History

Podcast Episode 80: ‘Black Like Me’: Race Realities Under Jim Crow

john howard griffin

In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.

We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

Sources for our feature on John Howard Griffin:

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, 1961.

Robert Bonazzi, Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me, 2010.

Maurice Dolbier, “Blinding Disguise in South,” Miami News, Oct. 15, 1961.

Jerome Weeks, “‘Black Like Me’ Just One of Many Roles for John Howard Griffin,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1997.

H.W. Quick, “He Finds Bias Blighting North, South,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 16, 1964.

Karen De Witt, “Oppressor Shown What Being Oppressed Is Like,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1, 1977.

Ray Sprigle, In the Land of Jim Crow, 1949.

Lucile Torkelson, “Writer Crosses the Race Barrier,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 29, 1969.

Research questions:

Here’s the image of the star and crescent:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_and_Crescent.svg

And here are the sources I’ve found that describe the German submarine rescue:

Wolfgang Frank, The Sea Wolves, 1955.

Arch Whitehouse, Subs and Submariners, 1961.

Jacques Yves Cousteau, Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury, 1959.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Enter coupon code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off their starter set of high-quality razors!

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Puzzling Lines

In his 1943 book The Life of Johnny Reb, Emory University historian Bell Wiley collects misspellings found in the letters of Confederate soldiers. Can you decipher these words?

  1. agetent
  2. bregad
  3. cerce
  4. crawsed
  5. furteege
  6. orpital
  7. perperce
  8. porchun
  9. regislatury
  10. ridgement

Bonus: What does A brim ham lillkern mean?

Click for answers …

The Last Prisoner

http://www.nps.gov/apco/learn/education/upload/Surrender%201a.pdf

After Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Ulysses Grant in the parlor of Virginia grocer Wilmer McLean, relic hunters descended on the house. “Large sums were offered Major Wilmer S. McLean for the chairs in which the generals sat during the meeting — for the tables on which the writing was done — for substantially every article of furniture,” wrote correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. Many souvenirs were taken without McLean’s permission — including the rag doll belonging to his 8-year-old daughter, Lula, “which the younger officers tossed from one to the other, and called the ‘silent witness.'”

In a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, “The Lost Rag Doll of Appomattox,” Dorothy Kunhardt wrote, “Eighty-six years ago a little girl lost her rag doll. It was a very much hugged and slept with and beloved rag doll, homemade; no china head and kid-glove fingers and lacy dress, but stumpy burlap arms and legs, clothes assembled from the family rag bag and a small, potato-shaped head with not much stuffing on it.”

Philip Sheridan’s aide-de-camp Thomas William Channing Moore took the doll home with him to New York, and it was passed down within his family for 128 years. Finally, in 1993, when Moore’s grandson Richard died, his wife called the Appomattox park authorities to say that they were ready to return it. “The men in our family never wanted to give her up,” Marjorie Moore said. “The women thought Appomattox would be the best place for her.”

The doll resides today in the Appomattox visitors’ center, but perhaps that’s too late to redress the harm. Years earlier, after ranger Cynda Carpenter had told the story to one group of visitors, an older woman approached her and identified herself as Lula McLean’s great-granddaughter. “She said that Lula never got over the hurt caused by the loss of her doll,” she said. “She said that Lula told her, ‘The Yankees stole my doll.'”

The Battle of the Reed Rules

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Brackett_Reed_by_John_Singer_Sargent.jpg

Until 1890, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives could block a vote by “disappearing”; they’d demand a roll call, remain silent when called upon, and then declare that too few members were “present” for the House to conduct its business.

To incoming speaker Thomas Brackett Reed this was a “tyranny of the minority,” and on Jan. 28 he resolved to break it. When Democrats demanded a roll call and refused to answer to their names, Reed marked them present anyway; when Kentucky representative James B. McCreary objected, Reed said sweetly, “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?”

There followed a sort of ontological shooting gallery. Democrats hid under their desks and behind screens to avoid being observed to exist. When they tried to flee the chamber entirely, Reed ordered the doors locked, which started a scramble to get out before the next vote. Representative Kilgore of Texas had to kick open a locked door to escape. Amid the howled objections, Confederate general “Fighting Joe” Wheeler came down from the rear “leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag,” and one unnamed Texas Democrat “sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.” Finally the Republicans mustered a majority even with the Democrats entirely absent, and the battle was over: Reed’s new rules were adopted on February 14.

Throughout all this Reed had seemed imperturbable, “serene as a summer morning.” He told a friend later that he had made up his mind what he would do if the House did not support him. “I would simply have left the Chair and resigned the Speakership and my seat in Congress,” he said. “I had made up my mind that if political life consisted in sitting helplessly in the Speaker’s Chair and seeing the majority helpless to pass legislation, I had had enough of it and was ready to step down and out.”

(From Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower.) (Thanks, Zach.)

Podcast Episode 75: The Sea Devil


Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Sources for our feature on Felix von Luckner:

Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1928.

Edwin P. Hoyt, Count von Luckner: Knight of the Sea, 1969.

