The Fourth of July is called Independence Day with good reason. Our Founders were willing to die for the right to control their own lives. They were not seeking war with the most powerful nation on Earth in 1776. They were not attempting to dictate to King George III how the English should behave. They sought only free will for America to determine its own course. In these troubled times we are now navigating, perhaps a look back to America’s early struggles might be helpful.
We may wish we could ask George Washington or James Madison for advice. But the best we can do is read about past heroes’ courage and sacrifice and try to learn lessons that will help us during our own battles.
For example, one of my heroines is Frances (Mad Fanny) Wright, that fighter for women’s rights, Black rights and freedom from religion who spoke in New Harmony, Indiana on July 04, 1828. Oh, how much we could learn if we could speak with her now. However, we do know she dedicated her life and fortune to eliminating slavery. Had she lived only nine more years she would have experienced the start of the Great Struggle that ended a whole race of Americans’ loss of control over their lives.
Control, isn’t that what matters most to all of us? The visceral need for the freedom to make our own choices is why on that day we now call Patriots Day, April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord those suppressed colonists “Fired the shots heard ’round the world”. And in our current political climate when Americans get embroiled in political discussions it sometimes feels as if both sides have muskets at the ready.
When I find myself surrounded by the competing political mini balls, I try to remember this is nothing new. Over the two or three hundred thousand years we Homo sapiens have been around, after air, water, food, shelter and procreation we seem to have two more basic needs: the control of our own lives; and the strong desire to control the thoughts and behavior of others. These two related but directly oppositional impulses apply to groups of people and nations as well. You know, we will each defend to the death the right of our political adversaries to agree with us. But conversations can rapidly turn to confrontation if someone comes down on what we believe is the wrong side of such issues as religion, race, global warming, immigration, war and peace, who should or should not be President of the United States and a thousand other subjects.
The right to control our own lives makes us smile. The desire to control other peoples’ lives can lead to such things as vitriolic statements and sometimes even vicious interchanges in our public and interpersonal interactions. Sometimes today’s discussions about control may center on sexual assault and the “Me Too Movement” or hate crimes and “Black Lives Matter”.
Rape is a terrible crime not because of forced sexual contact, billions of humans have had sexual relations. No, rape is a terrible crime because of the victims’ loss of their right to decide for themselves whether and with whom to have sex. The fear, terror, anger and humiliation caused by losing total control of one’s body is incalculable. It is in itself a life sentence that can lead to permanent bitterness toward and distrust of our legal system much as lynchings can result in an entire race of people living with constant concern about their freedom.
Lynchings, such as those that were committed on the Posey County, Indiana courthouse lawn on October 12, 1878, are a collective denial of another’s right to control their own destiny. And it is not just the victims who lose, but even those who deny justice to others may reap the whirlwinds of retaliation and political correctness.
Wars of aggression, not constitutionally authorized wars for national defense, are our country’s intentional denial of another country’s or people’s right to independently determine their own destiny. One of the main causes of our country’s post-WWII denials of the right of other countries to control their own lives are wars instigated by independent executive action without congressional authorization.
We can each quickly cite evidence of such wars based on false premises and rash executive action. President Lyndon Johnson used the shaky premise of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to get us hopelessly embroiled in Vietnam. President George W. Bush relied on false intelligence reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in 9/11. President Bush then precipitously led us into what appears to be an endless and pointless war in the Middle East. As Pete Seeger’s song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” asks us, “When will we ever learn?, when will we ever learn?”
Our Founders’ wisdom of placing the authority to wage war in congress is that such a procedure keeps all of our citizens more closely involved in these grave decisions. And, it requires much more careful deliberation when congress is involved. Also, when we eliminated the military draft, we turned from a citizen minute man type military to a professional and less ecumenical type force. To make the tragic choice to go to war all Americans should feel the direct cost. It is too easy to hire others to impose our will on the powerless. With a professional standing military our armed forces never stand down. And the temptation for any of our presidents to play with these awesome powers as if they were toy soldiers is too intoxicating for most to resist. Of course, the draft is one of the ultimate impositions of loss of control. Our country should only use it when our national survival is truly at issue. And then it should include all able-bodied adult citizens. Not everyone needs to serve on the front lines but everyone can serve somehow.
