Lately I have heard a lot about Jacksonville in the old days, almost as far back as living memory goes, back to the 1950s and 1960s. Listening to people talk about their own experiences is the best way to learn history.
Margaret Ann Norvell Florence, who spoke at Mayor Ezard’s Unity Breakfast in January, explained that Dr. Clarence McClelland, President of MacMurray College since 1925, and the Director of the YMCA, whoever he was, recruited her in 1950 to be the first African American student at MacMurray since its founding a century before. When she went to Jacksonville High School to get her transcript, the principal told her she was not smart enough to go to college.
While at MacMurray, Margaret Florence and some students from Chicago tried to integrate several segregated Jacksonville establishments, demanding service at ice cream and hamburger joints and sitting downstairs at the Illinois Theater. She was “put out” of all those places. She finished her college coursework in less than four years, and eventually became a successful teacher in Des Moines.
From many people, black and white, I heard that Jacksonville was a sharply segregated town into the 1960s, with a long history of peacefully subordinating the black minority. Unlike in Springfield in 1908 or in Cairo after World War II, that peace was never broken. Friendships and commerce routinely crossed the color line. Segregation was never complete: the public education system brought all Jacksonvillians together. But discriminatory practices based on a racist ideology were also routine and unchanging.
Richard Johnson and other African American students at Illinois College couldn’t live in the dorms in the 1950s, and the city pool was for whites only. Talented African Americans had to look elsewhere for professional jobs. I was told that Milton McPike, another great JHS athlete, couldn’t find a teaching job here. He became a principal in Madison, WI, and eventually was appointed to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. In 1964 the Jacksonville City Council established a City Commission on Human Relations, whose 1965 survey of local employment revealed a pattern of racial discrimination. In the 1960s, the first blacks were hired by District 117, including Ruth Linear.
I heard about many African American athletes who were encouraged and befriended by Al Rosenberger, an outstanding track athlete who became track coach at JHS. Dan Moy told me that Rosenberger had a special relationship with Ken Norton, but one time got so fed up with Norton’s difficult behavior that he entered him in 8 events in a meet against Decatur Eisenhower in 1961. Norton won 6 (some say 7) events and the state coaches created the Norton rule, limiting the number of events one athlete could compete in.
The great majority of whites followed the racial conventions in which they had been raised. In their personal behavior with African Americans they knew, they might not mirror institutional and social racism. Many local whites did business at Norvell’s Shoe Repair, but did not challenge the system that kept the Norvells out of local restaurants. Merritt Norvell told me, “Elm City Café was right next door to where my dad’s shop was, and he couldn’t go in there to get a sandwich. Ninety percent of the people who went in there would come to the shop for service. My dad had to go the back door to get his lunch.”
A small number of whites opposed any movement toward equality. They might have joined the Morgan County Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s or refused to allow blacks into their stores in the 1960s, like the owner of Spatz’s Ice Cream Shop on East State St. Their behavior in public and private kept Jacksonville segregated.
Some other people broke the rules. They might directly break the color line, like President McClelland and the unnamed YMCA director. I don’t know his name, which I think deserves recognition. Like Al Rosenberger, they might help young black Jacksonvillians realize their full potential.
The choices made by white and black people determined the fate of segregation. African Americans in Jacksonville tended to escape rather than fight the system openly, perhaps because so many generations of their families had lived in it. Whites chose from a different spectrum of alternatives, from enforcing racism, to allowing the system to continue, to openly challenging it.
The people I heard from were young in the 1950s and 1960s. Faced with the varied behavior of their elders, many chose to ignore the traditional rules of racism. JHS students elected Eugene Wells vice-president of the Student Council and Merritt Norvell homecoming king in the late 1950s. Frederick Douglas told me that Wells had also been elected by the choir to be Snow King, but when the vote was announced, a white student was named. The students themselves figured out that Gene had won. A few years later, he was elected President of the Student Forum at Illinois College.
This local behavior of a few brave adults and many young people eventually replaced segregation with a very different set of race relations. Racism has not yet disappeared, but we all are much better off.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 25, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
My mother usually reads these columns. The newspaper is delivered to her room at Jacksonville Skilled Nursing. She doesn’t comment on my work, but I think she’s proud of her son, the writer.
