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Harriet Tubman Wanted!

Harriet Tubman, 1885, by H. Seymour Squyer.

From the Daily News: 

In “Harriet,” the first feature film biopic celebrating the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, moviegoers get a chance to see the legendary fugitive freedom fighter like never before.

Starring Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo as the African-American woman who helped shepherd hundreds of slaves to freedom during the mid-1800s, the Kasi Lemmons-directed epic, which hits theaters Friday, breathes new life into the legacy of someone who has been a Black History Month fixture for decades.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross (c.1822 –1913) but changed her name to Harriet shortly after she was married. She was nicknamed “Minty.” There’s a lot to know about Harriet—she was a Union spy, for one—but I thought you might want to see this wanted posted for Harriet and her brothers, when they escaped their slave master in September 1849.

Harriet Tubman reward poster

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Asia Booth Clarke

The 19th-century American writer, Asia Booth Clarke (1835-1888), was born into a family of actors. Her famous brothers were Edwin Booth, Junius Booth, and John Wilkes Booth.

 

booth bros.

Credit…Brown University Library

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Asia was in bed in her Philadelphia mansion, sickly pregnant with twins, when she was handed the newspaper. She screamed when she read the headlines: her brother, John Wilkes Booth, was wanted for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the U.S.

Asia could not believe it—and yet it was true. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Asia—and the nation—would never fully recover from Booth’s terrible act, his retaliation for Lincoln’s freeing of American slaves.

A copy of a hand colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co. provided by the U.S. Library of Congress shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the nation went into shock. Disbelief gave way to tears, sobs, and solemn displays of mourning. The newspapers dubbed the moment “our National Calamity.” Easter Sunday came and went with little notice. The people were focused on the President’s funeral procession which was to take place Wednesday.

Lincoln’s body lies in state in the East Room of the White House. Harper’s Weekly, May 6, 1865.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital. Every hotel in Washington, D. C., sold out. Thousands of visitors slept in parks or on the streets.  Somber black crepe and bunting replaced the patriotic banners adorning buildings from just a week before when the city had been positively giddy with excitement, ablaze with candles and gaslights in every window, marching bands, dancing, singing, and the ringing of bells upon learning of the fall of Richmond, the capitol of the Rebel States, spelling a Union victory in the American Civil War.

In his diary, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted the city’s sad transformation from celebration to gloom:

Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor…the little black ribbon or strip of cloth… (1)

On the morning of April 19, the funeral procession carrying the President’s body slowly made its way to the Capitol, “the beat of the march measured by muffled bass and drums swathed in crepe.”

Lincoln’s funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1865. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the Capitol, the President’s coffin was received in the rotunda, where, beneath the Great Dome, thousands of mourners streamed by to view the President’s remains in the open casket.

It was a sacred day except for one detraction. Five days had passed since John Wilkes Booth had killed this most beloved of men and Booth was still a free man.

John Wilkes Booth

The manhunters were aggressively tracking the fugitive’s movements in and around the capital, following all plausible leads and, still, they could boast of NO ARREST. The newspapers abounded with tales of those who had spotted someone matching Booth’s description. Meanwhile, the authorities descended upon anyone associated with Booth, questioning many and arresting scores. Asia Booth Clarke and her husband, the comedic actor, John “Sleepy” Clarke, were not spared. The day of Lincoln’s funeral, swarms of detectives appeared at their door. John Clarke was seized, taken to Washington, and imprisoned in the Old Capitol with two of Asia’s other brothers, Joe and Junius Booth. The Clarke’s house was raided. (2)

Booth was on the run a full twelve days before he was cornered. He refused to surrender and was killed. Three weeks after his death, Asia wrote her friend Jean Anderson:

Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his [Wilkes Booth’s] death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – 

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him [John Wilkes Booth] to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet. Edwin Booth was so beloved that he was not arrested after the Lincoln assassination, although two of his brothers were. He testified at the trial of the conspirators.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,

Asia (3)

“Miss Hale” refers to Lucy Lambert Hale (1841-1915), the younger daughter of Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire.

