Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Former Student Discusses "White Privilege" and What We Can All Do

Recently, one of my favorite former students, Eric Armstrong, an African American semi-young man, posted this response to the shooting of George Floyd, and attendant issues.

Eric is a 49er’s fan; but we can forgive that. I was fortunate to have not only Eric in my history class, but also his equally talented sisters, Kia and Ashley. His mother, LaVerne Armstrong, was also a highly-respected educator in the same district where I taught.

His father, also Eric Armstrong,  “worked in HR for nearly 40 years,” Eric wrote, “so I learned a lot about diversity, inclusion, and empathizing with others from conversations with him. He now owns a Black Angus Cattle ranch in Oklahoma!

I told Eric, then, we would call his father a modern Nate Love, a famous African American cowboy.

After graduating from Loveland High School in 1998, the younger Mr. Armstrong obtained degrees in Chemical Engineering and Spanish from Purdue University. When not working in technical sales; he enjoys traveling the world in his free time. That said, here’s what Eric wrote. I moved a couple of commas, spelled out an abbreviation or two, and stuck a title on his essay. 

Otherwise, the eloquent words are his.

Mr. Armstrong, with sister Ashley's children.


Tough Topics, Powerful Words, Time for Deeds

Facebook Friends I really hope if you read this first sentence, you find the time to read these next several paragraphs. It’s lengthy but I think it’s important.

Systemic racial inequality, prejudice, ‘White Privilege,’ are tough topics, powerful words. I imagine white people; are uncomfortable when they hear them, feel defensive when directed towards them, and I think most importantly are confused about what to do about them.

You see racists are easy to identify and label, they wear hoods, yell slurs, and burn crosses. Racists don’t hide their disdain, they’re proud of it, and most importantly I imagine 90% of white people can say unequivocally, “I’m not a racist, that’s not me!” “My family raised us to...” “I have very close ____ friends.” etc...

The other words however are harder to define; they are subtle, woven into our nation’s very fabric, everyday behavior, and actions. Unfortunately, our country was built and founded on them. In their most basic forms even Black Americans can struggle to explain them, it’s often an uneasy feeling or a story, the way you were treated. It’s some simple task that Black Americans worry about that would never cross the mind of a white person.
Moreover, if you as a white person can comprehend the definitions and give examples of these words, then you’d realize 100% of white people have existed/participated/enabled them. That’s honestly what is at the core of everything happening today. A profound ignorance exists and the cure is education, open dialogue, and a paradigm shift in how we respond.

I personally haven't said much about what’s happened recently, the rash of killings locally here in Indianapolis or across the country. I’ve admittedly deflected and given short PC answers. There are two reasons for this commonly shared by many Black Americans.

1) It reopens painful feelings and emotional wounds, and if you’re a Black American who has existed as I have (fairly comfortably) it’s a jarring reminder of what could happen to you and your friends, family, and colleagues.
2) It’s exhausting. If you know me, I enjoy talking and pushing the boundaries of comfort on many topics. I don’t shy away from race if engaged and I try to keep the conversation light so I’m approachable and those who truly want to understand, learn and change have a safe place to do so. However, for every one of those interactions, there are 20 other conversations, comments, posts, when white people dismiss Black Americans’ experiences as “one-off occurrences” or say “why do you make everything about race. It isn’t always about race.” Or, “Well if ______Black American wasn't doing _____, _____ wouldn't have happened.”

So admittedly, lazily, embarrassingly, I felt like this latest response was going to be the U.S. status quo. People get fake mad, they post “Black Lives Matter” and are upset for a while, some Black Americans protest and march, then in a couple months things/people go back to “normal.”

But I decided to write this because something different is happening. White people are out marching too, they’re verbalizing the issues and not just repeating buzz words. Most importantly they’re engaging us. They’re messaging me, texting me and asking me to have conversations. They’re asking me what those confusing words mean to me, asking what my experience has been.

