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The Road to Trump Began Here: Jackie Robinson and the 1964 GOP Convention

Jackie Robinson Speaking with the Press

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon the interruption, but I started a new article last night but was too tired to complete. I guess I will mull it over more and get around to posting it when I am ready. So instead of that I am going to repost an article from a few years back. 

Sometimes people wonder how the Republican Party devolved to the point that it became a proto-Fascist Party completely unrelated to the Party of Lincoln. Now it is true that after Ulysses Grant’s Presidency the GOP became less civil rights and more a party of the Robber Barons. Of course Teddy Roosevelt repudiated the Robber Barons, and was quite progressive except in terms of race and civil rights, and Dwight Eisenhower who took action to enforce Supreme Court Rulings after Brown v. Board of Education, and was as progressive in many ways as were Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Richard Nixon took advantage of the Southern Strategy to continue the transformation of the GOP into the party of Trump, which continued, under slightly less obvious means under Ronald Reagan, and both George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. But even more pivotal was the speakership of Newt Gingrich, and the  the Tea Party.

But think that the 1964 GOP National Convention was more important because it was a watershed moment in American politics, a moment that started the Republican Party down the path that has culminated today. The convention was a direct response to the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Summer of 1964.

But most of all it is how the GOP rank and file treated baseball icon and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson’s trip to the 1964 Republican National Convention. Though the events happened some fifty-six years ago, they are not ancient history, and the spirit and ideology that characterized them is all to present today, especially in the modern Republican Party. 

So have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jackie Robinson was an American hero and icon. He was an amazing athlete who served as an Army Officer in the Second World War, but whose military career was cut short by a bus driver who ordered him to the back of the bus, for which he was tried by what amounted to a drumhead Court Martial, but was acquitted. So he missed seeing action in the war. Robinson remembered his defense attorney’s closing argument.

My lawyer summed up the case beautifully by telling the board that this was not a case involving any violation of the Articles of War, or even of military tradition, but simply a situation in which a few individuals sought to vent their bigotry on a Negro they considered ‘uppity’ because he had the audacity to exercise rights that belonged to him as an American and a soldier.

Twenty years later, Robinson, a Republican because of the then racist attitudes of the Democrats was a supporter of the progressive Republican Governor or New York, Nelson Rockefeller. When he arrived as Rockefeller’s guest he was confronted with the most vile behavior by GOP delegates as could be imagined.

“A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” Jackie Robinson on his observations of the 1964 Republican National Convention

Jackie Robinson was a Republican. So was I for 32 years and for much of that time I considered myself a “conservative” whatever that means, though I thought it meant freedom, limited government and opportunity for all regardless of race, color, religion or any other trait or belief. I also believed and still do in a strong defense, but I can no longer consider myself a man that blesses American intervention in other people’s wars unless there is a clear and present danger to the United States, not simply our so called “interests” which may not be those of the nation at all but of multi-national corporations which were originally American businesses but not only need our military, diplomatic and intelligence resources to increase their profits.

My parents were Kennedy type Democrats, but in the 1970s, torn by the extremism of the 1972 Democratic Convention in Chicago and feeling the hatred of people for those in the military, including a Sunday School teacher who told me that my dad, then serving in Vietnam was “baby killer” I at the age of 12 decided that I would be a Republican. I was a Republican until I returned from Iraq in 2008, fully aware of the lies that took us into that war and seeing the cost both to American servicemen and the people of Iraq.

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I have been doing a lot of reading lately on a period of history that as a historian I had pretty much skipped over. That is the period of the Civil Rights movement of the early to mid-1960s. I guess I skipped over it because I was more interested in the glory of war and patriotism wrapped in historic myth than in the experiences of fellow citizens who had been killed, abused, tormented and persecuted by people like me simply because of the color of their skin. I had not yet begun to appreciate the concept of justice at home being interconnected to our deepest held principles and how we embody them in our foreign policy.

For many years I echoed the point made by some conservatives that it was the GOP that helped make the Voter’s Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965 passed into law. That is true. Most Republicans voted for them, with a notable exception, Barry Goldwater. However, what is also true is that the Republicans that voted for the 1964 act were considered “liberals” and treated shamefully at the 1964 convention, whose delegates voted down a part of the platform that would have supported that act. Of the Democrats that voted against those bills almost all came from the Deep South, a region which within a decade become a Republican stronghold and a key part of the Southern Strategy of every GOP Presidential Candidate since Richard Nixon. A Republican aide at the 1964 convention told a reporter that “the nigger issue was sure to put Goldwater in the White House.” (See Freedom Summer by Bruce Watson p.163)

However as a life long baseball fan there is one thing that I know, that if there had been no Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson we might not have gotten Rosa Parks or the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

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Robinson was appointed as a special delegate to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who was running against Goldwater and attended the convention. He had given up his job as a spokesman for and Vice President of the Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee Company to assist Rockefeller’s campaign in 1964.

Robinson knew what it was like to be the “point man” in the integration of baseball and in his career was threatened with physical violence and death on many occasions. Some teammates circulated petitions that they would not play for a team that had a “black” on it. Robinson, encouraged by Rickey persevered and became an icon in baseball, the Civil Rights movement and the history of the United States. However, not even 10 years after his retirement from baseball and 2 years after he was elected to the Hall of Fame he once again discovered just how deep racism still ran in this country. As he attended the convention FBI agents and other Federal authorities attempted to find the bodies of three young Voting Rights staff who were part of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi. Eventually, later in the summer the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner would be discovered buried in the base of a dam near Philadelphia Mississippi. Their killers were local law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Maybe I lived in my own fantasy world. My experience growing up was on the West Coast living in a military family in small towns and big cities. I am proud to be part of the first class that attended high school in my home town when the courts ordered desegregation in our schools. That experience at Edison High School of Stockton California from 1975-78 changed me, as did having a black roommate in college.

