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SNCCHomePageScreenShot

It was very heartening for me to learn of the creation of the SNCC Digital Gateway (snccdigital.org), a multimedia website and repository created jointly by the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and the Duke University Libraries. The site shares the stories of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a student-led, southern-based, civil rights group founded in 1960 at Shaw University. They provided strategic leadership on the ground mobilizing people of all ages and races in the face of violence and threat of death. One of the SNCC staff members profiled is Fannie Lou Hamer. Please do read her full profile (link below) but I will share this excerpt which moved me deeply.

“Whether calming people with her singing or speaking truth to power, Mrs. Hamer’s voice could not be ignored. … Mrs. Hamer did not shy away from the dangers of challenging segregation and the denial of voting rights in Mississippi. “I’m gonna be standing up, I’m gonna be moving forward, and if they shoot me, I’m not going to fall back, I’m going to fall 5 feet 4 inches forward.”

Fannie_Lou_Hamer_1964-08-22.jpg

Fannie Lou Hamer 1917-1977

P.S. If you’re looking for further inspiration about the power of resistance in the face of tyranny, please revisit the excellent documentary, Freedom Riders, which aired on PBS in 2011.

Source

https://snccdigital.org/

http://dukemagazine.duke.edu/article/a-gateway-to-the-wisdom-of-civil-rights-activists

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

https://snccdigital.org/people/fannie-lou-hamer/

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

four

Robert C. Winthrop. Charles Sumner. Phillips Brooks. Martin Luther King Jr. The lives of these four men span over 150 years. What’s the connection? For me, it’s in their words and actions, or lack thereof, on the subjects that humanity has struggled with since the beginning.  Most often these subjects involve issues of race, class and gender, issues that have always, it seems, inevitably produced tensions within defined societies that then threaten to tear those societies apart. As then as chaos looms or even reigns, individuals within those societies, like these men, must decide what to do, if anything at all.

Robert_Charles_Winthrop

Robert C. Winthrop, 1850

It has been two years since I last wrote about Robert C. Winthrop in the context of Hope, the stained glass window that he purchased for Trinity Church in Boston. Winthrop, a one-time Speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives, was a complicated man.  He was a major philanthropist especially to educational institutions in the north and south believing that education was vital to blacks and whites. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, he too gave anti-slavery speeches. He did not want slavery to spread but as far as ending slavery where it already existed, he differed with Douglass and other activists, like Charles Sumner.

Charles_Sumner_by_Southworth_&_Hawes_c1850

Charles Sumner, 1850

Sumner was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who became the leader of the anti-slavery movement in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans. He was an incendiary speaker against slavery, one speech of which led to a physical attack on the Senate floor. When Sumner died in 1874 after a long career in domestic and international politics, people immediately remarked upon his anti-slavery leadership. One of those people who praised Sumner’s legacy was Phillips Brooks, Rector of Trinity Church, himself noted for his powerful oratory.

Phillips_Brooks

Phillips Brooks, Rector of Trinity Church

The words were spoken on a Sunday morning at the end of his sermon.  Exactly what Brooks said in entirety, I do not know. What I do know I learned from Winthrop’s memoir. The diary entry he wrote in response to Brooks are thought provoking.

“I sometimes question whether the cause of religion is advanced when clergymen, from a pulpit on a Sunday, single out for especial admiration statesmen in no way identified with religious observances; and I have been led into this train of thought by the fact that my own rector, in the course of a fine sermon this morning, took occasion to make a brief but glowing tribute to Sumner, who, according to Henry Wilson, had not been inside of a church for twelve years past, unless to attend a wedding or a funeral. He spoke of him, moreover, as one who was ‘a friend to freedom when others were its enemies,’ and as  ‘hating slavery when others loved it.’

Precisely what was meant by this allusion to ‘others’ is not quite clear but it was interpreted by some in the congregation as referring to the party with which Sumner was originally associated. If so, I do not think it fair. The great Whig party loved freedom and hated slavery as much as he, though they could not adopt his mode of showing love and hate. It is a perversion of historical truth to stigmatize that party as having been, in any sense, a proslavery party.  …

We did what we could to keep the peace between North and South, hoping that a day would one day be opened, in the good providence of God, for gradual emancipation on some basis which would be safe for both blacks and whites. Emancipation came as a necessity of the Civil War which we had sought to avert. Perhaps it could have come in no other way, but we had always looked to the ultimate disappearance of slavery under the influence of civilization and Christianity, without endangering the Union or sacrificing half a million lives. …”

His words irritated me.

