The Myth of the Lost Cause: Robert E Lee Day and Confederate Monuments, Memorials, and Schools

Glorifying war is not a good look for anybody.

Recently, one of my readers pointed out to me that ten American states still celebrate Robert E. Lee Day. According to this article and this one, two of them, Alabama and Mississippi, celebrate it on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and have made it a paid holiday for state employees. Reading this made me physically ill. I had never heard of this abominable “holiday” until now.

For those who are unfamiliar with Lee, by all means, allow me to get you up to speed on this appalling individual. Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general during the civil war and, prior to that, had hundreds of slaves that had originally been the property of his late father-in-law. Lee was supposed to emancipate all of them according to the will, but he held onto them for five more years. He treated them much more harshly than his father-in-law ever had, and many of them tried, unsuccessfully, to escape, and were then sold off and/or jailed. By the time Lee was finished with that plantation, not a single slave family was left intact.

Further, to hear the South tell it, Robert E. Lee was the greatest general of all time, but if you delve deeper into what he actually accomplished, and also what he intentionally did not accomplish, you quickly discover that he was actually the worst general the Confederates could have chosen, and he is one of several reasons that they lost the war. First of all, his primary concern was Virginia. He concentrated on that one theater, and when other theaters begged him for help, he refused to send them reinforcements. At one point he was forced to do so, but he then delayed complying to such an extent that it caused a great deal of harm to the Confederacy. His campaigns were responsible for the death of 209,000 Confederate soldiers in his one area, which is 55,000 more deaths than General Grant was responsible for, even though he was in charge of 5 different Union armies simultaneously. Lee was also responsible for the disaster at Gettysburg, even though he attempted to blame someone else.

I could go on and on about Lee, but the bottom line is that he was no one to celebrate, then or now. And in truth, these holidays have nothing to do with Lee. They’re about racism and white supremacy. Southern supporters would have you believe that these days are to honor a part of our nation’s history, but it’s interesting to note that all but one of these state holidays cropped up, like the pustulant sores that they are, after Martin Luther King Junior Day was declared a federal holiday in 1983.

The state of Georgia has some sneaky writing in its state law which requires the governor to pronounce at least one day a year to be dedicated to honoring the Confederacy. But the average person might not even know this because it says, “the Governor shall include at least one of the following dates: January 19, April 26, or June 3, or a suitable date in lieu thereof to commemorate the event or events now observed by such dates.”

Those dates coincide with Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Memorial Day, and Jefferson Davis Day, respectively. If they weren’t well aware that what they’re doing was wrong, they wouldn’t have to sneak these “holidays” into the legislation so as to make them practically anonymous, would they? Shame on them.

As a white woman from Connecticut, some might think that I wouldn’t have any skin in this game, so to speak, regarding all things Confederate. In that they’d be wrong. Aside from finding it incomprehensible that any human being could choose racism over civil rights for all humans, I also experienced a jarring culture shock that left a lasting impression on me when we moved from Connecticut to rural Florida when I was 10 years old.

Back then at least, most children learned about the Civil War between 3rd and 5th grades. I discovered firsthand that Connecticut and Florida put an entirely different spin on the subject. I was appalled.

Fifth grade in Florida was one of the worst years of my life by far. I suddenly found myself in a school system that didn’t “officially” desegregate until 1970, despite the fact that segregation had become illegal in 1954. And in fact, they didn’t get around to complying with a court order that required them to replace several aging schools that were attended mainly by black children until 2018. I wrote about my Florida school experiences in great detail here.

I walked into that racist cesspool after already having been taught about the Civil War for two years in Connecticut. But one thing that had been studiously avoided in Connecticut is the Myth of the Lost Cause. Even at age 10 I was able to poke multiple holes in this myth, so having a teacher, someone whom I always assumed would have educational integrity, cram this myth down my throat in Florida brought about the end of my innocence.

The myth goes something like this: The Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. It was all about states rights, and the Union was the aggressor. Most slaves were treated very well and were content. Poor whites were content, too. Plantations weren’t forced labor camps, they were genteel farms full of happy field hands. (Cough.)

The interesting thing about the Myth of the Lost Cause is that it really wasn’t perpetuated in earnest until the early 1900’s, some 50 years after the war was over, and it was championed by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Their primary goal is to prepare future generations of white Southerners to respect and defend the “principles” of the Confederacy.

The UDC perpetuated their myth in the same way myths are being perpetuated to this very day. They rejected every schoolbook that didn’t prop up the myth. They also sponsored Confederate monuments right at the time when Southern states were legislating an effort to segregate society and disenfranchise Black Americans. As this article explains, These Statues Were Never Really About Preserving History.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy also gave speeches in support of the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, they downplayed how violent the system of slavery was. I’m sure they were thrilled when Gone with the Wind came out, glamorizing the antebellum South to a degree that sickens any modern and educated viewer.

I really need to stop referring to the UDC in the past tense. They’re still alive and well. Here’s their website to prove it. They defend their monuments to this day. That’s why the past tense seems so appropriate for this backward group.

The UDC was responsible for another wave of memorials and monuments when the fight for civil rights heated up. These statues were intended to intimidate people who were already being terrorized by way of an increase in lynchings. In particular, the UDC enjoyed installing these monuments to ignorance on courthouse grounds. So much for equal protection under the law.

Another “coincidence” was that there was an increase in the number of schools and colleges that were named after Confederates right after the federal ruling in 1954 which outlawed segregation. In other words, “Yes, we’ll integrate if we must, but we won’t ever let you forget.”

Fortunately, there’s a growing trend to change the names of such schools. I once wrote a blog post about a high school in Jacksonville Florida that was finally, finally changed from Nathan Bedford Forrest High with its Rebel mascot to Westside High. Go Wolverines! Since then, Jacksonville has changed the name of 6 other schools. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Since the death of George Floyd, an increasing number of confederate monuments have been torn down or relocated throughout the country. Another good step. But we still have a long way to go. After consulting this list of confederate monuments and memorials, I was proud to see that my current state of Washington “only” has two reminders of our nation’s Civil War shame. But nationwide, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 2,000 memorials still valorize the Confederacy. Eight of those still stand in the United States Capitol, which was also the location of the January 6th insurrection. Those insurrectionists and the people who support them would like a repeat of the Civil War. That’s why it’s so important that we stop glorifying it, and start teaching the truth about the horrors of this war and the greedy, evil reasons behind it.

It’s time to grow up and take ownership of the fact that there are numerous dark periods in this nation’s history. Otherwise, we’ll never be motivated to improve.

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Why I No Longer Watch Tom Cruise Movies

By being coddled by Scientology, he’s complicit in human trafficking.

Let me start off by saying that there are many Tom Cruise movies that I have enjoyed quite a bit in my lifetime. I think the man is a very talented actor (except when he’s not), and he’s not hard to look at (if he’s your type). So, when Dear Husband asked me if I wanted to see Cruise’s latest film, Top Gun: Maverick, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about, and which is also doing obscenely well at the box office, I inwardly cringed.

Because I can’t. I just can’t do it. Yes, the movie would probably be freakin’ fantastic. Yes, my little boycott isn’t going to make the least bit of difference to Tom Cruise. It’s just that morally, with what I know about what this man represents, I can’t give him a penny, let alone a portion of a ticket sale. I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror afterward. So I sent DH off to the movie with his best friends. Here’s why.

