The Soul of America by Jon Meacham

Reviewed by Hank Bitten
NJCSS Executive Director

Jon Meacham captures the ‘big picture’ of America’s story in his book, The Soul of America (2018). It’s importance for teachers and students is significant because many of our institutions and principles are currently being questioned and attacked. The Soul of America captures the challenges Americans have experienced throughout our history, identifies the voices who have kept the American people faithful to democratic values and provides references to presidents whose leadership shaped America’s soul.   This book is timely as we are living in dangerous times with divisive statements every day and mass shootings every week.

The opening paragraphs prioritize the importance of presidential leadership in times of uncertainty or crisis: “To do so requires innumerable acts of citizenship and of private grace.  It will require, as it has in the past, the witness and the bravery of reformers who hold no office and who have no traditional power but who yearn for a better, fairer way of life. And it will also require, I believe, a president of the United States with a temperamental disposition to speak to the country’s hopes rather than to its fears.” (11)

Our representative democracy has faced challenges from events, extremists, political parties, and presidents during the past 220 years. The American soul and spirit have been tested with the Alien and Sedition Acts, Nullification crisis, Know Nothing Party, racism, the Great Depression, world wars, and the Attack on America.  The American soul has been positively influenced during challenging times by speeches, books, newspapers, radio, television, films, and social media.  Although we are a diverse, and at times a divided population, we share a common DNA that is at risk to genetic mutations by outside influences.

One of the significant contributions in this book is its perspective on the American Dream during times when it was challenged by racism, sexism, and economic depressions.  In each of the seven chapters there are applications for classroom lessons and debates.  Our students learn about the role of government through conflicts, reforms, legislation and presidential visions through the Square Deal, New Freedom, New Deal, Fair Deal, and New Frontier. The first years of the 20th century were times of prosperity and depression, war and peace, an incapacitated president and the death of four presidents in office, and the expansion and restriction on who can vote. These are applications for the first quartile of the 21st century.

In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan spoke to millions of Americans in both rural and urban areas who wanted conservative values, restrictions on immigration, and an exclusive society for some Americans. The Ku Klux Klan addressed these issues, blamed socialism on immigrants, and found a comfortable place in the Democratic Party of William Jennings Bryan. Hiram Wesley Evans, the imperial wizard of the Klan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden in 1924: “The Klan, alone, supplies this leadership…. The blood which produces human leadership must be protected from inferior blood…. You are the superior blood.  You are more-you are leaders in the only movement in the world, at present, which exists solely to establish a civilization that will insure these things.  Klansmen and Klanswomen are verily ‘the salt of the earth,’ upon whom depends the future of civilization.”  (Hiram Wesley Evans, imperial wizard spoke these words in 1924 in Madison Square Garden at the Democratic National Convention)

To understand the divisive words above in the context of the poetic words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” in the sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, teachers should consider having their students participate in the following:

  • Have your students explain how and why the Klan evolved into a national organization after World War I from a regional organization in the South after the Civil War? 
  • Have your students cite examples of how the Klan used propaganda and the media to influence Americans and increase their membership. 
  • Have your students research the voices who spoke out against the Klan and for an inclusive society for all people.

The Klan became masters of propaganda or fake news in the 20th century with the popular commercial film, Birth of a Nation in 1915.  The influence of films, radio, and speeches at rallies have a powerful impact on the soul of Americans and their views on groups of people who become scapegoats as they were blamed for things they had no control over. The Klan meddled in the presidential elections of 1920 and 1924. Jon Meacham provides resources for teachers and students with the example of the campaign to defame President Warren G. Harding with fake news that “documented” his ancestors were black. (129)  At a time when Harding could have unleashed a tirade over the radio or in the newspapers, he met the allegations with dignified public silence.  There were also reports of his initiation as a member of the Klan in the dining room of the White House and that half of the elected representatives in Congress were Klan members! (130)  These were dangerous times.