She won’t be reading this column. After two years of ups and downs at the nursing home, I think she’s finally dying. I say finally, because she told me long ago that she had had enough. Life held only the faintest of joys to balance her deep miseries: loss of memory, feelings of constant confusion, lack of ability to help herself. Then came incontinence and its attendant shame. Next her food had to be ground up.
Lately she is not interested in eating or drinking. She stays in bed with her eyes shut, sleeping most of the day. Nothing left to live for.
If she could take a pill and pass away, would she? I don’t know and won’t ask. Probably not, because she has always let others make the big decisions for her. So she’s waiting for natural processes to run their course.
But other people face much more difficult circumstances at the end of their lives. Some are in constant pain. Some know they will die very soon from incurable diseases. How much control should they be allowed to have over their own lives and deaths?
Christianity, Judaism and Islam all frown on suicide, but religious authorities have shifted their positions on whether it is prohibited. For example, the Catholic Church labels suicide as a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.” Further, “Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.” But Catholic views on suicide have changed: a funeral mass and burial are now allowed for suicides, and whether they must go to hell is left uncertain.
None of these religions accept suicide as a rational means of avoiding suffering at the end of life. Those religious prohibitions have until very recently determined laws about the possible role of physicians in helping patients end their lives. Just as the Catholic Church has shifted its position, so have lawmakers. Some European nations, like Switzerland, now allow assisted suicide. In 2011, 84% of voters in Zurich rejected a ban on assisted suicide.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian brought the issue of physician-assisted suicide to national attention in the 1990s. He helped 40 people in Michigan commit suicide. That prompted several ballot initiatives to allow this practice in other states. Such a vote narrowly failed in California in 1992, then barely passed in Oregon in 1994. A second vote in 1997 was not close, as Oregon voters confirmed the right to choose death. In the state of Washington, a ballot measure failed in 1991, but passed easily in 2008. Other states have recently had mixed outcomes. A ballot initiative was narrowly rejected in Massachusetts in 2012, while the Vermont legislature passed a law allowing patients to administer life-ending drugs to themselves.
Suicide, assisted or not, is an extreme response to a hopeless medical condition. Much more common is the attempt to insure that a dying person can have a “natural death”, meaning not being subjected to heroic medical measures to prolong life. The commonly used phrase is “do not resuscitate” (DNR). That is a medical order by a physician which excludes CPR or a tracheal tube in case a person’s heart stops or they stop breathing. Because the phrase implies that a procedure will be withheld, the words “allow natural death” (AND) are becoming more popular.
Patients do not create DNR’s, doctors do. A person may create an advance health care directive, sometimes called a living will, which specifies how they would like to be treated in a health crisis. Their purpose is to avoid situations where aggressive medical efforts to prolong life produce unwanted results. People who are kept alive through feeding tubes or, worse, in a vegetative state, generally would not have wished to survive that way. These medical practices are enormously expensive: families can lose their entire savings, even if they have insurance, keeping someone alive when they no longer want to live.
Yet it is difficult to write out a directive that adequately covers most likely medical situations. Living wills have become more complex to offer specific guidance to both family members and medical professionals.
What does this have to do with my mother, or with yours? I want my mother to have the best possible life. That doesn’t just mean a minimum of suffering, but also as much control as possible over the biggest decisions about life and death. But how do I know exactly what she wants? Will my feeling about what is right for her be colored by what I imagine I would want if I were near the end of my life?
I have no answers. Even thinking about these questions is painfully guilt-inducing.
I think my mother has made her choice. But what should I do? Prevent the nursing staff from feeding her? Encourage her to drink water, which will prolong her life, possibly by weeks?
What is right? I don’t know.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 18, 2014
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Headlines scream of crisis. Russia Invades Ukraine! A New Cold War!
Ukraine is experiencing its third revolution since 1991, throwing eastern Europe into turmoil. Russian troops have invaded a European neighbor for the first time since 1968 in Czechoslovakia. How should we understand this new flashpoint of international conflict?
The lands of current Ukraine have been fought over for centuries among Poles, Lithuanians and Russians. Passionate Ukrainians look back to the Cossack Hetmanate established in 1649 as a historical precursor of their current state. Within a few years, the Hetmanate became subservient to the Russian Tsar. It did not include the Crimea, nor Ukraine’s current eastern districts.
Crimea has a completely different history. Italians briefly controlled the peninsula in the 13th century, which eventually became part of the Turkish Ottoman empire. The Romanov Empire first conquered the Crimea in 1783, and kept it administratively separate from Ukrainian regions.
After the Revolution swept away the Tsarist empire in February 1917, Ukrainian revolutionaries tried to create a separate socialist state. The victory of the Red Army led by Leon Trotsky meant the end of Ukrainian dreams of independence, although the young Soviet state, under Lenin and through the late 1920s, allowed Ukraine unprecedented autonomy, especially in language and culture. Crimea was not part of the newly formed Ukrainian SSR.
Ukraine suffered as much as any part of the Soviet Union for the next three decades. A famine in 1921 caused by seven years of war left hundreds of thousands dead. Under Joseph Stalin’s perversion of Russian revolutionary aims, agricultural collectivization followed by agricultural robbery after 1928 created another famine, this time consciously directed at Ukraine and Ukrainians who resisted Stalin’s forcible Russianization of Ukraine. No region of Europe was more devastated by the Nazi occupation than the bloodlands of eastern Europe. Over 5 million Ukrainians died during the war, at least one of every eight people. Nearly one third were homeless because of Nazi policy of wholesale destruction in retreat: 700 cities and town were destroyed and 28,000 villages. In none of this Ukrainian history did Crimea play any role.
Only in 1954 was Crimea attached to Ukraine, at that time a meaningless administrative move, since all decisions were still made in Moscow. About two-thirds of the Crimean population was ethnically Russian.
The argument over who should rule Ukraine was apparent at the moment when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. That August, the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. A national referendum in December on independence was passed by 92% of voters. In western Ukraine, under 4% voted against independence, but this percentage rose to 10-13% in the far eastern districts. In the Crimea, on the other hand, 42% voted no. Only a slim majority of ethnic Russians, who are concentrated in the east and especially in Crimea, favored independence, 55% to 45%. Thus Ukrainians in Kiev, as opposed to Russians in Moscow, have ruled Crimea only since 1991.
Since 1991 Ukraine has whipsawed between pro-Western and pro-Russian leadership. Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian, won rigged elections in 2004, was deposed by the popular Orange Revolution, and then reelected narrowly in 2010. Popular protests over the past four months against Yanukovych’s pro-Russian policies again forced him out in favor of a pro-Western government.
Russian reaction to this defeat of their man in Ukraine has focused on taking control of Crimea. Over the past week, official and unofficial Russian military forces have occupied Crimea. This coming weekend a referendum on Crimean “autonomy” is scheduled.
Over the past 5 years Ukrainian popular sentiment has been gradually moving further away from Russia: in 2008-9, over 20% said that the two nations should unite; last month it was only 12%. Such sentiments came mainly from older people: 17% of those 55 and over, but only 5% under 30. About 32% of ethnic Russians wanted one unified state, but only 9% of Ukrainians. In the Crimea, however, 41% wanted one state.
The military crisis in Crimea is the latest chapter in centuries of Russian efforts to control the Black Sea. The potential loss of their naval bases in Crimea if Ukraine turns away from its close relationship with Russia would be major blow to Russian military power. Russia might go to war if any Western power tried to put a navy in the Black Sea.
Maintaining Ukrainian control over Crimea would provide Russia with a constant justification for intervening in Ukrainian affairs and a constant threat of military action. The Ukrainians have a formidable job ahead of them: to remake their political system and economy so that they can follow the path of the other eastern European states, like Poland, which has tripled its economy since it became free of Soviet control in 1989.
I am not suggesting a policy of appeasement toward Russia aggression in Crimea. But the US will never fight for Ukraine’s control over Crimea, and neither will any of our European allies. The shift of Ukraine’s perspective from east to west, the uncoupling of Ukraine from Russia for the first time in centuries, would be a major blow to Russian power and prestige. Let us focus on that, an opportunity created for themselves by the Ukrainian people. If the loss of Crimea is the price for Ukrainian independence from Russia, that would be well worth paying.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 11, 2014
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
In many states primary elections in the coming months will determine which Republicans will be on the ballot in November. Across the country, Tea Party Republicans are running against incumbent Republicans, claiming that they are not conservative enough. Who are these Tea Party candidates and what do they believe? Who is the Tea Party?