A business colleague who I consider a friend sent me this:

Weird non work related question. Would you be interested in coming to our house for dinner in the next two weeks. No need to answer tonight. The bigger human conversation is that our kids need to meet people who don’t look like them.


Maybe it will be different this time...

Because if everyone wants to know how we “fix things” how we “make it better,” that’s it in a nutshell. White people must willingly have a lot of introspection, ask questions of themselves and Black Americans, and state the following, “I acknowledge that though I’m not a racist; I’m ignorant, uninformed, and contributing to prejudice, systemic racism, and white privilege with my inactivity. My posts and words are not enough.”
What are the questions? How do you know you are contributing to this climate?

If as a white person you’ve ever posted or said, “Skin color doesn’t matter to me.” Or, “I don’t see race.” Unless you are actually visually impaired, you’re saying (whether you intend to) I’m not recognizing that because your skin is brown, your experience in this world has been markedly different than mine. It must be acknowledged that race is a factor, a variable in a human’s life experience and reactions, questions, interactions, must be adjusted.

Change your language to take that into account, instead say, “I actively try not to let my inherent biases and ignorances negatively impact how I interact with Black Americans.”

See color, value differences.

If as a white person you’ve called something “ghetto” or used the word as an adjective to associate things with Black Americans. I compare it with how people use with the word “gay” to describe something they dislike.

Or you’ve said “_____ doesn’t act black” or “_____ isn’t really even black.” Your words mean you believe they exhibit positive characteristics ascribed to white people.

How about these? You have many black friends and co-workers... right? Have you been to their homes or invited them to yours? Do you vacation with them? Have these conversations with them?

It may not be how you treat those Black American friends and colleagues. How do you interact with the Black Americans who are strangers? Do you strike up conversations? Do you avoid sitting by them, cross the street, wait for the next elevator...?

I have seen a lot of this world and our country and I’ve been invited into the homes of strangers internationally and never to the homes of some of my “friends” here in the U.S.

My Christian friends, do you attend diverse church services? What does your congregation look like? God valued/preaches inclusion and diversity but why is the church segregated?

How about the neighborhood where you live? Any black neighbors? Do your kids have Black American classmates? Do Black American kids play with your kids at your home and vice versa? If you say, “No, there just aren’t Black Americans where I live. I live there because it’s safe and has good schools.” Well if there are no Black Americans there; are they in the underperforming schools and unsafe neighborhoods? The separate but equal ones?

If you asked your kids who are three Black Americans they know, are they all celebrities and athletes? Do you go to businesses, concerts, read books and see movies by Black Americans? You have to ask why is that? Who/what experiences are you exposing yourself and family to or limiting them from becoming educated about?

Again, the racist people are not the problem. We know where they stand and what they believe. It’s the tolerant white people, the ones that have casually existed with Black Americans. I call it arms-length prejudice. You have been fine with black people having equal rights as long as it doesn’t change your world, come into your neighborhood, school, or church. As long as it doesn’t date your sons and daughters. Have you been social distancing from Black Americans? You have to ask yourself, have you been perpetuating that arms-length distance, whether subconsciously or consciously? Do you want things to change? Do you really care about the black friend(s) or those black strangers that you post black squares and black lives matter hashtags about? It’s going to take more than posts and rhetoric. If you care about Black Americans but stand by while prejudice or prejudice-adjacent comments are being spoken then it won’t change. If it’s tolerated by our leaders and business owners as them just “speaking their mind” or “telling it how it is” then you are supporting the issue.

Many of you are currently raising the young humans who will determine how Black Americans are treated in the next 20 to 40 years and beyond. If you change their experiences and relationships with Black Americans you will change the behaviors and outcomes. Posts, black squares, and words are fantastic; education, action, and follow up are better.

Marching and demonstrating serves only to keep the issue in the front of people’s minds. The actual work is done right here with us having the conversations and listening. Calling people out, calling yourself out. A lot of people want to be healthy, but don’t want to exercise. I see the same behavior with race. A lot of white people want the conversations about race to stop, for the problems to go away, but they don’t want to do the hard work to get us there.

