Mother Teresa, the Saint of Calcutta

(Note: This is the eighth essay in a series on “Notable Women.” This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on January 15, 2022.)

In an American culture increasingly driven by “The Self”, Mother Teresa’s unrelenting selflessness offers us an alternative model for living our lives.

Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in the city of Skopje, then a part of the Ottoman Empire and now the capital of North Macedonia.

As a young girl, she was fascinated by stories of Christian missionaries and by 12 felt a strong calling to the religious life. “It was then that I first knew I had ad vocation to the poor … in 1922. I wanted to be a missionary, I wanted to go out and give the life of Christ to the people in the missionary countries …. “…it was the will of God. It was His choice.”

At 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Ireland, an order of nuns which had education as its primary focus. There she learned English, the language the Loreto Sisters used in India.

She took her first vows as a nun in 1931, when she began her service in Bengal, India, and her solemn, final vows in 1937.

On September 10, 1946, while riding a train, she stated that she had a mystical encounter with Christ, described in “Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta,’” edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk.

“[It] was a call within my vocation. It was a second calling. It was a vocation to give up even Loreto where I was happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor.” “I knew it was His will and that I had to follow Him.”

She always held this day to be the real beginning of the Missionaries of Charity. To the end of her life she maintained that the first purpose of the congregation she founded was “to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls.”

It took four years of prayer, hard work, entreaty, and delay; however, the Catholic Church finally in 1950 agreed to the official formation of the congregation.  On October 7, 1950, the Society of the Missionaries of Charity in the archdiocese of Calcutta was established.

The sisters who chose to join were required to take four Vows: Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, and devotion to the poor, to include the abandoned, the sick, the infirm, and the dying.

Two years later she opened her first hospice, eventually naming it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart. The services offered were free to the poor, including medical care and the opportunity to die with dignity in accord with their respective faiths. Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the final sacrament, the Anointing of the Sick.

In 1958, she opened a hospice for lepers, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace) and also clinics for them throughout Calcutta. She also established homes for orphans and homeless children.

By the 1960s, she was able to open hospices, orphanages, and leper houses throughout India.

In 1965, the congregation opened its first house abroad in Venezuela. More houses followed in 1968 in Italy, Tanzania, and Austria.

In the 1970s, the congregation expanded operations to the United States and dozens of other countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Ironically, while heading such a far flung, spiritual congregation, she was burdened with an interior, spiritual darkness, revealed only to a handful of her spiritual advisors. She spoke to this darkness and emptiness in her letters, beginning in 1953.

“Please pray specially for me … for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work’”.

In 1964, she wrote: “In my soul, I can’t tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible. My feelings are so treacherous.”

In 1977, she wrote: “As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves but does not speak.”

Brian Kolodiejchuk describes her spiritual journey in accepting the pain and darkness, even coming “to love it.” “Mother Teresa had reached a point in her life when she no longer ventured to penetrate or question the mystery of her unremitting darkness. She accepted it, as she did everything else that God willed or at least permitted, ‘with a big smile.’”

She received numerous awards and honors during her lifetime, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In 1999, she headed Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In 2016, the Catholic Church canonized her, making her a saint.

Her health declining in the 1980s, she still maintained a rigorous pace until her death on September 5, 1997.

By 2007, the Missionaries of Charity numbered some 5,000 sisters and 450 brothers, operating 600 missions, schools, and shelters in 120 countries. In 2020, it consisted of 5,167 religious sisters.

Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is a retired educator and a regular columnist.

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Soviet Union Ended but Russia Endures as Great Power

(Note: This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on December 30, 2021.)

Thirty years ago the flag of the Soviet Union was taken down from the Kremlin for the last time. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which rose from the ashes of the Russian Empire (1917), was dissolved on December 25, 1991, capping a wave of democratic revolutions throughout the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. The U.S. and the West had won the Cold War.

During the two years culminating in this event, I had the privilege of being a U.S. Army liaison officer to the German Army. My family and I lived on the fringes of the American diplomatic community in Bonn, West Germany, then the capital, and witnessed the re-unification of Germany on October 3, 1990.

The Cold War was the state of tension and competition between the U.S. and its allies against the USSR and its allies which began after World War II. Historians differ as to the precise date of its inception; however, surely with the speech of President Harry Truman in March 1947, the Cold War had begun.

