It's not as if the Ol' Bloviator and his wonderful bride needed any further confirmation of Gavin Stevens's famous declaration in Requiem for A Nun that the past is neither "dead" nor "even past," but if we had, we definitely got it a few weeks back after my long suffering bride and I made the twisty trek from Lexington, Virginia, where the O.B. was teaching at that point, across the mountains to Appomattox National Historical Park.

The exhibits and artifacts were impressive but our real destination was the McLean House, where the actual surrender took place. (There is a misconception that this happened in the courthouse because at the time this tiny hamlet was known as "Appomattox Courthouse.") This had come to pass because poor Wilmer McLean happened to be the first person Lee's aide, Col. Charles Marshall, encountered upon arrival at Appomattox Courthouse. When they pressed McLean about a suitable site for the surrender, he first offered a dusty, unfurnished building nearby that struck Marshall as not quite up to snuff for one of the most critical meetings in the nation's history.  McLean then offered an on-the-spot, Medallion-miles-be-damned upgrade, the parlor of his home.  Lest ol' Wilmer be seen as churlish and inhospitable, it is important to note that he had pretty good reason for reluctance in handing over his home to the Confederates, having done the same with his previous residence, near Manassas, as a hospital and command post for General P.G. T. Beauregard during the first major battle of the war at Bull Run # 1.  His house had taken a cannonball to the chimney during the fight, and, after seeing it and his and his wife's 1,200 -acre plantation ravaged by war, he removed himself and his family some 120 miles to the south to the near-obscurity of Appomattox Court House, where he thought surely the war would not find them again. (Even today, any soldiers approaching the town from the west, might deem this a fair surmisal on Wilmer's part.) Yet, Wilmer McLean seemed destined to have, as he was later to say, "the war beg[i]n in my front yard and [end] in my parlor."  

After the proceedings were concluded, Wilmer's coerced hospitality would be rewarded with a locust-like stripping of his furnishings and even pieces of his house itself by Yankee souvenir-seekers who took most anything not nailed down and tore out a lot that was, especially in the "surrender room," where Lee accompanied by a single aide, sat at the desk on the left and Grant, surrounded by several members his staff, sat at the one on the right.

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All in all, at 20' x 16' it seemed like a mighty tight space for such a momentous event. The carefully reconstructed courthouse, dwellings, store, etc. definitely took us back and underscored what a tiny, out of the way place the village of Appomattox Courthouse had been in April 1865.

It had been a satisfying experience and a sobering one, though perhaps not nearly so much as the one that awaited us. As we approached Appomattox, we had at one point found ourselves in the midst of what seemed like a caravan of trucks and SUVs, all of them with humongous Confederate battle flags flapping all over the place. The O.B. remarked at the time that he hoped to hell they weren't headed to the same place we were, but they all whupped into a truck stop, and we headed on. We noticed as we neared the park that there were four state trooper cars with flashing bubble-gum machines along the road and several park rangers as if they were awaiting either a Donald Trump rally or Bonnie and Clyde in a stolen get-away car. All of this had told the O.B. somehow that we had not seen the last of that ostentatious band of flaggers, and sure enough, upon exiting, as we came upon a little Confederate cemetery on the edge of the park, there they were, apparently holding some sort of rally, replete with flags whose profusion is not done justice by the photo below, taken by yours truly when we wheeled into the parking lot to get a better look.

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As the O.B. stood in the parking lot a hundred feet or so from the proceedings trying to get the widest-angle image an iPhone can deliver, he noticed the approach of a right good sized fellow whose grim countenance and purposeful stride said that he was less than thrilled by the O.B.'s attempt to capture the event for posterity. Thereupon ensued the following exchange.

He:  "What are you up to, buddy?"

O.B.: "Taking some photos."

He: "I see that." (Slight, but pregnant pause.) "Would you like to join us?"

O.B.:  "Not really. Just been over at the park and wanted to see what was up. This is public property, isn't it?"

Instead of replying, he turned away, doubtless after concluding that it would not say a whole lot for his version of southern honor if he curb-stomped a rickety old geezer six inches shorter and thirty years older than he, especially in plain sight of a couple of park policemen. The incident might have seemed less striking had we not just been hammered with the park service's emphasis on Appomattox as the place where, thanks largely to two reasonable and heroic men, America came together again. Suffice it to say, you certainly could not prove any such thing by the crowd at the cemetery, who gave little indication they were aware of what actually transpired about a half-mile to the east in Wilmer McLean's parlor.

The O.B. regrets not pressing on another 100 miles or so east of Appomattox to take in his family's first North American "home place" near Petersburg, where Ambrose Cobbs, late of Willesborough, in the South East of England, claimed his 350-acre headright grant in 1639. (Each new colonist was granted 50 acres of land for every "head" he brought, including his. Ambrose arrived with his wife, Ann, children Robert and Margaret, along with three men indentured to Ambrose in exchange for his paying their passage.  Hence Ambrose was credited for 7 heads at 50 acres each= 350 acres.)

Fuming about this missed opportunity to get better in touch with his family's past did spark the O. B.'s curiosity about how his ancestors fared in their early years in Virginia. Turns out that they did pretty well. Ambrose's son, Robert, and grandson Ambrose would both serve as vestrymen of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, and Robert was appointed sheriff of York County in 1682.  According to historian Christine Eisel, however, Robert's rapid social and political ascent did spark some jealousy:

"In October, 1658, Elizabeth Frith Woods, along with Johanna Poynter and Elianor

Cooper, plotted to post a libelous document on the Marston parish church door. As recorded by

the county court clerk, Elizabeth wrote:

"Gentlemen this is to give you all notice that we have a new fine trade come up amongst us. One of our Vestrymen is turned Mirkin maker. Thomas Bromfield by name, and alsohis wife and goodwife Cobbs, one of our Churchwarden's wife, they make one very handsome Mirkin amongst them and sent it to ye neighbors."

The three women maligned [vestrymen] Thomas Bromfield, Robert Cobbs (by implication) and their wives by accusing them of making mirkens. Mirken was a slang term used to describe a "pubic wig" for women.

The device was most often associated with prostitutes and sexually promiscuous women of low standing. A mirken was designed to hide the deformities that could occur from mercury treatment for syphilis and/or gonorrhea, or to temporarily replace pubic hair that was shaved due to body lice. The women did not accuse anyone of wearing mirkens; they accused them of making mirkens, an accusation that carried layers of meaning. They did not imply that the Bromfields and Cobbses engaged in loose sexual activity themselves; rather, they implied that the Bromfields and Cobbses associated with such people, who were beneath the standing of proper vestrymen and their wives. The women also implied that the Bromfields and Cobbses insulted their neighbors by sending mirkens to them. Further, Woods and her conspirators implied that the Bromfields and Cobbses were covering up some improper and ugly activity, just as a mirken was designed to cover or disguise a deformity." *

According to Eisel, the women were eventually dismissed as vicious gossips, and two of their husbands were fined a whopping 10,000 pounds of tobacco for their wives' efforts to defame my 7X great grandpa Bobby, but from the looks of it, things got hairy for a while.

*(From "SEVERAL UNHANDSOME WORDS": THE POLITICS OF GOSSIP IN EARLY VIRGINIA." Christine Eisel, PhD. Dissertation, Bowling Green University, 2012)

 

THE "PECULIAR INSTITUTION" WASN'T SO PECULIAR AFTER ALL

This little piece is a fuller version of an essay, which, in accordance with the Ol' Bloviator's quixotic crusade to better educate the Yankees on matters historical, was posted up yonder at TIME.COM.

Reflecting on recent calls for stripping the name of Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who went to war in slavery's defense, from Washington & Lee University, historian Emory Thomas noted that since the school's other namesake, George Washington, was also a slaveholder, and raised the awkward possibility that one of the country's most distinguished liberal arts institutions might be known one day simply as "&." Thomas spoke with tongue securely in cheek, but the scenario he posited seemed a logical, if absurd, progression of the current obsession with de-christening institutions, buildings, parks, or thoroughfares named for someone with ties to slavery. However well-intentioned such efforts may be, recent explorations by several historians suggest how truly monumental the task of rooting out connections with such an indisputably powerful, intricately pervasive, and ultimately integral institution would be.

