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ejsimage

I tend to think of Emmett Jay Scott as one of those individuals upon whose shoulders giants stand. Though today he is largely unknown, during his lifetime he was a noted author, educator, activist and entrepreneur. For eighteen years he served as personal secretary to Booker T. Washington. He was Washington’s closest adviser, publicist and his friend. I knew of Emmett J. Scott because of previous research into Washington’s life and visually Scott was almost always at his side. Like Frederick Douglass, Washington was a figure well-photographed in his day. I accepted his presence but it wasn’t until  I chanced upon the book, Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War (1919), that I decided to learn more.

book-cover

The title page states that it is a complete and authentic narration, from official sources, of the participation of American soldiers of the Negro race in the World War for democracy, profusely illustrated with official photographs. I was captured by the words “profusely illustrated.” As I perused the book online I was astounded by both the words and imagery in a publication that has been somewhat lost to time as has its author.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Born in February 1873 in Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott was the child of ex-slaves. He attended Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, then worked a series of jobs before employment at a small Houston newspaper. He would eventually co-found the first African American newspaper in Houston, The Texas Freeman, and he would work with political activists like Norris Wright Cuney.  Impressed by Scott’s skills, Booker T. Washington, principal of Tuskegee Institute, hired him in 1897.

washingtontuskegee

Biographers note that “He became widely recognized as the leader of what was to later be known as the “Tuskegee Machine,” the group of people close to Booker T. Washington who wielded influence over the Black press, churches, and schools in order to promote Washington’s views.“[1] Like Washington, Scott believed that uplift for blacks would come through business development, the creation of strong financial institutions and nurturing economic self-sufficiency within African American communities. He ran the National Negro Business League founded by Washington in 1900. At Washington’s side, Scott was also active in U.S. politics at home and abroad. In 1909, Scott joined the American Commission to Liberia appointed by President Taft. After Washington died in 1915, Scott co-wrote a biography about his friend and mentor with Lyman Beecher Stowe, the grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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Scott in 1909 as part of the Liberian Commission

Following Washington’s death, Scott remained at Tuskegee and continued to promote Washington’s philosophy through endeavors like the National Negro Business League. As Scott and other black leaders like a young W. E. B. DuBois sought to identify future opportunities for advancement while celebrating current achievements, a storm brewed across the nation.  The early 1900s was a tumultuous period. Race riots proliferated and not just in the South as highlighted in this 1900 dispatch from Columbia, South Carolina regarding a New York riot.

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A 1908 Springfield, IL riot and lynching prompted ministers, both black and white, to speak directly to the incident. From a New York pulpit, the Rev. Dr. Madison C. Peter’s would remark:

peterswords

Seven years before Thomas Dixon’s book would be brought to the big screen by D. W. Griffith as Birth of a Nation, Peters  would go on to add, “We are reaping what we have allowed to be sown. Dixon’s novels and Tillman’s speeches have been a menace to the best interests of our republic … keeping alive the race antagonism North and South, which is setting men at one another’s throats when their hands should be clasped in brotherly love.

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Thomas Dixon Jr.

In 1910 when black fighter Jack Johnson beat white fighter James Jeffries in Reno, Nevada in a fight dubbed “the fight of the century” riots broke out across the nation.

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Jack Johnson

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Meanwhile, by 1914, war raged in Europe. The U.S. would eventually join. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany in order to make the world safe for democracy.  The Selective Service Act of 1917 temporarily authorized the government to raise an army through the compulsory enlistment of Americans. The resulting American Expeditionary Force would be sent to Europe under the command of General John J. Pershing.

pershing

Pershing

When the U.S entered the war, it was unclear what the role of black soldiers was to be, assuming there was to be any role at all. After much discussion and vociferous debate it was decided all American men were needed in this Great War, and Emmett Jay Scott was to play a pivotal role in their involvement. As one biographer notes:

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Robert R. Moton, President of Tuskegee and President Woodrow Wilson

