This Memorial Day, I’m setting aside my Quaker pacifism (briefly), to remember one of the most unique and valiant war veterans I know of.
Yeah, I’m talking about U.S. Army veteran Harriet Tubman.
Besides all her amazing exploits in the antebellum Underground Railroad (working very frequently with purportedly nonviolent Quakers), Tubman was no pacifist. And when the war broke out, she was eager to help the Union forces win it. After working with wounded soldiers, she also served as a scout and a spy behind enemy lines.
But she got her big chance after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of 1863.
May 24 was (Authentic) Religious Liberty Day (at least it was here), but the Administration has some strange ideas about how to mark it. Like: turn it upside down & inside out.
That day it releaseda proposed federal rule that would deny transgender persons many of the medical benefits and legal protections they gained in the Obama years. The proposal is one more chapter in the continuing drive to roll back just about everything the previous administration achieved or initiated. (Full text of the proposed rule is here.)
In 1988 I wrote a substantial essay laying out my views about abortion, and describing how they had evolved over time. The piece also considered the increasing parallels, both rhetorical and political, between this struggle and the Civil War.
Thirty-plus years later, despite some continuing evolution and updates, much of the piece still seems relevant, not least the potential for civil strife.
(Author’s note from 1998 reprint: Many of the policy issues described in this essay still seem timely more than a decade later. Further, the personal journey it describes was an important part of my life, one not to be denied or concealed. It is also necessary background to the civil war scenarios that will also surface. . . . A much shortened version of the piece was published in The New Republic.)
So we’re hearing some complaints about sniping back & forth between “theists” and “non-theists in some liberal Friends meetings. I have some thoughts on that. Kind of a long read . . . .
Let me work up to them with a story, going back to the turn of the years 1990 into 1991. I was working for the Post Office, as a Mailhander, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I mainly shuffled bundles and sacks of mail back and forth across the floor of a facility about a quarter of a mile long. It processed several million pieces of mail every day. In those years, I had real calluses on my hands, and a lot fewer pounds around the middle.
I was also surrounded by veterans there, mostly from the Vietnam era, who had preference in Post Office hiring. We weren’t very familiar with the phrase PTSD then, but it was all around me. I felt a lot of solidarity with them, though I didn’t know how to express it. I was an Anti-Vietnam veteran, had protested one way and another all through those years, and bore my own set of scars from it.
November & December at the Post Office were always hectic: Christmas meant a continuing flood of packages, mandatory overtime, and running us off our feet. But the year 1990 brought a big additional burden of stress: the buildup to the First Gulf War, what’s known as Desert Storm, was in full swing.
I’m starting these reflections with a war story, not because I like war stories, but as part of my own grappling with the fact that when I look back over my 76 years, my life as an American and a Quaker has been dominated by war.
Big wars, punctuated by smaller and more secret wars, and then periods of tension and preparations for more war. I’m not sure that many Americans, and Quakers, really take adequate account of that over-arching reality: any American my age and younger has lived in a militarized, war-making country all our lives. And that reality doesn’t appear to be changing much today.
Anyway, I remember when the Gulf War buildup started, in late summer 1990, when the first president George Bush learned that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, next door. My memory of Bush is that he was riding in the presidential golf cart, and pulled it to a stop where some news cameras were clustered, and said, “This will not stand. This will not stand.” (Actually, an old video shows him saying that after stepping out of the presidential helicopter. At least I got the words right.)
Except for how it turned out, I hate almost everything about this report:
A mass school shooting was foiled on Thursday, December 13; that’s the good part.
But the first thing I hate about it is not in the news, but in myself: when I began checking the evening headlines yesterday, a thought came:
Isn’t it about time for another big mass shooting? How long has it been—? Let’s see . . . the Pittsburgh synagogue, hmm. Oh yeah, late October: 11 dead, six wounded. . . . Seven weeks ago; right? So . . . another one is about due . . .”
Yes, I thought that, unbidden, and I hate that I thought it. A premonition? I don’t think so. It’s just that after these past few years, it does feel like there’s some sort of gruesome rhythm to such events.
The new ABnormal.
Then I glanced at the BBC News feed, and there it was:
I listened to and watched almost all the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing Thursday; 9 hours I’ll never get back. Can any sense be made of the ordeal? Here are a few observations
One, Ford was very credible. She was credible in two ways: one, her stories, even if incomplete and not thoroughly investigated, hung together.
