March 2009 Archives

My Heroes Haven't Always Been Cowboys


Those of you who hang around this site may have noticed that the ol’ Bloviator is pretty slow to bestow his unreserved admiration on anybody. I’m pretty sure this goes back to the trauma I experienced as a child upon discovering that Roy Rogers was really Leonard Slye from Ohio. At any rate, even if it was strictly SRO in my pantheon of heroes, there’d always be a place for John Hope Franklin, who died this week at the age of 94.


John Hope Franklin was one of those very rare scholars who both wrote history and made history, most prominently in the latter case as a key advisor to the NAACP Legal Defense Team that brought down legalized school desegregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. For me, the best testimony to the stature John Hope achieved came several years ago when my neighbor, a white middle school P.E teacher, happened to spot one of his books at my house and tell me excitedly how much he had learned from reading it.
It’s literally impossible to stay abreast of the torrent of tributes that has poured forth in the wake of Franklin’s death. It’s clear, however, that among the several generations of younger scholars who were fortunate enough to make his acquaintance, he will be perhaps most appreciated as an all-too rare academic icon who, for all his achievements as a historian and an eloquent and influential proponent of racial justice, always seemed to have just as much time and regard for them as for his own more senior and accomplished peers. Like hundreds of others before and after me, my initial awkward attempt to introduce myself to “Dr. Franklin” was interrupted mid-stammer by “Why, I know who you are!” and followed by an exhilarating exchange in which he gave me every indication that he really wanted to hear what I had to say about my own research. Needless to say, this was a most welcome departure from the ill-suppressed yawns and fixed stares at the ceiling that typically greet my efforts to explain my work.
By way of contrast, as the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard since W. E B. Dubois, early in his career especially and even later in some cases, John Hope had encountered a seemingly endless series of insults, snubs, and impediments, ranging from barriers to involvement in professional gatherings, to absolute exclusion from certain archives to consignment to separate work spaces in others. On top of these, of course, came the daily reminders of second-class citizenship that simply went with being black in what was still very much a racially segregated America even outside the South, whose history was Franklin’s particular passion.
In 1949, at he behest of his friend C. Vann Woodward, Franklin became the first black scholar ever to present a paper at a meeting of the Southern Historical Association. Despite his Harvard degree and two stellar books, a number of his white colleagues raised questions about where he would stay, eat, or use the bathroom. Sure enough, the meeting hotel in Williamsburg ignored Franklin’s request for a room. Woodward pointed out that the same circumstances might attend if the meeting were scheduled for the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York, or the Mayflower in Washington, or the Parker House in Boston, and Franklin’s decision to stay with a local white friend and avoid any of the dinner meetings helped to assure that this unprecedented event came off smoothly. Franklin’s paper drew a warm response, but he was not actually allowed to attend the banquet that traditionally accompanied the SHA’s presidential address until three years later and then only because, along with a cohort of the meeting’s organizers, Woodward, as president, had insisted that the affair be moved be moved from the Farragut Hotel in Knoxville, which had made it clear it would not serve a racially integrated group.
By 1955 Franklin had a third book and lectureships at Harvard, Cornell, Cambridge, and Salzburg on his resume, but that still counted for nothing in the kingdom of ol’ Jim Crow. Offering a rare glimpse into his personal frustrations, he revealed to his friend Howard Beale what it was like for an accomplished African American to try to participate fully in his chosen profession when he was not allowed to participate fully in American society at large. In January, 1955, he wrote Beale that

Bell Wiley[Emory University] and Jim Silver [Ole Miss] have asked me to be on the program committee of the Southern Historical Association [scheduled to meet in Memphis that November.]I accepted with the reservation that participation in planning the program would not commit me to attend the meeting. Although they have secured commitments from the Peabody Hotel to admit Negroes to all meetings, including regularly scheduled dinner and luncheon meetings, I cannot subject myself to the inconvenience and risk of humiliation involved in attending the meeting. Memphis is a terrible town with the most rigid patterns of segregation. I would be literally stranded at the hotel all the time since white taxicabs will not ride Negro passengers; and it would be difficult for me to get to the meetings from far across town since Negro taxicabs don’t like to go into the “white part of town” since return fares are practically impossible. So, I am in the anomalous position of helping to plan a meeting that will be interesting, valuable, and most attractive, though I am certain that it will not be attractive enough to draw me to Memphis!*

