Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Civil Rights: A Tale of Two Presidents and My High School History Teacher

There was a wonderful article published this past Sunday, April 3, 2011 in The New York Times Magazine, page MM40, by Adam Goodheart. The article titled How Slavery Really Ended in America can be found on line at . It's fascinating. The gist of the story is that an event early on in the Civil War involving Major General Benjamin F. Butler (a career lawyer who was only 1 month into his service in the military) inevitably led to the Emancipation Proclamation. Likewise, early on in the Lyndon Johnson presidency, there was a similar event that led to the inevitable passage of the 14th amendment.

Most of us know the Lyndon Johnson was an avid Civil Rights advocate, but, as he once told Dr. Martin Luther King, you will need to put me in a position where I have to push for the 14th amendment, in order to make it happen. The killing in Selma, Alabama during a protest rally was just such an event. And, here, is the famous quote from President Johnson's We Shall Overcome speech of March 15, 1965 that so inspired the fight for Civil Rights:

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith
in our democracy in what is happening here tonight. For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government -- the government of the greatest nation on earth. Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.

Of course we all know that President Lincoln made some memorable speeches himself, but in 1963, as a senior in High School, I wrote a paper in my history class that made the exact point that Johnson made two years later when he explained what had to happen in order to pass the 14th amendment. I researched the various speeches that Lincoln made during his cross country campaign to become president. I showed that in the North, he often referred to slavery and the need for its abolishment, but never, never did he mention abolishment in the south. Regretfully, I was tarnishing a hero, and my teacher was not a big fan of my paper.

The same teacher, the same course, another paper. This time, I wrote a paper on how to get elected president. I had just read the Theodore White book The Making of a President (1960) based on the Kennedy/ Nixon campaign, and when I looked at the chart of votes per candidate by state, I hypothesized that very few states really counted in a presidential election. For example, New York would almost always vote democratic, and Ohio could go either way. So, I used the library to locate the popular vote count by state for past elections and predicted which states could go either way and which states don't need serious campaigning in. Again, my teacher felt that this was inappropriate, he argued that all states are up for grabs and that a proper candidate treats them all equally. Dick Morris, born in 1948 (2 years younger than me), and Karl Rove (born 1950), both knew what I was talking about.

Perhaps if my "Get Clean for Gene" volunteering in the 1968 election had turned out differently, I might have forgotten the scientist career and become a political campaign strategist.

Who knows, certainly not my High School History teacher !

1 comment:

  1. My comments don't seem to be posting. Stand by readers, I am trying to fix it.