William R. Pattangall, a politician from Maine running for governor, was one voice who explicitly denounced the Klan at the Democratic National Convention in New York City in 1924. “I say to you, that there is need to be sent over the whole wide United States a message…that our party hates bigotry, hates intolerance; opposes bigotry and opposes intolerance; and because it hates them and hates hypocrisy and opposes them, it therefore calls bigoty and intolerance and hypocrisy by their right names when it speaks of them.” In times when fear overcomes our American spirit, other voices need to speak for the rights and freedom of all citizens. There are many examples for teachers in The Soul of America of voices that speak of inclusion, freedom of equality and the rule of law in our Constitution.  Our students need to hear these voices!

In 1952 Margaret Chase Smith, also from Maine, spoke on the Senate floor against the wave of fear that Senator Joseph McCarthy promoted.  “I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.  I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation…

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize;

The right to uphold unpopular beliefs;

The right to protest;

The right to independent thought.

The Soul of America is filled with powerful quotations that teachers can select and organize into evidence packages for students to read, discuss, and form a conclusion.  The Soul of America includes selected quotes from speeches and literature as far back as 1789. These short quotes can be researched in the complete context of documents readily available online in presidential libraries, the Miller Center, The Library of Congress, and other resources. Here are several examples of Evidence Packages that will guide students in understanding the big picture of the challenges Americans experienced in the past 100 years. The examples below provide a context for the power of words and rhetoric for deeper inquiry and student engagement into history.

Evidence Package on The Great Depression:

  1. “In the summer of 1932, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York had told an adviser that the two most dangerous men in America were Huey Long of Louisiana and Douglas MacArthur, the army chief of staff.  Long, the powerful Louisiana “kingfish,” could conceivably orchestrate a coup from the populist left, and MacArthur might manage the same feat from the right.”  (138, A few weeks before his inauguration, there was an assassination attempt on FDR and the mayor of Chicago in Miami, Florida by Zangara, an anarchist.
  2. “Where is the middle class today?” “Where is the corner groceryman, about whom President Roosevelt speaks?  He is gone or going.  Where is the corner druggist?  He is gone or going.  Where is the banker of moderate means?  He is vanishing…. The middle class today cannot pay the debts they owe and come out alive.” (143, Huey Long)
  3. “We have perfected techniques in propaganda and press and radio control which should make the United States the easiest country in the world to indoctrinate with any set of ideas, and to control for any physically possible ends.”  “Diversity – political, racial, religious, ethnic – was the enemy.’  Undoubtedly the easiest way to unite and animate large numbers in political association for action is to exploit the dynamic forces of hatred and fear.” (144, Lawrence Dennis, author from Georgia)
  4. “The GOP, Truman said, was more interested in partisan advantage than in national security. For political background, the Republicans have been trying vainly to find an issue on which to make a bid for the control of Congress for next year… They tried statism.  They tried ‘welfare state.’  They tried ‘socialism.’  And there are a certain number of members of the Republican party who are trying to dig up that old malodorous dead horse called ‘isolationism.’  And in order to do that, they are perfectly willing to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States.” (188-89, Truman speech on March 30, 1950 in Key West, FL)

Evidence Package on Civil Rights Movement:

  1. “If on Judgment Day I were summoned by St. Peter to give testimony to the used-to-be sheriff’s act of kindness, I would be unable to say anything in his behalf.  His confidence that my uncle and every other Black man who heard of the Klan’s coming ride would scurry under their houses to hide in chicken droppings was to humiliating to hear.” (215, Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  A reference to a warning to her uncle about a visit from the Klan)
  2. “You know, we just can’t keep colored folk down like we been doin’ around here for years and years,” Wallace told a Sunday School teacher at his church. “We got to quit.  We got to start treatin’ ‘em right. They just like everybody else.”  (218, Words of Gov. George Wallace, AL spoken shortly after World War 2, about 15 years before he was elected governor.)
  3. “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say…segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.” (219, Gov. George Wallace, AL)
  • Yet Wallace failed.  The Kennedy Justice Department enforced the court order and the university was integrated.  On the evening of the day federal officials compelled Wallace to stand aside, President Kennedy spoke to the nation.

“Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. This is not a sectional issue.  Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety.  Nor is this a partisan issue…. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.  It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.” (220, President Kennedy)

  • “Well, you know, John, the other day a sad thing happened.  Helen Williams and her husband, Gene, who are African Americans and have been working for me for many years, drove my official car from Washington down to Texas, the Cadillac limousine of the vice-president of the United States.  They drove through your state, and when they got hungry they stopped at grocery stores on the edge of town in colored areas and bought Vienna sausage and beans and ate them with a plastic spoon.  And when they had to go to the bathroom, they would stop, pull off on a side road, and Helen Williams, an employee of the vice-president of the United States, would squat on the road to pee.  And you know, John, that’s just bad.  That’s wrong.  And there ought to be something to change that. And it seems to me that if the people in Mississippi don’t change it voluntarily, that it’s just going to be necessary to change it by law.” (221, President Johnson statement to Senator John Stennis, Mississippi)
  • “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (225, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

  • “Yes, yes, Hubert, I want all those other things – buses, restaurants, all of that – but the right to vote with no ifs, ands, or buts, that’s the key.” (231, Civil Rights Act of 1964)
  • “The march of 1965 injected something very special into the soul and the heart and the veins of America.  It said, in effect, that we must humanize our social and political and economic structure.  When people saw what happened on that bridge, there was a sense of revulsion all over America. 

Revulsion, then redemption: In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house-not just the house of black and white, but the house of the South, the house of America.” (238, Rep. John Lewis, GA, Bloody Sunday. March 7, 1965)

“The issue of equal rights for American negroes is such an issue.  And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. 

For with a country as with a person, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’” (241, Speech by President Lyndon Johnson to the nation, March 15, 1965)

The Soul of America is an important resource for history teachers, a powerful story for your students, and opened my mind to a deeper understanding of why the politics of today need the voices of teachers and professors to advocate for the liberties and rights we, both citizens and immigrants within the United States, have by law.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and its Impact

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Its Impact

by Megan Bernth with Kyle Novak

Martin-Luther-King-Assassinted-New-York-Times-April-5-1968

The life, ideas, and achievements of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. enter the curriculum during an examination of the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s or if a school commemorates his birthday or Black History Month. Reverend King’s impact on the United States continued after he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 because his ideas lived on and his achievements continued to influence people. His assassination also contributed to the racial divide in the United States, as African American communities exploded in anger. The material in this curriculum package focuses on the immediate response to his murder, testimonials and rioting, controversy about his killer, and King’s long-term legacy. Material in the package includes photographs, videos, quotes, and compelling questions. As a culminating activity, the students read three quotes statements by Reverend King that discuss his ideas of nonviolence and passive civil resistance, compare them to examples of contemporary protests, and consider the implications of Reverend King’s ideas for today.

Hobbs-Lorraine-Motel-Martin-Luther-King


Background: In early April of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was visiting Memphis, Tennessee to support a sanitation workers’ strike. He had faced mounting criticisms from young Blacks who thought his nonviolent attitude was doing their cause a disservice. It was because of these criticisms he had begun moving his support beyond blacks to all poor Americans and those who opposed the Vietnam War. While standing on a balcony the evening of April 4, a sniper shot and killed him. James Earl Ray was eventually arrested and convicted of the crime.

Martin Luther King Is Slain in Memphis; A White is Suspected; Johnson Urges Calm

By Early Caldwell, New York Times, April 5, 1968, p. 1

Memphis, Friday, April 5 – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence and racial brotherhood, was fatally shot here last night by a distant gunman who raced away and escaped. Four thousand National Guard troops were ordered into Memphis by Gov. Buford Ellington after the 39-year-old Nobel Prize-winning civil rights leader died. A curfew was imposed on the shocked city of 550,000 inhabitants, 40 per cent of whom are Negro. But the police said the tragedy had been followed by incidents that included sporadic shooting, fires, bricks and bottles thrown at policemen, and looting that started in Negro districts and then spread over the city.

Police Director Frank Holloman said the assassin might have been a white man who was “50 to 100 yards away in a flophouse.” Chief of Detectives W.P. Huston said a late model white Mustang was believed to have been the killer’s getaway car. Its occupant was described as a bareheaded white man in his 30’s, wearing a black suit and black tie.

