“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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Reflection: Fifty Years, A Father

(Note: This essay was originally published in the Newport Daily News on April 17, 2021.)

In the early morning hours fifty years ago, serving as a young Army officer in then West Germany, I became a father.

On April 18, 1971, our daughter, Nicole, was born in the Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden, just across the Rhine River from Mainz, where I was stationed with the 8th Infantry Division.

(Nicole’s Birthday, 2006)

My wife and I had arrived in West Germany only seven weeks before. I was 22; Geri was 21. We were young and resilient. I had faith in myself, us, the US Army, and the free, democratic West led by the United States.

When her water broke in the middle of the night, it was all frenzy to me. West Point had prepared me to serve my country as an officer and soldier; no one had prepared me to be a father. I hurriedly drove to the hospital, 20 minutes away.

Happily, I had already scouted the way to the exact building on the base, however, not the exact floor. I parked in front of the building, jumped out leaving my laboring wife, and dashed up the stairs, two-by-two, quickly reading the signage.

I finally reached the 4th floor and the Labor and Delivery ward. Out of breath, I sought to calm myself as I found the night nurse on duty. Playing the unruffled Cary Grant, I said: “I think my wife is having a baby.” The nurse looked at me and said wryly: “Well, I think you had better bring her up.”

Three days later, on a very sunny spring day, with ornamental cherry trees bursting their pink blossoms everywhere, we brought home our new daughter. Two years later came Thomas, and three years after Thomas came James. By the time I was 28, my wife and I had three children. Life for us was never the same.

Children are headaches. One had a serious medical condition which required major surgery at only18 months. One had crooked legs which required an awkward leg brace to be worn through the night. One slept so soundly that there were many bed-wetting incidents in the night.

Long, restful sleeps were no more. Our free time was no longer our own. If we stayed up late partying with friends, we would pay for it early next morning. We no longer joined festive parties on New Year’s Eve.

One of the many challenges that American Civilization faces is the demographic challenge. It is very elemental: If a civilization does not produce enough children, in the shorter term it has such problems as providing the social security net for its older population. However, in the longer term, it simply is pushed aside by other, more demographically vibrant civilizations.

Over the past century, the US total fertility rate (number of children per woman) has dropped below that required to sustain the population (2.1) only during times of economic strain: the Great Depression of the 1930s and also during the oil shocks of the 1970s.

Over the past few decades it has hovered around the 2.1 level until recently. In 2019, the fertility rate hit a 35-year low of 1.705. Last year’s rate was slightly higher at 1.779. The number of marriages does not seem to be a driving factor; the marriage rate over the past few decades has remained fairly stable. In 2017, Pew Research reported that about one-half of Americans, ages 18 and older, were married, although this figure is down 8% since 1990.

However, the drop in the fertility rate does seem related to the median age of the first marriages. In 2018, the median age of first marriages reached an all-time high of 30 for men and 28 for women, according to the Census Bureau.

However, I find another statistic most troubling for our civilization. In 2019 Pew Research reported that nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and having children. This is up from 57% in 2016.

Happily my wife and I, having known each other since we were very young, having grown up in the same hometown and living just a few blocks from each other, in families who shared similar Roman Catholic, Italian-American cultures, did not have much to discuss regarding children. We both saw children as a given, the first order of married life.

Children are smelly handfuls, but also sweet-smelling sources of endless surprise and joy. They are heartache, but also happiness. They are tears of sadness but also tears of joy. They come to have not only your physical traits but others as well. They grow up, get married, and—with luck—give you grandchildren who become tremendous sources of pride, joy, and comfort. What was once our family of two, sitting on Sunday afternoons at a little table in an apartment in Mainz, West Germany, burgeoned 40 years later to a table in Portsmouth, with an array of tables, seating as many as 17 family members, eating Sunday dinner, laughing, telling stories, and passing on timeless truths.

(The grandchildren, 2020)

It was President Ronald Reagan who in his farewell address stated:  “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” I wonder if many of the challenges American Civilization faces today are best treated at the family and not the government level. Government can pass laws, allocate resources, and initiate massive programs, but it is not good at instilling enduring values like trust, faith, and hope, which a civilization needs to sustain itself. The family is.

When I come across Jimmy Rodgers’ hit of 1957, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” I chuckle in reflection on the last 50 years. In the last stanza, he sings: “Had a lot of kids, a lot of trouble, and pain/But then, whoops oh lordy, well I’d do it all again.”