African slave labor had been introduced on the tobacco plantations of the seventeenth century Chesapeake, but slavery's emergence as a truly dominant force in national and international commerce and finance awaited the arrival in 1793 of Eli Whitney's fabulous cotton gin, which spurred the explosive spread of cotton-growing and slavery across the southern interior and into the new southwestern states of Alabama and Mississippi. The booming southwestern cotton frontier proved an irresistible magnet for both people, free and unfree, and financial investment. Some struggling Upper South planters opted to relocate with their slaves in tow. With slave prices rising meteorically in response to soaring demand, and stoked as well by a congressional ban on further importation after 1808, many others simply consigned their increasingly valuable human property to a massive stream of bound labor destined first for the lucrative slave markets of the Southwest. Cotton accounted for nearly one-third of the value of U.S. exported merchandise by 1820, and closer to two-thirds by 1860, more than three-fourths of it going to Great Britain.

Maintaining this fibrous connection between southern slave plantations and the voracious looms of Lancashire required myriad supporting ventures in production, trade, services, and financing on both sides of the Atlantic. With the American banking system still wracked with growing pains in the early nineteenth century, English firms like Baring Brothers marketed high-yield bonds backed by the slaveholdings of planters in Louisiana and elsewhere, while profits extracted from the slave trade supplied vital capital for the nascent Barclays Bank. As the American financial system matured, a wide range of domestic banks got in on this act. Two of these, Citizens' Bank and Canal Bank of Louisiana, which accepted roughly 13,000 slaves as collateral and came to own well over a thousand slaves outright, became cogs in the great financial wheel that became J. P. Morgan Chase. Likewise, Moses Taylor, director of the City Bank of New York, the forerunner of Citibank, managed the fruits of the tireless exertions of slaves on large sugar plantations and was also deeply involved in the illicit importation of slaves into Cuba.

Northern shippers also profited handsomely after 1808 in the brisk interstate transfer in slaves that saw some one million bondsmen transferred by sea as well as land from the Upper to the Lower South between 1810 and 1860. Thus it was not in New Orleans but Providence that some of the state's most prosperous and influential citizens gathered at what the local newspaper described as "a very numerous and respectable" meeting, on November 2, 1835, to unanimously endorse several resolutions condemning the actions of recently formed anti-slavery societies in the free states, declaring "coercive measures for the abolition of slavery" a "violation of the sacred rights of property" and "dangerous to the existing friendship and of business between different sections of our country." This proclamation was altogether fitting. Rhode Island had sent more than twice as many ships to Africa for slaves than all of the other colonies or states combined, many of them as part of the infamous Triangular Trade in New England rum, African slaves and southern or Caribbean molasses and sugar. Across the region, a sizable workforce was also employed in building the vessels requisite to these activities. Although slavery was said to be the "peculiar institution" of the South, so pervasive were Boston's entanglements with it that one wonders whether when the Lowells spoke only to the Cabots, the subject of their common ties to the slave trade ever came up.

As for New York, surely there are few cities, North or South, where so many prominent physical fixtures are tied to slavery, even down to key sports venues like Madison Square Garden, Citi Field, and the Barclay Center. These disturbing reminders are actually less incongruous than they seem.  Even though the international slave trade had been illegal for more than half a century, this illicit commerce was being conducted so brazenly in the city, the London Times dubbed New York "the greatest slave trading market in the world" in 1860.This appellation seemed to trouble the city's Episcopalians less than their Anglican brethren across the water, however. More than once the convention of the Diocese of New York declined by an "overwhelming majority" even to discuss resolutions asking the Bishop and clergy of the Diocese to speak out against a practice, so blatantly contrary to "the teachings of the Church" and "the laws of God."

            Ironically, in an era when so much wealth was derived from pursuits directly related to slavery the two institutions seemingly most deserving of philanthropy were churches and colleges. Surely no institution of higher learning has confronted its historical indebtedness to slavery and the slave trade more forthrightly than Brown University, whose principal early benefactors included the Brown brothers, who, operating as under the name of Nicholas Brown and Company raked in hefty profits from trading and transporting slaves. All told, at least thirty members of Brown's early governing board at one time owned or captained slave ships. Meanwhile, Tench Francis, who wrote the insurance for some of the Brown Company's slaving voyages, became one of the founding trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, whose ranks presented a virtual who's who of Philadelphia's high-profile slave traders.  And so it goes, from Rutgers, to Columbia, to Yale and Harvard, all of which and others detailed in Craig Steven Wilder's Ebony and Ivory, benefited significantly at some point from the largesse of men who owned or trafficked in human beings.

Although we might quibble about matters of degree, there is no escaping the critical role of slavery in facilitating our development as a nation. Historian Calvin Schermerhorn has it right when he calls enslaved Africans laboring in southern cotton fields "the strengths and sinews of a robust capitalist system." By maximizing the output of labor-intensive cotton agriculture in order to keep pace with the demands of mechanized textile production abroad, slavery established a vital and timely reciprocity with the Industrial Revolution that would first stabilize and then position this country for its remarkably swift journey from the periphery to the core of the world economy. Lest they exaggerate what can be achieved by simply scouring the taint of slavery from the faces of a variety of American institutions and edifices, those who propose to do so would do well to heed the words of a former bondsman featured in the title of Edward Baptist's recent book on slavery and American capitalism, for they are truly reacting to a story whose "half has never been told."


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(This image may well get the job done better than the 1,500 words that follow.)

The Ol' Bloviator has never been loath to mouth off about any and all matters political, and he considers it quite the triumph of self-restraint that he is only now breaking silence on the cascading lunacy that is the 2016 presidential race. The O.B. has always considered American politics the finest comedic spectacle out there, and thus the almost ideal target for his normally irrepressible impulses to mock and ridicule. However, where earlier presidential contests have offered at least a modest challenge to those impulses, this one offers such an unbroken stream profound ignorance, reckless stupidity, and over-the-top meanness that no one who has even walked by a TV set or a newsstand needs any help in understanding that what we are witnessing has the earmarks of a potential tragedy masquerading as epic farce.

With sincere apologies to his esteemed colleagues in political science, the O.B. can tell you without so much as a glance at exit polls that, in primary elections especially, people are more motivated not just to vote but to vote a certain way when they are angry than when they are reasonably content. This, of course, explains why at lot of folks outside the South voted for George Wallace in the 1968 presidential primaries only to drop ol' George like a hot sweet potato before heading to the polls that November. It was easy enough to interpret surging support in the polls for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as indicative of just such a "blowing-off -steam-before-coming-to-my-senses" reaction among primary voters of both parties. In fact, Bernie already trails Hillary 503-70 in the scramble for the 2,383 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination. With the Super Tuesday slog through Dixie looming large and menacing, the dedicated dreamer of the impossible and impractical dream and the sturdy band of zealots who have fallen under his spell may well be looking at their last dance among the sugar plums.

 Not so for the Donald, however. Indeed, not only "No," but Hell No!" The guy whose very entry into the Republican field was lustily hooted at by every professional and amateur pundit--not to mention several hair stylists--from Harvard to Hahira is not only still standing but looking at excellent odds of being the last one doing so. Since he was edged out in the quadrennial Iowa contest to see who can cram the most "Bevs" and "Berts" into a middle-school cafeteria by the equally scary Ted Cruz, Trump, whom the Wall Street Journal can only bring itself to refer to as "the businessman," has kicked some serious booty among the wishfully disbelieving.

            For months, we waited expectantly for the next in an almost daily progression of Trumpisms, each aggressively insensitive enough in its own right to make Archie Bunker seem like the Dalai Lama, to finally take him down. Meanwhile, the imperturbable Mr. T. proceeded merrily along down, curb-stomping his opponents verbally while besting them first in--then largely at--the polls. Although he Republican establishment finally seems ready to act forcefully against yon Donald's threat to their party, it appears that they may have stuck with their Nero act a Virginia Reel or two too long. At this too-late date, barring a groundswell of folks desperate enough to cross the Rubio-con with Marco, or indisputable revelations of ol' Donnie's excessive fondness for farm animals--and even this is no sure thing-- he stands somewhere between "quite likely" and "all but certain" to show up at the July GOP confab in Cleveland (That desperate to win back Ohio, are we?) with enough delegates in his pocket to collect the nomination on the first ballot. Any proportional expression of the perceived improbability of this just a few months ago being impossible, the O.B. can only call upon one of his Mama's favorite maxims to suggest that somewhere, surely, the band is tuning up to play "Who'da' Thought It?"

            It is tempting simply to conclude that Republicans brought Donald Trump on themselves through the tolerance, even deference that they have increasingly shown to a polarizing array of reckless, loud-mouthed spewers of meanness, and vitriol in recent years. (True to form, John Kasich, in all likelihood the most electable aspirant still in the Republican race, has been unable to get the fatal monkey of moderation off his back and is struggling simply to stay in the race until the March 15 Ohio primary, where, ironically enough, he represents one of the few feeble hopes for slowing down the Trump juggernaut.) What pleasure may be taken in seeing the Republicans being force-fed the bitter fruits of their own venality, however, must be tempered by the fact that their unscrupulousness has taken the rest of us and, for that matter, the rest of the world to the threshold of an era where rage Trumps (Sorry!) reason not just frequently but consistently and thoroughly.

Unfortunately, joining ol' Pilate at the washbowl is not an option in this case, nor is a self-righteous recusal to the moral high ground, because few of us can escape some measure of responsibility for the currently appalling state of American politics. For example, how many self-professed God-fearing Christians apparently didn't fear Him enough to step up and cry "Enough!" when his name was mocked and exploited by self-serving posturers like Jerry Falwell, Sr., and, more recently, Jr., whose endorsement of Donald Trump as a man who "lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment" truly sickened even so hardened a cynic as the O.B. in its brazen hypocrisy. We Bible-Belters who have been hit more than one hypothetical such as "How would Jesus be received if he visited your community tomorrow?" certainly have good reason to retaliate by asking how He might fare with today's power-brokering preacher/politicos if he came back determined to run for office with the Sermon on the Mount as his platform. How much does "blessed are the poor in spirit" or "the meek" or "the merciful" or "the peacemakers" resemble anything that ever came out of the mouth of Falwell's man Trump, or the self-styled uber-evangelical, Ted Cruz, for that matter?

            Finally, there is also more than a whiff of culpability among many in the Democratic camp currently watching the Republican Rocky Horror Show with the smug, self-satisfied amusement afforded only by the miseries of an adversary.  Each confident but failed prophesy that Trump's latest shot at the canon of political correctness would ultimately cost him his big toe should simply underscore the depth of the Democratic left's disconnect with prevailing popular attitudes. The casual presumption that everyone with at least a modicum of intelligence should share their views on transgender issues, any and all attempts to curb illegal immigration, buildings named for racists, sexists, imperialists, and pretty much everything else that might offend anyone but conservatives has finally grown so stultifying that many liberals in the media and (gasp!) academia have cried out for relief.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump benefits inordinately and even proudly from the support of the people whom he affectionately (for now, at least) calls "the poorly educated," as well as the folks who, as Lewis Grizzard put it, "think the moonshot's fake and wrestlin's real." (Note here surveys suggesting that nearly one in five Trump supporters remains unpersuaded that the Emancipation Proclamation was such a hot idea, and in South Carolina, nearly one in four still wish the South had come out of the Recent Unpleasantness on top.) For all that, however, Trump's troops are actually drawn from a reasonably broad demographic, and polls consistently show him stronger among self-identified moderates than Tea Partiers or rock-ribbed conservative regulars. Some of this may be written off to Mr. T's lack of ideological consistency--his extremism is more of a selective, or even knee-jerk sort. But the point here is not simply that he is pushing a lot of the right anger buttons across a broad spectrum of Republicans, including those still registered as Democrats, but also that there are so many "hot" buttons that work in his favor.

It hardly seems necessary even to suggest that Bernie's ranks are heavily populated not only by those who are salivating for a piece of his pie-in-the-sky but by those who simply cannot stomach Hillary. Yet, even the sharpest of Mr. Sanders's jabs at his opponent seems like the thrust of a butter knife compared to the chainsaw approach Trump has thus far wielded so effectively against his rivals. Whatever happens from here on out, the fact that D.T.'s ostentatious contempt for his fellow Republicans has played so well for this long with so many of the rank-and-file cannot portend well for the GOP. To a lesser but still notable extent, the protracted dalliance with Bernie suggests that a lot of Dems don't particularly care for their party establishment either. The larger, more portentous question looming over this election, however, is not simply which party's' levers get the most pulls in November but how many voters will pull either one with their other hands clamped over their noses and, beyond that, how much longer will they tolerate such a necessity.

Deutschland Meet Southland (in 1600 words)

  [Some of the Ol' Bloviator's friends in Germany asked him to boil the essence of southern history and identity down to the tidy sum of 1600 words, for the benefit of public school teachers who will be devoting an instructional unit to the American South.  This exercise in hypercompression (some might call it "bliviting") took the O.B. a lot longer than he expected and hammered home Kenny Rogers's wisdom about the importance of knowing "what to keep, and what to throw away." Needless to say, the O.B. had to do a great deal of throwing away, so please keep that in mind if you are troubled by what you don't read below. If that doesn't work, by all means, take your own shot at being a southern-fried oracle in 1600 words.]        

In the United States, the "South" can be defined in many ways, including its geography (roughly the same latitude as Spain, Portugal, and Southern Italy) its relatively warm, humid climate average high temp above 22 C.), racial population mix (Black to white ratio: South 30%; United States 18%), and strong religious commitment (highest church attendance rates in the U.S.). The most unifying characteristic of the South, however, remains its history, and the most important factors in that history are African slavery and the Civil War, 1861-1865, to which slavery was the major contributing cause. In this sense, the eleven states that went to war in defense of slavery present the most cohesive representation of the South.

Slavery flourished first in Virginia in response to the labor requirements of growing tobacco, the colony's principal crop, and spread to the rice plantations farther down the Atlantic Coast as well as the sugar plantations of Louisiana. Slaves were also employed in growing cotton, which was first confined to the warm, moist coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas suitable for growing the finer, long-stranded variety whose fibers could be separated from the seeds by hand.  Even with slaves doing the work, this was still a slow and arduous process until 1793, when, in the face of mounting demand from British textile manufacturers, inventor Eli Whitney perfected his cotton "engine" or "gin," a machine that could efficiently extract the seeds from the fibers, even in hardier, shorter-stranded cotton that could be grown across much of the South. In response to Whitney's invention, southern cotton production exploded from 3,000 bales (227 kg each) in 1790 to the more than 3.8 million bales that by 1860 accounted for 58 percent of the total value of U.S. exports and 75 percent of the world's cotton supply. High demand for cotton meant higher slave prices as well, and by 1860, with slaves accounting for roughly two-thirds of their wealth, southern planters were among the richest people not only in the United States, but in the entire world.

With mounting national opposition to slavery threatening their wealth and status by the end of the 1850s, slaveholders came increasingly to advocate withdrawal from the federal union even if it meant taking up arms against it. Barely one-third of southern white families owned slaves in 1861, but the ensuing death and destruction of the Civil War brought economic devastation to the entire South. Destroying slavery also meant destroying the $4 billion value attached to the slave population, leaving the region sorely lacking in the capital needed not only to rebuild southern agriculture but to finance the South's industrial development, which by the end of the Civil War lagged even farther behind that of the northern states than it had at the beginning. The lack of capital or skilled labor condemned the South to a pattern of slow industrial growth dominated by manufacturers looking to take advantage of its vast pool of cheap, unskilled labor.

Meanwhile, with actual cash so hard to come by, southern cotton production slipped into a system in which larger landholdings were divided into separate plots, each farmed by a family of "sharecroppers." Instead of wages, sharecroppers received a designated share of the proceeds from the crops they produced after charges for the supplies and food, advanced to them on credit at extremely high interest rates, had been deducted. In combination with a general decline in cotton prices, this very inefficient and often exploitive way of farming caused millions of southerners, black and white, to sink deeper and deeper into unrelenting debt and poverty. It was small wonder that per capita income in the South was barely half the national average in 1900 or that malnutrition and chronic disease were also widespread.

             Most white southerners blamed the Republican Party for the Civil War and the destruction of slavery and fiercely resisted its efforts to assist newly freed blacks. The overthrow of the last Republican state governments in 1877 not only marked the end of the "Reconstruction" era, but set the stage for the South to become a fortress of Democratic Party support for more than three-quarters of a century.  With both the region's industrial and agricultural economies heavily dependent on cheap and easily controlled labor, restoring white supremacy over the former slaves became a priority. The resulting system of economic and social repression included not only rigid racial segregation, but a variety of discriminatory restrictions that prevented the great majority of southern blacks and quite a few poorer whites from continuing to vote.

