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When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.
In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.
The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.
As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”
General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.
The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water. The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.
As the Dorchester sank, the ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.
A survivor later explained:
“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.
The four U.S. Army chaplains were:
Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.
According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”
My father had a simpler lesson to teach me: We are all Americans.
In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”
(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)
“And having looked to Government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.”
Edmund Burke, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity
You might think that Orange County’s Republican elected officials would be caught between a rock and hard place in the current economic crisis.
With the local economy in shambles, home values crashing, foreclosures on the rise, unemployment skyrocketing and good jobs scarcer than Republican fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you might think that the staunch and total opposition of Orange County Republicans to President Obama’s stimulus efforts would be, at the least, a political embarrassment.
But then you would underestimate the shameless hypocrisy of Orange County’s Republican establishment.
In her most recent online newsletter, Republican Orange County Supervisor Pat Bates (District 5) makes the following incredible claim:
“Orange County Projects Receive Stimulus Funds
A number of significant environmental enhancement and flood management projects in Orange County will receive vital support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the Federal stimulus program.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced more than $50 million will be spent in Orange County on projects selected based on their anticipated economic and environmental return. The projects selected for funding include:
The approval of funding for these projects is great news for Orange County. Orange County residents will directly benefit from these improvements and the Federal support is greatly appreciated. Our success is the result of great teamwork involving our County staff, our representatives in Washington and many city and community leaders.”
In informing her constituents of this “great news,” Bates does not mention the fact that all of “our [Republican] representatives in Washington” voted against Obama’s economic stimulus legislation, including these very projects.
Nor does she mention the fact that all of Orange County’s Republican “city and community leaders” have been vocally attacking the stimulus package as an evil socialist plot to destroy capitalism.
And Bates does not mention the fact that every penny of the more than $50 million that she is so grateful that Orange County will receive from the stimulus package will come from — dare we say it – taxes.
What Bates should have said is the “great teamwork involving our Republican County staff, our Republican representatives in Washington and many Republican city and community leaders failed to prevent President Obama and the Democrats from passing the federal stimulus package – and thank God for that.”
Of course, Bates won’t say it.
But the voters in Orange County should.
O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
to the ceiling.
Adaptation of the spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning” by William Waring Cuney, 1910.
While I’m skeptical about their motives, I applaud the efforts of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) to obtain a presidential pardon for the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.
Arthur John “Jack” Johnson, who died in 1946 at the age of 68, was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World.
The crime that the pardon would cover is Johnson’s supposed violation of the Mann Act — “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.” Johnson eventually served 10 months in federal prison on the charges, which also destroyed his boxing career.
No one now doubts that Johnson’s Mann Act conviction was thoroughly racist: the women Johnson was convicted of “transporting” were white.
When Johnson started his boxing career at the turn of the last century, boxing was as segregated as the rest of America – there were separate (and far from equal) boxing matches for black and white fighters.
Johnson became World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903 and was widely believed to be the best boxer in the world, but he could not get a match with white Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries, who refused to face him.
According to Wikipedia, Johnson won the world heavyweight title five years later, on December 26, 1908, “when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee’s decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more.” The film of the match was stopped just before the fight ended, so that it would not show Johnson defeating a white man.
As the most famous black man in America and far ahead of his time in his outspoken defiance of white racism, Johnson was caricatured by the press as subhuman and an ape, and constantly harassed by local police and federal authorities. The press called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to the white race. Each of these “White Hopes” failed to unseat Johnson.
Heeding the call to defend his race, Jeffries eventually agreed to come out of retirement in 1910 and fight Johnson, explaining “”I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” The fight took place on July 4th in Reno, Nevada, before an all-white crowd of more than 20,000, which chanted “kill the nigger” throughout the match. After being knocked down twice, Jeffries called it quits in the 15th round. Johnson’s victory over Jeffries led to white race riots across America, leaving at least 23 black men, and two white men, dead.
Johnson was not a “role model” in the Jackie Robinson mode. Loud, proud, defiant, and eventually very rich, Johnson reveled as much in ostentatiously breaking racial taboos as in his victories in the ring.
White America could not allow him to survive, and so Johnson was destroyed, with the Mann Act as the weapon. Following his conviction in 1913, Johnson fled the United States and fought in Cuba and Mexico. After his return to America and serving his prison sentence in 1920, Johnson was never able to regain his prowess in the ring. He lost seven of his last nine fights, retiring in 1938.