Upon reflection I realized why and then I found myself re-reading Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written nearly 100 years after Winthrop put pen to paper.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr, 1964

The 1963 letter opens “My Dear Clergymen, While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely. … I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

King goes on to affirm that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” …

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. 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 Counciler 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.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. … 

“Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

Well, fifty years later, you have only to read the headlines of a reputable news source. Indeed, now is the time, yet again, to lift our national policy from the quicksand of injustice of any kind for anyone.

An addendum: I recently saw a news story about a small town in coal country in a southern state. The mass majority of people left in the town are white, economically adrift with few job prospects and with little access to health care and food. Drug use is rampant, and there is great love of Trump because somehow there is a perception that he is just like them. After surviving in this strange new world through July 2017, I now realize I don’t need those people to ever like me, someone who is so different from them, and I don’t need them to vilify Trump and his cronies. At least not yet. First I need to see their living conditions improved … because what they are dealing with, whatever their beliefs, is indeed an injustice. And, as we have seen with this recent Presidential election, its that kind of injustice, as well as injustice regarding race and gender, that can too easily become a threat to justice everywhere.

 

Sources & Additional Reading

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sumner

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

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

 

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… there was a school and on the campus there was a chapel and inside the chapel there was a stained glass window known as The Singing Window.

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

 

Sources and Additional Readings

Learn more about the photographer Carol M. Highsmith on the Library of Congress website: Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

Learn more about Tuskegee University including its tours and the history of the chapel.

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Blues 1

Blue Rose in the Hall

Maybe it was fear that made the young men shout “Nooooo!” as I stood next to a For Sale sign in front of a house in a suburb outside of Boston.  Fear of change, fear of something different coming into their midst.  And maybe it was fear that made a woman look me up and down as I questioned her entrance into a building (part of my job at the time).  As she left the building she made sure to look at me in that same way and I had to think, “Well, if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under.” And maybe it was fear that made the waitress do some things during a meal, such that once I’d left the restaurant with my friend (whose favorite restaurant it was), she said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t expect that to happen.”

Now if I were to say that all of those fairly recent events happened, in part, because all the other individuals were white and I am black … well, I think there are folks who might say, as is often said today, why does everything have to be attributed to race?  Because race does matter.  As does class, gender, and economics. It all matters.  But here’s why race stands out for me:  slavery. “Slavery ended,” someone said to me once. “Why keep bringing that up?”

Born in the 1970s USA, I have never been a slave.  I have never been shackled or forced to give up a child or beaten if I tried to put pen to paper or pick up a book.  I’ve never stood in a market while an overseer pointed out my attributes so that someone might buy me as a companion for their children or an extra servant in the kitchen.  Never needed to carry papers proving freedom (or ownership), nor been branded, or had to hope that my master would free our children in his will.

As former slaves did about 150 years ago, I’ve never been in a position of celebrating freedom and, on the other hand, having to deal with the realities of having little but the clothes on my back and waiting for forty acres and a mule.  Never had to deal with “separate but equal” or segregated schools (my older brothers did who were born in the 1950s and 1960s).  Never been in a position or location where I had the right to vote but other forces, those perhaps suffering from fear of change, were putting strategies into place to prevent me from voting (my parents dealt with that).

Nor have I had to watch a loved one (or even a stranger) brutally beaten, mutilated, hung from a tree or a telephone pole, and burned.  I’ve heard a few stories from older family, watched the documentaries and read quite a few articles.  When I read the stories of lynching, especially in old newspapers recently digitized, and see the images, I cry.  I cry for the people who died, the people who watched and tried to help, and even for the people who watched and did nothing.  I did wonder what the people who did nothing were thinking? And what about the people who sang and danced and even cut off parts for souvenirs or mailed those parts to white politicians trying to effect some change?

For some, did the actions they witnessed mean nothing because the people to whom the deeds were done looked nothing like them?  Or was it just that they did not know what to do? Were some people truly scared or were they simply seeking pleasure in establishing control over another?  All of those incidents are part of the fabric of this country, as are the people, of all races and backgrounds, who fought to end slavery, the people who fought to end routine lynchings and the people who continue to fight for economic and voting rights for all people.

Yes, I do indeed bring up slavery and other injustices from the so-called past because of present-day incidents like in Ferguson.   Slavery is an institution, one of many, that this country has yet to deal with. I don’t care about politics or how people choose to identify themselves in this country as Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Libertarian and so on.   Political labels and tenets change over time.  But what about human behavior?  How has that changed over time?  Or has it?  Why do we treat people the way that we do?

You can “follow the money” in terms of why slavery was entrenched in this country for so long.  Economics, economics, economics.  In too many venues of late, I have read people saying stop talking about race and focus on the economic issues in a Ferguson.  Of course, economics is an issue and powerful factor leading to injustices happening in many communities.  But it comes down to a bit more than money to treat people as inferior or to hear their screams of pain and laugh or to make assumptions about their children’s ability to learn regardless of resources provided for education.  And it is about more than economics to see all those things taking place around you and to do nothing. To some extent, I feel little right to judge others because I do not always know what to do as I learn about the horrors around me, in this country and abroad.  I do know with regard to slavery and the seeds that were planted that continue to sprout, I do not want to forget.

I’ve been researching the past, including slave times, quite a bit of late for various projects as well as to better understand current events.  In the remembering, and rediscoveries, I don’t come to hate people who look different than me.  Not at all.  A part of me mourns.  I mourn the horrors, and I also celebrate the courage of so many different peoples, their hopes, their activism and their creativity in finding the beauty in this life.  And I celebrate such in the people who are active today.

As a final note in my Sunday ramblings, if you chose to read so far, … I came upon a 1920s newspaper article about a lynching. The reporter recounted that witnesses heard the dying man sing a song with his last breaths as the flames consumed him.  I looked up the song and came upon the following 1950s rendition by Sam Cooke.  A powerful piece.

 

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foreword to the interludes

interlude: genesis

Photo by Joseph Anthony Horne, 1940s

American Midwest photo by Joseph A. Horne, 1940s

In 1911, by the time baby Joseph was held in the arms of his adoptive parents in Dodge, Nebraska, Europe was on the brink of war.  The Great Powers in Europe were Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire had a foothold in Greece and some parts of the Balkans — an area of southeastern Europe encompassing Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzgovinia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

Bulgarian Shepherdess, photo taken between 1880-1924.

Bulgarian Shepherdess

Five Girls Knitting in Albania, 1923.

Five Girls Knitting in Albania

In 1912 and 1913, wars broke out in the Balkans.  Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia formed the Balkan League to oust the Ottomans.  In the U.S., recent emigrants from the Balkans returned to their native lands to bear arms in support.

Greek Emigrants in NYC Returning to the Balkans to Fight, 1912

Greek Emigrants in NYC Returning to the Balkans to Fight, 1912

In the end, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia conquered the Ottoman-held lands of Macedonia, Albania and Thrace. While nation-state lines had been redrawn; ethnic identities and affiliations had not changed.  Tensions simmered and flared, between the Balkan states, and with the Great Powers, especially between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

Belgrade, Serbia circa 1900-1915

Belgrade, Serbia circa 1900-1915

The antipathy between the neighboring countries was longstanding.  Prior to the Balkan Wars, Serbia, which had been dependent economically upon Austria-Hungary, was beginning to build its own economic channels across Europe.  When Austria-Hungary banned imports of Serbian pork in 1906, the Serbs continued to sell its pork to France but rerouted the meat through Bosnia.  In 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia from the Ottomans, and consequently shut down Serbian shipments of pork.  The Serbs appealed to Russia for support, but Czar Nicholas refused to go to war with Austria-Hungary.

Czar Nicholas and the Russian Royal Family, 1917

Czar Nicholas and the Russian Royal Family, 1917

Approximately five years later, after the Serbian success against Turkey in the Balkan Wars, the Serbian prime minister apparently declared, “The first round is won. Now for the second round – against Austria.”  In his book, scholar Richard C. Hall refers to the Balkan Wars as the Prelude to World War I.

