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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.

Climate Change and More

I'm home from a ten-day trip to the Ozarks.  I went mostly because of a family funeral, but also because I wanted to see autumn leaves.  In my childhood there, one could be sure that trees would color by mid-October, but all was green this year.  Indeed, it was over 90 degrees until a thunderstorm (not a big one by Florida standards) dropped temperatures down to a more comfortable level.  Still, I never needed a sweater, and except for autumnal decorations, it did not feel at all like autumn.


I didn't bring up the subject of climate change because I'm sure that most people would have denied it.  Even if I had gone to the trouble of finding scientific stats on temperatures today compared with fifty years ago, when we were young, heads would have shaken in rejection.  They would have thought that justified because I'm an Eastern liberal, and no more reflection is required.  Political slogans are enough.


It troubles me.  This is a state that once had Bill Clinton as governor and simultaneously elected two outstanding US Democratic senators, David Pryor and Blanche Lincoln Lambert.  Before that, there was Dale Bumpers – and Betty Bumpers participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, something extremely unusual for the wife of a US senator.  Not long before that, Arkansas' William Fulbright was the leading anti-war voice in the US Senate.  You know his name because of the Fulbright Fellowships that he created to promote international peace.




So what happened?  Why did that liberalism give way to conservatives such as Sarah Huckabee and Tom Cotton?  Why did people vote for Donald Trump, the ultimate urbanite who couldn't find Arkansas on a map, over their own former first lady, Hillary Clinton?  They accepted her even when she used her maiden name, Hillary Rodham, and read philosophy during breaks at Razorback games.  The institutions that she and Bill set up for improved health and education still flourish, and several signs proclaim that the Little Rock airport is named for him. 

Indeed, the airport has a long mural of photos from when Chelsea was young and Hillary was slightly overweight with mousy brown hair. 


Maybe Arkansans, especially those outside of Little Rock, resented her changed appearance, which she adopted to suit a more sophisticated national audience.  I'm certain that rejection of Hillary in favor of Trump was not because of Bill's sex scandal, as Arkansas long has had the highest divorce rate in the nation, usually because of extramarital affairs.  Several of my friends, both women and men, have been divorced three or four times.  I'm willing to bet that the number of fundamentalist church members equals the number of divorces among those same people. 


Marijuana is advertised on highways, and although my hometown never has repealed its ban on alcohol, one can buy a drink at most restaurants.  Puritanism most decidedly does not reign, but hypocrisy does.  I'd like to do a study of fundamentalists' beliefs compared with their actions, but just as with climate change, I think that statistics and facts would meet immediate rejection.


So here's a final theory:  maybe it's a case of biting the hand that feeds you.  Everyone (or at least everyone who accepts facts) knows that liberal states subsidize conservative ones.  This has been true for a long time, simply because less-populous states have the same two US senators as those with much larger populations.  To get anything done, those from urban New York and New Jersey, for example, have to satisfy the appetites of senators from rural Idaho and Wyoming.  Thus Arkansas is full of federal benefits – and this voting behavior may reflect resentment of the benefactor, much like a teenager resents his parents.


I've long suspected this unacknowledged attitude prevails with right-wingers, especially men.  They have time to call into Rush Limbaugh and other windbags because they aren't working or tending to their families.  They are living on SSI or unemployment comp, and because hypocrisy is their key value, they resent the hand that feeds them.  Maybe we liberals should stop being so nice.




I stayed at my sister's cabin on the Arkansas River, a lovely and lonely place.  It wasn't lonely two centuries ago.  Cherokees had a flourishing community in this area until they were forced to move to Oklahoma after the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson.  The water highway then promoted a white community (Galla Creek, if you care to look it up), and in the 1840s, my brother-in-law's Irish family ran a ferry between the river's banks. 


When the railroad arrived after the Civil War of the 1860s, almost everyone moved near it, and the river area reverted to loneliness.  Now the bodies in forgotten cemeteries probably outnumber Galla Creek's living people.  Only the occasional barge transporting Oklahoma oil disturbs the quiet.  Deer move silently, and the Canadian geese who should be honking are late this year.  They and other migrating birds enjoy a rest stop at the Holla Bend Wildlife Refuge on the opposite side of the river, another federal benefit. 


I monitor the wildlife from the screened porch and read.  Because she is president of the board to preserve the 1858 Potts Inn (you can look up that, too) my sister has lots of books on the mid-nineteenth century.  After I finished those about the Butterfield Overland Trail, a stagecoach line that stopped at Potts Inn, I moved on to reading about the war that ended the stagecoach and much more.




The best of these books was Rugged and Sublime:  The Civil War in Arkansas, edited by Mark Christ.  He is a friend of my sister's, and I've met him.  The book is divided by the four years of the war, and the chapter on 1863 is by Thomas DeBlack, a professor at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville).  These are modern historians who reexamine the myths that we were taught.  The best example of this:  I had a friend who was forty years old before it dawned on him that the South lost the war.


One thing I wasn't taught was that the Union withstood a Confederate assault on Helena, a port on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River – on July 4, 1863.  That was the same day of the better-known battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  Those July 4th Union victories meant that the Confederacy never would recover – although the rebels fought on for two more tragic years.  I also never realized how good the Army Corp of Engineers was back then.  In just a day, they could lay down a pontoon bridge strong enough for horses and wagons to cross big rivers.  And then they destroyed it, so that the enemy couldn't follow.


The most important thing that I wasn't taught is that black troops fought in Arkansas – and did so fearlessly.  Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, and by April, "the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment (African Descent)" was ready for action.  Along with African Americans from Kansas, they were particularly valuable in the south Arkansas town of Camden, near Louisiana.  In less than an hour, they quelled a Confederate attack by creating a fort made of cotton bales that was impenetrable to bullets. 


These troops created a song that was adopted by other black regiments.  Sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" and including frequent repetitions of the chorus, "Glory, glory, hallelujah," it is:


Oh, we're the bully soldiers of the First of Arkansas,

We are fighting for the Union, we are fighting for the law,

We can hit a Rebel further than a white man ever saw,

As we go marching on.


See there above the center, where the flag is waving bright,

We are going out of slavery; we are bound for freedom's light;

We mean to show Jeff Davis how the Africans can fight,

As we go marching on.


We have done with hoeing cotton, we have done with hoeing corn,

We are colored Yankee soldiers now, as sure as you are born;

When the masters hear us yelling, they will think it's Gabriel's horn,

As we go marching on.


They will have to pay us wages, the wages of their sin,

They will have to bow their foreheads to their colored kith and kin,

They will have to give us house-room, or the roof shall tumble in,

As we go marching on…


Father Abraham has spoken and the message has been sent,

The prison doors he opened, and out the prisoners went,

To join the sable army of the "African descent,"

As we go marching on."



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