A high-powered 30.06-caliber rifle was found about a block from the scene of the shooting, on South Main Street. “We think it’s the gun,” Chief Huston said, reporting it would be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dr. King was shot while he leaned over a second-floor railing outside his room at the Lorraine Motel. He was chatting with two friends just before starting for dinner. Paul Hess, assistant administrators at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Dr. King died despite emergency surgery, said the minister had “received a gunshot wound of the right side of the neck, at the root of the neck, a gaping wound.” In a television broadcast after the curfew was ordered here, Mr. Holloman said, “rioting has broken out in parts of the city” and “looting is rampant.” Dr. King had come back to Memphis Wednesday morning to organize support once again for 1,300 sanitation workers who have been striking since Lincoln’s Birthday. Just a week ago yesterday he led a march in the strikers’ cause that ended in violence. A 16-year-old Negro was killed, 62 persons were injured and 200 were arrested.

Policemen were pouring into the motel area, carrying rifles and shotguns and wearing helmets. But the King aides said it seemed to be 10 or 15 minutes before a fire Department ambulance arrived. Dr. King was apparently still living when he reached the St. Joseph’s Hospital, operating room for emergency surgery. He was borne in on a stretcher, the bloody towel over his head. It was the same emergency room to which James H. Meredith, first Negro enrolled at the University of Mississippi, was taken after he was ambushed and shot in June 1965, at Hernando, Miss., a few miles south of Memphis; Mr. Meredith was not seriously hurt.

Questions:

  1. What does the New York Times report in the headline?
  2. How is Dr. King described in the article?
  3. In your opinion, why did cities declare curfews following Dr. King’s assassination?
  4. Why was Dr. King in Memphis?

President’s Plea, On TV, He Deplores “Brutal” Murder of Negro Leader

New York Times, April 5, 1968, p. 1

President Johnson deplored tonight in a brief television address to the nation the “brutal slaying” of the Re. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He asked “every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence.” Mr. Johnson said he was postponing his scheduled departure tonight for a Honolulu conference on Vietnam and that instead he would leave tomorrow. The President spoke from the White House. At the Washington Hilton Hotel, where Democratic members of Congress had gathered to honor the President and Vice President, Mr. Humphrey, his voice strained with emotion, said: “Martin Luther King stands with other American martyrs in the cause of freedom and justice. His death is a terrible tragedy.”

Questions:

  1. How did President Johnson react to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.?
  2. Why did Vice President Humphrey describe Dr. King as one of the “American martyrs in the cause of freedom and justice”?

A Conversation with Dr. King

MLK
  1. Where do the ideas of non-violent civil disobedience come from?

“From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the (civil rights) movement. This guiding principle has since been referred to variously as non-violent resistance, non-cooperation, and passive resistance. But in the first days of protest none of these expressions were mentioned; the phrase most often heard was “Christian love.” . . . It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love. As the days unfolded, however, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi (a leader in the struggle for independence in India) began to exert its influence. I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was of the most potent (powerful) weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.”

  1. When is civil disobedience necessary?

“There is nothing wrong with a traffic law which says you have to stop for a red light. But when a fire is raging the fire truck goes right through that red light, and normal traffic had better get out of the way. Or, when a man is bleeding to death, the ambulance goes through those red lights at top speed . . . Massive civil disobedience is a strategy for social change which is at least as forceful as an ambulance with its siren on full.”

  1. Why do you choose non-violent resistance over violence?

“To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system… Non-cooperation with evil is as much an obligation as is cooperation with good. Violence often brings about momentary results . . . But . . . It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”

Questions:

  1. There was a wave of rioting in African American communities following the assassination of Dr. King. In your opinion, what would Dr. King have said to the rioters if he were alive?
  2. As you learn about the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. King, consider: Were the riots a legitimate response to King’s assassination?
  3. In your opinion, what has been the impact of the assassination of Dr. King and the riots that followed on American society?

