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“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

August 28th is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream Speech. It is a speech and message that we cannot forget or continue to fight for if we want to see the promise of our founders fulfilled in spite of the power of those who prefer the rule of political and financial oligarchs, or simple dictatorship to our Republic and the democratic ideals of those imperfect, yet inspired men.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has always been one of my heroes. This time of year I always ponder the importance of his life and work for civil rights, and I wonder what might have been had this man of peace not been cut down in cold blood at the young age of 39 by James Earl Ray on April 4th 1968. He was an amazing and courageous man whose memory should not be let to one day a year.

Tonight I am happy to report that I had a number of good visits with doctors and that the exchange of the face mask for my BIPAP machine allowed me to sleep for the first time in a week. I saw my new sleep doctor and neurologist today and in that visit, which lasted more than an hour I learned a lot and felt better about my condition. I won’t go into details now, but will in the future because it deals with a host of issues that those suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other neurological, psychological, physical, and spiritual conditions contend with on a daily basis. But, I digress, that was an update and not really a part of this article.

We live in a world where a minority of voters elected a man as President who through his words and actions demonstrates daily that he cares not for anything that Dr.King stood for. Thus, we have to ensure, though our words and actions that it is not allowed to die. Doing that may involve a high cost as the President-Elect is not known for playing nice with his opponents and now that he will have the police power of the state and a compliant Congress at his back you can expect that opponents will be harassed, intimidated, and maybe worse.

Dr. King was a man of courage, a man of honor, a man of conviction. But he came of age in a time when many people were willing to maintain the status quo and play things safe, like many clergy, even African-American clergy. Many pastors of the era, remained quiet about the conditions of segregation, and the racism of the day. Their lack of action did not mean they were bad people, they just understood that if they spoke up, their lives, and the lives of their families and congregations could be in danger. As such many pastors just hoped to see things slowly improve, without rocking the boat, and without endangering themselves or their families. They had seen what happened to blacks who spoke up or confronted the evil, lynching’s, cross burnings, threats and murder. They had contented themselves with just trying to get along. At the beginning of the movement, many pastors did not support or gave only lukewarm support to Dr. King, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy going into that critical year of 1963.

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King did not start out to become a Civil Rights leader. However, he was inspired to actively join the movement through the example of Rosa Parks, who defiance of the law for blacks to sit “in the back of the bus” in 1955. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 385 days. The reaction among segregationists to King and his protest was against violent. King’s house was bombed, and his life threatened. But he refused to stand down.

King’s leadership of the boycott brought the young pastor to national prominence. However, by 1963 much of the Civil Rights movement and the African American community was despairing of the lack of progress. Many people had become disenchanted with King, not considering him bold enough despite his rhetorical abilities.

But in April 1963, working with other Civil Rights leaders in Birmingham Alabama King relit the fires of the movement. Montgomery Police Chief “Bull” Conner used his police force to violently attack the demonstrators. Conner ordered his men to unleash their police dogs on the protestors, and used high pressure water cannon against them, including women, children and the elderly. The violent reaction to the protests shocked much of America and the world.

King was arrested and in the Birmingham jail composed one of his most famous works, the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. The letter was a social, political and theological masterpiece. It was some of his harshest criticism was of white liberals, as well as black moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season”

King continued his activism until his assassination. In August 1963 he led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where before a crowd of an estimated 200,000-300,000 he gave his I Have a Dream Speech.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

The crescendo of the speech was remarkable and is perhaps one of the most remembered speeches in American history.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

King knew the dangers and the risks of appealing to a strategy of non-violence based on love of his enemies. King spoke to the world when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html 

Dr. King understood how easy hatred could consume people and movements and urged  people not to follow the course of hate, he wrote:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

The day before his assassination in Memphis, Dr. King still recognized what he might face. His “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm recounted many of the things that he had encountered, including an assassination attempt in 1958 which had come close to killing him. It was an amazing speech and one wonders if having lived under threat so long that he almost had a premonition of his death the next day.