He died in a car accident in 1946, after angrily leaving a restaurant in North Carolina that refused to serve him because of his race.
McCain and King are to be praised for joining with filmmaker Ken Burns (who has made a documentary about Johnson called “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” and first sought a pardon for Johnson in 2004) in calling on President Obama to issue a pardon for Johnson.
Still, the politics of their appeal for Johnson should be noted.
In September 2008, both McCain and King sponsored resolutions in their respective congressional bodies urging then-President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson. Bush did not do so, despite McCain and King’s backing and wide bipartisan support. According to Ken Burns, President Bush gave him a telephone number to call about the pardon, which turned out to be the telephone number of Karl Rove.
Burns says that Rove told him that a Bush pardon for Johnson “ain’t gonna fly.”
Rove now denies that he ever spoke with Burns about the Johnson pardon.
It is time to put the Bush-Rove years behind us.
It is time to put racism behind us.
It is time for a Great American Hope.
It is time to pardon Jack Johnson.
Los Alamitos’ Republican Mayor Dean Grose recently sent an email to friends that showed a picture of the White House with a watermelon patch imposed as the White House garden under the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”
One of the people who received the email was local business woman Keyanus Price, an African American. She said she was horrified and appalled.
I won’t pretend that I’m appalled.
In fact, I’m delighted.
Once again, Orange County’s Republican officials have exposed themselves as among the most racist, and moronic, politicians in the country.
If I were a Republican, I’d be deeply embarrassed.
But I’m not.
Grose said that he didn’t think the email was racist. “The way things are today, you gotta laugh every now and then,” Grose said when the email was made public.
Now Grose has said that he’ll resign.
No doubt the Orange County Republican Party will find another brilliant public servant to take his place.
It now appears that Dean Grose is planning to resign only from his ceremonial job as mayor, not from his seat on the Los Alamitos City Council.
Grose is also not planning to resign as a director of the League of California Cities Orange County Division and the Southern California Association of Governments (where he represents the communities of Cypress, La Palma and Los Alamitos).
You can tell Grose what you think of his email by sending him an email of your own:
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear its not too late”
Turn! Turn! Turn! by Peter Seeger, adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender
Inscription on Pete Seeger’s banjo.
The Obama inauguration had an unexpected consequence this week as the San Diego School Board formally apologized to folk-singer Pete Seeger for attempting to force him to sign a loyalty oath nearly fifty years ago.
In May 1960, Seeger was scheduled to perform at Herbert Hoover High School. Already a controversial figure as a supporter of unions, civil rights, and racial justice, Seeger was anathema to the right-wingers on the San Diego School Board.
In addition, Seeger was facing federal charges for his 1957 refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs.” Seeger told the committee. “I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” (Seeger was convicted of contempt in March 1961 and sentenced to 10 years in jail; an appeals court overturned his conviction a year later.)
The local chapter of the American Legion heard about the concert that Seeger was scheduled to give at Hoover High School and told the School Board to stop it.
The San Diego School Board then told Seeger that the concert would be cancelled unless he signed a statement saying that it would not promote communism or an overthrow of the government.
When Seeger refused to sign the statement on First Amendment grounds, the School Board cancelled the concert. Seeger then got a court order allowing the concert to proceed.
Last month, San Diego School Board member Katherine Nakamura watched Pete Seeger perform Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at the Lincoln Memorial during the Obama inauguration and decided to right the wrong that her predecessors had done to Seeger (and the Constitution) so many years ago.
On Tuesday, Nakamura introduced a resolution declaring that the San Diego School Board “deeply regrets its predecessors’ actions” and offering an apology to Seeger, whom it described as “one of our dearest national treasures.”
The apology resolution passed 5-0.
“It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do, and I had an opportunity to do it,” Nakamura said. “You don’t always get a chance to reflect on these things and the way they might have been or should have been.”
Nakamura and her colleagues on the San Diego School Board certainly deserve our praise for being inspired by Barack Obama’s inauguration to make amends to Pete Seeger.
Even more praise should go to the brave students of Hoover Senior High School’s Class of 1960 — who invited Seeger to perform at a time when an African-American President of the United States did not seem possible and people went to prison for insisting on racial equality, workers’ rights, social justice, and the freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.