Although I wrote the first few Gavel Gamuts in 1990 the every-weekly column began in April 2005, about 700 articles ago. In light of our current political and cultural dissonance I thought it might be interesting to revisit the following thoughts from over a decade ago to assess what changes may have occurred. This Birthday Greeting to America was first published July 04, 2005. I hope those of you who read it then and those who are considering it for the first time will find it worthwhile in our on-going conversation of Separate versus Equal. Also, Peg and I are returning to Osage County, Oklahoma for this Fourth of July. Maybe we’ll find the bus station is now just a memory.
Happy Birthday to U.S.!
Let’s Have a Party and Invite Everyone!
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.
Amity, a lovely word meaning harmony and good feeling. The 1975 movie JAWS! was set on a New England island named Amity where the summer tourists provided lunch for a marauding great white shark. Local Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) tried to warn them but Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) overruled him. In this article, Gentle Reader, you may think of me as the police chief and Peg as the mayor. Peg’s Wal-Mart aboveground pool will serve as our beach.
Just take a look at the photograph! That dark goo in the bottom of the pool is as scary as the shark. You will note Peg is covered from head to toe with HAZMAT protection. You may wonder why she is in the middle of the crud while I am not. Well, someone had to take the photograph and I can’t do everything.
Peg’s pool brings back memories of my “quality time” with my father. Dad liked to fish but he didn’t like to tote all his equipment to the brown, stagnant Oklahoma creek which housed various critters and a few finned and slimy bass.
Before each trip Mom would warn us of the dangers of typhoid fever as she knew Dad would take my brothers and me to the creek without anything to drink. Dad would point to the brackish creek water if the 110° Oklahoma summer drove us past Mom’s cautionary admonishments. Dad and Peg have similar make-ups.
When Peg dragged me away from my Saturday morning coffee to help clean the pool I told her about the recent E. coli outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Idaho and California. She responded that the only thing I had to fear from the pool gunk was her if I didn’t get off my couch.
How quickly she has forgotten our experience when the National Judicial College sent me to Russia to teach judges there. We could not brush our teeth, drink or even bathe in much of the water. When I reminded her of this she said, “The ten pounds you lost from the bacteria in Russia was just a start on what you need.” Unkind, very unkind.
Douglas Bruce McFadden died June 14, 2017 and took a lot of intellect, humor and history with him. Fortunately, he wrote a book, The McFaddens: A Family of Frontiersmen 1258-1950 (now 2017), which left us his Posey County historical legacy.
Doug was great fun to talk with about history and politics; he knew both subjects thoroughly. Of course, his family was the McFaddens of McFaddens Bluff, now Mt. Vernon, Posey County, Indiana. When the McFaddens landed here in 1805 they were greeted personally by General William Henry Harrison who told young Mary McFadden she was the first white woman to land in the Indiana Territory, which was then part of the Northwest Territory.
As Doug says in his book: “The McFadden name has several spellings depending on the mood of the individual … All belong to the same Scottish Clan that originated in the 12th century.” Father George Rapp when he was trying to buy land for his New Harmonie community wrote several letters and referred to the owners variously as McFadin, MacFahrlin, McFadians and McFadden from whom he sought to buy land at less than $15.00 per acre.
To have had the pleasure of knowing Doug was to know the history of not only Posey County, Indiana but also America, directly and personally. As Doug said in the Introduction to his book:
“This is not a story about celebrity or fame but of courageous, honest, hardworking people … who participated in the carving of a new nation and the building of America.”
That pretty well describes Doug. Even those of you who did not have the pleasure of his company have suffered a deep loss.
James Russell Lowell (1818 to 1891) was the American poet best known for, “And what is as rare as a day in June.” The term “rare” is often used by poets from Lowell to Shakespeare to mean “fine”, that is, good. In Lowell’s poem The Vision of Sir Launfal, Lowell prattles on about perfect days with green grass and giddy flitting critters. He celebrates “dandelions blossoming” and “happy creatures” visiting us in droves. Apparently he was not visited by Southern Indiana’s Buffalo Gnats, giant mosquitoes and a spouse who views the appearance of June as the starting gate for indentured servitude by husbands.
I dread June each year because I know Peg is convinced Mother Nature’s sole purpose for me is to spend June battling vicious insects while doing yard work and cleaning out our nine year old above ground pool.
