I seemed to have missed the ethics trials for "Diaper Dave" Vitter, Larry "Blow Job" Craig and John "Screw Your Friends" Ensign, so I look forward to the upcoming Charles Rangel proceedings.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
There is no better example, for the moment anyway, of the Muslims Are Godless Heathens Who Want To Eat Our Children mentality than the mini-tempest over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque in Lower Manhattan.
Never mind that there already are over 100 mosques in New York, this place has been around for over 20 years without ruffling local sensibilities, that it is less a mosque than an education center, that its leader is a widely respected and way moderate dude and . . . oh, the joint isn't at Ground Zero but several blocks away.
Even supposedly intelligent people like Newt Gingrich (as opposed to xenophobic idiots like Sarah Palin) are peeing their pants over plans to move the mosque . . . er, Cordoba House education center from its present location a few blocks to 45 Park Place.
Their opposition is deeply ironic because Ground Zero already is an open-air mosque. That's right, Muslim prayers are said by the families of the dozens of Muslim victims who died on 9/11.
Oh, and did you know that there has long been a Japanese Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor?
Thursday, July 29, 2010
In the end -- or rather in the interim since the ruling is temporary -- a federal judge has come down on the side of common sense in striking down the most controversial aspect of Arizona's draconian new immigration enforcement law, which goes into effect today.
While saying that some aspects of the law can go into effect as scheduled, District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix issued a preliminary injunction against sections that called for officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times.
Bolton put those sections on hold while she continues to hear the larger issues in challenges to the law.
"There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens," Bolton wrote. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."
The law has become a political lightning rod nationally with members of the Republican-dominated state legislature and Republican Governor Jan Brewer making unsubstantiated claims about why it was needed, chiefly the assertion that most illegal immigrants are drug dealers. In fact, crime has been dropping in Arizona despite a surge in immigration.
More recently, extreme right-wingers have claimed that Afghan soldiers studying English at a Texas military base are going AWOL and are being smuggled across the border by Mexican women wearing large skirts. Honest.
Polls show a majority of Americans support the notion of local police assisting in federal immigration enforcement, but in Arizona the law has led to an economic boycott that has impacted the state's important tourist industry.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
DANIEL ELLSBERG: 'MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA'For those of us of a certain age, the unauthorized publication this weekend of 92,000 pages of military documents that show in sharp relief the extent of the Afghanistan quagmire calls to mind the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top secret Pentagon study that . . . well, showed in sharp relief the extent of the Vietnam quagmire.
And like the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked by former Defense Department aide Daniel Ellsberg, the outcry over the WikiLeaks.org document dump will have more to do with whether The New York Times and other publications should have published them, although it's a safe bet that the Obama administration will not take the lead of the Nixon administration, which went all the way to the Supreme Court to block publication, as well as broke into Ellsberg's office.
(The high court, in a liberal interpretation of the First Amendment that would be unthinkable today, ruled 6-3 that the administration's prior-restraint injunctions against publication failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required.)* * * * *There is another similarity as well: The Pentagon Papers, in a turn of phrase that has become part of the American lexicon, concluded the U.S. was "losing the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people, while the Afghan documents reveal a horrifying number of incidents in which innocents have been killed because of indiscriminate air and drone strikes, as well as troops shooting unarmed drivers and motorcyclists while trying to protect themselves from suicide bombers.
And one more similarity: As James Fallows helpfully recalls, perhaps the most damning aspect of the Pentagon Papers was the inclusion of a high-level memo stating the reasons that the U.S. should -- and did -- stay the course. To avoid a humiliating defeat was ranked at 70 percent, while keeping South Vietnam from Chinese hands came in at 20 percent and permitting the South Vietnamese to enjoy a freer way of life a mere 10 percent.
Which begs the question of why the Obama administration is doubling down in Afghanistan with the knowledge, vividly conveyed in the document dump, that we're losing Afghan hearts and minds, the Taliban are stronger than ever, Pakistani intelligence is in bed with the Taliban, and there is no indication that the strategies implemented in South Asia -- from the post-9/11 invasion to the present day -- stood or stand the slightest chance of working.* * * * *The Afghan document dump was not totally without surprises.
