A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

circa 1938, from the Library of Congress

In 1920 the NAACP began to hang this flag outside of its New York City office whenever a black man was killed as the result of racial violence. They used it until 1938, when they had to remove it to keep their lease. A man was lynched yesterday.


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Weekend Reading

Here’s your weekly edition of links in no particular order.

Why are carrots orange? Because of the Dutch.

Also, ugly fruits are making a comeback in Europe.

Where is the densest urban environment in the world? You’d be surprised.

What happens when a taxidermist who has never seen a lion tries to stuff one? Hilarity ensues, that’s what.

What did Martin Luther King, Jr. really do? And what did he and his colleagues in the Civil Rights movement really achieve?

This is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

Photos of the construction of the US Capitol, via How to Be a Retronaut

Is the freelancing trend as big as the Industrial Revolution?

Did Americans have British accents in 1776? Or did the British have American accents?

Twitter loves you for who you are.

I don’t know what this says about the glory of the internet, but you should watch this video. And if you are a least bit amused, watch these parodies. I sure can’t promise you’ll be glad you did, but I know I am.

Here’s the latest on why teachers are still under-appreciated and underpaid.

Also from Gin & Tacos, why we should learn from past tragedies instead of just “never forgetting” them.

A rite of passage for world leaders, for example, is the pilgrimage to Auschwitz. And people the world over know that the Holocaust is not to be forgotten. But what lesson do the solemn-faced presidents and Popes and prime ministers take away from their tour of the camps? What is it that we Don’t Forget about the Holocaust? For most people the lesson of the Holocaust is not to vote for anyone covered in swastikas and wearing a cartoon villain toothbrush mustache. The lesson is that if anyone proposes herding people into cattle cars, trucking them to a rural area, gassing them, and putting them in crematoria, we should do something to stop it. We have learned those rather useless lessons very well. What we haven’t learned, of course, is anything about the root causes and warning signs of fascism, the gruesome result of taking socio-political scapegoating and segregation to its logical conclusion, or the consequences of failing to accept our fundamental equality on the most basic human level. We learn that Nazis are evil and go back to railing against the immigrants or the fags or the poor or the dark people or whoever else we see as our social inferiors. It’s not just possible to remember something without learning anything from it – it’s remarkably easy.

The Borders African History Paradigm exists across the Atlantic too.

David from PhD Octopus has been traveling through Eastern Europe, which has led to some pretty good blogging, including posts on the history of towns and the history of family.

Internet is faster in Rhode Island than the rest of the country.

Car drivers don’t hate mass transit as much as they thought they did.

Chapati Mystery has a pair of posts on anti-Turk, anti-Muslim sentiment in Berlin, with startling anecdote.

Speaking of anti-Muslim, apparently the FBI thinks pious Muslims are more likely to be violent. And here’s a photo of one of the slides.

Apparently UC Irvine thought it was necessary to run anti-occupation training on campus.

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Who is Ralph Nader?

Ralph Nader and his young advocate followers - Nader's Raiders - at the Capitol.

I just finished watching An Unreasonable Man, a documentary about Ralph Nader. What’s interesting is how his image has changed so much with time. His actions from the 60s to the 90s have been eclipsed by his work in the 21st century. For most people of my generation, the sole memory of Nader is the story of how his bid in 2000 handed Gore’s victory to Bush, and to that he disrupted Kerry’s run as well, albeit to a lesser extent. I myself didn’t even now about Nader’s prior work until I got to college. But the true work of Ralph Nader was to work within government to protect Americans from corporations. I decided to watch the documentary just to learn a bit more about this time, but it also has quite a bit dedicated to the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Ralph Nader began his crusade for automobile safety after a colleague of his was rendered quadriplegic in a car crash. In the 1950s, automobile manufacturers were hesitant about the costs of implementing safety measures on their own, but they were even more worried about the government trying to impose regulations on them. Nader quickly became the center of the automobile safety push.

Up to then, car companies tended to blame drivers for operating vehicles in unsafe ways when in reality the vehicles were structurally dangerous to drive. Reporters, advocates and whistle blowers all gravitated to Nader. And the more they rallied to him, the more opponents accosted and threatened him. General Motors even sent people after Nader to try to find out if he was involved in any illegal activities, calling his friends and trying to seduce him in grocery stores. GM ultimately apologized in a Congressional hearing. At the same congressional hearing, Nader said that “I think the thing that has persuaded me to continue in this area is that I don’t want to have a climate in this country where one has to have an ascetic existence and steely determination in order to speak truthfully and candidly and critically of American industry.”

Nader would soon open a case for invasion of privacy, and the money he won in that case helped fund his subsequent campaigns in the name of consumer protection. After a few students reached out to Nader, a movement formed with students working in small groups on different commissions and revealing the problems in each one. Especially in the 60s and 70s this was a huge change in the way that people tried to alter the system – it was a testament to the power of the individual citizens not just in protesting on the streets but also in the corridors of power.

After several decades of dealing with Republicans that opposed his efforts and Democrats that failed to sacrifice any political capitol to support him as they turned more and more to corporate interests, Nader decided to finally step forwards. His involvement in the 2000 election would ultimately overshadow the huge success of what he had done for consumer protection. But his success goes beyond seat belts and airbags.

Nader began his work in a time when people had utterly rejected working within Washington to bring about change and had taken to the streets. People were demonstrating against war, racism, and poverty everywhere. And it worked in many instances. But what Nader did was stay in the system and work hard to get the truth out, and he made huge gains for consumer protection and for citizen organizing.

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Two Memorials, One War

When I was in Washington, DC last month I had the chance to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for the first time. I had never been to any of the war memorials in DC and was able to pass through on a cool and rainy morning with a friend. I had taken a course on the Vietnam War specifically in addition to other studies in American history, and I distinctly remembered pieces from this book on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Kristin Ann Hass’ book is about the quest to create the Memorial as well as the effects the Memorial has had on how Americans memorialize the dead. The whole book is well worth a read, but as we walked through the trees and the Wall came into view, I kept going back to the first chapter, which details the uphill battle that organizers faced in getting the Memorial actually built.

Today, almost thirty years after the memorial came into being, the monument seems to strike deep chord with most. I have relatively little connection to the casualties in Vietnam, compared to most – and yet I felt an emotional pull when I looked at the names on the granite. The memorial seems to stand as a stark reminder of the tragedy of war, etched into the ground on the National Mall. I can’t speak for others, but I feel like quite a few people experience the same feeling. But it wasn’t always that way.

When Maya Lin’s design was first approved (unanimously) by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund jury, it was seen as some as out of touch. The VVMF had required all submissions to “(1) be reflective and contemplative in character; (2) harmonize with its surroundings; (3) contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing; and (4) make no political statement about the war.” Lin’s design fit the bill, but it was definitely abstract compared to other memorials. According to Hass, many thought the design was “too abstract, too intellectual.” In other words, it belonged to the upper class – the class that was immune to drafts and war. Many thought that there was a lack of ownership for veterans and that the somber emotions it invoked paid lip service to the anti-war movement.

While there was also support both from the press, the jury, and all of the major veterans groups, the Memorial faced opposition among many in Washington. In the end, Secretary of the Interior James Watt refused to allow the plans to move forwards unless the VVMF also approved The Three Fightingmen sculpture. The leaders of the push for the memorial had no choice but to acquiesce. The three bronze men now stand a hundred feet away, facing the Wall. Walking across the grounds, I felt like the men and the Wall were worlds apart: one was a traditional sculpture of nameless soldiers cast in bronze, gazing across the grounds; the other was an emotional and imposing wall that drew you in, discreetly bringing you face to face with 58,000 stories. The Vietnam War is definitely a conflict with many faces and many perspectives. I think the memorials on the National Mall are a testament to that. The two monuments stand as a reminder to how divisive the Vietnam War was – even its memory was difficult to create.

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Take it to the White House

Last night was one of a long series of Joint Appearances by Presidential Candidates (thanks to whoever tweeted JAPCans months ago) for the GOP. There was a portion of the “debate” in which candidates were asked what they would bring with them to the White House if elected. Michele Bachmann said she would bring the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, prompting many jokes on Twitter.

It is more than just semantics to understand what an amendment is. The Constitution of the United States has been amended 27 times – the first 10 simultaneously. Each and every one of these changes is an addendum to the document. The Bill of Rights are indeed part of the Constitution. But it’s important to remember that so are the other ones.

Just because they aren’t written on old paper with a menial ‘s’ doesn’t mean that other amendments are any less important. You can definitely make your own hierarchy, to be sure, but I think the authors of the Reconstruction amendments hold a similar place to the authors of the Constitution. The end of slavery, the authority to tax income, the popular vote of senators, the definition of citizenship, the suffrage of blacks, women, and young adults – these are all as important as the right to bear arms and enjoy privacy and protest. It’s a shame that these latter amendments are often ignored in favor of the glory of the Bill of Rights.

So, if for some reason the White House doesn’t have its own copy of the Constitution – every President should print out the original with all 27 amendments and keep it in his or her pocket. Keep in mind that that means you have the founding Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and 17 other important P.S.s – even two that negate each other – all in one handy document called the Constitution.

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Weekend Reading

After what turned into a few weeks’ hiatus, here are a few things worth reading for the weekend. I started off with some contemporary pieces of news I’ve been digesting, but the further you go the more likely you are to notice that I’ve been running through my backlog of favorite’d links from the summer. Either way, I hope you find something interesting.

