanded citizenship to cherish, in the West and throughout the nation.

Adam Arenson is an associate professor of history at Manhattan College and co-editor of the new volume “Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States,” (University of California Press). The exhibition “Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West” opens at the Autry National Center on April 23 and runs through the rest of 2015.

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Imperial & Global Forum


Robert Whitaker
Tarrant County College

There is a telling moment near the beginning of Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary film featuring the initial interviews between NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reporters. Snowden sits on the edge of a hotel bed describing a collection of documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. The documents, listed in a computer file directory, include material taken as part of the National Security Agency’s [NSA] global surveillance program. As Snowden talks, Greenwald and MacAskill lean forward to view the files, salivating over the potential headlines from the documents, particularly those concerning German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden, however, remains distant from the excitement, offering the documents to Greenwald and MacAskill without editorializing and without pointing them toward specific stories. For Greenwald and MacAskill, it seems, the importance of Snowden’s revelations lie in the contents of the documents; for Snowden, the importance of the revelations remain…

Ver la entrada original 1.484 palabras más

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The Idea of the Black Intellectual

mums312-b010-i006-001When I first began to teach a class titled Black Intellectual Thought, I wanted to broaden the classic definition of a black intellectual for undergraduates who tended to think of black intellectuals as a small stratum of African Americans who were literate and who had access to mechanisms for publication. I first used William M. Banks’ vivid and engaging text, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life.1 Black Intellectuals adeptly narrates a history of important black thinkers within changing contexts of slavery, race, and modernization, but it also emphasizes a narrow understanding of black intellectualism. I found myself sometimes working against this text to get students to think about the patterns, changes and complexities of black thought expressed in different contexts by people that did not fit a definition of the black intellectual as an elite. I found that I was more interested in teaching students about black intellectualism as an historically constructed category than I was interested in introducing important individuals. The briefest and most cursory review of current African American intellectual history across time periods illustrates that scholars are thinking as much about what an intellectual was and is as much as they are writing about what intellectuals have done and are doing.2

Beyond being introduced to important black thinkers, I wanted students to think more about what makes black intellectual work black. Jonathan Scott Holloway provides one answer to this question when he describes the twentieth-century “black intellectual ‘crisis cannon’ ” being defined by “the fact that writing about black intellectuals almost always revolves around a crisis of the moment or the crisis of living in a world where many believe the words ‘black’ and ‘intellectual’ are mutually exclusive.”3 Holloway further explained the importance of understanding how the category of the black intellectual is both an analytical lens and an historical creation.

Holloway argued that the establishment of the American Negro Academy in 1897, “marks the birth of the twentieth-century black intellectual tradition.”4 It is the scholarship of twentieth-century black intellectual history that tends to use the term “black intellectual,” whether as methodological tool or as historical construction. Early American and antebellum scholarship, instead of writing specifically about black intellectuals, tends instead to explore patterns of black thought primarily through the analysis of society and culture. For example, Patrick Rael, in his now classic study of antebellum black thought, used the term “black intelligentsia” to highlight the function of class and status in the formation of a cadre of blacks who could influence the American public sphere and their own communities via print.5 In contemporary scholarship, the term itself, “black intellectual,” carries a descriptive and discursive weight that it does not have when applied to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Although it is important to look for and recover more black voices to expand the number of black intellectuals in history, I think it might be more important to further historicize the category of black intellectuals by examining the processes through which blacks have been granted and have seized intellectual authority. In Boston, from 1831 until her disgruntled 1832 departure, the black woman Maria Stewart published a series of pieces and gave several public lectures. At least two times Stewart addressed audiences at the lodge house of black Freemasons in addition to speaking at other Boston venues. Stewart’s biographer, Marilyn Richardson explained that when Stewart gave her speeches, she was acting as one of the earliest American public female speakers.6 Moreover, Stewart spoke within and against a black masculine public sphere that was just beginning to assert itself within and against a broader realm of white authored print and publication. When Stewart left for New York she described her disillusionment at having some Boston blacks challenge her authority to speak. While Stewart did not play an historical role as large as that of her peer and inspiration, David Walker, juxtaposing her with Walker illustrates how positions of intellectual authority were configured to legitimate male public expression at the expense of female spokespersons. To further understand the role of black women as important thinkers who also defined the possibilities and problems of black thought and expression, the historical formations that have created black intellectuals and black intellectualism must be further explored.