There is mention of the hitherto unknown Task Force 373, a "black" unit of special forces that hunts down and assassinates Afghan policemen and civilians, revelations that Osama bin Laden's trail may not have been as cold as the Bush administration would have liked us to believe, and that remote-controlled drones aren't as successful as they have been portrayed to be.
Meanwhile, one "surprise" cited by several pundits should be anything but: That some of the Stinger missiles that the CIA so indiscriminately funneled to the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation are being used against U.S. troops, and in one case brought down a helicopter.
Oh, and anyone who is surprised that Washington, Kabul and Islamabad, let alone informed citizens in those countries, are shocked just shocked by the disclosures must have been in a coma. It is for this reason that I find Joe Kline's comparison of the document dump to the Tet Offensive to be disingenuous, and not just because 2010 is not 1968.
The offensive, which was a huge propaganda victory for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong although not a military victory, blindsided an increasingly restive American public. Not so the case today. People across the political spectrum already are restive, while as noted here only yesterday, young men aren't being drafted by the hundreds of thousands as they were at the height of the Vietnam War, which has tended to keep the domestic rabble in check.* * * * *The Guardian, which along with the Times and Der Spiegel was given the documents, sums them up best in an editorial:Amen.
"[A] very different landscape is revealed from the one with which we have become familiar. These war logs – written in the heat of engagement – show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised "public" war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting. . . .
"However you cut it, this is not an Afghanistan that either the US or Britain is about to hand over gift-wrapped with pink ribbons to a sovereign national government in Kabul. Quite the contrary. After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm. A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this."
Monday, July 26, 2010
Well they say time loves a hero/but only time will tell/If he's real, he's a legend from heaven/If he ain't he was sent here from hell.-- LITTLE FEATHas there ever been a sustained American war without heroes? World War I had Sergeant York, World War II had Audie Murphy, the Korean War had Bill Earlywine, and the Vietnam War had David Hackworth. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hero-free, unless you consider the Bush administration's deceitful attempts to put Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman on pedestals.
Lynch, an Army private who was a file clerk, was captured by Iraqi troops in the first days of the invasion despite what was depicted as her fierce resistance, and according to the White House was saved by a daring rescue led by Army Rangers and Navy Seals. In truth, she was never armed and her captors had fled.
Tillman, a pro football player who threw away a multi-million dollar contract to become an Army Ranger, was cited for heroic actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan that took his life. In truth, he was killed by friendly fire and may have been murdered, and a years-long Pentagon cover-up ensued.* * * * *The short answer as to why there have been no post-9/11 war heroes would seem to be that both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been deeply unpopular, but it is not that simple.
As retired Army Lieutenant Colonel William Astore points out, it seems like only military commanders are portrayed in hero-like terms these days. General David Petraeus receives fawning media coverage because of his supposedly tide-turning Surge strategy in Iraq and his rescue of the U.S.'s Afghan mission after General Stanley McChrystal, another demi-god, was banished from the Pentagon temple.
I agree with Astore that the real answer lies in the increasingly amorphous nature of the War on Terror.
In both world wars and Korea, there were clearly defined enemies whose threat to democracy was unquestioned. That was the case in Vietnam until the war's underlying lies were revealed and public opinion turned against that war with a vengeance. Additionally, there were drafts for all three conflicts, whereas today's wars are being fought by all-volunteer forces, professional warriors don't evoke the outpouring of sympathy like the kid next door who went off to Verdun, Iwo Jima, Heartbreak Ridge or Khe San.
But the rationale for the Iraq war changed with the seasons, the Bush administration censored grizzly battlefield images, as well as footage of GIs returning in flag-draped coffins, and Americans in general were too preoccupied with shopping at the mall to pay much attention.