Four children seated on a ship, following battle for Thessaloniki between Bulgaria and Greece, 1912.

Four children seated on a ship, following the battle for Thessaloniki in the Balkan Wars, 1912.

On June 28, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed by a young Serbian nationalist.  The assassination is cited as the event that started World War I but obviously it was the spark that fell upon a lot of pre-existing kindling.  Diplomatic relations between many of the European nations was strained and alliances had become complicated.  With Germany’s support, Austria-Hungary presented Serbia with some strict demands in reparations.  While Serbia made efforts to meet the demands, in the end, Austria-Hungary broke off diplomatic relations and began preparing for war.  Russia, Serbia’s ally, began military mobilization against Austria-Hungary.  Britain and France expressed concern if Russia were to intervene in such a conflict.  Attempts at peaceful negotiations were brushed aside.  On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Fighting began.  By August 1, Germany declared war on Russia.  Others joined the fray and soon every major Western power except for the United States was embroiled in war.

Packing for the Christmas Ship, November 1914

Packing for the Christmas Ship, November 1914

The majority of Americans, while aware of what was taking place in Europe, wanted to remain neutral.  Based on newspaper headlines and articles from the period,donations of every kind were collected and sent in support of allies like Great Britain, France and others.  The Red Cross Mercy Ship sailed to Europe with medical staff.  American children were encouraged to donate toys for the Christmas Ship, a vessel charged with delivering gifts by Christmas Day to needy European children.  The headlines also highlight the literal and figurative gulf separating Americans from the European conflict.  The U.S. was struggling with its own social, economic and political issues.  Even so the war was making an impression.

Suffragette Inez Milholland, suffragist, labor lawyer, World War I correspondent, and public speaker

Suffragette Inez Milholland, suffragist, labor lawyer, World War I correspondent, and public speaker

At the 1914 Southern States Suffrage Conference held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont of New York was questioned about men in Belgium receiving the vote but not the women.  She replied: “With men waging war on the earth, in the air, on the sea and beneath the waters … shelling cities and destroying everything before them, leaving women and children without a place to lay their heads, it is somewhat illogical to talk of woman’s sphere as the home. In my opinion, the men who deliberately make war on women and children as has been done in Belgium, are not fit to be intrusted with the ballot for it was created as the weapon of civilization and Christianity, not of wholesale butchery.”

Suffragette Mary Church Terrell, daughter of former slaves, civil rights worker, suffragette, teacher

Suffragette Mary Church Terrell, daughter of former slaves, civil rights worker, suffragette, teacher

At the conclusion of her address, Ms. Belmont was asked if she thought the vote for women in the South should include the vote being given to Negro women, as well.  She replied that should be a decision left to the men of the South to decide. “We seek for women political rights equal to those of men. Negro women could share the rights of Negro men. If they are disenfranchised let the women share the same treatment. Our campaign is to eliminate the discrimination against women and secure for them a parity with men in the matter of the right to vote.” (New York Times, November 11, 1914)

William Jennings Bryan, Rep. from Nebraska 1891-1895 and U.S. Secretary of State 1913-1915

William Jennings Bryan, Rep. from Nebraska 1891-1895 and U.S. Secretary of State 1913-1915

For several years, for many reasons, including a strong German American presence within the country, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention.  One of the most vocal anti-war proponents was President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.  He wanted the U.S. to maintain a neutral position and serve as mediator in the conflict.  “It is not likely that either side will win so complete a victory as to be able to dictate terms, and if either side does win such a victory it will probably mean preparation for another war. It would seem better to look for a more rational basis for peace.”  At odds with his President’s policies, Bryan would resign in 1915.

R.M.S. Lusitania, hit by torpedos off Kinsale Head, Ireland (photograph of drawing made for New York Herald and London Sphere)

R.M.S. Lusitania, hit by torpedos off Kinsale Head, Ireland (photograph of drawing made for New York Herald and London Sphere), Library of Congress

In 1917, after a series of events including the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland with Americans on board (1915) and discovery of the Zimmerman telegram in which Germany proposed a military alliance with Mexico against the U.S. (1917), President Woodrow Wilson and other Progressives were able to promote the concept that the U.S. had to help make the world safe for democracy.  On April 1, 1917 the U.S. officially declared war on Germany. On December 7, 1917 war would be declared on Austria-Hungary.  In the end, the war would pit the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan.  A national call for volunteers was made to join the military services.

