Tag Archives: #TheHistoryRhyme

President Cyrus


In the process of choosing who should be the next president of the United States, each individual voter must decide what is most important to him or her. For some, the most important factor will be how much a candidate is committed to addressing problems in the area of civil rights, such as restrictions on voter access and the policing of African-American neighborhoods. For some, the most pressing issue of 2016 will be what should be done to address income inequality. For some, the only issue will be the legality and availability of abortions. This is especially true in light of the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who president Barack Obama will surely replace with someone who does not wish to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973). For some, the main factor will be a candidate’s view on the role of the United States in the wider world. Are we to remain an active player on the international stage? Should we draw back and not get involved in the kinds of foreign entanglements our first president, George Washington, warned of in his farewell address in 1796? For some, the main concern will be the nation’s borders and the status of undocumented immigrants. The available options run the gamut from a path to citizenship all the way to mass deportations and building a wall on the Mexican-American border. For some, the possibility of setting a new historical precedent will be of paramount importance. In 2016, it might be possible to elect the first female president, the first Latino president, or the first Jewish president. Finally, for a sizable portion of the Republican electorate, the most important deciding factor will be the religious convictions of a candidate and his or her willingness to govern accordingly. It is the considerations of this particular group that we will examine in this edition of the History Rhyme. We will look at the arguments that are being presented for the available candidates and then turn our gaze to the past to look for any possible correlations between the piety (or lack thereof) of a president and his (so far) effectiveness in office.

In the months, weeks, and days leading up the Iowa Caucuses, the people of the Hawkeye state were barraged with a steady volley of filers, billboards, robocalls, and commercials stating that one particular Republican or another was the most “godly” choice for America. The top recipients of such lofty praise were Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. Although evangelical voters are not the only group in the Iowa Republican Party, they are a sizable and enthusiastic one – comprising 64% of 2016 caucus attendees. With such a crowded field of candidates seeking the conservative Christian vote, the endorsements of influential leaders such as radio talk show host Steve Deace, political activist Bob Vander Plaats (who was featured in an earlier History Rhyme – “The Will of the People”), and Representative Steve King, were highly treasured. In the end, all three men endorsed Ted Cruz and their support most likely played a role in the Texas senator’s victory on February 1, 2016.

Despite all of the weighty endorsement Ted Cruz received in Iowa, CNN’s Iowa Caucus exit polling showed that Cruz only received 34% of the evangelical vote. Gaining a plurality instead of a majority of this group’s votes should not be surprising in such a crowded field. The next highest vote total among evangelical candidate was for Ben Carson with only 12%. The striking result of this poll was that Dr. Carson received only the fourth highest percentage from conservative Christians. The second (225) and third (21%) most popular candidates with evangelicals were Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. While Senator Rubio emphasizes his religious convictions and does get some credit for that, this one-time Tea Party darling is considered more of a mainstream Republican choice now. Trump has demonstrated that he does not have a thorough knowledge of the bible but that does not seem to matter with some evangelicals. In fact, he won the evangelical vote in South Carolina. What is gong on?

If the twentieth-century American social psychologist Leon Festinger (1919-89) were still alive today, he would describe the fascinating rise in support of Donald Trump as a prime case of cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon, which Merriam-Webster defines as “psychological conflict resulting from simultaneously held incongruous beliefs and attitudes,” helps us to at least understand what is going on. However, it does not helps us to divine how those caught up in it are rationalizing their choices. One of the most interesting explanations this History Rhymer has encountered is that God sometimes uses ungodly men to help his people. In November 2015, Christian speaker and teacher Lance Wallnau deemed Donald Trump to be just such a man. In a video message to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, Wallnau stated that “God has given this man an anointing for the mantle of government in the United States and he will prosper.” The basis for this belief is Isaiah 45:1, which Wallnau says will predict who will be the 45th president:

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed,

to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of

to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor,

to open doors before him

so that gates will not be shut.”

For those who are not familiar with this verse of prophesy or its significance in the bible, let me offer a quick summary. Isaiah’s prophecy predicted that God would bring forth a pagan ruler who would help the Jewish people in their hour of greatest need. According to biblical scholars, this occurred 150 years later when Cyrus the Great (who ruled the Achaemenid Empire but is sometimes labeled simply as a “Persian” king) defeated the Babylonian empire around 539 BC. Among those who were suddenly under Cyrus’ rule were the Jewish people, who the Babylonians sent into exile after they defeated Judea in 586 BC. In the book of Ezra, Cyrus later actively supported the efforts of Ezra and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem by using the royal treasury to pay for building expenses. The temple had been in ruins since the sacking of Jerusalem. This had caused an existential crisis for the Jewish people since they were directed by God to offer sacrifices at the temple (in the seventeenth chapter of Leviticus).

Whether or not Donald Trump is being used by God to help evangelical Americans is a topic that none will be able to answer definitively. In any case, this blog is not about predicting the future or making theological judgments. It is all about looking at the present through the lens of the past. With that in mind, this month’s History Rhyme will take a brief look at how the United States has fared at times when it had especially religious leaders and how it did when its leaders were not especially religious. According to David Masci, who is a senior writer and editor focusing on religion at the Pew Research Center, almost all presidents of the United States have been avowed Christians. The largest number of presidents (11) were self-avowed Episcopalians. Yet, four of these – George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Tyler – were most likely actually Diests who did not believe in an active God. Instead, these men saw God as a cosmic clock maker who set the universe in motion and then left it alone. This is in direct opposition to the picture of God actively hearing and responding to prayers – even prayers for a particular candidate winning an election. Another sizable group of presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Filmore, and William Howard Taft) were Unitarians who denied the existence of the Trinity. This would certainly be seen as heretical to modern conservative Christians.

What is especially interesting in Mr. Masci’s list of presidential religious affiliation is that two presidents had no Christian affiliations – Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Although Jefferson referred to a “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln made references to God on several occasions, it would be a stretch to say that either of these men’s views on religious would satisfy a modern evangelical voter’s desire for a godly leader. Yet, these two men are always listed at the pinnacle of what we consider great American presidents. Perhaps these two men would also be seen by Lance Wallnau as having had the “Cyrus anointing” and thus were great in spite of their lack of overt piety.

While all but two presidents avowed a Christian affiliation, we know that not all of these men were equally religious. Some, like Andrew Jackson, were far from the epitome of Christian kindness. However, there have been a few who have been generally regarded as particularly devoted men. For the sake of this article, I will use a short list created by J. J. Feinauer of the Deseret News of who he felt were the most religious – James Garfield, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush. Since James Garfield’s term in office was especially brief due to his assassination, we cannot say if his great piety would have helped him to be a great ruler or not. As far as the other two, their times in office were far from stellar. Carter came into office trying to demonstrate a humility and honesty that was in stark contrast to the behavior displayed by president Richard Nixon and his associates. Yet, his presidency is generally regarded as a failure (although he has been called a great ex-president by the New York Times in 2015).

Bush was another president why was not shy about how his Christian views affected his presidency and the justness of this actions but whose time in office was not one of the smoothest in the nation’s history. This is not to say that these men were the worst presidents ever. However, they certainly were not the most successful. Perhaps this was due to the times in which they ruled. Perhaps it was due to the interaction between their faith and the choices they had to make to rule. It is most likely that the intersection of many such factors played roles. I will leave the final decision on the cause of each man’s success or failure to you.

Should a person vote with their heart, or their head, or perhaps even their soul? These are questions that have to be left up to each individual voter. Should an evangelical voter choose a candidate that best matches their personal religious convictions or should they accept someone who may be more of a modern Cyrus who seems to have the best chance to defeat political enemies? Looking at the past, we can see that great Christian piety does not necessarily lead to great leadership. Then again, deficiencies in moral character (e.g. the paranoia of Richard Nixon or the extreme racism of Woodrow Wilson) can have their own drawbacks too. Which way will America go and what will be the result of that choice? Will we have a modern-day president Cyrus taking the oath of office on Friday, January 20, 2017? We shall see and let future historians decide the wisdom and repercussions of such a choice.

Fill In The Blank


On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the following words are inscribed:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

All my life, I have been taught and have believed that the words of “The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus embodied the spirit of the United States. Whether an immigrant came willingly to the United States through Ellis Island in the New York harbor or by some other path, the ethos of a new hope was still the same. My father’s Anabaptist ancestors came to America in the mid 19th century to flee religious persecution in what is now Germany. My mother’s ancestors came from poverty in England, Scotland, and Wales hoping for a better life. In essence, I am a byproduct of that tired and poor wretched refuse, and I strongly believe that others should have the same chances now that my ancestors did then. However, as anyone keeping track of American politics knows, this sentiment is not as widely shared as I might hope.

In many ways, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has become the rallying point for those who fear the influx of dangerous “foreigners” from Latin America or the Middle East, he is certainly not the originator of the hysteria. As can be seen from the July 2014 editor of this blog (“The Right Thing To Do”), there has been a rising concern about those crossing our borders. With the recent attacks in Paris and closer to home in San Bernardino, CA, the national focus of some has shifted to a panic about possible “radical Islamic terrorism.” Mr. Trump, who has turned into an amazing barometer for populist right-wing sentiment, has made his answer to the porous border with Mexico (i.e. build a wall and make Mexico pay for it), and fears of dangerous arrivals from the Middle East (i.e. ban all Muslim travel to the United States) into the basis of his appeal. Yet, for those who know American history, fear of “foreigners” is certainly not a new thing.

American history is filled with rhyming events to those we are experiencing now. To demonstrate this, let me present a part of a letter to the editor that was penned by a famous American from the past. In this letter, the author discusses a certain group of immigrants to the United States and why there were efforts to forbid these people from entering the country. In order to show how little some things change, I will replace a few key words with blanks. At the end, I will reveal who wrote the letter, when, and which group is his subject. Hopefully you will find this exercise as fascinating as I did.