However, that being said it took me a long time to realize that things really haven’t changed that much from 1964 in many parts of the country, especially since I have lived most of my adult live in the historic States that comprised the Confederacy. I can say from practical observation and knowledge that racism and other forms of more acceptable prejudice live on in this country. There is not a day that goes by that I do not run into the vestiges of the hate that lived during the Freedom Summer of 1964. It is more subtle in some cases, but other times is so blatant that is sickening. I never expected that I would ever be called a “nigger lover” or “wigger” until I had people made those comments on this website in response to articles that had nothing to do with race relations or civil rights, nor did I expect physical threats from people who call themselves “Christian.” Those were learning experiences that I have never forgotten.

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Robinson wrote of his experience at the 1964 Convention:

“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition. I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

The same high-handed methods had been there.

The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.

I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning. Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds. I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say.

It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”. They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored. One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife…” From Jackie Robinson “I Never Had it Made” Chapter XV On Being Black Among the Republicans

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Belva Davis, then a young journalist wrote of her experiences at that convention:

While the Goldwater organization tried to keep its delegates in check on the floor, snarling Goldwater fans in the galleries around us were off the leash. The mood turned unmistakably menacing…

Suddenly Louis and I heard a voice yell, “Hey, look at those two up there!” The accuser pointed us out, and several spectators swarmed beneath us. “Hey niggers!” they yelled. “What the hell are you niggers doing in here?’”

I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck as I looked into faces turned scarlet and sweaty by heat and hostility. Louis, in suit and tie and perpetually dignified, turned to me and said with all the nonchalance he could muster, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.” Methodically we began wrapping up our equipment into suitcases.

As we began our descent down the ramps of the Cow Palace, a self-appointed posse dangled over the railings, taunting. “Niggers!” “Get out of here, boy!” “You too, nigger bitch!” “Go on, get out!” “I’m gonna kill your ass!”

I stared straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other like a soldier who would not be deterred from a mission. The throng began tossing garbage at us: wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hot dogs, half-eaten Snickers bars. My goal was to appear deceptively serene, mastering the mask of dispassion I had perfected since childhood to steel myself against any insults the outside world hurled my way.

Then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter. I didn’t look back, but I glanced sideways at Louis and felt my lower lip began to quiver. He was determined we would give our tormentors no satisfaction.

“If you start to cry,” he muttered, “I’ll break your leg.” ( Belva Davis “Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism)

The sad thing is that in many states the new GOP has taken a page out of the past and has been either passing legislation or attempting to pass legislation that makes it harder for Blacks and other minorities to vote. Groups have shown up armed at heavily black polling sites in recent elections and efforts have been made to ensure that minorities cannot vote. They have also challenged the 1964 Voter’s Rights Act in Court and have a friend in Justice Antonine Scalia who called it a “racial entitlement” and violation of State sovereignty.

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The tactics are quite similar to those used in the Deep South prior to 1964 which made it virtually impossible for a Black man or woman to cast a vote, and if they tried even to register to vote did so at the peril of their lives or families. The opponents of integration, voter’s rights and equal rights used some of the same lines used today against those that support these rights. “Communists sympathizers, Socialists, Atheists, Anti-Christian, Anti-American, Anti-Constitution,” you name it the same labels are being applied to those that simply want to be at the table. The sad thing that many of the most vicious users of such untruths are my fellow Christians.

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These are hard things to look at and it is far easier to believe myth than it is to actually seek truth. A few years back I cannot every in a million years having written this article. However the threats to minorities be they racial, religious or even gender have become part an parcel of the new GOP, the GOP that I could not remain a part of when I returned from Iraq.

I guess that I am becoming a Civil Rights advocate, or then, maybe it’s that I’m actually becoming more of a Christian. Branch Rickey said “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.” Oh well, I amy not be able to do something about racism and other prejudice everywhere but I can do it here and wherever I work or preach.

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Oh well whatever, it really doesn’t matter so long as I can live with myself. Besides, I’ll get labeled anyway so what does it matter? I would rather be in the same camp as someone like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey than Antonine Scalia or those that seek to keep people down simply because they are different anyway.

Martin Niemoller once said:

First they came for the , communist
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friends, it is all too important that we not forget this, even as Donald Trump and many of his supporters who include most of the White Supremacists, Klansmen, and Neo-Nazis in this country offer the same threats against blacks, other minorities, and political moderates and liberals. Make no mistake, what is happening now is nothing more than a resurgence of the hatred and violence that was unleashed against those who fought for civil rights fifty-six years ago.

I have no doubt that Jackie Robinson is rejoicing in heaven with the selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Running mate, and I know how he would respond to a draft dodging, war criminal pardoning, racist President like Donald Trump.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Silence in the Face Of Evil is Evil Itself

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

Today I blocked and deleted a former friend from a church I went to decades ago because of his attitude towards me and what I post on Facebook. I get tired of the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be patriotic when in fact they openly support a President who openly denies his oath when he said today that he would accept “dirt” on his political opponents from foreign sources.

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

I have written about that subject a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, although I hoped for a different outcome. Trust me, as an American with a profound respect for the office of the President that is what I wanted, but it didn’t happen.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him want bloodshed, they want Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” 

The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies and denies the President’s words and vilifies anyone that dares to question her. So when she is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.

Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.” 

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. I will live and die as a Christian who believes those sacred words of secular scripture found in the Declaration.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary