With the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuess being the latest on the chopping block of what is being called “cancel culture,” it is once again worth taking a look at things historically. First, was Dr. Seuess racist? Yes. I have not even investigated the supposedly racist books, but I know he is a product of his time. In fact, if we have to ask of any historical personality, author, singer, actor, or politician before a certain time, if they were racist or sexist, then the answer is yes. Every time, yes. I am not saying they wore a white sheet and burned crosses, but by the standards of our time, every historical figure said or did something that was acceptable at their time but not in ours.
If we go back to the 19th century, most whites were overtly racist and sexist. It was completely acceptable in their society. We are not talking about just slave holders, but even those who fought against slavery still did not think of Blacks as completely equal. Lincoln falls into this category. He abhorred slavery but would have kept it if it stopped the nation from going to war. He certainly never said or did anything to make us believe he hoped for women’s equality. Even avid abolitionists like Henry David Thoreau, who absolutely hated slavery and demanded its abolition, had an entry in his journal that praised a newspaper column that rejected race mixing and hoped to send freed slaves back to Africa. Though Thoreau fought for women’s suffrage, modern feminists would object to plenty of his words and actions towards women. So, what do we do with someone in early America who was considered progressive towards Blacks and women’s rights, but falls short today?
Let’s jump 100 years, to the 1950s and ’60s. There were still plenty, especially in the South, who were just as racist as the 19th Century. Then there were those who believed Jim Crow was wrong and Black Americans should have the same rights as Whites, but still occasionally told a racist joke or used the N-word because it was still acceptable in polite society. Finally, there were even those represented by the character Matt Drayton in the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” The Draytons were a well-off liberal white family who had taught their daughter that all forms of racism were wrong and everyone should be treated equally. They were offended by the N-word. Yet things changed when their daughter brought home her Black fiancé from college. Suddenly her parents faced an internal moral dilemma of what they always believed and what their new reality was.
I am grateful for the MeToo movement. It’s about time we stood up for the treatment of women. The behavior towards women in the workplace in the ’50s and ’60s is despicable, yet it was accepted then and, in some ways, celebrated today. The extremely popular show “Mad Men” has won awards. As depicted, sexually harassing women just seemed part of a normal workday, yet today the entire firm would be under investigation, as it should be. What do we do with the Don Drapers of today? It is easy to take down the street sign of someone in the Klan in the 1960s, but what about the people who were like Matt Drayton or Don Draper? They were fictional, but they represented thousands of men and women in their day. What do we do with people who did not consider themselves racist or sexist in their day but are by our standards today? What do we do if, at their times, slavery was completely acceptable? What do we do today if a children’s author used a racist word that was not considered racist at the time? What about one of America’s greatest authors who at the time was seen as progressive on race and gender issues but does not fit in today?
I hope no one thinks I am trying to say that racism or sexism were ever okay. I am not. Just because something was accepted does not make it right. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am far from perfect, but I try my hardest to live a good life and be a good person. I just hope that in 100 years from now when people are judging me, if I have done something repulsive to them, that they understand I meant no harm. I don’t know the answers. I wish I did. I don’t know if we should stop reading Dr. Seuess to our kids. I don’t know the man or his heart, but his books have brought joy and I think he cared about making kids smile. Though racism is wrong, they would not have been published at the time if they were socially unacceptable.
I don’t want any Black children in any way to feel “less than. ” If Dr. Seuess makes them feel this way, then maybe we should stop reading those books. But I do worry about where it ends. I will go back to my original point. I believe that if we investigate anyone before the modern era and ask if that person is racist or sexist, the answer is yes. If we set that as the standard, we basically remove all classic literature, music, culture and historical figures. That does not seem to be the answer. Somehow, we need to come to an understanding and some type of historical forgiveness.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.
Just when you thought our political leaders could not divide us any further, they have now turned on themselves. Right now, both parties are dealing with internal conflicts. The Democrats are struggling between the so called “progressives” (I still believe they are not using that term correctly) and the “moderates.” One recent difference is between how to respond to problems in Israel. As for the Republicans, they seem to have the bigger conflict right now, as seen by the removal of Liz Chaney from Republican leadership over her beliefs about Trump. Historically speaking, this is not new. During the Republicans’ most dominant period in history, they twice splintered into competing factions and both times allowed the Democrats to crack their control of the White House.