Let us first examine that nightmare to many Americans, especially our friends in California, the growing population of _______ on the Pacific slope. It is undoubtedly true that in the past many thousands of _______ have legally or otherwise got into the United States, settled her and raised up children who became American citizens. Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that ________ immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population. If this had throughout the discussion been made the sole ground for the American attitude all would have been well, and the people of ______ would today understand and accept our decision.

Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of ______ blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results. There are throughout the ______ many thousands of so-called _____—men and women and children partly of ______ blood and partly of European or American blood. These ______ are, as a common thing, looked down on and despised, both by the European and American who reside there, and by the pure ______ who lives there.

The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful ______. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to having thousands of Americans settle in _____ and intermarry with the ______ as I would feel in having large numbers of ______ come over here and intermarry with the American population.

In this question, then, of ______ exclusion from the United States, it is necessary only to advance the true reason—the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples. This attitude would be fully understood in ______, as they would have the same objection to Americans migrating to ______ in large numbers.

Unfortunately, ______ exclusion has been urged for many other reasons—their ability to work for and live on much smaller wages than Americans—their willingness to work for longer hours, their driving out of native Americans from certain fruit growing or agricultural areas. The _____ themselves do not understand these arguments and are offended by them.

The author was none other than future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The letter to the editor was printed in the Macon Telegraph on April 30, 1925. If we change 1925 to 2015 and fill in the the blanks from Japan/Japanese/Asian to Mexico/Mexican/Latino or ISIS/Islamic/Muslim, we would not notice a significant difference between this letter and more recent speeches, blogs, and letters to the editor.

Although history does not repeat itself and the future is unknown, this editorial (and especially who penned it) may give us a cautionary tale of a possible future. After all, it was written by the same man who penned these words who also placed Japanese-Americans into internments camps at the beginning of World War II. Hopefully, we will not head down that slippery slope – especially in regards to Muslims. At least one elected official has already suggested such a course of action so perhaps we are already starting to slide. If that is not the way we wish to go, we must use the lessons from the past to help make sense of these uncertain times. That is why the History Rhyme is here and why history is still important.

A Historical Legacy: A Tribute To Professor Anna Cienciala


On Christmas Eve 2014, Anna M. Cienciala of Lawrence, Kansas passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was 85 years old. Although she was not well known outside her area of expertise (Polish history), her life and her passing are of special importance to this historian. She was my dissertation adviser at the University of Kansas. This edition of The History Rhyme will not follow the typical style and focus of the blog. Instead, I will offer a few brief memories of the professor who played the greatest role in my development as a historian.

Professor Cienciala was born on November 8, 1929 in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). Her father was involved in the business aspects of the budding Polish shipping industry in interwar Poland and was a strong supporter of the governments led and influenced by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. When Poland was attacked by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939, Professor Cienciala, her mother, and sister fled from Poland to Romania, then to Spain, and then to France. Shortly after her arrival in France, the “phony war” of 1939-40 ended with the German invasion in June 1940. The Cienciala’s were then forced to flee to Britain for the duration of the war. After the war and the betrayal of the Polish exile government in exile by the Allies at the end of World War II, many of the Poles in Britain never returned to their homeland. Anna eventually decided to study diplomatic history in order tell the story of Poland during the interwar period.

A woman seeking to become a professor in the 1950s was uncommon and not without criticism (she was told more than once that she was taking a place away from men and that she should become a housewife). Yet, her determination helped her to overcome adversity and to receive a Bachelor of Arts from Liverpool University in 1952. She then moved to North America to continue her education at McGill University (M.A. – 1955) and Indiana University (PhD – 1962). She taught Eastern European history at three universities, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, and (starting in 1965) at the University of Kansas. During her career, she wrote Poland and the Western Powers:1938-1939 (published 1968) and co-wrote, with Titus Komarnicki, From Versailles To Locarno, Keys to Polish Foreign Policy, 1929-1925 (published 1984). She also wrote numerous articles and participated in many panels on the topics of Polish diplomatic history and especially on the Katyn Forest Massacre. As a professor, she helped guide several budding scholars. The last of her doctoral students (me) completed his work in 2001 after which she retired to emeritus status in 2002. In 2014 she was awarded the Commander’s Cross with Start of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. After her death, services were held in Lawrence with the Polish Consul in Chicago attending, in New York City at St. Stanislaus church and in Warsaw.

There have already been several memorials to the life of Professor Cienciala. In this blog, I will simply take the opportunity to share a few of my memories of being her student and some thoughts on what I learned from her. When I first met Professor Cienciala (it still feels wrong to call her Anna), I was 23 years old and had some vague ideas on historical topics. I learned quickly that I needed to have a better grasp of my facts and a firmer foundation to my arguments. The incident that comes to mind is shortly after I arrived at Kansas when I made a vague comment about nobody being explicitly to blame for the outbreak of World War I. She told me that it was “soft-headed thinking” and then proceeded to give me a multitude of documented facts showing that the Germans had been prepared for a war with Russia for quite some time. Her insistence that I support my ideas made me a better scholar. I also learned quickly that she was fearless in her defense of her views. When the former President of Communist Polish, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, spoke in the middle 1990s at Kansas State University, my professor was there asking him hard questions about his suppression of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

While Professor Cienciala could be demanding of her students, we all knew that she was looking out for us too. When I was presenting a paper at a conference on the use of messianic themes by Poles in exile during World War II (which served as the basis for a journal article on the topic), an older gentlemen who had opposed some of the people I quoted started to grill me. I was unable to answer some of his assertions as they were well outside of the scope of my topic. My professor, who had been in these types of ideological skirmishes for years, came to my rescue. I was very grateful. When I was first preparing to visit Poland in 1995, she not only give me a letter of reference that allowed me to meet with the director of Poland’s National Archive, but also gave me practical advice on how to handle someone trying to give me drinks at a party (“pour it into a nearby plant while they are not looking”).

Finally, Professor Cienciala was also the source of some very humorous stories about Central and Eastern Europe (some of which included herself) which were helpful in explaining the sometimes confusing history of that region. So, in closing, I will try to retell one of her stories that I especially enjoyed that explained the decline and fall of the Soviet Union. In this story, the Soviet Union is a train and that its citizens are operating the train.

During the time of Lenin, the train works for a while but eventually has problems. Lenin goes to the engineers and urges them with great zeal to overcome the obstacles they face. The train is fixed and continues on. Later, during the time of Stalin, the train once again comes to a halt. Stalin orders the engineers to be shot and new, more loyal ones to replace them. With great efforts, the train is fixed and continues on. During the time of Khrushchev, the train once again comes to a halt. The Soviet leader responds by getting a new and very expensive engine which then continues down the track – albeit without a way to pay for the repairs. Finally, during the time of Brezhnev, the train once again comes to a halt. The Soviet leader says “just shake the curtains and pretend we are still moving.”

Eternal Vigilance


In 1809, Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” This sentiment – expressed by a man who understood first-hand the highs and lows of the struggles for liberty – is one that would ring familiar in the ears of those living in the country he helped to establish. The world is certainly not a peaceful place and many across the globe view the United States as a symbol of the evils of that world (in a variety of guises – material, cultural, environmental, military…). In the years since the 9/11 attacks, there has been a marked and growing distrust by the American government and some of its citizens for those around the world who do not appear to share the “American” world view (even though that is a very fluid term even in the best of times). An important aspect of the fear is a belief that the United States is not as secure as it should and that some of this may be due to the presence of agents and traitors. A recent example is the assertion by a former CIA operative that President Obama’s loyalties are not where they should. Of course, a charge that important or influential people in the American government are working against their nation is not new. In this edition of The History Rhyme, we will present the current assertions about President Obama and his supporters and then will look back into America’s past – even before the time of Jefferson’s quote – to see what the rhyming events for our current situation tell us about our current predicament.

In the August 28, 2014 edition of WND.com – a conservative online news website that was founded in 1997 – a story by Garth Kant appeared with the provocative title – “Ex-CIA expert: Obama switched sides in war on terror.” On the same day, a summary of the article by Vicky Nissen with the more-provocative title “Ex-CIA employee admits President Obama is a radical Islamic enemy of America” appeared in another online news source called Examiner.com. These articles detail the opinions of a former CIA operative named Clare Lopez – assertions that the author of the WND articles states “a few members of Congress have confided to WND in private, but declined to say on-the-record. Lopez declares that the president and other officials like CIA Director John Brennan (who she calls a secret convert to Islam) have had essentially the same goals in the Middle East as Osama bin Laden, namely “to remove American power and influence, including military forces, from Islamic lands.” As an aside, she “mused” (the term used in the WND story) that the only reason who Obama finally had din Laden killed was that he “couldn’t delay any longer” and that he “thought it might look good” to let the special forces kill him. Another accusation in the story is that the Obama administration helped during the “Arab Spring” of 2010 to “bring down the secular Muslim rulers who did not enforce Islamic law.” To show that the actions of the Obama administration were not a whimsical change of view – but rather a deeper plot by America’s enemies – Lopez contends that the American government was being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood as early as the Clinton administration and that the presence of these agents confused President Bush into believing that Islam was a “religion of peace” after the 9/11 attacks. Lopez’s final conclusion is that “for whatever motivations, there is no doubt this administration switched sides in what used to be called the Global War on Terror.”

What should we make of these charges? Are they true or just the partisan rantings of someone whose distrust of those unlike her has affected her judgment. In our increasingly partisan and media driven world, it has become harder and harder to find a view that is as free of partisan biases. In a world that often lacks a historical perspective, it is also easy to think that we have reached new depths of distrust of those living among us. In this same world, it is also tempting to assume there has never been a time that a president or his associates were accused of involvement in the kinds of activities that require Jefferson’s prescribed level of vigilance. Of course, this is not the case.