A regular columnist, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University. He is writing a book on The Challenge of American Civilization.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Dorothea Lange and “Migrant Mother”

(Note: A version of this essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on April 5, 2021. It is the sixth in a series on Notable Women.)

Eighty-five years ago this month, in the middle of the Great Depression, Dorothea Lange, one of the early “documentary photographers,” took her most iconic photograph—“Migrant Mother.”

Lange was born in Hoboken, NJ, in 1895, to German immigrants. At age seven, she contracted polio, leaving her with a weakened right leg and a limp. She stated: “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me.”

She decided early in her life that she wanted to be a photographer, and so after high school she apprenticed at several photography studios in New York City. At 23, she left New York, settled in San Francisco, and established a successful portrait studio, making a living by photographing the city’s social elite.

In the 1930s, with the onset of the Great Depression, she turned her attention from the studio to the street, from the elite to the dispossessed. She was driven to capture with her camera the luckless lives of the hundreds of thousands who migrated west to California from the Dust Bowl of the Mid- and Southwest.

Her candid photos of the homeless and the unemployed drew attention to her and led to her employment with the Farm Security Administration. She captured the plight of the poor and forgotten, especially sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers—both white and people of color.

Her most dramatic and powerful image was taken in March, 1936, of a woman and three of her children at a pea-pickers camp in Nipomo, California.

In 1960, Lange gave this account of the experience in the magazine, Popular Photography. “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. …she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. … There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”

Destitute pea pickers. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California, 1936. US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Library of Congress

Decades later the woman was identified as Florence Owens Thompson, a full-blooded Cherokee born in 1903, in Indian Territory (current day Oklahoma). During the 1930s she and her family worked as farm workers, following the crop harvests in California and sometimes in Arizona. Thompson recalled picking 400-500 pounds of cotton from dawn till after dark. She said: “I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I cooked. I worked in the fields. I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids.” She had a total of ten children with three husbands.

In 1978, reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Modesto, California. Thompson stated: “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.” As Lange was funded by the federal government, the image is in the public domain with no royalties involved.

When Thompson became sick in 1983, her family appealed for financial help. The appeal brought in $35,000. in donations for her medical care along with over 2,000 letters. Son Troy Owens reflected: “For Mama and us, the photo had always been  a bit of [a] curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

A regular columnist, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University. He is writing a book on The Challenge of American Civilization.


Dorothea Lange. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothea_Lange

Accessed March 19, 2021.

“Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection.” Library of Congress. https://guides.loc.gov/migrant-mother . Accessed March 19, 2021.

Durden, Mark. Dorothea Lange. Phaidon, n.d.

Estrin, James. “Unraveling the Mysteries of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.” The New York Times, November 28, 2018.

“Florence Owens Thompson.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Owens_Thompson . Accessed March 19, 2021.

Oshinsky, David. “Picturing the Depression.” The New York Times, October 22, 2009.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Women as Warriors Have Long History

(Note: This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on March 1, 2021, and by the History News Network on March 14, 2021.)

The American experience with true women warriors—not just our wonderful Hollywood Wonder Woman—has only recently begun. However, with the benefit of recent archaeological discoveries and re-examinations, we can say that women have been warriors—or certainly hunters—for millennia.

When the U.S. ended the draft in 1973, women represented only 2% of enlisted personnel and 8% of the officer corps. Today the figures for the officer corps are significantly higher across almost all services. As of 2018, women represented 19% of the Army officer corps, 19% of the Navy’s, 21% of the Air Force’s, and 8% of the Marines’.

An important milestone occurred in 1976, when the first young women were allowed to enter the three service academies. I was privileged to teach the first group at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, in 1980, to witness the first female cadets graduate in 1980 and become second lieutenants. 

A significant transformation in the roles women play in the military took place in December, 2015, when the Department of Defense opened to women combat roles across the services. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated: “There will be no exceptions.” “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.”

In that same year the Army opened its most challenging training course to women—Ranger School. Lieutenants Kristin Geist and Shaye Haver became the first women to graduate from the school,–a tough, 61-day course—the most demanding training I underwent in my 21-year Army career. As of April 2020, 50 women have graduated from the course.

Today women Army officers are commanding infantry and armor combat companies, indicating that they soon may be commanding combat battalions and larger Army units.