Registering 1917, Library of Congress

Registering to Serve, 1917

The rate of enlistment for the volunteer army was too low, leading Wilson to sign the  Selective Service Act of 1917.  Over time, millions would be drafted into service.  Enlistment was even used as enticement to garner citizenship.  Tens of thousands of American men, of every race and background, began leaving daily for the battlefields of Europe.

World War I Infantry Soldiers, photographed between 1914-1918, Library of Congress

World War I Infantry Soldiers, photographed between 1914-1918, Library of Congress

At the same time, the formerly vast waves of immigration into the U.S. were effectively cut off.  A dearth of labor was created across the country just as industries were seeking to ramp up their production.  As a result, as one author phrased it, “an exodus ensued” as Northern and Midwestern manufacturers began recruiting for labor from the American South, especially for African Americans.  By 1919, nearly 500,000 African Americans had emigrated up north and out west. It would be a migration,  A Great Migration, that would continue into the 1940s.

Painting by Jacob Lawrence

Painting by Jacob Lawrence

Jobs and unexpected opportunities were created in an attempt to meet the demands of a nation and a world at war.  Wars do end, however, with WWI officially ceasing on November 18, 1918.  New opportunities arose as soldiers returned to the States, but tensions were heightened and prejudices magnified as well.

WEB Dubois in 1918, co-founder of the NAACP

WEB Dubois in 1918, co-founder of the NAACP

The summer and early fall of 1919, when Joseph would have been 8 years old, is known as Red Summer, a term coined by Joseph Weldon Johnson of the NAACP.  Race riots broke out in over two dozen cities across the U.S including in Omaha, NE, about an hour away from Dodge.  A black man was accused of assaulting a white woman and regardless of evidence a mob gathered and eventually the man was forcibly taken from police custody and brutally killed.  Actor Henry Fonda was a 14-year old boy in Omaha at the time.  He saw some of the events.  He later wrote that all he could think of was that black man dangling from a rope.

The burning of Will Brown's body, Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 28, 1919. Source — NSHS, RG2281-69

The burning of Will Brown’s body, Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 28, 1919. Source — NSHS, RG2281-69

Hundreds died that summer.  Many thousands lost their homes and livelihoods.  Seeds were sown for future conflicts.  And, no doubt, bonds were strengthened for future civil rights efforts.   A particular focus during the period, and for some decades to come, were campaigns against lynching. Lynching is a particularly color-blind act.  African Americans, while killed in large numbers, were not the only ones dying or being threatened with death in this horrific manner in the post-war period. Drawn to the U.S. in the late 1800s, German-speaking people from many different nations had emigrated seeking new lives.  Like little Joseph’s family, they especially migrated to the midwestern states to take advantage of the Homestead Acts.   The first act was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862.  Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government (including freed slaves and women), was 21 years or older, or the head of a family, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. There was also a residency requirement.  In Nebraska, the land being homesteaded had once been considered “Indian Country” but as the U.S. sought to expand its territory the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1954 opened the land to settlement.  The subsequent Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of this land to any head of household promising to live there for five years.

Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13. 1872.

Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13. 1872.

By 1910, approximately 200,000 residents of German heritage lived within the state of Nebraska.  Dozens of German language newspapers and other publications were regularly printed and distributed.  Cultural events conducted in German were the norm, not the exception.  All of this would change with U.S. entry into World War I in 1917.

German Russian Children in Nebraska

German Russian Children in Nebraska

German-American farm family. Lincoln County, Nebraska by John Vachon, 1938.

German-American farm family in Nebraska by John Vachon, Library of Congress.

In Joseph’s adopted home, he spoke German, though he would have been challenged in speaking German in grade school.  Language has always been viewed as key to ethnic identity.   With anti-German sentiment at a fever pitch, the suppression of German language and culture was viewed as paramount to ensure that all those people of German-speaking heritage became thoroughly Americanized.  President Wilson signed a bill restricting German newspapers.  Clergy in primarily-German speaking communities were informed they could only deliver sermons in English even if people spoke only German.