Since the creation of the United States in the late 18th century, there have been prominent examples where fear of those among us drove those in power to feel compelled to take actions in times of crisis that would have been unthinkable in times of calm. Some of the prominent examples of this include: the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which were signed into law by President John Adams as a reaction to rising tensions between the United States and revolutionary France. It resulted in the arrest of some opponents of the Adams administration – most notably the vehemently critical publisher of the Philadelphia Aurora, Benjamin Franklin Bache. The opinions on these acts were very partisan with Federalists initially being supportive while their Democratic-Republican opponents were bitterly opposed. However, the acts soon proved so unpopular that it helped Thomas Jefferson defeat Adams in the extremely bitter presidential election of 1800 and to serve as a prominent chapter in the fall of the Federalists from national prominence.

A more recent example is the investigation of the former State Department official Alger Hiss in 1948 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Mainly due to the testimony of a former Communist spy named Whittaker Chambers, Hiss was accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union which Hiss denied. Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury but proclaimed his innocence for the rest of his life. It the heated atmosphere of the Cold War, the Hiss case and his innocence or guilt was a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. For the most anti-Communist elements of the Republican Party, there was no question of Hiss’ guilt. For the more liberal elements of the Democratic Party, the actions of HUAC were a shameful example of the witch-hunting that occurred during the Red Scare era of the Cold War and that Chambers was an untrustworthy liar. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the release of KGB documents in the 1990s that historians were able to determine that Hiss had actually been a Soviet agent.

Although the fear and distrust expressed in the comments of former CIA agent Clair Lopez can be found in the aforementioned events of the late 18th century and the middle 20th century, the accusations of treason against the president and his closest advisers are not (or at least not so overtly) found. However, that is not to say that those closest to a president have always escaped such charges. To conclude our look at how fear of a hidden enemy has shaped American politics in the past, we will consider the topic of a previous History Rhyme – Mary Todd Lincoln. As noted in the February 2014 edition of this blog (Ladies First), Abraham Lincoln’s wife has been much maligned by the general public and historians in the years since she became first lady. This negative appraisal is not too dissimilar to the one held about her during the time of her husband’s administration. During her time in Washington, Mary had prominent critics in the Washington press corps and among elected officials. During the early years of the war, she was investigated by Congress in connection to a White House gardener gaining access to a presidential speech before it was delivered. She was also generally condemned for her excessive spending on White House redecorating. Yet, it was not her questionable choices of confidants or draperies that are of interest to us in this History Rhyme.

Mrs. Lincoln is under our historical microscope this month because of the questionable loyalties of her half-siblings during the Civil War. Her father, Robert Smith Todd, was married twice in his life. The children of his first marriage, which included Mary, mostly remained loyal to the United States, while the children of his second marriage did not – including three of her brothers who fought in the Confederate army. Still, it was not just the actions of her relations that caused suspicion. Questions of the First Lady’s loyalties grew in December 1863 when Mary allowed her half-sister, Emily Todd Helm, whose husband had been a Confederate general until his death at the Battle of Chattanooga, to stay at the White House. There were also criticisms of a Mrs. Lincoln’s efforts for another of her half-sisters, Martha Todd White, to receive a pass through Union lines. According to several historians, most notably Carl Sandburg in Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Year and the War Years (published in 1954), concerns that there was possibly a Confederate spy in the White House were significant enough that the Senate’s Committee on the Conduct of the War met in secret to determine if there were validity to these claims. According to Sandburg, the president felt it necessary to appear before the committee with a sorrowful expression and with hat in hand to assure the senators that “I, of my own knowledge, know that it is untrue that any of my family hold treasonable communication with the enemy.” According to this account, the committee dropped their investigation in response. Although there are some who contend that this story is completely apocryphal, it is consistent enough with descriptions of Lincoln’s generally mournful countenance and the distrust of his wife that was felt by some in the Senate to at least seem plausible.

After looking at the various examples from the past on the need for Jefferson’s eternal vigilance, what can we say about the newest outbreak of the fever that seems to grip some in this country in times of trouble? First, we can certainly say that it is nothing new to believe that there are those around us with nefarious aims. The world is a dangerous place at times and there have been many who have viewed the United States as either an enemy or fertile ground for new supporters. Second, we can see that allegations of disloyalty against those in the highest levels of power are also certainly not new. Sometimes the allegations are backed by laws such as the Alien and Section Acts, by a congressional committee, such as the HUAC hearings, or just by the spreading of opinions in the guise of journalism as in our current case. Third, we can see that although it often appears from a short-term perspective that the level of animosity among our political factions is at an all-time high, this is a rather myopic assessment. Even though so-called journalists are accusing the president and his camp of essentially treasonous acts, there has been nothing to compare against the extravaganza of fear and accusations that was the HUAC hearings or the allegedly demeaning instance of a president having to beg a congressional committee to leave his wife alone. Furthermore, there is no effort underway by the defenders of the president to pass laws that would make their accusations punishable by time in jail. In the opinion of this History Rhymer, the relative sedateness of the animosity we see today is something for which we should be thankful.

The Naming Game


One of the great things about being a historian who likes to write about connections and themes in the interaction between the past and the present, is that I will not ever run out of interesting topics as long as I am paying attention. As I write in late August 2014, there are numerous topics in the news that would be excellent ways to examine how a short-sighted approach to history or just a general lack of knowledge of the past can cause contemporary men and women to make conclusions and assessments that might not be shared by someone with a little more knowledge of the past. The awkward Russian subversion of Ukraine can remind a reader of similar actions in places as distant in time and space as the German efforts to gain influence in Slovakia in the months leading up the World War II or even the CIA’s attempts to undermine a variety of pro-Soviet regimes during the Cold War in places like Chile, Congo, or Iran. The way the Chinese and Russian press are using the violent events in Ferguson, Missouri are very reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union would use American racial tensions in the 1950s and 1960s as a way to focus attention on the flaws of the United States while diverting attention from their own dubious human rights track records. However, it is not just the larger events that are great examples of the kinds of similarities (or perceived similarities) in history that this History Rhymer enjoys examining. In this months edition, we will look at a relatively minor event in a community in New Jersey that says a lot about our current political climate and the tendency for people to forget the rhyming events in our past. In this case, it is the renaming of a recreational center in Willingboro, New Jersey for President Barack Obama and the controversy that has resulted.

At a September 2, 2014 Willingboro city council meeting, the decision will be made on whether to change the name of a local recreation center and former school from the “Kennedy Center” to the “President Barack Obama Center.” In normal circumstances, the naming or renaming of a street, building, or even geographic location after a president or other elected official would not be a tremendously interesting topic for a History Rhyme. After all, it happens all the time. Every president from the very great (e.g. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) to the not-so-great (e.g. James Buchanan and Warren Harding) have had everything from plants to states named after them. Even most, if not all, of our vice presidents have been honored in a similar fashion. The current vice president, Joe Biden, has had a dwarf planet named after him. Even Franklin Pierce’s vice president, William Rufus de Vane King (who died before he ever made it to Washington D.C. or performed any of his official duties), had a county in Washington state named after him. The county was renamed in1986 after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but that still counts. However, since this is 2014 and the recipient of the honor is Barack Obama, it should be no surprise that someone is outraged in a very partisan manner. Two of the more colorful headlines to stories about the change are “Angry Reactions After Town Opts to Rename ‘Kennedy Center’ in Honor of Another President. (Hint: He’s Still Alive.)” from theBlaze.com; and “JFK Memorial Building To Honor Barack Obama Instead Because New Jersey City ‘Idolizes’ The President” from inquisitr.com. Although the mood of some local residents seem to be a mild form or opposition or even indifference, the online comments have been far from such views. The general tone of those comments, as seen in the comments section of a FoxNews.com story, concern the president’s unworthiness for such and honor (e.g. a person using the screen name your_kidding posting “I still don’t get it. He has done absolutely nothing useful.” or another using the screen name davestwin posting “The Barack Obama Unemployment/Disability Office (in every city) would be appropriate. Or how about having his face embossed on every SNAP’s card?”).

In addition to the posts in the comments section of the FoxNews.com story critical of the president, there are other posts that are of special interest to this edition of The History Rhyme. Those are the ones by avowed conservatives like the person using the screen name luvfreedomw68 who states that “To compare Obama with Kennedy is ludicrous and blasphemous. Not even close. Kennedy was a patriot and a gentleman,” or the person using the screen name azmanfromtx posting “Everybody is proud of JFK who has done more for this country than Obama every could.” However, the most interesting to me was the comment by the person using the screen name lydtoagin what asserted that the name change was because “JFK could not be welcome in Barry’s party.” Considering that the current Republican Party has moved to the right of Barry Goldwater, this last comment seems ill-considered at best. In any case, the positive views of Kennedy by these posters would imply that people did not oppose naming things after Kennedy in the aftermath of his assassination in 1963. While this is generally true, this History Rhyme will conclude with a short tale of when the “naming game” was not so favorable for our thirty-fifth president.

In the wake of the shocking assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, Texas in November 1963, President Lyndon Johnson was seeking ways to honor the memory of the fallen president and at the same time gain support for his new administration by the American people. One of the ideas that LBJ had was to rename Cape Canaveral (the whole region – not just the space launch facility) after Kennedy. The idea had originated from the slain president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, but the scope of the change was all LBJ. On November 27th after just three hours of using the famous “Johnson treatment,” the new president was able to convince the Department of Interior’s Board of Geographic Names to rename the entire area Cape Kennedy. If we were to simply use the comments section entries to the various stories about renaming the Willingboro center, it would be unthinkable that someone would have opposed such a change. After all, even acknowledged Republicans love him now and think him worthy of such an honor. Certainly LBJ felt this way as shown in his fawning letter to Mrs. Kennedy when he noted that “I am delighted to see that the reaction at Cape Kennedy and at the Kennedy Space Center has been one of deep gratification. It is clear that once again you have hit with unerring taste on the right thing to do” (see note). However, looking at the newspapers of the time shows a different result. According to the Associated Press story of December 8, 1963 entitled “Cape Kennedy Remains Despite the Opposition” (which appeared in identical form in newspapers such as the Victoria (TX) Advocate and the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune) “many residents in Brevard County, in which the cape is located, protested the name change and flooded the desks of their congressman with telegrams and letters.” Local chamber of commerce groups protested the move and even the Florida Library and Historical Commission’s chairman stated that “the name of the geographical point – the cape – should not be changed.” The issue was not about whether Kennedy was deemed worthy or that naming the space center after him was inappropriate. Instead, it was that making such a wide-sweeping move to rename the whole area was more than locals wanted. Eventually, the geographical location would be rechristened Cape Canaveral in 1973 while the Kennedy Space Center remained to honor the president.