This past weekend while I sat in repose on our three-season porch drinking coffee Peg announced, “Jim, it is June (I knew that) and the gods ordain the pool must be opened.”
I responded, “Uh.”
Peg was already gathering gloves and Clorox and stiff brooms. I felt my entire summer oozing away in the sludge of a winter’s worth of slime that had accumulated in the pool.
About the only pleasure I received was my stifled glee when Peg raised the trash can I had placed over the pool’s pump and a Tyrannosaurus rex disguised as a mouse jumped out. That’s the highest I had ever seen Peg jump until about ten minutes later when as we pulled off the plastic pool cover a spider the size of a saucer scurried past her hand.
I looked at the dark goo in the pool and suggested either the EPA and/or NSA should be notified. It looked to me as if the release of the frightening biosphere contained in the bottom of the pool might need disinfectant that only our federal government has access to.
After two gallons of Clorox and an hour of scrubbing the cover and the pool with a stiff broom Peg mercifully announced we would have to allow the sun to cure what diseases we had been unable to eradicate. She also suggested we would be able to swim in this one-time cesspool next week. Not so fast say I.
Our two most recent presidential candidates often provided mirrors for us to see ourselves as others see us. If you are like me the experience was not always positive.
My friends and family who supported Clinton often reacted with pity or chagrin when I questioned whether she had the character to lead. Those who supported Trump often reacted angrily if I wondered out loud if his campaign rhetoric disqualified him.
What I found most puzzling was the reaction from members of both camps if I voiced no opinion. Whether they were Clintonians or Trumpers they invariably assumed my reticence meant I was for the candidate they were against or, at least, was not for the candidate they supported. Such projection upon me of their insecurities made me wonder what they really thought about their candidate.
Were they afraid the opposition research or Fox News or CNN might have some actual validity when their candidate was exposed? Was that experience a little like an attendee at a church revival might feel when some modern day Elmer Gantry begins to cast out demons or a contemporary Cotton Mather hunts witches to burn?
Or, have Americans fallen so far under the spell of Wolf Blitzer and Sean Hannity we do not care what is true but only care that bad things be aired about those we despise? About thirty wasted seconds watching Jerry Springer should give us our answer.
Even after five hundred years of non-native influence we Americans still think of ourselves as a young country. Maybe that volksgeist is why we engage in childish diatribes instead of mature analysis. Now, I do not know if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump are either, both or neither the Devil’s gifts to the national media. However, I do know that if we and our representatives continue to engage in this food fight we call debate, our plates will always be filled with garbage.
We have not, yet, had a First Gentleman. However, Hillary did win the popular vote so we almost had Bill elevated to the role Melania now plays. After seeing how the national media psychoanalyzed Melania’s refusal of Donald’s hand last Monday, my thoughts wondered to how almost President Clinton, Hillary that is, and President Clinton, Bill, would have fared as President and First Gentleman.
I remember a time or two when it was reported that Mrs. and Mr. Clinton might have had a slight difference of opinion over Bill’s behavior. I can see how such difficulties might have occasionally worked their way to light.
Unlike the omniscient media I do not know what goes on inside Melania’s mind nor Bill’s. Perhaps Melania’s public behavior around Donald does not mean anything. And if Bill were First Gentleman he might occasionally engage in displays of public behavior towards Hillary that could be misunderstood as a preference to be somewhere else.
Melania speaks five languages but rarely speaks at all in public. It is unlikely Bill would have been so shy. Bill might have offered to play his saxophone while Hillary conducted interviews with world leaders. I can almost hear his rendition of ♪When The Saints Go Marching In♪ while Hillary explained her positions to Pope Francis.
Melania wears designer gowns to such places as the female section of the Western Wall. Bill might have modeled overhauls when Hillary appeared before the coal miners. I remember when Brother Billy Carter brewed and marketed “Billy Beer”. Maybe First Gentleman Bill could have gone on the “Food Network” with Arkansas recipes for fried squirrel. Melania, of course, does not eat anything.
I am not sure why we have a First Person. We give them no pay and a large house to clean. Of course, such First Ladies as Dolly Madison, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt played crucial roles in our country’s history. But whether Melania or the mythical Bill will have such impact is still unwritten.