Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Freedom Summer:50th Anniversary

The following poem by Langston Hughes was originally titled "Refugee in America" and elicited many thoughts and questions in my heart and mind...

How easily we use the words freedom, liberty, and all men are created quickly we want to deport those seeking "our freedom" I really try to know my fellow far have we truly advanced since Freedom Summer...

Words Like Freedom

There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heartstrings freedom sings
All day everyday.

There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I know
You would know why.  

The summer of 1964...the state of affairs had reached a boiling point in Mississippi (Medgar Evers assassination, hundreds of beatings, several murders, dozens of church/ home bombings, KKK intimidation, etc.) and across America. Blatant acts of injustice and violence, de jure and de facto segregation, white America "preserving their way of life", the nation still grieving a fallen president, and idealistic white Americans traveling to Mississippi (they focused on Mississippi because it had the lowest percentage of African-American registered voters-less the %7) all helped to provide an "amalgam for change".

Mississippi: Summer of '64...

  • Early June- Over 1,000 out of state volunteers and thousands of native Mississippians begin orientation sessions for Freedom Summer activities...voter registration, Freedom Schools, health clinics, legal clinics, etc.
  • June 21- James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Paul Goodman are murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi (the city of brotherly love?!?) while investigating a church arson fire and attempting to register African-American voters...this led to national and international outrage.
Dave Dennis-Listen to an excerpt of his stirring eulogy...
  • CORE representative Dave Dennis delivers a powerful and challenging eulogy at James Chaney's funeral.
  • Freedom Schools are established to provide lessons in Civics (The Constitution, Bill of Rights, Voting, etc.), Arithmetic, Reading Literacy, US History (with an emphasis on African-American History), and self-esteem...thousands attended!

  • The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized to directly challenge the "KKK" Democratic Party...they were seeking representation at the Democratic National Convention.

Fannie Lou Hamer-listen to an excerpt of her testimony...
  • August 22- Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention...her live testimony was purposefully preempted by an "impromptu" LBJ press conference- believing that "that ignorant woman" was going to cost him the presidency.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to protect the 14th and 15th Amendments...a dubious end of the Civil War?!?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering: The "Forgotten" Lynchings

I periodically remind my students to think about "who, what, how, and why they remember" and as much as possible to rely on primary sources as "their lens" to history.

Why do we remember certain stories?

1. The story that is told usually "wins".  For example:

  • The Great Emancipator: Abraham Lincoln "freed the slaves."
  • Gettysburg Day 2: Little Round Top...what about Culp's Hill...The First Minnesota?
  • The Civil Rights Movement started with Rosa Parks and Dr. King.
  • "Weapons of Mass Destruction."
2. Those who have power can manipulate history.  For example:
  • Government
  • News Media
  • Publishers
  • Teachers
3. We tend to "choose the positive" and the "comfortable myth".   For example:
  • "We couldn't have been that bad..."
  • The North and South "fighting for noble causes" during the Civil War.
  • "Remember the Maine!"
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Incident
  • Lee Harvey Oswald...
4. We tend to tell the "Story of the Hero" and "The Tragedy of the Victim".
  • Heroes and Leaders are emphasized over Grassroots Movements.
  • Everyone was not a victim...
  • This de-emphasizes the fact that most of us are just ordinary people...but, I want my students to realize that ordinary people can do extraordinary things!  

With this in mind, let's reconsider the "conventional wisdom" on Lynching in America...

Though "well-known" in Mexican and Mexican-American History, the story of Mexican lynchings is virtually nonexistent. Many scholarly books (thousands of pages and dozens of photographs- with a "Deep South emphasis") have been written about "Lynching in America" and none of them include or analyze the brutal effects of "Eight Decades of Terror" on the Mexican-American Community!

Between 1848 and 1928 there are 597 documented lynchings of Mexican-Americans, mostly in the west and southwest (Texas, California, and Arizona were the worst). There are also hundreds of reported lynchings where the lack of primary sources does not allow for definitive statistics. We know that it is sometimes dangerous to compare statistics... 

Or those who ignore the statistics?!?

Nevertheless, it is possible (based on verifiable data) to compare the extent of African-American to Mexican-American lynchings...

Between 1848 and1879, Mexicans were lynched at a rate of 473 victims per 100,000 and African-Americans at a rate (highest rate was in Mississippi) of ~50 victims per 100,000.

Between 1880 and 1930, Mexicans were lynched at a rate of 27 victims per 100,000 and African-Americans at a rate of 37 victims per 100,000.

