Archive for November, 2011

Week 11 Miscellany, Extra Credit Week 12 Links

November 30, 2011

A few loose ends to tie up from today’s session:

The 1972 Indiana Primary was a Humphrey win, 47%-41% over Wallace, with Ed Muskie getting the remaining 12%. Governor Wallace’s campaign ended two weeks later when he was shot by Arthur Bremer in Maryland.

Jeff mentioned our recently crowned poet laureate, Philip Levine, as something of a working class poet. Levine grew up in Detroit and worked at the Chevrolet Gear and Axle Factory. His page at poets.org has a bio and links to some of his poems and prose. Try Coming Close as a “work poem” and see Overhand the Hammers Swing for Levine’s take on the poetry of work.

Mimi mentioned a new book by Anita Hill – here, with video, is a brief interview with Professor Hill that covers the book and more.

I hunted around for a good Haggard compilation and am pleased to recommend this one: Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard. It’s not quite the whole career – he hasn’t had a major label deal in some time, and there’s no collection of the later stuff, but this has twenty-six songs for less than 40¢ each, hardly a dud in the bunch. Haggard has a brand new (October 2011) CD out on Vanguard Records, Working in Tennessee, and he wrote or co-wrote all but one of its dozen songs, so he’s still hard at work. He’s got a tour next spring that gets him to Torrington, Connecticut on April 19.

Finally, a few links on the current state of migration in the U. S. I’m not formally adding them to our “required” reading list, but they’re mostly short and one is fun to play with.

From Atlantic Magazine’s excellent “Cities” section, here’s Richard Florida with The Geography of Stuck, in which we see which states have the largest proportion of native-born residents, and what it might mean.

Next, a November 15, 2011 U. S. Census Bureau press release, chock full of links to tons of data on population mobility in the U. S. The bottom line? We don’t get around much any more.

For a thoughtful contrarian view on the Census Report, read Rortybomb’s Mike Konczal here. He takes a quick look at what might be going on underneath the numbers – it’s the kind of thing some of you suggested we might want to talk about next week.

Finally, Forbes Magazine did an interactive graphic that lets you see, for any U. S. county, where people came from when they moved in and where they went when they moved out. Click the map and have fun. Just click any county when the map loads.

B got to pick the video today: he chose Merle Haggard’s Today I Started Loving Her Again. Haggard first recorded this in 1968, but this performance is from 1997. Please enjoy!

Another Playlist!?!

November 17, 2011

I wasn’t going to do a playlist drawn from Gregory’s chapter, because most of the country songs he mentions are pretty bad songs. But Bill Malone gives us a more balanced picture and talks about some artists from the current generation of country performers whose politics are more unambiguously tilted left. That inspired me to put together a mix that gives us a very brief and very incomplete survey of country music populism. You’ll find it here.

We open up with Blind Alfred Reed singing How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? He recorded it in 1929, and unfortunately it’s still a good question. The recording was to have been included on the never-quite-finished (don’t ask!) Volume 4 of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

I wasn’t going to do this playlist without including Okie From Muskogee. But I also included another Haggard tune, A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today, that brings Alfred Reed up to date: what are the politics of this song?

Gregory mentions Tom T. Hall’s Vietnam song, Mama Tell Them What We’re Fighting For, but doesn’t mention America the Ugly. It’s not one of Tom T.’s most elegantly crafted songs, but it gets the point across. I don’t think George Wallace would have used it at one of his rallies.

Yes, Hank Williams, Jr. is an insufferable blowhard. Yes, he just got fired from Monday Night Football for comparing Obama with Hitler. But Dixie on My Mind is the only song on this playlist that makes me turn the volume up every time I hear it. And even here the bluster is mixed with a sort of populist plea for a simpler, less materialistic way of life.

Wasteland of the Free was on Iris DeMent’s 3rd CD, The Way I Should, which covered a number of politically-related topics. Since then (1996), she’s released only one CD, a collection of gospel songs.

John Prine is a national treasure, and Paradise is deservedly one of his best-loved songs. It appeared on his first album, all the way back in 1971.

Travelin’ Soldier was number 1 on the country charts when Natalie Maines insulted George W. Bush at a Dixie Chicks show in London in 2003. The next week it was number 3, and the week after that it was number 9,000,000, as country DJs burned Chicks records and boycotted their music. Kind of ironic that speaking out against the Iraq War got them boycotted at the same time that this song was number 1. The political implications of that are too much for me.

Closing it out is the inimitable Steve Earle, with Christmas in Washington. You’ll never hear any carollers singing this one. He’s doing a Foley Square show in NY this evening for Occupy Wall Street.

You’ve got to watch this video. It’s another side of Iris DeMent, a great live version of Let the Mystery Be from her wonderful first album. Please enjoy!

Week 11 Notes

November 17, 2011

This week we continue and expand on the discussion we began in the first hour of our Week 9 meeting, when we talked about the resurgent evangelical movement and its growing political influence, north and south.

Gregory (after a nod in the direction of the southern liberals whose exceptions prove the conservative rule) considers contributions of white diasporans from the 1920s through the 1970s and concludes, mostly, that while southern whites provided “symbols” and “catalytic leadership” to the race-based politics of the period, it’s wrong to see them as originators or instigators of northern racism. This supposition was and remains widespread, and may have proved advantageous, in an oblique way, to northern civil rights advocates. Blaming southerners enabled both black and white liberals to work against northern racism without ruffling too many feathers – northerners were able to feel they they were not being targeted.

Gregory sees the pre-World War II white supremacist organizations, exemplified first by the Ku Klux Klan and later by the Black Legion and others, to have finally hurt their cause. Their extremism, he argues, caused a “backfire” which in effect began to give bigotry a bad name, and may have contributed to the mass media’s increasing inclination (which Gregory treats in detail later in the chapter) to treat minorities better, and to be less afraid to portray whites as at fault in racial conflicts. Backfire or no, Gregory makes a strong case that these white supremacist groups did little to gain them a wider audience in the north.

But things would be different one the 1960s arrived. Gregory looks at three areas in which “Southernization” had a major impact on northern politics: the first was the ability of Governor George Wallace to extend the language of southern populism above the Mason-Dixon Line. He accomplished this by toning down the racial aspects of his message (although, as we’ll see from one of his campaign ads, his coding was anything but subtle) and instead emphasizing the working class’s sense that its way of life under siege. Welfare queens, bearded professors, and tax-and-spend politicians made up part of the menagerie of villains victimizing Wallace’s hard-working constituency. Wallace ripped the longstanding rift in the Democratic party wide open: social conservatives now had somewhere else to go, and go they did.

Next Gregory looks in some detail at the politicization of country music during this same period. Country music was losing market share to the rock and roll and easy listening genres: hillbillies and cowboys weren’t making it anymore. So the industry positioned itself as purveyors of an “all-American” sound, emphasizing patriotism and good old-fashioned American virtues. This got them a sizable audience from the same blue-collar groups to which Wallace appealed, and for many of the same reasons. It was first and foremost music that affirmed their values: these new fans worked hard for what they had and resented those who they felt were getting something (an education, a welfare check) for nothing. There were no end of songs (both Gregory and Malone name a bunch) that told them what they wanted to hear, and the music helped define and reaffirm their values.

Finally, Gregory hits the topic we looked at in Week 9, religion. His focus is on the impact of the Christian Voice and Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Baptist-centered Moral Majority. These organizations laid the groundwork for the later, more powerful interdenominational coalitions that became known as the Christian Right. They developed and honed many of the tactics that were to be used by the bigger groups later (much as northern civil rights activists paved the way for the successes of the southern movement). Catholics played a role as well: their activism was centered around the Equal Rights Amendment and Roe v. Wade, but extended into the same social issues that worried fundamentalist protestants. Many Wallace supporters were ethnic Catholics, and mostly for the same reasons.

We’ve got one reading this week for each of these three topics: Wallace, country music, and religion, and another that I hope might serve to tie them all together. Dan Carter’s description of the appeal of the Wallace campaign gets it, I think, exactly right. Wallace was a crude precursor to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and the later work of such political strategists as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, who turned Wallace’s instinctive art into cold science.

Bill Malone has written many books on country and southern vernacular music, and in this excerpt from Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ he presents a more nuanced picture of the relationship between country music and working-class populism than Gregory is able to in his limited space, and by bringing the story a little closer to the present, Malone introduces some artists (see my playlist!) who display that relationship in all its complexity.

For the religious angle, we turn to Darren Dochuk, who describes how the combination of Jeffersonian democracy and Christian evangelism prevalent in the Upper South made those who migrated from that region to California into crusaders, determined to bring their brand of  community to a new frontier.

Finally, here come Peterson and DiMaggio, who propose categorizing people in terms of “culture classes,” defined by shared patterns of culture consumption. Each unit of culture (religion, music, political view) helps constitute a worldview, and culture classes are made up of those who share some critical mass of similar cultural units. The units’ transmission from one person or group to another (and so the formation of a cultural class) is not a necessary result of contact by migration or “massification,” but instead is determined by a person’s individual affinity for that particular unit: as DiMaggio and Peterson put it, “a new trait would be adopted only by those elements of an indigenous population for whom the trait fits with their lifeways.” So we end not with a “Southernization” of the north, but a selective adoption of southern lifeways, allowing George Jones and Frank Sinatra to reside on the same jukebox, and George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey to compete votes in the same ward.