It’s time for these conversations. For white people to ask your friends of color about the first time they were called the n-word or were pulled over/followed for no reason?

These conversations that must be had between blacks and whites are going to be uncomfortable, they’re going to bring upon whites feelings of guilt and shame and often times blacks may be embarrassed or angry, not at you, about their struggle; but it’s an important step in healing and understanding.

Lastly, both blacks and whites must understand that changing a behavior takes a long time. Some people estimate it takes 10,000 hours of doing a task to master it. How many hours have you and your children spent discussing, interacting, and educating yourself about Black Americans? Black Americans, how many conversations have you opened yourself up to with white people? This is not going to happen overnight...but the conversations can start today

I love you all & God Bless.

Eric Armstrong, Loveland High School, 1998.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Glory of War? (1861-1865)

I created this reading assignment for students because I didn’t want them to ever imagine warfare was anything but terrible.

If you want a copy, send me an email at

By the way, I found it was easy to get veterans to come into my classroom and talk (check this link); and I tried to make sure they gave students the real picture.

(This reading is a little more ragged than I like; but I retired in 2008; so I may get around sometime and fix it up.)

The Glory of War?

Too often we have a fool’s understanding of war. We think of waving flags, flashing swords, medals, and acts of bravery. For this reason, young men (and now young women) are sometimes anxious to get involved when fighting erupts. This was the case at the start of the Civil War, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, on up to modern times. Phillip Caputo, a Vietnam veteran, once noted sadly, “War is always attractive to young men who know nothing about it.”

This mindset is a result of limited knowledge. Those who have experienced combat are normally reluctant to discuss it. Books cannot capture the taste and smell of war. Nor can TV or movies—even the “bloodiest” films made today. They cannot measure fear. They cannot quantify adrenaline. Too often, we get a romanticized version of what combat is truly like. Movie battles combine a certain excitement and glory. War seems an adventure. The star rarely dies. The “good guys” shoot with incredible accuracy. The “bad guys” can’t hit an elephant at trunk’s length.

If a hero does die, his or her death is usually quick and tidy. Good guys get to say a few last words to a friend or loved one in the movies. Most end “happily ever after” and the returning soldier wins the heart of the girl he left behind.

Or guy.

As a veteran of the Civil War, however, General William T. Sherman came much closer to the truth. When asked to describe what it is like when humans kill humans, he replied simply: “War is hell.”  

There has never been much glamour in the business. We should never forget that. Most of the time military life can be dull. There are long periods without any fighting at all. In fact, many soldiers never see combat at all. Some serve their entire time in the military as clerks or cooks.[1] For those who do march into battle, and serve in the field, discomforts are the rule. In 1861, for instance, what would be the glamour in lugging a heavy rifle and pack around, under a blazing sun, and being shot at for a bonus? The Civil War was full of marching men by the thousands, on dirt roads, kicking up “suffocating clouds of dust.” Soldiers rushing to reach the scene of battle at Gettysburg were pushed to march thirty miles or more in one day—an exhausting challenge. That battle, like many others, was fought in blistering heat. The troops suffered tremendously from thirst. During the fight (July 1-3, 1863), one man solved the problem by spooning water out of a muddy hoofprint to make coffee. At other times, the rains poured down on both armies. Then “General Mud” took command, as the troops like to joke. Boots grew heavy with sticky mud and wagons sank to their axels and had to be dragged out by tired animals and men. Soggy clothing, damp blankets, dripping tents and cold food were the rule in camp.

It could be a miserable life. Men in both Northern and Southern armies went days without a decent meal or change of clothing.[2] One cavalryman complained that he had not had more than one meal a day for three weeks. I “have slept on the ground every night, generally without blankets, and [have] been in the saddle constantly,” he noted. Southern soldiers, part of an army that often lacked supplies, might march barefoot after shoes fell apart. Even one Yankee general complained of the poor conditions. Jokingly, he wrote his wife, he could only dream of being “within a few miles” of his toothbrush someday.