Race Riots following the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 5-9, 1968)

Background: In the week following the death of Dr. King, riots broke out across the country. It is important to note that while Dr. King’s death may have sparked the riots, the long-standing history of racial tensions and conflicts had created an environment where violent protests were widely accepted in the wake of King’s assassination. President Johnson urged Americans to “reject the blind violence” that had killed King. Despite the President’s pleas, violence erupted and tens of thousands of National Guard, military and police officers were called on to quell the riots. By the end of the week, more than 21,000 were arrested and 2,600 injured, with 39 dead. With economic damages estimated to reach at least $65 million, entire areas and communities were destroyed. Of the 125 cities affected, Washington, Chicago and Baltimore were three that stand out amongst the rest.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TZ_5FmnSMs

Washington D.C.

Eyewitness to the Riot

Virginia Ali (a black woman who owned a restaurant with her husband in Washington): “I remember the sadness more than anything else. The radio stations were playing hymns, and people were coming in crying. People were out of control with anger and sadness and frustration. They broke into the liquor store across the street and were coming out with bottles of Courvoisier. They had no money, these youngsters. They were coming into the Chili Bowl saying, “Could you just give us a chili dog or a chili half smoke? We’ll give you this.”

George Pelecanos (an eleven-year-old black boy living in Washington): “The biggest mistake on the administrative side was not closing the schools and the government on Friday. Fourteenth Street had burned down, and officials thought it was over. But overnight, people all over the city had started talking about what was going to happen the next day. It got around by what they called the ghetto telegraph – the stoop, the barbershops, the telephones. Very early  in the morning, the teachers and school administrators started freaking out because the students were out of control – they just started to walk out. People realized: This isn’t over. It’s just beginning, and we have to get out of here.”

Questions:

  1. Describe the scenes shown in the video. Which scene is the most powerful? Why?
  2. How are the rioters portrayed in the video?
  3. How do the people interviewed remember the riot forty years later?
  4. According to Georg Pelecanos , what was the biggest mistake by authorities?
  5. In your opinion, does Ali’s quote provide a possible explanation for the riots?
  6. After examining the video, the quotes, and the photographs, which source do you think provides the most accurate representation of the riots? Why?

Baltimore, Maryland

Eyewitness to the Riot

Ruby Glover (a Jazz singer and administrator at Johns Hopkins Hospital) – “It looked like everything was on fire. It appeared that everything that we loved and adored and enjoyed was just being destroyed. It was just hideous.”

James  Bready (editorial writer for the Evening Sun) – “We drove along North Avenue, and I remember seeing kids running along from store to store with lighted torches to touch them off. But nobody ever tried to stop the car or interfere with us. I think black people felt release after generations of ‘You mustn’t do this, you mustn’t go there, you can’t say that or think that.’ Suddenly, the lid was off.”

Tommy D’Alesandro (mayor of Baltimore during the riots) – “There was hurt within the black community that they were not getting their fair share. We were coming from a very segregated city during the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s – and it was still a segregated atmosphere.”

Questions:

  1. How does Ruby Glover remember the riots?
  2. What is James Bready’s explanation for the riots?
  3. What is Tommy D’Alesandro’s explanation for the Baltimore riots?

Chicago, Illinois

Questions:

  1. What does Richard Barnett believe is a positive outcome of these events?
  2. What is the “ragged adolescent army” described by Ben Heineman?
  3. What does Mrs. Dorsey accuse the police of doing?
Trentonian

Trenton, New Jersey

Carmen Armenti (mayor of Trenton during the riots): “This was something that was simmering in black communities for a while before our disturbances. It was not an easy time to be a public official. They were not good economic times, and there was high unemployment among African-Americans and a multitude of other frustrations for black people. Keeping the lid on racial strife was the top political priority in those days.”

Tom Murphy (a young police officer in Trenton): “I’ll never forget that scene as long as I live. They were really whacking them at us. The golf balls were hitting guys and smashing car windshields. You had to dive for cover. They ran him [another police office] over with a truck. He was lucky it had those high wheels like the ones on the SUVs we have today. If it was a car it would have killed him, but he only got hit in the head with that ‘pumpkin’ for the axle in the back of the truck.”