…there was considerable uneasiness as to what would be the status of the Negro in the war and quite naturally Tuskegee Institute was one of the centers which helped in adjusting these conditions. Dr. Moton, Principal, and Mr. Scott, made frequent visits to New York and Washington, and were constantly in consultation with the authorities at Washington. Out of these discussions and together with the activities of other agencies working towards the same end, the Officer’s Training Camp for Negro Officers was established at Des Moines, Iowa, and later, following a conversation between Dr. Moton and Mr. Scott, Dr. Moton interviewed President Wilson and suggested that a colored man be designated as an Assistant or Advisor in the War Department to pass upon various matters affecting the Negro soldiers who were then being inducted into the service and as the result, Mr. Scott went to Washington on October 1st, 1917, and from then until July 1st, 1919, served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War.” [2]

draftees

draftees

Over a million African Americans responded to their draft calls and nearly three-quarters of a million served. Even as hundreds of thousands stepped forward to answer Wilson’s call, “race antagonism” continued unbridled. On July 2, 1917, a riot broke out in East St. Louis between black and white workers that left over a hundred blacks dead. In a July 4th address, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt preceded his war address to remark, “There has just occurred in a northern city a most lamentable tragedy. We who live elsewhere would do well not to be self-righteous about it, for it was produced by causes which might at any time produce just such results in any of the communities in which we individually dwell.

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Even as over one hundred indictments were being made in the St. Louis incident, an altercation took place in Houston, TX between black soldiers stationed at Camp Logan and white residents. In the end, according to one source, “Three military court-martial proceedings convicted 110 soldiers. Sixty-three received life sentences and thirteen were hung without due process. The army buried their bodies in unmarked graves.” [3]

Emerging out of the resulting nationwide protests was the question – if we are to make the world safe for democracy shouldn’t we make America safe for democracy?

 

soldiers-from-chicago

soldiers from chicago arriving in france

Despite outright discrimination, verbal and physical abuses, and segragation among troops, African Americans served with distinction at every level (as they had in previous engagements like the Spanish-American War).

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troop 367th known as the buffaloes

Today I know of many people, of diverse backgrounds, who have no idea of the significant role of African Americans in World War I. Why is that? In part, it is because the visuals were not produced or those that were produced — the illustrations, the paintings, the photography — were not widely distributed. They were not reproduced in the consumer publications of the period. The heroics of individuals, with rare exception, or of whole troops, with rare exception like the Harlem Hellfighters, were not retold, and certainly not in the classroom, as part of the narrative of America’s victory in the Great War.

croix

two officers who received the croix de guerre

What was Emmett J. Scott thinking when he decided to produce his book? He tells us in the preface: “The Negro, in the great World War for Freedom and Democracy, has proved to be a notable and inspiring figure. The record and achievements of this racial group, as brave soldiers and loyal citizens, furnish one of the brightest chapters in American history. The ready response of Negro draftees to the Selective Service calls together with the numerous patriotic activities of Negroes generally, gave ample evidence of their whole-souled support and their 100 per cent Americanism. …

philadelphia

troop from philadelphia

It is difficult to indicate which rendered the greater service to their Country—the 400,000 or more of them who entered active military service (many of whom fearlessly and victoriously fought upon the battlefields of France) or the millions of other loyal members of this race whose useful industry in fields, factories, forests, mines, together with many other indispensable civilian activities, so vitally helped the Federal authorities in carrying the war to a successful conclusion. … 

corporal-mcintyre

corporal fred mcintyre of the 369th

It is because of the immensely valuable contribution made by Negro soldiers, sailors, and civilians toward the winning of the great World War that this volume has been prepared—in order that there may be an authentic record, not only of the military exploits of this particular racial group of Americans, but of the diversified and valuable contributions made by them as patriotic civilians.

return

369th returning home “bringing back the unique record of never having had a man captured, never losing a foot of ground or a trench, and of being nearest to the Rhine of any allied unit where the armistice was signed, and the first detachment of allied troops to reach the Rhine after the armistice.”