Chris McDaniel is running against Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi. Cochran has represented Mississippi in the US Senate since 1978. McDaniel is a lawyer who has been in the Mississippi state senate since 2008. McDaniel’s website offers familiar conservative Republican positions. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately, lower taxes, repeal regulation. He is against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and government support for renewable energy. He supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and using the debt limit to force deep spending cuts. He hates the idea of gay marriage. McDaniel supports the Personhood Amendment saying that life begins at fertilization, which would mean banning certain popular contraceptives, such as the IUD and the pill. These are typical Tea Party positions.
His website doesn’t mention McDaniel’s support for racists in Mississippi. He has welcomed the Twitter support of someone named R.R. Smith, who is a white supremacist and antisemite. He gave a speech at a neo-confederate event, where another speaker claimed Lincoln was a Marxist.
After claiming on Facebook that $2 billion were wasted in the $5.5 billion Katrina disaster relief bill, McDaniel has retreated, first into ignorance (“I don’t know enough about it.”), then into a complete about-face, with his campaign spokesman saying he would have supported it. He has blamed gun violence on hip-hop and said that waterboarding was a “fairly humane form of torture”, and therefore a good idea.
Another Southern Tea Party candidate was Dean Young, who was defeated in a special election in Alabama in November by the more establishment Republican, Bradley Byrne. Young had been unable to identify the Republican House whip or the Secretary of the Treasury, and questioned President Obama’s birthplace. He focused his campaign on attacking homosexuality, claiming that gays in Alabama must have come from somewhere else, like California. He said, “We are witnessing the end of a Western Christian empire.”
Young claimed falsely that he was a Navy Seal, that he was “youngest platoon leader in the Air Force,” (the Air Force doesn’t have platoons), and that he owned multi-million dollar businesses. He said he would “under no circumstance” vote to raise the US debt limit. In the election, Young was defeated by only 5 points.
Perhaps the most significant Tea Party challenge is to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky by Matt Bevin, a millionaire businessman. Bevin’s most recent campaign ad also opposes raising the debt limit. Bevin criticizes McConnell for supporting the 2008 bailout of big banks, although in 2008 Bevin supported that policy himself as a millionaire investor who stood to profit. Bevin is in favor of a flat tax, cutting off all federal benefits to undocumented immigrants. He opposes “all tax increases” and any restriction on types of guns or ammunition that citizens may buy. Like McDaniel, he opposes “any judicial nominee who will not interpret the Constitution as originally conceived by our Founders”. Since the Constitution explicitly accepted slavery, it is not clear where he would find acceptable nominees.
Dr. Greg Brannon is a Tea Party candidate trying to become the Republican nominee to challenge Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina. In October he said food stamps were a form of slavery. He also said that “all ten of Marx’s planks of communism are law in our land today.” That idea is promoted by a website named criminalgovernment.com, which labels the American Bar Association, the Democratic Party and the Republican National Committee as anti-American. In October, he co-sponsored and spoke at a rally organized by the League of the South, which favors secession of the former Confederate states. He opposes “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
Tea Party candidates are challenging virtually every top Republican leader in both houses of Congress. They advocate extreme positions. They promise to cut taxes and significantly reduce spending, but offer in the speeches and on their websites no clear path to accomplishing that. They certainly would cut large pieces from the safety net that keeps the poorest Americans from hunger and homelessness, and reduce the environmental regulations that prevent pollution of our water, air and food.
Their ideas in fact reflect the broader ideology of the most conservative Republican voters. These older, overwhelmingly white evangelical Christians fear modern life. They believe America is in a downward spiral toward socialism. They fear minorities. They hate President Obama and a Democratic Party whom they suspect of pandering to those minorities with welfare to win votes. They distrust scientists who study evolution and climate change. They think that gay marriage represents the end of Christian civilization. Although they don’t like the beliefs of most other Americans, and despite every poll, they believe their views are shared by most Americans.
These candidates represent the broadest challenge to incumbent Congressmen and to the direction of modern American politics. This electoral year will say much about our future.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 4, 2014