What can we learn from examining these two examples of playing the “name game” to honor our presidents? First, it tells us that it is unlikely that everyone will ever be pleased with the decision to honor someone by renaming an existing structure or location after them. If even renaming something after a popular president, who had just been assassinated in such a public way and whose memory had united the nation in the months after his death, would receive resistance; we should not be surprised that an effort to rename anything after an unpopular president in a deeply partisan nation would encounter even more resistance. Second, we can see that if a past leader is taken out of context, his accomplishments magnified, and his shortcomings ignored, it is easy to feel disappointment with our present leaders. In the case of the conservatives who praised Kennedy in the articles about the Willingboro center, it seems unlikely that they would have been so positive in their comments if Kennedy had been alive and was in office. Fortunately for those of us who love and appreciate the nuances of history, we can look at these events and see all that a study of the past has to offer for our understanding of our modern world. Keep looking and learning!


Note 1: Lyndon B, Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 19.


The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

“The Right Thing To Do”


The people of the United States, with the notable exception of Native Americans, came to this country sometime since the seventeenth century. Some came, as my ancestors did, to avoid religious persecution, others came for a chance for a new prosperous life, while others tragically came here against their will. Yet, all of these people were immigrants. The poem “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 about the Statue of Liberty, describes the kind of nation many hoped to find. One that says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” While some of those arriving were able to come to established communities and join family members, others were not so fortunate. This edition of The History Rhyme examines two cases of the latter type of immigrants – those who come with nothing – to see how different political and economic conditions within the United Sates can affect the receptiveness of this new Colossus.

Despite the eloquent words from Ms. Lazarus, the United States has not always been so eager to live out the sentiment of that poem. American history is littered with a variety of rules, regulations, and quotas that were designed to limit who could come to America and when. A notable examples of this was the quota system were set by the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited yearly immigration for an ethnic group to the United States to 2% of that group’s population in the U.S. in 1890. This had tragic consequences leading up to World War II since it severely limited the number of people who could enter the United States from Southern and Eastern Europe. Even after that point, the pace of legal immigration has been slow, at best. Since the 1980s, the rate of illegal immigration has increased greatly, especially across the porous southern border with Mexico, resulting in millions of illegal immigrants residing in the United States. From this, the issue of immigration reform has become a major political issue that has been inflamed by the increasingly partisan culture. There are numerous stories in the press and in blogs that argue that the immigration issue is a “winner for [insert party here].” Although this does help address the underlying issues behind the rise of illegal immigration (e.g. the lack of stability in Mexico and Central America, the inability of American employers to find legal Americans to take their demanding, low paying jobs, etc.), it does make good fodder for political attack ads and bombastic political pundits.

The latest chapter in the immigration saga concerns the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children at the US/Mexico border since October 2013. As with most crises these days, the first question that is asked in America is not “what is to be done” but rather “who is to be blamed.” It is not surprising that the political right blames President Obama for what Senator Rand Paul (R-TN) calls as “humanitarian nightmare.” It is also not surprising that some like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has called for Obama’s impeachment. More surprising is that the President is also being criticized by members of his own party for what has been perceived as a lack of decisive action by the nation’s leader. As of late July 2014, there are still no answers to this crisis in sight.

While the blame game is played at the highest levels, the question of “what is to be done?” still remains – especially with an overwhelming number of immigrant children needing care. One answer was to move children to camps in the states bordering Mexico. In some cases, this has encountered local opposition. The most notorious example was when a group of protesters confronted a bus filled with children in Murrieta, California on July 4, 2014, with people in the crowd carrying signs such as the ones that read “Stop Rewarding Start Deporting” and “Send Them Back With Birth Control.” In addition, the option of sending children to various states was considered, but this met with resistance from the governors of those states. One of the governors who said he would not accept any of the children was Terry Branstad of Iowa. In a July 15, 2014 story in the Des Moines Register, Governor Branstad explained why he did not want children sent to Iowa when he stated “I do want empathy for these kids, but I do not want to send the signal to send these children to America illegally.” The response to the governor’s stance has followed generally party lines. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) reacted by saying “I am disappointed that Gov. Branstad has stated that we somehow shouldn’t take these kids. Why not? Why can’t we help protect these kids and open up our arms to them, help them here to keep them safe and give them every reasonable opportunity to apply for asylum?” On July 18, 2014, the editors of the Des Moines Register chastised the governor for for abandoning Iowa’s long history of helping those in need. At the same time, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) focused his energies on passing a bill that would require the Federal government to inform states that children were being sent to the various states This arose after stories emerged that the Federal agencies were sending children to states such as Iowa without informing local officials.

This edition of The History Rhyme is concerned with this issue is that the response of the Iowa governor brought to my mind (as a lifelong Iowa resident) and to the mind of others like Senator Harkin a very different response to the plight of desperate people needing help of an earlier Republican governor of Iowa, Robert D. Ray (governor 1969-83). In the aftermath of the fall of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in April 1975, a “humanitarian crisis” much more serious than the one encountered recently at the Mexican border emerged. Within months, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled to overcrowded and under-supplied camps in neighboring countries such as Thailand. Included in that total were over 1,000 Tai Dam people who had been refugees in Laos since the 1950s when they had fled North Vietnam to escape the Communist government. With the takeover of Laos in 1975 by the Communist Pathet Lao, the Tai Dam were forced to flee again to the camps in Thailand. Arthur Crisfield, a former United States employee in Laos who had worked with the Tai Dam, wrote 30 United States governors asking for a place for these refugees. President Gerald Ford also asked the governors for help. Not only did governor Ray feel that helping these people was “the right thing to do,” so also thought it important to make sure that the Tai Dam were not separated. The governor asked President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to allow all the Tai Dam to be resettled together into Iowa. In Iowa, Ray ensured that the support the state gave emphasized work over welfare, because he felt that was the best way to ensure that their community would remain cohesive in the values and cultural identity they had fought so hard and so long to maintain. Ray later explained his views on the crisis by saying “I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation… Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” (see NOTE 1). Because of his efforts, the largest Tai Dam population outside of Southeast Asia is in Iowa.

In 1979 (when Terry Branstad was his Lieutenant Governor), Ray repeated his efforts to help Vietnamese refugees after he viewed a heart-wrenching report by Ed Bradley on the plight of the “boat people” – those fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats on perilous journeys to Malaysia (see NOTE 2). Ray led the relief effort by lobbying President Jimmy Carter to act, touring a camp in Thailand, speaking before the National Governors Association Meeting to promote acceptance of the refugees, and urging the people of Iowa to welcome more refugees into their communities. With the help of his efforts, 168,000 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in the United States and in 1980 the Federal refugee law was rewritten to ensure that there was a permanent and standardized process for accepting refugees.
It might be enough to stop this History Rhyme at this point and make comparisons between the actions of Governors Ray and Branstad. On the surface it seems that there are similarities and differences between the two cases. Both are circumstances of helpless people in need of aid so it would be easy to look poorly on the resistance of Governor Branstad to taking in children. However, there are significant differences between the two cases. In the case of the Vietnamese, the choice of how America and Iowa would respond was entirely up to us. The refugees were half a world away. In the current case, there are tens of thousands of children arriving at the border and action of some sort must be taken. There is something about being asked to help and being forced to help that can change attitudes. In addition, the current situation fits into the hotly contested issue of how to handle illegal immigrants in a way that the refugee situation in Southeast Asia did not. If anything, there was more sentiment for the Vietnamese refugees since their plight was due to our inability to defeat the Communist there. Yet, these issues really miss the humanitarian heart of Governor Ray’s response. He was not concerned with policy but with people. It is easy to see images of a bus being confronted by a mob or video taken from a helicopter of thousands of children trying to get to the United States and lose the personal aspect of the crisis.

In order to bring this story back to the plight of the people in these two cases, I will conclude with of my own personal story. During the late 1970s, I was an elementary school student in Iowa. We saw on the television the stories of the “boat people” and were told by our teachers that some Vietnamese families would be coming to our community. The next year, I moved to the community middle school where I met one of the Vietnamese kids, who was assigned as my locker partner. What started then was a friendship that strongly affected how I viewed the world and how I have taught my children to do likewise. I learned about his culture, his people, their cuisine (including a very weak form of iced tea that I still prefer), and their intense desire to succeed in this new opportunity. My friend excelled at everything he did and that was inspiring to me. I am sure that things were not easy for them and they probably encountered discrimination that I did not understand. Yet, they never lost their gratitude for the chance for a new life. I gained from it an exposure to differences that a white, middle-class, suburban, Iowa kid would not have had if not for the actions of Governor Robert Ray. For that I am eternally grateful. Perhaps that same good-fortune might come to others like me if they have the chance to interact with more people unlike them. Hopefully they will.


Note 1: Governor Ray’s thoughts on the crisis are presented in a series of short interviews.
Note 2: An example of Ed Bradley’s reporting on the situation can be seen in a June 1979 edition of 60 Minutes.