In The American Negro in the World War Scott produces a comprehensive account of the involvement of black Americans in World War I, those in the field and those on the home front. I believe it is an important archival record.

canteen

red cross canteen war workers in chicago

After the war Scott’s efforts with the military were both applauded and criticized. Some, like W. E. B. Du Bois, felt he should have been more vocal about the systemic racism and segregation among the troops stationed in Europe. But in wartime correspondence, just declassified in the 1980s, its clear that Scott worked hard to be a voice for the soldiers and to address injustices committed.

scott-and-team

dr. emmet jay scott and his faithful office corps who co-operated in the performance of his duties as special assistant to the secretary of war

After the war, Scott would move on to Howard University. Outside of his university duties as Secretary Treasurer, he would continue to promote and invest in business development opportunities nationwide. He died December 12, 1957 at the age of 84.

Sources & Additional Reading

The American Negro in the World War – https://archive.org/details/scottsofficialhi00scot_0

or http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/comment/Scott/ScottTC.htm

[1] Emmett Scott, Administrator of a Dream

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/scott-emmett-j-1873-1957

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_T._Washington

[2] http://afrotexan.com/AfroPress/Editors/scott_emmett.htm,  a Sketch from the National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race (1919)

They Came to Fight: African Americans and the Great War

 

[3] http://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-world-war-i.html

http://www.npr.org/2015/10/25/451717690/birth-of-a-race-the-obscure-demise-of-a-would-be-rebuttal-to-racism

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Recently I “challenged” viewers to watch a video that was less than four minutes long featuring the dancer known as L’il Buck. This week I challenge you to view this video. On November 29, 1962 a benefit concert took place called The American Pageant of the Arts. In attendance was President and Mrs. Kennedy, Marion Anderson, Robert Frost, Van Cliburn, and many other stars of stage and screen. Leonard Bernstein was Master of Ceremonies. In this particular concert excerpt he introduces to America a 7-year old cellist named Yo-Yo Ma and his sister Yeou-Cheng Ma.

The benefit performance was to raise funds toward the creation of a National Cultural Center.

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Today the National Cultural Center is known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Casals

https://leonardbernstein.com/

Hope for America/Government Support for the Arts – https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/government-support-for-the-arts.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy_Center_for_the_Performing_Arts

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Editorial note: This post was written in part in response to the current Presidential administration’s recent remarks this Black History Month, and its seeming lack of knowledge regarding black history in this country. It is also written to share in brief the life and work of an artist whose work I have always admired.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner 1859-1937

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859 and grew up in Philadelphia. Tanner’s father, who happened to be a friend of Frederick Douglass, was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Tanner’s mother, who had escaped slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, taught private school in the home. Both staunch believers in education, they made sure their son, the eldest in a large family, was well-educated and prepared for a successful career in a conventional job.

tanner-family

The Tanner Family

Tanner had a slightly alternative idea. He too wanted to be successful and he wanted to be a painter. He’d known since the age of 13 after watching an artist at work in a Philadelphia park.  Eventually, his father relented and he was allowed to pursue his artistic calling. In 1879 he was admitted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the first African American student to attend full-time.

Biographers refer to the fact that Tanner would write little about his time at the academy, mostly focusing on what he learned from Thomas Eakins with whom he studied. Regardless, it was an important period in Tanner’s life, not only for what he learned about art but also about human nature.

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Already in attendance at the academy prior to Tanner’s arrival was student Joseph Pennell who would one day be recognized as a great American illustrator. In his 1925 memoir Pennell makes note of Tanner’s arrival at the school in a chapter titled, The Coming of the Nigger.

henry_ossawa_tanner_ship-in-the-storm

Ship in a Storm, 1879

“There was no dissenting voice in the academy against Tanner’s presence. He came, he was young, an octoroon, very well dressed, far better than most of us. His wool, if he had any, was cropped so short you could not see it, and he had a nice mustache. … he drew very well. He was quiet and modest, and he “painted too” it seemed “among his other accomplishments.” We were interested at first but he soon passed almost unnoticed … Little by little however we were conscious of a change. I can hardly explain, but he seemed to want things; we seemed in the way, and the feeling grew.”