Lucy Lambert Hale, ca. 1865, courtesy of Ford’s Theatre.

Lucy met John Wilkes Booth at one of his performances in Washington, D.C., when he played the character Charles De Moor in “The Robbers” (1862 or 1863). She presented him with a bouquet. (4) By early 1865, Booth was regularly lodging at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Lucy lived with her parents and sister, Lizzie. We know they were close as Lucy’s cousin stayed in Booth’s rooms during Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Lucy also procured a pass for Booth to attend the March 4, 1865, inauguration, a pass no doubt she obtained through her father, as only about 2,000 tickets for entrance inside the Capitol were issued. (It was later learned that Booth contemplated killing Lincoln then and there but was talked out of it by an associate also present.)

Although Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) reportedly were seen in each other’s company around the city, it was not publicly known that they were engaged. This plan was kept secret, since Society considered an actor to be in a social class beneath the dignity of the daughter of a U.S. senator. Just a month before, President Lincoln appointed Senator John P. Hale to be the new ambassador to Spain. Shortly, Lucy, Lizzie, and their mom would be moving to Spain with Senator Hale.

By some accounts, Lucy, an ardent abolitionist, had broken off the engagement with Booth when she learned he had strong secession views. A newspaper article suggested that this rejection occurred ten days before the assassination, fueling Booth’s “mental excitement, occasioned by drink.” (5) However, Lucy’s letters to Edwin Booth—written after John Wilkes Booth’s death (as mentioned in Asia’s letter here)—suggest otherwise. According to those accounts, the engagement was very much active when Booth died.

A veiled reference to Lucy Hale’s grief over Booth’s death appeared on page five of the New York Tribune on April 22, 1865:

Lucy Lambert Hale, 1863, photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

On the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865, the day of the assassination, Lucy Hale, age 24, was reportedly studying Spanish with two old friends from the Boston area, where she had attended boarding school. They were President Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and the president’s assistant private secretary, John Hay. She had many suitors but her heart was set on only one. She was one of multitudes of women around the country who were captivated by the charm and beauty of the romantic star of the stage, John Wilkes Booth.

When the fugitive John Wilkes Booth was killed at age 26 by U.S. troops, he carried a diary. Tucked inside were photographs of five women, four actresses and a well-known belle of Washington society. The horrified authorities recognized the society belle as the daughter of the new American ambassador to Spain and, as only Washington gossips knew, Booth’s secret fiancée: Lucy Lambert Hale. Someone ordered the pictures to be suppressed so tongues wouldn’t wag with the tale that Lucy Hale was engaged to a murderer! That knowledge would shred her reputation and Lucy would never find a suitable husband

It would be decades before those five photos were made public. The one of Lucy in Booth’s wallet is the photo of her face in profile.

Had Booth used Lucy to get into social and political circles denied to him as a mere actor? Or, as some close to him say, was he smitten by Lucy, head-over-heels in love to such a degree that he would commit to just one woman when so many threw themselves at his feet?

Lucy went off to Spain with the family. It was nine long years before she would wed—a senator.

As for Asia, when her husband returned home from prison mid-May, he announced he wanted a divorce and wanted nothing further to do with the name “Booth.” John Wilkes Booth had been right about John Sleeper Clarke. Booth had warned his sister not to marry “Sleepy.” He believed that Sleepy wanted to marry Asia only in order to capitalize on the name “Booth” to further his own acting career. The marriage continued but the union was an unhappy one.