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

The Harvey Way

Harvey Girl

Here at the History Rhyme, we have come to the Summer vacation season. This is the time to get away from too much serious stuff and have a little fun. Unfortunately, it is the time when kids have way too much free time and start driving their parents crazy with a constant droning of “I am bored,” or “this is so boring.” After a few attempts to get the kids to do something educational like reading a book or going to a museum, it is not long before the idea of a vacation somewhere comes up. Depending on one’s budget, this could entail a flight or it could be a car ride. In any case, unless you are having a “stay-cation,” there will be some traveling involved. I do not know about all of you out there, but I do not want too many surprises when it comes to issues of food and facilities. Simply stated, I want to go from place to place and know that I will find safe food, clean bathrooms and friendly attendants. In other words, I want consistency. Thankfully, it is far easier to find that than it has been in the past. I tell myself that this has occurred recently in the Midwestern United States because of the expansion of Iowa-based convenience store chains like Casey’s and Kum & Go (yes, that is its name), but this Iowa boy is very biased. However, this trend of a safe food, clean facilities and friendly staff predates all of us. In fact, our modern idea of travel convenience dates back to the post-Civil War period. So, without further adu, in this month’s History Rhyme, we ask that you give us a tiny bit of our summer to help remember a pioneer in the type of consistent and convenient traveling experience that we have come to expect (and comment about on websites if we don’t) – Fred Harvey.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), one of the definitions for “convenience” is “freedom from discomfort.” When it came to traveling to the Southwestern United States in the decade or so after the end of the Civil War, the situation was anything, but discomfort free. When traveling on the rail lines across the region, it was very hard for a traveler to find a good meal and a clean place in which to eat it. Instead, it was not uncommon to find rancid meat and stale bread in dirty rail cars or at shacks along the tracks. Fred Harvey, a traveling freight agent with a background in the restaurant industry, recognized that something needed to be done and he felt he had the answer – provide clean and safe food prepared in a consistent manner, presented in attractive dining halls, and served by a well-mannered staff. That may sound rather obvious to us, but at that time it was a revolutionary concept. In 1875, Harvey was able to convince the head of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) to allow him to open a couple of eating houses along their tracks in Kansas. In 1878, he opened his first official “Harvey House” in Florence, Kansas. Eventually, he would branch out into operating AT&SF dining cars and even had a few Harvey House hotels. The Harvey Houses were a great success and Mr. Harvey’s methods were so consistent and admired that his method of operations was known as the “Harvey Way.” By the time of his death in 1901, Harvey had opened 47 Harvey House restaurants and 15 Harvey House hotels across the 12 states that the AT&SF covered, and operated 30 AT&SF dining cars. At its peak, there were 84 Harvey House locations. Harvey Houses continued to offer the service for which it was famous until the 1960s. (see note below)

The reason why this story is suitable as a History Rhyme is because some of the elements introduced by Fred Harvey and his company have strongly influenced our opinions of what a convenient and pleasurably travel experience should be. The most important of these elements are in the areas of logistics and hospitality. Just like any modern chain of restaurants, hotels or convenience stores, a consistent and reliable logistics plan is required. In our modern era in the United States of interstate highways, a logistical network is possible due to the vast fleets of trucks that supply locations. The reason why the Harvey House concept was possible was because of Harvey’s strong relationship with the AT&SF railroad which provided Harvey the ability to move meat and dairy products to the various locations at little or no cost. If not for the network of tracks upon which the Harvey Houses were originally located, the rapid growth of the first restaurant chain in America would have been immensely more difficult.

The other main aspect of the Harvey House story that has an influence on our modern world concerns Mr. Harvey’s ideas on what kind of people should be serving his safe and clean food in his attractive locations. He needed a work staff that was reliable, civilized and consistent. Starting in 1883, Harvey’s answer was to put advertisements in newspapers across the United States seeking young, single, white women to become what was eventually known as his “Harvey Girls.” These women were to be of good moral character, well mannered, and have at least an eighth grade education. These women were meant to serve as a civilizing influence on the region and their black and white uniforms were designed to purposefully minimize the feminine form. It can be argued that this was an early form of “branding” that is such an important aspect for companies in our modern consumer society. This concept was so successful that the “Harvey Girls” were the subject of a 1942 novel by Samuel Hopkins and an MGM movie in 1946 starring Judy Garland and Angela Landsbury. Of course, there are elements of the “Harvey Girl” concept that are at the very least problematic to modern eyes (e.g. discriminatory hiring practices, and the total control the company exerted over the girls lives while employed), but that does not change the fact that the Harvey Girl model was innovative for its time and its emphasis on professionalism of service has been emulated to this day. So, as you are traveling along the roads this summer and you are looking for a place to stop for some food or a place to sleep, remember the efforts of Fred Harvey and his army of Harvey Girls. If not for their efforts, the “freedom from discomfort” that so many of us crave when we are hungry, tired, or just simply in need of a clean bathroom, might be less convenient to find.


NOTE: For more information on the development of Harvey Houses, there are several websites devoted to the subject. Examples are the Harvey Girl Historical Society, A Harvey House Home Page, and Harvey House Restaurants.


The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

A Sterling Example


When The History Rhyme was first established in Fall of 2013, a main goal was to use the past as a way to better understand the events of today. Without a wider context on what has happened before, it is very difficult to understand the significance of a particular event. All alone, one event would literally be simultaneously the “best” and “worst” of whatever measurement an observer was making. Another aspect that this blog tries to help fight is the lack of awareness of larger trends that can occur without a wider perspective on history. Were the “good old days” really that good? Are we making progress on issues of economic and social equality? How can we answer Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign question “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” if you do not know how you were four (or more) years ago? Fortunately for you and for me, this modern world and its 24-hour news cycle never fails to offer events that would be helped by a wider historical perspective and a good dose of rhyming events to offer us the chance to understand today and yesterday at the same time. The event that we will discuss is this edition of The History Rhyme is the case of a man who appears to have had more dollars than sense. A man who is so filled with contradictions that he can be condemned as a racist while getting awards for his support of the people he would rather not have around. Yes, we too will discuss the curious case of Donald Sterling and his fall from grace. To do so, we will use a couple of rhyming events from our unhappy past to help us consider how times have changed in one particular area and to see who has noticed this.

Just before the end of April 2014, few people who were not long-suffering fans of the Los Angeles Clippers had heard much of Donald Sterling. That quickly changed with the release on April 25th by the website TMZ of a recorded conversation between his biracial “girlfriend” and him where Sterling chastised her for bringing African-Americans to Clippers games and for posting pictures of herself with someone like Erving “Magic” Johnson on Instagram. In a bizarre twist, Sterling is heard on the tape telling her that “you can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that [Instagram] and not to bring them to my games” (slate.com). Perhaps this modern world has made me cynical but I must admit that when I heard these comments, I did not expect much to happen. These were comments from a private conversation that he did not record and which did not include any of the overtly derogatory phrases or terms. Yes, they were racist and offensive, but this would not be the first time someone’s private racism had slipped out into the public light. A prime example of this can be found in an April 1, 2013 slide-show on the Huffington Post entitled “11 Racist Remarks Made By Politicians: A Look Back.” In many of these cases, directly racist terms were used and nothing severe happened to most of these officials. It also became quite evident that this was not the first time that anyone had realized that Sterling was known for his objectionable behavior towards the African-American community. In fact, in 2006 he had been agreed to pay the United States Justice Department $2.725 million to settle allegations that he, as a landlord, had discriminated against African-Americans and Latinos. This story was reported along with other details about the Clippers owner on the none-too-subtle article by columnist Bomani Jones of ESPN entitled “Sterling’s Racism Should Be News.” After the settlement with the Justice Department and the article by Jones, nothing happened. In fact, Sterling had been awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP in 2009 and they were about to give him another lifetime award (much to Jon Stewart’s amusement).

So, it was with great surprise that this History Rhymer learned on April 29th that Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), had fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million and banning him for life from any connections to the NBA for his comments which he labeled “deeply offensive and harmful.” In addition, he urged the NBA Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. The move, which has earned Silver and the NBA much praise, is unprecedented in its severity and scope. This had followed a weekend of general condemnation and a sudden abandonment of the Clippers by important sponsors like CarMax, Virgin America, and Sprint, and a suspension of sponsorship by Kia and State Farm (although State Farm was quick to note that it had not suspended ties with Clippers star Chris Paul). Such a sudden groundswell of opposition after years of apathy towards Sterling’s actions caught many including the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee by surprise (see their April 29th editorial “Only Surprise in Sterling Spewing Is the Swift Global Reaction”). Clearly something had changed in the few days since the TMZ story had been released. To answer the question of what had changed, we will now look at examples from the past of owners of sports teams in an effort to use the past to see the present in a wider perspective.

When comparing the current situation of Donald Sterling’s racism and the outrage expressed by many Americans and by the leadership of the NBA, modern commentators are easily drawn to the example of the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott. After all, was she not well known for her proclivity for offensive statements against working women, Jews, African-Americans, homosexuals, etc? Yes, she was (click here for examples). Was she not forced to sell the team by Major League Baseball after she said in an May 5, 1996 interview with ESPN that “everybody knows [Hitler] was good at the beginning, but he just went too far” (archive.adl.org). Yes, she was. However, this blog will not use her case as the rhyming event for two important reasons. First, Marge Schott was a woman. This opens up all sorts of questions about whether baseball felt free to remove a disagreeable woman at that time than they would have if Marge had instead been a man named Mark Schott. Second, we will not discuss her case because she is the extreme example of what Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to as “oafish racism” in his May 1, 2014 article in The Atlantic entitled “This Town Needs a Better Racist.” By his definition, an “oafish” racist “makes white people feel bad.” The opposite of this is what Coates calls “elegant racist” who “knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt” (theatlantic.com). In other words, the elegant racist knows how to use the worries and doubts of his/her time to gain support for their racist views and actions. Of course, this explanation of “elegant racism” runs the risk of falling into the trap of “presentism” that we have discussed in an earlier History Rhyme. However, in this case I am willing to take that risk because regardless of when someone lived, opposing someone simply because of his/her race is unequivocally racism.

