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Dec 20, 2007 5:34 pm

Thursday Notes

Caleb Crain's"Twilight of the Books – What will life be like if people stop reading?" New Yorker, 24 December, is supplemented here and here at his blog, Steamboats are ruining everything. If you're in the NYC area, you can hear Caleb discussing his article tomorrow, Friday 21 December, at 11:15 a.m. on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

Gil Troy,"The Mudslingers," NYT, 16 March, reviews Edward J. Larson's A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. Welcome, btw, Professor Troy's new blog to the community of HNN bloggers. Although he thinks we've all crossed an unacceptable line, Historians for Obama continues to grow. Ed Linenthal, the editor of the Journal of American History, is among the historians to join us most recently. See also: Kevin Matson,"Why Obama Matters," Guardian, 19 December.

The Nonist has a fine illustrated essay,"The Relics of Temperance." Oh, yes. My great aunt Ella was the head of Louisville's branch of the WCTU. Whenever she visited her son's house, she'd head straight for the kitchen and empty every liquor or beer bottle she found down his sink. (She was also cousin Hunter Thompson's aunt, if you can imagine that.) Even my mom, bless her, had me sit in church on Temperance Sunday and, until I'd signed the pledge, it was clear there'd be no Sunday dinner for little Ralph.

Todd McCarthy,"The Great Debaters," Variety, 18 December, previews the film produced by Oprah Winfrey and starring Denzel Washington. It's about Melvin Tolson, the brilliant English professor/football coach/debate coach at Wiley College in the depression era. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren has more about the controversial Tolson.

On a related front, David S. Bernstein,"Was it all a dream?" The Phoenix, 19 December, disputes Mitt Romney's repeated claim that he watched his father, Michigan's then governor, George Romney, march with Martin Luther King in the 1960's. The dispute pits Mitt Romney and David Broder against David Bernstein and a Grosse Pointe, Michigan, local historian. I sent links to the controversy to David Garrow, who knows more of the details about these things than anyone else. Garrow replies that he'd bet on the factual accuracy of David Broder *any time.*
Update: See Ed Schmitt's comment at Cliopatria this morning; and"Romney Joins Marchers in Grosse Pointe Protest," NYT, 30 June 1963. Bernstein updates to admit that he overstated the case. Literalists will still claim that Mitt Romney"lied."

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Ed Schmitt - 12/20/2007

I failed to proofread this before I submitted it - the date of the item was July 3, 1963 (not 1964).

Ed Schmitt - 12/20/2007

I hadn't realized that this was turning into a controversy but when I read Gov. Romney's quote a while back it aroused my curiosity.

A quick search in the trusting files, if this the incident which the Massachusetts governor is actually remembering, it suggests he may be right in spirit and wrong on his big detail (King's presence). It suggests the local historian is just wrong, and Broder, if this is the incident, is wrong on the facts.

There may be other stories on this but I should be grading so I just pulled up this one, Lyle Wilson's syndicated UPI column in the Lima News of July 3, 1964, p.5, and the broader portrait of George Romney here (and this window into where the country was at on religion and politics as the first Catholic was in White House) is perhaps most important.

"Mormon Romney Scored Gains By Leading Integration March"

"Gov. George Romney may not be much of a politician, but his instinct for the warm and gracious political gesture is about as good as John F. Kennedy's. That is very good, indeed.
Romney demonstrated his political instinct last weekend in fashionable Grosse Pointe, Mich. There he stepped off the sidelines in a surprise appearance at the head of an NAACP anti-segregation parade. It appears that Romney just took over. No previous arrangements. The governor simply stepped to the head of the parade and led off.
No one who knows Romney well would ascribe that maneuver wholly to politics. Romney is a man of severe integrity. He is likely under any circumstances to be moved more by moral than other considerations.
Nonetheless, Romney needs to make some character with American Negroes. For example: Just published is "Black Man in the White House" by E. Frederic Morrow. Morrow was the White House administrative officer for special projects, 1955-61 during the Eisenhower administration. There is a passage that will interest Romney.
Morrow is something less than objective in his discussion of the Negro and his problems, political and otherwise. But he knows his subject. His credentials are excellent. Murrow wrote that the Eisenhowers invited him and his wife to hear the Mormon Choir from Salt Lake City in a White House concert.
"It was a deeply moving experience," Morrow noted in his diary, "and, despite my feeling about Mormons, I have to admit they have one of the finest musical groups I have ever heard. Salt Lake City is a difficult city for Negro residents. It has deep-seated, relentless discrimination and, since the city is run, controlled, and practically owned by Mormons, it is only natural that I have developed strong feelings about them."
Morrow's book will be widely read by Negroes in the North and East. The Salt Lake City passage will do no good to Romney's political future. It could be offset, however, by maneuvers such as leading NAACP parades. Further, the governor is solidly on record on civil rights. In a 1962 televised appearance (NBC) Romney was told that: "There has been a lot of talk of your church affiliation and the conservative nature of the Mormon Church. Now is this right or wrong? Have they (the church) taken a position about integration and questions of that kind?
Romney: "I would say that that is wrong. I know of no more progressive religion than my own religion. I am for the elimination of racial discrimination. I have worked for it in housing and in all other fields since I went to Michigan. I have done this publicly and openly. I have appeared before public bodies to eliminate discrimination in housing.
UPI's national reporter, Harry Ferguson, interviewed Romney last autumn. Ferguson reported that the religious issue arose briefly in Romney's gubernatorial campaign. It was asserted that Negroes were ineligible for the Mormon priesthood and that all colored persons therefore were second class citizens. Romney met the issue promptly and decisively, Ferguson reported, citing his own impressive record as an advocate of civil rights. His associates claim he polled a heavy vote in Negro precincts."

Ed Schmitt

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