Asia went on to establish herself as a writer, writing John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, a slender volume that offers us a close look at the childhood and personal preferences of the complex arch villain John Wilkes Booth. To remove themselves from the stigma of association with the president’s killer, Asia and her family eventually decided to move away from America and settle in England, where her husband got involved with a mistress and treated her with “duke-like haughtiness and icy indifference.” (6)

Sources:

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles. Manhunt, James L. Swanson, p. 213.
  2. Manhunt, pp. 217-219.
  3. Asia Booth Clarke to Jean Anderson, 22 May 1865, BCLM Works on Paper Collection, ML 518, Box 37, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland. cited in John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux. Note: Only 3 conspirators were Catholic. There is no corroboration that John Wilkes Booth converted to Catholicism.
  4. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux.
  5. Chicago Times, April 17, 1865, p. 2, bottom 3rd column.
  6. John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, Asia Booth Clarke.

Readers, for more on Abraham Lincoln, click here.

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These American pre Civil War clothes for women were designed in such a way that a woman’s waist, constricted by a whalebone corset, was responsible for supporting the weight of as many as 15 pounds of 6-8 starched petticoats stiffened with straw or horsehair sewn into the hems and voluminous skirts. Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women’s rights activists and for good reason. A “wasp waist,” created by tight lacing of the corset, restricted deep breathing, worsening pneumonia and tuberculosis, diseases that afflicted huge swaths of the population in a pre antibiotic age and resulting in premature death. Women’s back and pectoral muscles grew dependent upon the support of the corset and atrophied. Skirts dragged the ground, collecting filth. Women—styling their hair, changing clothes throughout the day for different events, keeping up with the latest trends from Paris and Germany, sitting for dress-fittings—spent an inordinate amount of time keeping up appearances in heavy clothes that allowed neither free movement, decent digestion, nor comfort. 1858

Amelia Bloomer

In early 1851, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), the first American woman to own and operate a newspaper (The Lily)took up the idea of wearing a short skirt and loose trousers gathered around the ankles. It was a notion popularized by her friend, Elizabeth “Libby” Smith Miller, who felt that long dresses were “heavy and exasperating.” Amelia made this fashion switch when Libby came to Seneca Falls, New York to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Bloomer’s neighbor.

All three women used their voices to enact social change, particularly in the areas of women’s rights to better education, better pay, wider fields of employment, the right to vote, and dress reform. Soon these pioneer feminists were appearing on the village streets wearing their sensible and comfortable short skirts and full Turkish trousers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), photographed wearing her bloomer outfit, 1851. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

Amelia Bloomer announced to her readers in The Lily that she had adopted this new dress. In response to many inquiries, she printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. Bloomer recalls the response:

At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused. The New York Tribune contained the first notice I saw of my action. Other papers caught it up and handed it about.

My exchanges all had something to say. Some praised and some blamed, some commented, and some ridiculed and condemned. “Bloomerism,” “Bloomerites,” and “Bloomers” were the heading of many an article, item, and squib; and finally someone—I don’t know to whom I am indebted for the honor—wrote the “Bloomer Costume,” and the name has continued to cling to the short dress in spite of my repeatedly disclaiming all right to it and giving Mrs. Miller’s name as that of the originator or the first to wear such dress in public. Had she not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.  2

Currier & Ives, The Bloomer Costume

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a “bloomer craze.” Women from Laramie, Wyoming to London, England, embraced the freedom of the new outfit and rejoiced. A million versions of the blouse, skirt, and pants combo emerged. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4.  In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. The craze inspired music to be composed.

The Bloomer outfit became a symbol of women’s emancipation. Thousands of women were soon wearing the reform dress.

But then the tide turned. Controversy erupted. There were laws in some American cities that made it illegal for a person to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. At the time, pants were considered the domain of the American male, which was also the right to vote. Backlash from men ensued. The movement for a sharing of pants was viewed, in some quarters, as a threat to male power. 3

The same newspapers that had once celebrated the trend as tasteful and elegant were, by August of 1851, scorning it. Public meetings were called to denounce the fad. Some young women were turned away from church membership for wearing the dress. The satirical London magazine Punch lampooned the Bloomers.

The term “Bloomerism” came to be associated not just with wearing trousers but also with other supposedly deviant and negative (for women) behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, gambling, serving in the military, and abandoning husbands and children. Punch cartoon, 1851, artist, John Leech

elizabethcadystanton-1

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, Harriot, 1856-57

Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had felt at first “as joyous and free as some poor captive who has just cast off his ball and chain” when adopting the Bloomer costume, her young sons didn’t want to be seen with her. Her father banned the Bloomer costume from his house. Her older sister cried and her brother-in-law, a senator, said that “some good Democrats said they would not vote for a man whose wife wore the Bloomers.” After two years, Stanton gave up the Bloomers.  “Had I counted the cost of the short dress,” Stanton told cousin Libby Miller, “I would never have put it on.” 4

 

Although Amelia Bloomer “had found the dress comfortable, light, easy, and convenient, and well adapted to the needs of my busy life,” after wearing it six to eight years, she, too, laid it aside and returned to long skirts. Bloomer wrote:

We all [women’s right activists] felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labor, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights. In the minds of some people, the short dress and woman’s rights were inseparably connected. With us, the dress was but an incident, and we were not willing to sacrifice greater questions to it. 5

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436-287-WH64_-Lyndon-and-Lady-Bird-at-the-LBJ-Ranch-on-election-day-in-1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson relax at their Stonewall, Texas ranch following LBJ’s election to the Presidency. November, 1964.

When she was First Lady of the United States (1963-69), Lady Bird Johnson felt that she was often in a moving vehicle. In her diary, she wrote:

LBJ Ranch [Stonewall, Texas]

Saturday, April 10, 1965

“We arrived at the Ranch last night around 10:45 on the Jetstar….

[This morning] Sarge and Eunice Shriver, Ann Brinkley, Lyndon, and I helicoptered to San Marcos to Camp Gary, to the dedication of the Job Corps Camp….”

Lady Bird Johnson (1)

President Lyndon B. Johnson (back to camera at right) speaks with Mathilde Krim and Lady Bird Johnson First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from Krim Ranch to LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from the Krim Ranch to the LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

After some emotional speechifying, the ceremony ended, and, around noon, the group was back in the chopper, flying to yet another of the Johnsons’ many Texas properties. This one – the Haywood Ranch – lay northwest of Austin near Kingsland on Lake Granite Shoals (which, by the end of the month, would be renamed Lake LBJ). Though the Haywood Ranch was 4,500 acres of mostly pasture land, undeveloped, it was a lakeside retreat where President Lyndon Baines Johnson kept his many boats. He loved his boats, maybe as much as he loved his Lincoln Continentals.

Then American Vice President Lyndon Johnson entertains guests on his Glaston boat. July 16, 1961. Note Lady Bird Johnson in green. She recalled being “often in a moving vehicle” during the White House years.

LBJ loved packing his boats with guests (especially pretty girls, according to Lady Bird), taking the wheel himself, and zigzagging at top speed across the lake, spray flying, bouncing hard across his wake, oftentimes pulling a skier or two and dropping off guests for a quick dip in the fresh water. Then, around noon, he would head over to Coca-Cola Ranch, slip into the peace of the cove, and – after cutting the throttle – spread out a picnic lunch to enjoy in the warm Texas sun.

At 1:17 p.m., the Presidential party – the Shrivers, the Johnsons, and others – landed at Haywood Ranch. The spring countryside was blanketed in fragrant Texas bluebonnets. LBJ made telephone calls inviting more friends to join the happy party – and to bring bar-b-q and swimsuits. Then the President and guests “went to the boats.” (2)

LBJ diary April 10 1965

excerpt from LBJ daily diary for April 10, 1965

President Johnson couldn’t wait to show Eunice Shriver his new toy. It was a “lagoon blue” convertible. Built in Germany, this Amphicar – half-boat, half-car – was one of only 3,878 produced. The President took Mrs. Shriver and Sgt. Paul Glynn out for a spin in his very unusual car. They drove straight from the land out onto the water and the car didn’t sink. Granted, it only went 15 m.p.h. tops, but it managed to keep the water out. It was a hoot and the President loved a hoot.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn at the Haywood Ranch, near Kingsland, Texas. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8.

Joe Califano Jr., then LBJ’s top domestic aide, remembered when the President took him out for a ride in the Amphicar – without LBJ telling him first that it was amphibious:

“The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The president shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’
The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The president laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (3)”

President LBJ's Amphicar

President LBJ’s Amphicar

 LBJ’s Amphicar is displayed at the LBJ Ranch.

ad Amphicar arrives in America 196o New York Automobile Show Program

Amphibious cars for the civilian population was a trend that never took off.

Sources

(1) Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1970. p. 259.

(2) Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary, April 10, 1965. LBJ Presidential Library.

(3) Califano, Joseph A. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

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What would the American Civil Rights Movement have been without the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? On September 20, 1958, we almost lost him.

The weather boded well for a good turnout. It was a sunny Saturday in New York City and Blumstein’s Department Store – at  230 W. 125th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Harlem – was hustling to get ready for their big guest. On the ground floor, behind the shoe department, clerks had roped off an area where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would sit behind a desk to autograph copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 

The book related the success of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated transit systems.

wo black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer.

Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At right, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Americans no longer had to sit at the back of the bus or give up their seats to white people.

Dr. King, with his powerful oratory, had rocketed to fame nearly overnight and had become a significant figure on the national political scene for his participation in the victory. He was making four speeches a week to persuade the nation to stop the practice of racial segregation. It was the dawn of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King is a rather soft-spoken man with a learning and maturity far beyond his 27 years. His clothes are in conservative good taste and he has a small trim mustache.”(1)

Izola Ware Curry

Blumstein’s Department Store – the site of the autograph party for Dr. King – wasn’t far from where Izola Ware Curry, 42, lived in a brownstone, at 121 West 122d Street in Harlem. Izola was a drifter, a sometimes maid, who had been in Harlem only two months. Izola had Dr. King on her radar. She detested him and all black preachers, calling their boycotts and protests a sham. She felt that blacks should move for social change through appeals to Congress. She hated the NAACP in particular – thought they were controlled by Communists – and white people in general. By 1956, paranoia had taken over her thinking. She started writing the FBI claiming that Communists were out to get her. She was anti-social, tended to babble and rant, her words often unintelligible and ungrammatical. Her neighbors wrote her off as “eccentric.” Izola Ware Curry was African-American.

The Rally The Night Before the Signing

The night before Dr. King’s book signing, just around the corner from Blumstein’s, a rally was held for Dr. King in front of the Hotel Teresa. On the podium he was joined by other dignitaries, among them baseball great Jackie Robinson, New York Governor Averell Harriman, and gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, with music provided by Duke Ellington. The crowd numbered 5,000. Izola Ware Curry, in her unstable mental state, was there.

When Rockefeller spoke:

This business about [Eisenhower] going slow on integration….I know the man!….Who sent the troops to Little Rock?”(2)

Curry heckled him, calling white people racists. King’s escort in the city, William Rowe,

“did his best to calm her down. And Frederick Weaver, a platform guest, motioned for police officers to make her stop. But the police were reluctant to get tough with her, fearing…an incident…that could escalate into a larger racial disturbance.” (2)

When Dr. King spoke, Curry jeered him, too, as did a few others. Curry shouted that no “negro” should ever try to cooperate with a white person. Rowe had to calm her down once more.

Miraculously, the rally ended without dissolving into chaos. Rowe feared more trouble at the next day’s signing, suggesting a bodyguard for Dr. King, an idea that Dr. King rejected.

The Booksigning

Saturday, September 20, 1958

Blumstein’s Department Store

3:30 p.m.