I’m not one who is particularly obsessed with celebrity, but I’ve written about Tom Cruise before. I have focused on him quite a bit, but not because he is who (or what) he is. It’s because he does what he does, and I’m forever attempting to understand it.

Tom Cruise is the poster child for Scientology. And Scientology is one of the longest running, most destructive cults in the world. (The only two American cults that have lasted longer are the Ku Klux Klan and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

I have to admit that I’m obsessed with cults. No, I don’t want to be in a cult. In fact, when I was in my 20’s, a friend of mine got sucked into a now defunct cult called Lifespring, and tried to pull me in as well. It was a very scary time, and it took me a while before I could trust strangers again, for fear they were recruiters. I wrote about this experience here. If you want to know one of my biggest regrets, if you want to know how it was possible for me to ruin someone’s life even though I had the very best of intentions, then check out that post. My friend disappeared off the face of the earth after I did that. I have been unable to find her to this day, and 35 years have passed. She has left no internet footprint whatsoever. I fear the worst.

I read and watch everything I possibly can about cults now, in an effort to understand how people get trapped within them. I want to know how cults work, and I have noticed that they all use a similar playbook. (Even Trump uses it, which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.) I also want to know what it takes for someone to leave a cult, and how/if they’re able to rebuild their lives in the aftermath.

I find anything that causes one to alter one’s thinking to be quite fascinating. Since 2016, it has become increasingly clear to me that a lot more Americans are susceptible to these alterations than I had previously thought. And maybe learning all I can about cults is a form of atonement as well, for the debacle with my friend. It’s complicated.

Speaking of having the very best of intentions, let’s circle back to Tom Cruise. My working theory used to be that that he hasn’t intentionally become such a detrimental force in the world. I genuinely believe that he himself is buying what he’s selling when it comes to Scientology. He has become so isolated from the real world, so sheltered and coddled by Scientology and its many lies that it’s easy to think that he has no idea what an evil organization he is propping up. He was a celebrity before he became involved in Scientology, so he has never seen its dark side like its non-celebrity members do (until he did.)

The truth is (and you can find this anywhere on the web if you take just a moment to look), Scientology’s only purpose is to separate you from your money. And they will do anything and everything to reach that goal. As in, they will take every penny you have ever had, and help you to defraud credit card companies to get more money from them, leaving you under a mountain of debt, and even then, they’ll continue to pressure you for money.

You may love your family very much, but if you join this cult and they do not, it’s very likely that you’ll never get to see or talk to them again. Anyone not in Scientology, and anyone who speaks out against them, is considered a Supressive Person, and they must be shunned, although the actual term for shunning in Scientology is “disconnection.” In fact, if you were born into this cult, or managed to talk your family into joining with you, then you will all be taught to spy on one another, and report any deviations from what Scientology deems acceptable.

One thing that Scientologists find to be unacceptable is anyone questioning Scientology. So if your twin sister starts asking questions, you will be expected to report her, and you will then be expected to shun her. She will be put out on the street with no money, no work references, and if she was young enough when she joined, no education to speak of. She will be all alone, and thrown away like garbage.

And heaven forbid you join the Sea Org, which is purported to be comprised of followers so dedicated to Scientology that they sign a billion year contract to become employees slaves. They are then given room and board, and something along the lines of $75 dollars a week as an allowance. And the living conditions have been reported to be as horrible as a prison cell in a third world country. The food you get will be disgusting, unhealthy, and in quantities that keep you on the verge of starvation.

In exchange for these “perks,” you will work about 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and will be beaten and/or punished if you don’t follow the multi-volume, very detailed rules of Scientology. And one of those rules is that you have to obey every whim of those who have a higher rank than you do, which will be pretty much everybody. If someone asks you to scrub a septic tank with a toothbrush, then that is what you will be expected to do, without question.

Women, if you are pretty, you may be told by the higher ups that you have to be someone’s girlfriend, with all that that implies, and you will have no other choice. If you become pregnant while in the Sea Org, you will be forced to have an abortion. If you already have children when you join, you will leave them with total strangers in the organization, and might get to see them for an hour every few months, if you’ve behaved.

If you become problematic in any way, if you have violated any expectations, you will be sent to what is called the Rehabilitation Project Force, which is reported to be no better than a prison camp. You will do hard labor in the hot sun while wearing solid black boiler suits. You will attend a re-indoctrination program. You will be locked up, often in hot trailers, and deprived of food and water for long periods. You and your cellmates will be encouraged to beat each other up. You will be “audited,” which is another word for interrogated, 5 hours a day. You will not be allowed to see or talk to even those family members who are fellow Scientologists.

You will want to leave, but you won’t be able to. You’re locked up when you’re not working. The windows have bars on them. When you’re outside, you’re surrounded by a razor wire fence that points inward as well as outward. If you are even allowed to make a phone call, someone will be listening in. There will be guards everywhere. Most of these facilities prison camps are located in the middle of nowhere, so running is quite a challenge.

It’s safe to say that Cruise was never subjected to that side of Scientology, but by promoting it, he causes others to enjoy those many pleasures. If you’re famous and popular and you promote a movement, for example, Naziism, it doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never seen a concentration camp, never fired a gun, or never invaded another country. You’re still a Nazi.

What caused him to get sucked in? He claims he has been a Scientologist since 1986, and his first wife, Mimi Rogers, encouraged him to join, saying that it would help with his rampant promiscuity. (She denies this, by the way.) But given the matching set of blondes I saw on his arms when he walked right past me in Las Vegas while he was filming Rain Man the same year he married her, I’m guessing he hadn’t been cured yet. Not by a long shot.

But he is the perfect target for a cult. He practically had “Welcome” tattooed on his forehead. Obviously, I don’t know the man personally, but from what I’m reading, he came from a broken home and his father was physically abusive. He attended 15 schools in 14 years. He planned to be a priest but got kicked out of seminary for drinking. He had dyslexia. And he’s 5’7”, which is never fun for a guy. I suspect that all this made for a major cocktail of insecurity and a desperate need for love. Cults feed off of people like that.

He was already famous before Scientology. Risky Business and All the Right Moves had made him a household name. And Scientology loves its celebrities. They give them the royal treatment and they love-bomb them for the rest of their lives, because these people are their best advertisements for new recruits. So you might say that Scientology does work for them, although it sucks as much money as possible from them in the process.

Despite his previous fame, Cruise believes that he’s gotten where he is because of Scientology. He even says that Scientology “cured” his dyslexia. Poor man.

In 1990, the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, was laser focused on Cruise. He didn’t like the fact that Cruise was married to Mimi Rogers, because Rogers was not keen on Miscavige. So Miscavige decided the couple needed to be broken up. According to this article, Miscavige moved heaven and earth to throw Nicole Kidman into the mix. Sure enough, Cruise and Kidman had an affair, and he divorced Rogers and married Kidman in the same year, 1990.

Miscavige’s plan worked a little too well, though. He thought Kidman would be a homewrecker, but he wasn’t planning on her turning into a wife. Her father was a Supressive Person, having already left Scientology himself. So this union made him nervous, as well it should have. In 1993, Kidman had finally convinced Cruise to leave Scientology. I’m sure the fact that once you reach one of the higher levels of the cult, you are told about Xenu was a big help, too. It’s quite a story.

According to Wikipedia, “Xenu, also called Xemu, was the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as ‘Teegeeack’) in DC-8-like spacecraft 75 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the thetans (immortal spirits) of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Unless you’re L. Ron Hubbard.

Anyway, Tom and Nicole backed way, way, way off the cult from 1993 to 2000, but the leader of Scientology wasn’t about to let go of his cash cow without a fight. By 2000, Cruise was sucked back in, but Kidman wasn’t. They divorced in 2001. Their two children, now adults, are still Scientologists, and therefore most likely have no contact with Kidman. This is the point when I really, really lost respect for Cruise.

By now there’s no possible way Cruise hadn’t heard some of the Scientology horror stories. He wouldn’t have been actively discouraged from looking at the internet during his 8 year “vacation” from the cult. Clearly, conversations must have taken place about it to get him to stay away that long. And yet he continues to promote this harmful belief system.

He also must know how different he is than the young man just starting out in Hollywood, before Scientology got its hooks into him. Check out this interview with Rona Barrett from 1984, when he was 22 years old. In it, he appears humble, family-oriented, intelligent, and quite articulate.

Now, contrast that with his interview with Peter Overton in 2005. That’s the Tom Cruise we know today. Arrogant. Full of himself. Defensive. Utterly sheltered/isolated by an entourage. Completely deluded (again) into thinking that everyone admires Scientology. Positive that he has all the answers and that we do not. Very adept at responding to questions without saying anything of substance.

And then, if you really want to see him out on the lunatic fringe, check out this video, which Scientology is desperate to quash. In it, he’s incoherently sure that the empty words he is spewing are real. He talks about helping the world. He talks about stopping to help when you see a car accident (but if someone that famous does such a thing, it hits the news. I looked. Nothing.) He talks about knowing, but doesn’t explain what he knows. (And I found that particularly sad, given that he seems to be oblivious to the world’s negative perception of his “religion.”) He talks about doing something, and getting it done, but doesn’t tell you what “something” or “it” is. I think he actually believes he can do all the things he does in his action films.

What I find most appalling about Cruise, what makes me not want to financially support him in any way, shape, or form, is that, by allowing himself to be coddled by Scientology, he participates in human trafficking. Check out this article and this one for more details, but suffice it to say that Scientology has used Sea Org members, those starving, 20 hour a day workers with the $75 dollar a week allowances that I mentioned above, to remodel motorcycles, sportscars, and even an airport hangar for Cruise. When Cruise was wooing Kidman, a group of Scientologists were made to till a field from midnight to dawn and plant it with wildflowers. And when it didn’t pass muster, they had to pull all that up and replace it with grass. One Scientologist was made to be his personal chef. And you don’t seriously think he does his own housework, do you? And you don’t seriously think Scientology would allow him to surround himself with a household staff that wasn’t comprised of Scientologists, do you? And if any of those people screw up in the slightest way, you don’t think David Miscavige doesn’t punish them physically and psychologically, do you?

Slavery is what that is. Pure and simple. I refuse to knowingly support slavery.

If you want to learn the truth about Scientology, straight from the mouths of people who have escaped it and are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after this cult reduced them to rubble, I highly recommend the series called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Even if you think Remini is biased, she interviews 3 seasons worth of devastated people, and it would be impossible to maintain a conspiracy that large. Impossible. Just as with the January 6th hearings, how many people have to step forward before you realize they are telling the truth?

With so many witnesses to the destructive power of Scientology, why is this organization allowed to maintain a tax exempt status, forcing taxpayers to support its antics while David Miscavige and Tom Cruise live luxurious lifestyles by standing on the necks of slavishly devoted cult members?

Because, when the IRS was investigating them, Scientology used its money and its mindless minions to bog the IRS down in 2000 frivolous lawsuits, and targeted individual IRS agents and made their lives a living hell. For years.

Scientology is not a religion. Legitimate religions don’t force you to give up your life savings and ruin you financially for their own gain. Religions don’t destroy families if they philosophically disagree. They don’t isolate you and tell you every single thing you should do and think. True religions don’t exist only to benefit the few at the top. Religions can tolerate questions, and don’t savagely attack those who ask them. Religions don’t jail, interrogate and torture their members. The wives of the leaders of a religion don’t mysteriously disappear for 15 years, like Shelly Miscavige has, probably because she knows too much.

But don’t underestimate Scientology’s power. Many people have taken the free personality tests that they offer, “just for fun,” and 500,000 dollars and many years later, they look up to see that it was all a harmful, life-ruining illusion. Tell everyone who will listen to avoid Scientology like the plague.

Also avoid Tom Cruise, Scientology’s main attraction. He is a slow-motion train wreck that I can’t seem to stop watching. In this internet age, when everyone can find out everything they want to know, social media is causing cults to circle the drain, for the most part. When Scientology finally dies out, and it will, I wonder what will happen to Tom Cruise, a man who has wasted his entire life in its promotion and pursuit.

When faced with all the lives he has ruined by being so visibly complicit, how will he handle that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, please join me in resisting the temptation to watch Tom Cruise movies.

Do you enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book!

Miraculous Macon

Living in this town must be a strange balancing act.

Miraculous Macon

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

The next leg of our journey had us headed to Macon, Georgia to visit my sister and her husband. This is a rare treat, since we now live on opposite sides of the country. I was very excited and focused primarily on that visit, so I didn’t really think about being in Macon itself, even though I had been there once before, briefly, decades ago, and I remember thinking it was a pretty city.

We decided to splurge and stay at the 1842 Inn, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But then most of that part of Macon seems to be on the registry. I hopped over to their website and started counting all the Macon, Georgia listings, and lost count at fifty.

The inn consists of an antebellum, Greek revival style mansion that was built in 1842 by John Gresham, a former mayor of Macon who was also a judge and a cotton merchant. A Victorian cottage was added out back by subsequent owners. There are 19 rooms in the main house and cottage, each with a different design and named for a different aspect of the area’s history. For example, our room was the Nancy Hanks, which was a local passenger train that was named after one of the most famous racehorses ever. I could get used to this place, with its four-poster beds and its beautiful artwork and its elegant complimentary breakfast in the parlor.

When you step out of this inn, everywhere you look, for many blocks, you see mansion after mansion after mansion. These stately homes are beautiful to behold, and suggest a genteel and romantic past, the past many Southerners prefer to remember, but these homes also come with the awkward fact that most were probably built by slaves or at least by the money they produced. Macon’s primary source of income, prior to the Civil War, was cotton. And the cotton industry at the time was dependent upon the labor of slaves.

As a matter of fact, we were staying at a home that once housed 8 slaves. And John Gresham had 43 additional slaves on his farm. I couldn’t help but wonder if our ground floor room at the back of the house, with it’s outside entrance, was once occupied by a house slave.

It’s a really odd dichotomy, admiring the beauty of a town’s historic district, and also being well aware of its dark and racist past. In fact, Macon’s historic train station still has a room off to the side which has engraved into the very stone above its door, “Colored Waiting Room.”  From 1916 to 1960, African Americans had to enter the terminal by that door. The sign was covered up for a time as the building passed from one owner to the next, but it was exposed again not long ago so as not to deny the history of the place. I am not sure how to feel about that. Is there a way to remember your dark history without being a constant source of pain for those who live in the present?