There have been two great runs in political history, one by each party, but the Republicans had the larger of the two. Between Abraham Lincoln who won in 1860 and FDR who won in 1932 and ended the Republican’s run, there were only two Democratic presidents. In other words, for a 72-year span, Republicans controlled 64 years and Democrats only eight. Yet instead of being satisfied with their dominance, the Republicans split into factions.
During the Gilded Age (1870s-early 1900s), three Republican factions emerged, two revolving around prominent figures. The first group were the Mugwumps. In a time of political corruption, mostly from the spoils system or rewarding political supporters, the Mugwumps were calling for reform. They wanted to see civil service exams so government jobs could be based on merit instead of patronage. The Mugwumps were the weakest of the divisions.
Then there were the Stalwarts, led by the very powerful New York Senator Roscoe Conklin. These were the most traditionalist who wanted to keep the spoils system intact. It was this group that supported a third term for President Grant because they were profiting from the corruption in his administration. Finally, there were the Half-Breeds, led by the most powerful of them all, the Senator from Maine James Blaine. They took a page from the Mugwumps and called for reform, but in reality, they were no different than the Stalwarts, except they wanted Blaine as president.
The Republican party was able to stay together in 1880 when it compromised with Garfield, a Half-Breed presidential nominee who was not Blaine and Chester Arthur, a Stalwart for V.P. The partnership did not last long as Garfield was assassinated by what many thought was a Stalwart plot. However, before Garfield died, he pushed for some civil service reforms. When Arthur took over, he went against his own faction and pushed through the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Pendleton was a good start but not enough for the Mugwumps.
In the 1884 election, one of the more interesting that I have discussed many times, the Half-Breeds were tired of messing around. They dumped Arthur and succeeded in running Blaine for president. The Democrats took advantage of Blaine’s ties to corruption and cover-ups by courting the Mugwump vote when they ran a true reformer in Grover Cleveland. The move gave the Democrats just enough votes for the rare victory.
The next couple of elections danced around some as the Republicans took back the White House in 1888, only to lose again to Cleveland in 1892. Starting in 1896 the Republicans regained their control with McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, then Taft. However, even though the old three-way split in the party had dissolved some time earlier, a new division had grown by the 1912 election. Teddy Roosevelt left office after a term-and-a-half, and he handpicked his successor to follow through with his progressive reforms. (These were the real progressives, who wanted reform but slow moderate changes.)
By this point, both parties were divided between progressive and moderate wings. Complicating matters was that there were more internal conflicts than external between groups. The problem was TR’s replacement, who, though a good progressive, was willing to compromise too much with the moderates for TR’s liking. In 1912, Roosevelt decided to retake his party and ran for the presidency. Yet when Taft was re-nominated instead, TR stole away the progressive wing of his party and formed a third party, the Progressive Party, which became better known by the best party name in history, the Bull Moose Party. Of course, with the Republicans divided, the Democrats ran their own progressive, Woodrow Wilson, and won.
We will have to watch over the next few years to see if history will repeat itself. Will the divide between the progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party sink the party’s chances for reelection? If Trump runs again, will he cause a third-party split from the Republican party led by Republicans like Chaney and Romney. Time will tell, but, historically speaking, this could be a bumpy couple of years ahead for both parties.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog.
The day (June 6, 1944) in World War II
The greatest mobilization of military forces in the history of the world. 10,000 casualties… 4,414 dead that day.
Let us remember the Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Boatmen, Chaplains, Medics, Corpsmen, Nurses, Doctors, Cooks…. all that served!
And the wives, children, mothers, dads, loved ones back home with blue stars in windows…many of which would turn to Gold amid a tidal wave of tears…weeping mothers, dads, children, brothers, and sisters…relatives…aunts, and uncles…sweethearts. They gave that we might be Free. God bless their ever-lasting Souls. And God help US TO REMEMBER!!
In Jesus, we pray to be worthy of their sacrifice, AMEN
I was a small boy and saw the tears and heard the crying. Our next-door family lost their dad. His children were my playmates. My dad and uncles served. Thankfully they came home.
The Rt. Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Front Royal, VA
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foothold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.