Defining black intellectualism historically also reveals the lack of scholarship that understands how changes in American religious history have affected black intellectual traditions. Historians tend to see transformations in black institutional life and the media as forming the basis for black intellectual traditions that are specific to the twentieth-century. While historians of pre-twentieth-century black thought have had to examine religious ideas as fundamental to black intellectual traditions, they have tended to examine religion more for how it informs ideas about black respectability and politics than for how it functioned theologically. I agree with Holloway’s description of the transformation of twentieth-century black intellectual traditions. However, I would add that they faced the unprecedented challenge of having to engage a growing body of secular thought that arose from higher education and that challenged previous traditions of black thought premised upon theological ideas.

Certainly, many African Americans stand out for their expressed insight and their historical impact; however, the idea of an intellectual is not a neutral analytical category that merely functions to illuminate important thinkers and their thoughts. Banks briefly theorized the meaning of the intellectual by differentiating between intellect and intelligence. He posited that intellect refers to the use of an active curiosity to understand the underlying meaning and logic of events and symbols. Furthermore, he described intelligence as reflecting the everyday pragmatism and utilitarianism required for daily function.7 Investigating the historical evolution of black intellectual work reveals how this distinction between intellect and intelligence might obscure rather than clarify change over time. Intellectual history is more important for revealing how ideas have reflected and shaped social identities, like that of the black intellectual, than it is for uncovering new black intellectuals.

  1. William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life(NewYork: W.W. Norton and Co., 1996. 
  2. For example see, Christopher Cameron, To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement (Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2014); John Ernest, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004; Carla L. Peterson, ed. “Doers of the Word,” African American Women Speakers and Writers in the North, 1830-1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein, eds. Early African American Print Culture(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); Ross Posnock, Color and Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1998); Adolph Reed Jr. and Kenneth W. Warren, eds. Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of African American Thought(Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers, 2010); and Mia Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, Barbara D. Savage, eds. Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (University of North Carolina Press: 2015). 
  3. Jonathan Scott Holloway, “The Black Intellectual and the ‘Crisis Canon’ in the Twentieth Century,” Black Intellectuals: Commentary and Critiques. Spec issue of The Black Scholar31.1 (Spring 2001): 2-3. 
  4. Holloway, 1. 
  5. Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 211. 
  6. Marilyn Richardson, ed. Maria Stewart, America’s First Black Political Writer: Essays and Speeches (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), xiii. 
  7. Banks, xv-xvi. 

    Chernoh Sesay Jr.

    c1_4x5I am an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University.  I earned my Ph.D. in American History from Northwestern University in 2006.  I am currently completing a book manuscript entitled Black Boston and the Making of African-American Freemasonry: Leadership, Religion, and Community In Early America.  This study examines the origins of African American Freemasonry and traces the development of black Freemasonry from its founder, Prince Hall, to the famous antebellum abolitionist and member of the African Lodge, David Walker.  In this treatment, black Freemasonry and it origins in Boston become a prism through which to consider various relationships between interracial and black politics, religion, and leadership.  I am also developing two separate but related research agendas.  I am examining the significance of institutional links connecting various African American religious, fraternal, sororal and educational institutions meant to structure and emphasize certain ways of being black in the antebellum United States.  I am also exploring how different forms of nineteenth and twentieth-century African American historicism were comprised of aligned and competing theological and secular concerns

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President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Medicare into law in July 1965, with Harry Truman. Behind them, from left: Lady Bird Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and Bess Truman. Credit LBJ Presidential Library

L.B.J. and Truman: The Bond That Helped Forge Medicare

Michael Beschloss
New York Times   February 28, 2015

Lyndon B. Johnson was often derided for being egocentric, but when it came time to sign his landmark bill creating Medicare, 50 years ago this July, he graciously insisted on sharing the credit with the 81-year-old Harry Truman. At almost the last moment, Johnson decided to change the location from Washington to Truman’s presidential library in Independence, Mo.

During the ceremony, Johnson noted that in 1945, the newly installed President Truman had called for national health insurance, planting “the seeds of compassion and duty which have today flowered into care for the sick, and serenity for the fearful.” Johnson then presented his host with the nation’s first Medicare card. Deeply moved, Truman later wrote in a letter to Johnson that the ceremony was “the highlight of my post-White House days.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, a case that, if resolved against the Obama administration, could endanger some of the fundamentals of President Obama’s health care program.

