July 20, 2015 at approximately 10:30a ET.
Flags are big this summer. I just had to be there for this! Aren’t we all “symboltons”?
Culture. Is. Power.
July 20, 2015 at approximately 10:30a ET.
Flags are big this summer. I just had to be there for this! Aren’t we all “symboltons”?
Today, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 distinguished Americans – three posthumously to Senator Daniel Inouye, astronaut Sally Ride, and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. The remaining 14 recipients:
Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian
On February 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, by executive order 11085, re-established the Medal of Freedom to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
SECTION 1. Prior orders. The numbered sections of Executive Order No. 9586 of July 6, 1945, as amended by Executive Order No. 10336 of April 3, 1952, are hereby amended to read as follows:
“SECTION 1. Medal established. The Medal of Freedom is hereby re-established as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with accompanying ribbons and appurtenances. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, hereinafter referred to as the Medal, shall be in two degrees.
“SEC. 2. Award of the Medal. (a) The Medal may be awarded by the President as provided in this order to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
“(b) The President may select for award of the Medal any person nominated by the Board referred to in Section 3(a) of this Order, any person otherwise recommended to the President for award of the Medal, or any person selected by the President upon his own initiative.
“(c) The principal announcement of awards of the Medal shall normally be made annually, on or about July 4 of each year; but such awards may be made at other times, as the President may deem appropriate.
“(d) Subject to the provisions of this Order, the Medal may be awarded posthumously.
Nine months later, President Kennedy would be assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas (November 22, 1963). [revised from an earlier post]
The first Presidential Medals of Freedom (33 total) were awarded December 6, 1963 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Vice President under Kennedy). You may want to do a search on the names.
Dr. John F. Enders
Robert J. Kiphuth
Edwin H. Land
Governor Herbert H. Lehman (in absentia)
J. Clifford MacDonald (Mrs. MacDonald received the award on behalf of her deceased husband)
Professor Alexander Meiklejohn
Lidwig Mies can der Rohe
Clarence B. Randall
Professor George W. Taylor
Dr. Alan T. Waterman
Mark S. Watson
Annie D. Wauneka
Those who received the award with Special Distinction:
Dr. Ralph J. Bunche
Dr. James B. Conant
Governor Luis Munoz Marin
Robert A. Lovett
Justice Felix Frankfurter
John J. McCloy
In addition to J. Clifford MacDonald Pope John XXIII was coffered posthumously. And President John Fitzgerald Kennedy also received a medal posthumously.
This past Sunday, PBS held a preview screening of the documentary THE MARCH at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. THE MARCH is directed by John Akomfrah. It has its television premiere tonight, August 27 at 9 PM ET/8C on PBS.
The panel for the preview was comprised of four people who were involved with organizing the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial: Julian Bond (appears in THE MARCH) who was Communications Director for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and is currently Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP; Courtland Cox who represented SNCC on the March on Washington at its New York headquarters under Bayard Rustin‘s direction and played a key role in the story shared below re John Lewis’ speech; Norman Hill (appears in THE MARCH) who was National Program Director of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) who wrote the initial draft of the plan for the March on Washington and was a key field organizer for the March; and Joyce Ladner (appears in THE MARCH), who was field secretary for SNCC and staff of the March on Washington, working with Bayard Rustin. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Lawson of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
These were the young souls of 1963 determined, passionate and committed to get in the front of the line of the march (from all sides) as they had been on the front lines and firing lines of lunch counters, buses, voter registration drives, and demonstations throughout the South. The March was the event that created a dramatic “salt and pepper” effect for the movement regionally, ethnically and racially. And many haven’t stopped “marching.”
Before the film, the audience was alerted that the version of THE MARCH they were about to see did not include the footage or audio of Martin Luther King’s delivering what is known as his “I Have a Dream Speech.” This would’ve cost the filmmakers and their funders a significant amount of additional monies to secure rights for a single free public preview screening. The King segment will be included in tonight’s PBS broadcast.
Persons who’ve been down this road before are all too familiar with what can become a legally and financially prohibitive process to access anyof King’s intellectual and material properties. The packaging of Dr. Martin Luther King and the 1963 March into a single speech has, in the opinon of the actual witnesses, been a disservice to the impact of the March and even Dr. King’s legacy. And perhaps the estate may want to assess the strength of the legacy and review its current policies around permissions and rights. As I’m photocopying documents at a local office supply store, another customer is talking with a salesperson saying he had no idea there was a 50th Anniversary March event happening in Washington over the weekend, adding “my grand daughter didn’t know who Martin Luther King, Jr was” followed by a light chuckle.
While these audio, video, intellectual, image rights issues are being debated, argued, sorted out etc, I say, it’s time to focus on other speeches from the 1963 March. Josephine Baker delivered a testimonial of her expatriate’s journey wearing her French Resistance uniform (I’m sure James Baldwin could relate). The 1963 March, as was reiterated at the Sunday event, answered the question, “What does the Negro want?” John Lewis, today’s Congressman from Georgia (D-Ga) and then the 23-year-old SNCC chair answers with specifics. He says “Black” instead of “Negro.” So what? The “so what” is it was 1963. “Black” wasn’t the P word (read “power”) it became after Martin Luther King’s tragic assasination in 1968 or James Brown’s proclamation released in black vinyl 4 months later. “Black” is in John’s speech, before the cameras turned onto Stokley Carmichael. This is signficant.
