Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bass Reeves & His Silver Star

"Hi-ho, Silver!"
It's the call of the Lone Ranger, a masked hero who, atop his trusty steed, Silver, and with the help of his trusted sidekick, Tonto, defeats murderers, rustlers, and other nefarious outlaws in order to make the Wild West "a decent place to live." (To hear the original Lone Ranger radio show, click here.)
Silhouette of a cowboy against a setting sun (web)

In real life, the West was just as dangerous but far less romantic. Covering hundreds of miles while following outlaws' trails for months at a time (usually with a cook, a deputy, and a wagon), the US Marshals working the Indian Territories (what is now Oklahoma) dealt with the roughest outlaws a lawless land could produce. And when a bad guy was captured, the job was far from over:

"It sounds like it would be a soft job to guard some prisoners who were chained to the wagon but it was really as dangerous as to capture them. Sometimes the prisoners had been surprised and caught without a fight but a marshal never knew exactly what would happen when he started after some men. After he got them in the wagon, the guards had to be careful or two or three of the friends of the prisoners would come up and throw guns on the [...] and release the prisoners."
from an interview with I.F. Williams, former deputy, c. 1937

One of the most well-known, well-respected, and most successful of the Wild West marshals was Bass Reeves. A former runaway slave from Texas, Reeves was the first African American US Marshal to be appointed West of the Mississippi River. Over the course of a 32-year career as a law officer, Reeves made over 3,000 arrests. Of those 3,000, only 14 resulted in a fatal shoot out with the deputy:

Bass Reeves (USMarshalsMuseum)
"One time ... Bass Reeves had the choice of some routine work or of capturing a black man who had killed a fellow for a bale of cotton. 'Let Sherman and Adams go to Muskogee and serve the papers,' he said as he did not want to get mixed up with white folks. 'I will go and get this man or bring his boots.' When he returned he had his man in the wagon. What happened [I asked.] 'He got in a log cabin and started firing at me, so I had to kill him, said the colored officer."
from the interview with I.F. Williams, former deputy, c. 1937

What distinguished Reeves from so many others was just how good he was at his job: He was smart, and although he could not read, he had an impeccable memory which allowed him to memorize the details of multiple warrants at one time. Generally, he would have someone read aloud a warrant to him so he could memorize it:

"He had an extraordinary ability to memorize long lists of criminals and their crimes and always brought back the right man – or woman, as the case may be."
US Marshals Museum

Belle Starr turned herself in instead of being tracked by friend, Reeves
Reeves was 6'2" tall and weighed about 180 pounds. He was a fast and accurate shot, both with pistols and rifles, and he was ambidextrous. Sometimes Reeves would take a deputy with him, but not always:

"He would sometimes make the arrests alone and bring the prisoners to the wagon in which they would be chained. I saw him one time when he had three prisoners who brought him a reward of $1,000.00."
from the interview with I.F. Williams, former deputy, c. 1937

In all of his long history, Bass Reeves was never wounded – although he was often vulnerable. The following story demonstrates his single-handed capture of two brothers notorious enough to bring a $5,000 reward. This is the story as told by Reeves' contemporary, Adam Grayson, in a 1937 interview:

"It is said that he pitched his camp about 28 miles from where he thought the notorious outlaws might be found. He established the camp at this distance so that he could take his time in making a plan of procedure for a capture without creating any suspicions and look over the lay of the surrounding land. ... He disguised himself as a tramp. From his outward appearance, he was a tramp but inwardly he was the fearless marshal with his duty ... With him, he had every aid that a US Marshal could need, handcuff [sic], six shooter and all with the steel breastplate while over this he wore very ragged clothes. He removed the heels off of an old pair of shoes, carried a cane and he wore a very floppy hat in which he had shot three bullet holes."

Reeves walked 28 miles before reaching the home the train robbers shared with their mother. He pretended to be a hungry tramp with the law on his trail. As proof, he showed the mother his hat with the three bullet holes in it. She believed his story, invited him in, and fed him. After dinner, Reeves was hoping her sons might still show up so he pretended to be tired and then...

"After night had fallen, Reeves thought he could hear a sharp whistle from the creek. The old woman went out and gave an answer. Then riders rode up where the mother talked to them for a long while but they all finally came into the house. All finally agreed to join forces and work together. While preparing to go to bed ... [Reeves] suggested that they all sleep in one room by saying that something might happen and if we are separated we couldn't be much protection to one another. ... As soon as these boys were asleep, Reeves left his bed and managed to handcuff the pair without waking [them] ... He waited until early morning before he woke them ... and said, 'Come on, boys, let's be going from here.' They realized that they were in the hands of the law. ... [He walked with the boys to his] camp 28 miles away, the mother followed him for three, cussing him and calling him all sorts of names."

Bass Reeves (front row, left) and US Marshals, c. 1900 (Univ. of OK, Western Collection)
Reeves' long history also included having to bring in one of his five sons for murder. Benjamin Reeves had found his wife cheating on him, repeatedly. The first time, he and his wife reconciled. The next time, he nearly whipped her lover to death and he did end up killing his wife. Benjamin Reeves ran off into Indian territory. None of Reeves' colleagues wanted to take the warrant so Reeves did it: He tracked his son into Indian territory and, several weeks later, brought Benjamin back to stand trial.

Another time, Reeves, himself, was accused of murdering his cook, William Leach, over an alleged dispute involving Reeves' dog and some hot grease (www.theoutlaws.com). Reeves' defense was that he was cleaning his gun, and when he tried to dislodge a bullet that was stuck in the chamber, the gun went off, accidentally wounding Leach in the neck. Leach died of the wound before a doctor could arrive. Reeves was arrested but was able to post $3,000 in bail. Although he was found innocent of murder, the expense of the trial is said to have taken the bulk of his life's savings.
"Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker

Bass Reeves was born in 1838. After escaping into free territory, he farmed for awhile and also worked as a scout with an extensive knowledge of several Indian languages including Seminole, Creek, and the languages of the other Five Civilized Tribes. According to one source, he held the rank of a Union Sergeant by the end of the Civil War (www.theoutlaws.com).

He was recruited as a US Marshal by Judge Isaac Parker of the Fort Smith Federal Court. Parker held court six days a week, tried over 13,000 cases and ordered the hanging of 160 felons. He was the original "Hanging Judge," and Reeves was his long-time colleague, responsible for some 75,000 square miles of the most dangerous territory in the country. Reeves was the only US Marshal to start when Parker took office and to work – to survive – until the territory of Oklahoma became the state of Oklahoma.
Bass Reeves' actual badge

Reeves died on January 12, 1910 in Muskogee, Oklahoma of Bright's Disease, or liver complications. In 2010, he was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame.

Let it fly! 
The Oklahoma state flag

sources used:
The Museum of Broadcast Communications
coax.net (The Legacy of Bass Reeves)

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Will of George Washington

Vintage postcard celebrating Washington's birthday
Who was George Washington? This description is offered by one contemporary who knew him quite well:

"His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination but sure in its conclusion. ...

"His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest, ... of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the word, a wise, a good and a great man.

George Washington, c. 1782 (artist unknown)
"His temper was naturally irritable and high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendancy over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath."
~ Thomas Jefferson 
(American Characters: Selections from the National Portrait Gallery Accompanied by Literary Portraits 26) 

While a bad temper may not be part of the national consciousness of George Washington, his reputation for integrity has remained intact for over two hundred years.

In 1839, President Rutherford Hayes signed the bill that made Washington's birthday an official federal holiday – on February 22. It was not until 1968 (the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill), when federal holidays were "bulked" into the "Monday holidays" we now take for granted, that the third Monday was designated by Congress as President's Day. It was intended to honor George Washington's birthday which is February 22. 

Old school: Students with a bust of George Washington in the classroom (National Archives)
President's Day, however, is also referred to, by some, as Presidents' Day. Note the placement of the apostrophe. This change (or even omission) of the apostrophe has come to represent an entire world of difference: a popular nod to the idea that the federal holiday honoring one President's birthday should symbolize the respect we hold for all presidents' birthdays. Cynics attribute this interpretation to a less patriotic and more commercial motivation. However one chooses to interpret the federal holiday that falls on the third Monday in February, it all goes back to our first president.
The Surrender of Cornwallis (John Trumbull, c. 1797)
Liberty – and freedom – for all
Born in 1732, Washington was elected to the presidency by a unanimous vote. 

It is more commonly related that many grateful Americans wanted to make Washington "king" of the new democracy. Imagine, for one moment, however, living in a world in which each generation before you had only known government under kings. Imagine what it took to fight such a war of separation – and then to win it! 

Looming large, of course, in this new but uncertain present, are the day-to-day concerns of how this new nation will survive. Can it survive? 

A Liberty Tree
To some children of the Revolution, caught in the shifting sands of this newly democratic world and the familiar touchstones of the past, there was only one imaginable answer: Washington, the national hero, should become king. 

To other children of the Revolution, such an idea must have been anathema. It certainly was to Washington.

Given the times, Washington clearly had thought a great deal about the meaning of freedom. Perpetually tied close to 18th century American ideas of freedom, however, is the idea of slavery. This, too, seems to have occupied his conscience.

Prior to his death on December 14, 1799, Washington had begun to systematically free his slaves (Mount Vernon),  a change from his careful management of family slaves when he would visit Philadelphia. It was Pennsylvania law that, after six months of residency, a slave would automatically be manumitted (freed). To avoid this, Washington would rotate slaves so that none could qualify.

In his will and testament, however, he clearly states his desire that all the slaves at Mount Vernon eventually be freed:

"Item 1: Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will and desire, that all the slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom."

Washington with slaves at Mount Vernon (Smithsonian, c. 1853 by JB Stearns)
He then goes on to explain why, though this is his "earnest wish," the legal intricacies of slave holding (his slaves, her slaves, dower slaves, Custis family slaves, etc.), made it something that could not be entirely resolved until his wife's death:

"To emancipate them during her life, would, tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties."

Ultimately, Martha Washington had freed all of her husband's slaves by New Year's Day, 1801. She freed her dower slaves by the time of her death. (Some accounts indicate all were freed; others that "nearly all" were freed; still other accounts that some were not hers to free.) In the interim, Washington's will also required that the slaves at Mount Vernon learn to read and write. He made financial provision for others, including those that were ill or old, as well as those that were orphaned, to be provided for.

To read George Washington's last will and testament in full, click here.

Washington's papers, in the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, can be viewed online here.
Let if fly! 
partial listing of sources:
American Characters, Lewis & Lewis (pp. 14-30)
Architects of America (aoc.gov)


Saturday, February 18, 2012

William Carney: Union Soldier, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

This particular blog is dedicated to the celebration of African American History Month. I hope it inspires pride in our shared history, both the history that is past and the history that is yet to come. It also is dedicated to my husband and son, descendants of Col. Robert Gould Shaw of the Massachusetts 54th; and to David Roderick, television producer, musician, former colleague – and descendant of William Carney.

Boston, MA
Spring, 1863

About 600 African American soldiers, all armed and ready for battle, muster on Boston Common.
Detail of the Saint-Gaudens memorial to the Massachusetts 54th

It is May, a saucy month in New England. The gardens are greening and life seems full of possibility. This particular day is no exception. It is, in fact, absolutely golden: warm, sunny, a day to wrap your arms around.

To be precise, it is late in May: the 28th, and despite the pleasant weather, we are at war with ourselves. Shiloh. Harper’s Ferry. Antietam has too-recently made its blood offering. Fredericksburg. Chancellorsville. Already this is a history of near loss for the Union Army, and a history of wondrous survival for the Confederates.

But here, on Boston Common, there is both celebration and boldness in the air as the first Northern “coloured regiment” of the Union Army, the Massachusetts 54th, gets ready to march off to battle. Trained and armed just like their white counterparts, they are also uniformed and paid – just like their white counterparts.

The 54th Massachusetts in Boston, c. 1863
But unlike their white counterparts, these soldiers and their white officers march with a death sentence over their heads. On Christmas Eve, 1862, nearly a month before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ General Orders #111 declare that any and all commissioned Union officers be considered “as robbers and criminals deserving death” upon capture.

Further, whether the black soldiers be free men or runaway slaves, it it would not matter once they crossed Southern lines. At that time, all were considered “slaves [who were to be] “at once delivered over to...the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.”

Most of these men are free, but not all. They have come from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri...as far away as Bermuda. They all know the risks of serving in this regiment. In spite of these risks, perhaps because of these risks, they stand here now in regimental trim, ready to make their mark on history.
Lewis Henry Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass

Among the souls here today are Lewis Henry Douglass and Charles Redmond Douglass, sons of the former slave and great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass

James Caldwell, grandson of Sojourner Truth, is here as well.

So, too, is Stephen Atkins Swails, a young man who will survive to become a Re-Constructionist lawyer, town mayor, and member of the 1868 electoral college.

William Harvey Carney is here. Twenty-three years old, Carney was born into slavery. Both his parents were slaves. Now they live in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When he was 15, he “embraced the gospel” and later believed he would become a minister (The Liberator November 6, 1863), but he is here, instead, responding to a different type of calling:

"Previous to the formation of colored troops, I had a strong inclination to prepare myself for the ministry; but when the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God serving my country and my oppressed brothers." (The Liberator 1863).
The Union flag. Lincoln refused to remove any stars.
Leading these men are the sons of socially prominent, white abolitionist families: Col. Robert Gould Shaw, of Boston, who was married just a month prior, and Col. Norwood "Needles" Hallowell and his younger brother, Lt. Col. Edward "Pen" Penrose Hallowell, will go on to lead the Massachusetts 55th, a second African American regiment formed after the success of the 54th.

They are gathered now, in front of the State House and will march to Boston Harbor, famous for a different party during a different war. From there, they sail south. Their ultimate destination is Fort Wagner, South Carolina.
William Carney with his medal, c. 1890s

They arrive July 18, 1863 having seen some prior skirmishes the month before. The fort is located on Morris Island and guards the southern approach into Charleston harbor. This battle will be the second attempt in a week to win the fort. The first attempt resulted in over 300 Union dead compared to the loss of 12 Confederate soldiers (www.wikipedia.org).

Five thousand Union soldiers attack the fort. The Massachusetts 54th leads the way. Their approach is along the beach. They need to cross over a 30’ defensive embankment. It is here that Col. Shaw, leading his men by foot, raises his sword to storm the enemy walls.

“Forward 54th!” he cries. His men follow. Shaw is one of the first to reach the top of the wall.
Col. Robert Gould Shaw of the Massachusetts 54th

The Union dead number into the thousands. Of the 600 soldiers of the 54th, 220 die as a result of the day’s battle. One of those soldiers, shot through the heart, is Col. Shaw. One of the survivors is William Carney.

At battle’s end, the Confederacy strip Col. Shaw’s body, briefly put him on display, then throw him into the bottom of a mass grave with other soldiers of the 54th. The action is intended as an insult, not least because officers’ bodies were, in those days, collected and returned from the battleground to the family for a formal burial. Not so in this case.

The intended insult ends up as a point of honor between Col. Shaw and his men. His family says that this is where their son would want to be, that he would have considered it an honor to be buried with his men.

His widow never remarries.

In the fire of battle, however, Carney sees the flag-bearer drop the company flag. Without giving it any thought, he picks up the flag before it can be captured and fights his way to the Fort Wagner wall. He is said to have kept the flag waving for 20 minutes during that desperate battle. When he finally gives up his position, family legend says that he actually wraps himself in the flag in order to protect it.
Lithograph of the Fort Wagner debacle, July 17, 1863
The action also makes him a very special moving target: a former slave, a black Union soldier, a company man bearing the company colors. Carney is wounded four times before he gives up the flag in safety. Twice in his body. Once in his arm. The last bullet grazes his head.

Even when a member of the NY 100th offers to carry the flag for him, Carney keeps going, refusing to give up the flag to any but a member of the 54th (“America’s Civil War” Hammond, March, 2007).

“The old flag never touched the ground,” says Carney right before he collapses.
William Carney with the Union flag

In 1900, 37 years after his act of bravery and 38 years after the medal’s inception, William Carney is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor “to be presented in the name of Congress, to such officers and non-commissioned privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action.”

William Harvey Carney is the medal's first African American recipient.

"I only did my duty,” says Carney upon receiving it.

Here is the full roster of soldiers who served in the Massachusetts 54th. A link to the Congressional Medal of Honor website and Carney's citation is here. A memorial to the Massachusetts 54th stands on the Beacon Street side of Boston Commons, across from the State House. Designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, you can see the memorial at this link.

Let if fly!
Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the Massachusetts 54th (litho)

partial source listing:
Duncan, Russell, ed.: Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Baltimore Plot: Red Dots, Lady Detectives and That Man, Lincoln!

The splinter effect
It begins on Tuesday, November 6, 1860 when Abraham Lincoln is elected president. Weeks later, just a nod before Christmas, South Carolina secedes in response. 
Lincoln, c. 1858 (LoC). Look at those eagle eyes!

The new year is a miserable one for outgoing President Buchanan and the nation at large as three more slave states leave the nation within days of each other. During the second week of January, Mississippi leaves on the 9th, Florida on the 10th, and Alabama on the 11th.

Come January 19, Georgia departs.

One week later to the day, Louisiana follows.

On February 1, Texas secedes – and the new president isn't even in office yet.