Recent archaeological discoveries and studies show that these current women warriors have actually a long pedigree. Women as warriors—or certainly hunters and not simply gatherers—have a long history reaching back thousands of years to pre-history.

In November of last year, researchers found that the remains of a 9,000-year-old hunter buried in the Andes mountains was a woman. The specialized tool/weapon kit at the burial site indicates she was a big game hunter.

This discovery encouraged the researchers to re-examine evidence from 107 other graves throughout the Americas from the same time period. Out of 26 graves with hunter tools, they were surprised to discover 10 contained women.

These discoveries challenge the traditional beliefs about gender roles in pre-recorded history: Men hunted and women gathered. The picture is now more mixed.

The richest body of literature and artifacts on women warriors in ancient Western history is found in ancient Greek history, and it deals with the mythical Amazons. Amanda Foreman, writing in the “Smithsonian Magazine,” (April, 2014) explains that the ancient Greek poet, Homer, writing in the 8th century BCE, was the first to mention these women warriors. In his “Iliad,” he mentions them briefly as Amazons “antianeiria,” a term translated variously as “antagonistic to men” or “the equal of men.” In any case, Homer made these women brave and stalwart military opponents to the Greek male military heroes, who of course always vanquished these women warriors.

Amazons on ancient Greek vessel (national geographic.com)

Future Greek writers continued referencing the Amazons. For example, they supposedly fought for the Trojans in the Trojan War. Also, the demi-god Heracles completed his ninth labor by taking the magic girdle of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta.

Thus tales of the Amazons became inextricably intertwined with the rise of Athenian democracy which began in the 6th century BCE. In this century, images of Amazons battling Greeks spread; they appear not only on pottery but also on their architectural friezes, jewelry, and household items. 

Recent archaeological discoveries dating back to the 5th century BCE indicate that the Amazons were rooted in real equestrian, nomadic women of Eurasia—the Scythians. Adrienne Mayor, writing in “National Geographic History” (May/June 2020) states that the Greeks would have encountered these women in the 7th century BCE as they established colonies around the Black Sea.

Rendering of Scythian warrior women (ancientorigins.net)

Excavations of Scythian burial mounds began in the 1940s, and revealed skeletons with spears, arrows, axes, and horses. Originally identified as male, more recent DNA testing shows that some human remains were women. About one-third of the Scythian women found in the burial sites had weapons. Also, their bones have indications of combat: marred ribs, fractured skulls, and broken arms.

It is clear that the more egalitarian society we Americans continue to strive to create had an antecedent on the steppes of Eurasia.

Contributing editor Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University. He is writing a book on The Challenge of American Civilization.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

King’s Final Book: Both Political Roadmap and Passionate Sermon

(Note: This essay was originally published in two segments by the Newport Daily News, RI, on February 1 and February 2, 2021. It was subsequently published on the History News Network on February 14, 2021.)

In his final book before his assassination, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” (Beacon Press, 1968) Martin Luther King, Jr.’s scope is broad and ambitious. Not only does he take on racism and injustice in the U.S., but he also grapples with these issues and more on the international level. More than this, he challenges us not only to think with our minds but also to feel with our hearts and souls.

King finished writing the book in early 1967, as the country was spiraling downward into the disunity and discord of the late 1960s. His overall purpose is never clarified in the opening chapter; therefore, it becomes clear that his purpose is to answer the question in his title: where does our country go from here—chaos or community?

Clearly one of his most important purposes is to challenge those African Americans who advocate “Black Power,” the movement gaining strength at the time, which was much more militant than King’s movement of nonviolence.

After his introductory chapter, “Where Are We?” surveying the status of blacks in the mid-1960s, he devotes his entire second chapter—the longest in the book—to dissecting the Black Power movement and systematically presenting his counter-arguments. King remains steadfast in his belief in nonviolence: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence.”

In addition to Black Power and nonviolence, King deals with the concepts and issues of racism, justice, freedom, segregation, discrimination, poverty, and white fear, resistance, and backlash—a full agenda indeed.

He begins to define the central concept of racism by quoting others. George Kelsey: “Racism is a faith …a form of idolatry…an ideological justification for the constellations of political and economic power.” “…the idea of the superior race….”

He quotes Ruth Benedict: “…the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority and another group …superiority.”