With the Soviets pressuring Turkey and providing aid to the Communists in the Greek Civil War in the early postwar years, Truman stated in his speech: “”The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will.” He continued in portraying the choice that every nation faced: A way of life “based upon the will of the majority” versus a way of life “based on the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority….”

He then stated the new policy: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” He finished by asking Congress for $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey.

Since its inception, this Cold War had seen periods of intense competition and confrontation, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and also periods of relative calm and cooperation, such as the period of “détente” (relaxation) of the 1970s. Happily, this state of tension of nearly five decades never erupted into outright warfare between the two “superpowers.”

There were many factors that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 1985 the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the leader of the Soviet Union. He instituted policies of greater openness and also economic re-structuring.

Second, the Communist command economy had shown categorically its inability over decades to produce goods and services in any manner comparable to the capitalistic economies of the West.

Third, there was the example and pressure of the West, led in the 1980s by the United States with President Ronald Reagan at the helm, a fervent believer in the Western model.  

Finally, on the domestic political level, there was widespread popular disillusionment with and calls for reform of the Communist model of government, including its instruments of control (the KGB security apparatus and the military). In a recent panel discussion (“End of the ‘Evil Empire’”) sponsored by the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, both Ambassador George Krol and Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Peter Zwack emphasized this role that the Russian people played in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the wave of democratic revolutions in Europe was so stunning that one important scholar, Francis Fukuyama wrote a book entitled “The End of History and the Last Man,” (1992) arguing that the liberal, democratic model had prevailed and would for all time.

The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 post-Soviet states. Russia, the largest and most powerful, was recognized as the legal successor of the Soviet Union. It eventually recovered its footing as a great power in the international system.

In 2020, Russia had the 11th largest economy by Gross Domestic Product. It possesses the world’s largest nuclear stockpile, and with about 1 million active duty military personnel the fifth largest military force. It has extensive mineral and energy resources and is a leading producer of oil and natural gas. Russia retains the permanent seat of the former Soviet Union on the United Nations Security Council, one of only five.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a part of the Ukraine, one of the former Soviet republics, the first time since World War II that a European state had annexed the territory of another. In recent weeks, U.S. intelligence agencies have indicated that Russia has assembled tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, indicating a possible intention to attack in January.

Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is a retired Army officer and educator and also a regular columnist.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Gives Honor to Our Unidentified Fallen

(Note: This essay was originally published as “Origins of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” in the Newport Daily News on November 13, 2021.)

This November 11 is the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Ceremony, Arlington, Virginia.

The idea to honor the remains of unidentified American soldiers, we borrowed from France and the United Kingdom

The dedication of the Tomb came three years after the end of World War I, “the Great War,” 1914-1918, in which close to two dozen countries actively participated, killing some 9 million combatants with an additional seven to ten millions civilian deaths. Four empires fell: the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman Empire.

Our Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, the day the guns fell silent ending WW I. It occurred at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, in the 11th month of 1918. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill changing it to Veterans Day.

Three years after the end of WWI, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated. Its mission: to ensure that all service-members who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country are never forgotten.

The Tomb was proposed through a joint resolution of Congress, sponsored by Rep. Hamilton Fish III (R-NY), who had served as an officer in the 369th Infantry Regiment. He believed that this “unknown soldier” should not be taken from any particular battlefield “but should be chosen that nobody would know his identification or the battlefield he comes from.” President Woodrow Wilson approved the legislation supporting the resolution on March 4, 1921.

The remains were selected from an American cemetery in France and brought to the nation’s capital. With the casket lying in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, an estimated 90,000 people paid their respects.

On the morning of November 11, 1921, President Warren Harding, Gen. John Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, and other American and foreign dignitaries assembled at Arlington National Cemetery and were greeted by an estimated crowd of 100,000.

Pres. Harding was the main speaker. “Hundreds of mothers are wondering today, finding a touch of solace in the possibility that the nation bows in grief over the body of the one she bore to live and die, if need be, for the Republic.”

We do not know the eminence of his birth, but we do know the glory of his death. He died for his country, and greater devotion hath no man than this. He died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in his heart and hope on his lips, that his country should triumph and its civilization survive.”

“This American soldier went forth to battle with no hatred for any people of the world, but hating war and hating the purpose of every war for conquest.”

“Today’s ceremonies proclaim that the hero unknown is not un-honored.”

