Category Archives: Social Justice

The Fight Over the Supreme Court is not Over — Just Ask Sheldon Whitehouse

Flashbacks: an article in the August 17 (2019) Washington Post, about a donnybrook developing around the vacationing Supreme Court, is giving me flashbacks:

It seems like a century ago —

October 4, 2018. The first day of hearings on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. Everybody was waiting for the predicted bombshell sexual assault testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

But that morning I got my timing mixed up and tuned in early, well before the featured fireworks began. As red-robed Handmaids circled outside, my ears were filled with the platitudes and boilerplate of opening statements by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lucky for me. At first, all were forgettable (& forgotten) including those by the three committee Democrats tipped to run for president (Klobuchar, Booker & Harris), all of whom stumbled and flubbed their opportunities. Continue reading The Fight Over the Supreme Court is not Over — Just Ask Sheldon Whitehouse

“White Lies,” Selma, Two Murders, & A Cameo

One sunny day in April last year, I woke up in Selma Alabama, prepared to go to jail.

It was just for a friendly visit, though, with two new acquaintances: Andy Grace and Chip Brantley. I met up with them first, for a generous southern breakfast at Mr. Waffle, on Highland Avenue, with my pants cinched up tight: It’s The Law.

Mr Waffle, keeping up standards.

Andy and Chip teach journalism at the University of Alabama. They were working on a big podcast project about Selma intended for NPR. It’s about two civil rights murders there, and is now online, at their website, as “White Lies.”

In their research they found my books on Selma, and tracked me down, about an interview. Turns out, I was planning to visit Alabama before long, to be on a panel in Montgomery marking the 50th anniversary of Dr, King’s murder.

As a certified living fossil on the shelf of artifacts from a genuine piece of “history,”  I’ve done a few such events. So I offered to make a side trip to Selma, and give them my personal guided tour with the interview.

The Reeb Memorial, on the corner where the Silver Moon Cafe stood, outside which he and two other ministers were attacked. The others survived.

That starts with the Selma jail. On the way we passed the compact corner memorial to James Reeb, a Boston Unitarian minister, who was attacked with two others in the heat of the movement, and died of a fractured skull the next day. Three men were tried for his murder, acquitted by an all-white jury; all are now dead.

But there was talk of a fourth man there, who evaded prosecution, and could be still alive. Chip and Andy were still in search of him.

Wilson Baker.

I had no leads about that, so we moved on to the jail. It’s still where it was, though in 1965 it was part of City Hall. That’s moved, and the Police now have the whole building. High on the wall of the downstairs hallway is a photo of Wilson Baker, who arrested me. Later he became Sheriff, and word is he was a good one. Up on the second floor, the small cellblock remains.

Those yellow bars even now look solid enough to withstand the collapse of the whole block. Which may not be far off, the collapse that is; most of the buildings close by look empty, boarded up or just abandoned.

As a landmark of black liberation, I told Andy and Chip, Selma fifty-plus years later is a hot mess. The poverty rate is as high as it was then. More than a dozen payday loan shops, their vampiric essence camouflaged by bright colors, crouched along Broad and Highland, the two main business streets. The house where I rented a room in ‘65, a solid Black middle class dwelling then, stands empty, literally falling down, like so many others on that, the “historic” side of town. If there’s any money in that history, it looks like payday usury vacuumed it all up.

The Boynton House, where I lived in 1965, empty in 2015. The museum project fizzled, and by 2018 the house was in even more dilapidated condition.

History is still plentiful in Selma, if ramshackle, but there’s only one spot of beauty I remember, and I discovered that late: less than a mile west of the Pettus Bridge stands the Live Oak Cemetery, often called the New Live Oak, though it goes back to the 1820s.

Old live oaks, in New Live Oak.

The big moss-draped trees, the greyed, crumbling, mostly Confederate headstones and slabs, the multi-colored lichen splotches on almost everything, all are classic, archetypal, undead Old South: Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, only in color.

The grave of General Edmund Pettus. After the Civil War, he was later elected a U.S, Senator, and reputedly once was head of the Alabama KKK.

New Live Oak has recently been made newer by construction of an elaborate memorial in honor of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

This is the work of a local Neo-confederate group, which won a long, acrimonious court fight with the Black-controlled city administration for control of an acre of land there.

Neo-Confederate activists Todd Kiscaden, left and Pat Godwin, being interviewed, March 2015. Godwin was the spearhead of the Nathan Bedford Forest memorial in the New Live Oak Cemetery.

Forrest had only a brief connection to Selma: he attempted to defend the city from surging Union forces shortly before Lee’s surrender in April 1865.

Even so, for true Neo-Confederates, Forrest is an immortal, an icon: a brilliant tactician, a relentless, fearsome  fighter (biographers say he personally killed thirty Union soldiers in hand to hand combat) and a founder (and first Grand Wizard) of the original Ku Klux Klan.

The new Forrest monument, looking toward the Pettus bridge.

There could hardly be a visage more discordant – or revealing — than that of Forrest, glowering east over General Pettus’s grave and toward the eponymous bridge which the courage of local blacks, and tagalongs like me, turned into a civil rights landmark. The local devotees of Forrest’s flock have struck back with billboards, and more solidly, with this shrine.

Radio guys Andy Grace (left, with hair) and Chip Brantley (right, with headphones), getting familiar with the Forrest monument at New Live Oak.

But I can turn my back on Forrest; then it’s no wonder I linger there. Andy and Chip did too; pictures of them at New Live Oak are on NPR’s publicity webpage for “White Lies.”

From there we headed for another burial ground, about 25 miles northwest near Marion.

The Heard Cemetery, near Marion, Alabama. Jimmie Lee Jackson’s marker is next to the red wreath.

This one, the Heard Cemetery, lacked the allure of Live Oak: no venerable trees, only secondary growth; no stone wall, no fence, no sign; it lay exposed, within gunshot range but easy to miss, along Alabama Highway 14. It was much smaller, with only a scattering of markers, and a single sizable headstone.

Jimmie Lee’s headstone. The orange spots and notch at the top are among the bullet damage. There are several more, visible from closer up.

That marker was our goal; and despite lacking the amenities of the genteel Dixie death cult, the Heard graveyard enclosed what Chip and Andy most wanted to visit, the resting place of Jimmie Lee Jackson.

Here I knew a little something. I had been part of the funeral cortege which carried his coffin here from the church in town, behind his family and Dr. King, through the rain.

I knew about how his killer also got away with killing another young black man a year later, then walked free for more than four decades. And how Jackson’s family finally caught a brief glimpse of justice; heard a rumor of it, topped a thin, crumbled slice of it with the curdled margarine of old grief.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. His killer, James Fowler, right.

I had also visited the cemetery a year or two earlier, and could point out the dozen or so places where the granite had been nicked and gouged by bullets. It still stands, but within gunshot range is not hyperbole. (An earlier blog post on the shooting of Jackson is here.)

From there we soon wrapped up the interview, and I headed off to Montgomery.

I admit I soon mostly forgot about the project; several such interviews have wound up on disks or as transcripts on some obscure library shelf, waiting to enlighten, or bore, a stray grad student or two. Other such relics have been of use to me, though, and I do not despise them.

But now, more than a year later, the podcast is done and out. And amid all the recorded palaver, I turn up for a cameo in Episode Five, describing — well, that’s enough of a spoiler. They uncovered history I knew nothing about in solving their cold case; let them tell you that part of the story. . . .

An abandoned house, one of many, near the Brown Chapel AME Church, which was the gathering place for the Selma voting rights movement.
A collage of bumperstickers from a van belonging to one of the Neo-Confederate activists.

 

 

A Delightful Sketch of John Woolman

“JOHN WOOLMAN, THE QUAKER”

G. M. Trevelyan, from Clio & Other Essays, 1913

[NOTE: G.M. Trevelyan was perhaps the most famous British historian in the first part of the 20th century.  He was celebrated for his style, and was not reluctant to include his own opinions and values visibly and wittily in his narratives. By family and personal preference, he was a British Whig and then Liberal. Wikipedia notes, that 

G. M. Trevelyan

“Whigs and Liberals believed the common people had a more positive effect on history than did royalty and that democratic government would bring about steady social progress. . . .Trevelyan’s history is engaged and partisan. Of his  famous Garibaldi trilogy, “reeking with bias”, he remarked in his essay “Bias in History”–“Without bias, I should never have written them at all. For I was moved to write them by a poetical sympathy with the passions of the Italian patriots of the period, which I retrospectively shared.”

This outlook shines through his short essay, “John Woolman, the Quaker,” published in 1913. I started to collect the most sparkling excerpts; but no. It is short enough to take in expeditiously, yet substantive enough to chew on long afterward. It follows, in full.]

Continue reading A Delightful Sketch of John Woolman

Abortion & Civil War – 2019 Update

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.)

INTRODUCTION: My Abortion Pilgrimage

Continue reading Abortion & Civil War – 2019 Update

Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue

Quaker Theology #33 — Winter 2019

20th Anniversary Issue

Scroll down for Contents

 Contents

Editor’s Introduction 
A quick review of the ground  covered in 20 years of independent theological work & publication.

Moment of Truth: Wilmington Yearly Meeting Divides over a Familiar Set of Issues, by Stephen W. Angell
This is the fifth yearly meeting breakdown chronicled by this journal in its tenure, and its pages remain the only source of significant reporting on these difficult spectacles.

The Separation Generation, by Chuck Fager
A detailed summary of the five schisms that have rocked American Quakerdom in this century (so far),  with an early assessment of their significance.

Imminence, Rootedness, and Realism: Eschapocalyptic
Action (or not) in the Age of Trump, by r. scot miller.
An effort to construct the elements of a 21st century Quaker theology, turning to such largely untapped sources as Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr.

A sermon Delivered by Lucretia Mott, at Yardleyville.
Bucks Co., Pa., Sept. 26, 1858, by Lucretia Mott
A contrasting Quaker theological vision, advanced by one of the most influential (but unheralded) American theological voices the Society has produced. Presented 160 years ago, this vision is still keenly relevant, hotly disputed, and its author still largely unrecognized as the theological giant she was.