These tightly interconnected economic, racial, and political arrangements survived largely intact until the Great Depression of the 1930s brought federal incentives to reduce farm production, which, in turn, led to massive evictions of sharecroppers. World War II drew even more southerners away from farming and spurred the development of a mechanical cotton picker that reduced the need for farm labor even further. Rapidly declining agricultural employment dictated a much more aggressive campaign to bring industry to the South, and the sharp wartime increase in personal income set the stage for an influx of faster-growing, sometimes better-paying manufacturers attracted by an expanding base of more affluent metropolitan consumers.

Meanwhile, black veterans returning from World War II after fighting for democracy overseas were determined to have it for themselves back home.  They played a key role in rallying support for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its push for racial equality that led the U.S Supreme Court to outlaw public school segregation in 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education). The ensuing campaign of public protests and civil disobedience headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., generated the pressures necessary to prompt Congress, with considerable prodding by President Lyndon B. Johnson, to pass legislation prohibiting racial discrimination by employers or public businesses and aggressively guaranteeing the voting rights of southern blacks. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 led to widespread black voting (for the Democratic Party), and the South soon led the nation in the number of blacks holding elected office. On the other hand, after liberal northern Democrats joined President Johnson in calling for the new civil rights measures, a majority of white southerners abruptly switched their allegiance to the more conservative Republican Party, although in recent elections Democratic presidential candidates have regained strength in states like Virginia and Florida, which have attracted many new residents from outside the region.

Some parts of the South have enjoyed remarkable economic progress since the 1960s, as rising global competition encouraged more northern industrialists to move their production facilities to the South, which still offered the lower labor and other operating costs that also spurred investments by a number of international manufacturers, including German automakers BMW and Mercedes. The South now boasts twenty metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more. Yet there are many pockets of enduring poverty, especially in rural areas with heavily black populations. Eight of the ten poorest states are in the South, which also lags behind most of the rest of the U.S. in categories like support for public education and public health and leads in the incidence of health problems like obesity, diabetes, and susceptibility to strokes and heart disease.

As poor as it might be in certain respects, the South is undeniably rich in culture. Although its original white settlers came from Great Britain and Western Europe, its cultural heritage was also shaped by Native Americans and enslaved Africans, who brought with them a rich bounty of foods, spices, and cooking techniques. The South's famed barbecue derives from "Barbacoa," a technique for slow-cooking and roasting meat likely adopted from the native population of the Caribbean and West Indies by slaves and the whites who deposited them there before they were imported to the southern colonies. Slaves were largely responsible for the pepper and vinegar sauces spread across the barbecued meat, although later German immigrants to the Carolinas insisted on a mustard-based sauce. Finally, "grits" became a fundamental staple of the southern diet after Native Americans were observed soaking ground corn in a mixture of water and ashes prior to boiling in order to unlock its full nutrient content.

No element of the South's culture has had more influence on the culture of the U.S. and other nations than its music. While the ballads and fiddle tunes brought by British settlers provided the foundation for what would become country music, the work songs and field hollers that were a vital part of the slaves' African heritage formed the basis of the blues. These musical forms did not always respect the South's racial divisions. There was more interaction than many realized as both the blues and country music grew more commercialized and, as members of both races left the farm in droves, more urbanized as well. When local radio stations and recording studios in cities like Memphis and New Orleans began to feature the work of both black and white performers after World War II, the closer contact and familiarity bred the revolutionary new sound that would become "rock 'n roll." Elvis Presley quickly won an enormous youthful following as a white singer who sounded "black," but if he succeeded by borrowing heavily from black stylings, he also helped to open the door to white audiences much wider for a host of black performers ranging from Little Richard to Chuck Berry.

            If the South gave America its most characteristic music, its writers also contributed some of its greatest literature. The region's striking racial and economic disparities and injustices and its stark extremes of religious piety and violent cruelty helped to fuel the creative instincts of a host of brilliant writers, white and black, from William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Carson McCullers to Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Alice Walker.  In the end, however, like the southern people themselves, more than anything, the works of these writers reveal a common struggle with the enduring presence of a past that, for them, as Faulkner writes, is "never dead" and "not even past."

A "MONUMENTAL" ERROR IN NEW ORLEANS?

A Note from the Ol' Bloviator: This is an updated version of a piece that appeared last week up yonder at TIME.COM.

A court hearing in New Orleans last week focused on one of today's thorniest issues, the role and representation of the past in everyday life: Should officials go ahead with last month's city council decision to relocate three statues of Confederate leaders and a memorial to an uprising against Louisiana's Reconstruction-Era Republican government? Or are heritage and preservation groups justified in their claim that moving the monuments would not only violate both the constitution and state law, but also destroy the "integrity of the historic landscape of New Orleans"? At this stage, the presiding judge seemed skeptical that those trying to block the move could show compelling legal grounds for their position, but it is more than certain that this tilt is far from over.

The impulse behind the decision to move these offending symbols, like similar efforts elsewhere, is certainly understandable, especially in the wake of last summer's horror in Charleston, S.C. Yet, however problematic public monuments to the defenders and beneficiaries of slavery and Jim Crow might appear today, we would do well to consider an enduring human reality easily as troubling to historians as it is reassuring to politicians: People forget--quickly, and with minimal encouragement--especially when it makes them feel better and divests them of obligations they are eager to shed. It is more tempting to hide what's painful than to confront it, but rarely does this path of lesser resistance take a nation or society where it really needs to go.

For example, as recently as half a century ago, U.S. history textbooks attempted to soften and rationalize the subjugation of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants and other minorities. Meanwhile, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was relentlessly toppling statues and renaming buildings and even cities in hopes of purging the public memory of the brutal and embarrassing horrors visited on the populace by former premier Josef Stalin. In these and any number of similar cases stretching back to antiquity, efforts to make the past less troubling or more inspiring have left untold generations uninformed about the realities of their history or its ramifications for the present.

As a case in point, the history behind the controversial monuments in New Orleans is far more complicated and far-reaching in its consequences than many Americans realize. Most memorials of that type were not constructed immediately after the Civil War, but at least a generation after the final overthrow of Reconstruction in 1877, and they served not simply to reaffirm the rightness of the South's "Lost Cause," but to rally white southerners to a new campaign to restore their racial supremacy. As the 19th century drew to a close, the move to monumentalize the Lost Cause went hand-in-hand with campaigns for segregation and disfranchisement that, replete with incendiary rhetoric, more than once fueled outbreaks of mass violence against blacks, including the infamous Wilmington, N.C., riot of 1898. The principal instigator of this racial pogrom, which left at least two dozen blacks dead, was ex-Confederate and former congressman Alfred Moore Waddell, a vigorous proponent of erecting monuments to the state's "fallen sons," who also warned that the only means of fully securing their heroic legacy was stripping black men of the vote by any means necessary even if "we have to choke the Cape Fear [River] with carcasses."

To some, this additional layer of interpretation might seem only to make these already painful symbols even more so. To others, however, a fuller understanding of the breadth and complexity of the their implications could make them seem less like taunting reminders of victimization and more like powerful testaments to the enormous adversity black Americans have been forced to surmount. Properly annotated and situated away from official government buildings and grounds where citizens would be forced to encounter them, some of these monuments might ultimately serve a valid educational, and even socially redemptive purpose. Some historians and preservationists argue that, rather than concealing them, we should simply do a better job of explaining them. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Stephanie Meeks has noted that the organization believes "we actually need more historic sites properly interpreted, to help us contextualize and come to terms with this difficult past." Atlanta History Center President Sheffield Hale and his colleagues have actually drafted a template for supplementing the original information on a Confederate monument with language linking the Lost Cause to efforts to restore supremacy, and pointing out that "celebrations of the Lost Cause often went hand-in-hand with campaigns to enact laws mandating 'Jim Crow' segregation and disenfranchising African American voters which also sparked racial violence, including lynching, well into the twentieth century."

The mirage of a post-racial America has long since evaporated, but it is nonetheless important to recognize that the contemporary grievances of today's minorities are deeply rooted in a long history of discrimination and imposed disadvantage. Presented in broader historical perspective, monuments like those in New Orleans could contribute to that recognition. As historian David Blight noted in response to those who find it upsetting that Yale's Calhoun College bears the name of a prominent defender of slavery and advocate for slaveholding interests, "The past should really trouble us. I don't want the past to ever make us feel good." Ta-Nehisi Coates seemed to feel much the same when he explained, "I don't know if I want to forget that, at some point, somebody was crazy enough to have a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest. That's a statement about what society was. That shouldn't be forgotten." Yet, with black anger and frustration clearly approaching the boiling point and the Supreme Court seemingly poised to deliver the final blow to race-based college admissions policies crafted initially to counter the effects of centuries of systematic racial oppression, instead acknowledging the enduring consequences of an unjust past, we seem increasingly intent on sweeping aside many of the most vivid reminders of why there is still so much to overcome. 

