Monday, March 31, 2014

WWII Blood

Dr. Charles Drew was a famous African-American physician and medical researcher. His research helped develop methods for processing and preserving blood plasma (blood without cells)...allowing blood plasma to be "dried" and stored for long periods of time before being reconstituted into whole blood. 

D-Day Blood Transfusion
In 1940, Drew led an effort to collect and process blood plasma (to be used by wounded British soldiers) from several New York City hospitals known as "Blood for Britain"...the world's first ever "Blood Bank."  In that same year, he was chosen to develop a pilot program for blood collection in New York City...which became the model for the American Red Cross National Blood Bank.
NAACP Poster protesting...
Jim Crow "Segregated Blood" Policy
Unfortunately, by order of U.S. government and military authorities, the Red Cross was only allowed to collect blood from white Americans...all African-Americans were rejected as potential donors. With thousands of African-American troops being drafted, the policy of "accepting only white blood" led to outrage in the NAACP, black newspapers, and African-American community. Eventually the policy was changed, but not necessarily with a better solution...

The "improved" policy (not changed until the 1960's)...African-American blood donors could give blood but it was to be stored separately, labeled accordingly, and used only for African-Americans!

"Once Again: Avoiding A Just War"

Ironically, the man who helped save thousands of lives in WWII could not save America from Jim Crow...


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jeannette Rankin: Pacifist Fighter

Last week in class, we discussed American "Neutrality" during the early years of estimated 80-90% (still disillusioned by the effects of WWI) of Americans were ardent anti-war isolationists prior to the December 7, 1941 "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbor.

We also discussed our rigorous and sometimes clandestine involvement in international affairs...Cash & Carry Program, Lend-Lease Act, "peacetime" military draft, the American Volunteer Group in China, The McCollum Memo (provocation of Japan and "back door" to Germany), Operation Magic, etc.

Jeannette Rankin

On December 8, 1941, American attitudes quickly shifted as the House of Representatives rushed through a declaration of war in less than an hour with a vote of 388-1. The lonely "NO" vote came from Jeannette Rankin...the first woman elected to Congress and a lifelong pacifist. Rankin believed that President Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the Japanese to attack because he wanted to bring us into war against Nazi Germany. After a 40-minute debate, a roll call vote began and when her time to vote approached she said...

"As a woman, I can't go to war...and I refuse to send anyone else." 
She was hissed, booed, physically threatened and eventually sought refuge in a telephone booth where she called for police protection. Afterward she commented...
“If you know a certain thing is right, you can’t change it.”
1968 Jeannette Rankin March on Washington
for Civil Rights, Feminism, and Peace
A pacifist who loved to fight... 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Green Book

Spring Break brings excitement and anxiety to many of my students as some travel nationally and internationally...not long ago (and I would argue still today) taking a road trip in the United States was potentially very dangerous for people of color, Jews, African-American veterans, Civil Rights workers, etc.

Racial profiling, verbal insults, menacing stares, false arrests, physical violence, and lynching were a common experience...The Crisis magazine highlighted this problem for African-Americans in 1947:

"Would a Negro like to pursue a little happiness at a theater, a beach, pool, hotel, restaurant, on a train, plane, or ship, a golf course, summer or winter resort? Would he like to stop overnight at a tourist camp while he motors about his native land 'Seeing America First'? Well, just let him try!"
Jim Crow "laws" and "customs", segregated facilities, and over 10,000 "sundown towns" meant that African-American travelers had to carefully "plan their trip" in advance...mapping the route to "avoid trouble", packing meals, carrying extra containers of gasoline, using portable toilets, etc.

To help travelers navigate these difficulties, Victor H. Green, a World War I veteran from New York City published The Negro Motorist Green Book and Travel Guide from1936 to 1966...

"To give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable."
While The Negro Motorist Green Book (eventually selling around 15,000 per year) was intended to make traveling easier in Jim Crow America, Victor Green envisioned a time when such guidebooks would no longer be necessary...

"There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication...for then we can go as we please, and without embarrassment."