Let us honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom
This Memorial Day, we pause with solemn gratitude to honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom, and we pray for lasting peace throughout our Commonwealth, our nation, and the world so that future generations may enjoy the blessings of liberty.
Since the founding of our great Commonwealth, Virginians have proudly answered the call to duty and given their lives in heroic service to our nation. These patriots were bound by their love of country and united in their quest to uphold our founding ideals. Their selfless acts of courage and patriotism embody the very best of our Commonwealth and our nation, and it is our responsibility to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. We must come together as they did, to continue their work and to build a brighter and better future for everyone.
Today, and every day, we honor the extraordinary service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Let us pray for the fallen and for the loved ones they left behind. Let us continue our enduring mission of building a Commonwealth and a nation worthy of the patriots we honor today.
Memorial Day – May 31, 2021: Remembering the service of the fallen
On Memorial Day, we take time to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by those who fought for our country.
Many of those who died in the service of our country are known to us personally. They were our sons, our fathers, our uncles, aunts, or cousins, or they were our friends.
The heroes of wars long past are not forgotten. Veterans group walk the old graveyards to place flags on the tombstones of those who died in battles long past but still remembered. Their great sacrifices and honorable service helped our country become the nation it is today. We can never forget.
Many of their names are on tombstones in our own country and in cemeteries across the globe.
Some cannot be named specifically, and they are honored in a special way: at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
It is guarded by faithful sentinels night and day.
The importance of this duty is expressed in the “Sentinel’s Creed”:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance, my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored Glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
— Sentinel’s Creed of the Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Crime and Policing Patterns
One key job of historians is to find patterns. Most things in history are circular and come and go throughout time. The majority of what I do with this column is to try to show that current events have happened before and that nothing is new. Knowing this can help us make better decisions in the future. One such circular event is crime and policing.
Crime and policing in some way are as old as time itself, yet there have been periods in American history where crime was more common or at least thought to be. The first period that comes to mind is the so-called “Wild West.” Whether the cow towns were actually violent is debated, but Hollywood has engrained in our collective minds the wildness of towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, and Deadwood. What brought order to these towns were men as tough as iron. These sheriffs were quick with a gun but sometimes were accused of being as violent as the men they arrested. To make the west safe, they had to enforce tough laws with a strong hand. Hollywood has capitalized on men like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Hickock.
Another period known for lawlessness was the 1920s. Prohibition was the law of the land but that only opened the door to criminals who saw easy money in bootlegging. Gangsters became household names like Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, and John Dillinger. There were also men like “Lucky” Luciano who helped organize the Five Families in New York. Then there were crimes that are not as famous today but were know at the time like the Osage Murders in Oklahoma. The crimes of the 1920s helped turn the new and undermanned Bureau of Investigation into the modern trained and efficient Federal Bureau of Investigation. The man responsible for the turnaround was the ruthless J. Edgar Hoover. Before the 1920s, the public feared a national police force that could turn into secret police. However, the crime wave in the ’20s and the inability or unwillingness of the local police to confront it, resulted in a public demand for help, even if some of the police tactics reminded some of a police state.
The Osage murders are a good example. As shown in David Grann’s book Killers of the Flower Moon, which is currently being turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Osage Indians were being murdered in 1921. The local police were unable or possibly unwilling to find the murderers. In one of their first big high-profile cases, the FBI solved the crime. I don’t want to give away more, but it’s a book worth reading.
Hollywood has always taken advantage of these times to make a bit of cash and that is no different than with the next major crime wave. In 1971 America was introduced to a new character and catch phrase, when Dirty Harry first asked the bad guy, “Do you feel lucky?” The movie about a crime-ridden city and an ineffective police force resonated with the public. It took an old school cop, one not afraid to use violence, to finally catch a sniper terrorizing the city. However, the sniper was released because Harry had not followed all the rules. Harry eventually catches him again, this time killing him, then throwing his badge into the river in protest to how crime was being handled.
Dirty Harry was not finished, however. His style of policing became so popular that he made four more movies and inspired several other similar movies. Another standout was 1974’s “Death Wish.” In this film, Charles Bronson’s character was a happy family man until thugs broke into his home and killed his wife and left his daughter barely alive. After the police could not help, Bronson began walking the streets at night in Central Park hoping to get mugged so he could bring his own form of vigilante justice to the city.