Classic German Script from a Vintage Book of Fairy Tales

Classic German Script from a Vintage Book of Fairy Tales

On April 9, 1919, Nebraska enacted a statute that would become known as the Siman Act, imposing restrictions on both the use of a foreign language as a medium of instruction and on foreign languages as a subject of study. Essentially no person in any public or private school could teach in any other language than English, and with respect to foreign language instruction, no child could be taught a foreign language until high school.

Example of one room school house in Nebraska, photographed 1938 by John Vachon

Example of one room school house in Nebraska by John Vachon, Library of Congress.

On May 25, 1920, instructor Robert T. Meyer broke the rules in his one-room schoolhouse in Zion Parochial School in Hampton, Nebraska by teaching to a 4th grader using a book of German bible stories.  He would be charged with violating the Siman Act and convicted at the state level.  Similar laws were being enacted across the country.  Meyer would fight his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the ruling would take on a national significance. In 1923, the Court would hold that the Nebraska statute violated the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment.  While respecting the state’s desire to “foster a homogenous people,” the court found that the state had gone too far with the statute.  With its ruling, the court made clear that “the individual has certain fundamental rights which must be respected.”

Farm scene. Lancaster County, Nebraska , photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

Farm scene. Lancaster County, Nebraska , photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

By the time that ruling was made, Joseph was twelve years old.  Over the next five years, he would complete his grade school education.  In 1928, as a seventeen-year old, he would leave the family farm and Great Plains to travel eastward to study in a theological setting.  To become a seminarian as his path suggests?  If so, something happens along that path. He comes to a fork in the road. It is clear that at some point in the late 1920s or early 1930s, young Horne picks up a camera.  He will become adept at its use and he will begin to photograph the world around him.

Photo by Joseph A. Horne

Photo by Joseph A. Horne

Sources/Additional Reading …

History.com Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

William Jennings Bryan

Inez Milholland Boissevain

Mary Church Terrell

African Americans and World War I

Racial Tensions in Omaha September 28, 1919

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow/Red Summer 1919

History of the NAACP

W.E.B. Dubois

Oral Histories from the Germans From Russia Collection

War Hysteria & the Persecution of German Americans

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online

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PBS advertised The Freedom Riders for so long and with such intensity that I knew exactly when it was premiering on television … and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it.  I mean, the advertisement seemed to tell the story.  Groups of well-meaning black and white people rode buses through the Deep South in 1961.  They were heckled or worse.  In time things changed.  Done.  But life is never that simple.  And if there is one adage I believe above all others it is this:  If you do not remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it.  So I watched it.

Nothing compares to hearing history retold by the actual participants in the events, from the students on the bus to the then-governor of Alabama.  It becomes clear what a complex web history is as all the names of the day are mentioned:  Jimmy Hoffa who refused to let his union drivers drive the buses once the buses became targets for white mobs, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy who were trying to juggle international and domestic events and just wanted the riders to stop and go home, Marting Luther King Jr. and other high level civil rights leaders who also wanted the riders to stop in the beginning, and on and on.   Ah, the deals that were made and the lies that were told.  But above all else what stands out in this amazing film is the courage of the men and women who took part in this protest, a protest that evolved quite a bit over time.

Of course, in the end, this is a story with uplift.  Perseverance pays off.  I, as an African American woman in 21st Century U.S.A., can travel anywhere I like by bus or any other mode of transportation.  In fact, in 2005, before I ever knew of the freedom rides, I did travel solo around the Deep South by bus and train. Still, I am left with questions after my first viewing of the program.

Throughout the program we hear first-hand remembrances of the riders, politicians, and a few local residents.  I’d be interested in hearing the reflections of the men who made up the attacking mobs in the various cities.  Do they feel any different, fifty years later, about what took place?  If circumstances allowed, would they repeat their actions?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?  The most nagging question I have is for my parents.  In 1961, they would have been married and begun raising a family.  How is it that they — and so many other people like them — could experience such denigration throughout their lives, be habitually treated as second-class citizens or little better than animals, and still somehow choose not to plant seeds of hatred in the hearts of their children for their “oppressors?”  I think that must take courage, too.

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