It began as an unguarded site. Civilian guards were added in 1925, changing to military guards the following year. In 1937, the guard was upgraded to a ceremonial honor guard that operates day and night, rain or shine, 24/7.

The number 21 plays an important role in the sentinel’s guard service, tied to the highest honor the military can give: a 21-gun salute.

The sentinel marches 21 steps to the south, turns to the east and holds that position for 21 seconds. The sentinel then turns north, waits for 21 seconds, and marches with precision 21 steps to the north. The sentinel then turns to the west and repeats the process.

Women were added to the prestigious guard detail in 1996. Each time, he or she changes direction, an arms movement is conducted with the M-14 rifle. This is meant to keep the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, indicating the guard’s intent to protect the tomb from any outside threat.

October through March, there is a changing of the guard on the hour. April through September this occurs every half-hour.

Changing of the Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, July, 2021 (Fred Zilian)

I visited the tomb and small museum this past summer and watched the very solemn and impressive changing of the guard. There are actually four tombs. Three contain the remains of an unknown soldier from WW I, from WW II, and from the Korean Conflict.

The remains of the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War were exhumed in 1998 and identified using modern technology. Since then, the crypt for an unknown Vietnam War soldier has remained empty.

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

Sources:

Apple, Charles. “At Rest and On Guard.” Military Officer Magazine, November 2021.

Maze, Rick. “Honoring the Unknown.” Army Magazine, November, 2021.

Vaughan, Don. “A Century of Honor.” Military Officer Magazine, November 2021.

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It Is Baseball Playoff Time

(Note: This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on October 30, 2021, as “America’s Game has provided thrills for decades.”)

Now is the time of year for Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series.

Looking back over my ten years writing a column for the Newport Daily News, I am stunned that I have yet to write a single column on America’s Game and my favorite. Today I shall correct that.

Having grown up in northeast New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s, I was spoiled by the New York Yankees as we have been spoiled these past two decades with the winning New England Patriots. I lived through the latter part of the “Yankees Dynasty,” that period from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, when Yankee teams dominated major league baseball. From 1927 to 1953, the Yankees won 16 league titles and 15 world championships.

Until I entered high school in 1962, the question generally was not would the Yankees make the World Series. They usually did. The question was would they win the World Series.

During the 1950s and 1960s, our Boston Red Sox were in their long drought (1918-2004) without a single world championship and were playing under the “Curse of the Bambino” (Babe Ruth) whom they had sold to the Yankees in 1920.

Besides Ted Williams, Red Sox fans had little to cheer about in the 1950s. This changed somewhat in the 1960s, especially the 1967 season, the year of the “Impossible Dream,” a subject for a separate column.

Fifty years ago this month, neither team made the World Series. In 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. Ironically, this year, both clubs had two of the worst records in Major League Baseball.

With fond memories, I remember attending my first big league game in 1956 or 1957, watching the New York Giants, featuring Willie Mays, against the Chicago Cubs, featuring Ernie Banks, whose baseball card I possessed. It was our end-of-year Little League trip. I did not mind that we were deep in the right field grandstands. I was there with my brother, my friends, my glove, and my baseball hat, eventually soiled by a pigeon in the rafters.

Ernie Banks, 1969 (Sports Illustrated)

It was seventy years ago that Mays, number 24, broke into the major leagues, four years behind Jackie Robinson, number 42.

Mays went on to play a remarkable 22 seasons, most with the New York/San Francisco Giants. He was arguably the best all-around player in baseball history: 660 home runs, 3,283 hits, 338 stolen bases, 12 straight Golden Gloves, 24 All-Star Game appearances. He could do it all: hit for average and for power, field, throw, and run the bases.

Having just turned 20, weeks before, he made his major league debut on May 25, 1951, at Shibe Park in Philadelphia with Leo Durocher as his manager.

In his book, “24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid,” written with John Shea, Mays relates that he was scouted by the Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers, but he was signed by the New York Giants.

Willie Mays, Associated Press

“It worked out. I liked the Giants. The Red Sox scouted me, too. They didn’t like African American guys back then so I didn’t get a chance to play there. I came to the Giants because other teams didn’t take me. The Red Sox, they finally brought in Pumpsie Green. Second baseman, slick-fielding. That wasn’t until 1959. Other teams were slow, too. Maybe I was meant to be a Giant.”