About the Authors Continue reading Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue

Sierra Cascades YM: “Our New Thing” versus the “Same Old Thing”?

In the Northwest, the new Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF) is deep into its first round of recording ministers.

Five Friends have asked to be recorded. Their names & descriptions are being republished in the YM’s weekly news bulletin, for a  60-day period of  “Public Comment” on their candidacies, to be followed by further discernment.

I won’t speak here of any of these individuals; I’m not really familiar with them, and this post is about policy, not personalities.

As for the policy, I wish SCYMF was considering in depth not only whether some individuals ought to be recorded as ministers, but first the wisdom of having such a category in their yearly meeting at all.

Sierra Cascades began taking shape in early 2017, after several meetings in Northwest YM were deemed “liberal” (or insufficiently evangelical), particularly on LGBT and related issues, and were abruptly booted out. (Steve Angell and I reported on the buildup to these expulsions in Quaker Theology –  Issues #24, #27, #28, #30-31 & #33.)  

For several months, participants in the group of banished meetings  informally referred to it as “Our New Thing,” and there was an air of discovery and reinvention to the messages from its initial proceedings. Yet as it prepares for its second annual session, some familiar outlines have appeared.

The matter of recording is a major one.

Continue reading Sierra Cascades YM: “Our New Thing” versus the “Same Old Thing”?

Liberal Quakers Need More “Theological Diversity.” What could possibly go wrong?

The First Month 2019 issue of Friends Journal includes an article by Friend Adria Gulizia, Greater Racial Diversity Requires Greater Theological Diversity.”

At one level, I very much empathize with Adria Gulizia’s concern for what I would call “theological inclusiveness.” The widespread ignorance, apathy & avoidance of theology/Bible in “liberal” meetings I have known have become personally very burdensome.

Yet there is another side to this story, one not easy to see from the Philadelphia orbit. But if one actually steps out of that enclosed space, some very different aspects appear.

To summarize: outside the “Phillysphere” and the Northeast, five U.S. yearly meetings have split apart in the last 20 years, with one of the five, 320 years old, blowing up/melting down & disappearing completely. Where I live, in the Pretty Deep South, the fallout, like debris from a plane that exploded in midair, is still falling around us.

And what was the cause of this fivefold schism? Well, one could point the finger in several directions, but in the foreground of all five was that which Gulizia’s piece calls for, namely: “theological diversity.”

I know some of this from direct experience. Many were the interrogations such “diversity” produced, not of me but my whole meeting:
Start with the Bible: Did we have the right view of it? And the true notion of its authority?
Next, were we “Christ-centered”? No, they meant, not that way, but this way, really, truly?  Or enough? And with the authentic formulation? Oh, and had we adopted (& enforced) the correct church authority structure?

And lots more. (In our area, the ordeal went on for three-plus years. And truly, there’s nothing quite like being called a tool of the Anti-Christ by someone who really means it.)

Continue reading Liberal Quakers Need More “Theological Diversity.” What could possibly go wrong?

The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

I was in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving with family, and they wanted to take a road trip. We settled on San Diego, and they asked what I wanted to see.

The wall “prototypes.”

My answer: “The Border Wall. At least the samples.”

Actually, I soon learned, they’re called “prototypes.” You’ve likely seen the official photos. There’s eight of them, in a row near the real border fence. They’re the result of an early executive order from the current White House. They had their fifteen minutes in the spotlight almost a year ago.

There’s been no funding yet for the Real Thing, though a round of struggle for several billion worth is underway in the congressional lame duck session.

I’ll leave the blow-by-blow on that to others. For me the prototypes were a thing, a key symbol of where this country might yet be taken. I think of them as a portent; I dare to hope they’ll end up as no more than a monument. Continue reading The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited  ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”

I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating. 

Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.

Continue reading Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media

As far as the midterm elections go, for the media and the talking heads it’s basically all over now, except the voting and the counting (and recounting).

Early voting has started.

Some reporters are still criss-crossing the country, and sending back breathless dispatches, which, if you look close, are mostly interchangeable: campaigns are all in high-gear, GOTV is everyone’s goal, voter suppression is widespread, attack ads are nonstop, the polls are inching up and down, early voting is underway, — and crazy presidential tweets keep flying.

Which is to say, there’s not much real news here. After all, unless there’s some shocking  October Surprise about to drop (no sign of such yet), this frenzy is exactly what you would expect.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m past burned out on watching or listening to talking heads yammer back and forth about, “Will the Dems take the House?” “Oh, maybe yes, maybe no.” “What about the Senate?” “Well, maybe no, but possibly yes.” After this long, it’s like  asking, “Will the market go up or down tomorrow?”

Surely many among the scribes must be fed up with this pointless speculation, and in the absence of actual new political news, many journalists and pundits — way too many, in my view — have gone rogue this week, and have decided to gnaw on the ankle of Senator Elizabeth Warren, over the six-minute video she released on October 15, about the matter of her Native American ancestry.  Continue reading Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media