Movies like “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish” reverberated with people who were themselves afraid to walk in places like Central Park. Crime rates had been on the rise since the 1960s but then started to fall in the 1990s. The reasons for the decline in crime are still being debated today, but many give credit to men like New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who started controversial but effective policies to reduce crime. (Yes, he had a career before Trump.) One thing he did was to greatly increase the number of cops on the street. Giuliani was attacked as a racist and his policies as Gestapo tactics, but people were able to walk the streets at night. What we have seen in all these cases is that the population tolerated more policing for safety. Yet over time, people became less tolerant, forcing less policing, and the cycle continued.
We are watching this cycle currently play out again. Not only are we seeing calls to defund the police, but in cities like New York, police officers retiring is up more than 400% from the previous year. Most are citing anti-police attitudes for the cause. It has become so bad that NYC now restricts the number of officers who can retire each month. Look at some of the movies that started coming out in the 2000s –”Training Day” in 2001, “Crash “in 2004, “The Departed” in 2006. All these depict police as corrupt and violent. Yet at the same time, starting in 2020, we have seen an increase in crime.
Time will have to tell if crime on the rise is a matter of COVID or new attitudes towards policing. Historically speaking, the attitudes towards policing and lower numbers of law enforcement will be followed by continuing higher crime rates until they get high enough that the next version of “Dirty Harry” will be required to clean up the streets. Who knows how long that will take, but until then the only question to ask yourself is, “Do you feel lucky?”
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.
A ‘Rush to Judgement’ of Lord Fairfax in community college renaming effort?
After 50 years of orogenic calm, suddenly the directors of Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) are trying to change the college name, and the school’s public relations cadre has been in full-blown smackdown and smearing of the deceased namesake, Lord Fairfax the 6th.
We know Mr. Fairfax was a slave owner, but let’s look at the other things they have been saying about him.
The former college president said he was a “very minor historical figure”. Yet, Mr. Fairfax was responsible for the settling of over 5 million acres locally! Like it or not, he was the face of local colonial rule, and he helped-along George Washington, who grew-up to protest the colonial slave trade and lead the army which ended that rule.
They said Fairfax was an out-of-touch, stingy aristocrat, and “never had to work”. However, he donated land and performed civic duties, serving as a Frederick County Justice of the Peace and County Lieutenant. Historian Bishop Meade wrote, “It deserves to be mentioned of Lord Fairfax, that, titled as he was, and rich, he never failed to perform his duty as a citizen and neighbor”.
While, yes, through the colonial system, he came unto his land holdings, he did not sit in a recliner playing Xbox. That land had to be surveyed, appropriated and governed, by foot and horseback. Fairfax eschewed English castle life and settled in something visually similar to a horse barn, in the then-wilderness of White Post, Virginia.
Regarding privilege, it is only fair to note that the annual salary for the head of the Virginia Community College system is an aristocratic $481,045!
Moreover, LFCC’s website states: “There are historical records indicating he also engaged in long-term sexual abuse of enslaved women”. One member of the re-naming board said he “partook in a pay-for-rape scenario”. Where is the proof for these outrageous statements?
Similar claims are circulating on the Internet and likely derive from Stewart Brown’s biography on Lord Fairfax, published in 1965, a book referenced by the Board’s re-naming committee. Let’s take a closer look at it.
In the appendix, Brown said he had in-hand a receipt written by Fairfax’s clerk, to wit: “February 27, 1777: Received of Curtis Corley ten shillings on the Lord’s ship account, for bring a negro wench to bed. Cary Balengar”. Let’s assume that is an exact quote from receipt, because accuracy matters here.
Elsewhere in his book, Brown altered the included phrase into, “bedding down a negro wench”, and remarked that this meant Fairfax was paying for sex. He further speculated that this was evidence on a rumor that Fairfax had children by numerous slave women, and that at the age of 83, was thus “sufficiently virile” not to be near death. However, Brown gave no foundation for the rumor or his opinion.
Yet, the Collins Dictionary says “to be brought to bed” is an archaic British English expression meaning “childbirth”. Given that, does it make better sense that this was simply a receipt for delivering a baby, as others have already suggested?
Before we neuter and vandalize Fairfax’s name, let’s do OUR homework.
Rockland, Warren County, Virginia