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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.

De Ja Vieux, All Over Again

I've been going through more than a half-century's worth of photo albums, picking out favorites of Hubby to use in a video at his memorial service, whenever the pandemic drops to the point that we can have it.  Of course this makes me sad – not only for his loss, but also because I miss the people who cannot hug me right now, as well as those who never will again.  This is especially true of the many aunts and uncles who nurtured him and me, with not an unkind person among literally dozens of them.  Would that we had that generation back again!


Then there are other pictures that bring back the past in a different way.  Most of the albums are family chronology, but four feature Hubby's political activism.  Three were created by his colleagues when he retired as president of United Faculty of Florida.  Within them, there are pictures of protests in Tallahassee and in Washington, but what makes me even sadder is that many of these photos could have been taken yesterday.


Some go back before we came to Florida in 1972.  We went to political demonstrations in Boston and Washington, and I remember especially the great march of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971.  We didn't go to Chicago for the 1968 protest at the Democratic convention, but that image is seared into my mind.  I was ironing in the kitchen of our newly-bought Massachusetts home, and I still can taste the tears that ran down my face while watching on our (black-and-white) television as Mayor Daley's cops wielded their clubs against peaceful demonstrators.  They even attacked Dan Rather, later the most famous of television anchors, arrogantly ignoring the rolling CBS camera.


1968 brings back so many mixed memories.  We joyfully settled into our new house in the late winter and would happily spend the rest of the year improving it.  Politically, though, I recall that we were listening to the radio while converting a bedroom into a laundry room, when to our surprise, we heard President Lyndon Johnson say of the Democratic nomination, "I shall not seek nor will not accept…"  English teachers have used it ever since as the perfect example of the "shall/will" distinction, but at the time, I did not think he was sincere.  I thought he wanted the party faithful to beg him to run again. 




I was wrong.  Either Johnson meant what he said or the party faithful did not respond -- except for Daley and a few of his non-democratic pals in the dying part of the Democratic Party.  But before the convention trauma in August, the nation went through other pain.  Johnson's announcement was on March 31, and on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis.  Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities.  They reignited two months later, on June 5, when presidential aspirant and Democratic Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angles.


I remember making long-distance calls to Hubby from my office in suburban Boston (no cell phones then) to tell him this news, and I remember colleagues crying.  Some went down to New York to stand in the crowds that honored Kennedy at St. Patrick's cathedral, remembering the 1963 assassination of his brother John and praying for Ethel Kennedy -- pregnant with their eleventh child. 


The tumultuous August convention nominated Hubert Humphery, a thoroughly good man who had the unfortunate position of vice president to Lyndon Johnson.  For the matter, except for being misled by the military about Vietnam, Johnson was a good man.  He began life as a Texas teacher and always was more concerned with discrimination against racial minorities than the Yankee politicians who axiomatically assumed that someone from Texas was racist. 


Being from Arkansas, I've had that experience more than once, but in fact, it was Texas' Johnson who pushed the momentous 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts through a reluctant Congress.  It was he who, in 1967, placed the first African American, NAACP leader Thurgood Marshall, on the Supreme Court.  Johnson mentored Barbara Jordan, the African-American congresswoman from Houston who dominated Richard Nixon's eventual impeachment.


But then as now, much of the public – including those who identify as liberal and leftists – cannot be bothered with learning facts.  It's easier to shout slogans than to study how things came to be the way they are, and especially to give credit where credit is due.  All too many fall into the trap that "conservatives" set for them, just the way that most of our friends did in 1968. 


In the spring of that dreadful year, some of our Harvard friends went "clean for Gene." They cut their long hair and shaved their beards to support presidential candidate Senator Gene McCarthy, of Minnesota (like Humphery).  Although they wouldn't win nationally, the "clean for Gene" folks won the Massachusetts primary.  McCarthy took a significant lead, while Robert Kennedy came in a distant second, and the incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson, garnered a mere 3%.  That was on March 30, and on March 31, he announced that he would not seek nor accept the nomination.


Then came the turmoil of assassinations in April and June, with deadly riots and deadly police brutality all over the country.  The August outrages by Mayor Daley's cops at the Democratic convention capped it all, and many of our friends refused to vote for the Democratic nominee in November.  Through it all, Republican nominee Richard Nixon quietly followed his "Southern Strategy" of turning longtime Democrats into Republicans, and many of the protestors played right into his hands by proudly distaining to vote.




Today's situation is not nearly as deadly as it was then, but there are still far too many people who view themselves as politically progressive who apparently cannot be bothered with learning from the past.  This doubtless is due to the natural human tendency to wish to believe that one is the first to discover anything and to dismiss the hard-won wisdom of their elders as irrelevant.  But we could do much more to empower young people – and even those not so young – with better knowledge of how we got to where we are.


The most egregious example of mistaken history I know is that of a fellow traveler in the 1960s.  He was older than I, but like me, grew up in the South.  A Navy veteran, retired and majoring in history, and he told me that he was over forty years old when he realized that the Confederacy had lost the Civil War.  To him, it always had been The Grand and Glorious Cause, and he spent the first four decades of life – including time in the military – without truly comprehending this most profound part of our national past.


Even where people understand which side won the war to end slavery, it is common to misunderstand the historical facts.  I know many, many people who do not realize that slavery was legal in most Northern states until within just a generation of its abolition.  Indeed, the last state to abolish it was Delaware, which did so only after the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution required it.  In my encyclopedia on women's history by state, I included a shocking example of an elderly black woman who was the janitor at a Lutheran church in Delaware – and owned by the church.  That sort of honest retelling of our past is so needed, as is the global fact that most African slaves were war captives who were sold to whites by other Africans.


And as our latest national crisis shows, it is possible to go backwards.  I was stunned by the fact that it began in Minneapolis, which members of my family have called home for generations.  My older sister, who has lived in south Georgia for decades, called me in tears because this was the Lake Avenue neighborhood where she had gone to college.  I phoned my most political cousin, who along with the families of a nephew and a niece, also live in that liberal community. 

I asked how a city that had elected an African-American woman as mayor back in 1993 (Sharon Sayles Belton; you can look her up) could have degenerated to this point.  We also talked about its recent election of the first Somali congresswoman; you know Ilhan Omar.  We talked and talked, but couldn't really figure out how Minneapolis had come to seem so racist.  And yet, I don't really think it is:  It was some of the city's policemen who were racist.  Just like Mayor Daley's cops in 1968.  And it's just as possible that, at least unconsciously, these guys identify with those who want to provoke a race war nationally.


Such people are fundamentally fascist -- and far too many people of every color and ethnicity become fascists when protected by a uniform.  Like Hitler's Storm Troopers, even lowly security guards, both men and women, can feel excessively empowered by a badge and a pistol.  We all have seen them in action, issuing orders without sense or sensitivity.  I'm remembering especially a security guard at the National Archives in Washington, an African-American woman, who pushed my daughter out on to a Pennsylvania Avenue curb because, at age ten, she wasn't old enough to meet me in the archives' lobby.


Encouraged by political and economic dictators, such people seem to delight in seeing themselves as above the law, certainly above any divine law that says we all are children of a heavenly father.  They choose nationalism or racism or whatever ideology allows them to substitute authoritarianism over any belief in peace or justice, let alone mercy.  Watch for them.




Education is key to peace and justice, and we must do a much better job of that.  First of all, let's get over STEM.  Science, yes, but technology (whatever that means), math, and engineering will not heal our national wounds.  Hardly anyone needs Algebra II, geometry, or trig in this era of computers, and engineering appropriately should wait until college.  Instead we need well-taught history, old-fashioned civics and government, as well as much more sociology and psychology – subjects that generally aren't taught in high school at all. 


To prevent more pandemics, we need the honest history of public health and its connection to poverty, nutrition, and polluted living conditions.  We need more music and art to lift our souls.  And lots of classical literature, to paint a picture of the past and to weave poetry in young minds.  We need topics that inspire creatively, something that rarely is achieved with a second year of algebra.


In public history for children and adults, those who advocate for replacement of Confederate monuments have a strong case:  It simply is logical for people to assume that anyone so honored must merit that honor.  Ditto with flags.  I was pleased to see that the Sons of Confederate Veterans had enough sense to pull down their treasonous flag during the recent demonstrations, but they did it from cowardice, not from any new sensitivity.


Highly visible at the intersection of I-4 and I-75, it is an in-your-face greeting not only to African-Americans and other minorities, but also to those of us who are dedicated to the Union, not to those who rebelled against it.  I hope they will refrain from raising it again – but if not, let's organize to surround it with Rainbow flags.  That would get attention.



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