The building is symmetrical, so there’s another room on the opposite side of the station that is the exact same size and design as the Colored Waiting Room. It, however, says “Baggage.” Wow.

The Station itself is so grand that weddings are still held there.

Another startling visual is this stone that commemorates the now nonexistent Baconsfield Park, which was given to the city by a Senator from Georgia and was “for the sole, perpetual and unending use, benefit and enjoyment of the White women, White girls, White boys and White children of the city of Macon.

Living in this town must be a strange balancing act. Elegance and injustice. Hoop skirts with shit on the hemline. Bless their hearts.

But oddly enough, I have good reason to love Macon and to want to come back. Somehow, magically, it has transformed my sister. She and I have much in common, including the fact that we’re both introverts. She even more so than me. People are not our favorite things. They never have been. We are both childfree, and I credit her with giving me the courage to make that choice despite society’s constant criticism. She paved the way for me. It was the right choice for both of us.

We both lead relatively isolated lives even now, but ever since I moved out West and met Dear Husband, I’ve become a bit more social. Not that that is a superior state. It’s just how it is. And I know I’m much happier now, even when alone, and it’s obvious to anyone who looks at me. It took me 50 years to come into my own, and I was so focused on that, I think I overlooked the obvious hints that my sister was blossoming at the very same time.

It’s a wonderful thing, watching someone bloom, like a gorgeous Queen of the Night flower that shows its beauty but one night a year, and is therefore all the more stunning to behold. My sister, in Macon, is a rare flower, indeed.

We walked around the historic district, ate meals outdoors at places called Parish and The Rookery (try the Solid Gold Soul Rolls!), stopped in at the Hummingbird Bar, and enjoyed the quirky inventory of a shop called Travis Jean Emporium where I wished I could buy one of everything. People knew her. She talked to them. She was happy to see them. Even the homeless smiled and waved. Total strangers talked to her on the street. And I could tell that she was really and truly happy. And it was a pleasure to watch her husband look on in wonder after 32 years of marriage.

As a matter of fact, I have never seen my sister happy like this, ever. It was fun to watch this Yankee girl, taking up all the space she deserves in this Southern world. She has found her place. She has become the person I always knew she could be, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes every time I think about it. It also makes me want to say, with delight, “Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?”

For a while now, I’ve been trying to convince her and her husband to retire near me, because I miss having them close by and I love Washington so much. From now on, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut. It seems that for the first time in our lives, we both have things figured out. And at the exact same time, too! I do believe I’ll just bask in that knowledge for a time.

For the younger readers out there, never give up hope. Serenity can smack you in the forehead at any age. There’s no deadline. You just never know.

Life is good.

But wait! There’s more! While visiting my sister, we also went to the Tubman Museum and the Ocmulgee Mounds and saw some amazing public art… I’ll tell you about all that in the next post.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

Paying Respects at Andersonville

Of all the Civil War prisons, Andersonville was the worst.

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it comes available, below.

After a rather abrupt and, in my opinion, overly-religious welcome to Georgia at the state line, we headed into cotton and peanut country. We had a rapid COVID test scheduled for later in the day, prior to visiting my sister, so we decided not to stop at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, although it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

But Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia is the only part of our National Park system that serves as a memorial to all American prisoners of war. Since we were going to be in the general vicinity, we thought it was fitting to stop in and pay our respects. I’d been there before, but this was Dear Husband’s first Civil War site.

There are three parts to this site. The National Prisoner of War Museum, the Prison Site itself, and the Andersonville National Cemetery. We only had time to see the first two, but I highly recommend them.

The museum has displays that describe not only Andersonville, but also the conditions that Americans have endured as war prisoners throughout history. So many wars. So much inhumanity. So many sacrifices. Prison camps, by definition, are horrific places.

Andersonville, during its 14-month operation, can only be described as hell on earth. During that time, 13,000 Union soldiers died and were buried in trenches in what is now the National Cemetery. Many died of disease or starvation. Some died by crossing the “Dead Line” which was a flimsy fence that was 19 feet inside the stockade walls. If you crossed it, you were shot by a guard. Others died while trying to escape, many of those due to tunnel cave ins.

Neither the North nor the South were prepared for the number of prisoners they would need to house during this war. Because of this, prison conditions on both sides were overcrowded, and there was a deficit of food, shelter, clothing and medical supplies. According to the National Park brochure, you were more likely to die as a prisoner of war in this conflict than as a soldier in combat. Fifteen percent of all Union POWs and twelve percent of all Confederate POWs died. There were 150 Civil War prisons scattered across the country, but Andersonville had the worst reputation of them all.

Originally, Andersonville was a 16 ½ acre prison pen that was supposed to hold 10,000 Union prisoners. It had a swampy creek running through its center. That creek was supposed to supply the men with drinking water, and at the other end, where it flowed out of the pen, it was used as a latrine, called “The Sinks”. The waste was supposed to flow out of the compound, leaving the water upstream fresh, but the stream quickly proved inadequate to the task, the waste backed up, and the water source became a disease-laden muddy trench.

Both North and South were expecting to rely on prisoner exchange to reduce the number of incarcerated men, but when the South absolutely refused to give up Black Union soldiers, the negotiations broke down. Andersonville quickly swelled to 32,000 men struggling to survive. No shelter was provided. Prisoners had to make do with makeshift lean-to’s of sticks and scraps of clothing, which were called shebangs. Lice, fleas and vermin were everywhere. It was said that you could smell the stench of Andersonville 10 miles away. Georgians were not pleased. But that didn’t stop some of them from coming to gawk at the fetid sea of misery, chaos and death from the sentry towers.

African Americans, of course, had it even worse than the Whites. If they hadn’t already been killed by their Confederate captors before reaching prison, or returned to slavery, or sold into slavery for the first time, then they were dumped in with the rest of the prisoners. But they didn’t even receive the substandard, grizzly medical treatment that the Whites got. They were also forced to work hard labor. They were more likely to be put into the stocks and/or whipped than the White prisoners were. Of the 100 African Americans at Andersonville, 33 percent died, rather than the 15 percent death rate of the Whites.

Even making it to the end of the war did not ensure that you’d survive Andersonville. Hundreds died trying to make it back home. Others died later of the diseases they got from the vermin and putrid water of Andersonville. These men are scattered everywhere, but their loss is just as heartbreaking as the loss of those who lie buried in trenches in the cemetery just north of the prison. It’s one of this nation’s worst tragedies.

An Andersonville Survivor

So what do you see when you visit Andersonville today? Mostly, you see a beautiful rolling field of expertly maintained grass. It actually looks rather peaceful, if you don’t know the history. It would make a great place for a picnic, or a golf course, except that that would be disrespectful.

The National Park Service does a great job of making the site come alive, though. There’s a narrative that you can listen to as you drive around to the various points of interest. There are also a lot of informational signs. You can see the many monuments that many Northern states erected in memory of their fallen soldiers. You can visit the two parts of the stockade walls that have been reconstructed. You can see remnants of the star fort just to the Southwest, complete with rusty cannons. There are poles marking where the rest of the walls used to be, and shorter poles indicating the dead line which you could not cross.