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Dr. King’s dream is not dead and we who live today cannot allow it to die. There is still much work to see justice done for all Americans as well as those suffering from violence, persecution, discrimination and poverty around the world.

It is 2019. It has been 57 years since Dr. King sat in the Birmingham jail. Sadly, there are some who long for a return to the day of Jim Crow. In some states there have been and there are ongoing attempts to return it by stealth, especially through restrictions on voting that predominantly impact African Americans and the poor. Racism is not dead, nor are so many other “isms.” As Dr. King told us, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” and “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

Dr. King and many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have passed on. Likewise, many people today are complacent about the injustices present in our society, injustices experienced by many people. We need a generation of new men and women with hearts like Dr. King’s, who will be the conscience of the nation and confront these injustices.

Birmingham_campaign_dogs

Likewise we cannot ghettoize Dr. King’s accomplishments as being something that only helped African Americans. They have helped all of us. Dr. King’s courage in standing for Constitutional Amendments that many of his opponents despised, the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts is of fundamental importance to all Americans, even those that think they don’t matter.

President Ulysses Grant was absolutely correct when he pointed out the plight of white Southerners in the ante-bellum South. They were people so bound to the slavery system and their place in it that they could not see how badly it hurt them so long as they had a group, in this case African American slaves who were below them. Grant wrote:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.”

That my friends is descriptive of how President Trump and the Republican Congress view those who put them in office. Trump supporters do not seem to realize that they will be hurt the most by the incoming administration and congresses policies. They too need emancipation and deliverance, thus we have to remain strong, for they too are our brothers and sisters.

Representative John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders was beaten numerous times during those protests. When leading the march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Lewis had his skull fractured by a State Trooper when he stopped to pray.  Lewis’s words call us to action today:

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

Representative Lewis is still speaking out, and enduring the attacks of President Trump, and we must join him. We cannot let Dr. King’s dream die. It would be fatal to our country and the promise of the Declaration of Independence if we did, and we would only have ourselves to blame.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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From All-Volunteer Forces to Conscription: The Draft in the Civil War

Enrollment-Poster-in-New-York-June-23-1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text, this dealing on the conscription efforts of both sides. It is an inte4resting subject as it brings up many issues that we still face in society, racial and religious prejudice, economic disparity, and social division.  Of course as always I will probably add more to this and revise it again, but you are probably getting used to that. I hope that you enjoy and have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original armies, composed of volunteers predominated.  As the war progressed the nature of both armies was changed. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers. However, the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated new measures to fill the ranks, and this need led to the conscription, or draft of soldiers and the creation of draft laws and bureaus in the South and later the North.

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Confederate Conscription

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [1] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [2] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [3] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [4] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [5]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [6] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [7]  Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [8] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [9] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [10]

recruit poster

The Enrollment Act: The Federal Draft

In the spring of 1863 a manpower crunch began to hit the Union Army as vast numbers of the nine-month militia regiments which were called out by Lincoln in accordance with the Militia Act of May 25th 1792 were to disband. Facing the reality that the all-volunteer system which had sustained the war effort the first two years of the war could no longer meet the need for adequate numbers of soldiers the Congress of the United States passed the “An Act for the enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other Purposes,” commonly known as the enrollment act of 1863” on March 3rd 1863. [11] The length of the war and the massive number of causalities were wearing on the population and the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army.” Likewise, “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [12]

The Enrollment Act was controversial. Based on the power of Congress given by the Constitution in Article One, Section Eight, to raise and support armies. It was “the first direct Federal conscription statute in U.S. history, providing the first Federal compulsion upon individuals to enter directly into the military service of the United States, without intermediate employment in the militia systems of the states.” [13] In doing so the act “bypassed the state governments entirely and created a series of federal enrollment boards that would take responsibility for satisfying the federally assigned state quotas.” [14] In effect it was an act the nationalized military service and eventual became the basis for a truly national army which would be supported by state forces embodied in the National Guard as well as a Federal Army Reserve. Though Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney believed that act of be unconstitutional it was never challenged during his lifetime, but “the Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of the similar Selective Service Act of May 18th, 1917 in a unanimous decision.” [15] The act made some exemptions, those who were physically or mentally unfit, certain high federal government officials and governors, only sons of dependent widows and infirm parents, or those convicted of a felony.