One of the good things we received from one of our British cousins were John Locke’s Enlightenment philosophies as highlighted by the doctrine of separation of governmental powers. Our independence as a nation has survived great trauma due in large part to our three separate and equal political powers: Executive; Legislative; and, Judicial. We forget this at our peril. Control of our lives is an inherent need for individuals and nations and, if lost, can lead to long-term bad effects for both the invaders and the invaded. Freedom of choice is essential to our personal and national well-being. Our Founders enshrined that opportunity for us in our Constitution and that is what we celebrate on Independence Day as we struggle to afford that right to all of our citizens.
I was born in Pawhuska, Osage County, Oklahoma where I spent my first 19 years (1943-1962). Osage County is adjacent to Tulsa and Tulsa County. The Tulsa race riots of 1921 were never mentioned during my 12 years of public education and one year at Oklahoma State University.
I served as a judge in Mt. Vernon, Posey County, Indiana from 1981-2018. Until March 14, 1990 the lynchings of African Americans that took place on the courthouse campus on October 12, 1878 were unknown to me and never brought to my attention.
Upon being made aware of the Posey County murders I began to search for more complete information. A friend of mine, Glenn Curtis, who was born and raised in Posey County advised me he had seen a photograph of the 4 young Black men hanging from locust trees outside the courthouse door. He told me he remembered the elongated necks, swollen tongues and cue ball sized eyes of the hanging bodies. I have searched for a copy of that photograph since 1990.
My friend, Doug McFadden, who was also born and raised in rural Posey County told me that his grandfather told Doug that the day after the lynchings Doug’s grandfather watched as white citizens used the hanging young Black men for target practice. And while there was no photograph taken of the young Black man Daniel Harrison, Jr. who on October 10, 1878 was burned to death in the fire box of a locomotive in Mt. Vernon, another Posey County native friend of mine, Basil Stratton, told me that his grandfather, Walker Bennet, was an eyewitness. Walker told Basil that as a young boy he was present and saw several white men, including Walker’s father, force Harrison into the steam engine. Basil’s grandfather told Basil he never forgot the Black man’s screams and the smell of his burning flesh.
I have long thought that a photograph of the lynchings might be the evidence needed to finally get a memorial to the victims erected on the Posey County Courthouse campus. And yesterday my friends, Liz and Jeff Miller of Posey County, emailed me a copy of just such a photograph. Jeff and Liz received the copy from our mutual friend and historian, Ray Kessler of Mt. Vernon. Ray told me when we spoke by phone last night that he got the photograph from Karen McBride Christensen of Indianapolis who retrieved the picture from Georgia’s Emory University archives. I do not, as yet, know how it came to be there. Because of its graphic nature I have not attached it to this newspaper article. However, it did call me to reprise an article on race relations I first published July 4, 2005. Gentle Reader, as recent events may lead one to conclude the issues discussed in that article remain raw in our national psyche today, I offer it once more for your consideration.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO U.S.!
LET’S HAVE A PARTY AND INVITE EVERYONE!
(Week of July 4, 2005)
The United States Supreme Court has occasionally succumbed to popular opinion then later attempted to atone for it. The Dred Scott (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1892) cases come to mind as examples of institutionalized injustice with the partial remedy of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) being administered many years later.
In Dred Scott, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that American Negroes had no rights which the law was bound to protect as they were non-persons under the U.S. Constitution.
And in Plessy, the Court held that Mr. Plessy could not legally ride in a “whites only” railroad car. The Court declared that laws that merely create distinctions but not unequal treatment based on race were constitutional. SEPARATE BUT EQUAL was born.
Our original U.S. Constitution of 1787 disenfranchised women, and recognized only three-fifths of every Black and Native American person, and even that was only for census purposes. Our Indiana Constitution of 1852 discouraged Negro migration to our state in spite of Posey County Constitutional Convention Delegate, Robert Dale Owen’s, eloquent pleas for fair treatment for all.
Were these documents penned by evil men? I think not. They were the result of that omnipotent god of politics, compromise, which is often good, but sometimes is not. Should you have read this column recently you may recall that I strongly encourage compromise in court, in appropriate cases.
However, as one who grew up in a state where the compromise of the post Civil War judges and politicians led to the legal segregation of schools, restaurants, and public transportation, I can attest that some compromises simply foist the sins of the deal makers onto future generations.
When I was 6 years old, my 7 year old brother, Philip, and I made our first bus trip to our father’s family in southern Oklahoma.
We lived on the Osage Indian Nation in northeastern Oklahoma. It sounds exotic but our hometown, Pawhuska, looked a lot like any town in Posey County.
In 1950 our parents did not have to worry about sending their children off with strangers except to admonish us not to bother anyone and to always mind our elders.