Just as Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act was based on elements of Johnson’s Medicare, some of the most important domestic achievements by presidents throughout history have been based on the pathbreaking efforts of a predecessor. Acknowledging his debts to Truman in health care, education and civil rights, Johnson privately told him that his presidential record was unequaled, adding, “It makes all of us look like pygmies.”

Johnson, who replaced John F. Kennedy, intensely identified with Truman, who succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both men were relative outlanders who entered the White House after the sudden death of an elegant, Northeastern Harvard man and then suffered from scathing comparisons drawn between the living and the dead.

“I always felt sorry for Harry Truman and the way he got the presidency,” Johnson once said in private. “But at least his man wasn’t murdered.” The two leaders were sufficiently close that Truman would reprimand Johnson to his face. In May 1968, when Johnson arrived at Truman’s house in Independence for a visit, he said, “Sorry I’m late.”

“You ought to be,” Truman replied. “It’s your own damn fault. If you’d have left on time, you’d have gotten here on time!”

As he exulted over his 1964 landslide, Johnson graciously told Truman: “As long as I’m in that office, you’re in it. And there’s not a privilege of it, or a power of it, or a purpose of it, that you can’t share. And your bedroom is up there waiting for you, and your plane is standing by your side.” He assured Truman, “We all love you,” and said he would “do anything in the world that would make you happy.”

Vilified over the failing war effort in Vietnam as the 1960s wore on, he told Truman, who had been castigated over Korea, “I’ve been reading history and saw how much hell you had, and you handled it pretty good, and I just thought maybe I could learn something from you.” When Johnson went to Independence in May 1968, Truman assured him he was “right on Vietnam,” and the president later said, “I feel stronger when I leave him.”

As president, Johnson could not have been courting Truman for quick political payoff. In the mid-1960s, Truman was by no means the popular figure — embodying plain speaking, decisiveness, honesty, common sense and a modest lifestyle — that he became after his death. When the Gallup Poll at the end of 1964 listed the world’s “most admired” men, Truman did not make the top 10.

In his generosity toward Truman, Johnson was showing his outrage at what he considered to be the shortsightedness of many historians. He gloomily predicted to friends that he, like Truman, would suffer from the regional prejudice of the many scholars who were reared or educated in the Northeast.

Johnson was also trying to establish high benchmarks for his own benefit. His White House aide Larry Temple recalled that by promising Truman presidential planes and other perquisites, Johnson was trying to establish “a precedent for getting the same thing for himself” when he retired. Johnson also offered Truman special medical assistance from the military, which he later cited to his successor, Richard M. Nixon, as grounds for receiving similar treatment.

That was one reason that Johnson allowed Truman to bask in his aura as he signed Medicare. Remembering that ceremony in Independence, Johnson hoped that, one day, some future president might do the same kind of thing for him.

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War Babies: The Generation that Changed America

HNN  March 1, 2015

In 2009, I attended the fiftieth reunion of my high school class. We had graduated in 1959 from Southwest High School in Kansas City, Missouri. Each of my classmates contributed a one-page autobiography for a booklet commemorating our lives and adult triumphs.

All of us had been born in 1940 or 1941. We had been young children during World War II and the early postwar years, and teenagers in the 1950s. Most of us—men as well as women—had graduated from college in 1963, and then gone on to pursue careers in law, medicine, business, or teaching, while also raising families. In short, we had enjoyed reasonably successful lives.

It occurred to me, however, that no one had ever written about us as a distinctive generation. There have been plenty of books about the adults who suffered through the Great Depression and World War II, and then thrived in the late 1940s and 1950s. (I’ve written two of those books myself.) And the baby boomers—those who were born after the war, or in the 1950s and 1960s—have been chronicled endlessly, maybe more than they deserve. But for those who were born between 1939 and 1945, the people I call war babies, there is a notable absence of recognition of their special existence or analyses of their achievements.

So as I began to contemplate a book about the war babies, and started to do research, I was astounded by how many members of this generation became leaders in American cultural and political life over the past fifty years. The list of war baby luminaries who helped create or reshape modern America is illustrious.

In popular music, for example, the war babies include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Barbra Streisand, as well as in Britain the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Among the major film directors are Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas, in addition to actors like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Faye Dunaway, Harrison Ford, Lily Tomlin, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Martin Sheen, and Joe Pesci.