For today’s video, I give you Emmylou Harris, whom I could not fit on any of the playlists. She’s been an immense influence on a whole generation of American music, but that, as I sometimes say, is another course. This is Emmylou in 1983, singing Rodney Crowell’s (he’s on acoustic guitar) Till I Can Gain Control Again. That’s Rosanne Cash (then married to Rodney Crowell) sitting behind Emmylou. Please enjoy!

Week 10 Odds and Ends

November 16, 2011

Thanks for a very spirited discussion this morning – passionate words on a controversial topic. I think we’ll have more of that when we return from holiday and talk about (mostly) right-wing white people.

A few things to mop up from this morning: first, here are Amazon links to the books Lionel brought back from the Phillips Collection. As you may recall, the Phillips has the odd-numbered panels of the Great Migration series, while New York’s Museum of Modern Art has the even-numbered ones. The books are: Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence (a biography written for children – beautifully illustrated with works from across Lawrence’s career), The Great Migration: An American Story (also nominally a children’s book, but has reproductions and excerpts from Lawrence’s own comments on each of the series’s 60 paintings), and In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience . I’ve spent the afternoon with In Motion: it’s beautifully done, with some truly memorable illustrations – I highly recommend all three.

I confess to not having been too clear about the precise geography of the Black South Side – here is a pretty good map: from about 26th St. south to 63rd., and from Cottage Grove west to Wentworth – those were the ghetto’s rough boundaries. The Robert Taylor Homes were along State St., from 39th to 54th Streets. The Taylor Homes had about 4,300 units and at their overcrowded peak housed 27,000 blacks. The black population of Chicago in 1960 was 813,000, so despite their massive scale, Taylor housed only about 3% of Chicago’s blacks at most.

We also talked about blacks in jail – here are the numbers: the U. S. has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world (see here for details). About 743 adults per 100,000 were incarcerated at year-end 2009. For black, non-hispanic males, that figure is a remarkable 4,743 per 100,000, or about 4.75% – almost one out of twenty.

No class next week, of course. Please note that I added a chunk of reading from Darren Dochuk’s book, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. There’s a PDF of the relevant section on the readings page of the blog. I also added a NY Times article to the Week 12 reading – it deals with the effect of the Great Recession on migration. It’s also linked in the reading session.

Tomorrow I’ll post my Week 11 notes, and notes for a new playlist to go with the Gregory and Malone readings. The songs are already up here – have fun with them and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

At one point today, Marty mentioned a film I showed in my 2008 study group on Harry Smith’s Anthology – Deep Blues, based on Robert Palmer’s book of the same name. Here’s the clip I think he was talking about – Junior Kimbrough playing deep blues in the Deep South. Please enjoy!

Week 10 Notes

November 10, 2011

We’ll spend the first hour of this week’s meeting watching Episode 3 of The Promised Land. Last week we got everyone to Chicago, this week we’ll see how they did once they arrived. The film and the readings provide a sort of commentary for one another: the film tells what it was like every day, through the eyes of the people who lived it, while the readings give us a perspective on the historical forces that were beginning to operate in Chicago and elsewhere. These forces were to culminate, of course, in the southern civil rights movement whose story we’re all familiar with. The northern background Gregory and Ottley describe might be less familiar, but was, as they show, “not just prelude but precondition” (Gregory, p. 237) to the gains of the 1960s.

Here as throughout his book, Gregory takes the optimistic point of view at every opportunity. Blacks broke through existing ghetto boundaries in the ’40s and ’50s. Were they just filling a vacuum left by white flight? Gregory prefers to credit actions by aggressive organizations and courageous individuals. Were new employment opportunities for blacks brought about by a fear of international embarrassment during World War II? Gregory emphasizes the importance of black alliances with the New Deal and the daring threat of a black March on Washington. Some of our group members have been skeptical about Gregory’s sunny outlook, and it might be something we’ll want to talk about.

Gregory looks closely at how black political power led to important advances in housing and employment opportunities, and gives us the statistics to show that these increased opportunities brought about real improvements in living standards for urban blacks.

He concedes that some of this new power can be attributed to what he calls “context.” As we’ve seen, blacks landed in big cities just as those cities achieved their greatest importance in the national scene. They arrived at a time when labor unions were gaining strength as well, and even when blacks were excluded from (or helped to break) those unions they often benefited from the unions’ efforts. Black migrants were also fortunate enough to find two competing political parties in many of the cities they settled, and quickly realized that their leverage could swing the balance of power.

But although circumstances and context helped, they couldn’t account for all, or even most, of what blacks achieved during this period. While Gregory may overstate the case, there’s no questioning that blacks were skillful in developing, using, and finally perfecting the strategies and tactics that won victories in the north before turning south in the 60s.

First, blacks registered to vote in great numbers, often immediately upon their arrival in the city. The right to vote was one that had long been denied them, and it had symbolic as well as practical value for them. Blacks registered in higher proportions than did whites in many areas.

Next, they formed alliances: with left-wing groups (especially the Communist Party), with Democrats, with labor unions. Here it was especially important to have a black intelligentsia in place. Those in Harlem, for example, were able to form alliances with the New Yorkers who later became key New Deal players. FDR was New York’s Governor before his election to the Presidency, and he brought many key staff members (and policy innovations) with him to Washington. Mrs. Roosevelt was a friend to many black leaders, and exercised her power on their behalf.

These connections paid off big in 1941, when the spectre of a black March on Washington led the Roosevelt Administration, fearing international embarrassment and possibly widespread rioting, to issue Executive Order 8802, outlawing job discrimination in defense work. EO8802 didn’t come close to ending job discrimination, but by establishing the FEPC, it provided a focus for future organizing efforts and a wedge for litigation and activism.

The battles for expanded housing opportunities and integration of public facilities were fought one at a time from coast to coast. Once again, tactics developed in these battles (sit-ins, boycotts) were transferred to the south when the time came. As Gregory points out in his discussion of both the employment and housing struggles, even when results were marginal, the resulting development of techniques was crucial to the larger cause.

Opening up new neighborhoods and integrating unions had real consequences for the way blacks lived. Real incomes went up and the infamous “kitchenettes” began to fade into history. But Gregory points to another change that, although less substantive, paid dividends down the road. Mass media, led by publications such as Fortune and Life magazines, began to depict blacks more favorably. We’ve already read the Life article on the 1943 Detroit riots (find it here, starting on page 93), and he cites others, too (all of which are accessible at Google Books). Part of this change was due to the unrelenting pressure of black leaders like Walter White of the NAACP, but there’s no doubt that some was due to a real change in attitudes, at least in the north.

In this week’s reading, we get another chapter from Ottley’s New World A-Coming, a concise history of the Magnificent Bluff and the signing of EO8802. We also get a look at the original signature copy of EO8802, which Ottley points out was “the first presidential order affecting Negroes directly since Lincoln’s day.”

A. Philip Randolph, longtime president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was one of the key players in the runup to EO8802 and a central figure in the American labor movement and the cilil rights movement. This little video is from a CBS News  story on the Pullman Porters, their union, and Randolph’s role. there’s a 15-second ad at the beginning – be patient, and please enjoy!

A Couple of Links for You

November 9, 2011

Not much to add to today’s meeting – I got a lot out of the discussion and hope you did, too. So I’ll just use this post to share a couple of links that you might find worth following:

In the readings this week, you’ll get a new appreciation for the power of the black press, the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier in particular. We read an issue of the Defender earlier in the course, but if you want more and have online access to the Harvard libraries, there’s an amazing collection available to you here. They have searchable (!) full text of the Courier from 1911-2002 and the Defender from 1905-1975 as well as papers dating back to 1827.

Speaking of the Defender, Jeff pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that they are in grave danger of going under. It’s not a great time to be running a newspaper. Here is the Sun-Times clip Jeff sent, and here is the Defender’s website, still very much alive.

Finally, Ros, our resident historian of all things Detroit, recommends this show from the Smithsonian Channel, entitled, Phil Collins: Going Back to Detroit, in which Mr. Collins attempts (as the blurb has it) “to recreate the magic of the Original Motown Sound.” There are interviews with (and participation by!) some of the original musicians, and a lot of historical footage as well. For those of you who might want to take a small bite before swallowing the whole forty-five minute show, I’m posting a brief excerpt below. Please enjoy! and I’ll see you all next week.

 

Week 9 Notes

November 3, 2011

Those of you who have been waiting for us to talk about the Religious Right and how the diaspora whites helped it develop, your wait is about to end. It took a while for the churches established by the white migrants to get traction in their new surroundings. Fundamentalism had been driven underground in the aftermath of the Scopes trial, and never did make a comeback as a rural phenomenon. When it reemerged in the 1940s it was dressed up in a suit and tie instead of overalls, a more inclusive, suburb-centered doctrine than the one Williams Jennings Bryan showed the world in 1925.