In that rookie year, he helped the Giants come from a 13.5 game deficit to take the national league pennant from the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was sealed on October 3, 1951, with one of the greatest moments in baseball history when Bobby Thomson hit a home run—“the shot heard round the world”—off of Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca. Mays was on deck and thought Branca might walk Thomson and pitch to him.

In that first year in the major leagues, Willie Mays batted .274, with 20 home runs and 68 runs-batted-in. He was voted the Rookie of the Year.

John Shea states: “He was more than a ballplayer. Baseball’s greatest star was baseball’s greatest entertainer.” Mays responded: “I just feel that when you’re playing sports, you have to do more than catch the ball and throw it back in. You have to do something different. You’ve got to improvise sometimes for the fans …. Make it fun. I tried to do something different at all times.”

His famous basket catches were more than fun; they were marvels.

Still playing baseball in his dreams, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

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“Undaunted Courage” Shown in Lewis and Clark Expedition, Part II

(Note: This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on September 30, 2021.)

See Part I: https://zilianblog.com/2021/10/05/undaunted-courage-shown-in-lewis-and-clark-expedition-part-i/

Two hundred fifteen years ago this month, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, leading some thirty men and one woman of the “Corps of Discovery,” completed its expedition from St. Louis, up the Missouri River, across the Rockies, to the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean, and returned.

Shoshone indigenous woman, Sacagawea, and York, William Clark’s enslaved man, were members of the expedition.

In the early stages of the expedition, Lewis and Clark realized that they would need translators to communicate with Indian tribes. Therefore, when French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau, who had been trading with the Indians for years and who had Indian wives, presented himself at the Mandan villages in November 1804, they quickly hired him. He was allowed to bring one wife; he chose Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian, about 15 years old and pregnant.

Lewis needed her to remain healthy and to serve as translator once they reached the mountains, Shoshone country, as it was this Indian nation which possessed horses they needed to cross the Rockies.

Three months later Lewis, serving as the Corps’ medical doctor, helped her give birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who made the trip initially bundled to a cradle board on his mother’s back. 

Once on the trip, Charbonneau and Sacagawea slept in Lewis’ teepee. (It was probably she and the enslaved York who erected it.) Stephen Ambrose in his book, “Undaunted Courage,” indicates that this sleeping arrangement was done to remove any temptation toward her from the rest of the men.

With her knowledge of the natural world, Sacagawea would often find edible plants to supplement the sometimes scanty food supplies. In his journal, Lewis indicated on April 9, 1805, that “…the squaw busied herself in searching for wild artichokes ….” On May 8, she found wild licorice and dug up white apple root.

During a storm on the water on April 13, she showed tremendous self-control. When the storm suddenly hit, her husband happened to be in charge of steering one of the pirogues (large canoes). He became confused and lost control of the canoe. It began to sink. Lewis remarked on her behavior. “The Indian woman to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution, with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard.”

Once they reached the mountains, they were hard pressed to find any Shoshone. However, Lewis was determined to make contact because of the vital need to obtain horses and also knowledge of routes through the mountains.

Ambrose is surprised and critical of Lewis and Clark for apparently never truly interrogating Sacagawea on her tribe. In August 1805, when Lewis set out with a small party to make contact, he did not bring or even interrogate her, something which Ambrose calls “inexplicable,” this despite the fact that in Ambrose’s words she was the “most valuable intelligence source they had available to them.”

The expedition eventually made contact with her tribe, and Sacagawea’s role as translator was invaluable. The desperately needed horses were obtained.

Sacagawea re-uniting with Shoshone relative. 1918, Charles Marion Russell

York, Clark’s enslaved man, described by Ambrose as “big, very dark, strong, [and] agile…,” about the same age as Clark, and Clark’s lifelong companion, was given to him by his father.

York proved to be “a sensation” with many of the Indian tribes, who had never seen an African before, often dancing as Private Cruzatte played the violin.

In August 1806, the expedition returned to the Mandan villages; the long journey was essentially finished. Lewis and Clark settled accounts with Charbonneau; Sacagawea received nothing.

In a letter to Charbonneau on August 20, 1806, Clark offered this tribute to Sacagawea: “Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatigueing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back diserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.”

As for York, he demanded his freedom as a reward for his services during the long trip, which separated him from his wife in Louisville, Kentucky. Clark repeatedly refused and became irritated by York’s persistence.

By May 1809, Clark complained about York in a letter to his brother: “he is here but of very little Service to me, insolent and sukly, I gave him a Severe trouncing the other Day and he has much mended.”