Afghanistan is even blurrier because the Bush administration starved that war of boots and resources in the service of going after Saddam Hussein, and while the war has been escalated on Obama's watch, media interest has flagged, and much of the action involves drone operators sitting at consoles in stateside bases and super-secret special forces who don't have reporters and camera crews in their midst.* * * * *The Congressional Medal of Honor is the U.S.'s highest military award. Given for extraordinary valor, 964 Medals of Honor were awarded for the four major 20th century wars, while a mere six have been awarded for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Primarily because U.S. forces have encountered very little close-up combat in either war, and certainly not the major firefights and sustained actions against organized enemy units as in 20th century wars.
Incidentally, the White House recently received a recommendation for a seventh recipient, a soldier who is being cited for bravery in Afghanistan. He would become the first living recipient since Vietnam.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I don't think that I would be exaggerating in saying that I probably shot 100 rolls of Kodak Kodachrome in the 40 years that I have had SLR cameras, as well as 400 more of Kodacolor.
So it was with nostalgia-tinged sadness that I read Kodak had ceased production of the high quality color-reversal film it introduced in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression.
Steve McCurry, well know for his 1984 Kodachrome portrait of Sharbat Gula (above), the so-called "Afghan Girl" published on the cover of National Geographic magazine, asked Kodak if he could shoot the last 36-frame roll manufactured.
MCurry had intended to use the last roll on capturing images around New York.
"Then we went to India, where I photographed a tribe that is actually on the verge of extinction. It's actually disappearing, the same way as Kodachrome," he explained.NG has closely documented the journey of the final roll of Kodachrome manufactured, down to its being processed.
Many moons ago, Yours Truly and some friends discovered a remote backwater in the Florida Keys that we dubbed Africa because of its mangroves and verdant flora and fauna. Obscured from the road by a heap of rusted automobiles, it remained our secret for years.
Friday, July 23, 2010
MR. PEABODY, SHERMAN AND THE WABAC MACHINE
Is today's Republican Party really as indistinguishable from the Confederacy as some people suggest?
That is because a century and a half ago, global warming was not a scientifically-proven phenomenon that the GOP could nevertheless deny.
The long-term unemployed, most of them jobless because of the Bush Recession, would not have been castigated as laggards not deserving of federal help.
No one would suggest, as the party's leading intellectual light did this week, that a mosque should not be built within hailing distance of Ground Zero because there are no Christian churches in Saudi Arabia.
All that so noted, even after taking in decades of the kind of political wind-breaking that makes global warming seem like small beer, I am deeply saddened that today's Republican Party has an undeniable neo-fascist bent.
That it unashamedly consorts with racists and is in the thrall of a former half-term governor who is capable of being nominated as the GOP standard bearer in 2012, as well as her Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck led pom-pom squad.* * * * *"The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" was a Saturday morning cartoon staple in the 1960s that included the WABAC Machine, a plot device used to transport the characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman back in time.
Compared to today's GOP, what great figures in the Party of Lincoln's history that moved America forward -- as opposed to backwards -- might the cartoon duo go back in time to visit?
Well, Honest Abe himself, for openers, who became the first president of a party created to fight an inhumane institution that many Southern GOP leaders today conveniently overlook lest they roil their pickup-truck-with-gun rack base.
Then there was Theodore Roosevelt, a latter day Republican, who took on big business, embraced Everyman, fought corruption and was the first president to invite a black man to break bread with his family at the White House.
Finally, there was Dwight Eisenhower, who expanded Social Security and got the Interstate Highway System rolling.
In retrospect, that is astonishingly few people.
And a perhaps not surprising perspective on today's party being more representative of its past than one would expect.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
There is a certain familiarity about how the Shirley Sherrod incident has played out:
A black official is lashed for perceived racism by a pack of white attack dogs led by Andrew Breitbart, with an ample assist from Fox News, because of remarks she made in a heavily edited videotape.
The unedited tape clearly exonerates the official but the damage is done, in large part because a seemingly helpless mainstream news media is swept up in the tsunami of right-wing offal.
And this time is made worse by a knee-jerk Obama administration that did not have the spine to wait until the entire story was known before it gave the official the hook, then had to backtrack with a series of embarrassing apologies that called into question its competence, and made obvious its quaking fear of Fox.