To find a good (but not perfect) example of an “elegant racist” who knew how to use the sentiments and worries of the time to foster racist policies in the world or sports, we will now turn our attention to the man who owned the Washington Redskins from 1932 to 1969 – George Preston Marshall. Marshall was an astute businessman and showman who had turned the unprofitable Boston Braves football team in the unstable early years of the NFL into one of the economic cornerstones of the league. He was an innovator who helped shaped the game that is so popular today. He suggested the player draft (which now draws higher ratings that the NBA playoffs), called for the splitting of the league into two divisions with a championship game, moved the goal posts to encourage scoring, helped change the rules to allow passing at any spot behind the line of scrimmage, and crafted the rules that resulted in a tapered ball that helped to facilitate passing. These innovations are the main reason why Marshall was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. However, there was no denying that Marshall was also a racist owner that refused to have any black players on his team. He had a variety of stated reasons for this policy. Some of his arguments against integration were based on his idea of fairness such as when he stated that “we’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites” (espn.go.com). He also argued against integration on the grounds that it would not be safe for them because “white players, especially those from the South, would go to extremes to physically disable them” (nybooks.com). He could also argue that the fans of the team would not want to watch black players. After all, Washington was the most “southern” town in the NFL until the creation of the Dallas Cowboys in 1960. A sign of this anti-integration sentiment can be seen in the deliciously ironic signs that were displayed in a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1961 outside of the new D. C. Stadium (subsequently renamed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium) that read “Keep Redskins White!” However, the most important and most convincing argument used at that time had to do with money. The Redskins were the league’s “southern” team in what had been in the 1930s and 40s a very ardently segregationist Washington DC. Marshall could convincingly argue that he risked financial ruin for not only his team but also his broadcasting empire if he used black players. White fans would stay away as would the advertisers who paid for the broadcasting of team games.

Although Marshall may have felt himself to be reflecting the views of his team’s fans and his community, not all agreed. During much of the latter half of the 1950s, the woeful state of the all-white Redskins (which did not have a winning season from 1956 to 1961) made them an object of scorn of local sports reporters like Shirley Povich (father of Maury Povich and future father-in-law of Connie Chung) of the Washington Post who once mockingly noted in a report of a loss to the Cleveland Browns that “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated the end zone three times yesterday” and at another time noted that the team colors for the Redskins were “burgundy, gold and Caucasian” (washingtonpost.com). Another source of opposition in the Washington area was the activist elements of the black community which at times boycotted Redskins games in conjunction with the NAACP and CORE – all to no avail. In the end, it took another financial issue, the unavailability of the new DC stadium to segregated teams, to force Marshall to relent from his segregationist policy. This occurred because the new DC stadium was built on land that was under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, strongly opposed segregation and saw the threat of being unable to use the new stadium as the weapon that was needed to integrate the team. Although Marshall fought against Federal pressure throughout the 1961 season, he finally relented and agreed to draft black players in 1962. That year, the first black to be signed to the team was fullback Ron Hatcher. In a final sign that Marshall was not a man who had changed his views, he refused to pose with Hatcher for photographs because he did not wish to “exploit” the situation (washingtonian.com).

Now that we have looked at our two rhyming events, we can try to determine if the earlier event really helps us to understand the latter event. After all, both are examples of pressure being applied to a racist sports team owner to force the team to change either its policies or its leadership. However, upon closer examination the reason for these changes are not that similar. In the case Donald Sterling, the suddenness of public outcry was much more noteworthy and influential than any public opposition faced by George Marshall. In fact, the public outcry (especially from the black community) was irrelevant to Marshall and perhaps even helped him with the white, Southern fans that he claimed to represent. Instead, the reason why Marshall caved and the Redskins were integrated had to do with government pressure in the form of a threat of eviction from the new stadium. In an interesting twist of history, it is starting to appear that the real rhyming event for the integration of the Washington Redskins may be in the growing call for current owner, Daniel Snyder, to stop calling his team what many consider to be an offensive slur against Native Americans. Up until recently, there had been several examples of litigation and protests by various Native American groups. There had also been threats by government officials to punish the team if the name was not changed – not unlike the threats Udall used against Marshall in 1961 (cnn.com). Especially interesting for our discussion is that NBA Commissioner Alan Silver’s strong response to Donald Sterling is being held up by some such as Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (in a May 7, 2014 interview with Time magazine) as a model for how the NFL should deal with Snyder’s intransigence on the naming issue.

So, where does that leave us with the case of Donald Sterling? Is the past not useful in understanding the suddenness of the response against the racism of the owner of the Clippers? Actually it is but not as a “history rhyme.” It is more as a historical anti-rhyme or as a sign that some things have considerably changed since the early 1960s. Specifically there has been a pronounced change in the economic power of the African-American community. In the case of George Marshall’s refusal to integrate the Redskins, there had been attempts by the black community to boycott the team, these had been ineffectual because Marshall viewed white Southerners as his primary audience and he asserted that they did not want integration. Contrast that to the modern NBA which according to a Nielsen survey of the league’s demographics shows that 45% of its audience is African-American (theatlantic.com). Also of importance is that the buying power of African-Americans has risen sharply since 1990 from $316.3 billion to $1,037.7 billion in 2012. Undoubtedly of additional special interest to the NBA is the fact that there are significant African-American economic power bases in the most populated states – most of which have at least one NBA team. Although the companies that abandoned or suspended relations with the Clippers (most notably State Farm which did not drop Chris Paul as their spokesperson for their “Born To Assist” campaign) would be unlikely to say so publicly, they must be aware of the conclusions of the report “Black Buying Power Continues To Rise” on the website ReachingBlackConsumers.com (reachingblackconsumers.com) that “as African Americans’ share of the nation’s total buying power expands, business-to-consumer firms can be expected to devote more resources towards developing and marketing products that meet the needs and match the preference of black consumers.” Was the economics of outrage really what brought down Donald Sterling? Will this power continue to grow as the economic power of African-Americans grows? Time will tell and we will be there to do the telling.


The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Green & Gold


In our monthly appraisal of the ways current and past events can “rhyme” with each other, we often begin by presenting the meanings of a word or two that set a tone for those events. This month, the term most appropriate to our discussions is “rush” – both because it conveys the emotional and enthusiastic aspects of our rhyming events and because it is in the generally accepted title applied to those events. According to Merriam-Webster, the term “rush” has several meanings. For our discussions, we will focus on the action aspect of the term where “rush” can mean “to do something too quickly and often with little thought, attention, or care” (merriam-webster.com). The reason for devoting an essay to this word is its growing prominence in the popular lexicon in connection to the recent legalization of recreational marijuana usage in Colorado – the so called “green rush” – which is launching American history, politics, laws, and societal views on the Reaganesque “war on drugs” in new and possibly unexpected directions. Of course, the use of such a phrase is a tip of the hat and a cultural shorthand of sorts to the “rush” that comes to mind for most Americans – the California “gold rush” of the mid nineteenth century – which dramatically thrust a remote far western part of North America to national prominence in the still growing United States of America. Our mission this month will be to determine if society’s attempt at creating its own History Rhyme is merited and what we might be able to predict of our future by looking at this part of our past. As with the case of many of our previous rhymes, we shall begin with the events of today and then use the events of the past to help us to have a wider context and possible outcomes for our present times.

On the first day of 2014, a remarkable change occurred in the social and legal history of the United States. It was on that date that the sale, possession and consumption of set amounts of marijuana became legal in the state of Colorado (see note 1). Back in November 2012, Coloradans had voted on whether to amend their state constitution to include a series of statements that are summarized in the following words: “In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom, the people of the State of Colorado find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol” (see note 2). Of the over 2.5 million Coloradans who voted on the amendment, just over 55% accepted the amendment. This victory for the proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana was not totally unexpected. The sale of medicinal marijuana has been allowed in Colorado since 2000 so by 2014 the sight of shops with a green cross (the sign for medicinal marijuana dispensaries) was not new or shocking. Yet, no-one could be certain of what would happen when 2013 became 2014. After all, it was still a Federal crime to possess marijuana. It was also a crime in all the states surrounding Colorado.

Prior to the beginning of 2014, national attention started to actively shift towards Colorado and the great social drama that was about to begin. At this early stage, the best way to try to anticipate how the legalization of recreational marijuana would look was to examine how the medicinal use industry had developed since 2000. An example of this was on December 22, 2013, when Steve Kroft of the iconic television news program 60 Minutes presented “Rocky Mountain High.” In that report, Kroft presented many of the themes we will examine – the tremendous enthusiasm that some had for the legal use of pot, the vast impact that the pot industry had directly and indirectly on the Colorado economy, and the continued uneasiness felt in Colorado about how the Federal government might decide to respond to such a flagrant disregard of the marijuana front of the “war on drugs.” However, a hint of what the local media thought might come and how much interest there would be was included with a little detail about a new position had been added to the Denver Post staff – marijuana critic. Yet, all of this was still speculation while the calendar read 2013 (cbsnews.com).

When the calendar changed to 2014, a phenomenon began that has had a remarkable impact on how Americans are looking at the issue of legalization of marijuana, how the various states are considering possible legalization and how the Federal government is considering such an undermining of its authority on drug legality issues. The first concrete evidence that the “green rush” was going to be strong and might be lasting could be seen from the videos and images broadcast across the country on January showing of long lines of enthusiastic men and women who endured hours in the cold for the chance to legally purchase marijuana for the first time. A January 3rd report by NBC’s Denver affiliate (KUSA) noted that first day sales in Colorado had been over $1 million dollars and that demand had been so high that inflation in the cost of pot was already apparent with high-quality marijuana that sold for $25 in the last days of 2013 now selling for $75 (rawstory.com). By the end of the month, other sources would report that the state of Colorado had experienced $14 million worth of pot-related sales and that the state took in $3.5 million in tax revenue(denver.cbslocal.com).