King settles on a definition of racism as the “arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission,” eventually abridging his definition to simply “the myth of inferior peoples.”

In terms of diction, King’s word choice for blacks is “Negro” and “Negroes,” phrases that are now anachronistic and offensive. Also surprising and less understandable is his virtually total male vocabulary. He speaks always in male terms, using “he” and “him,” never “she” and “her;” “man” and never “woman.” The only time he even references women is in his brief section on the Negro family.

The main issue King addresses is the continuing racism and injustice in America, resulting in continued discrimination, exploitation, and poverty for blacks. Despite some notable progress after the protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and even landmark federal legislation of the mid-1960s (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965) a significant gap remains between the demands of the law and its full and genuine implementation.

“White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation, or all forms of discrimination.” King asserts: “The daily life of the Negro is still lived in the basement of the Great Society.”

The greatest responsibility for this injustice he places in the hands of whites. “In short, white America must assume the guilt for the black man’s inferior status.”

Even though whites bear the major blame, King maintains that the solutions for these problems must come from both white and black America. He states: “Negroes hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.”

In terms of programs, King is clear on its size and focus. America needs a “radical reordering of national priorities” so that a “massive program” can be implemented to provide either guaranteed employment or income, allowing dignity “to come within reach for all.” To ensure its achievement, a timetable should be established.

To those who might question the justification for such a program, King states: “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”

Martin Luther King eventually turns his sights on black America. King argues that the overall strategy must be nonviolent agitation, even using the word “coercion.” It needs better leaders of character, fewer blacks who remain “aloof” on the sidelines, and more political activism by better organized groups who understand the importance of alliances, all combining to bring the necessary power to effect real change.

Suggested by the pages he devotes to it and the emphasis he places on it, King’s second main purpose in writing the book is to make the argument for his strategy of nonviolence and challenge the strategy of Black Power. While conceding that Black Power was gaining strength, he states: “Black Power has proved to be a slogan without a program, and with an uncertain following.” … “… no new alternatives to nonviolence within the movement have found viable expression.”

In his final chapter, King fulfills his third main purpose by raising his sights from the national level to the international level.While fighting the national crusade against injustice, he calls on all nations to recognize their interdependence, that we are all part of the “world house.” Technology and progress have brought us closer, making us all neighbors now. He summons us to develop a “passionate commitment” to fight the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” To accomplish this, the “wealthy nations of the world must promptly initiate a massive, sustained Marshall Plan for Asia, Africa, and South America.”

King wrote this book not only with his mind but also with his heart and soul. Thus, the most challenging aspect of reading the book is that we hear King speaking with two different voices: the political realist analyzing the politics of racism and injustice in America, but also the passionate preacher touching our hearts and souls and calling all of us to a higher moral and spiritual plane. The former is concerned with politics and power; the latter is concerned with empathy and love.

In the middle of the second chapter on “Black Power,” this duality first shows itself. “The problem of transforming the ghetto is … a problem of power—a confrontation between the forces of power demanding change and the forces of power dedicated to preserving the status quo.” But then he speaks of love. “In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.”

On the next page, he states: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” He defines the “collision of immoral power with powerless morality” as “the major crisis of our times.”

In ending his chapter rejecting Black Power, he states: “It will be power infused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. A dark, desperate, confused and sin-sick world waits for this new kind of man and this new kind of power.”

In ending his next chapter on “Racism and White Backlash,” he states: “Man-made laws assure justice, but a higher law produces love.”  He continues “…something must touch the hearts and souls of men so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and right.”

In his final chapter on racism in the U.S., “Where We Are Going,” we hear the political realist first: An oppressed people realizes deliverance comes “when they have accumulated the power to enforce change.” He states that this is simply “mature realism,” and urges us to get the order right: “We have to put the horse (power) before the cart (programs).”

He continues: “Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands.”

He eventually uses military language: The movement must become a “crusade.” “Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations in the future ….” He states that “responsible militant organizations” are “indispensable” to the struggle.

However, to end the book he uses the voice of the passionate preacher. He quotes Arnold Toynbee: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

He then returns and challenges us with the central issue of his book: the choice between nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation; between community or chaos. He also leaves us to judge whether these two worldviews, one of power and one of love, are indeed complementary or contradictory.

Contributing editor Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University. He is writing a book on The Challenge of American Civilization.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment