This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, August 21, 2020.
Through muted celebrations, we noted the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution this week. This amendment guaranteed the right of women to vote, and it represented the largest and most significant change in the electorate in the history of the Republic. It deserved more attention, and I have devoted a bit more below. Specifically, I talk about the event that sparked the final suffrage debate.
Thanks, very sincerely, to everyone who wrote this week congratulating me on becoming a grandfather. The family, as you might imagine, is pretty excited.
Our garden is about finished, and, of course, now we are getting rain. It’s been that kind of year. But we are always grateful for the rain. So, this week, stay safe, keep reading, and as always find something to be grateful for.
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Dave Robicheaux and his creator James Lee Burke: both great stories
Although Burke has written much that does not include the flawed detective Robicheaux, this character is by far his most popular and most developed creation.
Throughout his five-decade writing career, the prolific 83-year-old author has written a series of books about the Holland family, featuring a sheriff and attorney on their own quests for justice, and several standalone novels and short story collections. It is Dave Robicheaux, however, who narrates most of Burke’s tales of good and evil, love and hate, and pity and terror.
The Vietnam veteran, recovering alcoholic, former New Orleans homicide detective, and current sheriff’s detective for New Iberia Parish in New Iberia, Louisiana— Robicheaux’s longtime hometown—is also Burke’s steadiest and sturdiest vessel for the author’s gift for drama, dialogue, and infusion of grand ideas into intimate stories of crime and suspense. Source: The Evolution of Dave Robicheaux and the Incredible Career of James Lee Burke | CrimeReads
Burke was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Louisiana. After college traveled extensively and worked in a variety of jobs, finally becoming a college professor at Wichita State University. He was also honing his writing skills and trying to find a publisher.
After many rejections, his first novel, The Neon Rain, appeared in 1987. That was followed by Heaven’s Prisoners the next year. Both were Robicheaux novels, and they established Burke as a top-level mystery-thriller writer.
Burke’s Robicheaux goes where others fear to tread. His sense of himself and his history makes him an avenging angel, but there are always his faults and failures lingering in the background. Burke makes swampy Louisiana a much more foreboding place than the authors who set their stories in sunny Florida.
James Lee Burke demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of power similar to the late Robert Kennedy, who as a Senator in New York and Attorney General in his brother’s administration, fearlessly declared open season on the mafia and racketeering outfits. Learning in the process that, in the words of journalist David Talbot who wrote an outstanding study of the Kennedy brothers, “institutions like the CIA sometimes become so entwined with the criminal underworld, it was difficult to tell them apart at the operational level.”
Don’t miss this excellent review.
Broadcasting the NYT’s mistakes
Is reading the New York Times detrimental to your health, physical or mental?
Probably not, but the jury is out on that question in the case of Twitter personality @nyttypos, or Typos of the New York Times. This guy reads the New York Times obsessively and sends out tweets every time he finds a typo, grammatical error, misspelling, misplaced word or phrase, and even two spaces when there should be one.
He has the attention of the New York Times editors and reporters, and he has 8,000 followers.
But nobody (or mostly nobody) knows who he is.
The proud pedant behind @nyttypos is, as his Twitter bio proclaims, an “appellate lawyer and persnickety dude.” While working for a government office on appeals for the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court, he has diligently, competently, and caustically grammar-policed the paper of record in his spare time, producing more than 20,000 tweets over the past 11 months. His account is a cross between an ego trip, a crusade, and a compulsion. His quixotic quest to flag the words that weren’t fit to print has attracted roughly 8,000 followers, yielded countless corrections, and made its anonymous owner the object of some fascination within the walls and Slack chats of the Times, while exposing the trade-offs in copy quality that competitive publishing in the age of algorithms demands. Source: The Anonymous Lawyer Behind @nyttypos – The Ringer
The Ringer has the full story (probably more than you need to know) and tells all — except his name, of course.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Racism, the 19th century, and the prescience of John Quincy Adams
Despite the fact that one of America’s great accomplishments of the 19th century was the ultimate abolition of slavery, racial attitudes did not advance toward accepting racial equality at all. By the end of the century, the nation had wrapped itself into the knots of Jim Crow laws that embedded segregation into just about every part of life and in every part of the country.
For the most part, even white people who thought themselves benign toward the races did not think about racial equality. Rather, there was a general acceptance of the reality that everybody had “their place.”
Remarkably, one white person who approached 20th-century awareness of race was the man who would become the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams.
Adams had a habit of keeping a detailed journal, something he did for most of his life, even as a teenager. In 1820, as the nation was debating the issue of accepting Missouri as a slave state or a free state, Adams concerned himself with part of that state’s constitution that would deprive free Blacks of their rights as citizens. Adams wrote in his journal:
If acquiesced in, it would change the terms of the federal compact — change its terms by robbing thousands of citizens of their rights. And what citizens? The poor, the helpless. Already cursed by the mere color of their skin, already doomed by their complexion to drudge int he lowest offices of society, excluded by their color from all the refined enjoyments of life accessible to others, excluded from the benefits of a liberal education, from the bed, from the table, and from all of the social comforts of domestic life, this barbarous article deprives them of the little remnant of right yet left them — their rights as citizens and men. . . and I would defend them should the dissolution of the Union be the consequence.
Adams did not stop at that. His agile mind continued to think about the consequences of slavery.
If slavery be the destined sword of the hand of the destroying angel which is to sever the ties of this union, the same sword will cut in sunder the bonds of slavery itself. A dissolution of the Union for the cause of slavery would be followed by a servile war in the slave-holding States, combined with a war between the two severed portions of the Union. It seems to me that its result might be the extirpation of slavery from this whole continent; and calamitous and desolating as this course of events in its progress must be, so glorious would be its final issue, that, as God shall judge me, I dare not say that it is not to be desired.