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

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“Undaunted Courage” Shown in Lewis and Clark Expedition, Part I

(Note: This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on September 27, 2021.)

Two hundred fifteen years ago this month, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, leading some thirty men and one woman of the “Corps of Discovery,” completed its expedition from St. Louis, up the Missouri River, across the Rockies, to the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean, and returned.

This expedition was the brainchild of President Thomas Jefferson who selected Meriwether Lewis, a fellow young Virginian and former Army officer, to lead the expedition. To help prepare him, Jefferson appointed him his secretary in April 1801. Over the next two years, Jefferson transmitted as much knowledge as possible to him on a variety of subjects relevant to the trip: botany, mineralogy, geography, ethnography, zoology. Also he introduced Lewis to the many experts in these fields whom Jefferson knew.

When a second officer to lead the expedition was authorized, Lewis selected William Clark, who had been his company commander for six months earlier in the Army. In his book, “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West,” Stephen Ambrose describes Clark as “a tough woodsman accustomed to command,” possessing a way with enlisted men, a better surveyor than Lewis, more familiar with the water, and proficient in mapmaking. Ambrose adds: “They complemented each other.” “Their trust in each other was complete.”

Jefferson had many motives for launching this expedition. The most important goal was to determine if an all-water route existed from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, most likely using the Missouri River and Columbia River systems.

In his letter of instruction to Lewis, Jefferson continued. Learn about the routes British traders, coming south from Canada, used to trade with the Missouri tribes, their methods and practices. How could the fur trade dominated by the British be taken over by Americans?

Good maps for the future were essential. Jefferson stated: “Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri, you will take careful observations of latitude and longitude, at all remarkable points on the river ….”

Of the many Indian tribes, he instructed Lewis to learn the names of the nations, their numbers, possessions, their relations with other tribes, languages, traditions, monuments, lifestyles, implements, food, clothing, housing, diseases and remedies, laws, and customs. Last on his list but first in importance was “articles of commerce they may need or furnish ….”

Beyond commerce, the expedition was to discover and detail flora and fauna, soil and minerals, dinosaur bones, and volcanoes.

Shortly before the trip began, the Jefferson Administration concluded the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon’s France for about $15 million. By buying this huge tract of land of 830,000 square miles, the U.S. doubled its size from the Mississippi River west to the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains.

This acquisition had great significance for the expedition in that the majority of the area it would now explore belonged to the U.S. As Jefferson indicated, this “lessened the apprehensions of interruption from other [European] powers” and it also “increased infinitely the interest we felt in the expedition.”

Of course, it also changed the relationship to the Indigenous Americans. Through the lens of great power politics and in the eyes of the United States, these tribes were now on American territory. Their “Great Father” was now Jefferson and not a Spanish or French ruler. He instructed Lewis to foster peace among them and to bring them into the American trading network.

Lewis’ first journal entry for the expedition was dated August 31, 1803. On September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery paddled into St. Louis to conclude their epic journey. Depending on where one decides to begin their journey, it covered some 8,000 miles traveled by keelboat, pirogue (large canoe), canoe, horse, and on foot.

Among other accomplishments, they confirmed that there was no all-water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, made the first detailed maps of the regions, met and established relations with some two dozen Indian nations, at times almost coming to blows with some but without whose help the expedition would have faced starvation and become lost. They discovered and described 178 new plants and 122 species and subspecies of animals.

After Lewis’ premature death on October 11, 1809, Jefferson described him as a man “of undaunted courage.”

Americans of European descent celebrate this expedition; American Indigenous would have quite a different view. In our standard U.S. history books, it receives two or three paragraphs. The Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, who took part, served as an interpreter, and gave birth to a son during the expedition, may get one sentence. York, the enslaved person of William Clark, is probably not mentioned. Part II of this essay will deal with these two members of the Corps of Discovery.

See Part II: https://zilianblog.com/2021/10/05/undaunted-courage-shown-in-lewis-and-clark-expedition-part-ii/

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

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Despite 19th Amendment, Black Women Had to Fight for Vote

(Note: This is the seventh essay in a series on “Notable Women.” It was originally published as “Fighting to vote after the 19th Amendment” in the Newport Daily News on August 31, 2021.)

In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. It reads: “The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One year ago we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment. It states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

These amendments would seem categorically to give citizens of all races and all men and women—without reservation or qualification—the right to vote, the most fundamental right in a democracy.

However, just as the 15th Amendment did not definitively enable African American men to vote, the 19th Amendment could not stand up against the racism and discrimination in many states, in effect, disallowing African American women from voting.

Laws serve a vital role in a society; however, laws alone cannot ensure rights. Law has its limitations, especially when the majority is determined to deny the rights of a minority, when the powerful refuse to share power.

In her book, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Martha S. Jones offers us an ambitious history of the political and civil struggles of Black Women in America from the 1820s to the present.

She clarifies that the 19th Amendment was passed in the middle of the “Jim Crow” era, the period 1877-1960s, when many states—mostly in the South—passed segregation laws and codes, used terror and violence against Blacks, and suppressed their rights.

States could not expressly deny the vote to Blacks; rather they imposed restrictions and requirements which disproportionately affected Blacks, both men and women. For example, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington imposed grandfather clauses which disallowed descendants of slaves, though now free, from voting.

Second, states used literacy tests in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. Since many Blacks had been barred from schooling, this requirement disproportionately affected them.

In addition, local election officials could give harder tests to people of color. So-called understanding clauses required potential voters to read and explain a segment of the state or federal constitution.

Third, state officials required the payment of a poll tax—a tax to vote—sometimes requiring voters to pay it months prior to the election. This was required in sixteen states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Poorer African Americans were faced with spending this money in the hope of voting. Also, in order to vote they may have had to pay years of unpaid poll taxes.

Facing these tactics and suppression, many Black women in numerous towns and cities took action to educate each other, to register and to vote, for example, running suffrage schools in St. Louis; canvassing and helping register in Akron, Ohio; coaching and teaching each other in Chattanooga, Tennessee; being encouraged to vote by their minister in Baltimore; and uniting at the polls to overcome white supremacy in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Jones highlights important individual Black women who helped to champion voting rights. Along with suffrage, they became advocates for change in the areas of temperance, education, prison reform, and the labor rights of working people.

Hallie Quinn Brown was one such leader. She and other Black women leaders came to push for suffrage through different paths: antislavery societies, churches, and women’s clubs. Brown made a major contribution after she was elected the president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1920.

Of Brown, Jones states that “she was part of a ‘great vanguard’ prepared to fight back and further empower a ‘great nation of women.’”

Looking to the future beyond the 19th Amendment, Brown vowed to lead the NACW forward to use Black women’s voting power to gain influence in the Republican Party and in Washington, DC.

Brown asserted: “Let us remember that we are making our own history. That we are character building; building for all eternity. Woman’s horizons have widened. Her sphere of usefulness is greatly enlarged. Her capabilities acknowledged….”

She continued: “We stand at the open door of a new era. For the first time in the history of this country, women have exercised the right of franchise. The right for which the pioneers of our race fought, but died without the sight.”

Martha Jones summarizes what the 19th Amendment meant to Black women. “For Black women, ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was not a guarantee of the vote, but it was a clarifying moment. Like the 15th Amendment before it, so much about voting rights depended upon state law and the discretion of local officials that the 19th Amendment was little more than a broad umbrella under which a wide range of women’s experiences unfolded.”

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Hope for a Race-less America

(This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News (RI) on August 9, 2021.)

With COVID in retreat, I recently took a three-day trip to our nation’s capital with 12-year-old grandson, Alex, to show him the sights and teach him some history. It proved to be a great tonic for not only rejuvenating one’s patriotism but also one’s hope in America’s future.

After visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns on the first afternoon, on the second day with the heat wave persisting, we remained undeterred in our aim to visit the main memorials on the National Mall: Vietnam War, Lincoln, Korean War (under renovation), Martin Luther King Jr., FDR, and Thomas Jefferson—all magnificent and moving.

At the Lincoln Memorial, as we were standing before the Gettysburg Address, I heard a man reciting the words. I turned to see a darker-skinned Latino American father reciting the Address to his young son as the mother looked on. This underscored to me the central role that American ideas—the American Creed—must play in any American Reconciliation, ideas rather than race, religion, sex, gender, or country of origin. The New American has no particular skin color.

Alex and I stayed at a hotel in mid-town, near McPherson Square and Farragut Square. Within these urban parks we saw the homeless; regrettably virtually all were darker-skinned Americans.