When mom and dad took us to the MKT&O (Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma) bus station it was hot that July day. Oklahoma in July is like southern Indiana in July, WITHOUT THE SHADE TREES!
My brother and I were thirsty so we raced to the two porcelain water fountains in the shot gun building that was about 40 feet from north to south and 10 feet from east to west.
Phil slid hard on the linoleum floor and beat me to the nearest fountain. And while I didn’t like losing the contest, since the other fountain was right next to the first one, I stepped to it.
“Jimmy, wait ‘til your brother is finished. James Marion! I said wait!” Dad, of course, said nothing. He didn’t need to; we knew that whatever mom said was the law.
“Mom, I’m thirsty. Why can’t I get a drink from this one?”
“Son, look at that sign. It says ‘colored’. Philip, quit just hanging on that fountain; let your brother up there.”
Of course, the next thing I wanted to do was use the restroom so I turned towards the four that were crammed into the space for one: “White Men”, “White Ladies”, “Colored Men”, and “Colored Women”.
After mom inspected us and slicked down my cowlick again, we got on the bus and I “took off a kiting” to the very back.
I beat Phil, but there was a man already sitting on the only bench seat. I really wanted to lie down on that seat but the man told me I had to go back up front. And as he was an adult, I followed his instructions.
Philip said, “You can’t sit back there. That’s for coloreds. That’s why that colored man said for you to go up front.”
That was the first time I noticed the man was different. That was, also, the point where the sadness in his eyes and restrained anger in his voice crept into my awareness.
As a friend of mine sometimes says, “No big difference, no big difference, big difference.”
And if all this seems as though it comes from a country far far away and long long ago, Posey County segregated its Black and White school children for almost 100 years after 600,000 men died in the Civil War. In fact, some of Mt. Vernon’s schools were not fully integrated until after Brown was decided in 1954.
And, whether we have learned from our history or are simply repeating it may depend upon whom we ask. Our Arab American, Muslim, Black, Native American, and Hispanic citizens, as well as several other “usual suspects”, may think the past is merely prologue.
Sometimes it helps for me to remember what this 4th of July thing is really about. It’s our country’s birthday party; maybe we should invite everyone.
There is nothing equal about separate.
Peg claims I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, and usually it is a televised sporting event. My response is, as a wife and mother she has a biased perspective. Many women appear to easily balance a career, housework, child care and husband care or, at least, that part of husband care that involves spotting innumerable tasks that must be done right now. And COVID-19 has not assuaged the situation. In fact, social isolation has converted our intermittent contact with its mutually welcomed respites into an opportunity for constant oversight and conflict.
And while the roots of our Original Sin may go back to 1619, its most recent manifestation, the tragic death of George Floyd while in police custody, occurred during the throes of the pandemic. This has forced us to face two volatile and virulent national crises at the same time. Something we are not well equipped to do.
As with most problems we can seek guidance from the wisdom of those upon whose shoulders we stand. When many Americans were totally disheartened by the Great Depression President Franklin Roosevelt told us on March 04, 1933: “Our greatest task is to put people to work … and accomplish greatly needed projects.”
The State of Oklahoma enshrined the state seal with the motto: Labor omnia vincit (work conquers all). When confusion and despair threaten us, our collective wisdom directs us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I would like to point out to Peg that I see two major tasks to be done: (1) recover economically from COVID-19; and (2) use the protest demonstrations to positive good. My suggested answer to both is to co-opt FDR’s approach and meld it with the trillions of dollars and work hours our governments at all levels are making available to individuals and businesses.
Every locality has needs that are best identified by the people who actually live in each area. Individuals and families need jobs, businesses need workers and the public needs projects completed, such as educating and training children and adults and construction of public assets: dams; roads; medical facilities; and utilities, etc.. People who have lost their jobs need to be re-trained as welders, nurses, farm hands and technicians.
Instead of providing short-term financial help we can set up mobile employment offices where civil rights demonstrations are already taking place and offer job skills training and immediate employment. It is better to teach fishing than dole out a few fish for a few months. We can invest in ourselves as Wall Street does, for the long haul. Capitalism is a system that works. We can use it to address our economic problem and by creating hope and incentive we can get those who have been left behind on the road to social justice.
So there, Peg. Now leave me alone and let me watch a replay of the Tiger Woods/Payton Manning golf match against Phil Michelson and Tom Brady.
My brother, Philip Redwine, that is Philip spelled with the Biblical one “l”, graduated from the Oklahoma University Law School while I was an undergraduate at Indiana University. When I asked him what he had been taught he told me the entire process boiled down to “learning to think like a lawyer”. When I excitedly quizzed him about that arcane and mysterious subject he replied the whole three years of law school could be summarized by the following story:
“A client asked his attorney for advice as to whether he should file for a divorce. The client told the attorney that each time he tried to climb the stairs to the second floor of the couple’s home his wife would kick him back down. The man said to the attorney, ‘Doesn’t that show she doesn’t love me anymore?’ The attorney reflected on the situation and thoughtfully responded, ‘Either that or she just doesn’t want you upstairs.’”
So, to think like a lawyer means to objectively consider a situation from all sides and apply any relevant analogies to it. After three years of my own legal education at Indiana University, then ten years practicing law and forty years of being a judge, my conclusion is my brother was right and that lawyer-type analysis requires imagination and objective open-mindedness. I respectfully suggest we may want to try this approach to our COVID-19 impacted situation as some of our greatest legally trained presidents might have done. Yes, we must act now but we should do so with wisdom, courage and imagination.
Vision and objectivity have certainly been displayed by several of our greatest non-legally trained presidents. George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt readily come to mind. However, I would like to discuss with you a few of our legally thinking leaders who helped guide us through tough times by having the ability to seize opportunity from crisis by winnowing the wheat from the chaff.
Thomas Jefferson saw the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806 as a means of expanding the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific and discovering the untold resources of our country. Jefferson did this at a time when most Americans still feared, or too much admired, Great Britain. And he had to maneuver the funding through a skeptical Congress.
Abraham Lincoln was faced with the possibility of California seceding from the Union and with slavery remaining as a state option even if the South were defeated. He boldly issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and that same year signed the bill funding the Intercontinental Railroad. Lincoln did not live to see the golden spike driven at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, but his use of grants of public lands and issuance of bonds helped preserve the Union he so admired.
Franklin Roosevelt saw the need for a great infusion of public funds for the education and re-employment of our out-of-work Americans during the Great Depression. Thanks to his vision America was much better prepared to respond to Japan and Germany in World War II.
John Kennedy started us on the elliptical route to the moon as financed with public monies. The vast number of jobs, products and conveniences the Space Program brought are still being enjoyed by our citizens.
I do not cite these heroes’ legal training as required for a novel approach to the Novel Virus. Millions of Americans can see that borrowing trillions of dollars to help people for a short time merely delays the pain. A cure requires applying our resources with a long view. We can invest in ourselves for the future while helping those in need now.
One need not be a lawyer to see an issue such as COVID-19 from all sides and apply similar solutions as were used in similar prior crises. President Eisenhower was a West Point trained soldier who planned the greatest military invasion in history and could envision the benefits from a German Autobahn-type interstate highway system for America. And my friend, Warren Batts, is not an attorney but a rock ’n roll musician who suggests we could build a national high speed railway passenger system utilizing the middle portion of our already existing interstate rights-of-way between the separated lanes of traffic.
What we need, from our lawyers and non-lawyers combined, is the vision to prepare for our new society as it will surely be transformed by the Corona Virus. We will be changed but we can transform not regress. New skills can be taught using public funds as we did with the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, the Transcontinental Railroad, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Space Program.
I realize these are not new ideas. That is my legally thinking point. You, Gentle Reader, will surely have several similar suggestions of your own, which I encourage you to share.
Our governmental systems, federal and each state, are designed to avoid rash decisions. We use systems that divide power into three generally equal branches that check one another’s powers and demand debate of important issues. Our fettered freedom created and maintains history’s most propitious culture. It is good to be an American. Of course, our system’s Holy Grail of restraining abuses of power results in diffused responses and partisan debates. That is also good as it helps prevent imprudent, irreversible actions. A concomitant element of our democratic system is that when faced with emergencies we often approach problems as a free people that the theoretical benevolent dictator might resolve quicker and better. COVID-19 comes to mind.
With this unprovoked surprise attack in January 2020 Americans responded as our system of government required. And as human beings one of our first reactions was to seek someone to blame. In a country designed to be a caldron of debate, assessing blame is a perpetual condition. We can call for charity for all but the better angels of our nature often seek partisan cover.
However, we have now had five months to accumulate evidence and analyze the problem. Maybe in hindsight some of our decisions could have been better but hindsight is only worthwhile if it is used to make better decisions now. Another, more cynical way to state this is: Never let a “good” crises go to waste.
I am reminded of what Jack Welch, the head of General Electric Company when it truly brought good things to life, said when one of his employees made a million dollar mistake. When Welch was asked if he intended to fire the employee Welch replied, “Of course not, I just paid a million dollars for his education.”