Adams wrote these words more than four decades before the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter. At the time, he was secretary of state under President James Monroe. In five years he would be president.
These passages are included in William Lee Miller’s book, Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress, a book in which Adams is an undiluted hero. As Miller points out, Adams’ Biblical “avenging angel” metaphor would in the decades that followed be replaced with another Biblical metaphor: a house divided cannot stand.
More on JPROF about John Quincy Adams, see Should ex-presidents continue in public service?
Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable
Regular readers of this newsletter know that for about a year and a half, I have been involved with the Blount County Public Library in a project we call Vietnam Voices. We are trying to interview all of the Vietnam veterans that we can find and build an audio archive of their stories. So far, we have interviewed more than 30 veterans and are looking for more.
A second part of that project is a transcription of some of those interviews and the publication of a book titled Vietnam Voices: Stories of Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975. We published the first volume of that book last fall and are currently working on a second volume, which we hope will be out before the end of the summer.
A third part of the project is the Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable, a monthly online meeting of those interested in what happened in Vietnam. Each month we hear from someone who served in Vietnam and through the good offices of Zoom we are able to ask questions and talk with each other about it. We just held our third roundtable this week (it’s always on the second Monday of each month), and we have been recording those meetings and putting them on YouTube.
Aubrey Moncrief, a medic attached to a Green Beret unit during the Tet offensive in 1968: https://youtu.be/OhgIJncL8mw
I hope that you can take the time to watch one of these videos, give it a thumbs-up, and make a comment. That helps our visibility on YouTube.
America needed to see suffrage.
By 1913 suffrage veteran Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns had decided that this was what the women’s suffrage movement needed was a national strategy, not the state-by-state plans that had been followed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for so many years. Americans — particularly journalists — needed a picture of suffrage implanted in their heads. To achieve that goal, Paul and Burns conceived an audacious, radical, and stunning idea: a suffrage parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as president.
The nation, the world even, would pay attention.
The spectacle of such a parade at such a time would vault the issue of women’s suffrage onto the national political mind as nothing else could. Maybe it would even spur the new president and Congress to take up the issue and add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.
That was a long shot. But, at the very least, people would “see” suffrage and would begin to understand that the suffragists were playing a new ballgame.
In that, Paul succeeded beyond her very vivid imagination.
Photo: A group of nurses in uniform march in the 1913 Washington suffrage parade.
The idea of a parade was, in some ways, a compromise.
Paul, who had already gathered a measure of fame by being an American jailed in the suffrage battles in Great Britain, had come to the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912 ready to lead a charge for a Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. What she and Lucy Burns, someone she had met in England who was also involved in the suffrage demonstrations there, found was an organization that wanted little to do with any new ideas and nothing to do with anything that smacked of “militancy.”
Paul and Burns had made a pitch to take over the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, which officially was charged with lobbying for the amendment, and began putting pressure on the in-coming Wilson administration to support their cause. NAWSA’s leaders were committed to their state-by-state plan and wanted no part of a federal effort. Paul and Burns were dismissed almost immediately.
They then appealed to Jane Addams, whose reputation as a suffrage supporter was unassailable and whose accomplishments in Chicago far outshown most of the suffrage leaders. Addams agreed to support them on one condition. Rather than asking for NAWSA to back a new political strategy, Paul and Burns should simply ask to head the Congressional Committee and plan a parade. For the two young women, that was enough. With Addams’ backing, they got their committee and the backing, insubstantial as it was, of the association.
Yes, they were told, they could plan a parade. No, they couldn’t have any money. They would have to raise it themselves.
That they did.
Even before money, they needed a committee of people willing to devote themselves quickly and wholly to the job at hand. Burns contacted Crystal Eastman, a committed feminist whom she had known at Vassar. They also recruited Mary Ritter Beard, a member of the Woman Suffrage Party of New York, and Dora Kelly Lewis, a member of Philadelphia’s social elite who five years hence would find herself near death in prison because of her suffragist activities. Each of these women had contacts and resources, and they would need to exploit them all. It was January 1913. They had only two months.
Paul’s idea for a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on the day before Wilson’s inauguration was undoubtedly brilliant, but it would not have come off if there had not been a vast reservoir of potential support for it. All over the country, women were getting educated and getting jobs. They were increasingly involved in public life, but movement toward getting the vote had stagnated.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association provided little hope and less inspiration. NAWSA was committed to winning suffrage state by state, and their successes had been sparse. NAWSA’s state organizations were entrenched and insular, often devoting more time to infighting than to fighting for suffrage.
The biggest problem with NAWSA was that it did not want to offend or upset anyone, particularly politicians. Getting the vote, NAWSA seemed to argue, would not really change anything or anyone. It was just the right thing to do. The argument also carried the stricture that women would not step outside the bounds of appropriate behavior.
To many women, and more than a few men, these were lame arguments that produced lame results. They were ready for something different.
Alice Paul’s idea of a parade gave them something different.
The full story of that parade and its aftermath can be found in Seeing Suffrage: The Washington Suffrage Parade of 1913, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape.
Tod W.: Another great newsletter filled with interesting tidbits.
Regarding Guadalcanal, I wrote something about the notion of a canal on one of the fairly flat and small Solomon Islands:https://www.
Hal M.: Congratulations on your grandson. Grandchildren are a great invention. I avoid telling mine “no”. I don’t see that as my job.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
“It is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.” Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) British science writer, science fiction novelist, short story writer, magazine editor, essayist, futurist, screenwriter and TV host
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 (UMCOR.org) 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Being tall at Guadalcanal, a notorious pirate, rural noir, and the serial killer: newsletter, August 14, 2020
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