Like the Confederate legislation, this act was also tremendously unpopular and was ridden with exemptions which were frequently abused. All congressional districts were issued a quota for volunteers. Those districts that were able to fulfill their quotas were not subject to conscription, thus the districts that “could provide sufficient volunteers, or bounties high enough to lure volunteers, would not need to draft anyone, and in the end only seven Northern States would be subject to all four of the draft calls issued under the Enrollment Act.” [16]

The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [17]

To ensure that the enrollment boards had teeth Congress “authorized a Provost Marshall Bureau in the War Department to enforce conscription.” [18] It was the task of the Provost Marshalls to enroll every male citizen, as well as immigrants who had applied for citizenship between the ages of twenty to forty-five.

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [19] Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.  Congress had good intentions in setting the price at $300 because they did not want the price to soar beyond the reach of many draftees, however, this was far more than most of the working poor could afford. Of course well off and influential people could pay for a substitute, but “the working poor, for whom three hundred dollars was a half a year’s wages, were especially outraged, and many saw the exemption as another indicator that the war no longer focused on their interests….” [20] Many were afraid that newly emancipated African Americans would be new competition for their already low paying jobs and that the notion of equality would upset their society and their lives. The financial wall was insurmountable for many, and the fact that many found it repulsive that “in a democracy someone could hire a substitute to take his place, was calculated to provoke the bloodiest sort of response among the poor.” [21]

Fraud was rampant and the boards often had little means to check the documentation of those who filed for exemptions. “Surgeons could be bribed, false affidavits claiming dependent support could be filed, and other kinds of under-the-table influence could be exerted. Some draftees feigned insanity or disease. Others practiced self-mutilation. Some naturalized citizens claimed to be aliens.” [22] All of this seemed to indicate to the poor, and to recent immigrants that the system was unfair. Some soldiers such as Irish-American soldier John England were not against the draft itself, but the inequity of the system. The law, English wrote, “was framed for the benefit of the rich and the disadvantage of the poor. For instance – a rich conscript can commute for$300! Now, it is a fact well known to all that there are some rich animals in the northern cities that can afford to lose $300, as much as some poor people can afford to lose one cent.” [23]

To make matters worse for the Army, many of the substitutes themselves were worthless to the Army, veteran soldiers distrusted them, often with good reason. “Of 186 such men assigned to a Massachusetts regiment, 115 deserted, 6 were discharged for disability, 26 were transferred to the navy, and 1 was killed in action.” Additionally the medically unfit, including men in the final stages of incurable disease were present in large numbers, of “57 recruits for the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, seventeen could not muster. In March of 1864, one-third of the replacements sent to a cavalry divisions were already on the sick list.” [24]

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[25] The resentment of the act grew, especially in large cities such as New York was fed by false rumors and lack of understanding as much as fact. The ensuing draft riots “were based upon ignorance, misery, fear, and the inability of one class of men to understand another class; upon the fact that there were “classes of men” in a classless American society.” [26]

New_York_Draft_Riots_-_fighting

The Draft Riots

Barely a week after the Battle of Gettysburg, clashes and violence erupted in several cities. The riots became so violent that local police forces were incapable of controlling them. As a result President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence. New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [27] wrecking the draft office, then seizing the Second Avenue armory while attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [28]

These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [29] A witness described the scene:

“The furious, bareheaded & coatless men assembled under our windows & shouted for Jeff Davis!… Towards evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the Colored-Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue… & rolling a barrel of kerosene in it, the whole structure was soon ablaze, & is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 innocent orphans I could not learn…. Before this fire was extinguished, or rather burnt out, for the wicked wretches who caused it would not permit the engines to be used, the northern sky was brilliantly illuminated, probably by the burning of the Aged Colored-Women’s Home in 65th Street…. A friend…had seen a poor negro hung an hour or two before. The man in a frenzy, had shot an Irish fireman and they immediately strung up the unhappy African…. A person who called at our house this afternoon saw three of them hanging together.” [30]

hith-drafft-riots-E

Many of the rioters, but certainly not all of them were Irish, especially Catholics, who were also angry at the religious prejudice that the experienced at the hand of many Protestants. Rioters “targeted African-Americans, Republicans, abolitionists, and anyone associated with them…. Policemen and soldiers trying to suppress the riots also became targets, even if these men were Irish-Americans and Catholics.” [31] Many high profile Irish Catholics including Archbishop John Hughes refused to condemn the rioters or even call them by the term, earning the condemnation of the editors of the New York Times who wrote, “If the mob had burned the Catholic Orphan Asylum next door to the Bishop’s Cathedral… somebody besides “the papers” probably would have called them rioters.” [32]

The riots showed that the concept of racial or religious equality was difficult for many Americans, and not just those in the South. Prejudice, against African Americans, immigrants including the Irish, and Roman Catholics still burned in the hearts of many who had just a few years before had supported the Know Nothing Party and movement. Bruce Catton wrote, the “rioters had malignant prejudice, and those rioted against had another prejudice, equally malignant; if the lynchings and the burnings and the pitched battles in city streets meant anything they meant that this notion of equality was going to be hard to live with.” [33]

The violence did not abate until newly arrived veteran Union troops who had just fought at Gettysburg quickly and violently put down the insurrection. These soldiers, fresh from the battlefield and having experienced the loss of so many of their comrades “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [34] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [35]

In the end, the Enrollment Act contributed little to the Union war effort. Though it was called conscription it was not really conscription, it was “but a clumsy carrot and stick device to stimulate volunteering. The threat was being drafted and the carrot a bounty for volunteering.” [36] The organization of its machinery was so inefficient and the Act’s intentions so diluted “that the effort netted only 35,883 men – albeit along with $15,686,400 in commutation fees.” [37]

While an additional 74,000 men served as substitutes, the number pales in comparison to the nearly 800,000 who volunteered or reenlisted to serve while the act was in force. Only some six percent of the 2.7 million men who served in the Union Army were directly conscripted. Congress repealed the commutation provision in July 1864 and tightened requirements for exemptions.

The Federal government got into the bounty business as well with a $300 bounty for new enlistment and reenlistment, all paid for by the commutation fees collected by through the enrollment Act. To meet the demand “Bounty brokers” went into business to enlist men into the service, getting the best deal possible while themselves taking part of the profit. Some enterprising recruits “could pyramid local, regional, and national bounties into grants of $1000 or more,” [38] and some even took the chance to change their names, move to another and enlist again to collect more bounty money and many deserted before they ever saw combat. “They were so unreliable that any regiment that had them in large numbers was bound to be decidedly weaker than it would have been without them.” [39]

8th_Ohio_At_Gettysburg

The men who had been fighting since 1861 and 1862 who had served without bounties and had reenlisted anyway; the veterans of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg and so many other hard fought battles in the West and the East, despised the substitutes and bounty men of 1864, and the poor qualities of such men made the good soldiers look even better. These men were proud of their service, their regiments, and what they had achieved. One soldier from Illinois wrote to his sister: “It is hard for a person to imagine how much a man sacrifices in the way of pleasure and enjoyment by going into the ‘Army,’ but I never think I shall regret being in the ‘Army’ if I get out alive & well.” He did.” [40]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[4] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[5] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[6] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[7] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[9] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[10] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[11] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.233

[12] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[13] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War pp.233-234

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[15] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.234

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[17] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[20] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.173

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[23] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.173

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.38

[25] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[26] Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat, Pocket Books a division of Simon and Schuster, New York 1965 p.205

[27] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.636

[28] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.637

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.461

[31] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[33] Ibid. Catton Never Call Retreat p.205

[34] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[35] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.605

[37] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.236

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.606

[39] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

[40] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

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Politics! Politics! Politics! The Genius of Mel Brooks

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Next Tuesday is the South Carolina primary, and after all the hoopla in Iowa and New Hampshire I don’t know if I can stand the incessant political bombardment on the airwaves and the internet. As such I take a bit to get my fill so I know what is happening, and then retreat into my private world.