We have already lost about 100,000 people and are spending trillions of our treasure trying to help families and businesses. Most economic experts agree such an approach is necessary but almost all of them are chagrinned it is. In like manner, most medical experts side with the decisions to require social isolation to avoid spreading the virus, especially in certain at risk populations. But most scientists realize such preventative measures are themselves quite harmful.
Examples of military, economic and social disasters that have been used as opportunities for long-term good are legion. Gentle Reader, you will immediately think of many but I would like to cite just a couple.
President Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery but was trapped in that most typical political snare, the realization that the ideal of equality was hostage to reality. Therefore, until he could issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January, 1863 under the guise of freeing slaves in the “belligerent states” as a military strategy, Lincoln had to publicly assert what the public would support. As Lincoln had said in a letter to newspaper magnate Horace Greeley only six months earlier:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it,
and If I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
After years of arguing against slavery Lincoln saw the “War Between the States” and the military advantage of freeing only those slaves in states at war with the Union as an opportunity.
Similarly, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress devised the Civilian Conservation Corps that used public funds to employ and train out-of-work young people to create and build public works. The CCC supported families, cared for natural resources and built marvelous public works such as Osage Hills State Park in Oklahoma. Another of the marvelous public works products was Hoover Dam built between 1931-1935. Roosevelt and Congress took a crisis and used it to develop millions of acres for agricultural and recreational purposes.
The reality is America did not avoid COVID-19. If there is anyone to blame, what good does it do to waste our energies and resources pointing our fingers and wringing our hands? Many people are already sacrificing, working, researching and striving to help themselves and others survive. As Patrick Henry exhorted his Colonial colleagues when the British were coming:
“Our brethren are already in the field.
Why stand we here idle?”
Or as that great public works president Theodore Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic who counts …
The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena.”
In other words, let us recognize COVID-19 not only as the terror it is but also as an opportunity forced upon us. If we must spend trillions of dollars of our treasure helping our 35 million who are unemployed through no fault of their own maybe we can invest in new Hoover Dams while educating and re-training the unemployed for our new society. For many economists predict at least a third of that 35 million will not be able to return to their old jobs or businesses. Yes, we should help one another but most people prefer an opportunity to a dole. Our world is not going to return to 2019. Perhaps we can prepare for the “Brave New World” fate is casting upon us. America need not become the Rome described by Edward Gibbons in his classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. With the proper and imaginative application of our resources perhaps we can transform, not decline.
We are at war. The actual combat began in January 2020. A declaration of war was not made by Congress as required by the United States Constitution. But virtually every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the President, has publicly asserted America is at war with COVID-19. Almost 90,000 of us have paid the ultimate price and almost 1.5 million are causalities. Many more losses are predicted.
While wars of any description are great stressors on people, our enemy in this war is truly virulent. If we were fighting another country we would know where to direct our fear and fire. With the Coronavirus we cannot even identify our enemy without a microscope and it is not wearing a uniform. Further, it often attacks us by attaching itself to casual social contacts, businesses, friends and even our loved ones. COVID-19 is a Mata Hari’s dream. Few are immune from its invidious, silent, unseen and sometimes deadly infection and even those who suffer no ill effects themselves can operate as Typhoid Marys.
Another major stressor people feel from the virus is the uncertainty we experience from the fear there is no end in sight. Most people can muster enough courage to combat major stressors if it is fairly certain they will end, even if that end is far off. However, with COVID our scientists keep cautioning us that we may never find a vaccine. After all, the first polio outbreak in America was in 1894 and we did not have a reliable vaccine until 1953.
In our war against COVID-19 we have already been in live-fire combat for at least two months. An official United States government report on battle fatigue among American soldiers in World War II declared:
“There is no such thing as getting used to combat.
“The general consensus was that a man reached his peak of effectiveness in the
first 90 days of combat [and] that after that his efficiency began to fall off …”
“Psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot and shrapnel wounds …”
“Most men were ineffective after 180 or even 140 days.”
As cited in John Keegan’s The Face of Battle at p. 335
America’s “Combat Exhaustion” over our war with COVID-19 is manifesting itself throughout the United States. A majority of Americans still fear the virus more than they question our multilayed, hodgepodge governmental response to it, whether federal, state, county or local. However, the stress of only 60 days or so of fighting the virus is already exposing fissures in our good will toward one another. Unless we come up with a successful Manhattan Project type response to the virus fairly soon perhaps we should develop some new strategies.