Ironically, a few blocks from these squares, directly outside our hotel on 16th Street, NW, was the newly established Black Lives Matter Plaza. These words, broad and bold, are painted on the pavement of a two-block section, yellow letters on a black background.

The evening after our return, I found myself longing for ice cream from Frosty-Freez, so off I went with my wife and granddaughter to engage in that great Aquidneck Island summer tradition. At probably 80 feet long, the waiting line was for me a new record. However, for those of you who have tasted its delicious delights, you know that the serving staff is ample and efficient. And so I waited my turn.

As I waited on the long line, a lighter-skinned American young man and a darker-skinned American young woman drove in and parked. Upon seeing the line, they laughed, nodded to each other, and departed.

After securing our ice cream treats, as I walked to the car, a teenage couple—a darker skinned American girl with Asian features and a lighter-skinned American boy—passed me as they headed for the line.

With the fresh patriotism and hope generated from my trip to the nation’s capital, I was now further fortified in seeing these mixed-raced, young couples. Getting to know each other across lines which separate us and perhaps falling in love is a critical requirement for the future of our divided country. It is something that can be fostered at all levels: at the federal and state levels by national and state service programs; at the community level by more town parades and celebrations, joint church and community activities, and school dances; and at the family level by more family dinners free of technology and prejudice.  

My experience at Frosty Freez reminded me of the hope I feel when I see my lighter-skinned American nephew with his darker-skinned American wife, but especially the hope I feel when I see their two children. These are the color of the new, “race-less” Americans who can lead the way to an American Reconciliation. These New American grandchildren will surely change the hardened attitudes of their grandparents. As a grandfather, I can say categorically that it is very difficult to hate your grandchildren.

Mixed-raced marriages, such as my nephew’s, have continued to rise over the past 50 years. In 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled that miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, only 3% of all newlyweds were married to someone of another race or ethnicity, according to Pew Research. By 2015, it had risen to 17%. In 2015, 10% of all married people were in a mixed-race/ethnicity marriage.

Further grounds for hope may be found in the large majority of Americans who now approve of interracial marriage. A YouGov/Economist survey in 2018 found that only 17% of Americans oppose interracial marriage, a vast decrease from the 1950s.

Observing the younger generations—my grandchildren and their friends and also my undergrad students at Salve Regina University—also gives me hope. They seem less captive of prejudice and intolerance than my generation of early baby boomers and even Gen X.

In a recent family game, the game card asked: “If you could do one thing to help fix the world, what would it be?” I was pleasantly surprised to hear both grandchildren, playing the game, say “end racism.”

Grandfather of eight, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

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Bob Hope, Patriotic Entertainer

(Note: This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on July 13, 2021.)

Eighty years ago, Bob Hope, comedian, actor, singer, dancer, and author, broadcast his first United Services Organization (USO) show on the radio from an Army Air Corps base in Riverside, California.

Thus began his five-decade relationship with the USO. After the U.S. entered the war, he made his first overseas trip in 1942, to perform a show in Alaska, then a U.S. territory. Soon after, he began his trips to the European and Pacific theaters.

This was a period of high patriotism, and Hope shared in this. With his USO shows, he tried to make his own contribution to the war effort by lifting the spirits of those Americans in arms.

Along with his best friend, Bing Crosby, Hope was offered a commission in the Navy as a lieutenant commander; however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt intervened, indicating that it was best if Hope continued to entertain troops from all the armed services.

Between 1941 and 1991, Hope made 57 tours for the USO, entertaining military personnel in WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.

His tours were funded by the Department of Defense, his TV sponsors, and NBC, the network which broadcast the TV specials created from the shows.

His entertainment career was lifted in 1934, when he began to appear on radio and in films. In the 1950s, he switched his focus solely to TV, and began hosting regular TV specials in 1954.

His entertainment career spanned almost eight decades in which he appeared in more than 70 short and full-length films, 54 in which he starred.

He also hosted the Academy Awards 19 times—more than anyone else—appeared in numerous stage and television roles, and wrote 14 books.

As a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in 1968, I marched in the parade in his honor at West Point when he received the Academy’s prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award, the first entertainer to receive it.

Forty years ago as I served on the teaching faculty at West Point, I was fortunate to attend his “All-Star Comedy Birthday at West Point,” televised on May 25, 1981. Hope opened the show in grand fashion as he arrived on a helicopter. The show included Marie Osmond, Glen Campbell, George C. Scott, Brooke Shields, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mary Martin, Mickey Rooney, and Robert Ulrich.