This is not the first time such a scenario has occurred, let alone the first time that the detestable Breitbart has led what is in effect an electronic lynching.
If there is anything different this time around, it's that some of the most pointed criticism of Breitbart has come from conservatives who insist that Sherrod should be reinstated. She has been offered her old job back, but would be a fool to accept.
Will Bunch has it exactly right when he writes:
"It's hard to say here what is more pathetic about the Obama administration right now: Their rank cowardice or their political stupidity. The politiical stupidity comes from a supposedly change-minded White House worrying so much about the reactions of 15-20 million Beck-Limbaugh-Drudge fans who wouldn't vote for Obama if he rang their doorbell with the severed head of Osama bin Laden in one hand and a federal tax refund for $1 million in the other. Look, the real fight come Election Day is not over them but the less-politically obsessed in the middle -- most of these folks could care less about Shirley Sherrod but they do care whether their commander-in-chief looks strong, or appears weak. And to hijack the old cliche, how will the White House stand up to our real enemies when its knees buckle at the mere mention of Glenn Beck or Andrew Breitbart?"
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The next time they get around to putting up monuments to unsung heroes, an unassuming lawyer by the name of Kenneth Feinberg will rate several.
There should be a monument, perhaps at the site of the former Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan, for the extraordinary job -- pro bono, no less -- Feinberg did administering the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. He personally presided over more than 900 of 1,600 family hearings before eventually awarding a total of $7 billion to 97 percent of the families. The average payout was $1.8 million.
There also should be a monument, for sure on Wall Street, for the extraordinary job that Feinberg did as the Obama administration's compensation czar in determining how to set the pay for 175 top executives at seven of the nation's largest companies that received hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money in the depths of the Bush Recession in order to survive.
Now the unassuming 64-year-old has been tasked with managing the $20 billion BP fund to compensate those harmed by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and knowing Feinberg as we do, they should get their fair share. And it will be time for yet another Kenneth Feinberg monument.
Photograph by Brett Duke/The Times-Picayune
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Book Review: Norrell's 'Up From History' & Restoring Booker T. Washington To His Rightful Place As A Civil-Rights Hero
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2009, BUT ONCE AGAIN APROPOS GIVEN THE TEA PARTY-NAACP CONTROVERY)
As a child of the 1960s, my view of Booker T. Washington was shaped by the contemporary belief that while the famous founder of Tuskegee Institute was a civil-rights trailblazer in some respects, he was an Uncle Tom for having acquiesced in the rampant racial discrimination that was now being challenged by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. But he did find an amazing number of things to make from peanuts.
That whites like myself -- and some blacks, as well -- confuse Booker T. Washington with George Washington Carver, the great botanist, is a symptom of how Washington's star has gone into eclipse and has remained so, with annual time-outs for Black History Month. This makes the recently published Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell a welcome corrective for a true American hero whose legacy changing attitudes about civil rights have distorted.
Norrell, a University of Tennessee history professor, cuts right to the chase at the outset of this very fine book in noting that Washington detractors of the 1960s and since -- including a goodly number of historians who accuse him of outright villainy because Dr. King's embrace of protest would have been anathema to him -- fall into the trap of applying contemporary expectations to a man who lived generations earlier.
Yet Washington also was vilified by some of his most prominent contemporary peers, notably W.E.B. DuBois, the leading voice for a bloc of northern blacks who believed Washington's emphasis on self help and refusal to embrace more militant actions to be antithetical to their cause. DuBois was to supplant the soft-spoken educator as the leading black voice of the early 20th century.* * * * *Washington was born into slavery in 1856 on a farm in Hale's Ford, Virginia. His mother was a slave and father a white plantation owner and his given name Booker Taliaferro, but during childhood he was only known as Booker.
With emancipation in 1865, he migrated with his mother Jane and brother and sister to Malden in Kanawha County, West Virginia, to join his stepfather, Washington Ferguson. Booker's mother was the major influence on his schooling, and although she couldn't read herself, she bought her son spelling books and enrolled him in an elementary school where he took the last name of Washington when he learned that other children had more than one name.
Leaving Malden at age 16, Washington enrolled at the Hampton (Virginia) Normal and Agricultural Institute, where he got his first lessons in personal hygiene, something that he was to tirelessly emphasize throughout his career as an educator.
"Many students lacked basic knowledge of conventional living standards: Issued two sets of sheets, Booker slept the first night on top of both and the second night under both before discovering the pleasure of rest between the two."
Washington excelled at Hampton as a student and then a teacher, and in the spring of 1881, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who was president of Hampton and Washington's mentor, told him about a request from Tuskegee, Alabama, for a white man to organize and run a normal school. The general had replied that he knew of no good white candidates, but had "a very competent capable mulatto, clear headed, modest, sensible, polite and thorough teacher and superior man . . . the best man we ever had here."
At the time of his departure for Alabama, Norrell writes that:
"Booker had learned a lot about how the world worked. Experience had taught him that one job done well naturally led to a bigger and better assignment. Conflict was best avoided, and Booker was careful about expressing opinions that he knew would be rejected -- for instance, his abiding interest in politics in spite of General Armstrong's disapproval of black political engagement. He had learned that although government power had freed the slaves and protected them during Reconstruction, the bitter and unfair terms of the Reconstruction settlement had also made politics an unpromising, indeed dangerous, place for an ambitious young black man to focus his energy."
Washington also understood that while emancipation had been the major event of his life, black southerners had little freedom.
By the end of his first year at Tuskegee Institute, then nothing more than a cluster of shacks, 26-year-old Washington had experienced first hand the many ways that whites oppressed blacks in the rural South and he became determined -- and succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and to much future controversy -- in making it what for the time was a model community of race relations.
"Creating a path up from history at Tuskegee involved ignoring most of the past. The image of the model community, Booker Washington knew, had to be made compatible with southern white nationalists' fictions about the Old South, the Lost Cause, and Black Reconstruction, because those illusions were already fixed in the southern white nationalists' minds. The fiction of a model community encouraged the belief among whites that blacks had no reason to complain about racial conditions, and it prevented blacks from engaging in the dangerous actions of criticizing how they were treated. . . . The myth bought Booker the space and time he needed to do his work. He knew what he was doing, even if he never said it explicitly. He would become a master of indirection, of the hidden hand of action; but he did so because he had to."
Under Washington's deft leadership, Tuskegee grew by leaps and bounds. His students literally built the school, constructing classrooms, barns and outbuildings, growing their own crops and raising livestock while learning trades and academics that they could take back to rural black communities throughout the South. Most of the school's endowment came from wealthy northerners who literally bought into Washington's vision, including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
"Every black operator of a sawmill, brickyard, printing press, or tin shop made whites dependent on a black man rather than vice versa. Economic success led to property ownership, which would result in black landlords and black moneylenders. The white man whose mortgage was held by a black would not prevent that Negro from voting, and therefore through commercial life the Negro would realize all his rights in the South. Booker promised that 'a white man respects a negro who owns a two-story brick house.' "
Yet those white nationalists were unrelenting. As we are repeatedly reminded in Up From History, the disenfranchisement of blacks who had been granted their freedom with Emancipation and certain other rights after the Civil War continued apace throughout the South, while there was an epidemic of lynchings, some in the North.
In 1895, Thomas Harris, a black lawyer in Tuskegee, sponsored a visiting white preacher. Whites claimed that Harris was advocating equality between the races because the preacher had been seen around town with Harris's two young daughters. A white mob confronted Harris, shots rang out and the mob began chasing Harris to lynch him. He fled to Washington's house and begged for sanctuary. Washington had him hidden and then arranged to have him secretly transported to Montgomery.
While Harris was grateful for the help, Washington was bitterly criticized by some black newspaper editors and others -- none of them from the Deep South -- for not providing the lawyer asylum.