Waving the flag may look glorious; but this regiment, the First Tennessee,
was cut to ribbons during the war.
Sam Watkins, a veteran of four years of blooding combat,
 tells the story in another reading you might like.


Worse than muddy coffee or unbrushed teeth, death was a constant visitor of both armies—of all armies, in all times. And where is the glory in that? What would be “exciting” about a bullet that smashed a man’s kneecap to splinters? Did General Gabriel Paul, who was struck by a bullet in the side of his face, a shot which destroyed both eyes, experience the “glamour?” What about Bayard Wilkeson, a young officer, who had his leg nearly ripped off by a cannonball? He looked down to see it dangling by a few shreds of flesh and had to cut it off with his pocketknife.

            How about the soldier described below who was hit three times in quick succession during the Battle of the Wilderness?

During the day’s fighting [said one witness] I saw a youth of about 20 years skip and yell, stung by a bullet through the thigh. He turned to limp to the rear. After a few steps he stopped, then kicked out his leg once or twice to see the wound. He looked at it attentively for an instant, then turned and took his place in the ranks and resumed firing.

In a minute or two the wounded soldier dropped his rifle, and clasping his left arm, exclaimed: “I am hit again.” He sat down behind the battle ranks and tore off the sleeve of his shirt. The wound was very slight—not much more than skin deep. He tied his handkerchief around it, picked up his rifle, and took position alongside of me.

I said: “You are fighting in bad luck today. You had better get away from here.” He turned his head to answer me. His head jerked, he staggered, then fell, then regained his feet. A tiny fountain of blood and teeth and bone and bits of tongue burst out of his mouth. He had been shot through the jaws; the lower one was broken and hung down. I looked directly into his open mouth, which was ragged and bloody and tongue-less. He cast his rifle furiously on the ground and staggered off.

Never forget. War is the organization of large bodies of human beings for one purpose. That is: to kill and maim the greatest number of enemies possible. It is the business of reducing other men and women to something that might pass as roadkill.

Killed in action on April 2, 1865.
Asks students what they think it would be like to die on the last day of a war.


The Civil War has been called the first “modern war.” What this means is that new and better weapons made killing more efficient [easier; faster]. The concentration of rifle fire at the Battle of Spotsylvania was so great that trees two feet in diameter were shot in half. “In the tornado of fire and iron,” one survivor recalled, “no living man nor thing could stand.” The slaughter at Gettysburg was typical. A total of 160,000 men took part. In only three days more than 38,000 were captured, wounded or killed.[3]

Considering the size of the armies involved, this was a war of incredible bloodshed. One Southern family sent twelve sons to the fighting. Only three survived. Another woman lost five brothers and her fiancĂ©. In some battles entire units were destroyed. The 1st Minnesota, a northern regiment at Gettysburg, entered the fight with 262 men. Only 47 remained unhurt at the end. Co F , of the 26th North Carolina, began the fight with 90 men. All were killed, wounded, or captured over the course of three days. Another officer reported that eleven different men carried his unit’s flag at the Battle of Antietam. (The flag or “colors” was the focus of heavy fire in those days.) The first ten soldiers were all swept away by enemy bullets.

Often men died bravely, but achieved absolutely nothing. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union troops charged Rebel forces protected behind stone walls and in a sunken roadway. Those who survived remembered rushing ahead, only to meet an “avalanche of artillery” fire. “We were almost blown off our feet,” recalled one survivor. The storm of fire pressed them back like “a mighty wind.” A second charge was ordered and made, with no better result. Only 20 or 30 minutes had passed. Yet, over half of the thousands of soldiers involved were mowed down. Afterward the battlefield was covered with a thick carpet of blue bodies.

Those men had made two brave attacks. Yet courage brought no reward. No soldiers, no matter how courageous, could have broken that Rebel line by head-on attack. Instead, the assault resulted only in senseless slaughter and ended in heaped corpses. The charge was stupid. The bravery wasted. “This is war—‘glorious war,’” one survivor remarked bitterly. “If we could see it in its true colors it is the most horrible curse that God could inflict upon mankind.”

Perhaps the Rebel general, D. H. Hill, said it best, after another equally hopeless charge. At Malvern Hill it had been his soldiers who had to attack, in the face of dozens of Yankee cannon. By the hundreds, his men had died. Hill could only choke out the words, “It was not war, it was murder.”

The Civil War, like all wars, brought death in all its forms. Thirty thousand prisoners died from disease and starvation in squalid Confederate prison camps. Another 25,000 met a similar fate in equally bad Northern jails. Men died when wagons they were driving tipped over and crushed them. They died from accidental gunshot wounds, while cleaning weapons they thought were not loaded. They were killed when warships sank in storms, when railroad bridges they were crossing in trains collapsed. They were killed when horses they were caring for kicked them in their heads.  Death came for them in many different ways. General Stonewall Jackson and his men won fame as the “Foot Cavalry,” for the speed with which they reached the battlefield. But on the way to the fight at Cedar Mountain, eight of his soldiers died from sunstroke and heat exhaustion. Wounded troops at Fort Donelson froze to death after being shot down on the wintery battleground. At Chancellorsville, gunfire set thick forest ablaze. Men too badly injured to move were burned alive. On another occasion, a 16-year-old Rebel was hit by a shot that broke his thigh. By chance he fell in a nest of wasps. The bullet and stinging wasps cost him his life. Tens of thousands of men in both armies and both navies died from pneumonia, flu, or that hero’s disease: severe diarrhea.

No glory there.

The true story of this war, or any other, is a tale of shattered human beings, suffering and immense sorrow. Jeb Stewart was one of the most famous horsemen of the Civil War. He was handsome, dashing and brave—a general at age 28—the type of man women might faint for. He was a corpse by age 31, killed by enemy fire at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in 1864. General John Hood lost a leg from one wound. Then he had an arm torn apart from wrist to biceps in another battle. Henry Kyd Douglas was hit six times by enemy fire in the course of three years.

For the wounded, war could be a horror story, in what one historian has called an “Age of Amputation.” Following each battle, hospitals looked the same. General George Armstrong Custer walked into one where doctors had a waist-high pile of arms and legs. Another visitor at a different site described “a heap of human fingers, feet, legs and arms” near the door. “I shall not soon forget the bare-armed surgeons, with bloody instruments,” he added. The rasping sound of saws on bone quickly drove him from the area.[4] 

Blurry picture; but that's a bone saw at top.

Not all soldiers are heroes, either.
This picture by Winslow Homer captures a soldier "playing sick."

There was, of course, great courage and bravery displayed during the Civil War. There was even a certain amount of glory and excitement. For the most part, however, this war was like all other wars. It was an exercise in the creation of death. It meant suffering multiplied beyond imagination. We should not ignore that fact. The war meant suffering and loss for thousands of soldiers, sailors and families.

And someone had to explain every death to loved ones left behind. What could the mother of a sailor on the U.S.S. Cumberland say on hearing the news, that the vessel had been sunk in battle and her precious son lost? Who could comfort Hetty Carey? She had been engaged to an officer for three years. Finally, she married him—only to end up back in the same church, three weeks later, for his funeral. Eliza Hoffman received the news that her boyfriend had been killed. She spent the next year in her room, speaking to no one, with meals left at the door.

What did it mean—what could it feel like—for the Northern wife who received this letter?

Dear Mary,

            We’re going into action soon, and I send my love. Kiss the baby, and if I am not killed I will write to you after the fight.


Loving Daniel never wrote again—for he was killed a few hours later. By war’s end, 600,000 Americans on both sides had met the same fate.

Your Work:

Pick some soldier in this reading and write a paragraph about how they felt about their experiences in war. You can be a ghost if you like, or a loved one, back home, who receives bad news. 

One Young Man Goes to War

            When Fort Sumter was fired upon S. H. M. Byers was a 22-year-old Iowa farm boy. News of the war made him anxious to serve his country. Like most young men he little realized what horrors awaited. “And so I enlisted,” he noted, “in a regiment that was to be wiped out of existence before the war was over.”

            Byers join the army with the “hope of tremendous adventure.”  Before his first fight, he remembered being “anxious to participate in a red-hot battle.” He and his fellow soldiers marched into combat, “as light-footed and as light-hearted that September morning as if we were going to a wedding.” “The fact is,” he added, “no one thought himself in severe danger. Some of us would be killed, we knew, but each thought it would be the ‘other fellow.’”

            In the beautiful fall weather of 1862, Byers and the rest sang as they approached the battlefield. “We saw the poetry of war,” then, Byers remarked with grim humor years later. Yet sundown of the same day would see five of Byers’s friends “and forty-two of my regiment dead in a ditch.” Two hundred and seventeen men (of 482 in his unit) were killed or wounded “within an hour” fighting that day.

Even after he had fought in several battles, Byers almost wished he would be wounded (“I hoped for this little honor”). But he never felt he might die. Bill Bodley, one of Byers’s  friends, saw his own brother killed, and it made him sick. Another time, Byers watched cannon fire “poured into their faces” when a brave Rebel unit charged. “It seemed,” he remembered, “to be the destruction of humanity, not a battle.” And that same night Byers stood guard beneath an oak tree, with the unburied dead around him, including two more old friends from school.

This was his experience in the “adventure” of warfare. 

Another charge that went for naught: the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Fisher, 1864.

[1] I enlisted in the Marines in 1968, and volunteered twice to go to Vietnam. But I ended up, by luck, not going. Instead, I spent my time in the Corps doing paperwork as a supply clerk. As I used to tell my students, “I defended the country with a staple gun.”
[2] The author once had a Vietnam veteran talk to his classes. He told students he went 63 days, while out in the jungle, without a change of clothing. The class groaned. He added, “You really didn’t notice after the first week.”
[3] We know at least one female took part in Pickett’s Charge; and several women, disguised as men, served in combat during these years.
[4] Students should not be left to imagine that warfare is glamorous—but a discussion of duty and patriotism might also be important.
            As for the reality: I used to have veterans come to my class and talk. One Vietnam veteran broke down in tears trying to talk about seeing his friend killed. Several vets told students they suffered from PTSD, even World War II vets, who had never heard the term when they were young. Joe Whitt, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and several other naval battles, told student he had the same dream every night for years. His ship exploded and he went flying into the air. As he was coming down, he put his feet together and braced his arms at his sides. And every night, when he hit the water, he woke up.
            Joe had seen a U.S. warship hit by enemy fire and break in half at the Battle of Savo Island. Almost the entire crew, several hundred men, was lost.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

War of Nerves: Racism in the 1950s

Equal Rights in America?

This story appeared in Time magazine, October 7, 1957. It was an era when African Americans were just beginning to demand equal rights. (During the same week President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered 3,000 U.S. Army paratroopers into action. Their job: protect nine black students who wished to attend the all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.)

         Three concepts will be introduced below. The Confederacy was the nation formed by eleven states which broke away from the U.S. in 1861. They fought the Civil War to protect and keep slavery. The “stars and bars” was a flag they carried during the fight. The KKK is the Ku Klux Klan, whose basic beliefs hold that whites should rule America and the races should remain separated.

War of Nerves

     In the ranch-house suburb of Levittown, Pennsylvania (population 60,000), the empty house at 30 Darkleaf Lane came alive last week. From one roof peak flew an American flag, and from another—lighted by a spotlight at night—flew the stars and bars of the Confederacy. Each evening the house was now crowded with members of a new club, who worked hard at a strict bad-neighbor policy. With windows wide open they talked loudly over coffee, turned up their record players, sang songs, and directed all this racket at the house next door. The reason: William E. Myers, Jr. and his three small children had moved in. The Myerses are Negroes, the first to buy a home in the five- year-old Levittown community.

    Myers, a 34-year-old, $4800-a-year[1] refrigeration-equipment tester, moved into his pink, three-bedroom ranch house in August because his family had outgrown a two-bedroom cottage in a mostly-Negro area a mile away. But his coming to Levittown caused fears, anger, and rumors that he was the leader of a Negro invasion. For days ugly crowds grumbled outside his house, and finally threw stones through his picture window. Local police were reinforced by tough state troopers at the direction of Pennsylvania’s Governor George M. Leader. (“I am ashamed,” said Leader, “that this has happened in Pennsylvania.”)

    After a cop was hit by a rock, state police drove off the crowd with swinging nightsticks. Further meetings by more than three people in the area around Myers’ house were banned. But since the crackdown, trouble-makers have come up with new methods of tormenting [harassing, bothering] Myers. They have taken turns each evening slamming a heavy mailbox door near his house, or stop their cars to yell and blow bugles.

     Not everyone in Levittown is against Myers. More than 1,000 people in the town signed a “Declaration of Conscience” to show how shocked they were by the violence and misbehavior of those who were trying to scare off Myers. Some people came by to mow Myers’ lawn, leave gifts or say hello. But even a few of these have paid the price for their friendliness. Next-door neighbor Lewis Wechsler has been openly friendly since Myers moved in; since then a cross has been burned during the night on Wechsler’s lawn and a painted “KKK” was splattered across one wall of his home. One woman who lives half a block away stopped one evening to chat with Myers. When she got home she found a sign on her lawn: NIGGER LOVER it said.

   Last week the police cracked down on the noisy neighbors. The owner of the home, William A. Hughes, who lives about 1 1/2 miles away, was taken to court. The judge ordered Hughes to bounce the loud “club” members from his house or face a fine. So Hughes agreed. The members finished their coffee, turned off the records and disappeared. At week’s end householder Myers waited nervously to see what would happen next. Said he: “I want to be the same as any other American; I want to be treated like anyone else. This is a war of nerves. But I’m not going to move.”

Your work:

(Answer on your own paper.  Write short paragraphs for #1 and #4.)

1. Why do you think some of William Myers’ neighbors were so afraid of ONE black family living in Levittown?

2. In what ways did people who hated Myers attempt to scare him?

3. In what ways, if any, do you feel the following people showed courage? Answer for each of the choices below: 
A) William Myers, Jr.  
B) The white “club” members.
C) Neighbors who showed friendship toward Myers.

4. What do you think would happen in your neighborhood if a person of a different race moved in? Would it make any difference?

Burned cross, farm field north of Cincinnati.
The author of this blog has NO idea who would have stuck that campaign sign there.

[1] This would be good pay in 1957.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Friedrich Trump, grandfather of President Donald J. Trump, leaves Bavaria, in part to avoid mandatory military service, and travels to America. According to his grandson, on arrival he knew almost no English.

All his life he spoke German primarily.


Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, on which he first began work in 1876, is published in the United States.

As Ernest Hemingway later explains, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

For the next hundred years, it seems the first half of Twain’s handwritten manuscript is lost irrevocably. Finally, in 1990, it turns up in an attic trunk. The second half had been sent to the Buffalo and Erie County Library in the 1880s. Fraser Gluck, a library benefactor, had  asked Twain for the manuscript from Life on the Mississippi. That was unavailable. So Twain offered Huck.

Twain came to believe that the first half had been destroyed at the printer’s office; but he located it in 1887 and sent it to Gluck. His granddaughter found it in the fall of 1990 in an old trunk.

(At the time, it was estimated the find might be worth $1.5 million; the library claimed ownership; a court battle followed, and Barbara Testa, who found the manuscript and her sister eventually reached an undisclosed settlement. The two halves were “reunited” in 1995.)

Scholars were most excited to examine any differences in the original handwritten and published versions of the novel, not least because printers had been known to “correct” passages Twain had written in dialect.

As the Associated Press explained, “Twain was infuriated by changes that were commonly made by printers in his time. On one occasion he said his publisher had written “that the printers proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, and I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.

In 2001, a new library edition of Huck was issued, complete with three new scenes and notes on the original pen drawings by E. W. Kemble that illustrated the first printing of the classic. Two, related to the slave Jim, indicated once again, how deeply sympathetic the author was to the slave’s plight.

Kemble’s drawing of Huck and Jim’s first encounter shows Jim on his one knee, hat in hand. Far from a demeaning depiction of the runaway slave, the sketch is almost identical to a widely known graphic symbol of the campaign to end slavery.
Another sketch in the book of Jim’s “coat of arms” - a slave figure toting a knapsack over one shoulder and running - is virtually the same as the image commonly used in newspaper notices about runaway slaves.

(Blogger’s note: anyone who doubt’s where Twain’s heart truly lay should read Pudd’nhead Wilson, published in 1893, or Twain’s defense of “Chinamen,” who were the victims of all kinds of abuse out West, found in Roughing It, published in 1872.)


Twain would later say that Huck was modeled on his friend from childhood, Tom Blankenship. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” Twain  wrote in Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had."

Twain first set to work on the story in 1876, and quickly finished 400 pages, but told a friend he liked his story, “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn.”

He took a steamboat ride down the Mississippi in 1882 and may have been prompted to return to his work.

“I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days,” Twain wrote to a friend in August 1883. “I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884, in England.

Twain grew up in a slave state, and an uncle owned twenty slaves. “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once,” he said, “and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.” If Twain ever accepted slavery as normal, his attitudes must have changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and helped Frederick Douglass escape from slavery.

Nuts, I may be quoting part of this, as in the above paragraph, without attribution. Heck with it. I’m too busy to go back and check all the websites I consulted right now. Besides, I’m only putting this out for teachers’ use.

I’m all but certain the next paragraphs are direct quotes:

The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachusetts in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books. 

The n-word appears 200 times.

            Definitely quoting:

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as a librarian wrote to Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said ‘sweat’ when he should have said ‘perspiration.’”

It turns out disaster was narrowly averted with the first printing. Quoting again:

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants.

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.”

Finn never did like school much.

It’s always interesting when people find historical treasures, be it the wreck of the Atocha, the Spanish treasure ship, or the lucky find made by Michael Sparks, in a Nashville, Tennessee thrift shop. In 2007, he unrolled an old document, and took a liking to a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

How much?

The clerk said $2.48.

Sparks made the buy, took his copy home, did a little online sleuthing, and found he had one of 200 “original” copies of the Declaration of Independence, commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820.

Estimated value at auction: $250,000.

(It sold soon after for $477,650.)

In 1989, an even better discovery was made. At a flea market in Pennsylvania, a shopper saw an ornate old picture frame he liked and paid $4. When he took it home and removed  the picture, he found an old copy of the Declaration of Independence, folded into the size of an envelope. The frame proved unsalvageable and he had to throw it away, meaning he was out his $4. He kept the document, however, as something of “a curiosity.” It was fortunate that he did, for his copy turned out to be one from the original “Dunlap” run, 200 copies printed hastily on the evening of July 4, 1776, and sent to all parts of the Thirteen Colonies for public reading.

One, for example, is said to have been sent to George Washington, to be read to the troops during the winter at Valley Forge. Another, now in the possession of the National Park Service and housed in Philadelphia is believed to have been read to the people of that city by Colonel John Nixon, sheriff, on July 8, 1776.

Having been covered up by a picture for unknown decades (perhaps), meant the flea market Declaration was an “unspeakably fresh copy,” according to experts at Sotheby’s. And it was instantly one of only three known copies in private hands.

Only 24 (at least at that time) were known to exist.

Estimated value in 1991: between $800,000 and $1,000,000.

(Sold at auction: $2.42 million.)