In journalism, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Tom Brokaw, George Will, and Roger Ailes were all war babies. Jesse Jackson and John Lewis, both war babies, were indispensable to the civil rights movement, as were Mario Savio and Tom Hayden to the emergence of a new type of radicalism in the 1960s. Two of the war baby athletes, Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King, transcended their respective sports and were transformative figures in the larger society. And among the war babies who have had a significant impact on domestic politics and American foreign policy are John Kerry, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and Richard Holbrooke.

Given this roster, it is difficult to conceive of a generation that had a greater effect on America’s music, movies, journalism, and politics. These were people who experienced as children the most global war in human history, followed in their adolescence by the Cold War and McCarthyism. As adults, they played crucial roles in the liberation of African Americans from one hundred years of segregation, the opposition to the Vietnam War, Watergate and the destruction of a Presidential administration, and later American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along the way, they revolutionized America’s music and its movies. And they invented a culture and a politics that were more personal and individualistic than those of their parents. So the war babies are a special generation whose contributions to American life we have all come to share.

Normally, “generations” are defined over a longer time span. Yet the conception of a generation need not always encompass fifteen or twenty year eras. The notion of a generation depends on what its members jointly lived through and accomplished. The war babies constitute a unique generation not only because they were born during World War II, but because their experiences were different from their elders who endured the Great Depression or their children who emerged during the postwar baby boom, especially in the 1960s.

Moreover, the leading war babies were not just contemporaries who happened to be born around the same time. Many of them were friends and professional associates (as in the instances of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas, as well as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank). Occasionally they were classmates attending the same schools who discovered they had similar interests and ambitions (like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel). Or they were participants in the same political causes (like Tom Hayden, Mario Savio, John Lewis, and Jesse Jackson). Hence, the war babies matured during the same years, and worked intimately with one another as adults—whether in movies, music, journalism, or politics.

My book, called War Babies: The Generation That Changed America, rests on four central themes. First, the war babies—not the generation of the Depression and World War II, or the baby boomers—produced the culture and the political attitudes we have all been living with ever since.

Second, the war babies were the architects of a value system that was less communal and more private, and more suspicious of the benefits of government policy, political power, and organizations of all types than were the members of what Tom Brokaw labeled the “greatest generation.” For the war babies, the idea of community that had animated their parents became by the 1950s and 1960s the fear of conformity. Consequently, the war babies’ efforts to change American society coincided with a quest for identity, an introspectiveness especially noticeable in the music of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Simon and Garfunkel. For the war babies, the realization of selfhood, the urge to distinguish oneself from the “lonely crowd,” coincided with a desire to transform their country’s institutions.

Third, the war babies’ perspective on America was darker and more pessimistic than either their predecessors or their baby boom successors, yet it was precisely this skepticism that characterizes American culture and politics today. Fourth, the attitudes of the war babies were primarily exemplified in their movies, music, journalism, and politics, attitudes that the baby boomers and their descendants absorbed but did not originate .

In sum, the members of the “greatest generation” were chiefly survivors, both of the Depression and World War II. And they helped construct a prosperous postwar America. The baby boomers inherited that America, and confronted a blizzard of technological innovations, new waves of immigrants, the excessive accumulation of debt, and intermittent cataclysms in the stock market.

But the war babies were the champions of cultural and political renovation. Their art and their activities transfigured modern America. Because of what they attained, they were as decisive as any generation in the history of the United States. So I regard this book as a tribute to, as well as a critical examination of, the role the war babies played in inventing a new America.

Richard Pells is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Texas in Austin. He is the author of five books, all of them on modern American Culture. This article is taken from his most recent book, “War Babies: The Generation That Changed America.”

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The Moynihan Report, Then and Now
William Chafe

For the 50th Anniversary of the Moynihan Report, this briefing paper was prepared as part of an online symposium Moynihan+50: Family Structure Still not the Problem for the Council on Contemporary Families, and jointly published by CCF and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

Few research documents in recent history have made as smashing an impact as Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s study of the black family fifty years ago. The report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, was written by Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor, as a fast-track shortcut to force the Johnson Administration to take immediate action to improve the plight of poor black Americans through federally financed anti-poverty programs. Dismayed by the fact that more than a third of African-Americans lived in poverty, Moynihan intended the report to stimulate efforts to achieve economic and social equality.