What is also significant is that there are two speeches. The one John Lewis wrote, and the one the SNCC leader delivered at the 1963 March. The original speech goes even further than just the word “Black” or “What does the Negro want?” It asks “Why?” and answers “What will happen if it’s not delivered.”
At an event in 1963 that had more federal and local security measures in place than a post 9-11 terrorism orange alert, John’s speech made the rounds of the March’s leadership and at the 11th hour was edited under much political pressure to take the edge off. But “Black” stayed in the speech with the elders’ approval. It signals a shift. More about this story is included in John Lewis’ memoir of his civil rights story, Walking with the Wind, written with Michael D’Orso and published in 1998 by Simon & Schuster.
I suggest reading the original speech below with the video.
The speech is significant for this event. And still relevant. (clip from BillMoyers.com)
From Walking With the Wind, John Lewis and Michael D’Orso. Simon & Schuster, 1998
We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all.
In good conscience, we cannot support wholeheartedly the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little and too late. There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.
This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations: This bill will not protect the citizens in Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped up charges. What about the three young men in Americus, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?
The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama and Georgia, who are qualified to vote but lack a sixth-grade education. “ONE MAN, ONE VOTE” is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours.
People have been forced to leave their homes because they dared to exercise their right to register to vote. What is there in this bill to ensure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?
For the first time in one hundred years this nation is being awakened to the fact that segregation is evil and that it must be destroyed in all forms. Your presence today proves that you have been aroused to the point of action.
We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their careers on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles?” The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?
In some parts of the South we work in the fields from sunup to sundown for $12 a week. In Albany, Georgia, nine of our leaders have been indicted not by Dixiecrats but by the federal government for peaceful protest. But what did the federal government do when Albany’s deputy sheriff beat attorney C. B. King and left him half dead? What did the federal government do when local police officials kicked and assaulted the pregnant wife of Slater King, and she lost her baby?
It seems to me that the Albany indictment is part of a conspiracy on the part of the federal government and local politicians in the interest of expediency.
I want to know, which side is the federal government on?
The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The nonviolent revolution is saying, “We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure, that could and would assure us a victory.”
To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that “patience” is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.
We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about. In the struggle, we must seek more than civil rights; we must work for the community of love, peace and true brotherhood. Our minds, souls and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all people.
The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a “cooling-off” period.
All of us must get in the revolution. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and every hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution is complete. In the Delta of Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in Alabama, Harlem, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and all over this nation, the black masses are on the march!
We won’t stop now. All of the forces of Eastland, Bamett, Wallace and Thurmond won’t stop this revolution. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth” policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground — nonviolently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy. We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you, WAKE UP AMERICA!
DISCLOSURE: The author of this post organized the preview screening of THE MARCH mentioned above…and learned a lot from the particpants!
I recently read Stephen L. Carter‘s novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. I boldface novel so not to confuse the book with other Lincoln titles, usually non-fiction. In Carter’s novel, Lincoln lives after the play, and is still President. But he’s on the hot seat with Congress for going “too far” with the South, “too hard” on the rich folks, and “not far enough” for the radicals. At the center of this argument is a young aspiring Oberlin College graduate named Abigail Canner. Abigail was born a free black woman, she’s smart, determined, and through her Oberlin connections has a job with the law firm for the President’s defense team. Everyone seems to want to know Abigail.
Saturday, June 29 at 2:30 PM I moderate the discussion around the 1867 world of Abigail Canner at the Historical Society of Washington, DC (801 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001). [Download the flyer or RSVP for the free event on Eventbrite.] Our speakers and Carter are blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The thematic discussion of the book will go deep around Abigail, her world, her dreams even what she and her colleagues and neighbors would eat. Carter doesn’t give too many details, but we’ll fill the plate. One of my favorite culinary historians, Michael W. Twitty will join me to talk about foodways before, during and after the Civil War. You can read Michael’s open letter to Paula Deen on his Afroculinaria website — check out all the other good stuff in his web library too including a recipe for blueberry barbeque sauce. Michael and I take our southern food seriously.
But my principal assignment is to explore Abigail’s alma mater, Oberlin College, founded in 1833 in the western wilderness of Ohio. Oberlin was estblished by northern missionaries and grew when the “father of Revivalism” Charles Grandison Finney came on the scene. Finney was also a staunch abolitionist (radical?). With Finney established, students and financial support soon followed. In the novel, Finney provides the important letter of reference and recommendation for Abigail to clerk at the Dennard and McShane law firm in downtown Washington.