Second, she was personally credible: Beyond the impact of the assault, her story of struggling with anxiety, her fear of public humiliation (and then death threats) are all too plausible. Even Utah Republican Orrin Hatch grudgingly admitted afterward that Ford was a “very attractive” witness.
Her willingness to talk openly about needing and doing therapy with her husband and then on her own was impressive. Even her fear of flying (which she manages by force of will for work and important family trips) sounded like many people (me for instance), and explained much about why she kept quiet about her story so long. And her naiveté about politics, her vain hope that she could leave her story to have whatever impact it would in the Senate behind the scenes.
Three, her courage, to face the Committee and the country and speak her truth even as her voice shook, was undeniable.
Well, no– “undeniable” is not appropriate here.
In the snake pit of our current politics, her testimony was eminently “deniable” — by the Republican majority, many of whom are skilled professionals in denial and discounting anything that gets in the way of their agenda.
Too many media people around this past week’s supreme Court hearings wasted their energy doing horse race and atmosphere coverage. Political sportscasters, I call them; and pretty bush league at that.
Their frame was: the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (hereafter “K“) is a done deal, so all that matters is the hullabaloo, that and the shadow horse race preview of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Which meant excessive attention to whether aspirants Kamala Harris or Cory Booker managed to draw some blood and get a boost from a bombshell revelation.
“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.
We don’t have a picture of John Jeffress, at least I haven’t found one. Same for personal background: where he was from, when he was born. We only have a report about his end, which came on this date, august 25, 98 years ago.
This report was published in several papers on August 26, 2018:
Sheriff Storey and Jeffress were in Graham NC, the seat of Alamance County. When they turned toward the courthouse, they passed near this Confederate memorial, 30 feet high including the statue on the top, which had already been standing for six years.
At this point, the crowd made its move:
In the version of this report published in the Charlotte NC News, additional details were included:
Sheriff Story [sic] and his six assistants started with Jeffress to the courthouse one block away. Arriving at the spot where Ray was killed, a mob formed around the Officers and their prisoner. There was a sudden surge forward and in the twinkling of an eye, according to the sheriff, the prisoner had been taken from the officers and was placed in an automobile and rushed away. There was not a shot fired: not even a gun drawn during the minute scuffle between the mob and officers.
Sheriff Story said tonight that resistance would have been folly as the mob was made up of between 25 and 50 determined men. There were at least 150 additional men nearby whose sympathies were with the mob, he stated tonight. Answering a. direct question, Sheriff Story declared that he did not know anyone in the mob. The man who led the mob and took the prisoner away, the sheriff said, must have just moved into the county and was not known to him.
There were no arrests or prosecutions after this killing. And there is no memorial to John Jeffress in Alamance County. There was none anywhere — until this spring. In Montgomery, Alabama, the Equal Justice Initiative opened what it called the National Memorial for Peace & Justice.
In this unique structure, there are 800 pillars, one for each county where the founders could verify a lynching. Names of the know victims are engraved on the pillars.
That, of course, includes Alamance County, NC. and on the Alamance pillar, there is one name:
The fact that we know this much (or this little) about John Jeffress is because in those years, a century and more ago, the young (and often denounced as “radical”) NAACP was compiling a record. It often hung this flag outside its New York office:
The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsors of the Montgomery Memorial, is encouraging persons elsewhere to remember these “erased” crimes.
The Charlotte News editor, whoever it was, gets a bit of credit with their account:
“The crime for which the young negro was put to death is, alleged to have been committed at 10 o’clock yesterday morning, near the child’s home. Cries of her mother, it is said, caused the negro to run, leaving the little girl without serious injury.”
At least he said “alleged.” This entire affair began about 10 AM, and was over by shortly after 3 PM. Jeffress was on his way to be arraigned, formally charged, when he was snatched and then killed. No arraignment, no trial, no evidence, no defense, nothing.
Is all this far in the past, better left alone? I snapped the photo below outside a McDonalds in Graham a few months ago.
I don’t have a bumpersticker for John Jeffress. But I can contribute this remembrance.
Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.
In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more. Continue reading Time To Do Some History Homework→