Blasts From Christmases Past

(This post from 2009 actually originated in 2005 and has passed through several iterations, which, taken together, offer a bittersweet chronicle of how much things have changed--and how little.)

Although his ode to "Trees" was the first piece of verse committed to memory by several generations of American schoolchildren, Alfred Joyce Kilmer had a lot to overcome, including the fact that his parents chose to identify him by his middle name.  After surviving what, one presumes, were dozens of playground brawls about his moniker, Kilmer had the further  misfortune to become a poet whose work not only made sense but actually rhymed.  This, of course, amounted to the kiss of death among literary critics, so much so, that the effete highbrows at his alma mater,Columbia, now pay homage to him with an annual "Bad Poetry Contest." 

As I first did some four years ago, I beg to offer Joyce Kilmer's "Kings'" which might not be great poetry, but still strikes me as damn good and ironic insight, worthy both of the immediate season and the times in which we live:

 

The Kings of the earth are men of might,
And cities are burned for their delight,
And the skies rain death in the silent night,
And the hills belch death all day!
But the King of Heaven, Who made them all,
Is fair and gentle, and very small;
He lies in the straw, by the oxen's stall 
--

 

I posted this verse in 2005 as part of a critique of a warrior president who seemed to believe he had been elected king.  Now, here it is again,even as the winner of the  Nobel Peace Prize who is our new commander-in-chief orders the escalation of American involvement in Afghanistan on the premise that this is the best way to achieve peace in that region. To invoke an old analogy, fighting for peace strikes me as about as efficacious as  fornicating for chastity, and  any  "peace" achieved by wielding the proverbial big stick is likely to last only until the other guy finds a bigger stick.

(The following are excerpts, first from the 2010 follow-up,after the birth in May of our precious grandson, Barrett, and then from 2011, anticipating the impending arrival of our equally precious granddaughter,Virginia.) 

2010: When I read constantly about our courageous young men who are being killed or horribly maimed every day in Afghanistan, I can't help but question the reasons behind such sacrificial slaughter and remember that many of these young heroes are not even two decades removed from the warm, cuddly, infinitely curious and wide-eyed little boy. I can't wait to hold as close as I can for as long as I can.... 

2011: Barrett remains all those things, although he is now fully ambulatory and picking up new words ( Careful, Grandpa OB!) at the rate of about one per minute.  He has no idea, of course, that , God willing, at the tender age of twenty months, he will soon be assuming the awesome responsibility of being big brother to a newly arrived little sister.  Thus, bless his heart,  this stands to be his last year as the only star in the Christmas firmament for his doting and utterly devoted parents and grandparents. 

(The OB is bustin' proud to report that Barrett assumed the mantle of Big Bro-hood like a champ, and that Virginia only made that firmament even more dazzling. Ten years after the initial posting, however, the senseless slaughter in the Middle East continues.)

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[This would have saddened but doubtless not surprised] Joyce Kilmer, who knew about these things,after all, for he served in the vaunted "War to End all Wars,"until the summer of 1918, about a year after he wrote "Kings," when he was killed by a sniper at the Second Battle of the Marne.

Obviously, the Ol' Bloviator is in a bit of a somber mood right now, but he hasn't forgotten that this is supposed to be a season of hope and good cheer, and it is in that spirit that he presents the second [now eighth] annual Redneck Festival of Lights (Mash below) as may be witnessed any evening these days in front of the humble abode that he shares with the long-suffering Ms. OB, who, needless to say, both enjoys and deserves the deepest sympathies of the neighbors.  If you can't come by to admire the Ol' Bloviator's artistry firsthand, let me wish you the happiest and safest of holidays.  In other words, as they used to say in the country,"Have a good'un," or as they still say over at Ga. Tech, "Felice Bobby Dodd!"

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ON TODAY'S CAMPUSES, SPEECH IS NEITHER FREE NOR EASY.

 

A lot has happened since the Ol Bloviator was called away from these cyber-pages to attend to numerous loose ends, attending both to his research, and the rules and regs pertaining both to his imminent retirement from his longsuffering employer and alma mater (3x) and to the utterly chaotic foreplay leading up to getting laid low by the USG's default on its health care promises to its employees. (More to follow on this soon.) Among the things that have been crying out for his unsolicited commentary is the raging controversy within the academic realm over whether freedom of expression in practically any form must be restricted to avoid giving offense various racial, ethnic, cultural, and sexual orientation groupings within the student population.  The following is the O.B's take on this matter as it might be viewed through the eyes of one on the nation's leading champions of free speech in the twentieth century, the late historian C. Vann Woodward. It is a slightly up dated version of a piece posted on The History News Network.

 

When it appeared in 1975, Yale's Free Speech Policy made such a forceful case for the absolute necessity of protecting free expression on campus that it was quickly adopted as a model for a number of other universities. Forty years later, however, events at Yale and elsewhere demonstrate that many of the old certainties about the nature and primary importance free speech in the academic arena are anything but certain. Yale's policy was once better known as "The Woodward Report," in reference to C. Vann Woodward, the distinguished historian and public intellectual who chaired the committee charged with drafting the report. The association was indisputably fitting, for in addition to his role as an early and ardent crusader against racial injustice and exclusion, Woodward had been a champion of free speech and dissent since his young adulthood. In 1930, at age 21, fresh out of Emory University and teaching English at Georgia Tech, he became one of 62 signatories to a petition protesting arbitrary arrests and police harassment of communist spokespersons in Atlanta and demanding they "should be protected in their constitutional rights of free speech and assemblage." Two years later, he had helped to mount a defense effort for Angelo Herndon, a young black communist organizer who was arrested and imprisoned on charges of "inciting insurrection" under an obscure Georgia law dredged up from the Reconstruction era. Woodward would again risk his job and reputation by stoutly affirming the loyalty of embattled German-born faculty at Scripps College, where he was teaching at the beginning of World War II.

These and other such activities presaged Woodward's prominent role in supporting his Johns Hopkins colleague, international affairs expert Owen Lattimore, whose tolerant views on the Soviet Union led Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to condemn him as "the top Soviet espionage agent in the United States" in 1950. Though McCarthy and countless others urged Johns Hopkins administrators to fire Lattimore, Woodward was in the front ranks of a faculty cohort who succeeded in persuading the Hopkins higher-ups to retain him even after he was indicted by the Justice Department in 1952 and up until he was finally cleared of all charges in 1955.

Like many others born of the Cold War anxieties of the 1950s, Lattimore's case fell into a general pattern stretching back to the Early National Era in which individuals or groups who challenged the prevailing verities or the practices of the reigning political majority, provoked determined efforts to silence them either through the resources of government or by any other coercive means available. The next decade, however, would bring a striking new twist to free-speech debates and conflicts, in the academic realm especially, where it would frequently be those bent on fundamental alteration of the system who sought to silence its increasingly outmanned defenders.

Even as a champion of free speech and dissent, Woodward drew the line at what he saw as the unreasonable demands and bullying tactics of militant black students and anti-Vietnam war activists who succeeded in shutting down some universities for days at a time in the 1960s and early 1970s. On the other hand, rather than damaging, he thought periodic disagreements, even potentially volatile ones, sparked by the expression of controversial or unpopular views were vital to maintaining a vibrant, energized campus intellectual environment. He was more than a little dismayed, then, in September 1963, when then-provost and acting president Kingman Brewster persuaded a student organization to rescind its invitation to Alabama Governor George Wallace to speak at Yale. Brewster would later be named president in his own right, but he was clearly chastened by the backlash against his use of his office to restrict free speech on a campus where it was supposed to have been such a hallowed tradition. Though Woodward had been at Yale barely a year at that point, he had not hesitated to let Brewster know of his disapproval. Nearly a decade later, he would be, if anything, even more upset when student protestors were allowed to physically prevent General William Westmoreland from taking the podium in 1972 and two years later when they succeeded in shouting down a debate featuring physicist and black-inferiority theorist William A. Shockley. In the wake of the Shockley debacle, Brewster asked Woodward to chair a committee to draft a policy that would reaffirm "the principles of free speech" at Yale.

Unlike many documents constructed by committee, the Woodward Report would have both an immediate and a lasting impact, owing in no small measure to its eloquent and compelling argument for free speech as the absolute and inviolable principle by which all universities worthy of the name must abide: "The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. . . . We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox."

            Such assertions seemed very much in tune with the spirit of an era of zealously composed and just as zealously ripped down bulletin-board treatises and competing bullhorns echoing across college campuses. Although the report's authors conceded that "if a university is a place for knowledge, it is also a special kind of small society," they ultimately concluded that "it cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility, or mutual respect" and remain true to 'its central purpose." Indeed, they added for good measure, "It may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need to guarantee free expression."

            Woodward remained true to this principle in 1986, when he took up the cause of Wayne Dick, a student who had been placed on probation for posting flyers that mocked "Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days" by announcing "Bestiality Awareness Days." Dick had cited the Woodward Report in his defense, and his new champion explained that "certainly I don't agree with his ideas, but they all come under the protection of free speech." Yale's executive committee agreed to a re-hearing of his case and cleared Dick after Woodward recruited several influential witnesses to testify in his behalf, including Yale's Law School dean, who conceded that Dick's actions were "tasteless, even disgusting" but allowed "that's beside the point. Free expression is more important than civility in a university."

            This point of view did not go unchallenged at Yale or elsewhere, even in 1986, and, needless to say, it can hardly be said to hold sway today, when protestors at Amherst are demanding "extensive training for racial and cultural competency" and possible disciplinary action against fellow students who had posted placards upholding "Free Speech" and declaring "All Lives Matter." Likewise, it is difficult to imagine anything farther from the ideals expressed in the Woodward Report, than the recent viral video from Yale itself, in which a student berates Professor Nicholas Kristakis, master of Silliman residential college--and implicitly, his wife, the associate master--for failing to endorse the campus intercultural affairs committee's call for students to avoid potentially offensive Halloween costumes. Their job, she insists is not to create "intellectual space" but "a place of comfort and home." Student demands for the couple's ouster at Silliman have yet to bear fruit, but it seems a fair bet that Dr. Christakis's decision to take a sabbatical next term and Ms. Kristakis's plan to step away from her role as a lecturer at Yale represent something more than your old everyday, garden-variety coincidence.

            Woodward himself seemed to anticipate some of the current conflicts as early as 1989, when he observed that, while it was "majority opinion" that had been offended by Shockley's appearance at Yale in 1974, fifteen years later it was "mainly minority groups that fe[lt] offended by unrestricted free speech." In condemning "opinions and speech held repugnant or offensive" as "harassment," Woodward thought, minority spokesmen were resorting to "much the same rhetoric of shock and anger" once leveled at "the public sentiments of Professor Shockley and General Westmoreland."

The problem with Woodward's ironic observation was that he was comparing the feelings of an undifferentiated campus majority in the Westmoreland-Shockley cases of the early 1970s to the feelings of a sharply defined racial minority at the end of the 1980s. This discrepancy reveals much about the aims and expectations of the dedicated liberal crusaders of Woodward's generation. Speaking out forcefully against racial injustice at a time when it really meant something to do so, their goal was integration rather than racial or cultural diversity, which, rather than an end in itself, was for them, more of a stage in a larger process of assimilation. Intellectual diversity was another matter entirely, however, for they had dedicated much of their lives to toppling the tyranny of majority opinion and defending its victims. It was hardly surprising, then, that their ideal campus was one where the free expression of ideas mattered above all and racial or cultural distinctions and the attendant sensitivities mattered progressively less.

To say the least, Woodward and others of his cohort failed to account for such possibilities as racial, ethnic, cultural, and sexual-preference minorities actually embracing and demanding respect for identities that they had been expected to lose to the swift currents of the social mainstream. At any rate, the Woodward Report's insistence that freedom of speech on college campuses is not a debatable proposition rings true these days only because, as Professor Shockley learned at Yale, it is impossible to debate anything in the midst of a shouting match, in this case, between those seeking to bolster old protections for free expression, and those (currently enjoying the decibel advantage) demanding new protections from it.

 

MY PERFECT DAY

            

And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.--James Russell Lowell

 

Far be it for the Ol' Bloviator to call out the likes of James Russell Lowell, but he is purely bustin' to tell somebody about the absolutely perfect day he just had in September. Precision and truth are considerations that typically give the O.B. little pause, but in this case, he concedes that his perfect day, September 20, actually began about 9 p.m. on the 19th when it was abundantly clear that his Bulldogs, an irresistible but sometimes cruel mistress, had flat-out curb-stomped the hated South Carolina Gamecocks despite the machinations of their ever-clever Head Ball Coach. No coach in history has proven harder for Georgia to beat than Steve Spurrier, whom the O.B. dares to admit he actually admires and even likes a lot of the time. While our guy has managed to win a lot of games, he has also managed to make a good many of them feel like losses. Not so on Saturday evening, though, and to the O.B.'s great satisfaction, the extra spring in his step was still there when he woke up later than usual on Sunday after trying to make it through the entire Ole Miss-Bama tilt.

The O.B. prides himself on the fact that he no longer allows a faulty Bulldog on Saturday performance to mess up his Sundays (Well, at least after 10 a.m., in most cases). By the same token, however, he must concede that the salutary effect of a big win is much more enduring. At any rate, September 20 had a strong leg up on being a good day even before the O.B. began his post-victory Sunday ritual of reconfirming the triumph by checking out the write-ups in the papers as well as the always incisive comments of his colleagues on The Dawgvent. Then, it's on to ESPN's wrap-up shows to see if, for once, they will give the Dogs their due. (They didn't, of course, but came closer than usual.) This ritual was suspended briefly to feast on incredible French toast, lovingly prepared by the long-suffering football widow, Ms. O.B. Then came a leisurely, long-distance, damp-eyed "Face Time" session with the two most adorable grandkids in all of human history, wherein the topics ranged from how to tell a leopard from a tiger to why grandpa's faded red cap, stained with the sweat of many a gargantuan gridiron encounter, bore the strange inscription, "Hunker Down."

            Now doubly full of himself, ol' gramps proceeded to ace the New York Times's "Spelling Bee" word puzzle. (The O.B. heartily recommends this as one of the most challenging and seductive such games he has encountered.) By then, though, it was well past noon, and by the typical Sunday schedule,  the O.B. was long overdue to drag himself to his computer to do something "productive," such as attack a list of unwritten letters of recommendation, an unread dissertation, or maybe even his own long-in-the-works but too little-in-progress book. For once in a very great while, however, the O.B. suppressed the feelings that have made way too much of his adult life feel as though he is a kid trapped in a dream where he always has homework, and it's always over due. Instead, he Googled up some new ways to throw away money on his car, and having recently detailed said vehicle himself, proceeded to go outside and while away a good half-hour, trying to find the best angle for a photo that would show it off on some of the Internet car forums. By then, it was time to accompany the absolute work-out warrior, a.k.a., Ms. O.B., to the incredible Ramsey Center. Upon their return, it just seemed right, somehow,  to fire up a victory stogie, on which he puffed quite contentedly, wholly unmindful of that damn herniated disk, as he watched a replay of the previous evening's slaughter.He had to settle for seeing only the first half of the game, however, for yet another ritual awaited, the weekly Sunday trip with his best bud to chow down on Athens's best pizza at (Sorry Ted's, We love you and you are a strong number two.) Brixx.Brixx.jpg

 (The O.B. is fully aware that this judgment runs completely counter to the travesty perpetrated hereabouts by a certain, otherwise beloved, indie paper, which seems singularly disposed to tout even the most abject swill served up by any eatery describable as "local" over any offering from an establishment known to be "part of a chain.")

            Stuffed and satisfied, the O.B. and Ms. O.B. returned home to an early Sunday-night-night, knowing that Monday has a mighty hard act to follow. None of this is to suggest that the O.B. doesn't have more than his share of great days sprinkled along his timeline, but rather that, at three-score-and-eight, he finally realizes that he could doubtless have enjoyed many more had he simply been willing to let them happen.

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...And It Was,Was,Was!

            Five years ago, the Ol' Bloviator crammed this little cranny of cyberspace with a semi-weepy, self-indulgently sentimental account of the forty-fifth reunion of the Hart County (Ga.) Class of 1965. Guess what? He's back to do the same for our fiftieth reunion gathering. (Pause here for hardened cynics and assorted misanthropes to just click themselves somewhere else, for the O.B.is about to step way out of character here and go into full Sunshine Pumper mode. The 2010 entry proclaimed "It's Hard to Be Humble When You're A Member of the Class of 1965,"  and you may rest assured that the report on this weekend's proceedings stands merely to reaffirm that already indisputable truth.

Let's start with a few numbers. The post-World War II "baby boom" was just hitting its stride when the birth rate reached a new high of 3.7 million in 1947, and the 204 of those who got their diplomas from Hart County High on May 28, 1965, comprised by far the largest class in the school's history. An interesting and perhaps not totally irrelevant side note here is that our class boasted six sets of twins, which, by the O.B.'s tortured and frequently suspect figuring, means that the incidence of twin births in our bunch was more than three times the national average for 1947. At the very least, this would imply that although the war might have been over, our Poppas didn't come home shootin' no blanks, and our sweet, angelic Mommas were, well... ...let's just say, very happy to see them.   Of our original 204, to the best of anyone's knowledge, 160 of us are still alive--if not necessarily always kicking. Now get this! Fifty years after we graduated, 107 of the surviving 160--that would be two-thirds of those of us blessed to still show a pulse--showed up for a weekend when, for a few hours at least, a half-century's worth of divergent experiences, lifestyles, and geographic locations simply melted away. Suddenly, we were back cuttin' the town of Hartwell, which sure seemed a lot bigger back then,  in a long oval sweep anchored by the Dairy Queen at one end and the "Chick 'n Burger" at the other, resurrecting images of Dwight and Joe's muscle cars and Kathy's T-bird (not much said about the O.B.'s 1949 Ford coupe, however) recalling once red-hot romances and wondering if they were completely cooled even now. The best test of true friendships may well be the capacity, after years of being apart, to pick up with each other just where you left off  five, ten or twenty, even fifty years ago. Such caring and enduring friendships may be rare out there among you pitiable souls in the general population, but  the O.B.'s observations of this and all reunions past suggests they are by no means exceptional among his beloved class of '65ers. By way of illustration, let him resurrect this little edited snippet from his 2010 exaltation of his classmates:

The most recently deceased of our thirty classmates lost his leg in Vietnam and sometimes lost his way thereafter. When he suddenly fell terribly ill a few months ago, his country offered him no recompense for his sacrifice. Even as he lay ravaged and dying with cancer, the VA hospital would not accept him as a patient, and the Veterans Administration accepted no responsibility even for providing him with a decent place to die. At that point, two of his former classmates, both also fellow vets, stepped forward with the kind of compassion and character that made me doubly proud to be a member of the HCHS Class of 1965 and made arrangements to get our stricken comrade into hospice care.

He lasted only a few days there, but when the VA declined to reimburse them, the hospice folks were out some $5,100 in expenses. Determined not to see the matter end this way, one of the 1965ers who had gotten him into the hospice unit called on the rest of us via the listserv for the upcoming reunion to see to it that one of our own who had been so ill-served by the country he had defended so courageously should not have his passing recorded in red ink. Within a few weeks, contributions to the hospice in honor of our classmate exceeded the expenses for his care by roughly $2,000.

I'm sure some weighed in more heavily than others on this, but I know for a fact that a chunk of it came from folks who ain't exactly lighting cigars with $20 bills. I wouldn't argue if you told me  that members of other groups would step up like this to honor the memory of someone they knew forty-five years ago and hadn't seen much, if at all, since, but that doesn't mean I believed you.

This year the class cause was not so urgent or tragic but there was the matter of paying for a huge dinner and soiree done up properly for nearly 200 people, plus a magnificent four-color directory complete not only with individual bios, but  "then" and "now" photos of classmates, their children, etc. Even with hard-bargaining and realistic expectations for what proved to be a truly excellent repast, the bottom-line cost per classmate including the dinner and directory raised concerns that some folks on fixed and not particularly large incomes might be discouraged from taking part. Need a little extra cash to try to prevent that? No problem. Just let fifteen or so folks know, and as the French like to say, "VIOLA!"--the treasury is suddenly nearly $7,000 to the good, and not only are cost overruns on the meal covered, but regardless of whether they made it to the reunion or not, every classmate is getting a class directory free of charge.

Surely, one of the as yet least explored generational demarcations in recent American history is the end of the military draft in January 1973. That much is obvious in constructing a collective biography of our 1965ers whose lives and those of their loved ones were affected so profoundly and in so many ways, either by actual military service or by the looming uncertainty about it. Of our number, some 34 served in Vietnam, where two of them, Bobby and Sammy, lost their lives. Both were quiet country boys all through high school, and while information about Sammy's death is sketchy, we know a little more about Bobby's story, thanks to Charlie, who had been wounded in Vietnam himself.  Bobby arrived in Vietnam in October 1967 and his tour was scheduled to end the following September. Hence, he and his sweetheart, who had decided to hold off on marriage until he came home, settled on "See You in September" as their song. Though he was often in the thick of the fighting, Bobby had survived for seven months, only to lose his life on May 13, 1968, after exposing himself to NVA fire by rising to defend his crewmates with an M-16 after the turret gun on his Armored Personnel Carrier jammed. Bobby, Sammy and Charlie were but three of thirty-four class members who served in Vietnam, accounting among them for a Bronze Star and nine Purple Hearts. As he has reported elsewhere, the closest the O.B. ever came to the latter was a "Purple Buttock" resulting from a spider bite suffered one night in the woods when his National Guard unit was called up during a flood, and he salutes his gallant classmates for their immense courage and great sacrifices.

To be sure, these men are bona fide heroes every one, but they were by no means the only courageous people in this remarkable group whose members have withstood the deaths of spouses and children, beaten back cancer (more than once in several cases) and other life-threatening diseases and conditions, and refused to yield self-pity or despair despite all manner of additional adversities. Yet there was Mary, sprung from the assisted living facility where she has been for several years, in her wheel chair but bright-eyed and perky and clearly thrilled to see her old friends. There was also Brenda, who got out of bed just a few days after major surgery for a critical, extremely painful condition to make the reunion scene with her husband/classmate, Tony.  Not the least of the class stalwarts is the O.B.'s old and dear friend Bill, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in childhood, and by his own account, as one of the less than 1/10 of 1 percent of those who contract this disease in childhood and live with it more than fifty years, he now ranks as a certified "a freak of nature." Just to make it interesting, by the way, Bill also survived a devastating heart attack along the way. His diabetes guaranteed a "4-F" Selective Service classification, but he claims that it also left him fending off a crowd of friends looking to score a cup of his pee for their own draft physicals. A very successful financial adviser, Bill has now bought a bike and vows to join a motorcycle gang. All the O.B. can say to that is "Heads Up, Hell's Angels! Here comes Bill!"

Those of you who have had about all the gushing you can handle by now might ask if the O.B. is asking you to believe that his high school class was something akin to God's special little project, a peculiar assemblage of talent, virtue, strength, and compassion, designed to show skeptics what he could do if he really tried. Much as he'd like to affirm this with a simple "you're durn tootin'!'" and be done with it, he has to concede that his 204 best buds were also a product of their time and place. The members of the largest class in the history of our high school had also been members of the largest classes ever in their respective grammar schools, meaning that they probably heard throughout grade school about being a "special" group, of whom much would be expected. Beyond that, as part of the initial surge of "boomers," our ranks boasted an uncommonly high percentage of first-borns who generally manifest higher expectations and a greater fixation on achievement than their younger siblings. Some of this may be a reflection of the additional time they spend with their parents before those siblings come along, which probably means closer parenting of first-borns, but one thing's for sure, our Moms and Dads focused on keeping us from doing bad things, not hovering overhead in their private choppers ready to swoop down and make excuses for us when we did. Our folks were, by and large, the mainstays of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" who had not only won the war but lived through the Great Depression.  Although they strove to keep us safe from want, they also  understood that nothing was guaranteed in life, and for all our quasi-rebellious dalliances with the likes of Elvis, and later the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, most of us still absorbed enough of that wisdom to know that getting the best education and jobs we could was the greatest hedge against uncertainty available to us. Fortunately, we came of age at a time when post-secondary educational opportunities were expanding as were new and better jobs.

More fortunately still, we Hart County kids had been blessed to have a truly extraordinary group of teachers, most of them in and of the community and practically all of them truly dedicated to preparing and challenging us. In fact, the O.B. was so dadburned challenged that he barely sneaked in near the bottom of the top 10 percent of his class.  Like the athletic accomplishments that were unprecedented in school history, our class's impressive achievements in state and even national debate and literary competitions against much larger and better-funded schools were every bit as much a testament to the hard work and dedication of our teachers, as to the talent of the students who lugged the trophies home.laurieetcreunion.jpg

The Class of '65 suffered from no shortage of brains or pulchritude.

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More evidence of the above with this trio of the O.B's First Grade Crushes

None of all this is to say that every one of us presents the classic Horatio Alger story. Violence, drugs, alcoholism, and other forms of self-destructive behavior are not unknown within our ranks, and gut-wrenching tragedy and abject misfortune have not exactly been strangers either. Yet for all that, what the O.B. saw last weekend was a group of people focused not on their trials and setbacks but on their blessings, not the least of them being all the people who were smothering them with kisses, hugs, and handshakes that often were really wannabe hugs. The O.B. doesn't give a toot whether sociologists, demographers and other assorted know-it-alls would agree that his group seems all that exceptional statistically.  Flesh and blood trumps numbers and theory every time, and he knows for sure that being part of what is actually a very special extended family for him is not simply one of the most precious of his own many blessings but, at its heart, a far more vital source of pride and inspiration than any accolade that has or ever will come his way.

(All Photos by Annette Majeski Rogers)

THE WILD MAN FROM FIFTH AVENUE

The Old Bloviator has long held that that southern history holds the keys to unlocking practically any contemporary conundrum, including, in this case, explaining how and why someone so thoroughly dedicated to being utterly repugnant can actually be the front-runner for the Republican nomination. In fact, this one is something of a pushover in that Trump could well have stolen his playbook from no less towering a presence in the storied annals of Georgia politics other than Eugene Talmadge, who ran for governor five times, won four times but expired before taking office for the final term. From the governor's office, he ruled Georgia with an iron, albeit reckless, hand, usurping the prerogatives of the Comptroller General or the Public Service Commission whenever it suited his purpose, prompting one historian to denounce him "as a dictator, a demagogue and a threat to the tranquility of the state." (Sound familiar, DT?) Not for nothing was ol' Gene known as the "Wild Man from Sugar Creek," which actually trickled through his Telfair County estate, for his campaigns featured all manner of histrionics and audacity, such as showing up for a rally driving a set of oxen after strapping on his trademark red suspenders and sometimes drenching himself in corn whiskey. In a typical stump speech carefully choreographed to seem impromptu, he ridiculed his political opponents and critics, among whom he listed both "them lying Atlanta newspapers" and his favorite punching bag, the racially tolerant scalawag Atlanta Constitution columnist "Rastus," [a.k.a.] Ralph, McGill.

            Talmadge's behavior, like that of such counterparts as Jeff Davis in Arkansas and Ellison D. "Colton Ed" Smith, was easily written off to the apparently endemic ignorance and depravity of southern political leaders, not to mention that of those who kept electing them, but there were sound structural incentives that encouraged and reinforced such contrived rascality. Not the least of these was the "white primary," a device implemented as a sort of final filter meant to screen out any blacks who had somehow breached a veritable Siegfried Line of barriers to voting--from the poll tax, to the literacy test, to property requirements--and therefore remained eligible to exercise the franchise on election day. Determined that even this tiny minority of blacks would not have their say at the ballot box, state Democratic parties across the South had simply declared themselves private organizations, which allowed them to forbid black participation in their nominating primaries for state offices. Though this move may have seemed unnecessary, it was actually critical precisely because the aforementioned artifices, all of them keyed in one way or another to disfranchising the economically and educationally disadvantaged, had all but eliminated the prospect of voting by blacks and low-income whites who had a history of supporting Republican, Populist, or any other Independent candidates. With a Democratic triumph in the general election now a foregone conclusion, the Democratic primary was now the only meaningful game in town for statewide political aspirants (and just to make sure it served its purpose, anyone who ran in the white primary was required to foreswear any subsequent candidacy as a Republican or Independent.) Since the only realistic path to state office led straight through the Democratic primary, it frequently attracted aspirants in large numbers. With the overwhelming majority of those likely to really see things differently now on the outside looking in, differences among the candidates on concrete issues were infrequent, to say the least. The challenge of a large, relatively homogeneous group of competitors encouraged efforts to separate one's self apart as vividly, even histrionically, as possible, while lumping all the rivals together. In an especially crowded race for governor in 1932, Gene Talmadge simply dismissed his faceless opponents as "the baseball nine." Likewise, the virtual absence of fundamental differences on issues encouraged both personal attacks on one's rivals and tirades against a variety of sinister, impersonal, and frequently contrived forces. Over in Mississippi, for example, two-term governor Theodore G. Bilbo, who had recently called one of the state's sitting U.S. senators "a vicious, malicious pusillanimous, cold-blooded, premeditated, plain, ordinary liar," soon won a Senate seat himself, vowing to wreak vengeance on "farmer murderers, corrupters of southern womanhood," and "skunks who steal Gideon's' Bibles from hotel rooms."

            Needless to say, incumbents with established bases of support were likely to benefit from a crowded field of candidates, just as fields were more likely to be crowded when, as in 1932 in Georgia, there was no incumbent in the race, and so it is in a 2016 Republican primary line-up, which includes not only the outrageous Mr. T, but sixteen would-be rivals, the closest running a mere fifteen points behind him in current polls. Though he is actually a better showman than P. T. Barnum, Mr. Trump clearly subscribes to the old Barnum dictum that "there's no such thing as bad publicity."

            His most recent ventures into over-the-top audacity appear to have cost him an event or broadcast contract or appearance opportunity here and there, but what the heck does that mean to a guy worth $10 billion? Not only do these intended rebukes simply bounce off his Kevlar-encased ego, but they afford further opportunities to tout himself as the only, red-blooded, non-wuss GOP option, in the much way the disapproval of  the "better element" served as badges of distinction for the Talmadges and Bilboes. Meanwhile,  his tremulous opponents agonize over jeopardizing their conservative creds by venturing out of the far right lane just long enough to chide him for being too forthright and visceral in expressing and defending views on immigration, health care, women's issues, etc. that generally differ little from their own. Thus, the currently trumped non-Trumps sit gaping as he careens all over the road, mocking party icon John McCain, ridiculing Rand Paul, and flat-out dissing both Jeb and his brother. Surely the O.B. has told you enough about Gene Talmadge by now that you could easily see him giving out Ralph McGill's phone number, much as Trump did with poor old Lindsay Graham. Although Trump's refusal to foreswear an independent candidacy would have gotten him booted out of the white primary, neither his individual or cumulative excesses to date have sufficed to send him tumbling down amongst his competitors who, at this point, are left to paddle back and forth in a tepid puddle of "meh" awaiting what they keep telling themselves is Donny's inevitable downfall.

Though Trump hardly qualifies as a much of a "populist," he seems to have tapped, however crudely and tastelessly, into a rich vein of throbbing discontent, not all of it necessarily partisan, with the rigid code of political correctness that frequently seems to govern public action and thought these days. This is to say, that some, perhaps many, of those who disagree with the substance of what Trump actually says nonetheless find it hard not to admire the exuberantly unhesitant manner in which he says it. In fact, as it was with ol' Gene, his most endearing trait to many supporters may well be that "he just don't give a damn!"

            In the practical political sense, however, the trouble with The Donald is that he is not exactly overstocked with such traits. Trustworthiness? Likability? The Common Touch?  "Nope" 3X. Ironically,rather than taking solace in the fact that the very same deficits might be cited in the lurking, looming, inevitable, nine-lived Hillary, Republican leaders must find it more than maddening that, from a field of nearly two "baseball nines," their party has yet to come up with no more viable opponent than someone whose every attempt to capitalize on her negatives is all but certain simply to call further attention to his own.

Bloviate:

"To orate verbosely and windily."

Bloviate is most closely associated with President Warren G. Harding, who used it frequently and was given to long winded speeches. H.L. Mencken said of Harding:

"He writes the worst English that I've ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the top most pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Cobbloviate dedicates itself to maintaining the high standards established by President Harding and described so eloquently by Mr. Mencken. However,the bloviations recorded here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the mangement of Flagpole.com,nor,for that matter, are they very likely to be in accord with those of any sane, right-thinking individual or group anywhere in the known universe.

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