"No explanation was ever made, of course, because Booker simply could not afford for local whites to know that he had interfered with their vigilantism. Public knowledge of the actual events would not only have enraged local whites but would also have exposed as a lie the myth that both he and whites maintained about Tuskegee as a model community. If blacks far from Tuskegee chose to condemn his actions, Booker nevertheless had to live with the criticism, because it was simply too dangerous to tell the truth. His was a precarious existence, and his survival depended on never forgetting that white men could end it on a whim."* * * * *But Washington thought that there might be a way to defend blacks while gaining the respect of middle-class whites. Later in 1895, he sought to do just that in a keynote address at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta where, unlike previous national expositions and fairs, blacks had been included.
Washington, writes Norrell, suggested that goal near the end of an address that became known as the Atlanta Compromise speech:
"[H]e pledged to help 'work out the great and intricate problem which God had laid at the doors of the South.' He wanted to achieve a solution to the Negro Problem, indeed to end whites' discussion about erasing their enemies from their presence, to secure the survival of his race. . . . If he could halt the erosion of black rights, and the corollary degeneration of blacks' image in whites' minds, black progress remained possible. He did not acknowledge the converse: if the downward spiral continued, the pressure for a violent solution to the Negro Problem would only build to more dangerous levels. The survival of African Americans in the United States would be in real jeopardy.
"That day Booker T. Washington began trying to turn the momentum of history in a different direction -- indeed, upward -- and to give whites a new way of viewing blacks, a task that had become the main purpose of his life. The continued existence of his people depended on acceptance of his proposed settlement, and he started to work for it."
The speech made Washington a national celebrity overnight and with the death of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass earlier that year, he became the presumptive leader of American blacks.
Washington, whom Norrell notes had rarely sought the limelight to burnish his own image, accepted his new role without hesitation. To him it was simply a bigger and better assignment because of other jobs done well.
What he seems not to have been prepared for was how physically exhausting this new role would be -- he spent more and more of his life on trains, sometimes being forced to sit in so-called Jim Crow cars -- as well as how his every utterance was subject to bitter criticism. This was not just from otherwise sympathetic whites who incorrectly interpreted the Atlanta speech as an acceptance of permanent second-class status, but some members of his inner circle and outspoken northern black leaders, as well. The latter were typically Ivy League educated but lacked the brutalizing experiences that Washington and southern blacks had suffered. These leaders, of course, all believed in protest as the best course.
In 1898, mass lynching of blacks in the Carolinas drove home the reality that blacks lived only at the sufferance of white nationalists, a reality further hammered home as momentum built in southern states to repeal the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibits states denying a person the right to vote based on race. Washington entered the disenfranchisement fight, but did so surreptitiously.
People pressed Washington for his position on white terrorists and disenfranchisement and his responses often were defensive. He claimed that he said the same thing to audiences in the North as he did in the South, which was not true because the things he said in the North would anger white southerners.
"Washington's self-serving and partly untruthful response showed that he had yet to learn how to cope with a crisis. His unsteadiness had led him to lie publicly, always a dangerous strategy in the emerging modern age of mass communications. . . . Events showed Washington that the only role open to him was that of the fox. To play the lion was to invite disaster. It was a bitter lesson that showed the limits of his ability to lead his race. A black leader who could not speak freely was not able to pursue equal economic and educational advancement. But if he owned up to that fact, he would be accepting that blacks' hopes for improvement were futile, and he knew that progress would not grow from despair."In 1900 and 1901, Washington published two autobiographies that captured, albeit somewhat unintentionally, his two faces: The southern face that honored the Lost Cause and the northern face that was committed to racial equality.
The Story of My Life and Work is not unlike a slave narrative and told of his rise from humble beginnings to become the leader of his race, while Up From Slavery is a thoroughly revised version of the first book and, as Norrell notes, mimicks Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the most important African-American biography to date.
Up From Slavery quickly became a bestseller. A subsequent dinner invitation by Theodore Roosevelt made Washington the first African American to visit the White House as the guest of the president. Blacks took an immense pride in the symbolism of the event but southern bigots were horrified.
