Marguerite Higgins finds a place for a woman in a combat zone, Stevie Wonder, and what Lincoln looked like: newsletter, May 22, 2020

May 26, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, Civil War, history, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, May 22, 2020.

This summer is likely to turn into my Wolf Hall summer. I have waited too long to dive into Hilary Mantel’s widely-acclaimed trilogy of historical fiction about the life of Thomas Cromwell. Mantel published the third volume of the trilogy (The Mirror and the Light) this spring. I have gone through about two-thirds of the first volume, I can now understand what all of the fuss is about.

Mantel is a powerful and compelling writer and creates the world of Henry VIII’s court as a fascinating and often dangerous place. Cromwell is clearly the central character but not without flaws.

If you grew up, as I did, with the image of Thomas More as depicted in “A Man For All Seasons,” you will be in for an attitude change after reading Wolf Hall. In that book More comes off as decidedly less than a saint.

Are you reading something now that you have been putting off for a while? If so, let me know. Whatever you are reading, I hope you have a great weekend doing it.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,579 subscribers and had a 28.9 percent open rate; 2 persons unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Marguerite Higgins and “no place for a woman”

When Communist forces crossed the border into South Korea in 1950, Marguerite Higgins got on a plane in Tokyo, where she was head of the New York Herald Tribune bureau, along with three other reporters, all of them male. One of them told her not to go.

At the last moment, G– tried to dissuade me from going along, insisting that Korea was no place for a woman. But, for me, getting to Korea was more than just a story. It was a personal crusade. I felt that my position as a correspondent was at stake. Here I represented one of the world’s most noted newspapers as its correspondent in that area. I could not let the fact that I was a woman jeopardize my newspaper’s coverage of the war. Failure to get to the front would undermine all my arguments that I was entitled to the same assignment breaks as any man. It would provide that a woman as a correspondent was a handicap to the New York Herald Tribune. (Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: The Report of a Woman Combat Correspondent)

Higgins got on the plane and survived a series of adventures that netted eventually a Pulitzer Prize for her team of Herald Tribune reporters and a best-selling book, War in Korea.

Higgins was no ingenue reporter when she boarded the plane in Tokyo. Born in Hong Kong in 1920, she grew up in California and graduated from Berkeley in 1941 where she had been on the staff of the Daily Californian. She then moved to New York to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She landed a spot in the newsroom of the New York Herald Tribune, and after working there for two years, she persuaded the editors to send her to Europe to cover the war.

There she witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and the surrender of Germany. Afterward, she remained in Europe to cover the Nuremberg war trials and the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948.

In 1950 she was sent to Tokyo by the Herald Tribune, just in time to cover the increasing tensions between East and West that finally exploded in the Korean War. Time and again, she had been told that a war zone was “no place for a woman,” and Korea was no different. General Walton Walker ordered her to leave the country, but she appealed to General Douglas MacArthur, whom she had known in Tokyo. MacArthur rescinded Walker’s order, and she was allowed to stay. 

After Korea, Higgins continued to cover foreign affairs and in 1955 established the Herald Tribune’s bureau in Moscow. In 1963 she joined the staff of Newsday and was sent to Vietnam. She went out into the villages and talked with hundreds of people, eventually producing a book titled Our Vietnam Nightmare.

Sadly, Higgins did not survive Vietnam. While there, she contracted leishmaniasis, a disease that led to her death in January 1965. She was 45 years old.

Higgins’ book on Korea is available online at the Internet Archive. It is a well-written, easily readable account of Higgins many experiences during that difficult and frustrating war.

Attorney-author Michael Kahn argues for his favorite legal thrillers

Trial attorney and author Michael Kahn used to respond to his wife Margi the same way every time she asked about the book he was reading. I could write a better one, he would say.

Finally, she had had enough.

“Then write one,” she finally said, “or please shut up.” So he shut up-no easy task for an attorney-and then he wrote one.

He started writing. He created a character, attorney Rachel Gold, and now has her in eleven novels. He has also written three stand-alone novels and several short stories. His writing has collected numerous awards. And he still practices law.

So when Kahn tells us about his favorite legal thrillers, we might pay some attention. He has done so in an article in Legal Thrillers for Literary Snobs | CrimeReads

His list is a surprising one because the works he cites are not normally thought of as legal thrillers.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Stevie Wonder: the most talented Motowner of them all

Of all of the super-talented, hardworking musicians who walked through the doors of Motown’s headquarters in the 1960s, an argument could be made that the most talented — and the one who took his music far beyond most others — was Stevie Wonder.

His real name is Stevland Hardaway Morris (né Judkins), and he was born in 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder lost the use of his eyes soon after he was born, and when he was three, his mother divorced his father and moved the family to Detroit. As Wonder grew up, he began playing musical instruments and singing. He formed a partnership with a friend that they called Stevie and John, and they would perform just about anywhere for anyone. One of the people in their audience was Ronnie White, a member of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

White recognized Wonder’s talent and took him and his mother to Motown for an audition. Motown founder Berry Gordy signed Wonder to a recording contract. This was in 1961, and Wonder was 11 years old.

Wonder recorded two albums and several singles, but none of them broke through the charts. In 1962 he joined the Motown Revue, a touring show that took Motown groups all over the country. Because of his age, Gordy arranged for a tutor to travel with Wonder. In May 1963, Motown recorded a 20-minute performance that Wonder gave in Chicago and was produced as an album. One of the songs on that album, “Fingertips,” was released as a single, and it was a monumental success, topping both the pop and R&B charts at the same time. Wonder was the youngest performer ever to have a number one single record.

Known to that point as Little Stevie Wonder, he dropped the “Little” moniker and emerged as one of Motown’s best musicians, singers, and songwriters. Wonder could play the piano, harmonica, organ, and even drums with seeming ease. Not only did he play well, but his playing showed that he had quickly conquered a variety of musical genres, such as rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and jazz.

His string of hit records was superb and memorable: “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),”I Was Made to Love Her,” “My Cherie Amour,” and “For Once in My Life. He also co-wrote, with Smokey Robinson, “The Tears of a Clown.”

Wonder was just 20 years old in 1970 when Marvin Gaye produced his concept album “What’s Going On,” and — influenced by what Gaye had done — Wonder spent the next years producing his own concept albums such as Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974), and Songs in the Key of Life (1976). They in turn netted Wonder a string of single hits such as “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Higher Ground,” “Living for the City,” “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “I Wish,” and “Sir Duke.” They also brought Wonder a string of Grammy nominations and awards.

Wonder had to overcome personal setbacks to achieve these musical monuments. The chief one was a serious car accident in 1973 while on tour in North Carolina that put him in a coma for several days. Wonder emerged from that trauma with a renewed spirit and determination.

Wonder has continued to this day to explore musical ideas and genres. His overwhelming talent and vast musical understanding allows him to enter a musical genre or to combine them and stretch them into something new and exciting. His stamp on the popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries is unmatched by any other Motown performer.

See these previous posts about Motown:

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye asked What’s Going On?

Please, Mr. Postman

Berry Gordy began Motown with an $800 loan from his family

Martha and the Vandellas: Heat Waves, Quicksand, and but always Dancing in the Street

Temptations: soulful voices, close harmonies, and choreography that made you want to dance

Smokey Robinson, Motown’s founding brother

From the archives: What did Lincoln look like?

Note: This post originally appeared on in 2005 and has been updated.

One of the most famous photographs of Abraham Lincoln was taken by the noted photographer Matthew Brady on February 25, 1860 in New York City.

Abraham Lincoln, photograph by Mathew Brady, 1860It was the afternoon before Lincoln delivered a famous speech at the Cooper Union that evening. The photo was reproduced widely during Lincoln’s campaign for the presidency that year and later became known as the Cooper Union portrait.

Lincoln later said the photo and the speech he gave that night “made me president.”

The photo is certainly a striking one and presents Lincoln very favorably. Lincoln had the reputation of being a rough-hewn Westerner. This picture shows him as something else — a handsome and rather elegant, serious man. He is youngish but not too young. He is smoothly dressed, but he’s not a dandy. In the picture he looks serious and thoughtful, ready to take on the responsibilities of a nation torn apart by the issues of abolition and slavery.

If this photograph is the one that most people saw during the presidential campaign, it is little wonder that Lincoln gave it a good deal of the credit for getting him elected to the presidency.

But is this what Lincoln really looked like?

Lincoln is the first president of whom we have quite a number of photographs (though not nearly as many as we have of modern presidents, of course). Many of these photographs have been studied carefully, and many inferences have been made about Lincoln because of them. Some have even tried to discover what diseases and illness Lincoln suffered from through these photos.

Photos of Abraham Lincoln A close examination by a lay viewer, however, reveals how different Lincoln looked in each of his photos. The photos on this page were all taken within a two year period, from 1858 to 1860. These were photos taken before Lincoln grew a beard (something he did after his election but before his inauguration). Take a close look at each one and note the differences.

What are the differences that are obvious?

Why do you think there are such differences?

What does each photo tell you about Lincoln?

What if one of these photos had been widely distributed during the 1860 campaign rather than the Cooper Union portrait? Do you think Lincoln would have been elected president?

And what does this examination tell you about photography? We tend to think of the camera as a completely objective instrument — one that “never lies.” But the camera can see profoundly different things about the same subject.

The camera may not lie (most of the time), but it can tell different stories. And it matters very much who is using the camera.

Update: My friend Guy Hubbs, noted historian, writes this:

With regards to your website, you need to have a look at a succinct and penetrating look at  the Lincoln photographs: “The Long ‘Shaddow’ of Abraham Lincoln: A Living Symbol of Liberty & Freedom in the Camera’s Eye,” in Liberty and Freedom by David Hackett Fischer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005): 341-348. Fischer goes into some detail comparing the 1857 February 28 Hesler photo of Lincoln with the intentionally dishevelled hair to the elegant 1859 February 27 Cooper Institute photograph–both manipulated for political effect.
(Posted Feb. 19, 2005


Check out last week’s newsletter

J. Wait: Love your painting of the General Store.  It brought back a flood of memories.  The store replaced the Rolling Store that came down our narrow dirt road blowing his horn.  Women waited by the road with their butter, eggs and milk to trade for sugar, flour and coffee.  

The first General store came to our area about 1940.   You walked into the store and told the owner what you wanted.  He went to the back shelves and got it.  My Dad was always on a soapbox about something.  when supermarkets opened, he was sure the nation was ruined because people couldn’t resist the temptation to get what they couldn’t afford. 
One day we got the news the store had bubble gum.  My 3 brothers and I walked the 3 miles to get some.    By the time we got there, it was all sold out ( empty shelves way back then).  This trip was repeated several times before we all got a ball of pink bubble gum.  My oldest brother, being the leader of the clan, also got a “dope” and a package of peanuts to pour in the coke.  None of us thought a thing about his getting extra and we didn’t.
Thanks for the memories. I look forward to your newsletter every week.
Dan C.: I think the, for me, the totality of the Astros and Red Sox cheating scandals tainted baseball for me. I thought it was funny that on January 21, 2020, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a measure requesting that MLB award the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles to the Dodgers. After having owned or been a part of four semi-pro football teams (both male and female) spanning over 10 seasons, I found out that you can put on a good game without paying the players and having to charge hundreds of dollars a person for it.  I am fed up with multi-million dollar contracts of players and am not sorry to see baseball and the other professional sports sit out the season. 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: House in Brooklyn
The New York Times is running a series of “walking tours” around different parts of the city, and when I saw a photograph of this house in Brooklyn, I thought I would give it a try.

Best quote of the week:

Be thou the first true merit to befriend, his praise is lost who stays till all commend. Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Presidential candidates who stayed put and the one who didn’t, Smokey Robinson, and the no-tears absence of baseball: newsletter, May 15, 2020


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