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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

If a Man is a Fool…

I get regular e-mails from Vote Vets, a growing organization headed by retired generals and colonels. A recent one urged Twitter to cancel Donald Trump’s account because he is using that platform to send bellicose messages re North Korea that endanger lives. I didn’t sign the petition because I want the orange-hair-on-fire guy to continue his bizarre behavior until more of those who voted for him acknowledge their mistake. Until then, I trust that General Kelly and others with keys to the Oval Office will keep his hands off the nuclear button. The probability is, I think, that feds who are smarter than their ostensible boss already have disconnected the red phone.

This reminded me of something that Woodrow Wilson said about the people who demonstrated outside the White House against American involvement in World War I. “Freedom of speech,” that president proclaimed, “is the greatest liberty: If a man is a fool, let him demonstrate it.” Fools indeed are rushing in today, and North Korea provides an easy distraction from disaffection in Trump’s own party and especially from investigations into his links with Russia’s dictator. And yes, Russia’s Putin is just as corrupt and cruel as Korea’s Kim. The only difference is that Kim is too dim to drop the label of “communist.” If he did, all might be well.

Or not. Trump’s deplorable – yes, that is the right word! – lack of knowledge was revealed further in this particular tweet when he said, “Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars and getting nothing.” Twenty-five years? Try more than twice that. I was a child in Minnesota in 1953, when newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower – a Republican and stellar Army man – called off that war. I was less than ten years old, but I remember worried conversation between adults and sickening pictures of dead men on black-and-white TV. What kind of household did little Donald grow up in that he could be so far off the chronological mark? Didn’t his school supply him with My Weekly Reader? Didn’t he even watch MASH?

Another Civil War and North vs. South

I was in the 6th grade when I read in My Weekly Reader about the war in Vietnam, then called “French-Indo China.” It was another civil war in which northern and southern forces faced off, and just as in Korea, no one acknowledged it when Americans lost. But that’s okay. In both the 1950s case and the 1970s case, the killing stopped. What’s hard to believe, though, is that the White House Occupant comprehends so little history that he not only got the time factor wrong by decades, but also asserts that we have given billions to North Korea. The fact is that the money drain did not pour down on North Korea, which we continuously boycotted, but instead went to South Korea and its long line of wannabe dictators.

South Korea may (or may not) be a little more democratic now than it was in 2000, when a South Korean soldier guarding the American Embassy refused to allow Hubby and me to go within a block of it. All we wanted to do was to report that he had lost his passport – like all geniuses, Hubby loses things -- but the soldier raised his rifle to our faces. Yep, that’s the kind of democracy I want to defend.

Americans never have been allowed to visit Pyongyang, but I suspect it’s not that different from Seoul. And as the merchants of war rattle their sabers, there’s probably less liberty in Seoul than in 2000. People then had real hope of reunification, and I still feel for those we saw at the DMZ. In a high, glass cage, they looked out over the land of their birth and mourned for their families. They pounded the windows and cried. Most were elderly and probably are dead of natural causes now, but their grief still pains me.

Nor do we pay much attention to Japan, the ancient enemy of Korea and the easiest target for a missile. The Japanese have enough sense to ignore both Trump and his Rocket Man opponent, understanding that getting between two schoolyard bullies can be dangerous. They also understand that there’s no principle at stake in this faux fight. Instead, as Eisenhower (who knew a thing or two about war) said, it’s all about maintaining the military/industrial complex. It’s about making money for Boeing and Dow Chemical and any number of other materiel suppliers. Anyone want to redirect those planes and products to Cuba and Puerto Rico, where they could do some good?

Further Back to the Past

As I’ve said before, my dear friend Dr. Gary Mormino regularly sends things he thinks I’d like – and makes it technologically easy with the US mail. The first newspaper clipping that I’m using is particularly apropos today, as it dates to 1953 and demonstrates the era’s hysteria about communism. The headline read: “Lucille Ball Says She Registered to Vote on the Communist Ticket Just to ‘Appease Grandpa.’”

“I Love Lucy” was at the height of its popularity when someone dug out the fact that Lucille Ball’s grandfather, Fred Hunt, had become a communist during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The profound poverty of that time disturbed him, and as Lucy’s Cuban-born husband, Desi Arnaz, explained: “Grandpa was the type of fellow who wanted the whole world to be happy and have lots of money.” Miss Ball, who was “clad in pink slacks and white blouse,” denied any allegiance to communism – but the House Un-American Activities Committee nonetheless released a 27-page summary of its investigation of loveable Lucy.

From April 1919: “Women of St. Pete to Insist on the Ballot” and a sub-headline, “Believed the Commission Will Grant It.” This was more than a year before all American women won the vote on August 26, 1920 (celebrate it!), but St. Petersburg women reasonably believed that the city’s charter commission could grant the vote for city elections – and that happened. It happened because, in 1915, Tallahassee guys had not noticed a line in the charter for the East Coast town of Fellsmere that enfranchised women. Other smart women emulated Fellsmere, and all over Florida, women voted in municipal elections.

The charter amendment was named for L. D. Childs, and no, I don’t know who that was. Let me know if you do. The amendment also made it “likely that men as well as women will be relieved…of poll taxes,” and it guaranteed that women could vote “without any educational or other qualifications.” The Equal Suffrage Association, by the way, met at the Belmont Hotel. The article didn’t say anything about what anyone wore.

Gary is working hard on 1919, and a story in May said a Duval County court had ruled that yes, calling a woman “a drunkard” was an actionable offense. Mrs. Bertha B. Lemoine argued that “she had lost her position as exalted commander of American Pioneers Klan, [the] women’s department of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, because Annie Spicer falsely said ‘she is a drunkard.’” It didn’t indicate how much Spicer might have to pay Lemoine for this calumny, or whether or not Spicer was a “Mrs.”

More Seriously

The next headline is from October, 13, 1918, when World War I was close to its November 11 armistice. (By the way, it was an armistice, not an unconditional surrender, so arguably we didn’t win that war either.) The St. Petersburg Times wrote: “Colored Union Asks High Pay to Buy Bonds.” Reading between the lines, it is clear that African-American women who washed and ironed clothes were asking for more money because of the inflation caused by the war. Prices rose dramatically, and it was hard for working-class people to buy what they needed without an increase in pay.

But when word got out that washerwomen wanted better wages, fears of being accused of communism and of an obviously active Klan caused the leader, Libby Abrams to temporize talk of unionism. She brought this letter to the Times:

Dear white friends: And to all whom it may concern –

We see by the papers that there is quite an upstir because we the colored women have asked $2 a day and one meal. It has been rumored that some white woman and Prof. Graham have influenced the laboring women to ask for higher wages, but this is a sad mistake, for it is the high cost of living and then to be loyal to our country and government. We have pledged War Savings Stamps and Liberty Bonds and we can not pay out with such little wages as we have been getting heretofore. Now this is the real cause why we want more for our work.

Your humble servant,

The Colored Laboring Women

Black people were not the only ones pressured to buy war bonds they couldn’t afford. My own grandfather, who was born in the US of German parents, had seven children to support by World War I, but he found money to lend to the government because his neighbors would have threatened him if he had not.

One more item, this from 1915: “No Negro Lawyers for Florida.” Just a few years before African-American men would be drafted for World War I, “Representative Davis, of St. Johns, introduced a bill to exclude negro lawyers from the courts of Florida… Davis made a brief, clear speech for his bill, and without dissenting voice, the bill went through unanimously.”

Newspapers back then did not bother to separate reporting from editorializing, and the Times went on: “The bill eliminates the negro from contact with the whites in a progressive way, and it is thought this will be a very desirable thing to do, in the interest of both races… As to the justice or injustice of shutting the door on the face of the negro, it is contended that the best interest of the negro himself is conserved.”

Conserved. Conservative. What can I say? Eventually, we shall overcome – but not with the current leadership.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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