In all, Seeadler captured 16 ships totaling 30,099 tons between Dec. 21, 1916, and Sept. 8, 1917.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

In a Word

battailous
adj. ready for battle; warlike

scious
adj. possessing knowledge

didascalic
adj. pertaining to a teacher

Among Union Army regiments, the 33rd Illinois became known as the “brains” regiment because it contained so many teachers. “It was stated derisively that the men would not obey orders which were not absolutely correct in syntax and orthography and that men who were discharged from it for mental incapacity, at once secured positions as officers in other regiments.” Many of them came from Illinois State Normal University; of the 97 teachers and pupils on the university’s rolls in 1860-1861, 53 entered the army.

(Charles A. Harper, Development of the Teachers College in the United States, With Special Reference to the Illinois State Normal University, 1935.)

Looking Back

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Conrad_Heyer_(1852).jpg

Amazingly, we have a photograph of a man who crossed the Delaware with George Washington. This is Conrad Heyer, born in 1749 and photographed in 1852 at age 103. He served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware with Washington in December 1776, and fought in several major battles. The Maine Historical Society says that this makes him the earliest-born human being ever to be photographed.

The footage below shows Despina, the grandmother of Balkan film pioneers Yanaki and Milton Manaki, spinning and weaving in the Ottoman Balkans in 1905. She was 114 years old at the time, which means we have video of a person born in the 1700s.

Sallie

https://www.flickr.com/photos/angells60640/3763710693/

Image: Flickr

The 11th Pennsylania infantry regiment was beginning its training at the fairground in West Chester, Pa., in 1861 when a local resident presented a wicker basket to one of the officers. In the basket was a 4-week-old black female terrier puppy. The dog, quickly named Sallie after a local beauty whom the soldiers admired, made hundreds of friends among the men and was adopted as the regiment’s official mascot.

“Sallie knew the drumroll announcing reveille,” writes James Robertson in The Untold Civil War. “She was first out of quarters to attend roll call. During drills, she latched on to a particular soldier and pranced alongside him throughout the exercise. At dress parade, the dog marched proudly beside the regimental colors. At encampments, she slept by the captain’s tent after strolling leisurely through the grounds on her own kind of inspection.”

She accompanied the regiment into battle at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, standing stoutly on the front lines and barking ferociously at the enemy. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln tipped his hat to her as he reviewed the Army of the Potomac. On the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, the regiment was driven back a mile from its original position and she was feared lost; she was discovered three days later standing guard over the wounded and the dead.

She survived, in fact, nearly to the end of the war. On Feb. 5, 1865, at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run during the Siege of Petersburg, men in the second wave of a Union attack found her dead on the battlefield, shot through the head. She had died instantly.

In 1890, the surviving veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania erected a monument at Gettysburg. From a distance it looks like other regimental memorials, a defiant soldier atop a marble pedestal. But on a ledge near the base of the monument lies a small bronze dog.

Hawaii Overprint Notes

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US-$10-FRN-1934-A-Fr.2303.jpg

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, war planners recognized a special threat: If Japan invaded Hawaii, it could seize millions of dollars in U.S. currency from the islands’ people and businesses — currency that would remain valuable since it was indistinguishable from that on the mainland.

They came up with a novel solution: In January 1942 the government recalled all regular paper money on the islands, except for an allowance of $200 per individual and $500 per business. Then it issued new notes stamped with the word HAWAII. Now if Hawaii fell to Japan these “overprinted” notes could be declared worthless.

After the new notes were distributed, citizens were asked to trade in their remaining regular currency. Two hundred million dollars was burned, and between August 1942 and October 1944 Hawaiians were required to conduct their business using the overprinted notes.

Happily, the invasion never came, and after the war the Hawaiian notes were exchanged for regular currency again. Today they’re collectors’ items.

All Together Now

fitzgerald georgia

In the 1890s, touched by Georgia’s generosity in sending supplies to a drought-ridden Midwest, Indianapolis attorney and Union veteran Philander H. Fitzgerald contacted Georgia governor William J. Northen and described a dream he had of a colony in the warm South where Northern veterans might spend their final years. They established a new town, called Fitzgerald, on a parcel of public property only 10 miles from the site of Jefferson Davis’ capture and not far from Andersonville, the location of the Confederacy’s most notorious prison.

The first 50,000 acres sold quickly, and another 50,000 were soon sought. Formally founded in 1895, the town largely fulfilled its namesake’s vision of reconciliation and comity. The town was open to “all good people,” but the overwhelming majority of its first residents were Union veterans. Planners named seven streets in the west of town after Confederate generals such as Lee and Jackson and seven streets in the east after Union leaders such as Grant and Meade. Children hailing from 38 states received free tuition from free textbooks in the first schools in Georgia to offer a nine-month term, and only one of their 12 teachers was a Southerner. By 1900 Fitzgerald had 9,000 residents and was celebrating two Memorial Days, Georgia’s on April 26 and the national holiday on May 30, unusual in the South before World War I.

The town’s first hotel was called Grant-Lee. After some grumblings among the neighbors, they changed it to Lee-Grant. Nobody’s perfect.