Yet by framing the report as a description of the breakdown of the black family, Moynihan ended up fueling a bitter controversy about family forms and gender roles instead of contributing to a constructive discussion of how to address the need for more black jobs. He argued that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family,” which he described as a “tangle of pathology.” Tragically, the main impact of the report was to initiate a huge debate about family life in black America, while doing little to strengthen anti-poverty programs.

Moynihan made two errors of analysis. First, he traced the prevalence of single-parent households in the black community to the experience of slavery, which, he contended, resulted in the absence of strong family traditions on plantations. Not only did white masters discourage or forbid marriages; they also split up couples by selling one partner into slavery elsewhere. Their actions demeaned the status and stature of black men, creating a disorganized “matriarchal” culture of fragmented families.

In the first instance, Moynihan ignored history when he traced the prevalence of unmarried families in Northern ghettoes back to the ongoing legacy of slavery. As soon as Emancipation occurred, millions of black couples flocked to churches to get married. The ways that children, aunts and uncles and husbands and wives worked to piece together a living, the collective struggle to build houses, farm the land, get an education – all these have been noted by scholars as one of the signal strengths of black life once freedom was achieved. By placing all the blame for black family issues in the 1960s on the institution of slavery, Moynihan ignored the specific conditions that created growing numbers of single-parent families in northern black neighborhoods in the mid-20th century.

Second, the report’s claim that “broken” families were the central cause of black poverty massively oversimplified the complex relationships between socioeconomic trends and changing family forms, as outlined in the accompanying report by sociologist Philip Cohen and economist Heidi Hartmann and her colleagues. By attributing black poverty to the dearth of married-couple, male-headed families in northern ghettoes, Moynihan seemed to suggest that if blacks would only get and stay married they would cease to be poor, an absurdity that paved the way for later attempts to substitute marriage promotion for job creation.

Tragically, Moynihan’s ignorance of history and confusion of cause and correlation deflected attention from the real issue Moynihan was concerned with – focusing federal monies on urban jobs for blacks – and fanned instead a rancorous, racially-charged dispute over family values that continues to deform our discussion of poverty policy.

Since the 1960s, we have witnessed the growth of a much more sizeable black middle and professional class – largely a function of the 500 per cent increase in black college graduates that occurred after enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting rights Act. But a huge proportion of black people remain in poverty, and as the accompany essay by Cohen et al. shows, inequality of socio-economic opportunity has also been rising among all racial-ethnic groups and family forms.

It is time for us to get back to the original intent of the Moynihan report: to answer the question of how we should act as a people and a government to address the problems of poverty and inequality. Moynihan himself answered that question in a speech he wrote for President Lyndon Johnson to deliver in June 1965 as a commencement address for Howard University:

“Jobs are part of the answer….Decent homes in decent surroundings and a chance to learn–an equal chance to learn–are part of the answer. Welfare and social programs better designed to hold families together are part of the answer. Care for the sick is part of the answer. An understanding heart by all Americans is another big part of the answer.”

It is a sad irony that Moynihan’s report has provided so many politicians with an excuse to avoid implementing the solutions that Moynihan himself supported.

William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, Duke University, emeritus; former Dean of the Faculty, Duke University; former president, Organization of American Historians. For more information contact Dr. Chafe at william.chafe@gmail.com

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Women’s History Month: The Legacy of the Fight over the 15th Amendment

African American Intellectual History Society  March 2, 2015

frederick_douglass_cc_img         sbanthony_ecstanton          patricia arquette

During the past week, Patricia Arquette’s comments during her Oscars acceptance speech have ignited debate across the internet. Arquette issued a rallying cry for equal pay for women, stating that women have done enough for everyone else; it’s time that gays and people of color support women. Her comments are problematic because they ignore the concept of intersectionality.[1] Arquette’s comments are also a manifestation of a long running conflict within the American women’s movement, the schism between white women of wealth and privilege, and women of color. Since March is women’s history month, it is appropriate in the midst of this controversy to step back and examine one of the earlier conflicts over this very issue, the fight over the fifteenth amendment. This conflict would pit longtime abolitionist and women’s rights activist Frederick Douglass against Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. 