When I first encountered this letter several years ago, I thought first of writer and poet Sterling Brown’s comment that “segregation is the denial of belonging.” Pondering it again after I learned of John Hope’s death, I understood much better his determination, as one who had so often encountered efforts to deny his own “belonging,” to make his junior colleagues feel comfortable and secure in his presence.
The most memorable session of the 1955 meeting that Franklin had helped to plan but could not bring himself to attend featured remarks by none other than William Faulkner. Many years later, he revealed that his “greatest regret” was that, because of his principled refusal to bend to the etiquette of Jim Crow, he had lost his “one opportunity” to hear Faulkner. Personally, since their mutual friend Jim Silver would almost certainly have introduced the two, I’m more inclined to think that the real loser in this case might have been Faulkner.

*The letter quoted here is from the Howard K. Beale Collection at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

P.S.Completely without his permission, and, in fact, with no real regard for his feelings in the matter whatsoever, I am appending the following comment on this post by my old(er)friend and a distinguished historian in his own right, Hardy Jackson:

I first met Dr. Frankin in Hollywood Florida at the SHA convention. I had decided to go sit by the pool so I went and got on my swim suit. I wore a shirt with my SHA badge pinned on for fear that my Alabama roots might show and without proper identification I would get thrown out. I was riding down the elevator when it stopped on one of the floors. The door opened and in walked John Hope Franklin and Willie Lee Rose. He looked at me, smiled broadly, and said, "I wish I had brought my swimming trunks." :You know, I really think he did.

I have logged many a mile on early morning runs listening to ol’ Bob Edwards when he was on “ Morning Edition,” and I enjoy a number of National Public Radio programs today. Any entity that can claim enemies like Jesse Helms and Rush Limbaugh must be doing something right. That said, their utterly predictable "P.C. uber alles" take on things drives me nuts sometimes. As a case in point, I invite your attention to the following sequence of email exchanges that cut into the Ol’ Bloviator’s jealously guarded Spring Break writing time yesterday:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 10:40 AM
Subject: National Public Radio, ON POINT

Professor Cobb:

This is _______ from the NPR show ON POINT. Thursday March 12th, from 11-noon ET, we’ll spend an hour talking to film critic Molly Haskell’s new book “Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited.” She looks at the movie and the book and talks about how they still resonate today, how Scarlett is a woman of the ages.

I’m looking for someone who can come on for about 15 minutes during the hour – around 11:30 am ET. Someone who has thought long and hard about Gone with the Wind and its influence on our national identity, the impact of Scarlett, etc …

I wonder if this is you … and if you might be available tomorrow, by phone.


OBto Self: "So, do I want to do this? This is a good show. I've been on it before. But it's certain to eat up two hours of writing time, and you can’t even get it here."
Self to OB: "Gimme a Break!! You know you're going to do it. You love to talk about GWTW. Besides, even if it isn’t available locally' it has a lot of listeners nationwide and you know what an incurable ham you are."
OB to Self: "OK, I forgot all that, particularly the last part."

From: JAMES C. COBB []
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 11:46 AM
To: ___________
Subject: RE: National Public Radio, ON POINT

Sure. I saw the NYT review, but I don't have a copy. I'll try to get one. Can I do this from home or will it need to be from our local NPR affiliate? If you need to call my cell is ________. Thanks, Jim

From: _________
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 11:48 AM
Subject: RE: National Public Radio, ON POINT

I’m about to walk into a meeting where we’ll talk about this hour. Before I confirm, is there a chance I could talk to you for a moment or two this afternoon? I’d love to get your take …

OB to Self: " Hmm…"
Self to OB: "Hmm…"
OB to Self: "Ah, what the hell..."
Self to OB: "Hmm…"

From: JAMES C. COBB []
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 11:52 AM
To: _________
Subject: RE: National Public Radio, ON POINT

Sure, just call. I'll be around. jc

Wed 3/11/2009 1:47 PM
Subject: National Public Radio, ON POINT

Hey Professor Cobb:

So, I just walked out of the meeting … and everything has changed. There was a NPR piece run a few years ago by ________ and her growing up African-American and her love of Scarlett. The host was real keen to go in that direction. Hence, I’m going to have to take a raincheck. I’m sorry to cancel!

OB to Self: "Well, I’ll be damned. I got bumped by a re-run."
Self to OB: "That’s about the size of it, Red Rider, but don’t tell me you’re surprised! Didn’t you know 'NPR' means 'Not Partial to Rednecks'?

From: JAMES C. COBB []
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 2:34 PM
To: _________
Subject: RE: National Public Radio, ON POINT

Roy Blount says southerners actually get a kick out of being stereotypical. Maybe that applies to NPR hosts as well. Luckily, I picked up your message on my way into the bookstore. Thanks for letting me know so quickly. Cheers, Jim

OB to Self: "Well, that should send them a strong message, don't you think?"
Self to OB: "Sigh..."

All is Lost, So Lighten Up!

In an effort to dispel some of the gloom I've been spreading around this site recently, I've combed through current events in search of a little comedy. As some of the items below suggest, however, the line between what's funny and what's sad can get a little blurred sometimes.



Rush Limbaugh showed up for his ninety –minute harangue to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
dressed all in black with his shirt open down to his navel (or at least where he last remembers seeing said navel some two decades ago). Thus far, efforts at an adequate characterization of how he looked have not done him justice, although “low-level Yugoslavian mobster” is getting there. Personally I really thought Limbaugh must be striving to to address the gaping gender gap among his listeners by coming across as a Lubbock photocopier salesman trying to put the make on the divorcee (X 3 )who used to answer the phones at the loan company before it went (forgive me, Rush) belly-up.

The Demos have seized upon the notion of making Rush the face of the Republican party, an idea that makes the Repubs squirm, albeit very quietly, while emboldening His Blowhardship to challenge ol’ Oby himself to come on down for an on-air debate. Meanwhile, Rush’s attacks on Republican Chairman Michael Steele first elicited a surprisingly bold rejoinder from Steele: "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh—his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly."
Sure enough, however, in a matter of hours, the ruckus raised by Rush’s army of dittoheads led Steele to follow the lead of Georgia Congressman Phil Gingery (chronicled on this very site a few weeks ago) in falling over himself to plant a bit sloppy smacker right on Rush’s two-ton tushy: "There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership....There are those out there who want to look at what he's saying as incendiary and divisive and ugly. That's what I was trying to say. It didn't come out that way."

The Repubs are willing to humiliate themselves in this fashion because, incapable of any response to the Oby stimulus package other than sheer bullheaded obstructionism, they have nothing to say that they figure would appeal to more folks than the 20 million lost souls who, so Rush would have us believe, constitute his following.[I Told You So Update! Remember you heard this here first!] Let’s just say a closer look at how these numbers are actually assembled makes them more than a little suspect. Best I can tell from wading through reams of jibber-jabber on this, radio audience measurement is still done largely based on the diary entries of listeners who try to recall what was coming out of their radios during at least five minutes of a fifteen-minute segment of their day. This means that Rush’s numbers would include all of those who pushed the “seek” button and suffered the misfortune of having the tuner stop on Rush, only to suffer the further misfortune of either getting a call on their cell at precisely that moment or, more likely, of simply having to pull over immediately and toss their lunches before they could reach under the seat for their trusty Glocks and put their radioes out of their misery. Under the current counting system, these folks would show up alongside the greatly to-be-pitied souls who actually make conscious decisions to let the pussel-gutted poobah of bombast and misinformation assault their eardrums for three hours, five days a week.

All of this would mean that the number of people actually hearing Rush at any one point could, by generous estimate, be set more accurately at two to three million. Mind you, that’s still an enormous wad of truly scary people, but I figure that when you weed out all of Rush’s minions who can’t find the registrar’s office (or think it is perched right on the edge of the world and might topple off with them in it) or believe that voting is part of a Commie plot or that voting machines are actually cleverly disguised sources of Satanic possession, you’re left with about 650 votes.

Right before the election last fall, a well-known and respected national poll put Rush’s approval rating among likely voters at just north of 20 percent.
Even if we allow that Rush’s audience has actually grown some as he challenges Oby to go at it hippo a mano, we might note the former now enjoys a 42 percent approval rating among Republicans. That’s to say that roughly as many GOP’ers like what Oby’s up to as disapprove of Rush. It’s enough to make you wonder about the math skills of the Repub braintrust, especially when you consider that even if Rush did have twenty million followers who would vote precisely as he directed, that would still put him about fifty million short of Oby’s vote count in November.


Appearing to break with a great tradition in Louisiana politics, a state lawmaker raised more than a few eyebrows among his colleagues when he announced, “I can’t be bought!" but they were immediately reassured when he added, “but I can be rented.”
I thought of this little episode when I read of a Dothan, Alabama philanthropist’s plan to bring more Jewish families to his fair city. According to the Montgomery Advertiser,
In return for resettling and being active with the congregation for at least five years, families are reimbursed as much as $50,000 to cover items including moving expenses, housing, outstanding debt, education, temple dues and seed money for a small business.
Temple Emanu-El, like many synagogues in Southern towns, has been shrinking for decades as young people leave for big cities like Atlanta. Dothan isn't exactly a hot spot for Jews
[I really love journalists who have a flair for understatement] The town is smack in the middle of the Bible Belt and calls itself the "Peanut Capital of the World." [Would those be Kosher Peanuts, not to mention Salmonella-free?]
The first couple to sign up for Dothan’s rent-a-Jew program were Matthew and Michelle Reed, who were quick to embrace the deal, due perhaps in part to Michelle’s family ties to the area.
"We always wanted to raise our kids Jewish, but we didn't want to do it in North Carolina," said Michelle…. "We didn't know anything about the temples up there.” [What’s up with this? Do Jewish Tarheels handle snakes or something?]
Leaders of the relocation program couldn't be happier with their first catch.
"We are just so thrilled to have this family here. They are just a perfect fit," said Rob Goldsmith, executive director of Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services, which oversees the recruiting project
A “perfect fit?” even though ol’ Matt “was raised Mormon and is in the process of converting to Judaism.” ? On the other hand, given Matt’s background, this could actually lead to several new families for the price of one, I suppose. In any event, who am I to judge in such matters, especially since I have relocated several times in response to inducements. In truth, the ones presented to me were not financial subsidies. They ones I’ve been given actually have been more stick than carrot, aimed not at getting me to come somewhere but to go somewhere--anywhere--else. Some were comments such as “We’ve had right smart of houses burnin’ up round here recently. Sure do hope that don’t happen to you.” That one took a while to sink in, I admit, but no sooner did I learn that one of the locals had observed “ that ’ere squirrely little perfesser feller shore does have a purty mouth on him, don’t he?” than I was on the phone to Mayflower squealing like a pig.

Among the felony indictees from the recent session of the Hart County , Ga., Grand Jury were the following:

I rest my case.



1. Go to a secondhand store and buy a pair of men's used size 14-16 work

2. Place them on your front porch, along with a copy of Guns & Ammo

3. Put a few giant dog dishes next to the boots and magazines.

4 Leave a note on your door that reads:


Bertha, Duke, Slim, & I went for more ammo and beer. Be back in an hour.
Don't mess with the pit bulls - they attacked the mailman this morning and
messed him up bad. I don't think Killer took part, but it was hard to tell
from all the blood. Anyway, I locked all four of 'em in the house.

Better wait outside. Be right back.


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