The most substantial edifice is the building that surrounds Providence Spring, which was a spring that miraculously appeared just north of the creek, 6 months after the prison opened in 1864. That spring provided what little clean water the prisoners were able to obtain. Water still runs there, even though the creek has long since dried up. Throughout the fields, you can see short concrete posts that mark where the prisoners desperately tried to dig wells to get even more water.

So you stand on this now beautiful site, taking in the green rolling hillside, listening to the birds chirp, but you can imagine a time when it was mud and filth and desperation and disease. The ground practically vibrates with trauma. You can all but hear the moaning and the crying and the praying and the dying. You feel the ghosts of a war that never should have happened. And you are reminded of how atrocious people can be to one another.

Many people I know in the South try really hard to romanticize the Civil War. They try to say it was about states rights, but even the documents left behind by their own politicians and generals come right out and admit this was a war about slavery, pure and simple. They wanted the free labor for their farmland, and they didn’t care about the abominable suffering and horrifying injustice this caused. They decided that their stance, on the wrong side of history, was the right one, and they took up arms to defend it.

The Insurrectionists of January 6th of this year were equally wrong-headed, and are equally confused that their violent actions are considered crimes. If you don’t like the majority stance in a democracy, you don’t get to just up and steal a chunk of the country. That’s treasonous. And you certainly don’t get to storm our nation’s capitol and vandalize it and try to lynch people who disagree with you.

On that January 6th day, I’m sure all the ghosts of Andersonville rose up in horror and protest. I’m sure they wished they could make those insurrectionist idiots see the errors of their ways. And I’m sure the ghosts of their captors were cheering those same idiots on.

Will we ever learn?

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Finally, Some Equal Justice in Montgomery

“We will remember.”

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it comes available, below.

There were several points on this trip through the American Southeast where we encountered some intense and uncomfortable knowledge about the human race, and the day we entered Alabama was definitely one of those days. In the nearly 40 years I lived in Florida, I never quite made it to the Heart of Dixie, because to me it was also ground zero for the civil rights movement, a long and often tragic resistance that we are still waging to this day. #BlackLivesMatter. Truth be told, I’ve always been a little bit scared of this particular state, along with Mississippi.

Alabama, after all, was the home of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, as well as the sit-ins in Birmingham in 1963 with their water hoses and dogs, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It’s also the place where protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and where Governor George Wallace attempted to block school integration. This is a shameful legacy of racism, and as far as I’m concerned, when people think that irrationally, no one is safe.

That legacy becomes all the more tragic and ironic when you learn that the state’s official motto is “We Dare Defend Our Rights”, and it was adopted in 1939. Whose rights were you defending? And were you defending them with the water hoses and the dogs, and by blocking children’s entrance to schools? Well then, well done, you. Sigh.

For me, the Montgomery portion of the trip was intense and eye-opening and heartbreaking and, oddly, comforting. It was there that we visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I now consider this one of the best museums I have ever visited in my life, second only to the House of Terror in Budapest that I wrote about here. It was equally intense and edifying.

When we decided that Alabama would be on our itinerary, I said I had to go see the Lynching Museum. I thought that was what it was called. It took me some time to discover its real name. Both the museum and the memorial opened up in 2018, right in the midst of the Trump era. (I hope his head exploded as a result.) This garnered quite a lot of press. What stuck in my (extremely UNexploded) head was the phrase “Lynching Museum”.

If you ever get anywhere near Montgomery, I strongly urge you to visit these two places, and suggest that you visit the museum first. It will greatly enhance your visit to the memorial.

As I entered the 11,000 square foot museum, which was built upon the site of a former slave warehouse where Black people were locked up prior to sale, I felt a little sheepish. Did I even have a right to be here? Can I fully understand the deep sense of grief and the societal and cultural impact that slavery and mass incarceration has visited upon so many of my fellow Americans?

I was relieved that I was welcomed quite warmly, and at no time was I made to feel that I was an unwanted intruder. In fact, I’m one of the very people who needs this museum most, because I soon discovered I had a lot to learn. It’s so easy for me to sit in my safe White bubble and pretend that certain horrors were not as bad as they actually were, simply because I didn’t experience them firsthand. This museum bursts that bubble.

When you pass through its doors, you take a journey from transatlantic slavery to the domestic slave trade to the terrorism and lynching that followed Emancipation and included voter suppression and segregation. You learn more than you previously knew about White Supremacy and Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement. And most of all, you learn how this legacy of slavery lives on in the form of mass incarceration. It’s a lot to take in. But it’s worth it.

The first room was very powerful. It was narrow, but with a cathedral ceiling, and on every wall was projected footage of huge, crashing waves, far above your head. You could also hear the waves through the sound system. And you are told how many people, kidnapped from their homes by the transatlantic slavery system, did not even make it across the Atlantic alive. That ocean is a massive grave. That room really brings home what it must have felt like to die that way. I’ll never look at the Atlantic the same again.

Then you enter a hallway with sculptures of just the heads of slaves as they were coming ashore in America. Some have collars on. Some have bandages. Some are children. And all you see is the fear and the agony on their faces. At this point I knew I wouldn’t escape this museum without crying.

This is very much a narrative museum. You’re not only presented with facts and numbers. You hear stories. At one point you enter the slave warehouse that used to stand on this very spot. In each cell, you see the ghosts of the people imprisoned here, and as you approach the bars, you hear them tell their stories. The one that stuck with me the most was that of a little girl. All she does is look you square in the eye and say, “Do you know where my mother is?”

That ripped my heart right out of my chest. Seriously. My heart is probably still there, lying in a bloody heap at the feet of that poor child.

In another room you are presented with quotes from slaves. And then runaway notices and auctions. And then the horror of the domestic slave trade.

Once the transatlantic trade ceased, slavery still lived on in this country. You just had to, if you’ll pardon the expression, “buy local”. This meant that families were ripped apart. (There is a reason why “sold down the river” is a term that means the ultimate form of betrayal.) Parents often never saw their children again. Women were forcibly raped and/or bred like horses, so that their children could then be sold off.

And after the civil war and emancipation, you didn’t think these slave owners would quietly give up the concept of free labor, did you? Sharecropping was another form of slavery. It made it impossible to break out of a cycle of poverty. And when people started to agitate for rights and got no support to speak of from the federal government, the former slave owners and those who supported them turned to domestic terrorism to maintain control. Thousands fled from the south. And of the ones that remained, more than 4000 of them were lynched between 1877 and 1950.

Lynching is an effective and brutal tool designed to terrorize the populace and keep them in their “place.” Lynching was often a source of entertainment for Whites. Sometimes thousands gathered to watch the spectacle. They sold popcorn and postcards at these events. They tortured before they killed. Sometimes, if they couldn’t find the man they were looking for to lynch, they’d settle upon the next Black man they came across.

And the reasons for these lynchings were sickening (if there was even any attempt to pretend a reason was needed.) No one was safe. No one. You could be lynched for berating a White child for throwing rocks at you. You could be lynched for testifying against a White person. You could be lynched for raping a White woman, even if there was no evidence or truth to it. You could be lynched for asking for water.

One room in the museum has a wall of glass jars. In these jars is a variety of different colored sand and soil. When you discover that these jars of dirt were collected from sites of documented lynchings (and there were probably just as many undocumented ones), you feel sick. It’s like ashes when no ashes are available. Each jar includes the victim’s name, date of death, and location. That’s all that’s left of them, as burials were not usually permitted.

