Monday June 12, 2017

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From “Ode: “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
             The earth, and every common sight
                       To me did seem
             Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it has been of yore;—
                       Turn wheresoe’er I may,
                       By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more!
             The rainbow comes and goes,
             And lovely is the rose;
             The moon doth with delight
         Look round her when the heavens are bare;
             Waters on a starry night
             Are beautiful and fair;
         The sunshine is a glorious birth;
         But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

From “Ode: “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth. Public domain.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Anne Frank (books by this author) (born in Frankfurt, Germany, 1929), who died at the age of 14 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany during the Holocaust. Frank, her family, and four other people hid for two years in an attic space above Frank’s father’s business warehouse. The space was called “The Secret Annex,” and they survived through the help of Otto Frank’s employees, who brought them food, newspapers, and sundries. The space was small and cramped, and the eight people had to follow strict routines about when to use the bathroom, when to go to bed, and even when they could talk, for fear of rousing the suspicion of the workers in the warehouse. The Secret Annex was entered through a revolving bookcase. We would probably not know of Anne Frank’s life, or certain details of what life was like for Jews during the Holocaust, if Anne had not left behind a little red and white checkered diary that she called “Kitty.”

In it, she recorded details of her life before confinement: school, crushes, fights with sister Margot, but also the increasing harassment that Jews faced after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. Jews could no longer ride public transportation. Jewish schoolchildren were forced to sit apart from non-Jewish children in classrooms. Anne Frank wrote, “My happy-go-lucky, carefree school days are over.”

Anne’s father, Otto Frank, had devised a plan of escape, but before it could take place, Anne’s sister, Margot, along with thousands of other Jews in Amsterdam, was called to a labor camp in Germany. If she didn’t register and report, the entire family would be arrested. The Frank family packed suitcases and walked to The Secret Annex in the rain. They wore as many clothes as possible. They would spend 761 days in hiding before they were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. Otto Frank was the only survivor. No one knows who betrayed the Franks, but Otto’s helper, Miep Gies, found the diary in The Secret Annex and gave it to Otto Frank. It became a worldwide sensation when it was published in 1947 as Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Anne Frank would be 88 years old if she had lived. In her diary, she wrote: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

And she wrote, “Those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery.”

It was on this day in 1963 that civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. He was the Field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and traveled widely in support of voting rights and school integration for African Americans. He was just 37 years old.

Medgar Evers was a star athlete in high school and served in the U.S. Army, participating in the Allied Invasion in Europe. When he came back to the U.S. and began his career as an activist, he immediately encountered pushback and racism; in 1961, when he applauded a courtroom defendant in a sit-down proceeding, policemen beat him over the head with a revolver. He was undeterred. He said: “If I die, it will be in a good cause. I’ve been fighting for America just as much as the soldiers in Vietnam.”

A Ku Klux Klan member named Byron De La Beckwith murdered Evers, shooting him at close range in the back with a rifle. When Evers was rushed to a hospital, he was initially refused care because he was black. De La Beckwith was apprehended and tried, but two trials ended in hung juries. Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Shortly after his death, singer Nina Simone wrote and recorded the song “Mississippi Goddam,” with its famous lines, “You don’t have to live next to me / Just give me equality!” The song became an anthem of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

In 1994, at the age of 74, Byron De La Beckwith was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Medgar Evers. The jury was made up of eight blacks and four whites. He died in prison.

Medgar Evers said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”

On this day in 1967, the United States Supreme Court declared all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional. The case, Loving v. Virginia was brought forth by Richard Loving, who was white, and his wife, Mildred, who was black and Native American. The pair had previously been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for their marriage.

The Lovings met in their small hometown in Virginia, when Richard attended one of Mildred’s brother’s music shows. The couple traveled to Washington, D.C., to marry after Mildred became pregnant at the age of 18. Upon return, their home was raided by police in the early morning hours as they lay in bed sleeping.

Loving sought the advice of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, writing, “We know we can’t live there, but we would like to go back once and awhile to visit our families and friends.” Kennedy referred the Lovings to the ACLU, who in turn provided lawyers for a case.

Just eight years after the Court’s decision, the Lovings were struck by a drunk driver; Richard was killed instantly. Mildred never considered another marriage.

In recent years, Loving v. Virginia has been cited as precedent in federal court decisions concerning same-sex marriage. After many years of silence from Mildred, gay rights activists approached her on the 40th anniversary of the ruling to request her support for same-sex marriage. At first, Mildred was hesitant. In the end, however, she was on board.

“Are you sure that you understand what you’re saying?” the activists asked, “You understand that you’re putting your name behind the idea that two men or two women should have the right to marry each other?” To this she said, “I understand it, and I believe it.”

Today is the birthday of social theorist and writer Harriet Martineau (books by this author), born in Norwich, England (1802). She was mostly deaf and had no sense of taste or smell. Her mother was difficult to get along with and believed in strict gender roles, so of her eight children, only the boys received a formal education. But things turned around when Martineau was 16: she was sent to Bristol to live with her aunt for a year. “For the first time,” Martineau later wrote, “a human being whom I was not afraid of.” Her aunt was warm and loving, and Martineau also found inspiration in the Unitarian church. She began writing anonymous essays for The Monthly Repository, a Unitarian publication. She also took charge of her own education, studying Latin, French, and Italian, and practicing translation. She also read lots of poetry by William Wordsworth, and memorized most of it. She won awards for her essays, but eventually she became too radical, and parted ways with the church. “Oh, those were glorious days!” she wrote to a friend. Even when her father’s business failed in 1829, she counted it a blessing, because she could “truly live instead of vegetate,” as she later wrote in her Autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1877.

One of the subjects Martineau spent a great deal of time studying was political economic theory. She read works by Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and others, and felt that their concepts had direct relevance to ordinary people — but their writing was complicated and hard for most people to understand. She took the concepts laid out by the philosophers and wove them into 25 short stories, which she published as Illustrations of Political Economy. She had a hard time finding a publisher, and even when she did, he wasn’t very optimistic. He published her stories in serial form between 1832 and 1834, and they were wildly successful. At the peak of their popularity, they sold 10,000 copies a month — more than Charles Dickens’ novels.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®