From that first day in 2014 to the time of this post (late April 2014), the American public has been barraged with a large number and variety of stories on all aspects of what is happening in the Centennial state. The impact that the “green rush” was having on the Colorado economy outside the points of sale was chronicled in a January 22nd article on Slate entitled “Need Room To Grow?” (which was part of a larger series of articles collectively called “Altered State: Inside Colorado’s Marijuana Economy”). In that report, Sam Kamin and Joel Warner looked at the significant but less sexy aspects of the booming pot economy – commercial real estate sales, investments in garden product stories by risk-adverse investors, and all the other items and services that are needed by those who were actually growing and selling marijuana. Of special interest for us is a comment by Ean Seeb, co-founder of a marijuana consulting company, when he compared the events in Colorado to the California gold rush. “For every chunk of gold, you needed picks and shovels, a pan and a sifter, and the same thing applies to cannabis. For every gram of marijuana, you need a bag, labels, receipts, exit packaging, point-of-sale, a way to pay for it, staff, uniforms, a payroll company, insurance, and so on” (slate.com).

The impact that the “green rush” has had on the employment rate was demonstrated in a March 14 report on CBS’s Denver affiliate (KCNC) on the “OpenVAPE Cannabis Job Fare” where we see hundreds of applicants (including a man they interviewed who had recently moved to Colorado for the new employment opportunities) who waited for hours in lines that stretched for several blocks to get in on what was referred as the state’s “budding” industry. While many of these jobs were retail in nature (“budtenders”), there were also openings for varied positions as graphic designer, accountant, and IT director. The high-tech aspect of selling marijuana is profiled in an April 14th article in the Slate entitled “Biometric Marijuana Vending Machine Unveiled In Colorado” (slate.com). The growing and lucrative field of pot-friendly vacations was examined in an April 20th report in the Denver Post. In that article, which also talks about the pot-focused “420 Festival” in Denver, a telling quote on the scope of the economic boon in Colorado comes from J. J. Walker who owns “My 420 Tours.” “Besides the DNC [Democratic National Convention in 2008], I can’t picture anything bigger that people have really all come together for… It’s going to be massive… The amount of money coming into town this weekend is astronomical” (denver.cbslocal.com).

In addition to all the positive reports on enthusiastic sellers and partakers of the newly legalized commodity, there were also some stories that cast a shadow over the party going on in Colorado. In a February 9th posting on the Washington Post blog “The Volokh Conspiracy,” by Ilya Somin noted that in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) “the [United States] Supreme Court ruled that Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce allows it to ban the possession of marijuana even in cases where the marijuana in question has never crossed state lines or been sold in a market anywhere.” Pressure to use this power does not seem likely at the moment but the future may change that. The pressures may come from the international community (washingtonpost.com).An example of this is a March 4 report from BBC News entitled “UN Body Criticizes US States’ Cannabis Legislation” where the president of the International Narcotics Control Board notes that the events we are chronicling in Colorado “contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medial and scientific use only” and “urges the government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirely of its territory” (bbc.com). A final concern is what will happen after the 2016 election when a Republican may once again inhabit the White House. Although a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press does show increasing support in all areas for legalization, those numbers are far lower for conservative Republicans than any other group (people-press.org). The worries over this unknown future and the impact it might have on issues such as the $40 million in pot tax revenue Colorado is allocating to school building projects can be seen in a comment from Mary Wickersham, a former board member of the state-run Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program the director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver, who says “Obama is going to be out of office in a couple of years… What is going to happen with this revenue?” (denverpost.com).

While all of the articles and reports convey the excitement, dramatic changes and anxiety that have characterized the developments surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana, they do not really help us to understand the possible long-term picture of the “green rush.” If we simply look at these first four months in 2014, it would be easy to assume all will go as smoothly for Coloradans as it has so far and that the excitement and opportunities will continue to multiply. While this may end up being the story we tell years from now, it is also possible that it may just be a passing craze. What is needed is a wider historical perspective and some comparisons to past events. There are probably no past events that are sufficiently close to the events in Colorado. It is tempting to look at the end of prohibition in America in the 1930s but that concerns a social act (the drinking of alcohol) which has been generally permitted since the dawn of recorded history. No, we need something that was rapid in development (in decades instead of millennia) and radical in its changes to society. Fortunately, American popular culture has already decided that the California “gold rush” will be our framework on which to base our analysis. So, without further ado, we will move to our rhyming event of the month – the California gold rush of the middle and late 19th century – to determine how prescient American popular culture might be. Anyone care to place any bets on that one?

The tale of the California gold rush is one of the few event that every summary of highlights of American history that every school child learns at an early age (see note 3 for a list of sources used for general information and totals in this section). It commonly begins with a rustic image of men building a mill for Captain John Sutter on the American River (Hollywood could not have picked a better river name for this story) when someone notices something very shiny in the water. There is great excitement as they run off to tell everyone “there’s gold in them thar hills” (or something quaint like that). Soon people from all over the world are coming to make their fortune panning for gold. In essence, this generalized and sanitized version of the gold rush is not too far from the basic elements of what happened. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall found a piece of gold glistening in the river and he showed it to John Sutter who was not excited about the news since he wanted to create an agricultural empire in the region. Unsurprisingly, the news did spread quickly. By March 12th, news had reached Sacramento. By March 15th, a notice of the discovery was printed in a San Francisco newspaper, The Californian. By July, rumors of a huge gold find were making their way to the east. By August 8th, a newspaper in St. Louis was reporting that gold was “being collected at random and without any trouble” and by August 19th, the most prominent newspaper in the United States, The New York Herald, reported that there was a gold rush in California. Finally all skepticism was removed when President James K. Polk included in his final address to Congress on December 5th that “the accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service” (full text of speech at dmwv.org). This was especially good news for the United States since it has just acquired California (unaware of the events along the American River) a short time after gold was discovered through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgowith vanquished Mexico on February 2nd, 1848. With this confirmation and the news of a gold rush, reports started appearing about people abandoning homes, jobs and family in a desperate rush to get to California to get their share of the “mother lode.” The first of these would arrive in the rapidly expanding port of San Francisco in 1849 and many of the crews of the ships bringing them there abandoned their vessels and headed for the hills.

The events of the first few years of the gold rush tell the tale of that that kind of enthusiasm can do to a country (both good and bad). In terms of population, the non-Native American total swelled from under 20,000 in 1848 to over 560,000 by 1870. In terms of wealth creation, gold production went from $10 million in 1848 to $80 million worth of gold in 1852 (the peak year). In terms of infrastructure, cities like San Francisco were quickly developed (parts of which was formed of wood from the abandoned ships), a transportation network to the east coast of the United States was developed though new steam ship lines and a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, and a large scale agricultural industry developed in the non-mining areas to support the growing population. In part because of these listed reasons, California was allowed quick entry into the United States as the 31st state in 1850. However, all was not completely rosy. An especially interesting description of the ills of the time period can be found in the recollections of Luzena Stanley Wilson, a gold rush entrepreneur, and the annotations that accompany her remembrances. From this source, we learn that: the Native American population was decimated by disease and mistreatment; non-white immigrants suffered great discrimination; many recent immigrants died from disease along the way or within months of arrival; there were over one thousand murders in San Francisco during the early 1850s but only one conviction; the military government was incapable to keeping order so local merchants formed vigilante committees and “popular courts”; there were approximately 500 bars in San Francisco and 1000 gambling houses; San Francisco burned down six times during a period of 18 months during the early days of the gold rush; price gouging on commodities were rampant and real estate values skyrocketed; and that by the mid-1850s the lone miner panning for gold had been replaced by corporate operations that dammed rivers, dug deep mine shafts and used strong hydraulic pumps to blast mountainsides in the hope of exposing the last ounces of gold. A modern reader would not be surprised to read that a high price was paid by the environment price to pay from the way mining evolved over time (digitalhistory.uh.edu). According to a report first published in 1997 by Pratap Chatterjee in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, it is estimated that over 12 billion tons of debris from mining operations ended up in the local rivers and that elevated acidity and mercury levels can still be found in those same rivers over well over a century after the gold rush ended (foundsf.org). It was not until 1884 with the case of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company that widespread hydraulic techniques were discontinues in the area.

Now that we have a quick summary of the events of the two rushes, can we see these two as rhyming events? In some ways, these two events do fit our model for a rhyme – a dramatic increase in interest in a region, enthusiastic people flocking to the area to participate in the “rush” (albeit in different ways now than then), and an influx of money for the ancillary and supportive industries for the main aspects of these rushes. However, there are fundamental difference that make the gold and green rushes inadequate rhyming events. Most significantly, the gold rush dealt with a finite commodity and eventually either ran out in areas or became excessively costly (both in terms of money and ecological damage) for the rush to continue. Also, a significant difference is that the extraction of gold was not an illegal act in the rest of the United States and thus did not face the danger that it could come to a crashing halt at any moment. These differences prevent the gold rush from being used as a possible predictor of the eventual fate of the green rush. So much for popular culture and media being good creators of history rhymes. Instead, another event – the legalization of gambling in the United States and Canada – is a better potential predictor for what might happen with the green rush. Just like legalization of recreational marijuana, the legalization of gambling has been one of gradual acceptance that has taken gambling from a social evil to a miracle cure that economically challenged communities like little Jefferson, Iowa (population 4,345 as of 2010) covet in the hope of revitalizing their towns. In Jefferson, the argument presented was that the proposed casino will have 572,000 annual visitors and will create 275 jobs in the depressed region (carrollspaper.com). If legalized pot could gain a foothold, it is possible that it could see rapid expansion like Canada found with gambling which went from one casino in 1989 to 76 in 2003 (problemgambling.ca).Will this kind of growth and acceptance be the fate of legalized marijuana? If acceptance of marijuana continues to rise as it has in the last few years (as shown in a 2013 Pew study mentioned earlier), people continue to find ways to make significant amounts of money in the industry, and the Federal government continues look the other way or legalizes its use as suggested by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a late-April interview with National Public Radio (npr.org), then it is possible that someday all Americans might be experiencing their own versions of a mini “green rush.” Time will tell and people like you and me will be there to analyze and attempt to understand what happens so that we can help others do the same.


