IN FOCUS: 47TH ANNIVERSARY OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ASSASINATION
On this day in history... November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States (1961-63),
was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. by Lee Harvey Oswald, while in a Presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas
heading towards the Texas School Book Depository. Kennedy was in a open limousine waving at the cheering crowd with
First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nelly when three shots in succession erupted,
which hit the President, and the Governor. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy
was pronounced dead at 46 years, 30 minutes after the shooting. As news of the assassination was first announced on
CBS by anchor Walter Chronkite, there was an immediate outpouring of grief by the nation that mourned the lost of an
idealized young President. In a new book"The Kennedy Detail" Secret Service agent Clint Hill has said;"It has taken
me decades to learn to cope with the guilt and sense of responsibility for the president's death, and I have made it
a practice to keep my memories to myself. I don't talk to anybody about that day."
Walter Cronkite announces death of JFK on CBS
Discovery JFK Assassination
On this day in history... August 15-18, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held in Bethal, New York on Max Yasgur's Dairy Farm. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the outdoor festival, which featured 32 musical acts over three days, and was seen by an overwhelming turnout of a half a million attendees. The festival left a lasting cultural legacy in history, and its impact went well beyond to those who attended. Rolling Stone magazine hailed Woodstock as one of the"50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll". The cultural phenomenon was immortalized by a film that won the Best Documentary Oscar in 1970. The documentary brought the Woodstock experience to those who did not make it there, embedding it into the cultural landscape. According to festival organizer Joel Rosenman,"That's what means the most to me - the connection to one another felt by all of us who worked on the festival, all those who came to it, and the millions who couldn't be there but were touched by it."
Rock historian Pete Fornatale goes further."I wanted to make the case that Woodstock was a spiritual experience," says the author of Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. Fornatale is no religious zealot."I'm not a believer. I'm not a nonbeliever. I'm a wanna-believer," he says. But he's clearly on a crusade to explore the spiritual dimensions of the festival, which organizers moved from the town of Woodstock to a farm near Bethel, which means"House of God" in Hebrew."Spirituality may not be the first thing people associate with Woodstock," says Fornatale, who recently talked about his book at the Museum at Bethel Woods, situated on the site of the festival."But young people were searching for an identity and for a meaning that they found there that weekend." - Houston Chronicle, 8-16-09
Woodstock 1969: A Retrospective
Richie Havens - Freedom - Woodstock 1969
Santana - Soul Sacrifice - Woodstock 1969
The Who - My Generation - Woodstock 1969
Joe Cocker - A Little Help From My Friends - Woodstock 1969
The Star-Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix - Woodstock 1969
On this day in history... February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln the 16th President of the United States
was born in a one-room cabin on his family's Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky. This made him the first
president to born out of the thirteen original colonies.
BARACK OBAMA AND LINCOLN
Documentary on the Chicago '68 Riots
On This Day in History... August 28, 1968: Police and anti-Vietnam War demonstrators clash at Chicago's Democratic National Convention...
Sources and Further Reading:
James E. Campbell, The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote, (Texas A&M University Press, 2000)
Maurice Isserman, Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Frank Kusch, Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, (Westport, CT. Praeger, 2004).
Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, (Random House, Inc., 2005).
Jon Wiener, Tom Hayden, Jules Feiffer, Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight, (New Press, 2006).
On this day in history... August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr gives"I have a dream speech" at the Lincoln Memorial....
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his "I have a dream" speech
On this day in history...June 30, 1862 to September 11, 1862, Eugenia Levy Phillips, an ardent Confederate was arrested and sentenced to time on Ship Island, Mississippi because she laughed during a Union soldier's funeral procession in New Orleans.
During the Civil War, women in the South contributed on many levels to the cause through volunteer work, as war supply collectors, seamstresses and nurses, but the far more committed chose to rebel against the Union officials. Many Southern women took advantage of the new politicizing position the war granted women by demonstrating their loyalty to the South through fiercer methods, often through illegal means including, smuggling, espionage, and belligerency. Phoebe Pember summed up Southern women's devotion best when she wrote,"women of the South had been openly and violently rebellious from the moment they thought their states' rights touched. They incited the men to struggle in support of their views, and whether right or wrong, sustained them nobly to the end. They were the first to rebel - and the last to succumb." (Rosen, 44)
The South's small Jewish population adamantly sided with their Southern neighbors and so did their women. The majority of these Jewish women were not recent immigrants, but American born and shared the lifestyle and values of their Christian counterparts. As Hasia Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly write,"Rosana [Osterman], the Levy sisters, and the Natchez M[a]yer daughters were not, of course, recent immigrants but rather the American-born descendants of earlier migrant generations. But they, like Jews throughout the country, both newly arrived and long established, saw themselves as wholehearted Americans and fashioned their lives and identities in response to an American reality quite unlike anything Jews had ever experienced elsewhere." (Diner and Benderly, 106) These women were Jewish southern belles and lived their lives accordingly.
These Southern Jewish women were integrated in Southern society, and were attached to a lifestyle they had become accustomed to, and as the war demonstrated Southerners and the Confederacy were more tolerant of Jews than the Union army that ravaged the South, Southern Jews recognized this and devotedly aligned themselves with their beloved South at all costs. As the doyen of American Jewish history Jacob Rader Marcus writes,"The Southern Jewesses were fanatically, almost hysterically, passionate in their sympathies for their new regime. Were they trying to prove that they were more ardent than their neighbors? Why?" (Marcus, 31)
The Levys were a prominent Southern Jewish family. When the Civil War broke-out they became loyal supporters of the Confederate cause. Two of the sisters, Eugenia Levy Phillips and her younger sister Phoebe Yates Levy Pember, would be remembered in history as ardent Confederates, expressing their devotion at opposite extremes. Phoebe Pember nursed the wounded Confederates. She was one of the South's most remembered female hospital matrons and a nurse in the largest military hospital in the Confederacy during the Civil War. She was the chief matron at Hospital Number Two at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from 1862 to 1865. Pember's older sister Eugenia, however, was such an ardent Confederate that her devotion to the cause showed no boundaries, and she is remembered for supposedly serving as a Confederate spy and for her hostility to one of the Union's fiercest generals, Benjamin Butler, who was known for his hatred of the Confederacy as much as his anti-Semitic attitudes.
Eugenia Levy Phillips, born in Charleston in 1819, was the daughter of Jacob Clavius Levy, a merchant, and Fanny Yates Levy, an actress. She married U.S. Congressman Philip Phillips of Mobile, Alabama when she was 16, and went on to have nine children. Phillips was a leading figure in Alabama politics from the 1830s to the 1850s when he was elected to the United States Congress in 1852. After one term in Congress, he established a law practice in Washington, D.C. Eugenia and her husband differed greatly in their political beliefs; Phillips was a Unionist, while Eugenia was probably one of the fiercest secessionists in the District of Columbia. Eugenia also socialized with other secessionists and women suspected of spying on the Union for the Confederacy, particularly Rose O'Neal Greenhow, well-known Confederate spy. Eugenia Phillips writing in her journal claimed,"American women knew nothing of war, believed less in the cruelties and fearful vindictiveness of the Federal governm[en]t. Thus the Southern women gave free expression to the feelings which habit had made but second nature, and spoke of their hatred and determination to sustain their rights by encouraging in their husbands, sons, and fathers every resistance to tyranny exhibited by the Republicans." (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
Eugenia's associations and excessive antagonism toward the Union made her a target for government surveillance. On August 24, 1861, Federal officers came into Eugenia and Phillip Phillips' home arresting both of them. Phillip remained under house arrest for a week, but Eugenia and two of their daughters, Fanny and Caroline as well as Eugenia's sister, Martha Levy, where taken to Rose Greenhow's house to be imprisoned. The Union had arrested Greenhow the previous day for relaying plans for the first Manassas Campaign to Confederate General McDowell. There all five women remained imprisoned in two rooms in Greenhow's attic with hardly any amenities. Eugenia Phillips described it in her journal,"The stove (broken) served us for table and washstand, while a punch bowl grew into a washbasin. Two filthy straw mattresses kept us warm, and Yankee soldiers were placed at our bedroom door to prevent our escape." (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
Despite the fact that Union officers had no evidence against her and her family, they remained imprisoned, though Phillip Phillips was allowed to visit and bring food baskets, albeit under strict Union supervision. Eugenia believed her loyalty to her country should not be considered a crime to imprison her for, writing in her memoir,"Again I ask what is my crime? If an ardent attachment to the land of my birth and expression of deepest sympathy with relatives and friends in the South constitute treason than I am indeed a traitor. If hostility towards black Republicanism, its sentiment and policy-it is a crime-and I am self-condemned...!" (Rosen, 288) Southern women were outraged at the North's treatment of women with no reason, especially the imprisonment of Eugenia's two daughters. Phillips had to use his influence with Edward Stanton, Senator Reverdy Johnson from Maryland, and Supreme Court Justice James M. Wayne, the former mayor of Savannah, to secure his family's release. However, the Union exiled the Phillips family from the nation's capital, forcing them to relocate to the Southern states. The whole family was also required to take an oath as a condition of their parole to"not to take illegal actions against the Union."
It would not very long for Eugenia to again to breech the agreement. After leaving Washington the couple first traveled to Norfolk, Virginia and then on to Richmond through Savannah, eventually settling in New Orleans in the closing weeks of 1861. Although conditions were unfavorable for Phillips's law practice, the family settled there because it appeared to be safe from Union army invasion. By April however, the Union army was closing in on the Mississippi River. News Orleans surrendered on April 29, 1862.
By May 1, 1862, Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts took over command of the city. Butler tried to control the city with an iron fist. The historian Bertram Wallace Korn describes Butler as a" conniving careerist and political opportunist of major proportions, who was given the title of 'Beast' by the Confederacy for his severity during the early military occupation of New Orleans." (Korn, 164) While historian Robert Rosen writes" 'Beast' Butler was the worst, the Union Army had to offer. He was nicknamed spoons for thiefery of spoons and silverware imputed to him and his soldiers." (Rosen, 290)
In addition to this reputation as a beast, Butler was also a known anti-Semite, who throughout the war openly expressed his hatred for Jews, many of whom had settled in the South. Korn transcribes Butler's sentiments toward Jews,"They were a tightly-knit and highly-organized nation who set themselves apart and defended themselves against others even when one of their group was wrong. They were all 'traders, merchants, and bankers.' He said that the only Jews he ever knew had"been principally engaged in the occupations [i.e. smuggling] which caused the capture which has occasioned this correspondence." They were supporting the Confederacy with whole heart - 'two of them certainly are in the Confederate Cabinet.'" (Korn, 164)
When General Butler occupied New Orleans in May 1862, the Southern population treated the Yankees with such contempt that they refused to comply with Federal orders. Southerners formed mobs to attack Union soldiers; they refused to serve Yankees in their businesses; priests refused to pray for the president of the United States, and one man was even sentenced to be hung for burning the Union flag. Despite the harsh punishments the Yankee soldiers issued to New Orleans natives, the women believed these rules did not apply to them and that they were exempt from all harsh treatments because of their gender. Many of New Orleans' women expressed extreme belligerency toward Union officials.
The majority of the women who acted in this manner were upper class. As historian Drew Gilpin Faust writes, Butler"recognized that the perpetrators were generally young, often 'pretty and interesting,' and frequently socially prominent, the kind of individuals who would attract both attention and sympathy if harsh measures turned them into martyrs." (Faust, 209) At the same time, however, Butler knew he had to control their actions, for as he recalled in his memoir,"a city could hardly be said to be under good government where such things were permitted." (Butler, 417) On May 15 in retaliation to the women's disrespectful behavior Butler issued his infamous General Order No. 28, known as the"Women order":
General Order No. 28. As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans . . . it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. (Butler, 421, 418; Faust, 210).
The order put Eugenia Phillips in danger of yet again being imprisoned because of her fierce loyalty to the Confederacy, and her utter disregard and respect for the Union. Phillips was vulnerable to Butler's wrath because she was both Jewish and a member of the city's Confederate aristocracy. In an attempt to avoid Butler's anger Eugenia and the Phillips family remained for the most part at home. However, Eugenia still managed to attract Butler's fury. The Phillips's house was situated next to city hall. The day of Union Officer Lieutenant DeKay's funeral procession passed by the street, Butler caught Eugenia blurting out in laughter and cheering on the terrace of her home. As Benjamin Butler biographer Hans L. Trefousse writes,"High spirited and intensely loyal to the Confederacy, she had been in trouble before when she was apprehended for espionage in Washington. This time, not espionage but merriment was to prove her undoing." (Trefousse, 118)
Eugenia denied she had laughed at the funeral procession. There have been two accounts explaining why she was laughing. First Eugenia's daughter Caroline claims it was because Eugenia heard of a Confederate victory and was in a celebratory mood, while other accounts including Eugenia's own excuse, claim she was laughing at the antics of her younger children at a party. At first when Butler called her to the Customs House, as Rosen writes,"Eugenia, active in raising money for the widow of a man executed by Butler for having hauled down the flag from the federal mint, believed she was being prosecuted for her pro-Southern beliefs." (Rosen, 291) At the Customs House Butler screamed at Eugenia,"You are seen laughing and mocking at the remains of a Federal officer. I do not call you a common woman of the town, but an uncommonly vulgar one, and I sentence you to Ship Island for the War." Eugenia's reply further angered Butler as she wrote,"Again my insolence aroused this son of liberty, particularly as in reply to his accusation I had said: 'I was in good spirits the day of the funeral.'" (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
Eugenia's response and her refusal to plead and beg for freedom led to her harsh punishment rather than her original crime. As she explained in her journal,"I noted that he took a mighty long time to write my sentence, and I suspected that he hoped by delay I would throw myself on his mercy, or beg his pardon, or promise never to do so again. Nothing of this kind ever crossed my brain, and, full of holy indignation and determination to meet with silent contempt this outrageous insult, I quietly folded my arms and looked on him while he wrote. Not a word of appeal or explanation broke the ominous silence. My accuser had made the charge and sentenced me without judge or jury." (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
Butler wrote in Special Order No. 150 delineating Eugenia Phillips' sentence:"...having been once imprisoned for her traitorous proclivities and acts at Washington, and released by the clemency of the Government, and having been found training her children to spit on officers of the United States, for which act of one of those children both her husband and herself apologized and were again forgiven, [she] is now found on the balcony of her house during the passage of the funeral procession of Lieut. DeKay, laughing and mocking at his remains, and upon being inquired of by the Commanding General if this fact were so, contemptuously replies,"I was in good spirits that day." (Korn, 164; Special Order No. 150)
Butler ordered Eugenia to remain on Ship Island, a known yellow fever quarantine station situated off the coast of Mississippi. The island was infested with mosquitoes. In the summer the heat could be fatal while hygiene and proper food was hard to come by. Butler allowed Eugenia to have one servant to accompany and attend to her during her imprisonment, and she took her loyal servant Phebe with her. She was also not allowed to communicate with anyone but Butler and her maid; any letters she wrote her family were reviewed by Union guards, and only after she was freed did her family truly learn about her living conditions on the island.
On June 30, 1862 Eugenia commenced her imprisonment, first living in a former railroad boxcar and then in an abandoned post office building. Butler allowed Mr. Phillips to send Eugenia some food, mostly beans and spoiled beef. The harsh conditions took a heavy toll on Eugenia Phillips; the deprivation of food nearly destroyed her health, and Eugenia suffered from brain fever, which was considered nervous exhaustion. Her continued pride and loyalty to the Confederacy was the main reason Butler did not release Eugenia earlier. As she wrote in her journal,"The 'great' Gen. Butler sent once a week to inquire after my health. He, no doubt, hoped I would at last cringe and beg. Thank God, who gave me strength and patience to keep me from this black stain." (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
September 11, 1862, after nearly three months on Ship Island, Butler finally released Eugenia. When she arrived home and her husband opened the door, she believed he was seeing a ghost as believed as he was not certain she was still alive by that point. Publicly while she was imprisoned her whereabouts were vague. (Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862)
Throughout her time on the island, Eugenia was able to send out a few letters to her family, which described the"gruesome" and inhumane conditions she was forced to live in; these letters according to George Rable"made her imprisonment a cause célèbre." Eugenia's imprisonment caused an uproar from Southerners. The press throughout the country carried the story. Most people believed the sentence was too harsh for the crime. Korn explains,"The war which Butler waged upon this Jewess and other Southern women made him the Confederacy's 'Public Enemy Number One,' with a price upon his head." (Korn, 164) The citizens of New Orleans visited the Phillips family home as a sign of support.
The Jewish community and other Southern women abhorred the treatment that Eugenia was receiving at the hands of Butler. Mary Chesnut, a Christian friend of Eugenia Phillips, wrote in A Diary from Dixie,"Mrs. Phillips, another beautiful and clever Jewess, has been put in prison again by 'Beast' Butler for laughing as a Yankee funeral procession went by." (Chesnut, 266) There was even talk of Southerners planning to rescue Eugenia. According to Trefousse,"It was a sentence as harsh as it was sensational. Southerners talked of rescuing the lady, but they lacked the necessary ships and found it impossible to carry out their chivalrous plan. Butler pardoned her in September, two and a half months after her arrest, but this action did not dispel the popular belief that he was a cruel tyrant." (Trefousse, 118)
Butler regretted that Eugenia's imprisonment had the opposite effect than he intended. He wanted to make Eugenia's treasonous behavior toward the Union an example of what happened to women who display such behavior. Instead, as Rable writes, Butler turned"an irksome rebel into a martyr," which was the main reason he chose to release her from Ship Island early. Eugenia Phillips, according to Rable,"had shown considerable public relations acumen, and her prison journal reveals an ironic sense of humor, especially in her wry proposal to use a steam device to pump moisture into the rock-hard bread. Though not exactly besting Butler, she had played the wily Massachusetts politician to a draw." (Clinton, 142) Despite the cruel punishment that awaited her, Eugenia remained loyal to the Confederacy. As William Garett noted,"her proud Southern spirit never quailed and she remained firm to the last in the opinions she had expressed." (Rosen, 293)
Eugenia Levy Phillips's devotion to the Confederacy appeared"unquestionable," as Lauren Winner describes. Although Eugenia was a practicing Jew, she saw herself especially during the war as primarily a Southerner who would support her" country" at all costs, which she did. As Winner explains, Phillips"was so unswerving in her devotion to the Confederate cause that the Union suspected her of being a spy." (Clinton, 195) Eugenia Phillips and her sister Phoebe Pember have been the Southern Jewish women most remembered by historians, and their devotion has been elevated beyond their religion, which was the hope of most of the Southern Jewish women that volunteered in support of the cause.
Sources and Further Reading
Benjamin F. Butler, Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major-General Benjamin F. Butler, (Thayer, 1892).
Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut, Ben Williams Ames, ed., A Diary from Dixie, (Harvard University Press, 1980).
Catherine Clinton, Nina Silber, eds., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, (Oxford University Press, 1992).
Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, (University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society, 1951).
Jacob R. Marcus, The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History, (Ktav Pub. House; American Jewish Archives, 1981).
Eugenia Phillips, Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862.
Samuel Proctor, et al., eds., Jews of the South: Selected Essays from the Southern Jewish Historical Society, (Mercer University Press, 1984).
Robert Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, (University of South Carolina Press, 2000).
Special Order No. 150, Headquarters Department of the Gulf, June 30, 1862.
Hans L. Trefousse, Ben Butler: The South Called Him Beast!, (Twayne Publishers, 1957).
On this day in history...April 23-30, 1968 leftist students took over Columbia University, NYC occupying five buildings on the campus before forcibly being removed by the police.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of one of the most turbulent years in modern American history. The year was just beginning and yet as early as Aprils it was already volatile. Opposition to the Vietnam War was at an all time high, so much so that President Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for another presidential term. Just a few weeks before Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, and student protests raged across the country's universities, peaking in April 1968 with the stand off at Columbia University. According to historian Jeffrey Meyers, the protests "took place during a volatile and often explosive period in American history: between the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (September 1964-) and the student riots in Paris (May 1968), between the assassinations of Martin Luther King in Memphis (April 4, 1968) and of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles (June 5, 1968), between the March on the Pentagon (October 1967) and the bloody protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (August 1968), between the Tet Offensive (February 1968) and the My Lai Massacre (March 1968) and the escalating protest against the war in Vietnam." (Myers, 2003) On April 23, leftist students began a strike at the university, which lasted eight days, culminating in a riot in the early hours of April 30 when the police busted the students.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Columbia University
In 1962 Tom Hayden, a twenty-one year old student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor created the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Along with other student activists at the university, they wrote out the Port Huron Statement, the organization's statement of principles. In only two years, there were 40 SDS chapters on university campuses. Among the organization's purposes was educating their fellow students about"the evils of capitalism, the plight of blacks, and the perfidies of the military-industrial complex." (McCaughey, 427) In 1965, as the US was going on the offense in Vietnam, SDS turned its attention to the war.
On March 10, 1965, Columbia University established the fifty-second chapter of SDS, led by Ted Kaptchuck ('68) and Dave Gilbert ('67). In its first few months, the chapter focused its attention on building its membership, which included campus radicals and sympathetic faculty, and trying to determine what the relationship was between the university and the country's defense establishment. (McCaughey, 427) There were other leftist student groups at Columbia including the Columbia Citizenship Council (CCC), organized in 1959 with a mission to help the local community. Most of the University's chaplains sympathized or supported the leftist groups.
During the revolt a majority of students supported neither the protesters nor the counter protesters. As Robert A. McCaughey writes in his account,"The students who joined SDS, CCC, and anti-war groups and who became sufficiently persuaded of the complicity of the university in the perpetuation of whatever evil they were protesting to move to shut it down were a minority in a minority." (McCaughey, 428) Columbia University had 20,000 students at the time, 6,000 of whom were undergraduates. By comparison, the radical organizations on campus boasted just three hundred members, with another seven hundred more providing moral support. SDS had just fifty members with another hundred supporters. The majority of the student activists were undergraduates. (McCaughey, 428)
Leading up to the Revolt: SDS Protests 1965-1967
Student protests against the university's authority commenced in the spring of 1965. The university took minimal actions against the protesters to minimize media attention. University President Grayson Kirk believed the best policy was to keep the disruptions to a minimum, which would have worked, according to McCaughey,"had student protesters wanted immunity in exchange for not directly challenging the president's disciplinary authority. But it was precisely the latter that the protesters wanted." (McCaughey, 431) The students primarily opposed military-related recruiters on campus including the NROTC, the Marine Corps, the CIA and Dow Chemical (which supplied Agent Orange for the Vietnam War).
The university's patience was tested in the spring of 1967 when CIA and Marine Corps recruiters came to the campus sparking anti-war protests. Two incidents prompted President Kirk to ban all indoor demonstrations for the next academic year. By the fall of 1967, SDS seemed to be losing momentum. The majority of Columbia's students opposed the protests, SDS could not forge alliances with other leftist groups, and the groups were divided by internal battles. The student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, noted on October 30, 1967 that the tactics of SDS were ineffective.
The Three Issues at the Center of the Revolt
There were three central issues behind the revolt with two factions merging together for a common goal; opposition to the university's administration. The first issue was Columbia University's proposed expansion into Harlem. The university was planning to build a new gymnasium on city park property in Morningside Heights bordering Harlem. Both Columbia students and local residents would be using the gym; however, they would use separate entrances. Although Harlem civic organizations approved the project, militants objecting to the use of separate entrances, claiming this was an example of blatant racism. (Meyers, 2003) African-American students from the Students' African-American Society (SAS) and the CCC protested the expansion, calling the new building"Gym Crow."
At SDS there was a power struggle between Ted Kaptchuk, who wanted to focus on membership, recruitment, and education (what critics referred to as the "praxis axis") and Mark Rudd, who was more interested in"direct confrontation with authorities." (McCaughey, 437) Rudd, a junior who had just returned from an extended trip to Cuba, believed in participatory democracy. On March 13, 1968, Rudd was elected chairman of the Columbia SDS chapter on the slogan:"How to get the SDS Moving Again and Screw the University All in One Fell Swoop." (McCaughey, 437) Rudd was unpopular with many. Columbia's faculty disliked his arrogance, and those on the radical left objected to his suburban New Jersey upbringing, his athletic country club good looks and his male chauvinism. Tom Hayden described Rudd as"absolutely committed to an impossible yet galvanizing dream: that of transforming the entire student movement through this particular student revolt, into a successful effort to bring down the system." But Hayden also described Rudd as"sarcastic and smugly dogmatic." (McCaughey, 437)
Another of the issues that preoccupied radical students was the university's often secret involvement and affiliation with the Institute of Defense Analysis. (Conlin, 284) The IDA did not issue contracts, but affiliated universities got preferential treatment from agencies that did. Columbia's involvement with the IDA was common knowledge. What was not known, however, was the extent of the university's military research. Columbia's Institute of East European Studies was accumulating economic data for the CIA, while faculty members may have been conducting some contract research. The news came as a surprise to the university community. SDS was firmly committed to convincing the university to disengage itself from the IDA, and in March 1968, around 1,700 Columbia students signed a petition urging the university to break its affiliation as had other universities such as the University of Chicago.
The third issue was the university's crackdown on the protesters, though this was slow to materialize. In February when two hundred students protested against Dow Chemical recruiters on campus, they went unpunished, as did Mark Rudd a few weeks later when he shoved a lemon meringue pie in the face of the visiting New York City director of Selective Service. But when at the end of March Rudd and a hundred members of SDS staged a new protest at Low Library six of the group's leaders were identified and put on probation. Immediately the gym issue became relevant, and SDS students began protesting the disciplinary action, declaiming:"No disciplinary action against the Low Six." (McCaughey, 440) The students claimed their constitutional rights had been violated.
Spring 1968 Events Leading up to the Campus Revolt
In early 1968, the tension that had been mounting around the country's campuses had"reached a fever pitch." (Davis, 39) The primary reasons were the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not seek another term, and Martin Luther King's assassination. SDS saw Johnson's announcement as a reason to distrust all US institutions including the university administration. As Kirkpatrick Sale explains:"April began the escalation of student resistance that would mark this spring as the most explosive period up to that time in the history of American universities." (Sale, 429) Columbia's SDS protest coincided with the Tens Days of Resistance, a massive demonstration against the Vietnam War on campuses all over the country. Fifty colleges and universities participated. On the campuses there were"rallies, marches, teach-ins, and sit-ills, climaxing in a one-day 'student strike' on April 26." As Sale writes,"It was a demonstration of significant proportions -- probably as many as a million students stayed away from classes ... and yet somehow its impact on the public was slight." (Sale, 429)
It was the memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. at Columbia that made the April riots all but inevitable. One of the chaplains at Columbia, John D. Cannon, believed there should be a memorial service. President Kirk and Provost David Truman were not invited until they heard about the plan and insisted on participating. Their presence prompted the SAS not to attend. Held on April 9, the service was well- attended, and was going smoothly until Mark Rudd came to the pulpit while Truman was speaking and"proceeded to declare the service an 'obscenity' given Columbia's systematic mistreatment of blacks and workers King had lost his life championing." (McCaughey, 441)
Afterwards Rudd left the chapel with forty other students; the walkout shocked the faculty and administration in attendance. The administration was unable to take disciplinary action against Rudd because Chaplain Cannon essentially blessed Rudd's action by claiming"that St. Paul's welcomed the views of anyone 'who sincerely believes he is moved by the spirit.'" (McCaughey, 441) Although it appalled history Professor Fritz Stern, who caught Rudd before he departed and told him"his actions in the chapel were akin to the takeover of Socialist meetings by Nazis in Weimar Germany." (McCaughey, 441) As McCaughey claims,"This would not be the last time this analogy was invoked in the weeks that followed." (McCaughey, 441)
SDS found what they believed was a legitimate excuse to protest the administration. SDS adopted the race issue and the gym as their own, and on April 12, the chapter's steering committee voted to mount demonstrations throughout the spring in protest of the gym and the university's connections with the Pentagon "war machine." Then on April 17 at the SDS general assembly, nearly a hundred students voted in favor of spring demonstrations. April 23 was set as the day for the first day of the protest, which would begin with a noontime rally at the sundial in front of the Low Library. Rudd's mastermind planning included two pre-protest steps to"assure a crowd at the sundial." (McCaughey, 441) In a letter entitled"Letter to Uncle Grayson" on April 19 Rudd "listed three nonnegotiable demands that SDS had settled on: the cessation of gym construction; Columbia's withdrawal from the IDA; and no disciplinary action against the Low Six." (McCaughey, 441) Rudd also began negotiating with other student groups to embrace their issues of concern. According to McCaughey, this"marked a new departure for SAS, which until now had avoided involvement in any campus issues that were not directly related to the circumstances of black students." (McCaughey, 441)
Although the Ten Days of Resistance was according to Sale"the largest student strike in the history of the country," it was dwarfed by the sheer size of the Columbia strike, which dominated the press. The media made it seem as if other universities were copying Columbia. (Sale, 429) Over a million students participated in the nationwide strike on April 26. The next day there was a huge anti-war rally in Central park with eighty-seven thousand attending. Still the eight-day saga at Columbia unfolded in the media and stood out in the minds of many as the ultimate student protest. (Davis, 41)
April 23, 1968: Day One
On April 23, 1968 at noon the SDS, CCC, SAS and the university's black students joined at the sundial in a protest that drew more than a thousand students. (Davis, 39) The SDS and SAS demonstrated at Columbia's Low Library, but decided they needed to take a more active approach. The groups wanted to get into the Low Library to confront President Kirk, but counter-protesters, the anti-SDS--Students for a Free Campus--blocked the front entrance and the building's rear entrance was locked. Mark Rudd tried to take charge, using a bullhorn to organize the students. Someone spontaneously suggested the group exit to the grounds of the proposed gymnasium. At the gym site, they were prevented from entering by the police and one student was arrested. As a result, SDS's main grievance shifted to the student that had just been arrested. Rudd wanted to organize"a democratic decision-making event, proposing a future student strike." (Boren, 174) However, when someone suggested regrouping again at the sundial the frustrated group moved again.
But instead of moving to the sundial they went to the lobby of Hamilton Hall. It was there that Rudd gained leadership control of the protest, suggesting that the protesters"take a hostage and occupy Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building of Columbia." (Boren, 174) Their chosen hostage was the university's interim Dean Henry Coleman, who had not left the building after 6 P.M. in the evening when the majority of the students and faculty had already left. The protesters held him in his office for 24 hours. Coleman was an agreeable hostage, partially because he was treated well by his captors:"We had more food than we could possibly eat." (Davis, 40)
Although the protests had started off haphazardly, the students began organizing themselves. Rudd acted as the leader, and"appointed a steering committee." (Boren, 174) The students began drafting their demands to the university, and organized a stand off with the authorities. They also set about posting all over the interior of the building Che Guevara posters and political slogans. (Boren, 174) As Meyers reports, the students "took their revolutionary style and dress, their beards and berets, from Che Guevara" and seemed, as "Dupee wrote, 'to unite the politics of a guerrilla chieftain with the aesthetic flair of a costumer and an interior decorator.'" (Meyers, 2003) Hamilton Hall became a closed occupation and several dozen armed black activists were invited. (McCaughey, 443)
The students made six demands. The first two were the withdrawal from the IDA and a moratorium on building the gym. The others included the right to stage indoor demonstrations, the establishment of open hearings on student discipline, the dropping of charges against the student arrested at the first demonstration, and the granting of amnesty for past, present, and immediate future acts of the protesters. (Colin, 287)
April 24, 1968: Day Two
On April 24, the second day of the revolt the two factions broke ranks, the black students no longer wanting to collaborate with the white ones, and kicked them out of the building. The dynamic changed at midnight, when the SAS voted"that an ongoing occupation of Hamilton--now dubbed Malcolm X Liberation College--should be a blacks only project." (McCaughey, 444) Although Rudd and SDS were shocked, they agreed to leave. The black students began fortifying the building against a possible police attack and they took over keeping Coleman hostage. (Boren, 174-175) The white students not knowing what to do, took up the suggestion by one of the black students to"Get your own building." (McCaughey, 444) Rudd, SDSers and white student protesters chose to take over the Low Library, and particularly make their headquarters in President Grayson Kirk's office. They easily took over the building almost uncontested in the early morning hours. Soon however, there were rumblings that the police were approaching, prompting Rudd and other SDS leaders to jump from the window. The remaining twenty-five students remained there unchallenged for the next six days, with many others joining. Rudd wanted to occupy other buildings, but SDSers voted against it fearing it would scare away support, prompting Rudd to briefly resign his post.
The administration made its headquarters in the unoccupied part of Low Library, and although President Kirk wanted to call in the police and resolve the strike quickly, Provost Truman opposed such action. The administration feared the black students would incite residents in Harlem and was cautious in dealing with them. Support grew rapidly for the strike with students taking over other buildings on campus. Students opposed to the strike"began marching on the city campus" and tried to retake Hamilton Hall, without success. (Boren, 175) (McCaughey, 444)
April 25, 1968: Day Three
Day Three ended with graduate students taking over Fayweather Hall. However the most important event of the day was the faculty's decision to try to resolve the strike. The faculty made their headquarters in Philosophy 301 where they convened an emergency meeting. Daniel Bell offered the most popular resolution, which called for the students to vacate the occupied buildings and a tripartite committee consisting of faculty, students, and the administration to decide on appropriate disciplinary action. He ended by claiming,"We believe that any differences have to be settled peacefully and we trust that police action will not be used to clear university buildings." (McCaughey, 447) The SAS released Dean Coleman, and he joined the meeting that almost unanimously endorsed Bell's proposal.
Kirk and Truman were not as supportive. President Kirk announced that classes were canceled until Monday, and Provost Truman told the faculty the police might need to be called in. In response the faculty created the Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG), which would insert itself between the police and the students.
The students were for the most part were unwilling to work with the faculty. The university hoped to end the stand off by announcing that construction on the gymnasium would stop. But things remained at an impasse for four days. The students demanded amnesty for those involved in the revolt, while the administration resisted, fearful that amnesty would give students an incentive to stage another strike later. (Boren, 175)
The day also marked the occupation of another building, after students in Fayerweather considered abandoning their occupation, hard-line SDSers moved on to Mathematics Hall. Later it would be the scene of the most radical protests. National radical leaders came to the campus to endorse the plight of their local chapters. Black Power leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee also came into to speak with the African-American students occupying Hamilton Hall.
April 26, 1968: Day Four
Faculty members were staying round the clock at Philosophy Hall, but in the early morning Provost Truman warned that the faculty must leave. The administration called in the police"to secure the campus," and plainclothes policemen scuffled with faculty members at the building. (Boren, 175) Still President Kirk decided to withhold widespread police action, holding out the hope that the AHFG could work out a compromise. A break seemed in sight after a meeting with SDS leadership; Rudd agreed to meet on the next day, Saturday, with AHFG at Philosophy 301.
April 27, 1968: Day Five
AHFG was willing to offer Rudd full amnesty for the protesters at the meeting, but he exclaimed,"Bullshit," and left. Day Five also saw the appearance of national SDS leaders including Tom Hayden, who held control over one building. (Boren, 175) Counter protesters tried to stop food from being delivered to those involved in the strike. Other strike supporters served as supply blockaders around the occupied buildings.
A routine set in on campus. With the exception of those in Hamilton, protesters moved in and out of the buildings easily. The protesters made themselves comfortable inside the five buildings they were occupying. As Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin write,"protesters slept in the president's office, smoked his cigars, drank his sherry, and rifled through his files for politically incriminating documents.... Life inside the 'liberated' buildings was tense but passionate, sleepless yet amusing." (Isserman, 229)
On day five even a marriage took place between two of the protesters, Richard Eagan and Andrea Boroff, who recalled,"We went out on the balcony, and the [university] chaplain proclaimed us children of a new age. There were flowers. There was cake. They took us out and marched us around campus with people banging on pots and pans. . . . Someone had keys to a faculty office and they gave us a honeymoon suite." (Isserman, 229) The day ended with a rally:"The effective united front among all the variety of SDSers was neatly symbolized on Saturday night, when three SDS leaders addressed a crowd of antiwar marchers who collected outside the university gates: Mark Rudd, Ted Kaptchuk, and Tom Hayden," as Sale recounted. (Sale, 437, 438)
April 28, 1968: Day Six
The calm peace was about to turn violent. On Sunday the AHFG, consisting of sociology Professors Immmanuel Wallerstein, Daniel Bell, Allan Silver, history Professors David J. Rothman and Robert Fogelson and economics Professor Peter Kenen, drew up the "Bitter Pill Resolutions":
- Cancellation of the gym construction.
- Columbia's withdrawal from the IDA
- Establishment of the principle of collective punishment for the building occupiers
- The disavowal by the faculty of either party, students or administration, that refused to accept these resolutions. (McCaughey, 452)
The faculty involved with AHFG voted in favor of the resolutions, but when Kenen and Bell presented them to Provost Truman, he asked them not to present them at the joint faculty meeting or he would resign. At the meeting 400 members of the faculty from the university's six schools decided to take a centrist position, neither repudiating their president nor abandoning the students. (McCaughey, 453) Meanwhile outside of Low, the power struggle between strikers and counter protesters increased, reaching a boiling point as the anti-protesters circled the building, blocking the delivery of food. The scene, featuring strikers precariously balanced on window ledges, was famously captured by Life magazine in an iconic photograph.
April 29, 1968: Day Seven
Day seven was make or break in the strike and became known as"the day of decision." Desperate to resolve the matter, the administration told the police to prepare to remove the students in the next 24 hours if they would not agree to end the strike. The intervention would take place in the early morning hours. This detail was kept from AHFG. President Kirk was open to considering the"bitter pill" resolutions, but the university's trustees wanted changes made. (McCaughey, 455) The protesters' reaction to the resolutions showed that police action was inevitable. The SDS's Strike Coordinating Committee refused to compromise without a guarantee of amnesty. Hamilton Hall protesters also refused to go along. Only the Majority Coalition accepted the resolutions, and after one last skirmish with Low's food suppliers, they vacated their barrier to the building.
April 30, 1968: Day Eight
Eight days into the stand-off there was no solution in sight. The two groups could not meet in agreement, and university officials were concerned that the confrontation was only escalating. As Boren writes:"With major facilities of the campus held by student radicals, a growing national interest in the students' revolt, and the threat that residents of Harlem might decide to intervene, President Kirk gave the police permission to remove the students on April 30, eight days into the occupation." (Boren, 175) It was the only way to end the stalemate. The administration, the police, and Mayor Lindsay feared that despite an attempt to remove the students quietly, there would be a riot. It was this fear that had prolonged the strike for so long. One of the mayor's advisers, Barry Gottehrer, who had watched the proceedings develop since early on in the strike, believed police action could"result in a massacre." (McCaughey, 456) Mayor Lindsay looked for advice from Yale's President Kingman Brewster, who told him,"the very future of the American university depended on punishing the strikers." (McCaughey, 456) His advice helped persuade the mayor to allow the police to move in.
In making that decision, the university administration was giving up its right to control the situation, leaving the police in charge. Provost Truman claimed afterward:"It was like deciding to take an airplane ride and having to leave everything in the air to the pilot." (McCaughey, 456) The police intended to clear each building one at a time. A thousand police officers were sent in to remove the approximately 1200 students. Police would enter unarmed and the removed students would be transported in vans to jail and booked. Many things could go wrong and ultimately they did. Outside, students and faculty could attempt to stop the police from entering, and inside the officers would be dealing with uncooperative students. It was the perfect recipe for an eventual riot.
At 2:00 A.M. police officers entered the campus to break up the revolt. James Kirkpatrick Davis says the "assault by officers" lasted "nearly to dawn." (Davis, 41) The first building emptied out was Hamilton Hall; the black students holding the facility had agreed in advance to leave peaceably. Fifteen minutes later the eighty-six protesters were escorted out of the front entrance. The second building emptied was Low Library, at 2:25 A.M. When the police entered they met only passive resistance; ninety-three students were arrested. As one student recounted:"We all gave passive resistance and were dragged out--heads were banged, clothes were torn, some people were bleeding. Nothing serious though." (McCaughey, 457) Avery Hall was next at 2:30 A.M. After students refused to leave the police broke down the door. Inside they encountered some resistance and both students and police officers received minor injuries; forty-two students were arrested.
With each building the resistance escalated, and it became more difficult to remove the protesters. Fayerweather Hall was the next building the police entered at 2:45 A.M. There the police encountered faculty and students who stood in their path in front of the doors. In the scuffle history Professor James Shenton received a head wound. The injuries continued to mount inside as students resisted the police; 286 students were forcibly removed. The last building was the Mathematics Hall, which was the most difficult to clear. It was there that the most radical students, SDSers, and Mark Rudd, were hold up. The lights were turned off, leaving the police in the dark. Students poured liquid soap all over the stairs to hinder the officers' access. Students resisted removal and were taken out by force and injured in the process. They threw"bottles, flashlight batteries, furniture and anything else they could get their hands on at the oncoming police." (Davis, 41) They could get violent,"biting, scratching, punching and even kicking police officers." (Davis, 41) Stairwells and halls were barricaded with broken furniture, and even a janitor was thrown down a staircase to stop the police from advancing. (Davis, 41) In the end, 203 students were removed. In a little over an hour, all of the buildings were cleared of 711 strikers: 239 were from Columbia, 111 from Barnard, and the rest from other university/college campuses. Three faculty members were arrested. (Davis, 41)
The removal process was far more peaceful than many had feared with only 148 injuries, most of them minor. One police officer suffered a permanent back injury in the process. However, as observers, students, faculty, and families on the South Field were watching students being placed in the vans, a call went out from officers in the vans to other police on campus. It was then that the police came charging at the crowd, and riots and violence commenced. As McCaughey recounts:"A phalanx of police charged the spectators in the South Field, forcing them to retreat south and west until they were backed up against Ferris Booth Hall and Butler Library." The gates were locked and the crowd could not escape the police. That was where the worst confrontations and violence occurred. As Peter Kenen observed:"Even those of us who were intellectually ready for police action were not emotionally ready for what we saw." (McCaughey, 459) As Davis states,"the New York Police Department received the highest number of complaints ever received for a single police action. This was also the largest police action in the history of American Universities." (Davis, 42) In the process, the police injured hundreds of students and faculty, and arrested hundreds more. The day would be remembered as the Battle of Morningside Heights. (Boren, 175)
When the stand-off was finally over seven days later on April 30, 1968 Columbia's president Grayson Kirk went into his office at 4:30 A.M. to survey the damage. Protesters had placed a sign on his window ledge that read"LIBERATED AREA. BE FREE TO JOIN US." (Davis, 39) The state of the office surprised Kirk and the police officer who accompanied him. Kirk wondered,"My God, how could human beings do a thing like this?" The officer exclaimed,"The whole world is in these books. How could they do this to these books?" (Davis, 39) Provost Truman wondered:"Do you think they will know why we had to do this, to call in the police? Will they know what we went through before we decided?" (Davis, 39)
The university remained closed for the next week. Meanwhile, student radicals and SDS planned their next protests. For the rest of the term the students essentially remained on strike. (Boren, 175) On May 21 the students"placed a poster in Ferris Booth Hall which warned of 'Showdown No. 2.'" (Davis, 42) They also distributed flyers that claimed:"Can an administration, which helps make weapons for Vietnam, steals people's land and homes discipline anyone?" (Davis, 42) May 22, 1968 marked the second showdown, a much more violent revolt than the April strike. Students occupied Hamilton Hall again, and the more radical among the protesters set fires to parts of the campus. With this revolt, the administration wasted no time and called in the police.
Again, a thousand police officers were called to campus, and the confrontation turned violent. As Davis reports, the police"were in no mood to be pushed around by rowdy college students. Students threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at the lawmen. The police gave no quarter. It was a bloody, wild fight." (Davis, 42) As with the last strike, the police forced back the crowds that had assembled to watch. Two hundred students were arrested. In a final revolt, that academic year in June students and faculty"dramatically marched out of Columbia's official commencement ceremonies and held a counter-commencement exercise, officiated by former Sarah Lawrence College President Harold Taylor." (Boren, 176)
Many of the liberal students at Columbia wanted to reform and restructure the university; many of the students' demands were met to accomplish this. The university wanted to move on from the strikes, and in August President Kirk resigned, another marker of change that pleased the students. With the changes, SDS lost its less radical liberal advocates. (Boren, 176) Dick Greeman, an SDS veteran and one of the few Columbia faculty members that unconditionally supported the radicals wrote them:"To student rebels, allies must be sought in the black ghettos and in the ranks of labor, not on campus. It means that 'a free university' will only exist after we have won a 'free society'" (Sale 440, 441) Many of the radicals left the university after that spring, while others were suspended for the most destructive actions, including Mark Rudd, who soon became the leader of the violent radical group, the Weather Underground.
The events at Columbia radicalized the student movement. The SDS's slogan of"two, three, many Columbias" inspired radical students all across the country. As Boren explains,"The incident immediately ignited a number of student power demonstrations on campuses throughout the United States, fueled more by antiestablishment sentiments than by specific attainable goals." (Boren, 176) Rudd later admitted that the stated reasons for the revolt at Columbia were just an excuse to challenge authority."We just manufactured the issues.... The gym issue is bull. It doesn't mean anything to anybody." (Meyers, 2003) As Sale observes:"Conservative critics were right, for the wrong reasons, when they argued that if the university had given in on these demands the radicals would have found three others just as urgent; or, in the words of a famous Berkeley slogan, 'The issue is not the issue.'" (Sale, 435)
Sources and Further Reading
Mark Edelman Boren, Student Resistance: A History of the Unruly Subject, (Routledge, 2001).
Joseph Conlin, The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties, (Watts, 1982).
James Kirkpatrick Davis, Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement, (Greenwood, 1997).
Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, (Oxford University Press, 2000).
Michael J. Lewis,"Activism & Architecture: A Tale of Two Cities," New Criterion, Volume: 16. Issue: 10, June 1998.
Robert A. McCaughey, Stand, Columbia: A History of Columbia University in the City of New York, (Columbia University Press, 2003).
Jeffrey Meyers,"Lionel Trilling & the Crisis at Columbia," New Criterion, Vol. 21, January 2003.
Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, (Vintage Books, 1974).
On this day in history....February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American woman to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind , which goes on to win 8 Oscars that night.
On February 29, 1940, Gone with the Wind the sweeping cinematic tale of the American Civil War and of the old South made its own history. The film, now considered a classic, was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name written by Margaret Mitchell. Gone With The Wind won in ten Academy Award categories, and took home eight Oscar statuettes including the Best Supporting Actress category, which was awarded to Hattie McDaniel for her role as"Mammy." McDaniel's February 29, 1940 win was historic because she was the first African American to be nominated and win the Academy Award, which was even more exceptional considering the racist overtones in both the book and movie, and Hollywood's attitude toward African American actors in the industry. In 1940, years before the civil rights movement altered the nation's perceptions of African Americans, McDaniel's win was groundbreaking in white Hollywood. However, it would not be enough to shatter the prevalent racial stereotypes.
From the time of its publication, Gone with the Wind angered African Americans and civil rights organizations, predominantly the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When the news was announced that David O. Selznick was developing the novel into a film, many wanted Selznick to abandon the film, because the negative stereotypes were in a similar vein as D.W Griffith's racist 1914 film, Birth of a Nation. They argued that it would lead to more discrimination against blacks and reinforce misguided stereotypes about Reconstruction. Daniel J. Leab notes:"As with the Griffith film, many moviegoers accepted David O. Selznick's 1939 movie as historical and social truth even though Gone with the Wind merely repeated many of the earlier movie's caricatures in a more up-to-date style -- and in Technicolor." (Leab, 112)
Blacks in both movies were caricatures, but in different ways. Griffith portrayed African Americans as vicious, whereas Mitchell portrayed blacks as faithful, ignorant and servile; as"one character in the film called [them,] 'the simple-minded darkies.'" (Leab, 112) Mitchell, pro-Confederate, left the impression that black slaves were happy working on plantations. Civil rights leaders feared that the popularity of"Gone with the Wind [was] a barometer of American race relations in the 1930s and 1940s." (Leff, 1999)
After the movie premiered there was little objection from racial groups such as the NAACP and only tempered responses from the National Negro Congress, because so much had been done during the pre-production stage to make sure the film was less offensive. Crisis, a leading black newspaper, claimed that the film"eliminated practically all the offensive scenes and dialogue so that there is little material directly affecting Negroes as a race, to which objection can be entered." (Pyron, 145) In the pre-production stages Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP, led the crusade to tone done the most derogatory caricatures from the novel. White was blond and blue eyed, but identified himself as African American because of his ancestry. He worked tirelessly to convince Seltznick that the changes were necessary. It was because of his early success in changing the script that the NAACP kept its objections to the film to a minimum. Leab explains,"Given the popularity of the novel and the ineffectiveness of the few protests staged against the film, there was little else that the NAACP and other groups could have accomplished." (Leab, 112)
Another major point of contention was whether the offensive and racist word"nigger," which was used in the book, should be used in the script. Selznick wanted to maintain historical accuracy, but at the same time, he claimed he did not want to offend African Americans. African-American leaders and White were not alone in pushing for the word to be omitted. So was the official movie censor, the Hays office. Selznick however, wanted the word to be used when African-American characters were speaking with one another. The blasck press threatened to boycott the film--and every film Selznick made in the future--if he used the words"nigger" and"darkie." Selznick believed he was being fair with the script, because he already omitted some of the most offensive parts of the novel, including positive references to the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote Sidney Howard, the scriptwriter in 1937:"I, for one, have no desire to produce any anti-Negro film. In our picture I think we have to be awfully careful that the Negroes come out decidedly on the right side of the ledger, which I do not think should be difficult." (Leff, 1999)
It is uncertain who in the end convinced Selznick not to use the word"nigger" although"darkies" and"inferiors" remained in the screenplay, as well as the stereotypical portrayals. Leonard J. Leff attributes the decision to Victor Shapiro, the studio public-relations director, while Earl Morris, the Pittsburgh Courier columnist believed he was responsible, and Walter White has been heralded as the one who finally convinced Selznick. It is also widely believed that Hattie McDaniel refused to use the word and took matters into her own hands. McDaniel's role remains uncertain. It is possible McDaniel's pressure finally forced Selznick to abandon the use of the word. As Jill Watts writes,"Just a few days before Selznick suddenly abandoned his fight, McDaniel had filmed scenes that would have required her to use the term. It was clearly absent in the final cut. Long after the filming of Gone with the Wind was complete, it was widely reported that McDaniel had refused to deliver lines containing the offensive epithet." (Watts, 160) According to her biographer, Jill Watts, McDaniel's resistance to the use of the word was unlike her; her career was based on his willingness to play"to white racist expectations." (Watts, 160) McDaniel herself"never specifically claimed responsibility for changes in Gone with the Wind." (Watts, 160)
The public's inability to distinguish between fiction and reality was especially obvious in peoples' views of Hattie McDaniel. Americans found it almost impossible to separate the actress from the character of Mammy, which she played. People thought she was a"Mammy who worked in Hollywood." (Sturtevant, 69) Leab describes her character:"The most faithful of faithful souls is Scarlett O'Hara's ever scolding but ever loyal mammy, who stays with her mistress through good times and bad, through the Civil War and after." (Leab, 112) In fact, the studios promoted these images, and after McDaniel won the Oscar she became known as Hattie"Mammy" McDaniel for public appearances. As Sturtevant says:"In some sense, Hollywood is always participating in this fiction--the star system, especially during the first half of the twentieth century, fed off of audiences' willing beliefs that performers were more or less authentically reflected in the roles they played." (Sturtevant, 70)
Hattie McDaniel was the daughter of plantation slaves and knew very well the role of the servant; the role was one she repeatedly played on the screen and in real life when she was younger and struggling. In the early years of her career, she was a radio vocalist and blues singer. She appeared in forty films from the early 1930s until her death in 1952, and in all of them, she essentially played the same role, a domestic worker. McDaniel felt she had few other options. As she often said,"Hell, I'd rather play a maid than be one." Hollywood simply didn't give blacks the opportunity of playing roles that broke with stereotypes. As Sturtevant writes,"This rigid typing was the cause of a downturn which met Hattie McDaniel's career following her Oscar victory. McDaniel had averaged ten films a year between 1934 and 1938--her roles were so small (and so similar) that she could finish shooting each quickly and move on." (Sturtevant, 73)
The role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind was different than the usual black roles McDaniel had played. And she took ownership of the part, says Watts. (Watts, 166) Although Louise Beavers, who had co-starred in Imitation of Life, was considered the leading candidate for the role, Hattie McDaniel, auditioning in a full Mammy uniform, impressed Selznick. In an interview with the New York Amsterdam News, the country's most important black newspaper, McDaniel stated,"When I read the book Gone with the Wind, I was fascinated by the role of"Mammy" and like everyone in the position to give it professional consideration, I naturally felt I could create in it something distinctive and unique." (Watts, 166) She put her all in the role; the constant script changes allowed for improvising, and McDaniel went as far as directing herself in scenes. She put her experience as a blues singer, actress, and black woman in white America into the role to create a Mammy uniquely her own. As Watts writes:"If her character in Gone with the Wind did succeed in breaking new cinematic ground, as some have argued, then it was due to Hattie McDaniel's reinterpretation of the role." (Watts, 166)
McDaniel's effort paid off. When Selznick reviewed the film in the fall of 1939, he concluded that McDaniel's performance as Mammy really stood out far more than he had realized earlier and it"astonished him." (Watts, 167) Although she was a supporting character, her portrayal of Mammy left a powerful impression. She"emerged as one of the film's strongest characters." (Watts, 167) Selznick raved about her performance. He sent her a congratulatory telegram and signed McDaniel to a long-term contract. In a telegram to Howard Dietz, his publicity man in New York, Selznick praised McDaniel, writing that she delivered"a performance that, if merit alone rules, would entitle her practically to co-starring." (Watts, 167) To the vice president of production, Daniel O'Shea,"Selznick predicted that the actress's contributions would leave a 'sensational impression' on film audiences." (Watts, 167)
The black and white press agreed with Selznick and hailed McDaniel's performance in their reviews of Gone with the Wind. The word was out that McDaniel's performance was a highlight, and the sneak preview for the press confirmed it; after one scene featuring Mammy the audience actually applauded. The Chicago Defender wrote:"Hollywood almost cheered her every entrance." The California Eagle cheered:"Hattie is the happiest person around these parts, for she knows she turned in her very finest performance to date." McDaniel hoped her performance would allow African Americans to come to terms with the film that they had been so skeptical about. The black press was receptive to her role and the Amsterdam News praised"McDaniel's 'coveted' role of Mammy, to which she brought the 'dignity and earnestness' that made her 'more than a servant.' She became 'confidante, counselor, and manager of the O'Hara household.'" (Pyron, 144)
While the movie today is remembered as racist, in the South it was considered problematic. The city of Atlanta refused to allow the African American actors to attend the premiere along with the whites. An image of McDaniel was excluded from from the souvenir program because it gave her equality with her white co-stars.
McDaniel, despite her talent, found that her career options were limited. Columnist and radio personality Jimmie Fidler lamented, says Watts, that"something about all the hoopla bothered him. 'Where does this Negro artist go from here?' he asked. 'Why back to playing incidental comedy maids, of course.' With the film factory's rock-solid racial barriers, Hattie McDaniel's future, he believed, was bleak. Hollywood had no intention of providing her with any real opportunities to use her talents. 'I don't think it will be easy for me to laugh at Hattie's comedy in the future,' he stated. For I'll never be able to overlook the tragic fact that a very great artist is being wasted." (Watts, 174)
After the film's release, the black press agreed that Hattie McDaniel's performance was outstanding, but objected to the film's depiction of African Americans, slavery, and emancipation. Melvin B. Tolson's review in the Washington Tribune was representative. He commended McDaniel for playing"the nuances of emotion, from tragedy to comedy, with the sincerity and artistry of a great actor." At the same time, he panned the film as"more dangerous than The Birth of a Nation." This was because"The Birth of a Nation was such a barefaced lie that a moron could see through it... [but] Gone with the Wind is such a subtle lie that it will be swallowed as truth by millions of whites and blacks alike." (Watts, 174, 175) Although there was an outcry from the black press, the NAACP declined to denounce the movie. As Watts observes, while the NAACP's leaders"agreed the production was historically flawed and unflattering to African Americans, they contended that it was not egregious enough to campaign against it." (Watts, 175) Privately, Walter White forced Selznick into making donations to the NAACP to show he supported the advancement of African Americans. Selznick's donation: $100. (Janken, 267)
Many in the black press wondered why Hattie McDaniel wanted to be involved with the film and the role and objected to her participation. To that question, she responded:"This [was an] opportunity to glorify Negro womanhood. I am proud that I am a Negro woman because members of that class have given so much." (Watts, 177)
In February 1940 the black and white press were pushing for McDaniel's nomination for an Academy Award. McDaniel came to Selznick with clippings from the black press both about the black reaction to the film and support for the nomination. In December, Edwin Shallert from the Los Angeles Times praised McDaniel's performance calling it a"remarkable achievement" that was"worthy of the Academy supporting awards." (Watts, 177) Some black journalists asked readers to send letters to Selznick to"place McDaniel in the running for an Oscar." (Watts, 177) A letter from Sigma Gamma Rho, an African American sorority, lobbied on her behalf, arguing that"without Miss McDaniel, there would be no Gone with the Wind." After McDaniel won the award, they again wrote Selznick:"We trust that discrimination and prejudice will be wiped away in the selection of the winner of this award." (Leff, 1999)
The outpouring of support led Selznick to give McDaniel a place on the Best Supporting Actress ballot, although he also put Olivia de Havilland into consideration for her role as Melanie. Also in the running for the award was Geraldine Fitzgerald for Wuthering Heights, Edna Mae Oliver for Drums Along the Mohawk, and Maria Ouspenskaya for Love Affair. In total Gone with the Wind garnered an unprecedented thirteen nominations and was the favorite to win big. Balloting began on February 15, 1940, with the winners announced at a ceremony on February 29. Despite the protests staged at the movie's Chicago premiere and the hostility of the black press to the movie, almost everybody seemed to want McDaniel to win the award. In the afternoon before the award ceremony, McDaniel attended the Academy Awards banquet. She dined with the white cast and Selznick at the Coconut Grove where the ceremony was later held.
For the Oscar ceremony McDaniel wore an ermine stole over a blue gown and trimmed her hair and dress with gardenias. She entered the Ambassador Hotel with the same fanfare as the other actors; fans both black and white cheered her. The night was magical for both Gone with the Wind and Hattie McDaniel. As Leff writes:"the evening would be as radiant as the Oz of The Wizard of Oz, so magical that nothing could spoil it, not even a small band of demonstrators outside the hotel, protesting against the racism of Gone with the Wind." (Leff, 1999) Fay Bainter, who won the Best Supporting Actress Award the previous year, was onstage to present this year's winner. In trying to analyze how McDaniel was feeling in the minutes leading up to the announcement, Jill Watts writes:"Hattie McDaniel must have felt a surge of nerves and excitement. This daughter of ex-slaves, who had struggled with poverty and racial oppression, had finally broken into the highest ranks in Hollywood, ascending further than any African American had in the world of white show business." (Watts, 179) As Fay Bainter made the announcement, there was silence in the room."It is with the knowledge that this entire nation will stand and salute the presentation of this plaque, that I present the Academy Award for the best performance of an actress in a supporting role during 1939 to Hattie McDaniel." (Watts, 179)
The room broke out in applause and as Hattie McDaniel stepped up to the podium to accept the historic award,"Clark Gable shook her hand and Vivien Leigh kissed her." (Leff, 1999) In her remarks, which she prepared with the assistance of Ruby Berkley Goodwin, she said:
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting for one of the awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you. (Jackson, 52)
The reaction of both the white and black press, demonstrated what McDaniel's historic Oscar win signified in terms of advancement for African Americans. The white media were patronizing; as Victoria Sturtevant says,"they gushed self-consciously over the award and its recipient." (Sturtevant, 75) Louella Parsons in her nationally syndicated column described the moment when McDaniel won the award:"En masse, the entire audience, stars in every place, stood and cheered their beloved Hattie McDaniel. Tears came to Mammy's eyes as she made her way to the stage to accept the award." (Sturtevant, 75) The quote is representative of the condescension. Especially telling were the words"their beloved Hattie McDaniel," as if the white audience had an invested interest in her win, a comment that would not have been used if Olivia de Havilland had won the award instead. Referring to her McDaniel as"Mammy" was an example of the way in which the white audience blurred the line between the character and the actress. The Atlanta Constitution's coverage was over the top,"enthusiastic to the point of defensiveness in its coverage of her award," because the city prevented McDaniel from attending the Gone with the Wind premiere. (Sturtevant, 75)
The black press seemed less impressed with McDaniel's win, relegating the story to the back pages. Only the Atlanta Daily World devoted its front page to McDaniel's Oscar win. Some reported the win not as an accomplishment in itself, but rather as a signal of a possible change in the fortunes of black actors in white Hollywood. Clarence Muse wrote in the Chicago Defender that"Some day Hattie may thrill your souls with a modern mother role, glorifying Race youth." (Sturtevant, 76) Muse was insinuating that McDaniel had not accomplished this. In fact, Hollywood would not allow her to have roles that portrayed African Americans as equals with whites. As Sturtevant explains:"McDaniel was important insofar as she was opening doors for more varied roles for black performers, not insofar as she had given the best supporting performance of 1939 in a glossy Hollywood feature about white people." (Sturtevant, 76)
The only roles McDaniel would be offered in the years after her Oscar win were the usual stultifying fare for a black person. As Sturtevant states,"despite the Oscar, she was still regarded as a type, not as an actress." (Sturtevant, 72) The Academy Award should have opened doors for McDaniel, instead she remained stuck in old stereotyped roles. As Sturtevant writes:"The differing responses of black and white audiences to McDaniel's Oscar shed significant light on the relationships during this volatile period among Hollywood moguls, black performers, and the American public, black and white." (Sturtevant, 70)
Sources and Further Reading
Carlton Jackson, Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel (Madison Books, 1993).
Kenneth Robert Janken, Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press, 2006).
Daniel J. Leab, From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures (Secker & Warburg, 1975).
Leonard J. Leff, “Gone with the Wind and Hollywood's Racial Politics: Making Gone with the Wind Meant Dealing with Fierce Criticism from Black Newspapers and Public Officials,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1999).
Darden Asbury Pyron, Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture (University Presses of Florida, 1983).
Victoria Sturtevant, "But Things is Changin' Nowadays An' Mammy's Gettin' Bored: Hattie McDaniel and the Culture of Dissemblance," Velvet Light Trap (1999), Vol. 44, pp. 68-79.
Jill Watts, Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood (HarperCollins, 2005).
On this day in history.... February 7, 1839 Henry Clay declares in the United States Senate"I had rather be right than president."
The venerable politician and statesman Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky believed his time to win the Presidency would finally be ripe in 1840. There were many obstacles to his winning the Whig Party's nomination. One of the most contentious issues in the country in the antebellum period was slavery. Clay tried to take a centrist position, but accusations flew in both the North and the South that he favored extremes. In the North he was accused of"being ultra" in favor of Southern slaveholders. In the South he was accused of being an abolitionist who plotted secretly to abolish slavery. (Remini, 525) As the historian Robert Remini explains,"It may have occurred to Clay that his apparent middle-of- the-road position invited attacks from both sides of the slavery question." (Remini, 525) Clay felt the charges that he was an abolitionist were detrimental to his chances for the presidency, and he needed to clarify his views on the slavery question. But he intended to stick to his views regardless of the political consequences. As he famously said,"I had rather be right than president."
In order eventually to capture the nomination he needed support from Southern Whigs, but at the same time, he needed support from the Northern Quakers who were passive abolitionists. The most important aspect was to distinguish himself from the most extreme abolitionists, the"ultras" which he did in a Senate speech on February 7, 1839. Clay's speech,"Petitions for the Abolition of Slavery," supposedly addressed a petition by Washington DC's residents to abolish slavery in the district. Clay actually wrote the petition himself.
The speech was Clay at his worse, which his supporters lamented. As Carl Schurz writes,"It was an apology for his better self. Formerly he had spoken as a born anti-slavery man, who to his profound regret found himself compelled to make concessions to slavery. Now he appeared as one inclined to deplore the attacks on slavery no less, if not more, than the existence of slavery itself." (Schurz, 164)
In the speech, Clay claimed the only thing he had in common with the abolitionists was"abhorrence of slavery," but their positions were entirely different, and in no way did he identify with them. Clay hoped this would put the speculation to rest that he harbored secret abolitionist desires. He laid out in the speech the history of the"peculiar institution," the constitutional and legal questions surrounding it, and the course of action that should be taken to resolve slavery. It was here that he distinguished himself most from the abolitionists while attacking their solution to the slavery problem.
As Remini writes, Clay charged that abolitionists were"setting back emancipation half a century" by their agitation. (Remini, 526) Still, he believed that emancipation was not the answer. Clay claimed he did not believe that blacks and whites could live in racial harmony, as abolitionists claimed. As Thomas Brown writes, Clay believed that the"Freed slaves would flood the North, compete with white laborers, and drive down their wages, or the country, would be convulsed by interracial warfare as blacks and whites sought to preserve the purity and separateness of the races." (Brown, 144) Clay was concerned that a power struggle would lead to a war between the races, especially since the slaves outnumbered whites in some Southern states. Clay believed that this power struggle would lead to Civil War, and suggested that the status quo was the best approach to take to the slavery question."It is not better for both parties that the existing state of things should be preserved, instead of exposing them to the horrible strifes and contests which would inevitably attend immediate abolition." (Remini, 526)
According to Clay"time" was the solution that would eventually end slavery, stating,"Providence will cure all-abolition nothing. It may ruin all; it can save none." (Remini, 526) He then proceeded to make a plea to the ultra-abolitionists to cease their crusade for the sake of the country."I beseech the abolitionists themselves, solemnly to pause in their mad and fatal course," he stated. Clay continued:"Amid the infinite variety objects of humanity and benevolence which invite the employment of their energies, let them select some one more harmless, that does not threaten to deluge our country in blood." (Remini, 526)
The reactions to Clay's speech were far ranging. For the most part the speech boosted Southerners' opinion of Clay. As Shurz writes,"Clay received his reward -- or punishment -- immediately." (Shurz, 166) After he finished speaking Senator John C. Calhoun, from South Carolina, lauded Clay, praising him for understanding the dangers of the abolitionist movement. Carl Schurz in his biography of Clay believed Calhoun stood up"as if to accept his surrender." However, Remini describes Cahoun's enthusiasm as"So spontaneous, so sincere, so fervent ... that some wondered if another political alliance between northern money and southern cotton had been struck." (Remini, 526) This alluded to the" corrupt bargain" of 1825, which handed John Quincy Adams the Presidency despite the fact that Andrew Jackson won the popular vote.
Calhoun proclaimed,"I heard the Senator from Kentucky with pleasure. His speech will have a happy effect, and will do much to consummate what had already been so happily begun and successfully carried on to a completion." (Shurz, 167) Clay wanted the nomination so much that he had to take Calhoun's humiliating words without saying anything. As Schurz explains,"Calhoun assigned to him a place in his church on the bench of the penitents, and the candidate for the presidency took the insult without wincing." (Shurz, 168)
The speech offended the abolitionists, giving Clay the results he was looking for, distancing himself from them. Clay hoped his speech would increase his support among those he needed to help him garner the nomination. Still it was a turn off to many Northerners. Clay supporters like James G. Birney and John Greenleaf Whittier, who"once idolized Clay, now cast him off as something loathsomely hypocritical." (Remini, 526) Clay claimed he wasn't surprised by the response."My abolition Speech was made after full deliberation," he told a friend."I expected it would enrage the Ultra's more than ever against me, and I have not been disappointed." (Remini, 527)
Clay should not have been surprised by the negative reaction or the long-term consequences. Before he delivered it, he read it to Senator William C. Preston of South Carolina, and several of his friends and colleagues to get their opinion. They believed that"The speech bears all the marks of that careful weighing of words characteristic of a candidate 'defining his position' on a delicate subject." (Schurz, 164) One of the men believed it could have a negative impact on his presidential prospects, offending both the abolitionists and the pro-slavery factions. Upon hearing this Clay proclaimed the classic phrase he is most remembered for:"I trust the sentiments and opinions are correct, I HAD RATHER BE RIGHT THAN BE PRESIDENT." Remini describes it as"the immortal utterance, the classic rejoinder, one that quickly entered the lexicon of American politics and was always associated with Clay's name." (Remini, 527)
Senator Preston repeated these words in a speech to a Whig rally in Philadelphia the following month announcing the phrase to the public. Then almost immediately Clay's words were the talk of the nation, the newspapers reprinted his speech, and citizens found it to"noble and patriotic" and appropriate, while critics and"hard-nosed" politicians laughed upon hearing it. (Remini, 527) Clay may have wanted to be right, but he also wanted the Presidency, and his chances were slipping from him.
Soon after the speech, Clay felt the backlash. First Daniel Webster charged that Clay caused the Whigs to lose the 1838 election in Maine, and that the party should instead support a candidate who had more appeal, such as General William Henry Harrison. Webster was deliberately mounting a campaign against Clay, even going as far as to blame him for losing Harrison's state, Ohio, in the 1838 election. To cap off this crusade, at the Anti-Mason National Convention in November 1839, the group nominated Harrison for President and Webster for Vice-President.
Politicians in the North, Abolitionists, and anti-Masons preferred Harrison as a presidential candidate to Clay. Another candidate who drew support was General Winfield Scott, whose military record was akin to Andrew Jackson's. Fortunately for Clay, Webster took himself out of the running for the Whig nomination when he departed for England in 1839. Still Clay believed the nomination was his. As he wrote,"Moderation, conciliation, and decision, but above all firmness and decision should be our course. May it be guided by wisdom and lead to victory." (Remini, 531)
Even before the Whig Convention Clay lost New York. Thurlow Weed, as Brown explains, thought"Clay had gone too far in his attacks [on abolitionists]." (Brown, 145) Both Weed and Thaddeus Stevens were Anti-Mason leaders, and wanted anybody but Clay as the nominee; they devised a plan to strip Clay of his 254-delegate majority.
A friend of Webster's, Peleg Sprague, introduced a motion that changed the voting. Each state would choose three delegates to a committee, the committee in turn would ask their state which candidate they preferred. A vote would be held in private, and when there was a state consensus, the delegates would report it to the full convention. Clay's supporters could not stop the motion even through it was obviously designed to strip Clay of the nomination, and soon Clay's majority melted. Stevens and Weed preferred Harrison to Scott or Clay, but Scott's candidacy seemed to benefit from their maneuvering. To counter this, Stevens released to the delegates a letter Scott wrote to Francis Granger that appeared favorable to the abolitionists. This was enough to damage Scott's propsects and give Harrison--the least controversial choice--the nomination. Clay's chance to capture the Presidency had ended.
Anti-Masons and abolitionists, the two groups Clay alienated with his February 7, 1839 speech, controlled the Whig Party. But Clay, says Remini,"also had a hand in engineering his [own] defeat. His Senate speech on February 7, 1839, against the abolitionists, more than any other single factor, undoubtedly prevented him from gaining a single northern state at the convention 'except glorious Rhode Island.' 'I had rather be right than President,' Clay had announced. So be it, responded the delegates." (Remini, 554) Henry Clay would live to regret his words on the Senate floor, because ultimately they caused him to lose the nomination he wanted more than anything.
As we are now reaching a defining moment in the 2008 campaign with Super Tuesday around the corner, another candidate has been compared to Clay. Hillary Clinton has been haunted by her Senate vote for the Iraq war, but has refused to apologize for it, though her position on the war has evolved. In a February 2007 Christian Science Monitor article Daniel Schorr wrote,"Whether that will appease her supporters remains to be seen. What they apparently will not get from her are those three little words. 'I am sorry.' What her lack of contrition will cost her, that also remains to be seen.... She may take comfort from the 'great compromiser,' Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who on the Senate floor in 1839 declared, 'I had rather be right than president.'"
Sources and further reading:
Thomas Brown, Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party, Columbia University Press, 1985.
Henry Clay, The Works of Henry Clay, Barnes & Burr, 1863.
Robert Vincent Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.
Daniel Schorr,"Will voters accept Hillary Clinton's nonapology? Her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq might cost her the presidency," Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2007.
Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay: American Statesmen, Volume: 2, Houghton Mifflin, 1899.
On this day in history... January 15-17, 1950, over 4000 attend the National Emergency Civil Rights Conference in Washington, DC.
In the 1940s activists in the civil rights movement focused on the issue of fair employment practices, especially within the federal government. Their efforts culminated in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). As J. J. Goldberg writes:"Their undertaking was a powerful show of force, and it created new momentum for civil rights in Washington and nationwide." (Goldberg, 128) Coming just years before the monumental Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education, the mobilization in 1949 and 1950 in support of President Truman's civil rights program was a major development.
The first break in the employment battle came in 1941. A. Philip Randolph, the labor leader and civil rights activist, warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt that if he did not create a temporary Committee on Fair Employment Practices, there would be a march on Washington in protest. The FEPC was formed to protect workers from discrimination in hiring in the Federal government. This was the beginning of the March on Washington movement, which worked on behalf of advancements for blacks, and was responsible for the National Council for a Permanent FEPC in 1944.
The leading figures in the National Council were Clarence Mitchell and Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Arnold Aronson of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, who later served as its executive secretary. Randolph was co-chairman of the Council with the Reverend Allan Knight Chalmers of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, but Randolph was responsible for most of the decision-making. The National Council was, as Uwe Wenzel writes,"intended to function as a clearinghouse for all activities in behalf of permanent federal FEPC legislation including both public relations work and Washington lobbying." (Miller, 50) The Council found support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, with liberal Republicans and Northern Democrats supporting proposals for a permanent FEPC.
To put pressure on Congress the Council issued press releases, and held rallies and meetings, where congressmen would speak in defense of civil rights legislation. Several hundred gathered at small meetings at churches, but there were larger affairs, including a rally held at Madison Square Garden attended by 20,000. Still the Council's influence was limited. As Wenzel writes, while the meetings raised the morale of FEPC supporters, "the group was unable to place the issue of fair employment in the forefront of the American public's attention." (Miller, 51)
Although there were congressman who supported the initiative, it was difficult to persuade others to join because interracial issues were not important to their constituents. Supporters were unable to un able to get a final vote for legislation. Even worse, the debate incited Southern congressmen to close down the wartime FEPC in June 1946, by terminating funding to it. The National Council would never have the momentum again to act as the leader in the movement to create a permanent FEPC; internal strife within the organization and financial woes plagued it. The Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization would take over the fight for the FEPC in the late 1940s.
President Harry S. Truman wanted to push several civil rights measures including the creation of a permanent FEPC, but faced congressional opposition. Despite the Council's lobbying efforts, the conservative Congress was not willing to pass Truman's proposed legislation. After the Council was proven ineffective, Wilkins formed the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization committee. As Gilbert Jonas writes, it was a" call for a massive interracial lobbying effort in 1949 to be conducted by representatives of all sympathetic national organizations." (Jonas, 156) The mobilization's mission was"to break down opposition to the passage of the civil rights bills." (Collier-Thomas, 37) It was a model of interracial coalition building. The coalition included over 100 black and white religious, political, and civil rights organizations.
Among the hundred organizations that supported the mobilization were several women's organizations including the National Association of Christian Woman (NACW), the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and several sororities. It became important to add a women's division, and in December 1949, the Women's Division of the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization was formed. Aretha McKinley, an officer in New York City's NAACP office, headed the new division. The division's purpose was to show black women what was at stake: "They have the right to speak up against unfair employment practices since these effect both themselves and their husbands, they are also concerned with discrimination and segregation as these questions apply to housing problems and so directly effect their homes. In addition women have the right to speak up for the future of their children." (Collier-Thomas, 37)
The peak of the mobilization effort came on January 15-17, 1950 when more than 4,200 delegates from fifty-eight national organizations met in Washington to lobby their congressman to support the president's civil rights program, and a permanent FEPC. Among the supporters was the Women's Division, and hundreds of black women from numerous clubs, sororities, and organizations attended the conference. (Collier-Thomas, 38) The conference was, as Jonas states, the"largest lobbying effort in the history of the nation." (Jonas, 157) The participants spread over Capitol Hill in a massive grass-roots lobbying effort.
Meanwhile, Wilkins led a delegation that met with President Truman, where Wilkins listed the group's demands. President Truman told Wilkins he had already pledged his support to the civil rights program and a fair employment law. The activists, said Truman, should focus their efforts on Congress:
YOU don't need to make that speech to me, it needs to be made to Senators and Congressmen. Every effort is being made by the executive branch of the Government to get action on these measures. I have been working at them ever since I went to Congress. I went there in 1935, and that is a long time ago…. This is a serious situation. This civil rights program, which I have sent to the Congress on every occasion that it has been possible to send it, is one that is necessary, if we are going to maintain our leadership in the world. We can't go on not doing the things that we are asking other people to do in the United Nations. I hope all of you will continue your hard work on the subject, and that you will make it perfectly plain to the Senators and Congressmen who represent your States and districts that action is what we want; and I think that is possibly the only way we can get action. (Truman, January 17th, 1950)
Despite the conference's lobbying efforts the FEPC and civil rights legislation received a second defeat in the Senate in 1950, which seemed to mark the end of congressional support for such legislation. The debates in the Senate on Truman's civil rights program focused primarily on the revival of FEPC. It should have been, as Truman biographer Robert Ferrell writes,"obviously fair and appropriate." (Ferrall, 297) The committee would allow African Americans a chance for economic success. Still the Senate refused to pass the mneasure. Opposition came from Southern Democrats and Mid-Western Republicans.
Despite a lack of support for major civil rights legislation, Truman issued an executive order as a temporary solution. Executive Order No. 9980 created a Fair Employment Board within the Civil Service Commission. Its success was debatable because discrimination was often subtle and difficult to prove. Butr historians note some success was evident in the state department and the bureau of printing and engraving. (Ferrall, 297)
Despite the failure in Congress, the 1950 conference was considered a success and prompted the participants to create a permanent organization. At the conference, the coalition decided to form this organization, with a mission of lobbying for the passage of civil rights legislation. The result was the formation of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a name that was formally adopted in 1951. The main Washington office would focus on lobbying, while the member organizations would serve in a supportive role, paying dues and educating their members about the proposed civil rights legislation. In practice Wilkins was the head of the new LCCR, although officially the ailing Walter White was the first director. The NAACP's Clarence Mitchell served as legislative chair, Arnold Aronson as secretary and labor attorney Joseph L. Rauh as LCCR counsel. Randolph still remained focused on the FEPC and decided not to join the LCCR executives. The LCCR, as Wenzel writes, became"the most successful interracial alliance." (Miller, 53)
The LCCR, created out of the January 1950 conference,"became a force in United States politics." (Gates, 251) Clarence Mitchell's lobbying efforts were central to its later success. He spent endless hours roaming the halls of Congress and became known as the"101st Senator." (Gates, 251) Although the National Council and National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization, and then the LCCR worked tirelessly for the creation of a permanent FEPC, their efforts were in vain initially, they found success by playing an important role in getting the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 passed through Congress. In 1964 the FEPC was finally created.
Sources and further reading:
Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: An A-To-Z Reference of the Movement That Changed America, (Running Press, 2005).
J. J. Goldberg, Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, (Addison-Wesley, 1996)
Robert H. Ferrell, Harry S. Truman: A Life, (University of Missouri Press, 1996).
Gilbert Jonas, Freedom's Sword: The NAACP and the Struggle against Racism in America, 1909-1969, (Routledge, 2005).
Patrick B. Miller, Therese Steffen, Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche, eds. The Civil Rights Movement Revisited: Critical Perspectives on the Struggle, (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2001).
Nina Mjagkij, ed., Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, (Garland, 2001).
Bettye Collier-Thomas and Vincent P. Franklin, eds., Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, (NYU Press, 2001).
Harry S. Truman, "Remarks to a Delegation From the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization Conference," January 17th, 1950.
On this day in history.... January 4, 1893 US President Benjamin Harrison granted amnesty to those who committed Mormon polygamy, and on January 4, 1896, Utah was admitted as the 45th state.
First & Second Attempt
Utah's long quest for statehood was finally officially granted in 1896. It was a long struggle for Utah's Mormons to convince the U.S. federal government that their territory should be admitted to statehood. From the first attempt at statehood in 1849-50, the major point of contention was the Mormon's embrace of polygamy. The Mormons' second attempt at statehood, was simultaneous with the Republican Party's first presidential campaign in 1856. Republican opposition to polygamy was akin to its opposition to slavery; both were condemned in the party platform as the"twin relics of barbarism." According to recent historical scholarship the number one reason that it took Utah nearly fifty years to be admitted to the Union was because of the practice of polygamy. As historian Joan Smith Iversen writes,"Whereas Mormon historians once held that polygamy was only a diversionary issue raised by anti-Mormons who really opposed the power of the LDS church, recent interpretations by [Edward Leo] Lyman and historian Jan Shipps have found the polygamy issue to be critical to the anti-Mormon struggles." (Iversen, 585)
In 1850, Congress refused the first request for statehood for a prosposed state named Deseret based on the lack of the requisite number of eligible voters and the huge size of the state. Instead, President Millard Fillmore signed into law on September 9, 1850 the bill creating the Utah Territory with a new border, an initial step on the path to statehood. Damaging the prospects of the Mormons was the admission after repeated denials that one of the church's religious principles was patriarchal (plural) marriage. It was disclosed that leading male members of the church were encouraged to marry more than one wife. The announcement elicited a negative response from the general American public, and political opposition from the federal government to all Mormon requests for Utah statehood. The government made it known to the Mormons that as long polygamy was condoned and practiced in Utah, statehood would not be granted.
Third & Forth Attempt
The Federal government also took steps to force the Mormons to abandon polygamy. In 1862 during the third failed attempt for statehood Congress was considering legislation to prohibit plural marriage. The Morrill Anti-bigamy Act banned polygamy and dissolved the Mormon Church. It was never effectively enforced, but Congress refused to grant an 1867 request to repeal it.
In 1872 there was a forth attempt at statehood that included a ratified constitution presented to Congress. The Mormon majority was still insisting on calling the new state Deseret, even after the area was named the Utah territory. Congress again said no.
The anti-polygamy crusade heated up. In 1874 Congress passed the Poland Act, which established district courts in Utah, making it easier to prosecute polygamists. In 1879 in the Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States, Chief Justice Waite ruled that Mormon polygamy was"disruptive of peace and good order, threatening the foundations of the country," therefore upholding the Morrill Act. (Iversen, 588) However, the crusade did not stop there. The Anti-Polygamy Society of Salt Lake City was established a year later in April 1880, when the women members of the group sent a petition to first lady Lucy Hayes requesting help to save the wives of polygamist husbands. The group, which changed its name in August 1880 to the Woman's National Anti-Polygamy Society, pressed Congress to unseat polygamist George Q. Cannon, Utah's territorial representative to Congress.
In 1882 a mixed Mormon and non-Mormon constitutional convention requested for the fifth time that Utah be admitted as a state. This time the proposed constitution established Utah as"a republican form of government" and adopted the use of the name"Utah." Congress again refused. As Larson writes,"Utah would not be admitted without complete divorcement of church and state and abolition of plural marriage." (Poll, 258) In 1882 a law was passed criminalizing polygamy.
When the Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected President, the Mormons hoped that statehood could finally be pushed through, since the Democrats had always been more supportive, while the Republicans pushed for anti-polygamy legislation. But two years later the U.S. Senate passed the Edmunds-Tucker bill, which would force the LDS Church to forfeit property in excess of $50,000, and would abolish woman's suffrage in the territory if polygamy continued. In February 1887, the bill passed both houses and Cleveland allowed it to take effect without his signature.
Still Cleveland tried to ease tensions in the manner in which he filled Utah territorial positions. Church emissaries developed an understanding with the President and some of his closest advisors, including Solicitor General George A. Jenks.
In their sixth attempt at statehood in 1887, the Utahns included a constitutional clause prohibiting polygamy (Jenks wrote it). Mormon Church leaders thought it was better to control the polygamy situation themselves, and believed the constitutional wording was enough of a goodwill gesture. Still, the Church hierarchy would not give up polygamy as a tenet and practice. Congress doubted that the Utah constitutional amendment against polygamy would be enforced, and denied statehood.
The Woodruff Manifesto
The denial showed that the Church had to do something to something to show the Mormons would end polygamist marriages. The Church attempted several goodwill gestures in 1889, first withholding the authority to perform the polygamist marriages and then razing the Endowment House on Temple Square, where many polygamous unions had been performed. This was still not enough; the Church had to make a more formal declaration against the practice, especially after the introduction of the Cullom-Struble Bill, which would have denied the vote even to non-polygamous Mormons. Church representatives sought intervention from the Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who had Republican support from Utah. According to Larson and Poll, Blaine"promise[ed] to halt congressional action on Mormon disfranchisement if the church 'got into line.'" (Poll, 388) He held off the passage of the bill as long as the Church would ban polygamy.
The backlash from Washington forced the President of the Mormon Church, Wilford Woodruff, to finally relent. The official proclamation, known as the Woodruff Manifesto (September 24, 1890), declared that Endowment House had been razed and denied that polygamous marriages had been performed in 1889. The manifesto concluded,"and now, I publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from conducting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land." (Poll, 372)
The Secretary of the Interior, John W. Noble, did not accept the manifesto as authoritative"without its acceptance by the [church] conference." On October 6, 1890, the Mormons gathered and unanimously approved the manifesto. The historian Howard R. Lamar has called the move"the policy of superior virtue and patriotic conformity." (Poll, 387) Washington remained cautious about the manifesto, and President Benjamin Harrison still did not believe Utah should be admitted as a state. But the church's action finally persuaded the territorial governor, a zealous anti-polygamy crusader, that Utah deserved statehood.
The Home Stretch
There remained one issue that Washington wanted resolved before Utah's petition could be accepted; the people had to establish branches of the two national political parties. Until that point the political parties were aligned with religious beliefs; the Peoples party was Mormon; the Liberal party was non-Mormon. The system blurred the division of state and church that characterized the American political system, and was the last barrier to statehood. As the historians Gustive O. Larson and Richard D. Poll write:"As long as the People's Party functioned as the political arm of the Mormon Church, the church-state struggle was certain to continue, with the Liberal Party blocking every approach to membership in the Union. With the 'twin relic' out of the way, it became increasingly clear to moderates in both parties that the road out of territorial subordination must be by way of national political affiliations." (Poll, 387)
In response Utah's population, which was still 90 percent Mormon, decided to adopt the national political parties. Although traditionally the Utah territory was more inclined to side with the Democratic Party, while Cleveland had been in power the party had not reached out enough to the Mormons. It seemed more beneficial to side with the Republicans, especially since they were in power. Still, many of the Mormon members supported the Democrats. Apostle Abraham H. Cannon wrote in his journal on June 9, 1891 that he feared the support for Democrats was a hindrance to statehood:"The danger of our people all becoming Democrats . . . is feared, and the results of such a course would doubtless prove disastrous to us." He continued,"It is felt that efforts should be made to instruct our people in Republicanism and thus win them to that party." (Poll, 389)
To secure statehood the Church dissolved the People's Party on June 10, 1891 and established a two party system by arbitrarily dividing the membership equally into two groups. The dissolution of the People's Party caused President Cleveland to send a telegram of"Congratulations to the Democracy of this Territory on their organization."
After the Mormon Church abolished polygamy and the People's Party, the leaders tried to protect those Mormons who had been prosecuted for polygamy by requesting amnesty from President Harrison. On December 21, 1891, the Church leaders submitted a formal petition for amnesty endorsed by Governor Arthur L. Thomas and Chief Justice Zane. President Harrison was reluctant to grant it, since it was an election year and would alienate voters. But after he lost the election, he agreed to the grant of amnesty. Republican leaders thought it would vindicate the party since they promised to help the Mormons gain statehood, and Utah's admission as a state had political significance. On January 4, 1893, Harrison granted amnesty and a pardon"to all persons liable . . . by reason of unlawful cohabitation . . . who since November 1, 1890, have abstained from unlawful cohabitation." In July the Utah Commission proclaimed that"amnestied polygamists be allowed to vote." (Poll, 392)
Utah was in the home stretch to finally become a state. On July 16, 1894, President Grover Cleveland, in his second term, granted a pardon to all, restoring civil rights to all former polygamists who had been disenfranchised. At the same time he signed the Enabling Act which Congress passed delineating the final steps required to advance to statehood. As the New York Times reported at the time,"The signing of the Utah Bill for Statehood closes one of the most remarkable contests in the history of American politics. The Territory has been an applicant for statehood and really eligible in population and wealth for many years….The struggle over polygamy and the Mormon Church has deferred it admission until the present time." (NYT, 7-18-1894)
All that remained was to hold a constitutional convention. On November 6, 1894, voters elected 107 delegates to the convention in Salt Lake City; 77 were Mormons and 30 were polygamists. On March 4, 1895, the delegates met to frame the new state's constitution, which included this clause:"polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited." (Utah Constitution) The constitution was completed on May 6, 1895, signed on May 8, and ratified at the general election on November 5, 1895.
Finally, on January 4, 1896, Utah was admitted as the 45th state in the Union. Its entry was based on the Mormon Church's renunciation of polygamy. Most of those outside the church believed the issue of polygamy was put to rest, but some critics remained suspicious that many of the plural marriages that were performed before 1890, were not in fact aborted. Still B. Carmon Hardy writes,"To most outside the church, however, Mormonism appeared honestly and forever to have put its greatest evil away. The [Woodruff] Manifesto had succeeded in its intent and Utah had won its star in the flag." (p. 153) Although Utah was admitted into the union over a hundred years ago the polygamist past of the Mormons still haunts them, as Mitt Romney has discovered in his quest for the presidency.
Sources and further reading:
Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America, (UNC Press, 2002).
B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage, (University of Illinois Press, 1992).
Joan Smyth Iversen,"A Debate on the American Home: The Antipolygamy Controversy, 1880-1890," Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Apr., 1991), pp. 585-602.
Gustive O. Larsen, The Americanization of Utah for Statehood, (Huntington Library, 1971).
Edward Leo Lyman, Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood, (University of Illinois Press, 1986).
Richard D. Poll, et al. eds., Utah's History, (Utah State University Press), 1989.
Jonathan D. Sarna, ed., Minority Faiths and the American Protestant Mainstream, (University of Illinois Press, 1997).
On this day in history... December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order Number 11, expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-Semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice. As Berthram Wallace Korn explains in his authoritative work, American Jewry and the Civil War (1951):"Some of the most prominent people in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews." (Korn, 164) It was this anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Union army that led to General Grant's General Order No. 11 that called for all Jews to be expelled in his district, which covered the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
Underlying the order was a negative image of the Jewish merchant and the belief that Jews were part of an black market in Southern cotton. Although at war, the North and South still relied on each other economically. The North especially needed the South's surplus cotton for the production of military tents and uniforms. The Union army would have implemented a ban on trade with the South completely; President Abraham Lincoln preferred a limited trade in cotton. The Battle of Shiloh made this trade possible by opening up the Mississippi River down to Vicksburg. This soon became very profitable for both sides; army officers, treasury agents, and individual speculators became involved, although Jews were distinctly a minority.
Army officers especially took advantage of the moneymaking possibilities to such a great extent that Lincoln complained,"the army itself is diverted from fighting rebels to speculating in cotton." Although neither side prohibited the trade, President Lincoln ordered that all of the cotton that was traded had to be licensed by the Treasury Department and the army. Each army commander was responsible for the cotton trade in their respective areas. General Ulysses S. Grant was the commander of the Department of the Tennessee, and therefore responsible for the licenses in that area. The limited trade in cotton and the overwhelming need for cotton in the Northern army led to soaring prices. This prompted many traders to bribe officials to be able to sell cotton without a permit. Jesse Grant, Grant's father, took a prominent role in trading cotton and obtaining permits.
By the fall of 1862, trading was getting out of hand. Grant was annoyed that requests for licenses were distracting him from planning the capture of Vicksburg. Grant was getting an abundance of requests for licenses, and when Grant's father sought them for a group of Cincinnati merchants, among whom were some Jews, the general issued his order. Although some of the traders were Jewish, most were not. Among the high ranks of the Union Army the words"Jew,""profiteer,""speculator" and"trader" all meant the same thing (Feldberg, 118), while the Union commanding General Henry W. Halleck lumped together"traitors and Jew peddlers." Grant concurred, describing Jews as"the Israelites," an"intolerable nuisance." It was because of old European prejudices and anti-Semitism that Jews were singled out. As in Europe, Jews were made scapegoats. History was repeating itself, but it this time it was in America.
On November 9 and 10, Grant sent his commanders in Jackson, Tennessee, orders that"no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward [into the Department of the Tennessee] from any point." Grant also noted his disdain for Jews to C.P. Wolcott, Assistant Secretary of the Army. He claimed Treasury regulations were being violated"mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders." (Feingold, 93) However, the illegal trading of cotton continued and Grant continued to believe it was the fault of the Jewish merchants. On December 17, 1862, he issued Order 11:
The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department [the"Department of the Tennessee," an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.
The order implied that all Jews in the region were speculators and traders, which they were not. Despite this, Grant's subordinates carried out the order around his headquarters in Holly Springs and also Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky where the Jews of these communities had to evacuate from their residences within a 24 hour period. In Holly Springs, the Jewish traders in the area had to walk 40 miles to evacuate the area. Thirty Jewish families who had been long time residents of the town also had to evacuate even though none of them engaged in the cotton speculation and two of them had been veterans of the Union Army.
The order caused an uproar and was criticized by both the Jewish community under Union command, and non-Jews in opposition to the Union's Republicans. The anti-Semitic order was a shock for a Jewish community that had been rarely discriminated against. Democrats and others opposed to the administration believed the order represented another example of Lincoln's willingness to trample on civil liberties. Peace Democrats complained that the Republicans were more concerned with the rights of blacks than of Jews, who were white. Jewish leaders organized protest rallies in St. Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati, while the leaders of the Jewish communities in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia sent telegrams to Lincoln protesting the order.
Residents of the expelled Jewish communities denounced the order. Cesar Kaskel, a merchant and president of the Paducah Union League, sent a telegram to Lincoln condemning Grant's actions as an"enormous outrage on all laws and humanity, ... the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it." (Feldberg, 119) Kaskel also led a delegation to Washington to meet with Lincoln directly. He arrived in Washington just two days after the Emancipation Proclamation became law. Kaskel met with the influential Jewish Republican, Adolphus Solomons, and was accompanied to the White House by Cincinnati Congressman John A. Gurley. They showed Lincoln documents proving that the Jews who had been expelled from their homes were upstanding citizens not involved in cotton speculation.
Lincoln ordered General Halleck, General in Chief of the Army, to revoke the order immediately. Halleck wrote to Grant on January 4,"A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked." Grant complied three days later, but mass evacuation of the Jewish communities in Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky had already been carried out.
The Jewish community was grateful to President Lincoln for his swift revocation. On January 7, Rabbis Isaac M. Wise and Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati, Martin Bijur of Louisville, and Moses Strauss of Baltimore led delegations to Washington to express their gratitude to the President. Lincoln tried to make amends to the Jewish community. He said he had been surprised by Grant's order and said he did not discriminate between Jews or Gentiles and would not allow any American to be discriminated against based on their religion. Lincoln told them he believed that"to condemn a class is, to say the least to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners."
General Order No. 11 was a rare instance of officially ordered anti-Semitism in American history, but just the fact that an order was signed and implemented punishing a religious community, as historian Henry Feingold states,"without due process of law," put a spot on America's reputation of religious tolerance. (Feingold, 94) It was an act more reminiscent of the anti-Semitism Jews endured in Europe for centuries, where without reason Jewish communities were expelled from towns and countries at a moment's notice. The order revealed a disdain for Jews by high ranking officials in the Union army among them Grant, William T. Sherman, and H. W. Halleck. It demonstrated that Jews in both the North and South were not sheltered from official anti-Semitism even in the safe haven of America.
Sources and further reading:
Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974).
Michael Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, (KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2002).
Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951).
Meyer Weinberg, Because They Were Jews: A History of Anti-Semitism, (Greenwood Press, 1986).