"Black Mule" Video Clip (3:11)...Sundown Towns 2014


Saturday, March 15, 2014

If We Only Had A Brain...A Heart...The Nerve

Edgar "Yip" Harburg

My students know how much I emphasize the influence of music on history...this post reflects on some of the most memorable songs of all time.  I originally "studied" E. Y. Harburg because The Wizard of Oz is one of my all-time favorite movies...he wrote all of the lyrics to every song!

Edgar Yipsel Harburg was a master poet and virtuoso songwriter who dedicated his life to social justice issues...most of his songs contained political, social, anti-war, anti-racist, economic, or satirical themes. He was born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, raised in poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and when his business failed at the start of The Great Depression he started writing songs.  Altogether, he wrote over 600 songs including...

 "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"  (1932)
"It's Only a Paper Moon"  (1932)
"April in Paris"  (1932)
"Last Night When We Were Young"  (1935)
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"  (1939)
"How Are Things in Glocca Morra?"  (1947)
"Old Devil Moon"  (1947) 

Unfortunately, from WWII - 1961 he was "blacklisted" for his political views and social commentary by the House Un-American Activities Committee/ McCarthy Hearings.

Listen to Yip sing here...recorded in 1979

"We worked for a better world in our generation unfortunately never succeeded in creating that rainbow world...but, we could hand down our songs which still hang on to hope and laughter in these times of confusion..."                     
  - E. Y. Harburg

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mexican "Repatriation" and The Swallow

 Most Americans are familiar (or maybe have heard about) with the atrocities of slavery/ Jim Crow, the Indian Removal Act/ Trail of Tears, the Chinese Exclusion Act, The Palmer Raids, and FDR's forced relocation of 112,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII...but, ask someone about the Mexican Repatriation Program and you will probably get a blank stare!
Repatriate- to restore, reunite, or return (usually in a positive sense) to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship…in regard to war refugees, injured soldiers, or human remains.

It is shocking that this history is virtually unknown (or ignored) by most historians/ history textbooks, etc.  But, the more alarming question may be...why has it been forgotten?!? The Mexican Repatriation Program (1929-1939) enacted by POTUS Hoover and FDR systematically targeted and forcefully deported an estimated 2 million American citizens of Mexican descent...labeling them as subversives, labor radicals, and Communists.
The government felt the deportations were "necessary" to help reserve jobs and New Deal relief for Whites...after all the Mexicans were "stealing their jobs" (sound familiar to the modern day hate mongers...wall builders...) and didn't deserve their Constitutional Rights as American Citizens. To deepen the "mockery of justice", their property was confiscated and sold to help pay for their own illegal deportations!

One of the abominable ironies of repatriation was that prior to the Great Depression, Mexicans had been recruited by American businessmen to work in railroad construction, steel mining, ranching, agriculture, etc. and after repatriation they were recruited again to help the United States win WWII.
Listen to "The Swallow"
In Los Angeles, a Mexican-American college student mournfully sang a painful farewell...La Golondrinas (The Swallow) to departing friends...symbolic of a bird that lives its life as a long journey between two countries...and far away from a home they may never return to.

 La Golondrinas - English Translation
Where can it go rushed and fatigued
the swallow passing by
tossed by the wind looking so lost with nowhere to hide.
By my bed I'll put your nest
until the season passes.
I too, O heaven! am lost in this place unable to fly.
Leave, too my beloved homeland,
that home that saw my birth.
My life today is wandering, anguished.
I cannot return home.
Dearest bird beloved pilgrim,
my heart nigh to yours;
remember tender swallow,
remember my homeland and cry.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Strange Fruit

Abel & Laura Meeropol
Strange Fruit was first a poem written by a NYC school teacher, Abel Meeropol in 1937...he was deeply affected by a photograph of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith being lynched on August 7, 1930 in Indiana. The "protest" poem (later set to music with the help of his wife Laura) was a direct attack on American racism and in particular the brutal lynching of African-Americans. Strange Fruit was made famous when it was performed as a song by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939.