NOTE 1: It also became legal in Washington but sales in that state, which were not set to begin until later in 2014, are not discussed in this essay.

NOTE 2: The complete text of Colorado Amendment 64 is available at fcgov.com.

NOTE 3: Below are the list of sources used for general information and statistics on the California Gold Rush

– “The California Gold Rush and the Controversy over the State Constitution” (users.humboldt.edu)

– “The California Gold Country: Highway 49 Revisited” (malakoff.com)

– “California Gold Rush – A detailed history of the California gold rush” (bilaras.hubpages.com)

– “The California Gold Rush: Luzena Stanley Wilson’s Memoirs” (digitalhistory.uh.edu)


The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Solid South


The modus operandi of this blog is to look at history as if it were a novel or a long verse poem. In those forms, the message being presented cannot be fully understood unless read as a whole. The same is true of history. Taken one line or even one paragraph at a time, the events of today may seem to say one thing but say something quite different in the fullness of time. Taking this concept even further, the comparison of history to the written word allows us to use concepts of grammar and syntax to obtain a better understanding of the intersection of current and past events. It also allows us to use the full power of similes and metaphors to use concepts from different “genres” of human understanding to explain concepts that we see in our rhymes. For example, during my times as a graduate student at the University of Kansas, it was very popular to use medical terms such as “ossify” – to turn into bone – to describe how the Soviet Union became less and less adaptable over time. For today’s History Rhyme, we will combine these useful tools to better explain the seemingly drastic shifts that occurred in the politics of the American South in the last fifty years. To describe the change, we will begin by using the wonderful term “contronym.” Later, to attempt to explain the changes we discover, we will borrow from the concept and terminology of “plate tectonics.”

According to Dictionary.com, a contronym is “any word that can be its own antonym.” Examples of this are cleave, sanction, and (my personal favorite) consult. In a narrow context, it is sometimes extremely difficult to have a true understanding of what these words mean in a sentence. When you read “he consulted her,” it is impossible with current usage of the term to know who the person seeking knowledge is. When news stories mention a sanction in regards to the events in Crimea, it could be support or condemnation. The topic of today’s rhyme is “the Solid South” which is often used to describe the generally monolithic nature of politics in the American South. This concept is a contronym because the predominant party in power has changed over time. If you ask someone in their 20s or 30s which party controls the South, they will reply “Republican” and they would be essentially correct. If you ask them if Democrats have ever been able to have power in that part of the country, they probably would look at you strangely. To this audience, there is no hint that the term “Solid South” could be anything but a description of the type of unity that has given the South such a strong role in contemporary Republican politics and leadership. However, if you asked someone who remembers events before the 1980s, a different set of memories can be brought back with the roles reversed between the Republicans and Democrats. It is not until we look at the whole story (starting with the end of Reconstruction in the late 19th century) that we see contronymical nature of the term “Solid South.”

To understand the reasons why a modern viewer would see a “Solid South” as a synonym for Republican domination, an examination of various election results and a sprinkling of headlines from across the Internet are helpful. If we look at presidential elections since 1980 in the states that comprised the old Confederacy, the success of Democratic candidates (with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter’s and Bill Clinton’s “native son” factor) has been minimal at best.1 In some areas of the South, the dominance of the Republican Party can be seen even more strikingly. For example, in an April 2013 story on Alabama.com, we learn that the Alabama Democratic party is so bad off that it was nearly bankrupt because, according to Alabama Democratic state party chairman Mark Kennedy, “newly elected Republican Party super majority in late 2010 passed legislation that banned PAC-to-PAC transfers and in so doing effectively dried up new dollars coming into the party.”2 In fact, the Democratic Party which the Encyclopedia of Alabama refers to as “not particularly close-knit or active,”3 is such a non-factor that the Republican primary winner in Alabama’s first district was considered a lock for winning the November general election. That contest was between a mainline Republican, Bradley Byrne, who was strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Dean Young who was supported by the Tea Party. A final sign of the dominance of some areas of the South by the GOP can been seen in a March 6, 2014 tweet by Washington Post reporter Reid Wilson (@PostReid) that “not a single voter cast a ballot for a Dem Gov candidate in 21 Texas counties.” While there are other areas of the South that are more favorable to the Democrats and some areas that are becoming decidedly “purple” (a combination of red and blue), there is still enough Republican domination in the region to make the term “Solid South” still valid in our quick news and talk radio world.

While the “solidity” of the South for the GOP in modern times may not be absolutely beyond questioning, the same cannot be said of the original version of the “Solid South.” In the presidential elections of 1880-1964, the overwhelming majority of electoral votes from the former Confederate states went to the Democratic nominee or to a Democratic regional candidate such as Strom Thurmond of the “Dixiecrats” in 1948.4 The level of Democratic dominance can been seen more clearly when you move in for a closer look. For example, in the state of South Carolina, there were only Democratic governors for a 100 year period after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. The list of Lieutenant Governors (several of which who ended up becoming governor) does not include a Republican until 1995. When you examine the list of Senators from South Carolina, there are no Republicans on that list from the end of Reconstruction until 1964 and that early date only occurred because Senator Strom Thurmond switched parties in protest against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you exclude Thurmond, it was not until 2003 that a Republican was elected to the Senate. Finally in the period between Reconstruction and the 1970s there were only four men elected to the U. S. House of Representatives who were not Democrats – none of which after 1897.5 That is not to say that all the Democrats were unified all the time. In South Carolina for examples, there were noteworthy feuds between those who supported and opposed the “New Deal” in the 1930s (e.g. Olin B. Johnson and “Cotton Ed” Smith) and the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s (e.g. Olin B. Johnson and Strom Thurmond). However, these divisions did not extend to the issue of segregation which was supported by all factions of the party in that period.

Now that we have established what the “Solid South” meant in its historical context and how it exists now, one final question begs asking – what happened? How could a region that was so monolithically Democratic up to the 1960s be significantly Republican now? The key to understanding this is to notice that while we have a shift in titles from one party to another, we do not have a shift in some of the general tendencies of those in power. The Democratic Party in the South during the previous period was physically and socially conservative, and deeply suspicious of the power of the bureaucracy in Washington (especially once the New Deal era began). The current Republican Party is most of those things. One major difference between the Democratic era of the South in the past and the Republican one now is the issue of segregation. Due to societal and legal changes since the 1960s, an overt policy of segregation is no longer possible. To explain such a change that on one level seems so drastic, but on the other does not; we will now borrow from the terminology and concepts of the field of plate tectonics. In that field there are three general types of interactions between plates – convergent boundaries, transform boundaries and divergent boundaries.

When considering “tectonic” activity, we think of the spectacularly violent events that occur in places like the Indian Ocean (e.g. the Christmas tsunami of 2004) or at the San Andreas Fault. It is tempting to think of the change in the South from a Democratic bastion to a Republican one in these terms. However, the wholesale movement of the power elites of the South from one side to another refutes this analogy. The transform boundary is also not a good metaphor. It exists when two plates slide by each other while going in different directions with limited interaction. That sounds more like the way that the United States and Canada have gone in different directions without too much strife (well at least since the War of 1812) than the American South. This leaves us with the divergent boundary. This model makes sense when you consider that the political parties of today are quite different than they were in the pre-WWII era, when parties were more of a “big tent” where vastly differing groups could co-exist. This meant on the Republican side you could have internationalists such as Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and isolationists such as Robert Taft of Ohio. On the Democratic side, you were able to have big-city machine politicians such as Edward Flynn or Jim Farley in the same party as rural segregationists such as Senators J. William Fulbright of Arkansas or Richard Russell of Georgia. However, after World War II ended, tensions that had been building with the growing Federal power created by the New Deal and the war led to rising tensions in the Democratic Party. The end result was a drifting away of the Southern Democrats into the Republican camp. Whether you view this as being due to a growing liberalism and big government focus of Northern Democrats or the Southern Democrats resentment at the end of legal segregation is a topic that may have to be addressed at another time. Regardless of the reason, the end result was that these two political plates in the old Democratic Party drifted apart and a new Southern and Republican continent was formed. How long that continent stays intact before it collides with issues such as the changing demographics of the Unites States population or in the growing push by some Republicans to purge those who are “insufficiently Republican”6 remains to be seen. We will know in the fullness of time. And so the story continues…


1. The only other example of Democratic presidential success were Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina, his 2012 victory in Virginia and his 2008 & 2012 victories in Florida. The latter examples way say more about the changing nature of Virginia and Florida politics than we will discuss at this time.

2. “The Alabama Democratic Party: Almost bankrupt and its Executive Board still doubles its travel budget” posted 4/11/13 by Charles J. Dean on Alabama.com (http://blog.al.com.wire/2013/04/the_alabama_democratic_party_a.html)

3. “Democratic Party in Alabama” (http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1561)

4. The exceptions were: Harding winning Tennessee in 1920; Hoover winning Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1928; Eisenhower winning Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1952; Eisenhower winning Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1956; and Nixon winning Florida, Tennessee and Virginia in 1960.

5. The four were Edmund W. M. Mackey (1882-84), Robert Smalls (1882-87), Thomas E. Miller (1890-91) and George W. Murray (1893-97). Murray was the last African-American elected to US House from South Carolina until Tim Scott was in 2010.

6. “Insufficiently Republican? State GOP to consider challenges to 18 candidates for office” posted 2/17/14 by Brendan Kirby on Alabama.com (http://blog.al.com/wire/2014/02/insufficiently_republican_stat.html)


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