Other rooms describe the civil rights movement, and bring you up to the present day. They demonstrate how politicians gave overblown descriptions of the national drug problem in an effort to win elections through the politics of fear. Many of them later admitted to blatantly lying. The museum describes how the prison population has swelled because of this “war on drugs”, and that we imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other nation, and the vast majority of those prisoners are black.

Why? Cheap labor. Slavery by another name. Every Idaho potato you eat, for example, was processed by prisoners who get paid pennies an hour.

Another moving narrative piece brings you face to face with the projection of prisoners sitting behind a glass wall, with phones, and if you sit and face them and pick up your phone as if you’re visiting them, they will look right at you and tell you their stories.

They talk of rape by prison guards. Overcrowding. Being incarcerated for decades before being released because they weren’t guilty. Children locked up. Solitary confinement. Mandatory minimum laws which can lock you up for life for non-violent crimes.

This museum left me with so much to think about. I had to sit with it for a long time. I’m still sitting with it, if I’m honest. I think I left there a different person.

The only disappointing thing about this museum is that they don’t allow photographs. I plan to contact them and urge them to rethink that stance. I know that museums used to have that policy the world over, but that’s no longer the case in most, because there’s no danger of damaging the artifacts with flash photography anymore when people generally use their phones to take pictures.

Even the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, which I’ll also be blogging about soon, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles, which I’ve already blogged about, allow photographs. Atrocities must be remembered in order to prevent them from happening again, and works of art in galleries must be shared so that we don’t forget there is still beauty and creativity in this complicated world of ours.

The Equal Justice Initiative website states that they don’t allow photographs “in order to preserve the sacredness of the space and the integrity of each visitor’s experience.”

I get that. I really do. It is a sacred space. The subject matter is solemn. It is deserving of the utmost respect. But I believe this horrifying legacy needs to be shouted from the rooftops. It needs to have the brightest of lights shined upon it so that we can fight the evils of mass incarceration that are still going on to this very day. In this world of social media, that means pictures. At the very, very least, I hope they will consider doing a social media wall with a constantly changing digital display that people can photograph and share with the wider world. At least do that. But this museum deserves even more. And the more people talk and share, the more people will come to visit and learn. Photos won’t decrease your ticket sales. They’ll increase them, right along with your outreach and publicity.

In the absence of pictures, I bought some of their books, and here are some photos of some of the pages, as well as photos we took of the exterior. After you have viewed them, scroll down to hear about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

After leaving the museum with my head full of so much horrifying truth, we headed over to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This memorial is comprised of 6 acres, and photos are allowed there. It feels even more sacred than the museum did. It is a place where you speak in hushed tones. It is one of the most important places I have ever been.

Upon entering, you are confronted with a very emotional sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo that shows the raw terror, pain and agony of slavery.

Then you slowly climb the hill and approach what looks like 800 hanging rusty metal coffins, each one representing someone who had been lynched. You are overwhelmed with the sheer number of them. So many dead. But as you get closer, you realize that each “coffin” does not represent one person lynched. No. It represents each county where there was a documented lynching, and some of them have so many names they had to reduce the font to accommodate them. That overwhelming visual number is multiplied over and over and over again by the names. It made me feel sick to my stomach.

Coffins at eye level. Coffins hanging above me. Hanging high and low. County after county. State after state. Victim after victim. Hanging.

After that, if you aren’t completely destroyed by your own tears, you walk the grounds and see a sculpture by Dana King that honors the women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and then a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas that dramatizes police violence and racial bias. We still have such a long way to go.

So why do I say the museum and memorial were comforting, as well as being intense and eye-opening and heartbreaking? Because if these important truths can be brought back to the very heart of Montgomery, Alabama, in the midst of the Trump era, then there is hope for us, and hope for reality and truth and change. It means we are capable of learning and improving and recovering from injustice. It means we can stand up against lies and hatred in beautiful, memorable, emotionally fraught and edifying ways.

As much as I’ve trashed Alabama in this post, don’t get me wrong. Alabama is a beautiful state. I wasn’t expecting that, because, frankly, I’ve always been focused on my fear of it. Its highways certainly have less of a police presence than Georgia’s do. DH and I had a wonderful time visiting his father and stepmother in the pretty, historic town of Andalusia. We had delicious food that brought me right back to that Southern part of me that I just can’t deny. Yes, it’s true that nothing says Southern small town more than the cigarette burns we saw on our motel bathtub, but Alabama can’t really be blamed for that. Overall, the trip was either pleasant or enlightening or both, and because of that, I will never forget it, and I’m relieved to say I no longer fear Alabama. It is taught me much.

I’ll leave you with these words, which grace one of the walls of the memorial:

“For the hanged and beaten, for the shot, drowned, and burned. For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law. We will remember. With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome.”

I’m not even going to try to hawk my book here as I usually do. Sometimes blatant profiteering just feels wrong.

A Fresh Perspective on the Statue of Liberty

Recently, on NPR, I heard an amazing interview with Tyler Stovall, the author of White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea. This title is definitely at the top of my ever-lengthening To-Be-Read List. It sounds like a very eye-opening book.

Just the interview opened my eyes on one topic: The Statue of Liberty. I’m paraphrasing here, because I was driving as I listened, and was unable to take notes. But it stuck with me because it’s a perspective I’ve never heard before.

I have always loved the Statue of Liberty. All my immigrant grandparents came here through New York City, and I think that imagining their excitement as they saw that statue welcoming them to their new home is what fueled my desire to travel at an early age. I really felt proud that this statue was given to us by France, and that it was a symbol of our celebration of immigration and freedom.

After all, Emma Lazarus’ poem, engraved at the statue’s base, includes the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

God bless America, right?


Stovall points out that this statue was placed in New York Harbor for a very good reason. That was the hub of White, European immigration. You see no such statue at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. That’s where the majority of Asian immigrants first landed (when they were allowed to come, that is). You see no such statue on the Mexican Border, where most Latinx people enter this country.

We are all about giving us your tired and your poor, as long as they look White. We’re all about your huddled masses, as long as they’re Christian. We refuse that wretched refuse if it doesn’t pass muster in terms of eye slant or hair texture.

Another thing Stovall pointed out is that that statue is in New York City, which was a major slave hub. According to this article, NYC received its first slaves in the 1600’s. It had an official slave market starting in 1711. By 1730, 42 percent of the residents owned slaves. That’s a higher percentage than any other place in America except Charleston, SC.

New York continued to dominate the slave trade even decades after the abolition of slavery. So it’s rather ironic that there’s this huge Statue of Liberty placed there, of all places, and the only thing that seems to remind us of the heinous slave trade in the area is a little plaque that was placed at the site of the Slave Market, and that only went up in 2015.

Perspective. And more evidence of the need for Critical Race Theory. Just sayin’.

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Quakers and Slavery

History is never as simple as described in textbooks.

My whole life, I’ve been taught that Quaker’s were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. Movies about the Underground Railroad almost always include a Friend or two. Quakers often hid runaway slaves in their homes. These things are true. And yet, if you dig deeper, you find that their history has been rather whitewashed over time.

You can find the typical story line on the website:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain and North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. After the 1750s, Quakers actively engaged in attempting to sway public opinion in Britain and America against the slave trade and slavery in general. At the same time, Quakers became actively involved in the economic, educational and political well being of the formerly enslaved.