Questions:

  1. Why does Mayor Armenti say “it was not a good time to be a public official”?
  2. How is Murphy’s account of the riots different from others we have read?
  3. How are events portrayed in The Trentonian?
John Lindsay

New York City and Buffalo, New York

Mayor John Lindsay: “It especially depends on the determination of the young men of this city to respect our laws and the teachings of the martyr, Martin Luther King. We can work together again for progress and peace in this city and this nation, for now I believe we are ready to scale the mountain from which Dr. King saw the promised land.”

Michele Martin (A young African American girl during the 1968 riot in conversation with her FDNY father): “Why is this happening?” “They killed King.” “Why is the supermarket on fire?” They’re mad.” “Why are they mad?” “Because they killed King.” “Why can’t we go out and play?” “There’s too much going on. Maybe when things calm down.”

David Garth (Mayoral press aide): “There was a mob so large it went across 125th Street from storefront to storefront. My life is over. He [Lindsay] had no written speech. No prepared remarks. He just held up his hand and said, ‘this is a terrible thing,’ He just calmed people, and then this gigantic wave stared marching down 125th Street, and somehow Lindsay was leading it.”

False Rumors Raise City’s Fears; Racial Unrest Exaggerated April 6, 1968, New York Times, pg. 1

Mayor, Quoting King, Urges Racial Peace Here; Lindsay Calls on Negroes in City to Follow Doctrine of Using Love to Fight Hate April 6, 1968, New York Times, pg. 26

VIOLENCE ERUPTS IN BUFFALO AREA; Looting and Fire Reported in Negro East Side  April 9, 1968, New York Times, pg. 36

Questions:

  1. Why did Mayor Lindsay walk the streets and discuss the “young men of the city”?
  2. In your opinion, why did Michele Martin’s father offer such simple answers?
  3. How did David Garth feel when he and the mayor faced the rioters?

Senator Robert Kennedy Speaks to the Nation

After the assassination of Reverend King, Senator Robert Kennedy interrupted his Presidential campaign to address the nation. An audio version of the speech is available on the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Source: https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx

(A) I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black–considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible–you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization–black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

(B) Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love. For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times. My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

(C) What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

(D) But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Questions:

  1. What information does Senator Kennedy report”?
  2. In paragraph “B”, how does Kennedy suggest the country heal in this difficult time?
  3. According to Senator Kennedy, what did the United States need at this time?
  4. How did Senator Kennedy try to present a message of hope?

Charlottesville Belies Racism’s Deep Roots in the North

Brian J. Purnell, Bowdoin College
Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College

Originally published in The Conversation, August 16, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

https://theconversation.com/charlottesville-belies-racisms-deep-roots-in-the-north-101567

A southern city has now become synonymous with the ongoing scourge of racism in the United States. A year ago, white supremacists rallied to “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, protesting the removal of a Confederate statute. In the days that followed, two of them, Christopher C. Cantwell and James A. Fields Jr., became quite prominent. The HBO show “Vice News Tonight” profiled Cantwell in an episode and showed him spouting racist and anti-Semitic slurs and violent fantasies. Fields gained notoriety after he plowed a car into a group of unarmed counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Today this tragedy defines the nature of modern racism primarily as Southern, embodied in tiki torches, Confederate flags and violent outbursts. As historians of race in America, we believe that such a one-sided view misses how entrenched, widespread and multi-various racism is and has been across the country.

Jim Crow born in the North

Racism has deep historic roots in the North, making the chaos and violence of Charlottesville part of a national historic phenomenon. Cantwell was born and raised in Stony Brook, Long Island, and was living in New Hampshire at the time of the march. Fields was born in Boone County, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from Cincinnati, Ohio, and was living in Ohio when he plowed through a crowd.

Jim Crow, the system of laws that advanced segregation and black disenfranchisement, began in the North, not the South, as most Americans believe. Long before the Civil War, northern states like New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had legal codes that promoted black people’s racial segregation and political disenfranchisement.

If racism is only pictured in spitting and screaming, in torches and vigilante justice and an allegiance to the Confederacy, many Americans can rest easy, believing they share little responsibility in its perpetuation. But the truth is, Americans all over the country do bear responsibility for racial segregation and inequality. Studying the long history of the Jim Crow North makes clear to us that there was nothing regional about white supremacy and its upholders. There is a larger landscape of segregation and struggle in the “liberal” North that brings into sharp relief the national character of American apartheid.