Before HBCUs and Seven Sisters, the Oberlin Collegiate Institute that became Oberlin College, was the go-to college for all women and persons regardless of color for a complete Bachelor’s degree course, a “Literary Course” (for women minus Greek, Latin, and advanced mathematics), Theological studies, and eventually the Convervatory of Music (founded in 1865).
Abigail was recruited to attend Oberlin by the first African American college graduate and fellow Obie George B. Vashon who makes an appearance in flashback in The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. Vashon was among the first graduates of the college in 1838. He would return to earn a MA in 1849. Vashion was a first in law as well — the first African American to practice law in New York state.
Once enrolled, Abigail the freshman would be on campus with some prominent upper class women. Abigail Canner may not mention these women, but they certainly would’ve crossed paths on Tappan Square:
Mary Jane Patterson who graduated with a B.A. in 1862 was also the first black woman in the world to earn a Bachelor’s degree from a collegiate institute. Patterson would go to Washington to teach at the Preparatory High School for Negroes (later M Street High School, and then Dunbar High School). She would become its first woman principal.
Mary Edmonia Lewis enrolled in 1859 at the recommendation of her brother. She didn’t complete her studies for the Literary course. Things got a little out of hand when she was accused of poisoning two white students/friends. This was known as the “Spiced Wine Scandal.” Part Chippewa Indian and African American, Edmonia was somewhat exotic in the Ohio town, never hiding her heritages. But just before her friends were leaving to enjoy a sleigh ride with their fellas, Edmonia invited the girls up for spiced wine. It’s been said that the wine was spiked with Spanish Fly which made the girls violently ill. The incident nearly split the abolitionist town in half. Edmonia was dragged out from Mr. Keep’s house and beaten.
John Mercer Langston, a prominent Oberlin resident and graduate from the Oberlin College and School of Theology, came to Edmonia’s rescue in court and won for her. John Mercer Langston, also of Native American/Black heritages, would later become the first dean of the Howard University’s law school and elected to Congress in 1888, the first U.S. Representative of color from the state of Virginia.
Even with her court victory, Edmonia couldn’t stay in Oberlin and left the campus in 1862 for Boston. Edmonia was also an artist. She started sculpting and sold small plaster souvenir busts of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and created busts of Abraham Lincoln and John Brown. With these earnings and the help of patrons, Edmonia booked a passage to Rome, Italy to continue sculpting and was part of a group of expatriot women sculptures known as the Marmorean Flock. Whether Abigail Canner heard gossip around Edmonia’s story, warnings or passed the future sculptor as she was leaving town, is left to our imaginations.
Fanny Jackson Coppin would’ve been Abigail’s classmate; both graduating around or at the same time in 1865. Fanny was born a slave in Washington, DC. Her aunt purchased her 12-year-old niece’s freedom for $125. Fanny worked as a domestic, hired a tutor, attended public school. She enrolled in Oberlin’s Literary course followed by the collegiate course and earned her BA in 1865. There’s no mention of Fanny in the novel. But maybe Fanny had no time for Abigail. While a student, she started an evening school for freed persons.
After graduation, Fanny Jackson became principal of the girls’ high school at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. She opened the only trade school for African Americans in that city. Abigail would meet her fiance at Oberlin. Fanny was 44 when she married AME minister Reverend Levi Jenkins Coppin. Fanny also established homes for working and poor women and was a fighter in defending the rights of women and African Americans (source: Oberlin College). Coppin State University, in Baltimore, is named for Fanny Jackson Coppin.
Abigail had loads of oppportunities to connect with fellow Obies when she returned to Washington, DC. But she had more pressing matters in the post-Civil War city known for corruption, intrigue, danger, and mud.
The discussion at the Historial Society of Washington, DC is a program of DC By the Book, the DC Public Library’s website for mapping Washington, DC in fiction…or its gray areas, the color of Abigail Canner’s eyes.
I kept my worlds very separate and I think when I first started thinking about trying to publish poetry I realized that the business and government worlds that I was functioning in, in a fairly high level, didn’t really respect people that engaged in the arts. And likewise, in artistic communities, people that have substantial jobs outside those artistic communities tend to be looked at with suspicion.
Michael Astrue, former Social Security Commissioner
aka A.M. Juster, poet
Michael Astrue nails it — a truth in the life of the artist who works in Washington, DC. Eventually the artist has to decide how he/she pulls off the work/art/life balancing act in a city that measures people by job titles, the hours you’re clocking on a day job, and if you’re creative or artistic, “Why aren’t you in New York or Los Angeles?” Anywhere but here where no one can see you struggle. Is this why Langston Hughes left on the first thing smokin’? The busboy comes out a poet. Why Zora eventually had to pack it in even though she claimed Washington for her cultural finishing. Why Walt Whitman did his Washington time for the good of the country during the Civil War which seemed to be good for the writing as well. A good government job will pay the bills while you burn the midnight oil to churn out the next….damn, I’m still at my computer at work. How did that happen? 20 years later? Do I have any vacation time left?
Listen to Michael Astrue’s complete interview on NPR – Michel Martin’s “Tell Me More”