The earliest anti-slavery organizations in America and Britain consisted primarily of members of the Society of Friends. Thus much of the record of the development of anti-slavery thought and actions is embedded in Quaker-produced records and documents. Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and the Quaker Collection at Haverford College are jointly the custodians of Quaker meeting records of the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Vermont and these records illuminate the origins of the anti-slavery movement as well as the continued Quaker involvement, often behind the scenes, in the leadership and direction of the abolitionist movement from the 1770s to the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, and beyond.

Again, all these things are true. So imagine my shock when I stumbled across this article entitled, “The 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf Who Challenged Slavery, Meat-Eating, and Racism”. I mean, with a title like that, one is rather compelled to read the article, right? I was expecting the typical Quaker/slavery juxtaposition, but that is not what I got. Not at all.

It seems this radical Quaker lived in a cave in Pennsylvania, and was a bit of a thorn in the side of his fellow Quakers. According to the article,

One Sunday, 18th-century Quakers living in Abington, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, were met with a strange sight outside their morning meeting. The snow lay thick on the ground and there was Benjamin Lay, a member of the congregation, wearing little clothing, with his “right leg and foot uncovered,” almost knee-deep in the snow. When one Quaker after the next told him that he would get sick or that he should get inside and cover up, he turned to them. “Ah,” he said, “you pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel for the poor slaves in your fields, who go all winter half-clad.”

Wait a minute. “The poor slaves in your fields?” But, um… they’re Quakers, right?

But it turns out that the Quakers only started muttering about slavery in the 1750’s, didn’t really start a true abolitionist movement until the 1770’s, and all Quakers weren’t really on the same page until the 1830’s. And yet this little guy, Benjamin Lay, was doing his radical protest thing in the 1730’s. Go, Benjamin!

Before he acted up in Pennsylvania, he had lived in a Quaker community in Barbados, where 90 percent of the people were enslaved and treated worse than horses. His protests there got him ejected from the community.

In 1737 Benjamin Franklin published Lay’s tract entitled, All Slaveholders That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. (Good old Franklin didn’t have the courage to include his name as publisher, though. He was a slave owner himself, and profited from running ads in his gazette about runaway slaves. He only became an ardent abolitionist just prior to his death.)

Basically, Benjamin Lay was one of Quaker’s first truly dedicated abolitionists, and you don’t often hear anything about him because to admit he existed is to admit that many Quakers were slave owners, and given that they finally and quite outspokenly got on the right side of history, admitting to their slave owning past is, at best, awkward.

I had to learn more about Quakers and slavery, but it wasn’t easy. I waded through a ton of articles that touted the party line, but then I came across this one entitled Slavery in the Quaker World by Katharine Gerbner.

In it, Gerbner states that the earliest abolitionist Quaker article, called the Germantown Protest, is from 1688. It denounces slavery, but the majority of Quakers at the time rejected this article. In fact, many Quakers in the 17th century were involved in the slave trade. She further states that the Quakers of the time were all for converting slaves to Christianity, but that they felt slavery and Christianity were perfectly compatible, and that Christian slaves would work harder and be more docile.

All this information was rather eye opening for me. It just goes to show that nothing is ever as simple as it is described in elementary school history textbooks. I’ll never look at Quakers as pure abolitionist heroes again. Now I’ll see them as a flawed people who came to learn enough from their morally repugnant past to change and do the right thing.

And when all is said and done, shouldn’t that be what we all do?

Benjamin Lay

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On Banning Gone With the Wind

This movie should be forever linked with a disclaimer/explanation/warning label.

As most of us know by now, HBO MAX pulled Gone With the Wind from streaming video. I don’t blame them. This is a movie that makes the Confederate South seem like a place where the slaves loved being slaves, and where the way of life was all fine and dandy until those pesky Northerners butted in.

Here are the opening credits, according to IMDB:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”

Make no mistake: This movie glorifies a system that should be shown as the ugly, racist, deadly and ignorant thing that it was. Slavery and everything that came with it is not pretty or gallant. It isn’t a dream remembered. It’s a nightmare for which this country should be truly ashamed.

But this movie is also a work of art. The cinematography is stunning, and the costumes are even more so. In the 1940 Academy Awards, it won an Oscar for best actress, best actress in a supporting role, best director, best writing, best cinematography, best art direction, best film editing, and best picture. Whether we like it or not in modern times, it’s a classic.

I do not believe in censoring works of art. What I believe in is providing context for those works that are offensive. This movie should be forever linked with a disclaimer/explanation/warning label. It should discuss how these views and opinions seemed acceptable in 1940, but we have come to realize how unacceptable they really are in modern times. It should come with links to other movies, books and articles that more accurately portray American slavery. It should warn that this film’s racism and misogyny will be offensive to many. It should also warn us not to fall victim to the false nostalgia that is Gone With the Wind.

I think everyone should see this movie and learn from it. It is a gorgeous work of art. I hope will never be created again, but it’s there, a huge boulder in the center of our cinematic culture, and we should acknowledge that. We also should celebrate that so many of us now find this movie inappropriate at best. You might say that we should all give a damn.

(Oh, and it’s rumored that Clarke Gable had really bad breath, so think of that during all the kissing scenes. Poor Vivien!)

“Oh, Rhett, please take a breath mint!”

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Prison Labor: Modern Day Slavery

I can’t believe this is still happening in the 21st Century.

From 1998 to 2001 I worked at the St. Augustine Maintenance Yard for the Florida Department of Transportation. I truly hated that job. There is something off about that place, like it was cursed. The morale there was abysmal, and many of the people were just this side of criminally insane. It felt dangerous, in an inmates-running-the-asylum kind of way. It’s what turned me into a bridgetender. I needed peace, after that horror. So I suppose something good came out of it after all.

One of the things that made me squirm the most in that place is that we had a contract with the Department of Corrections. We paid them. They provided us with slaves in the form of prisoners who not only had no choice, but also were not paid for their labors. They dug ditches in the hot Florida sun. They cleared underbrush, using machetes, in amongst the snakes and scorpions and spiders. They picked up trash on the side of busy highways. They did all the grit labor that our other crews didn’t do. Prison Crews are chain gangs without the chains, and field hands without the field.

Were they treated well? In front of us, yes. But some of the guards were thinly veiled Neandertals, and I have no doubt a lot happened out there in the boonies that we were not made privy to. They used to tell us that the prisoners enjoyed this work, but I don’t see how that’s possible. Yes, they got out in the fresh air, but they were sweat-soaked, underfed, and not doing anything that would give them work experience that they could employ upon release. And after all that unpaid labor, they often still had to pay restitution. After digging ditches for about 4 hours, they were treated to a baloney sandwich, and then were expected to work another 4 hours. If some emergency came up and they had to stay late, the prison didn’t hold dinner for them. They simply went without.

One of my coworkers used to long for the good old days. Back then, when a prisoner got “uppity” and refused to work, they’d be locked in a small metal box in the oppressive heat, and the guards would beat on the box with sticks. “That would straighten them right up.” Now, they only get written up and thrown into solitary confinement. Happy to work, my butt.

I have no doubt that that coworker voted for Trump. He wanted to make America great again. He used to make my flesh crawl. And he was free to go home at night, after standing around not doing a thing all day.