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Seascape – Jetty, 1876-1879

One night while out on the town with Pennell and other students, Tanner was mocked by other African Americans for being with the white students. Pennell recalls, “Then he began to assert himself and, to cut a long story short, one night his easel was carried out into the middle of Broad Street, and though not painfully crucified, he was firmly tied to it and left there. And that is my only experience of my colored brothers in a white school. Curiously there has never been a great Negro or great Jew artist in the history of the world. …” 

Tanner studied at the academy through 1885. By 1889 he moved to Atlanta. He was unsuccessful in a photography business venture. During this period he made the acquaintance of Bishop Joseph Hartzell of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Hartzel and his wife became patrons, helping Tanner secure a teaching position at Clark College, encouraging him to exhibit his work and eventually funding a trip for him to Europe. In Europe, Tanner discovered an environment where he was not a “negro painter,” he was simply an American painter. In 1891, he emigrated to Paris where he would study at the Academie Julian.

henry_ossawa_tanner_-_the_banjo_lesson

The Banjo Lesson. 1893

After contracting typhoid fever, he returned briefly to the U.S. to recuperate. During this period he delivered a speech at The Chicago Congress on Africa at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition about negro artists and sculptors. In 1893 he would also complete one of his most iconic works, The Banjo Lesson. Tanner had originally sketched this scene in the late 1880s while traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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The Thankful Poor, 1894

In two paintings, Tanner portrays the beauty and dignity of African Americans, and does so in  a way that is purposefully counter to the increasingly derogatory depictions of African Americans in art, newspapers and other consumer publications. Numerous prints of these paintings were made and hung in the homes of African Americans as a source of pride and inspiration.  Tanner would produce few, if any other, such paintings of African Americans. Regardless, wherever Tanner traveled in the world, he captured the vibrancy of the people he saw around him.

 

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The Young Sabot Maker

With his religious paintings, he especially played with color and light.

resurrectionoflazarus1896

Resurrection of Lazarus

After being moved by Tanner’s Resurrection of Lazarus, department store magnate and art critic Rodman Wanamaker offered to sponsor a trip to Palestine. Tanner traveled throughout North Africa and the Near East. The journey further informed Tanner’s work with religious narrative.

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Mosque in Cairo

Aside from The Banjo Lesson, Tanner is now most often remembered for the breadth and beauty of his religious themed works.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Anunciation, 1897

henry_ossawa_tanner_-_jesus_and_nicodemus

Jesus Visiting Nicodemus, 1899

 

henry_ossawa_tanner_the_disciples_see_christ_walking_on_the_water_c-_1907

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, 1907

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den

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Flight into Egypt, 1923

In 1899, Tanner married Swedish-American opera singer Jessie Olsson. They had one child, Jesse. Tanner continued to paint, exhibiting internationally. He expanded his list of patrons.  In 1902, over the course of four months, four of his paintings – Sarah, Hagar, Rachel and Mary – were reproduced in the Ladies’ Home Journal. He became renowned though he would always struggle financially.

henryossawatannerlhj

As World War I broke out in Europe, Tanner became depressed. He was unable to paint. Or what he painted while respected was not being purchased.  He wanted to serve in some way but he was too old to enlist. He shared an idea with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page. His idea: turn the unused fields around the base hospital in Vittel, France into a vegetable garden and organize the convalescing soldiers as a work force. Provide food. Build morale. Page reached out to his counterpart in France and soon after Tanner was attached to the American Red Cross as a Lieutenant in the Farm Services Bureau. In 1919, for his efforts, Tanner received a Foreign Service certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.

Postwar, Tanner would resume painting and once more receive accolades for his work. In 1923 Tanner was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his work as an artist. In 1927 he became the first African American to be granted full membership in the National Academy of Design in New York.