Northern racism shaped region

Throughout the 19th century, black and white abolitionists and free black activists challenged the North’s Jim Crow practices and waged war against slavery in the South and the North. At the same time, Northerners wove Jim Crow racism into the fabric of their social, political and economic lives in ways that shaped the history of the region and the entire nation.

There was broad-based support, North and South, for white supremacy. Abraham Lincoln, who campaigned to stop slavery from spreading outside of the South, barely carried New York State in the elections of 1860 and 1864, for example, but he lost both by a landslide in New York City. Lincoln’s victory in 1864 came with only 50.5 percent of the state’s popular vote. What’s more, in 1860, New York State voters overwhelmingly supported – 63.6 percent – a referendum to keep universal suffrage rights only for white men.

New York banks loaned Southerners tens of millions of dollars, and New York shipowners provided southern cotton producers with the means to get their products to market. In other words, New York City was sustained by a slave economy. And working-class New Yorkers believed that the abolition of slavery would flood the city with cheap black labor, putting newly arrived immigrants out of work.

‘Promised land that wasn’t’

Malignant racism appeared throughout Northern political, economic, and social life during the 18th and 19th centuries. But the cancerous history of the Jim Crow North metastasized during the mid-20th century. Six million black people moved north and west between 1910 and 1970, seeking jobs, desiring education for their children and fleeing racial terrorism.

The rejuvenation of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century, promoting pseudo-scientific racism known as “eugenics,” immigration restriction and racial segregation, found supple support in pockets of the North, from California to Michigan to Queens, New York – not only in the states of the old Confederacy.

The KKK was a visible and overt example of widespread Northern racism that remained covert and insidious. Over the course of the 20th century, Northern laws, policies and policing strategies cemented Jim Crow. In Northern housing, the New Deal-era government Home Owners Loan Corporation maintained and created racially segregated neighborhoods. The research of scholars Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano and Nathan Connolly, through their valuable website, Mapping Inequality (http://dsl.richmond.edu/mappinginequality.html), makes this history visible and undeniable. Zoning policies in the North preserved racial segregation in schools. Discrimination in jobs contributed to economic underdevelopment of businesses and neighborhoods, as well as destabilization of families. Crime statistics became a modern weapon for justifying the criminalization of Northern urban black populations and aggressive forms of policing.

A close examination of the history of the Jim Crow North – what Rosa Parks referred to as the “Northern promised land that wasn’t”—demonstrates how racial discrimination and segregation operated as a system. Judges, police officers, school board officials and many others created and maintained the scaffolding for a Northern Jim Crow system that hid in plain sight.

New Deal policies, combined with white Americans’ growing apprehension toward the migrants moving from the South to the North, created a systematized raw deal for the country’s black people. Segregation worsened after the New Deal of the 1930s in multiple ways. For example, Federal Housing Administration policies rated neighborhoods for residential and school racial homogeneity. Aid to Dependent Children carved a requirement for “suitable homes” in discriminatory ways. Policymakers and intellectuals blamed black “cultural pathology” for social disparities.

Fighting back

Faced with these new realities, black people relentlessly and repeatedly challenged Northern racism, building movements from Boston to Milwaukee to Los Angeles. They were often met with the argument that this wasn’t the South. They found it difficult to focus national attention on northern injustice. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointedly observed in 1965, “As the nation, negro and white, trembled with outrage at police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated and usually denied.”

Many Northerners, even ones who pushed for change in the South, were silent and often resistant to change at home. One of the grandest achievements of the modern civil rights movement – the 1964 Civil Rights Act – contained a key loophole to prevent school desegregation from coming to northern communities. In a New York Times poll in 1964, a majority of New Yorkers thought the civil rights movement had gone too far.

Jim Crow practices unfolded despite supposed “colorblindness” among those who considered themselves liberal. And it evolved not just through Southern conservatism but New Deal and Great Society liberalism as well. Understanding racism in America in 2018 means not only examining the long history of racist practices and ideologies in the South but also the long history of racism in the Jim Crow North. e 6 Col