Of the 7 Confederate states that secede before Lincoln takes office, 2 are original to the 13 colonies: Georgia and South Carolina. Of the 11 states that eventually make up the Confederacy, 2 more are from the original 13: Virginia and North Carolina. When Virginia, home to so many founding fathers, leaves the Union in April, 1861, that split births an entirely new state, West Virginia, and West Virginia becomes a Union state. Two more of the original 13 colonies, Maryland and Delaware, stay in the Union but keep their slaves, and Maryland is put under martial law. Kentucky, while not part of the original 13 colonies, was the birthplace of President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd (she was considered the "real" abolitionist in the family – if you didn't worry she secretly was a secessionist spying on her husband); Kentucky stayed in the Union. But take note, every single one of the four slave-holding border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and the new state of Missouri), supported factions and sponsored regiments for both sides.
Union Civil War flag: Lincoln kept every state's star

But we get ahead of ourselves. The point being, that well before the first shots of the Civil War were fired, this new nation, less than 100 years old, was shredding. When leaving the White House, President Buchanan is said to have spoken these sardonic words to President Lincoln:
"If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed." (New York Times)
Capitol steps, Lincoln's inauguration March 3, 1861 (LoC)

And so it went, which is why, when President-Elect Lincoln started making his way by train from Springfield, IL to Washington, DC in February, 1861, he inspired enormous crowds – of all opinions. Lincoln's presidential secretary, John Nicolay, made this observation:

"There is a power of fine discrimination in the eyes and ears of an intelligent American multitude that does not often fail to rightly interpret the personal relation of the official to the constituent. ... If such a current of electrical communion from the people to Mr. Lincoln be denied or disproven, those who stood near him throughout his memorable journey can give earnest testimony to its presence from Lincoln to the people." (An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln 110)

You can get an understanding of this connection from Lincoln as he stopped and greeted the citizens who gathered to see him. They came from miles and they stood in snowstorms to see him, to see the face that was to split or seam the country.

In Rochester, NY, at 8 a.m. on a snowy day before a crowd of over 8,000, Lincoln was unable to leave the train. Henry Villard, a reporter who followed Lincoln on the campaign trail, recorded this brief statement the President-Elect made to the people from the train's observation area:
Lincoln in Rochester (cartoon, c. 1861, Lincoln Inst.)
"I am not vain enough to believe that you are here from any wish to see me as an individual, but because I am, for the time being, the representative of the American people. ... I appear merely to see you, and to let you see me..." (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, v.4  222)

Follow the red dot
In addition to the crowds that Lincoln's eastbound journey inspired, the journey is thought to have inspired one purported assassination attempt: the Baltimore Plot. The plot was planned for February, 23, the day Lincoln's train was due in Baltimore, the last big stop before reaching Washington the next day.

Barnum City Hotel, Baltimore (c. 1860)
If you lived in Baltimore in the mid-to-late 19th century and you favor the buzz of politics and society, chances are you are more than familiar with Barnum's City Hotel, a large and luxurious establishment next to Monument Square in downtown Baltimore. One of the hotel's amenities is that patrons, like John Wilkes-Booth, could go down to the basement and get their hair trimmed by a well-known, Corsican barber, Cipriano Ferrandini.

Ferrandini, however, was not just a barber, just like Wilkes-Booth was not just an actor. Ferrandini, like many a Baltimore resident, was a passionate anti-abolitionist who considered Lincoln to be nothing less than Devil spawn. Unlike many pro-Southern sympathizers, however, Ferrandini had spent several months in Mexico, in 1860, training with a pro-secessionist militia. He returned with the rank of Captain (www.msa.md.gov).

As Lincoln's train, the Presidential Special, wend its way across country, Ferrandini was at the heart of a group of rabid anti-abolitionists who were planning to murder the new president when he stopped in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, undercover detective, Allen Pinkerton (Pinkerton used to work security for the railroads, one of Lincoln's law clients), had gone undercover in Baltimore, a known hotbed of political intrigue. In his biography, Pinkerton says he was able to infiltrate Ferrandini's group of would-be assassins by posing. This group also is supposed to have included, among other notables, the Mayor of Baltimore, George Brown (www.msa.md.gov) and the Chief of Police, George P. Kane (Harper's 1868).
Members of the Baltimore Plot (msa.md.gov)

The plan was simple: Lincoln's train would stop in Baltimore. Crowds would surge forward. Members of the local police were to create a block so that those involved in the conspiracy could move forward, surround Lincoln, and knife him to death. The actual assassin was to be unknown to the group, although obviously a part of it: Each conspirator was to draw a piece of paper out of a hat. The person who chose the paper with a red dot on it would be the one to do the deed (Harper's New Monthly Magazine June, 1868). This way, all were involved while the actual assassin's identity was protected.