Izola Ware Curry, 42

Izola Ware Curry, 42

As she pushed her way through the crowd to the desk where Dr. King sat, bystanders couldn’t help but notice the elegantly dressed black woman in her stylish suit, showy jewelry, and sequined cat’s-eyeglasses. Nothing on the surface betrayed the insanity beneath. Little did onlookers suspect that, secreted in Izola Curry’s bra, was a loaded Italian automatic pistol, and, in her enormous leather purse, a 7-inch steel letter opener.

With her purse slung over one arm, Izola Curry strode with purpose straight up to Dr. King, where he was seated, signing a book for a customer.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, not looking up. (3)

She reached into her purse and withdrew the letter opener in an arc. Instinctively, Dr. King yanked his left arm up to block the weapon, cutting his left hand as she plunged the blade into his chest. Dr. King recalled:

“The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

A bystander knocked Curry’s hand away from the blade before she could withdraw it and stab Dr. King again.

“I’ve been after him for six years!” shouted Curry, starting to run. “I’m glad I done it!” (2)

A group of women chased her with umbrellas, shouting, “Catch her!” A journalist jumped out and grabbed Curry by the left arm and turned her over to the store security guard, who handcuffed her.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Meanwhile, Dr. King sat still and calm and clear-thinking, with the letter opener protruding from his chest. Someone called for an ambulance to Harlem Hospital. Dr. King was carried, still seated in his chair, to the back of the store. When the ambulance arrived, he was placed carefully on his back. He was told, as was everyone present, that he must not touch the letter opener.

The stabbing nearly cost Dr. King his life, as the blade of the letter opener had lodged in his sternum, within millimeters of piercing the aorta. At Harlem Hospital, surgeons extracted the blade in a delicate operation. He developed pneumonia and had a long convalescence.

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King's manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King’s manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King's assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he was recovering from a stab wound following an attack by Izola Ware Curry. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Ten Years Later

On April 3, 1968, ten years after the Harlem stabbing, Dr. King recalled it in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee:

“The x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And, once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood – that’s the end of you.”

The surgeon told him that, if he had sneezed before the operation, he would have died. To lively applause, he continued, in his “Mountaintop” speech:

“And I want to say tonight – I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. 

 “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream I had.”

He closed his speech with remarks about the possibility of his untimely death. The next day, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.

(1) “Battle Against Tradition: Martin Luther King, Jr.” The New York Times, March 21, 1956

(2) Pearson, Hugh. When Harlem Nearly Killed King. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

(3) “Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98.” New York Times. March 22, 2015.

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My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

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President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts. May 2014

President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts from Tulsa, OK, during a White House Science Fair. May 2014. Photo by Pete Souza.

Tulsa Girl Scouts were able to convince President Obama to break one of his cardinal rules and wear something on his head for a group shot: a tiara.  Last April, the Navy football team tried to get the Commander-in-Chief to do the same thing but with different headgear – a custom-made football helmet – but they were unsuccessful. Obama was not putting on that helmet.

The President explained at the time why he accepted the football helmet but declined to put it on:

“Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re President. That’s Politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head.”

In refusing to put on the football helmet, Obama follows in John F. Kennedy’s footsteps (“Hatless Jack“) and avoids creating his own Dukakis in the tank moment. He was not putting on a helmet, no way!

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Mike Dukakis was the Democratic presidential nominee running against GOP George H. Bush in the 1988 Presidential Election. His political advisors convinced him to drive a tank wearing a helmet for a photo op. They believed the image would help counter his image as being soft on defense.

The photograph made Dukakis look ridiculous and the GOP spin doctors, Lee Atwater in particular, lost no time using it in anti-Dukakis ads. Most people believe it cost Dukakis the election. Bush won by a landslide. People have compared Dukakis in a tank to Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Dukakis defended this gaffe saying, years later, at least I didn’t vomit on a Japanese minister! (as President Bush did at a state dinner.) Sour grapes, indeed.

 

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