Tanner lived during one of the most contentious periods in U.S. race relations.  While he chose to emigrate to France, he always considered himself an American. He was a mentor and adviser to artists of all races studying in Europe. He was vocal in print and in person in support of equal opportunity for artists of all backgrounds. On May 27, 1937, he died at his home in Paris.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), American painter;

Today, Tanner is most often referenced as one of the great African American painters. I suspect he would simply like to be known as a great American artist. His painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City was the first work of art by an African-American artist to be added to the White House Permanent Collection. It was acquired in 1996 from Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist.

sand-dunes-at-sunset

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, 1886

 

Sources & Additional Reading

Treasures of the White House: Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City

Henry Ossawa Tanner Wikipedia Page

A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner by Will Smith

http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=4742

Khan Academy Course on Tanner’s Banjo Lesson

The Adventures of an Illustrator by Joseph Pennell

Photograph of the Extended Tanner Family, 1890

Henry Ossawa Tanner| Realist/Symbolist painter

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Race, Religion and Visual Mysticism by Kelly J. Baker

Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist  by Marcia M. Mathews

White House Announcement of Acquisition of Tanner Painting

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One thing people might not know about me is that as an adult I learned how to play the harmonica. I’d never played an instrument before. The class was in part an opportunity to do something different and also an homage to my father who played the harmonica when I was a child. I have a very nice harmonica tucked away somewhere. I haven’t played or thought about playing for years until I came across a 1975 recording of Babylon is Falling Down sung by Deacon Dan Smith with Nick Hallman & the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The music is on the disc, Shall We Gather at the River, highlighting Florida’s African American religious music. This song and 14 additional tracks can be accessed online via the following link: https://www.floridamemory.com/audio/cd3.php  Well worth a visit to that page and the larger Florida Memory site to learn about the diverse history of the peoples that have shaped a place that is an important part of the American puzzle.

 

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dscn1011

a wall I saw today

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

 

Read more Langston Hughes and find other poems for inspiration, reflection and perhaps even motivation at https://www.poets.org/

 

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The most valuable qualification in an officer is common sense; contrary to general belief, it is the rarest element found in mankind.” — Major General Fox Conner (1874-1951)

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He would have been less than ten years old, I think. In a 1930s interview, eighty-two year old former slave Ike Woodward remembered as a child it was his job to lead blind Bob Conner around. Conner had been blinded in a Civil War battle. Woodward’s master, also named Ike Woodward, had sold the services of his young slave to the Conner family. In his his interview for the Works Progress Administration, Woodward would go on to remark that Master Conner was the papa of Mr. Fox Conner, a big man now in the army. That statement led me to ask: who was Fox Conner? An impressive figure it turns out.

connerwithpershing

Conner to the left of Pershing (Source)

Conner would make his way from rural Mississippi to West Point and embark upon a stellar career in the military, serving in the Spanish American War, Pancho Villa Expedition and World War I. He earned military awards from the Purple Heart to the French Croix de Guerre. It was during World War I that he was selected by General Pershing to be a member of his operations section where one of Conner’s subordinates was George C. Marshall. A far-seeing strategist, he opposed the Treaty of Versailles seeing within it the seeds of a new world war with Germany.

pershingandmarshall

During World War I Conner would become reacquainted with and develop an enduring friendship with an officer by the name of George S. Patton. Back in the States, in the early 1920s, Conner and his wife were the honored guests of a dinner party hosted by the Pattons. Invited to this dinner was a young officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom Patton thought Conner should meet. According to one biographer, Russ Stayanoff, “In Eisenhower, Conner saw a likable, eager young officer available for the “next one;” an officer that he could groom. Conner undoubtedly needed an executive officer with whom he could get along, and Eisenhower fit the bill. The fruits of that February luncheon became apparent when Conner telephoned Ike later in the same week and asked him if he would like the assignment as his executive officer in Panama.

dwighteisenhower

Today Conner is especially remembered for his mentoring of Eisenhower. As Executive Officer for Conner at Camp Gaillard in Panama, Eisenhower received an unparalleled education in military affairs that would be instrumental in his later success at the Command and General Staff School. Conner was a student of history. Whether personally with Eisenhower or through his later lectures at the Army War College, Conner influenced a generation of future leaders. He was a proponent of coalition building and the use of diplomacy in concert with strong leadership to bring about victory. His three axioms or principles of war for a democracy still discussed today: Never fight unless you have to; Never fight alone; and Never fight for long.