During the beginning of Reconstruction, one of the key efforts on behalf of the African Americans was the securing of suffrage. Initially, abolitionists like Douglass, Stanton, and Anthony rallied behind the cause of universal suffrage so that both men and women, black and white, would be enfranchised. However, when the fourteenth amendment passed without a suffrage clause, the universal suffrage campaign was dropped in favor of a black male suffrage campaign. Stanton and Anthony vigorously opposed Black male suffrage. Their opposition would result in the severing of relationships with many of their black colleagues, especially Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass described himself as a woman’s rights man. Douglass attended the landmark convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and signed the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. He worked side by side with women abolitionists on numerous occasions. In the aftermath of the Civil War, he supported universal enfranchisement, but the brutal reality of Reconstruction forced him to reconsider his position. Douglass would support black male suffrage and the fifteenth amendment because he realized that without an amendment to guarantee suffrage for the black community, African Americans would lack any position or influence in the country’s political future. The initial years of Reconstruction saw numerous changes and reforms for African Americans. In essence, the momentum of the time was in the favor of African Americans. In the mind of Douglass and many others, this was the “Negro’s hour.” Douglass realized that if the change did not occur at this particular moment, it possibly would never happen.[2]

Douglass’s dedication to black male suffrage would not dampen his fervor for women’s rights. He maintained his dedication to the cause and participated in the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The May 1869 meeting of AERA would prove to be the destruction of the organization. Most of the debate was over whether or not the organization should support the fifteenth amendment if it only referenced black men. Douglass argued that suffrage was needed for black men because they were being dragged from their homes and lynched. Someone in the audience would challenge Douglass stating that the same things were happening to black women; therefore, women needed the right to vote. Douglass’s response was that the ill-treatment of black women was not because they were women, but because they were black. In Douglass’s estimation, black women needed some form of representation for the racial violence and injustice inflicted upon them. In the midst of the tense debate, Douglass composed a compromise resolution which would welcome the fifteenth amendment and black male suffrage while also emphasizing their continued dedication to the creation of an amendment that would guarantee equal rights for all. Douglass’s proposal was endorsed by poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, but ignored by Stanton and Anthony.[3]

Stanton and Anthony fervently believed in their position. When black male suffrage became the focus of an enfranchisement amendment they shifted their tactics. Stanton would appeal to Democratic politicians by affirming their beliefs in black inferiority. In an 1868 editorial in her newspaper The Revolution she stated: “Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for Lydia Maria Childs, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble.”[4] Her argument was that immigrants and blacks were uneducated and unqualified to vote while white women, of a certain class and privilege, were qualified. In another issue of The Revolution, when they listed reasons for opposition to the fifteenth amendment, they stated that it would result in women being dominated by inferior men. Ultimately, Stanton and Anthony would never agree with Douglass on this issue. The American Equal Rights Association was disbanded; the National Woman’s Suffrage Association was created to promote the Stanton – Anthony agenda.[5]

March is women’s history month. The rarely told fifteenth amendment conflict illuminates a long standing conflict in the women’s movement in this country, the denial of the diversity in the experiences of the American woman. The fifteenth amendment conflict is perhaps the most dubious aspect of the Stanton – Anthony legacy. Patricia Arquette’s statement, and its endorsement by people like Meryl Streep, promotes this legacy. A claim to advocate for equality while simultaneously ignoring the nuances of race, class, and gender perpetuates an elitist legacy. In the twenty first century this is a legacy we should leave behind.

[1] Intersectionality was a term created by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1980s to address how different power structures interact in the lives of black women especially race and gender.

[2] Philip Foner, Frederick Douglass, (New York: Citadel Press, 1969). Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass, (Washington, DC: Associated Publishers, 1948). Waldo E. Martin Jr., The Mind of Frederick Douglass, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982).

[3] The Revolution, “Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association,” May 20, 1869. May 27, 1869.

[4] Ibid., “Manhood Suffrage,” December 24, 1868.

[5] Faye Dudden, Fighting Change: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Male Suffrage in Reconstruction America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Noelle Trent

UntitledNoelle Trent recently earned her doctorate in American history at Howard University. Her dissertation, “Frederick Douglass and the Making of American Exceptionalism,” examines how noted African-American abolitionist and activist, Frederick Douglass, influenced the development of the American ideas of liberty, equality, and individualism which later coalesced to form the ideology of American exceptionalism. Dr. Trent also holds a Master’s degree in Public History from Howard University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She has worked with several noted organizations and projects, including the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Park Service, Catherine B. Reynolds Civil War Washington Teacher’s Fellows, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History. She has presented papers and lectures at the American Historical Association, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Lincoln Forum, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. She currently resides in suburbs of Washington, DC.

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