Clearly, we as teachers (I apologize to all of my students for my many shortcomings) and as a society need to do a better job at discovering and telling the full, accurate, and true story of American History...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ojibwa Gichigami

 The Superior Hiking Trail

Last week (my first week of summer vacation), I spent 3 days hiking nearly 25 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail (between Silver Bay and Finland, Minnesota) with my youngest (19 yrs. old) daughter. "Construction" of the nearly 300 mile Superior Hiking Trail began in the mid-1980's as an 18 inch wide foot path that follows a ridge-line of the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking Lake Superior (the Ojibwa called it Ojibwa Gichigami -The Ojibwa's Great Sea) and several inland lakes...and is now considered one of the top 5 hiking trails in America.

 Day 1 Hike- 4 hours

The most memorable part of our trip was a hike that included...lots of mud (I face planted in a swamp!)...Mt. Trudee...

 Mt. Trudee overlooking Lake Superior

"The Drainpipe"...

"The Drainpipe" - 150 foot vertical climb...

Watch a YouTuber's "Drainpipe Climb"... (6:33)

...Pesky gnats, mosquitoes, and ticks...quiet-only interrupted by various songbirds, woodland frogs, etc....and discussions with my daughter about the Native Americans (The Plano...The Cree...The Santee Dakota...The Algonquin...The Ojibwa)...who once made this region their home.

What was their life did they survive...did they walk these trails...what do you think they called (in their language) these places...why did we feel we could take their did they feel when we took their lands...

"Gaa wiin daa-aangoshkigaazo ahaw enaabbiyaan gaa-inaabid."
(An Ojibwa Proverb - You cannot destroy one who has dreamed a dream like mine.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day: 70th Anniversary Questions

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of The Allied invasion of German-occupied France to liberate continental Europe from Nazi tyranny...

The images and sounds of rough weather, our paratroopers, tracer fire, the aerial bombardment, The Atlantic Wall, the amphibious landing, words of encouragement, cries for help, the dazed stares of the living, the wounded, the dead, etc. have been forever etched into our memory...and we have promised never to forget the sacrifices of all of our troops in their service to our country.

9,387 lives ended in the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy...their graves facing west toward the home they would never see again. 

Most of these boys not much older than my students...leaving behind stories that would never be written or remembered.

And I ponder questions I would ask them...

Who were you...where are you from...what were your parents like?

What was your favorite childhood memory...favorite food...favorite sports...favorite subject in school?

Were you in love...who loved you...did anyone care to tell your story?

What were your dreams for the future?

What were your last thoughts before you died?

If you could...what would you say to your students?

Can you feel that we still care...that we are thankful...that you are loved by a nation?

Monday, June 2, 2014

June 2, 1958: True "Loving"

Richard and Mildred Loving

On June 2, 1958 (56 years ago today), Richard Loving got married to Mildred Jeter...but, this was not a "normal" wedding. Their wedding was a crime in Virginia and 24 other states...

Their crime...Richard, a White man, and Mildred, an African-American and Native American woman, had violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (a felony charge), which prohibited interracial marriages. By their own account, they were in bed around 2 a.m. on the morning July 11, 1958 when the county sheriff and 2 deputies broke down their door...

“Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”

Mildred answered, “I’m his wife.”

Richard (a man of very few words) pointed to the marriage certificate hanging on the bedroom wall.

The sheriff responded, “That’s no good here.”

Virginia Code, Title 20, Sections 53 and 59:

“If any white person and colored person shall go out of this state for the purpose of being married and with the intention of returning … they shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.”

Judge Leon Bazile sentenced them to 1 year in the state penitentiary or to be banished from the state of Virginia for 25 January of 1959, they moved to Washington, D.C. to avoid their jail sentence.

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his [arrangement] there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix...Conviction of a felony is a serious matter. You lose your political rights; and only the government has the power to restore it...and as long as you live you will be known as a felon...The moving finger writes and moves on and having writ...Nor all your piety nor all your wit can change one line of it."

The Loving Family

In 1964, unable to travel back to Virginia together to visit their families and frustrated by big city life...they appealed for help from the ACLU to fight their Virginia convictions. Fiercely private, the Lovings didn't even travel to Washington to hear the oral arguments. Their ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen, asked Richard if he had anything to say to the justices, he replied: 

"Tell the court I love my wife, and it's just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

On June 12, 1967 (9 years after their wedding), the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation "law" violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Watch an NBC News Clip about the Lovings...

Although most Americans say they are okay with black-white marriages...these marriages are rare. In 2009, only 550,000 married couples in the United States (less than 1 percent) consisted of a White and African-American spouse.

Couples celebrating "Loving Day" on June 12th