Last week was Labor Day, but labor has all but disappeared from the public discourse:

In scores of different ways, we paint investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the gains from capital — resistance to continuing the payroll tax cut is a case in point — and we hide workers away while lavishing attention on those who make their livings by moving money around.

The colors of Crayola, from 1903 to now, with a pretty chart.

That Groupon deal for tuition in Chicago? It’s just another marketing scheme for a school that sold its name to the last big donor.

Welcome to Booker, Texas! Unless you’re Al Jazeera.

From McSweeney’s – A Post Gender Normative Man Tries to Pick Up a Woman at a Bar:

Crazy news about the first female African head of state and Liberia’s sitting president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, huh? Announcing her candidacy for 2011 so soon! Wow. What do you think of her chances? I think she’s a shoo-in, but I’m admittedly a bit concerned about Prince Johnson making some last minute strides, especially amongst the Gio people in the Nimba region. I’m thinking of launching a letter writing campaign on behalf of EJ-S or at least cold calling potential Nimba voters over Skype.

Oh, how gauche of me! I’ve just been chattering away incessantly like some kind of boy or girl who talks a lot. I haven’t even properly introduced myself. Although, one often gets the uneasy sense that patriarchy dictates a learned and ultimately damaging order of events with men taking an unearned lead. My name is Terri, with a heart over the i, instead of a dot. I have a heart, is what that says, and I’m not afraid to wear it on my sleeve.

So what do you think? Would you like to take me up on my offer for you to buy me that drink?

If you would like to respond, that would be wonderful. Of course, if you would like to continue to sit here silently, staring at me with that powerful gaze, which both breaks gender constructs and also scares me a bit, that would be fine as well.

Texas in Africa recently interviewed Zachariah Mampilly about the release of his new book, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War.

What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.

In case you didn’t hear, the United State Postal Service is close to shutting down completely.

The “visible hand” of Google, both metaphorically and a literal hand in a Google Books page, on the book industry:

In such circumstances, the failure of public institutions gives rise to the circular logic that dominates political debate. Public institutions can fail; public institutions need tax revenue; therefore we must reduce the support for public institutions. The resulting failures then supply more anecdotes supporting the view that public institutions fail by design rather than by political choice.


Google officials, promoting their effort to scan millions of books purchased with public money [e.g. University of California, University of Michigan —N.C.] and donated by shortsighted universities, claimed they were trying to preserve libraries and perform an essential public service—just the sort of service that our great university libraries could have been working toward had they been allowed to succeed. Publicly supported institutions fail, so we leap into the arms of the private actor, ready to believe its sweet nothings.

The hand–always the synecdoche for the worker (the mediator between the head and the hand, we learn in Metropolis, must be the heart)–is inserted literally into our view of the text, disrupting for a moment our sense that Google Books are, quite simply, books that have been “put online,” as if books themselves could simply leap media and enter a disembodied realm. The intrusion of the hand shows us that these are photographs (of a sort) and that someone must have made them.

In an inversion of our usual intuition that images are less mediated than text, these hands make us realize that Google Books made us feel as though digital texts were unmediated–were the books themselves. In contrast, the awareness that the digital object is an OCRed image of text–a photograph of its own scene of production, complete with visual evidence of the hand that wrought it–forces us to acknowledge the strange backwards ekphrasis (text to image to fallen, “corrupted” text–OCR is a silent diplomatic edition) in a Google Book, the labor by which it was created and uploaded, and the person who labored, now knowable only through the operative, synecdochal appendages that both create and corrupt the digital object.

What happens when you celebrate your birthday on facebook three times in one month?

I’m assuming you heard about the college student who joined the Libyan rebels for fun.

From April, The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

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The Rules of a Rebel

Most of my reading on Uganda has to do with the Lord’s Resistance Army, but recently I’ve been reading up on their precursor, the Holy Spirit Movement. Like many groups in northern Uganda, the group had written rules for all participants. From an article in 1991:

The rules vary somewhat between testimonies but are consistent in their prohibition of wearing lucky charms, consulting other healers and mediums, sexual intercourse, alcohol, tobacco and certain foods (white ants, pork, sometimes mutton). Other prohibitions that appear frequently are on food cooked in saucepans, eating with anyone who has not been anointed, killing snakes, becoming angry, and theft. Additionally there are often instructions, such as ‘When we gather our- selves after battle, we must have water sprinkled on us before drinking’ and ‘When going to the front-line, we should sing, “Medicine give power, give me guidance. Anthill give me respect”.’ In some cases the lists of rules are presented in an explicitly biblical style, and those contained in the testimony obtained by Behrend even come complete with references, for example ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery or fornication (Deut. 5, 18: Gal. 5, 19)’. In addition there is occasionally a rule relating to the correct shape of the body, such as ‘Thou shalt have two testicles, neither more nor less’

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