Sometimes that private world has some fascinating intersections with politics.  I love the movies of Mel Brooks and find them hysterically funny. Call me crude, uncultured or anyhting else you want to call me I find Brooks to be one of the most brilliant writers to ever grace film.  Despite some of the course language and frequent use of the double entendre employed I find that Brook’s films speak our current political climate in strikingly biting ways. Brooks had an amazing way of confronting ingrained prejudice, discrimination, racism, religious intolerance, and the massive economic, social, and political privileges enjoyed by the wealthy. What is amazing to me is that his movies have become classics and that four decades later they still are relevant to the political, social, economic issues that we face as well as the continued curse of racism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDxzIuhTROU

Both Blazing Saddles and History of the World Part I came out in times of political and economic turmoil. Like now when these films came out people were disillusioned and cynical about their political leaders.  The country was badly divided, racism was rampant while divisive social issues, a problem riddled military and economic malaise ruled the day.  The Soviet Union seemed to be on the ascendant while some were writing the obituary of the United States and Western Europe. There are a lot of similarities.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYqF_BtIwAU

In such difficult times most political leaders and their partisan followers are absolutely devoid of humor, as are most pundits and politically minded preachers.  As a result everything becomes personal, and anyone that deviates from the party line is “the enemy.”  This goes for partisans on both sides of the political chasm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk47saogI8o

Unfortunately our problems are multifaceted in scope, and deeper than the Marianas Trench.  Scandals have long been part and parcel of both the Legislative and Executive branches of our government.  As a people we seem to hate the sinner involved but love the scandal itself. The scandals titillate us and satiate our most wanton desires for reality entertainment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryvljjccqL8

Our corporate 24 hour news cycle thrives on them and even the slightest odor of a potential scandal sends the media into a frenzy. But many of the scandals while troubling seldom amount to a hill of beans. Meanwhile implicated office holder or official is incessantly beaten by the opposing media and sometimes even “friendly” media long after grounds for the scandal are shown to be false.  That being said there is a double standard because it is quite often that a truly guilt party gets off with no punishment, few are forced to resign from office, while even fewer ever end up in court for offenses that most of us would get jail time for doing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boO4RowROiw

More troubling from my point of view is the manner in which politicians at almost every level prostitute themselves in order to rake in political donations from big donors.  This is a bi-partisan problem.  Business, political action committees, and special interest groups of all varieties participate in getting in bed with those in power. I think one of the most egregious examples are the Koch brothers, but they are not alone. In the midst of the money driven depravity for power the actual needs of constituents or the greater good of the country are seldom address. God forbid a constituent show up at a town hall meeting and ask hard questions or state opposition to their representative’s position.  Sometimes those who have the courage to do so are physically assaulted by the supporters of the politician, forcibly removed and sometimes arrested.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZegQYgygdw

The average congressman spends a third or more his or her time in office raising money for the next election, some spend more than 50% of their time raiding campaign contributions.  The thing is that money talks and if you look at any major legislation who will see a direct correlation of money to the votes of congress. Again, both parties are guilty of this and they do it every day. Is it a wonder that Congress has single digit approval ratings?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XfqlbFvGN8

Is it any wonder that the President barely polls 40% approval?  Is it any wonder that grass roots Tea Party members and the progressives that by and large make up the Occupy Wall Street movement are in the streets?  True partisans on both sides deride the opposing movement but the fact that so many people are upset shows that our political system as we know it is broken and may not last.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDxzIuhTROU

Now I admit that was an awfully serious interlude. However, it sets the stage for the humor of Mel Brooks.  Like I said in the beginning I love the humor of Mel Brooks. He is a comic genius and understands that humor is often more effective in making political and social commentary than almost any other means. Both Blazing Saddles and The History of the World Part One had wonderful if crude satire about politics and speak volumes about our political condition and how many people feel about their government.  I am putting a few clips from both films here and let them do the talking with no commentary from me.  Have fun and enjoy even as you cringe at how accurate Brooks’ commentary is today.  You would think that he is a prophet.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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From the Ashes of Ferguson

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last night I watched in horror as a community destroyed itself. I had hoped and prayed that no-matter what decision was reached that there would be no violence in Ferguson. But there was and it resulted in even more damage to an already scarred community.