That was plan, according to Pinkerton. While Lincoln was in Philadelphia on February 21, Pinkerton, and others, were eventually able to persuade Lincoln to take the plot seriously.

The counter-plot was equally simple: The Presidential Special would move forward as planned but without Mr. Lincoln. Instead, Lincoln and an undercover detective would be in disguise aboard a different train and taking an earlier route that would not stop in Baltimore. The undercover detective was a woman, Kate Warne. She is considered to be America's first woman detective and the first woman to guard a president-elect.
Cipriano Ferrandini (Baltimore Sun)

Warne also is credited with being part of the undercover surveillance of Baltimore to confirm the assassination attempt. She played a wealthy Southern charmer who stayed, of course, at Barnum's City Hotel.

Through the night of February 21 and the morning hours of February 22, Warne, armed and in disguise, guarded the president. They traveled together as a woman caring for her sickly brother, Warne having made advance arrangements for a sleeper car at the end of the train for herself and her "brother" (www.pimall.com/nais/pivintage/katewarne). Also on board the train was Pinkerton and another operative, George Gangs (Kate Warne, First Female Detective Niderost).

The next morning, Lincoln arrived in Washington with a beard and dressed in "a soft cap" and long coat. Though a peaceful arrival, it was not uneventful. When word of the possible assassination attempt got out, he was depicted as a coward in much of the national press.
Lincoln enters Washington (LoC)

For an interview about the validity of the Baltimore Plot, see this C-Span video: The Baltimore Plot: Fact of Fiction? In it, historians Thomas Craughwell and Michael Kline, review the evidence. The program was part of the Lincoln Forum Symposium, November 17, 2011 in Gettysburg, PA.

Let it fly!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February Soul Food: Words and music to change a world

February 7 is a seemingly unremarkable day – except that it is the day that gave us a birthday and a revolution to change the culture of this nation.
Frederick Douglass (wikicommons)

It is the birthday of Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leader in the abolitionist movement, and it is the date the Beatles arrived in the US for the first time. While Douglass gave us words to help fight slavery, The Beatles gave us a new kind of music.

The Beatles (Richard Avedon)

Both helped feed our souls. Here are the highlights:

Born in 1817 in Maryland to a slave and an unknown white man, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey would help change the course of history for his country and his people.

Better known as Frederick Douglass, he only saw his mother a handful of times before she died when he was 7. At the age of 8, he was sent to a shipbuilder in Baltimore. It was in this city, a buffer zone between the slaveholding South and the free North, that Douglass learned two things that would shape his life: It was in Baltimore that he learned how to read and that he learned of an idea, a movement, a belief that no man should be a slave. It was called abolition. When Douglass died (February 20, 1895), his obituary was published in the New York Times. Here is the full text.

A writer, editor and public speaker against slavery, Douglass once gave a speech about freedom on the 4th of July. The contents of the speech, oft cited as one of his best, was not what was expected. He gave strong words to that crowd, words that try to catch the sharp edge of the lash and of a nation only half free.

Frederick Douglass by Elisha Hammond (Yale.edu)

What he spoke about that summer's day was "The Meaning of July 4 ..."

Excerpts from Douglass' speech:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory....

I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary!

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony....

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages....

Here is a short video of actor Danny Glover reciting Douglass' July 4 speech. This event was sponsored by Voices of a People's History of the United States, a series of readings based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

A musical revolution about 100 years later:
"And he-e-re they are – The Beatles!"
In 1964, the Beatles come to the United States for the very first time and the rest, as they say, is history. Their very first appearance was in Washington, DC. They sang two songs you might know: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "From Me to You".

Here is a link to that 1st performance in DC at the Washington Colliseum.
The Beatles in DC, 1964 (pophistorydig.com)
On Febrary 9, 1964, The Beatles made the appearance that introduced them to the nation at large. Many of us saw them here for the first time. It is, of course, the 1960s version of American Idol, better know an The Ed Sullivan Show.

They sang four songs on the show and the crowd went wild. (Anybody remember? I do!) They sang: "All My Lovin'", "Till There Was You", "I Saw Her Standing There", "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

Here is the video of that first performance of a "really big shew" [sic] The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964. Enjoy!

Let it fly!