Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner 50 Years Later

James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael SchwernerFifty years ago tonight, three American civil rights workers with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were murdered in Neshoba County. They were, of course, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. They had just left the Philadelphia, Mississippi city limits when they were pulled over by a Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff. He arrested Chaney for driving 65 in a 35 zone and took the other two into custody for “investigation.” I have little doubt that there was no reason to pull over the car other than the fact that a young black man was driving. Regardless, it was all part of a conspiracy.

The three young men were held in jail until 10:00 that night. As they made their way out of town, they were followed by the very same Deputy Sheriff who originally pulled them over: Cecil Price. At 10:25, he pulled them over just before they were about to cross the county line. He had them get into his squad car and drove them to a deserted area where he handed them over to a group of fellow Klanmen who beat Chaney, I guess because he was black. Eventually, they murdered all three of the young men with gunshots. Ultimately, fifteen men were tried (seven were convicted) for the crime, but the conspiracy was undoubtedly far larger.

But lest you think this just a story about some southern bigots, FBI Director J Edgar Hoover wasn’t interested in the case at all. He hated the civil rights movement. He thought it was just a front for the communists. As I recall, he was the one that got the myth going that Martin Luther King was a communist. President Johnson had to threaten Hoover to get him to do anything. And rather quickly, other KKK victims were found. According to Wikipedia, “Navy divers and FBI agents discovered the bodies of Henry Hezekiah Dee, Charles Eddie Moore, 14-year old Herbert Oarsby, and five other unidentified Mississippi blacks, whose disappearances in the recent past had not attracted attention outside of their local communities.”

This is the very definition of terrorism. But those who were convicted for the crimes got tiny sentences. Deputy Sheriff Price got the maximum: six years but served only four and half. The mastermind of the crime was Edgar Ray Killen, a Southern Baptist minister. His case ended in a hung jury because one of the jurors refused to convict a minister. So he stayed free until 2005, when at the age of 80 years old, he was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter and given 20 years for each count. He’s still alive. He’ll turn 90 next January.

But if Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner wanted to make a difference, they succeeded far better than they ever could have hoped. The case did manage to shine a light not just on their deaths but on the lives (and often deaths) of the African Americans who lived in that part of the country. Things have improved immeasurably. But there are still people like Edgar Ray Killen who want to go back to the days when blacks just stayed out of the way and never voted. And sadly, many of those people are prominent and powerful members of the Republican Party—not bitter old men rotting in prison.

Did Bush Win Political Capital in 2004?

Political CapitalFor ten years, this has been bugging me. After the 2004 presidential election, Bush the Younger said, “I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it.” Now, for years I’ve been arguing that, Political Capital is a Myth. But people talk about it all the time and I don’t get upset. I don’t care. They’re fools. But just what political capital was Bush talking about?

In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter by almost ten percentage points. He got 489 electoral votes compared to Carter’s 49. I think Reagan was a catastrophe for the United States, but you have to admit that if anyone had earned political capital, it was Reagan. And he did it again in 1984, beating Mondale by 18 percentage points with an electoral college advantage of 525 to 13.

George W. BushBut did Bush earn any political capital in 2004? He beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points. He got 286 electoral votes compared to Kerry’s 251. What’s more, if less than 60,000 Bush voters had voted for Kerry in the state of Ohio, Kerry would have been elected president. And I still think that the totally unjust way we do our voting where rich people get to vote easily and poor people have to wait in long lines in the rain could well have tipped the balance. Regardless, I admit: Bush won the election is 2004.

What I think Bush meant when he said he had earned capital was as simple as this: he actually won the election. In 2000, he didn’t win the popular vote. If the recount had been allowed to finish, he wouldn’t have won the electoral college. So all he was saying was, “I actually won this election so you can’t complain!” Of course, the implication here is that Bush presided as president during his first four years with the humility one would expect when one effectively stole an election by way of the Supreme Court. But that wasn’t the case. He ruled from the very first day as though he had be elected by 18 percentage points with an electoral college advantage of 525 to 13.

But the statement was very much what we expect from Bush the Younger: the cheerleader from Yale. I’ve never accepted the idea that Bush was stupid. But he has always been a deeply unserious man. Obama, for all this faults, is a very serious man. In 2012, he beat Romney by 1.5 percentage points more than Bush beat Kerry. He beat Romney by 91 more electoral college votes. He never claimed to have a mandate. And I think we all know what the media would have done if he had said he did: there would have been universal derision. But the media just accepted it coming from Bush.

I remember when I was the head of IT at a medium sized investment company. The owner was a big Republican supporter with pictures on the wall with him and Reagan and the two Bushes. After the 2004 election, I was crushed. But one of the agents (who was also a Republican, but not as hardcore), showed me a little comedy bit from The Tonight Show:

I was a good sport about it, but I didn’t find it funny. First, there was the fact that Jay Leno stopped being funny back in the late 1980s. But also, I thought it was more or less an accurate representation of what we got from Bush and another four years of that was so depressing. But the agent showed it to the owner and he seemed to respond the same way that I did. He didn’t like the idea of us having such an unserious man in the White House. But of course, he was glad he was there because Bush had saved him millions of dollars in taxes.

What’s bothersome there is that the reaction of the agent was more or less the reaction of the country. It didn’t matter that we had a president who took winning re-election about as seriously as winning a beauty pageant. He thought he had been given a mandate because that’s the kind of thing that presidents say. Like Reagan before him, he played the part of President of the United States. But oh how much damage was done by both men.

Afterword

And remember what he was going to use his political capital for: privatizing Social Security. This was not an issue in the campaign. Even if he had won by a landslide, he didn’t campaign on privatizing Social Security. He ran on the fact (and I still can’t get my head around this) that he had allowed the 9/11 attacks. It was the ultimate bait and switch, “Vote for me because I’ll keep you safe (and I hate fags), but then I’ll privatize your Social Security which I know you absolutely don’t want me to do.”

Thankful for Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner - Eakins - DetailIt would be fun to write about Mary McCarthy today, given her decades long argument with Lillian Hellman. But regardless that McCarthy was the more serious political thinker, Hellman was the great writer. In a hundred years, people will still be performing The Children’s Hour, while McCarthy will be a footnote, which doesn’t take anything away from her; most of us will never even be footnotes.

On this day in 1859, the great American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner was born. The son of a free black man and an escaped slave mother, he grew up in Pittsburgh. There is a tendency to think of the United States at that time as being divided into the racist south and non-racist north. But that wasn’t true at all. The issue was slavery. Racism was the norm everywhere. As a young man, Tanner found it impossible to become a painting apprentice, because painters simply wouldn’t take on African Americans. Eventually, he was allowed into the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The timing was good, because the great realist painter Thomas Eakins had recently begun teaching there, where he revolutionized the study of art. Tanner became one of his favorite students and even did him the honor of painting his portrait, displayed at the beginning of this article. You can definitely see the influence. But I find Tanner’s work far more compelling. For one thing, Eakins was primarily a portrait painter. Tanner’s subjects were far more diverse. He had a particularly interesting approach to religious painting, which is what he spent most of his later years on.

I’m most fond of his paintings of everyday life. This best known painting is The Banjo Lesson, which in addition to its thematic value makes use of intense shadows, which is typical (though not universal) in his work. From the same period (probably with the same models), is The Thankful Poor:

The Thankful Poor - Tanner

He also did a lot of landscapes, although few as pure as Georgia Landscape:

Georgia Landscape - Tanner

Happy birthday Henry Ossawa Tanner!