Listen to Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
The poem inspired many other poems, musical versions, plays, etc.  In my opinion, the best alternate version was done by Nina Simone...
America, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees...still?
Listen to Nina Simone's Strange Fruit

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Scottsboro Boys and Langston Hughes

Yesterday in class, we studied the Scottsboro Boys Case...on March 25, 1931 a fight started on a freight train between White and African-American teenage hobos. A sheriff's posse in Paint Rock, Alabama was given orders to search for and "capture every Negro on the train". The posse also questioned Ruby Bates and Victoria Price (notorious prostitutes), who claimed they had been raped (to avoid prostitution charges) by the nine teenagers. The falsely accused boys were quickly arrested for rape. The court case held in Scottsboro, Alabama would become one of the most significant legal battles of the twentieth century...leading to intense sectional conflict and international protest...two Supreme Court decisions (effective counsel law and integrated juries)...and the rise of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Langston Hughes, one of my favorite (and very radical) poets of the Harlem Renaissance spent the fall of 1931 writing (a short play and four poems) about the Scottsboro case and even visited Kilby Prison in Montgomery, Alabama where eight of the nine boys were being held. The collection was published in 1932, along with “Scottsboro” illustrations by Prentiss Taylor.

In the four poems...Justice...The Town of Scottsboro...Christ in Alabama...and Scottsboro...Hughes uses simple prose to illicit very controversial, complex, and intense emotions. The most controversial poem of the four, Christ in Alabama was taken out of print between 1959 and 1967 due to "Red Scare" attacks on Hughes during the Cold War Era. In depth analysis here...

Here are the two "least controversial" Scottsboro poems...I hope you take time to analyze these "simple" poems.

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise.
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

The Town of Scottsboro
Scottsboro's just a little place:
No shame is writ across its face-
Its courts too weak to stand against a mob,
Its people's heart, too small to hold a sob.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lynching: 2014

Birth Of A Nation Reunion: 1915
Recently in class, we have been discussing Jack Johnson v. James Jeffries, The Birth of a Nation, The Noble Cause, Dubois' Returning Soldiers, the Red Summer Race Riots, the Duluth Lynching, etc. and their relationship to modern racial stereotypes. We also have analyzed how history has been whitewashed in favor of "positive memory" in order to help create a post-Reconstruction "national white power reunion".

Richmond Loves Its Rebels
After some lively debate/ analysis...I posed a question to my students...

"Why does America allow statues of traitors (like Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, etc.  to exist (throughout the South and in a "hallowed" place like the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.)...would Germany allow the Nazi Flag to fly freely over it's soil or laud the "accomplishments" of Hitler with statues and monuments?!?"
Some of my students responded with comments like...
"Why should we care...why does this even matter...this all happened 100 years ago...this isn't even important..."
I was dismayed and dumbfounded by their response...undaunted I mentally grappled for a straightforward "answer" became a 3 point answer...
"First...historians need to always seek truth through primary sources...not whitewashed, revisionist history. Second...tens of thousands of people died in pursuit of freedom, justice, equal opportunity and thousands of others sacrificed so we could all be sitting here today. Third...many of these "historical myths", racial stereotypes, "lynchings" are still with us today..." 
Why should we care?!?

Ole Miss: A 2014 "Lynching"
Last week, the James Meredith Statue at the University of Mississippi was "lynched" with a Georgia "Confederate" Flag and a noose around its neck...all in a month when a Florida jury decided that a white man who disliked "thug music" didn't commit murder when he shot an unarmed black boy to death...KKK members disrupted a Black History Month presentation in Arkansas...we continue to "stop & frisk"...racial profiling and police brutality still exist...institutional racism and "Jim Crow" prisons thrive...immigration "roundups" and immoral deportations are or driving while Black/ Mexican/ Native/ etc. is a "dangerous" proposition...and Ted Nugent called President Obama a "communist-nurtured, subhuman mongrel"...

Celebrating Nathan Bedford Forrest's Birthday in Memphis...
A "Noble" Cause