James K. Vardaman, the future Mississippi governor and U.S. senator, proclaimed that Roosevelt had insulted every white man in America: "President Roosevelt takes this nigger bastard into his home, introduces him to his family and entertains him on terms of absolute social equality. . . . [The White House is] so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable."* * * * *Washington would spend much of the last 15 years of his life in verbal fisticuffs with W.E.B. Du Bois, a man who was as prideful as Washington was humble.
The men had known each other since 1894, Du Bois had written approvingly of the Atlanta address and defended Washington from attacks from other blacks, but they were very different men and those differences became apparent by the early 1900s when Du Bois was unquestionably the most distinguished black scholar in the U.S. and began a campaign to supplant Washington as the leading black voice.
"Du Bois was vastly better educated than Booker Washington. Du Bois admired European culture, whereas Washington assumed that the American way of life was inherently better. Du Bois appreciated cities and universities as the places that fostered thought and culture. Washington was suspicious of urban life and assumed that the best places in America, especially for blacks, were rural."
In an essay titled "What Booker Would Tell Barack," history professor and blogger Jelani Cobb writes that Du Bois saw Washington's approach "as virtual race treason. . . . Economic accomplishments were meaningless, he argued, without the political power to protect them. There were always subtler shades to their positions but the higher decibels tend to kill nuance."
As Cobb further notes, "By any calculation, Du Bois not only won that argument but used the 20th century to run up the score."
Travel and Washington's obsessive dedication to Tuskegee took its toll. He suffered almost constant headaches and then collapsed in New York City in November 1915. Various New York physicians examined him, including one who announced to the press that he was showing signs of hardening of the arteries.
"Racial characteristics are, I think, in part responsible for Dr. Washington's breakdown," the doctor declared, a less than subtle declaration in the vernacular of the day that Washington had syphilis.
Washington was brought home to Tuskegee, where he died on November 14, 1915 at age 59. (The cause of death was not determined, but an examination of his medical records in 2006 with the permission of his descendants indicated that he died of hypertension with extremely high blood pressure.)
Three days later, thousands gather at the Tuskegee Institute chapel for a funeral where Washington's body lay in state.
Wrote a black magazine editor:
"No labored eulogies; no bastings of his great work; no gorgeous trappings of horses; no streaming banners; no mysterious ceremonies of lodges -- just the usual line of teachers, trustees, graduates, students and visitors which so often marched to the chapel just as it did Wednesday, and the simple and impressive -- impressive because simple -- service for the dead, said for the humblest, said so often for those who die, in all walks of life."
At his death, the school that Washington had single-handedly built had an endowment exceeded $1.5 million.* * * * *The ultimate achievement of Up From History is that Norrell deftly parts the sea of political correctness that has more recently defined Washington as The Great Equivocator by reminding us through meticulous research of the time and place in which he toiled. It is only in that context that he can be rightfully rehabilitated as an American civil-rights hero.
That rehabilitation does not come easily. Even after Washington's death Du Bois disparaged him, although ironically the next two great black leaders learned from his play book.
The first was Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, who like Washington emphasized self-help while adovacting racial nationalism, including a back-to-Africa movement.
Ironically, the second was Martin Luther King Jr., who at first invoked Washington's moral authority, quoting him in his early speeches as saying "Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him." But King was criticized for praising Washington, his call for a Washington-like self-help program was condemned as "dolled-up Uncle Tomism," and he eventually dropped references to him.
Norrell reminds us of what the blacks of the modern civil-rights movement have forgotten: Washington's efforts to sustain black morale at the nadir of their post-Emancipation struggle has to be counted among the most heroic efforts in American history:
"Booker T. Washington told his people that they would survive the dark present and, as far as possible, he showed them how to do so. By building an institution that demonstrated blacks' potential for success and autonomy, he gave them reasons to have faith in the future. Indeed, his life itself was an object lesson in progress, providing hope that black people could rise to something better. His determination to shape his own symbolism, and that of blacks as a group, should be marked as a shrewd and valiant effort to help his people survive. At many levels he succeeded in his purpose, for indeed they did move up from history, from a time of degradation and despair to a time when the promise of equality in American life became a real possibility."