The post-war era brought with it a heightening of America’s religious impulses: all religions were affected, but the new evangelicals, with their social conservatism and anti-communist emphasis, were best positioned to gain adherents. They took advantage of that favorable position by forming groups like Youth for Christ, and hit paydirt when Billy Graham held a wildly successful rally in Los Angeles and became the public face of the movement. Graham not only brought in unprecedented numbers of converts, he carried an aura of respectability to evangelism. He was no Frank Norris – while religiously rigorous, his sermons were moderate and inclusive. Graham was still by most standards quite conservative, but it was his image as a kinder, gentler conservative that kept drawing people into the movement.

But there was another side to the evangelicals that Graham downplayed: many of the new churches benefited from white racism. Many of the new church members (and many of the churches themselves) left inner cities to escape blacks. Mainstream protestant denominations often had deeper roots in the community, and stayed behind, but the more disengaged fundamentalists were quicker to pack up. As the suburbs housing these new churches began to fill, the evangelicals faced diversity again, but with nowhere else to go, stayed and became more politically active: this time in opposition to those who seemed to challenge their religious and social views.

Marsden sees this new activism mainly as a reaction to the white evangelicals’ loss of the political dominance they enjoyed in the south. Churches could afford to be politically disengaged in the south, since politics were under the monolithic control of like-minded people. Once these conditions no longer held, as they did not in the fast-growing western and northern suburbs, the church was the likeliest institution to take up the battle.

This reaction was accelerated and amplified in the 1960s when the “southernized” northern and western churches confronted (and were confronted by) the Civil Rights Movement, sexual permissiveness, a new feminism, and anti-war activism. These cultural issues had a nationwide impact, and provided momentum for the merging of regional factions into the beginning of what came to be known as the Religious Right.

The Religious Right was not, in its early days, as closely identified with the Republican Party as it was later to be. But the new evangelists, and especially the fundamentalists (the distinction would be important) saw the encroachment of government as part of a secularizing trend, and this aligned them more closely with the G. O. P. agenda. The nascent Religious Right feared the nation’s abandonment of its religious roots and its traditional values: it was time to “take America back,” and eventually the Republicans became the political vehicle for what was essentially a cultural battle. We’ll read more about this in Week 11.

We’ll spend the second hour watching Episode 2 of the 1995 BBC/Discovery Channel documentary miniseries, The Promised Land, inspired by Nicholas Lemann’s book of the same name. We’ll see the third episode on November 16th. The series (as did the book) deals mostly with those migrants who came to Chicago after having worked as Mississippi sharecroppers, a few of whom appear in the film to tell their own stories. They are unfailingly articulate, moving and (more often than you’d expect) funny. It’s very well done.

The readings this week fit together nicely. Gregory starts us off with a brief biography of the newly awakened evangelical impulse in American religious life. Marsden gives us some historical and philosophical perspective on the movement’s political motives, anticipating our discussion in Week 11. Williams introduces us to a few of the pioneers of the religious right: some names will be familiar, some perhaps not, but each made his own important contribution to the movement’s progress. Williams’s book is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the development of the Christian Right as a force in the Republican Party.

I had planned to show a video from Billy Graham’s Los Angeles crusade during the Gospel Highway class, but could not fit it in. We’ll see it this week.

I have been neglecting white gospel music in this course. I have my excuses. but rather than burden you with them, I’ll give you The Stanley Brothers’ wonderful Angel Band. This isn’t a live performance, just audio from the old Mercury Records 78 (as featured in the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack), but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Please enjoy.

Fill Out the Survey – Please! + Sam Cooke

November 2, 2011

I promised a link to my Harry’s Music post on Sam Cooke, but when I looked it up I discovered the video I attached was no longer there, so I’ll put a new one down below instead.

By the way, Harry’s Music is the weblog I created to go along with my first HILR study group. I haven’t posted there much since starting work on the Diaspora course, but I hope you’ll stop by and wander around. Some of the writing still holds up, and while some of the videos have vanished, enough are still there to make your visit worthwhile.

Not much to add to today’s class – just a reminder to please fill out the survey – if you have any suggestions for the last week that’s a good place to put them.

So here’s Sam Cooke, with what has become his most famous song: A Change is Gonna Come. We heard a lot of it during the Obama campaign in 2008, and it was much-played as a civil rights anthem. Perhaps it’s also a hint of the direction Cooke’s music might have taken had he lived. Please enjoy!