The blame for this can be spread around because there are so many who share in it that it is almost overwhelming to think about. There are the actions of the individuals involved to include the dead teenager, Michael Brown and there are the actions of the man who killed him, Officer Darren Wilson.

If indeed Brown attacked Wilson, he shares some responsibility for his death. Wilson has a degree of responsibility even if he was acting without malice and reacted out of what he believed to be legitimate fear for his safety, simply because he pulled the trigger. Wilson basically testified that he acted out of fear, but the witness closest to the scene saw no such fear and stands by his story and there are critical discrepancies in the transcripts of what he said to police investigators and what he testified to in the grand jury.

I know many police officers and in most states what Officer Wilson did would have resulted in some sort of indictment, not necessarily a conviction but an indictment but Missouri state law gives the officer the benefit of all doubt. Howard Fineman noted today that “the Missouri state legislature has chosen repeatedly to ignore a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1985, which held that a police officer cannot use lethal force against a fleeing suspect unless the officer has reason to believe the suspect is armed and an immediate threat to public order.”

Instead, a police officer in Missouri can shoot a person the officer believes to be a fleeing felon. Period. Not to mention that the officer can shoot one who is moving toward him in a threatening manner.”

The fact is that I have not yet read all of the testimony because there is so much being released. What I have read so far paints a picture that could be interpreted very differently than was the decision of the grand jury dealing with the death of Michael Brown and the actions of Officer Wilson.

I am going to try to over the weekend to instead of letting pundits tell me what to believe, to read what was presented to the grand jury. Likewise from what I know of grand jury proceedings as well as probable cause hearings, it is almost unheard of for a grand jury at state, local or federal level not to return an indictment. Prosecutors generally don’t lose at a grand jury hearing. It almost seems to be that the prosecutor here did not try to get an indictment. That to me just seems fishy.

That being said, as a historian I know that all of the accounts presented, even those of the people who believed that they were being absolutely honest in their accounts, are subject to distortion, and not being completely true.

I will do this because my first duty as a citizen is to the truth, even if it challenges what we believe. I support the police, I know many officers, some white, some African American, some of whom that serve in incredibly dangerous communities. I give those that put themselves in harm’s way incredible leeway and discretion in the conduct of their duties. That being said police officers are human too, they are capable of having and acting upon the same prejudices and committing crimes, even while on duty, or of being subject to fear, and making mistakes, mistakes that sometimes result in tragedy.

Likewise there are the actions and inactions of the police and local government bodies to build trust in the community. In many places, especially in the historic states that belonged to the ante-Bellum South, including border states like Missouri many communities refuse to admit a problem, much less take actions to mitigate it.

There is a lack of standardization and training among police forces to train officers to deal with situations like the one that occurred between Wilson and Brown that night without resorting to deadly force. This is often a systemic problem brought about by fear, prejudice and lack of training in means other than the use of deadly force to subdue a threat.

But on the other hand there are the actions of criminal elements and others who use tragedies such as what happened in this case, who justify burning and looting the homes and businesses of their neighbors. These people are just as responsible for the tragedy of Ferguson, a tragedy that they used to bring unwarranted suffering to their neighbors.

There are the actions of the politicians, pundits and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” who use events like this to whip their followers into a rage in order to maintain their power. There are the actions of outside forces, including extremist groups including the KKK, other White Supremacist groups as well as the New Black Panthers who have used the event to talk up violence.

There are the media agitators that allegedly support either the victim or the police officer who work other whip people across the nation into factions who hate each other. Much of this has been facilitated by the recklessness of people in the media, and officials in government who spread rumors, partial facts, and speculation as near gospel truth to sway the opinion of people to their point of view, the truth be damned.

This was compounded by the incompleteness of the initial police investigation which due to the incompetence of those conducting it resulted in the contamination of the crime scene that certainly had an effect on “the facts” that were presented to the grand jury.

Likewise there were some alleged eyewitnesses to the killing who gave one version of “facts” to the media or on their social media connections, only to recant, change or alter those statements when under oath, giving the grand jury members different information than they had to the public. Those who did such things share responsibility, for they have contributed to this.

That being said, there are other eyewitnesses who maintained their testimony and saw their testimony discounted by the grand jury in favor of the testimony of Officer Wilson. This is just some examples and the list can go on and on and on. There is also an endemic and systematic racism which remains ingrained in our society but few people want to acknowledge it.

To me as a historian it almost seems that the lack of acknowledgment is evidence that the racial attitudes of the ante-Bellum South as well as the Jim Crow era still reign supreme in our land. In fact those who even suggest that it might exist are labeled as racist by right wing politicians, pundits and preachers, especially the politically charged preachers.

It is an Orwellian world. When a man like Mike Huckabee, a man that wants to be President and who embodies all three parts of the Trinity of Evil, being a politician, preacher and pundit all wrapped in one, can label those who protested the killing of Michael Brown peacefully as the moral equivalent of the murderer of Medger Evers, something is seriously amiss.

We do need to address issues the of economic disparity, the problems in education, and the de-facto racial and economic segregation of many communities, problems often brought about by the intentional policies of local governments and economic institutions. We need to address the serious issues of racial, religious sexual, and sexual orientation discrimination, both real and perceived; and the issues of inequities in the criminal justice system, the breakdown of families and a host of other issues that fueled the rage that ignited the conflagration we witnessed in Ferguson.

But the bottom line is that a young man, Michael Brown is dead, a community destroyed and a nation divided. Michael Brown cannot be brought back to life, and even if he was complicit by his actions in his death, he did not deserve to die and the actions of the prosecutor and the grand jury not to indict Officer Wilson demonstrate to many that the life of a black teenager is of decidedly lesser value than a white man. Would that same grand jury allowed Officer Wilson to walk if he had killed an unarmed white teenager?

Sadly to one degree or another, this is our entire fault as citizens. At the minimum most of us no matter what our race or place on the political spectrum are complicit in how we allow the media and government to shape the truth and never critically examine the facts to separate them from the spin. Most people don’t take the time to wait for the facts before we make up our minds on an issue. Many people choose believe the worst about other people, especially those that we believe are “different” than us based on the words of the Trinity of Evil without ever taking the time to know or understand them.

Many people do not take the time to get to know our neighbors much less than the people on the other side of town who are different than us, those that are not in our social class, economic status, race, religion or culture. Egged on by politicians, pundits and preachers of hate that profit and keep power by spreading fear; we end up fearing those who are not like us.

Doctor King asked a question that all of us must ask today. He said:

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

We must break the chain of evil that leads to what we have been watching in Ferguson. It matters so much if we are to have true reconciliation. It matters if we are to be able to ask each other for forgiveness and admit our own responsibility for the state of our country. It matters if we are able to come together as Americans to overcome our divisions and build a better future. Nelson Mandela who suffered unjustly for years in the apartheid prisons of South Africa knew the reality of what has to be done to break the shackles of evil and walk into freedom. Mandela said:

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

But all of this takes serious soul searching and hard work on all of our part. The task will not be easy, but it was the dream of Doctor King who had a dream, a dream that I choose still to believe possible.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

I have faith to believe with Doctor King:

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

And I have the hope to believe the promise of Doctor King who in his “I have a dream” speech said:

“And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring! And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

Protests are still in order and should continue, but they should be absolutely peaceful and non-violent to maintain the moral high ground. These protests should continue until laws are changed, and justice done.

But protest alone cannot be the final measure, and violence is no solution and only makes things worse. There has to be a deliberate effort of all to bring reconciliation and to have a change in our own hearts. Nelson Mandela said:

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Mandela also said something that if things in this country are to change that all of us need to take to heart. He said:

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

Somehow, we as citizens, neighbors and must heed the words of Doctor King and Mr. Mandela if we are to rebuild the dream out of the ashes of Ferguson.

Like both of these men, I too am an optimist and I will work with my brothers to see the day when we are all really free at last.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Character Sacrifice, Service in the Face of Blatant Racism and the Dream that Cannot be Stopped: Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis Sr and Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr.

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last Friday, October 25th was the 73rd anniversary of the promotion of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis to the Rank of Brigadier General in the United States Army. In 1940 as the nation prepared for war many experienced officers were being promoted, some to Flag or General Officer rank. However, Colonel Davis was different, he was black.

Seldom do we take the time to remember that it really wasn’t that long ago that African Americans were for all practical purposes less than full citizens. Jim Crow laws, discrimination, segregation and impediments to voting were the norm in much of the country. Separate but equal was that mantra of racists in power. Blacks no matter how educated, how patriotic or how successful were discriminated against, held back and in far to many cases the target of hatred, violence and even murder. It was in such a climate that Benjamin O Davis served as an officer in the US Army.

While American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. much of his hard fought success was brought about by men and women who served in the military, or for that matter played the game of baseball in an exemplary manner in an otherwise whiter than white bread world.

Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States. Something some leaders attempt today through the use of voter purges that target Blacks, hispanics and other minorities. Sad to day that some things don’t change. Racists are still racists.

In 1922 Carrie Williams Clifford published the poem The Black Draftee from Georgia which alluded to to the lynching of Wilbur Little, a soldier and veteran of the First World War  who was lynched by a mob for wearing his uniform after being warned not to:

What though the hero-warrior was black?
His heart was white and loyal to the core;
And when to his loved Dixie he came back,
Maimed, in the duty done on foreign shore,
Where from the hell of war he never flinched,
Because he cried, “Democracy,” was lynched.

 Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

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 Buffalo Soldiers in the 1880s 

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.

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 Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippines 

He was initially the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major. He was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines counterinsurgency campaign and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.

Early in his career Davis was assigned in various positions including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

He continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis. After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.

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Benjamin O Davis Jr in WWII

In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.  In July 1942 the younger Davis was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks.

He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332nd Fighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99th shot down 12 German aircraft.

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Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes. Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

 Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and let the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.

Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked “My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. Today many African Americans as well as members of other minorities including racial minorities, women and gays serve with distinction in the military. What they do today is in many part a direct result of the courage, character and convictions of men like Benjamin O Davis Sr and Benjamin O Davis Jr.

Unfortunately the struggle for equality is never over and current generation will have to work just as hard to ensure that the freedoms won at so great a cost are not lost. General Colin Powell, the first Black man to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State commented in 1994:

“I stand here today as a direct descendant of those Buffalo Soldiers and of the Tuskegee Airmen and all the black men and women who have served the nation in uniform, I will never forget my debt to them. I didn’t just show up. I climbed on the backs of those who never had the kind of opportunity that I had.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, Military, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Four Little Girls: The Birmingham Church Bombing 50 Years Later

MCNAIR ROBERTSON COLLINS WESLEY

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 50 years ago today. At 1022 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Most people also do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham. Even before that Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham” because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day and 22 other church members were wounded in an attack carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace.

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The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

It was a heinous crime and an act of cold blooded premeditated murder which maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer many people across the nation had an eye on the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers had raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Not only was the attack heinous, but the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Chambliss was identified by a witness and was not charged with the bombing, simply having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six month jail sentence.

The FBI had investigated and discovered evidence against all four men but Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama, he re-opened the case and requested the FBI files. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 with ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. in 1964 Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight. Dr Martin Luther King Jr would die at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later. Many advances occurred. Many blacks have been elected to office, serve in the highest ranks of the military, two Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice have served as Secretary of State, one, Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States and one, Barak Obama elected as President. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology and while those may play a role the root of it is racism.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism in the country and not just the South. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to peel off just enough black and other poor or minority voters to ensure that they maintain power.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, even people of racial minorities can be racist. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter who it is targeted against and who does the targeting it is wrong and needs to be fought.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 1,007 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter who it is against.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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