Thanks to the internet there appears to be an increasing amount of information available to the general public about Conner, as well as more detailed analyses of his teachings still relevant in this modern age.  A biography was published in 2011 about him and a new book more recently published in 2016. In much of the discourse about Conner that I saw there is reference to him being the son of a blind Confederate soldier. The only way I learned the little that I have of this man and of his enduring legacy was to read the remembrances of the slave “lent out” to help guide his father. Ike Woodward would work at the Conner place until the day Ike’s brother rode in by horseback and scooped him up, conveying that they were now free.

Sources & Additional Reading

Ike Woodward Slave Narrative

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_Conner

Major General Fox Conner: Soldier, Mentor, Enigma: Operations Chief (G-3) of the AEF by Russ Stayanoff, MA

http://www.casematepublishers.com/index.php/general-fox-conner.html#.WIZFhVUrKM8

 

 

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In early August I wrote about an experience on the road between Boston and Rhode Island, an experience that I described to people as being in the midst of a Klu Klux Klan rally where no one wore a hood. You can read that post here if you like.  And though I wrote that post about my experience, my feelings in that moment, I also thought about what were the children in the neighboring cars experiencing, children of any race, what questions were they asking their parents and how were their parents responding. I especially thought that when I saw a little brown boy staring at the pickup truck in the lane next to him flying its huge confederate flags.

the full moon obscured by a screen

I was surprised later to find so little commentary on local news and on the internet about that procession of thirty-plus vehicles in New England with their giant flags driving en masse along I-95. But I guess I was using the wrong search terms. I did not think to use the words: Make American Great Again Convoy, an event that took place July 30 and 31 in Foxboro, MA.

I remember writing that I chose not to photograph anything around me that day on the road. But I do realize that it is important to capture the words and images of such events so that they can be documented and remembered. Since I wrote my original post a video has surfaced. When I first saw the still shots and read the transcripts of what people were saying that day on their CBs, I almost shrugged. I wasn’t surprised and my feelings were justified.

Then I watched the video, listened to the words, and it made me want to cry. Not out of fear but out of sadness at what darkness remains in this world. As young white men laugh about lynching niggers from the nearby trees, using blacks as pinatas, I remembered the little brown boy staring into their trucks. And I thought of a young brown cousin who I’ve been told likes to chase Monarchs at his home in New York, and I thought of my young brown nephew who likes to plant gardens in his home in Virginia. They are too young to fear what has been because they don’t know that part of American history … yet. I thought of what these people must be teaching their children and I hoped that their children somehow would one day hold hands with children of all shades and know that they were the same.

It is almost too easy to blame Trump and yet I do not want to let him and his brethren off the hook for what they have allowed to re-surface, unchecked, in this country. He was the spark for their tinder. The video is 4minutes and 45 seconds. It’s hard to listen to, and in no way kid friendly but it should be reflected upon because the sentiments expressed in the video and in similar gatherings online and in person across this country are not going to disappear overnight or anytime soon. Maybe never.

However, somehow, there is always hope for better.

In 1880, Phillips Brooks, then the Rector of Trinity Church in Boston, delivered a sermon at Westminster Abbey in England. The sermon was titled The Candle of the Lord. It was July 4th that he spoke and for the occasion he added some text to the sermon where he asked the British congregation before him to pray for his young country:

“It is not for me to glorify to-night the country which I love with all my heart and soul. I may not ask your praise for anything admirable which the United States has been or done.  But on my country’s birthday I may do something far more solemn and more worthy of the hour. I may ask you for your prayer in her behalf. That on the manifold and wondrous chance which God is giving her, – on her freedom (for she is free, since the old stain of slavery was washed out in blood); on her unconstrained religious life; on her passion for education, and her eager search for truth; on her jealous care for the poor man’s rights and opportunities; on her countless quiet homes where the future generations of her men are growing; on her manufactures and her commerce; on her wide gates open to the east and to the west; on her strange meetings of the races out of which a new race is slowly being born … “

One hundred thirty years later, I’d say we are a nation still being born.

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