In 1997, by act of Congress and with the signature of President Bill Clinton, Hope was made an “Honorary Veteran.” Hope stated: “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received.”

His final TV special was broadcast in November 1996, entitled “Laughing with the Presidents.” In it Hope, with the help of Tony Danza, gave reminiscences of his time with the many presidents he knew.

At 100, Hope died on July 27, 2003, at his home in Toluca, California.

Toward the end of the film, “The Big Broadcast of 1938”, Bob Hope and Shirley Ross sang the song, “Thanks for the Memories.” It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Hope’s signature song throughout his long career. It had many different versions over the decades as Hope adapted it to his audience and the spirit of the times.

Here are the first verses of the original song. “Thanks for the memory/Of sentimental verse/Nothing in my purse/And chuckles/When the preacher said/For better or for worse/How lovely it was”

“Thanks for the memory/Of Schubert’s Serenade/Little things of jade/And traffic jams/And anagrams/And bills we never paid/How lovely it was.”

A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

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1896 Court Case Reinforces Segregation

(Note: This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on May 18, 2021.)

The Civil War ended slavery, but it did not end prejudice, racism and the unequal treatment of races in America. One-hundred and twenty-five years ago today, the highest court in our land reinforced this inequality in declaring that “separate but equal” facilities did not violate the constitutional rights of black.

With the political Compromise of 1877, the attempt by the victorious North in the Civil War to reconstruct fundamentally southern society ended. As part of the compromise, federal forces withdrew from the southern states, allowing southern Democrats to capture legislatures and reassert white supremacy.

Writing of this era in her book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” Isabel Wilkerson states: “All private and public human activities were segregated from birth to death ….”

Black and white children in the South studied from separate textbooks. In Florida, the textbooks had to be stored separately. Blacks could not drink from the whites-only water fountains. In southern jails, separate bedsheets were used for whites and blacks. Blacks were disallowed from trying on clothing in clothing stores. Even in death there was segregation: Black and white corpses were separated before burial.

Thus, after 1877, blacks saw the rights and safeguards of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments erode and dissipate. Disenfranchisement increased, taking away a fundamental right in a democracy—the vote.

Florida became the first state to pass laws requiring railroads to provide separate cars for “Negro” or “colored” passengers, followed by Mississippi, Texas, and then Louisiana.

The black community in New Orleans, Louisiana, decided to make a stand and test the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Separate Car Act. Passed in 1890, it provided “for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races.” It indicated that all passenger railways had to provide these separate cars, which should be equal in facilities.

Homer A. Plessy agreed to lead the charge to challenge the law. Interesting to me personally, he looked white and described himself as “seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood,” as I am.

On June 7, 1892, he purchased a ticket on a train departing New Orleans and challenged the law by taking a seat in the whites-only car. He was arrested and jailed.

In the subsequent court case, he claimed that the Louisiana law violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court issued a 7-1 decision against Plessy. It ruled that the Louisiana law did not violate the 14th Amendment and stated that separate but equal treatment did not imply the inferiority of African Americans.

Writing for the majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote: “We consider the underlying fallacy of [Plessy’s] argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Alone in dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan countered that segregation ran counter to the constitutional principle of equality before the law. “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution.” “It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.”

The court decision codified the doctrine of “separate but equal” as a legal justification for segregation across American society—especially in the South—fortifying the system of laws and codes which came to be called “Jim Crow”. (The term “Jim Crow” originated in a song of the same name sung in minstrel shows of this era.)

The decision enabled legal segregation to spread not only on railways, but also buses, hotels, theaters, swimming pools, and schools.

Along with the Dred Scott case of 1857, this decision is widely considered the worst ever made by the Supreme Court. It took a half century for the Court to overturn it in the case, “Brown v. Board of Education” (1954) in which the Supreme Court essentially agreed with Justice Harlan’s dissenting opinion of 1896. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” in public education and that segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”

Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University and a regular columnist.

Sources:

Davidson, James West et al. Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past. HY: McGraw Hill, 2011.

History.com Editors. “Plessy v. Ferguson.” HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/plessy-v-ferguson. Accessed May 13, 2021.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Oyez, www.oyez.org/cases/1850-1900/163us537. Accessed 13 May. 2021.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson. Accessed May 12, 2021.

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