According to this article, entitled “Work Forced”, Florida is but one of several southern states that use unpaid prison labor. In these states, the vast majority of prisoners are African American. Without these P Crews, many rural communities would not be able to function, as they’d actually have to pay people a living wage, and they’d be hard-pressed to find people willing to do this scut work.

Is it any wonder that more and more people are locked up for petty crimes? What a boon to the economy when you can snatch someone off the streets for carrying a small bag of weed, and you can work him for years. Slavery still exists, folks.

And it’s not just those Southern states that are culpable. Other states employ prison labor as well. They just pay them. After prison fees and expenses and fines, some of them are lucky to get 90 cents an hour, which isn’t even enough for them to buy a bar of soap in the prison commissary. In many states, if prisoners have a hundred dollars or more in their prison account upon release, the prison doesn’t give them any further money. Just a bus ticket. Thanks for all your hard work.

Lest I entertain the fantasy that this stuff was a thing of the past, I saw P Crews on a daily basis maintaining the grounds of Indian River State College when I was a student there in 2011-2012. These “hardened criminals” were allowed to move around campus, unsupervised, amongst the co-eds.

And that same article really gave me a shiver when it directly discussed some abuses that were happening out of the same prison that we had our contract with when I worked for FDOT, and in the same area where our maintenance yard worked, so it had to be some of the very crews I used to work around. It said:

The Times-Union reviewed all 105 disciplinary reports issued for “refusing to work” from July 2018 and identified at least nine that were written for work squad members. Two of those were written by the same officer, Steven Holmes, who policed a Department of Transportation work squad based out of Putnam Correctional Institution.

In his response to an infraction, Derrick Harmon insisted that he wasn’t refusing to work, but that he simply felt unsafe on Holmes’ work squad. For a week, he said, he had been suspecting Holmes and another officer were plotting to set him up with a disciplinary report for refusing to work.

The disciplinary hearing team, made up of other officers, found Harmon guilty based on Holmes’ statement, which quoted Harmon saying, “I ain’t getting in no ditches today.”

“When Officer Holmes asked Inmate Harmon if he was refusing to work, he said yes,” the disciplinary report said.

Harmon spent two weeks in administrative confinement before he was reassigned to a different squad.

Two weeks later, another prisoner on Holmes’ squad, Henry Summerlin, complained of personal difficulties and other safety concerns. Summerlin, who told officials he was distraught after recently finding out his wife had died, complained of being forced to work in the middle of a “very busy intersection at St. Augustine Beach.” A couple of days later, Summerlin said, Holmes denied his request for a new pair of safety glasses and gloves.

“He stated that he already told us that we needed to start keeping up with our equipment better and that he could not keep getting us new ones every day,” Summerlin wrote in his statement.

“You know that I have been taking it real easy on your ass,” Holmes warned the men, according to Summerlin’s statement on the disciplinary report.

After spending a week in administrative confinement, Summerlin lost 10 days of “gain time,” or time earned off his sentence. He was then reassigned to food service.

I can’t believe this is happening in the 21st century.

As a matter of fact, the documentary that I recently blogged about, 13th, mentions that prisons nationwide have also forced their inmates to work in sweat shops for some very well known companies. Microsoft. Boeing. Victoria’s Secret. JC Penney. Seattle Fish.

Do you eat Idaho Potatoes? Odds are very good that your potato was planted, harvested and packaged by inmates. In fact, more and more farmers are using prison labor because now that we have such an anti-immigration stance, they’re finding it impossible to employ anyone else for that back-breaking work. So, like it or not, we’ve all eaten off the backs of an involuntary farmhand at some point or another.

It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Government sanctioned slavery. Here and now.

I know I’ll never look at an Idaho potato the same way again.

Nowadays the uniforms are a solid light blue, and the shackles are gone, but the work hasn’t changed a bit.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?


Slavery still exists in this country.

I know it can be a hard sell to get people to watch documentaries, but if you watch only one documentary in your life, it should be this one. 13th can be seen on Netflix. I’ve had the good fortune to see it twice. Once on my own, and once as a part of my Race and Social Justice Initiative training at work. Each time, it brough out a storm of emotions within me.

This movie discusses a very shocking loophole in the 13th amendment to the US constitution. The amendment reads as follows (italics mine):

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

We’d like to think we’ve abolished slavery in this country, but that’s not at all true, as this movie makes blatantly obvious. Once “official” slavery was abolished, this country had a big, sucking vacuum where all that free labor used to exist. The solution to that problem became obvious rather quickly. After emancipation, convictions for petty crimes began to rise, and they’ve been rising steadily ever since. As it stands, America has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prisoners. There are 2.3 million Americans in prison today, and the majority of them are African American. And oh, are we ever good at putting them to work.

We’ve criminalized drug addiction. We’ve waged war on crime. Politicians began to talk about “getting tough” and “law and order” as a backlash against the civil rights movement. We’ve had harsher sentencing for crack than we do for cocaine, and these drugs are divided along racial and economic lines. We’ve called these people super predators and beasts. They are considered enemy combatants that we should be able to stop and frisk with impunity.

We’ve perpetuated the myth that black men are rapists. Something we rarely think about is that the history of interracial rape is far more white male/black female. Which makes a creepy amount of sense, given the unequal power dynamic.

We created a three strike policy in this country that requires mandatory minimum sentencing. This means that judges can’t dispense justice with any type of discretion. For example, if someone had been convicted of two petty crimes as a brash young teenager, and then lives an upstanding, crime free life for another forty years, and is then talked into plea bargaining for a crime he didn’t commit to avoid this mandatory minimum situation, that person will practically be thrown under the jail, as the saying goes. 97% of those locked up have plea bargained for that very reason. Which means they aren’t really getting any justice at all.

Even former President Clinton now admits that his Omnibus Crime Bill was a mistake. It has militarized our police departments, and funded a lot of prisons which then needed to be filled to remain profitable. It has doubled the prison population.

This has decimated the African American community. Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison, whereas for white men, the statistics are 1 in 17. It has left a whole generation of leaders incarcerated. African Americans comprise 6.5% of the US population, but 40.2% of the prison population. This makes it difficult for the black community to defend itself.

And have you ever thought about the injustice of the Stand Your Ground laws in some states? Stand your ground allowed George Zimmerman to hunt down and kill Trayvon Martin. Where was Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground?

And then, you have to think about all the convicts who pay their debt to society and never have their rights fully restored. It can be nearly impossible to find a job when you get out of prison. And 30% of the black male population in Alabama has lost its ability to vote. Is that democracy? Really?

Two other issues that this movie discusses in depth are ALEC (the American Legislation Exchange Council), and Prison Labor. Those issues are so intense that they’ll each have a blog post of their own.

The frustrating thing about the modern day slavery in this country is that I feel personally helpless to do anything about it. And if I’m honest, most of the time I get to not think about it. I can sit in my white privilege comfort zone and focus on other things, like my next vacation or the fact that my dog wants to go for a walk. It’s a big source of shame for me.

The very least I can do is blog about this issue in an effort to signal boost the voices of the less privileged. So here I am, doing the very least I can do. But it sure doesn’t make me feel any better.

The scars aren’t as visible these days, but they’re still there.

Like this blog? Then you’ll love this book!